World Music / Don't clap, throw money: Philip Sweeney sees Barrister, the Godfather of fuji, hit Bath

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OFF-STAGE, Barrister's International Music Ambassadors seem to sleep a lot. Stretched out in their matching padded anoraks, heads on suitcases, the two dozen drummers transform one corner of a Bath nightclub lounge into a replica of a Nigeria Airways check-in prior to a delayed Lagos flight. Come 11.00pm, though, they rouse themselves, order cups of tea at the bar, and amble on stage.

The Ambassadors use assorted talking drums, congas, agogo bells, three vocalists, a drum kit and an electric Hawaiian guitar. But they're only ready for action when Barrister is. Chief Doctor Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde 'Barrister', the boss, a short man in Eric Morecambe spectacles, an embroidered skull cap and lace trimmed emerald tunic, steps on stage, transmits some imperceptible signal to the band and they're off.

The mesh of percussion is dense, the changes of rhythm apparently instinctive. In a 10-minute piece, such a degree of empathy might be less astonishing, but no Barrister number lasts 10 minutes. The Bath opener is an hour and a quarter, and this is a severely curtailed 'whites' night, a mere interlude really. For a Nigerian audience Barrister would expect to play for eight or nine hours.

For 20 years, this band has been the top purveyor of fuji music, a genre Barrister invented and during the last decade the top-selling popular style among Nigeria's Yoruba majority. Barrister chose the name of the Japanese postcard mountain for his new sound on the grounds that it stood for peace and harmony, and, more importantly, consisted of four easily pronounceable letters. He decided, five years ago, to 'westernise' his music, as he puts it, by introducing a modicum of melody. Above all this involves the wonderful Hawaiian guitar of John Akinola, which cuts in and out of the percussive maelstrom like some mad, party gate-crasher.

Throughout, Barrister - echoed by his chorus - chants out the mix of aphorisms, proverbs, bits of news, injunctions to dance, dedications, praise of distinguished members of the audience and paid adverts for car dealers that compose his lyrics. Behind him, band members break into dance routines, pass forward scraps of paper with the names of song dedicatees and collect from around Barrister's upper torso the dollar bills 'sprayed' on him by members of the audience.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' he declaims, in the new international version of his great hit 'Refined Fuji Garbage' (garbage an inverted boast, as in 'bad' or 'wicked'): 'Rise up and dance to my new fuji garbage] It's good for young and old . . . and it's excellent for students who-know-how- to-dig-it]' Barrister is a rich man in Lagos, accustomed to being sprayed with tens of thousands of dollars at important gatherings, and capable of selling up to half a million records in the huge Nigerian market. Why bother with an (excellent) British CD release and a two-month tour of modest, largely non-tipping European gigs? Because success in Europe confers multiple prestige at home. 'This year is one of the happiest in my life,' says Barrister, specs off and feet up after a resounding ovation, while the Ambassadors subside patiently into well-earned repose.

(Photograph omitted)

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