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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?”

No.

“Do people know who he is?”

Yes.

“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.

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15 thoughts on “What I Learnt This Week

  1. Hmmm
    Have you considered then that perhaps it was the KKK that bastardized a legitimate cultural expression of the Yorubas that dates centuries past. The Masquerade has been around for long and that I think is what Lagbaja represents.

  2. I seem to like the way you defined the concept “Lagbaja”. I had an idea of the motive behind the mask but not sure I can put it to words like this… It’s just amazing what memory a particular concept arouses if put in another setting. That said, Lagbaja is a fantastic musician.

  3. Are these American students? What I’ve noticed (I am a prof, too) is that American students often suffer from a sort fo self-centeredness. they see everything very narrowly through thier own history/experience… something i think is a real problem. they have a hard time viewing things from different cultures WITHOUT forcing their own history on it. unless they can directly relate to something, they are either not interested or they cannot even try to get it.

    So this whole kkk thing doesn’t surprise me. It’s just unfortunate. Lágbájá has NOTHING to do with american ANYTHING (unless you count the influence on his music), yet all they see is the kkk. All I can do is shake my head annoyed and tired. I’ve had a similar problems in my classes.

    • Hii Prof. W.
      Yea, they are students too, and I have also found the pseudo-insularity very fascinating only because it teaches me not to take anything for granted. I am sure that there is some way in which we in Nigeria might also look at America through the prism of our own experiences. So, it might not be altogether easy to wave of their concern without seeming inconsiderate. True? Well, I have never seen Lagbaja in any other light other than that of his creativity, so this definitely baffled me, but it also mostly enlightened.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Creativity! but how come you got the video before me? Has it been released in Nigeria?

    I love Lagbaja a lot, can’t see the relationship with KKK, but I guess human beings generally tend to compare things to what we already know.

    Alahon Cobra, Cobra tongi! 🙂

    • I got the video before you?
      Smiles 😀
      Did I forget to mention to you that I’m connected in the right places? Don’t try me o!
      When will the other videos be out? I can’t wait to see “Did I” and “Let My People Stay” and the many others. Lagbaja rocks jare!

    • Gentle gentle o, Jerry. 😉 In spite of this their controversial observation on Lagbaja, I think that they did enjoy the video in some way, and for that the purpose of showing it in class was fulfilled. It was definitely a learning experience for me, which I won’t trade for the world.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Pingback: The Yoruba Talking Drum « ktravula – a travelogue!

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