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73 f Pure Garbage!


From Folk Roots 93. Back in 1990, Rob Prince stayed up all night with the Fuji originator, Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister.


S


eptember 1990. I’m sitting in the hospitality room of a North Lon- don recording studio, and Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Chief Doctor of Nigeria’s high potency rhythm infusion, Fuji, is explaining his Japanese connection. “My music compris- es peace, love and harmony, and is very educative. Also, I was looking for a name that was easy to pronounce. And so I invented the name ‘Fuji’ from a mountain I saw on a picture postcard, the Mountain of Love (Mount Fuji), in Japan…”


The year was 1965. Barrister had just dropped out of school and was pondering a future in the music biz, having already made something of a name for himself singing a style of Islamic religious music known as were (weh-ray). “Fuji music started from were, which is also known as ‘a jisari’ music,” explains Barrister. “Were is a music we played at night during the Ramadan festival (the month-long Moslem fast). We would start playing at midnight, going round the streets to wake up Moslems to get them prepared for the fes- tival, and stop around 5.30 or 6 in the morning: that’s the period you have to wake up and eat your food (the fast is dur- ing daylight hours only).”


Now, whatever else you may say


about were, it’s not the sort of sound you would normally welcome outside your bedroom window at three in the morning. Ten or twelve percussionists and singers, hammering away non-stop for five or six hours, loud enough to wake entire neigh- bourhoods: not exactly a salve for inter- denominational harmony, to say the least. But the intensity of the sound, the hypnot- ic rhythms, the piercing vocals, all are very much a part of Barrister’s fuji stew, along with other ingredients, like ‘sakara’ (a per- cussion-based rural sound, often featuring a one-string violin). “Sakara is a music my father used to sing in the 1940s,” recalls Barrister. “He was a musician, a singer; he hailed from Ibadan, a state in Nigeria. You can find his music in my music; his music and my music are combined in fuji.”


Barrister had begun singing were in 1958, at the age of ten, but his real ambi- tion was to become a lawyer, hence (he claims) his title ‘barrister’. “I even behaved


like a lawyer. I loved debating and talking about law. If there was a dispute between some of the students, then I would inter- vene and tell them, look, fighting amongst yourselves is not good!”


But Barrister’s ambitions to become a lawyer were terminated abruptly in 1964 when his father died, and there was no money to pay for tuition fees. He drifted through a series of clerical jobs, working as a typist and junior administrator, but by now he was already considering taking up music full time. “When I was playing were music, I was attracting large crowds but when Ramadan was over, we would stop playing. But people were enjoying the music to such an extent that they wanted me to turn professional. But I decided that if I was going to turn professional, I should create something richer than that were music. So I created my own type of style, and decided to change to fuji music.”


“Now, when I changed to fuji music,


that’s when people started telling me, ‘Don’t stop when this festival is over’. Back home, in our own tradition, you want to open a new house, you want people to come and enjoy it with you, then you


engage the service of an artist (musician), whether it’s a naming ceremony, a wed- ding: this is what is happening back home. And people loved my music, and they wanted me to carry on playing after the festival; they encouraged me, and I decid- ed to go along with their wishes. They encouraged me so much, they ensured I was serious with this music.”


A


nd so Barrister left his clerical job, and took up playing his new fuji music (in essence, an expanded version of the were line-up, with ‘praise’ lyrics


instead of religious lyrics) full time. A year later, however, the outbreak of the Nigeri- an Civil War brought Barrister’s short-lived professional career to an end. He joined the army, and was soon embroiled in one of the most bitter struggles of recent African history. He didn’t come away unscathed. “In ’67 I joined the army, and I got wounded here … “ He raises his trous- er leg to reveal a scar just above his ankle and another, identical scar on his other leg. Seems he was shot through both legs by one bullet. Another smashed his wrist. “I lay in the bush like that for about seven days,” he recalls. “Nobody took care of


Barrister live in Hastings, September 1990 (with the band accountant taking $ dash on the right)


Photo: Jak Kilby


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