All my students agreed, to my utmost discomfiture, that the Nigerian musician Lágbájá reminds them in some way of the Klu Klux Klan, even though his costume is neither white, nor as creepy. I wasn’t aware of this, and I had come to class with his most recent video, and a few others, as pointers to an authentic Nigerian musical art form popularized by this masquerade of a man.
“Does he ever show his face?”
“Do people know who he is?”
“Is he ever going to take his mask off?”
I don’t know.
And in actual fact, I didn’t. The brand that is Lágbájá has come to be defined by his invisibility, woven into the Yoruba’s mask as a form of cultural expression, along with the namelessness that Lagbaja represents. Lágbájá is a placeholder in Yoruba that means anyone of “anybody”, “nobody”, “everybody” and “somebody”.
In the end, all that mattered was that the students were exposed in some way to a form of artistic expression that both Yorubas and non-Yorubas are proud of as representative of creativity, and art. But that reference to the KKK, by both White and Black students of the class flipped me, and got me wondering just how much we take for granted because of our distance from the scene of events. It wasn’t so much of a consolation that the concept of Lágbájá is the farthest possible kind to that of hate-mongering, racism and intolerance.