A lot of people do not know Bisade Ologunde, aka Lagbaja, grew up in an academic environment. With his first album released 19 years ago, the artiste cum cultural icon says that he is set to launch out his own genre of music called Africano. OVWE MEDEME caught up with him at the Design Workshop Series, a workshop series held monthly to boost the interest of students of University of Lagos in the arts. He talked about Africano, the Africano Manchine concept, life behind the mask and a host of other issues
WHAT was your experience relating with the young people?
My biggest audience has always been people who can think and an academic community is the place where you find that. In fact, they didn’t even ask some of the things I was expecting to hear today, very tough questions. In the academics, it is all about your mind. It was a beautiful experience. I loved it, although it took me quite a while before I was able to make it. We have been on it for a couple of months now but eventually I made it. I had a good time and I know that a few folks here will go back home with greater respect for the African culture.
Did you take anything from them?
Of course I did. For example, I would say I was pleasantly surprised that they understood more Yoruba than I expected, because it means that our culture is not dying out as fast as I thought. Still, this issue of religion, I can see again from here today that we need to do something about opening people’s mind not to have a conflict between their culture and their religion. If you look at the bible and things that happened, for example, if you look at what happened to the Israelites in Egypt and some of the things they had to do on some particular days, you will see that their culture was part of even their normal spiritual life.
We should be careful not to throw our culture down the drain out of fear of what we really don’t know the truth about. I am not saying that we should follow one babalawo. Find what you believe and know why you believe it. I could see all that from some of the questions they asked me. Also, I could also see a proof of how much young people are into the American culture. Nothing is bad about that, but we can learn from different cultures but at the same time, that doesn’t mean you should abandon your own culture. Use the best of what you have. I got all that from the interaction I had with them.
There are insinuations that people who are into preserving African culture tend not to believe in God. What is your take on that?
That is a very important question but again, it is your choice. Religion is between yourself and God. When I take off my mask, I must confess to you, I go to Church. I worship. I won’t tell you the Church o. I tell people not to be afraid of my mask. It has nothing to do with the occult. It is a symbol. Don’t think that I must go to perform one ritual before I can put this on. I have said it repeatedly that my mask is a symbol of the facelessness of the common man. When it comes to deep spiritual issues, it is up to me to define how I want to go.
As a Christian, what peculiar clash do you face between your faith and the push for upholding culture?
The major challenge is people’s prejudice, the fear of what they don’t know. I am putting on a mask and they think that makes me an Egungun. In the last three or four years, mask parties have become popular. People should get used to the fact that everybody can put on a mask. It doesn’t have to be occult. Also, there is deception. People don’t ask questions. They need to ask questions from their pastors and their spiritual leaders who preach to them only about prosperity and not about life after here. What is the most important thing in our Christian lives? Is it the money we make here or our salvation? All we hear today is prosperity. That is 419.
Who would you regard as your role model?
My role models are numerous, and they have grown in number over the years. It starts with my own parents. My parents have been biggest influence in my life. I will leak a secret to you. I grew up in a university environment. I was therefore raised in our culture.
We have heard a lot about Lagbaja, but who is the person behind the mask?
The guy behind the mask is a quiet guy somewhere else. All I talk about is Lagbaja.
When did the concept behind the mask first hit you?
It first hit me about five years before my first album. I actually made my first costume in 1985 but it was kept under my bed because I still didn’t have the courage to do what I had in mind. The whole idea came first of all from trying to tell a story with my image, the message of the story being the mask itself, even if I never sing. I am saying that the mask is a symbol of the facelessness of the so-called common man. That was how the whole idea came. I was a little worried being a Christian how people will term me. I am not an Egungun. It is just the prejudice that we have that we appreciate masks as masquerade. Once I had that concept with the message, I had to decide the means. I have met a lot of people who think I invented Lagbaja as a word. I find it very amusing. It shows how much we are losing our language and our culture. They don’t know that Lagbaja is not my invention. It is a Yoruba word that existed before I was ever born. It means somebody, nobody, anybody or everybody. Just the way you say Tom, Dick and Harry. Since my mask is a symbol of the common man’s facelessness, the name Lagbaja naturally just fell in place.
You have been putting the mask on for about 20 years. Does it have any side effect?
It doesn’t. The only thing is that it is not comfortable, especially when performing in the afternoon, outdoors. Apart from that, there is no side effect.
Are you married?
Yes, to my saxophone.
So, when will you get married to a human?
Without the mask, e be like say the bobo don marry o, but with the mask, he is always married to his saxophone.
If you had not been a musician, what would you have been doing?
Maybe I would have been a teacher because believe me, it is probably one of the most important jobs. As we speak here today, it is thanks to one teacher who did something for both of us. It might look like a small job, but it is major and I love interacting with people. When I know something, I am able to communicate it and I help others to achieve it. Apart from that, I might have worked in advertising or marketing.