Nigeria's Masked Crusader Sings His Messages of Democracy

Article excerpt

TO COLLECTIVE relief, the rainy season cracked into life last Wednesday night after Lgbja, on stage in Lagos, banged his talking drum with such vigour that Sango, deity of thunder and lightning, could not prolong her dry-season slumber. But Nigeria's masked musician wants to do more than change the weather.

Calling himself by his stage name, he said: "Lgbja is trying to tell Nigerians that we need to have patience with democracy. It takes a lot more effort to build a nation than to destroy it like the military did. That is why we sing "Suuru Lere"." The name of a Lagos suburb, the words mean "patience is a virtue".

Probably the most hurried and chaotic nation in the world, Nigeria is already complaining that President Olusegun Obasanjo is taking too long to deliver the "democracy dividend". It is two years this month since the retired general was sworn in as a civilian leader. Islamists are entrenching sharia law in the north of the country, the regions and tribes are grumbling and the currency, the naira, is tumbling.

But at least, deliberately or not, Lgbja brought proper rain last Wednesday after his gig in the commercial capital. A saxophone genius who wears a mask in public, he has made his mark by blending the traditional sounds and instruments of the Yoruba - the people of the south-west of Nigeria - with messages about modern life in the world's third biggest city.

"Lgbja is a Yoruba word which is ambiguous. It can mean somebody, nobody or anybody. The whole concept is to depict my identity: that of an identity-less man in Africa, faceless and voiceless in the world," said the musician as the bucketing rain outside seemed intent on proving that Sango, at least, had heard.

In a society of braggers and idols, the mask is a clever image because it is rooted in African culture and anonymous at the same time. May is the time of Egungun, carnival time in Yorubaland, when masked and brightly costumed ancestors - some sceptics dare to suggest they are people dressed up - pace the streets of Lagos, teasing passers-by.

"The masked man is a spiritual being who comes out to transmit a message. He is ageless and whatever he says is divine," said Lgbja, who will not reveal his age or much about his background. …