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the one in the capital the week before. That show, he said, was larger and more impressive. It reminded The King of, say, the time he had performed at President Buhari’s inauguration, or at his first year’s anniversary in office, with movers, shakers, and, decision makers in attendance. This weekend’s show, Wasiu continued, was a return to the Lagos Island neighbourhood where he grew up and it would be inter- esting anyway. The King would still sing as he always did. No matter how splendid – or underwhelming – he thought the venue was, he would still give the crowd their performance.


The weekend arrived quickly and very Wasiu Ayende Marshal at WOMAD UK 1995


genre’s foremost star. Media executives and an organisation called the Nigerian Association Of Promoters And Artistes Managers had decided that, among a shortlist that included his mentor, Barris- ter, Wasiu would be the major spokesper- son for the genre. Crowds from all over the country descended on a box-like hotel near Ibadan’s main motorway for the coro- nation; Wasiu, dressed in white, was pre- sented with a crown and a sceptre, and as the entire hall hailed their new king with a roar, the singer and his band gave their inaugural performance.


O


n becoming The King, the singer had, in some senses, overtaken Barrister at that point of his career, although in other ways, he would


always be indebted to Barrister as the role model he looked up to. The award cer- tainly caused some discord between the two, and their once-tight friendship began to disintegrate over fame and power, worsened when Wasiu later ques- tioned in the press whether Barrister was fuji’s true originator.


Wale Ademowo, in Wasiu’s biography, used historical precedent to reason the issue: crowning musicians had a long histo- ry in West Africa. In the fifties, Ghanaian musician E.T. Mensah was proclaimed the King of Highlife for popularising the style, though the music’s origins are less well- defined. Years later, Nigerian performer Sunny Ade was named the King of Juju for advancing the genre’s cause, but wasn’t its pioneer. In the same vein, Ademowo wrote, King Wasiu brought fuji to a wider audience but wasn’t the sound’s architect. Ademowo provided a further dose of per- spective later, saying, “Oduduwa was the founder of the Yoruba people and his sons became kings all over the seven kingdoms. So, if you claim to be the creator [Barris- ter], let your son [Wasiu] be king.”


The Fuji King wasn’t the only name


Wasiu came to be known by. Alongside the ones he recorded under – Barrister, Mar- shal, KWAM 1, K1 De Ultimate, among others – he also held many respected chief- taincies across western Nigeria, and was affectionately named Alhaji Alhaji for his annual trips to Mecca. Titles are important


in Yorubaland and once he had received his doctorate, he would later be addressed as the Messiah, the Czar, or, of course, the King of Fuji at any given time.


“They knew I could deliver,” Wasiu said of his throne. “That’s why they gave me that leadership role.” He was certainly delivering in a personal sense: his lifestyle was fit for a king. Yet underneath his com- pulsive collecting of wristwatches and shoes, his stately home, and his cars, he had been hiding something. Years ago he had been jilted by his first love, a magnificent woman named Funmi. And since then, he had never found quite the same feeling again. Despite that, he had children with a series of other partners: as Wale Ademowo put it, “In Yoruba culture you don’t count the children of a king.” Wasiu’s children would often stay with him when he lived in his previous home, known as The Castle Of Peace, on mainland Lagos – which he later donated to a Muslim organisation dedicat- ed to young people.


Standing up from his armchair, Wasiu took a stroll outside into the sunlight with the same dignity and undercurrent of sternness he had so carefully exhibited during the afternoon. As he did, it was noted that underneath where he had so comfortably been seated were two previ- ously plumped cushions – now sagging – with his grinning face stitched into them. In the courtyard, he paced slowly over to where his associates sat and greeted them, the blue of the swimming pool glistening in the heat, and it was as if he considered every word, every step, every action. As he looked over his personal kingdom with a benevolent look in his eye, he turned to face the visitor.


“So you enjoy living in the midst of


people,” Wasiu said, having heard that the visitor lived on mainland Lagos.


“I do,” the visitor replied. “And you?” Letting the question hang in the air,


Wasiu’s facial expression was reflective.


“I used to, but not anymore,” he even- tually responded.


Informing the visitor that he would play a show that coming weekend, Wasiu lamented that he couldn’t have witnessed


soon Wasiu was on stage among his band of twenty-five. A carnival mood had descended over the site – a large clearing surrounded by tired apartment blocks and strewn with gazebos – and a large audi- ence wearing identical red, white, and blue traditional prints had begun to dance.


A crown perched on his head and a sceptre gripped tightly in his right hand, Wasiu’s Yoruba vocals, from the depths of his diaphragm, could be heard as far as the sprawling market several streets away. The King had returned home, and as frenzied nightlife captured the entire district, residents scrambled onto bal- conies and squeezed out of windows for a good view of their most celebrated leader and his band.


W


asiu had seen this kind of excitement many times before, and had decided to bring a large security team along with him.


This group of seemingly stern protectors allowed no one, unless invited, into the King’s inner circle, and because of this, a no man’s land had widened between the band and the audience. Many enjoyed the bouncing melodies booming from the twenty or more speakers scattered across the site, sitting at tables on the outskirts, drinking palm wine, and springing up to dance at regular intervals.


A formally dressed, elderly man stood on the sidelines of the stage, and Wasiu postured towards him. As The King reached for a large wad of bank notes in his back pocket, he began to sing the man’s praises into the microphone, beam- ing smiles breaking out around him. With a flick of the wrist, his band not missing a note, Wasiu began throwing the money over the man – spraying him with wealth he’ll no doubt remember for the rest of his life. Nodding his head with respect, the man edged back from the limelight look- ing quietly delighted.


With the audience in raptures, Wasiu was now addressing them directly. Every word that came out of The King’s mouth seemed to have a weight of significance, and the crowd listened closely. To them he wasn’t a ruthless ruler, he was a musical paragon – an example of hope. He told them, raising his gleaming septre in the air, that this was his hometown, where he started from. Though his life was now removed from the market stalls, the bustling streets, and the open sewers of the neighbourhood he grew up in, he had not forgotten his people.


F


Photo: Jak Kilby


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