Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I went to high school at Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene, one of the prestigious "unity schools" established from 1970 onwards by the decree of then-head of state Yakubu Gowon. The idea was to install in every region of Nigeria top-quality, federally-funded secondary institutions where the student body and the staff were drawn by quota from every corner of the country, familiarizing Nigeria's youth with one another and facilitating national reunification after the ethnical and religious polarization of the civil war of '67-70. Pro unitate ("towards unity") was the motto.

When I started in the mid-80s, there were two unity schools--a Federal Government Girls' College and a coed Federal Government College--located in each of Nigeria's 19 states. (The hallowed King's College and Queen's College in Lagos were absorbed as honorary members of the Federal Government College system even though their existence pre-dated the unity schools initiative by 61 and 43 years respectively.)

Looking back, I think I really took it for granted: I went to a Federal Government College because I was considered a bright kid, and gaining admission to one of the highly-competitive FGCs was what bright kids were expected to do. Yes, I was quite aware how much hipper than the local "state schools" the federal schools were perceived to be, but I didn't think it was that much of a big deal. But now, when I talk to my peers who went to state schools--many of whom never really had the chance to leave their region of origin or socialize with people from other parts of the country--and I observe how relatively provincial and ethnocentric they are in their worldview, I realize what a blessing the unity school system was and I am tremendously grateful to General Gowon for his vision and statesmanship.

As a young music lover, one advantage of FGCs I recognized even then was the opportunity to be apprised of the sounds rocking in other parts of the country. I lived in the small and "dry" Eastern town of Calabar, which seemed perpetually a few steps behind "bubbling" metropolises like Lagos and Port Harcourt, so whenever we came back from the holidays, my school friends would fill me in on the latest music happening in their sections. Likewise, I would turn them on to the latest tunes from the East that had not yet spread to other parts of the country (if at all they ever did). But more or less, we all listened to the same kind of music even if we heard it at different times.

As the 80s wore on, though, I noticed that the music tastes of my friends from Lagos and other parts of Western Nigeria were changing a bit, moving towards more Yoruba-centric styles. Juju--which had up until this time had been regarded as music for our parents' generation--had started to retool itself to appeal to a younger audience, spearheaded by the likes of Sir Shina Peters and Segun Adewale. And then you had newer Yoruba street styles like fuji fiercely competing with the juju new wave for the imaginations and backsides of the Lagos youth.

This music--with its Yoruba lyrics, cosmopolitan opulence, frantic percussion and vague aroma of Islam--really did not play in Eastern Nigeria at all. The Lagosians would dance and sing these songs to each other, delighting in them like untranslatable Yoruba in-jokes.

Slightly more accessible to non-Lagosians like myself were the other emerging forms of Yoruba pop that built around the familiar structure of R&B, funk, rock and reggae; the most popular of these mutant forms was Adewale Ayuba's "Yo-pop." Another was "fujupop"--which melded fuji and juju with a modern pop sensibility. The style was created by a young singer named Bola Bimbola, who originally dubbed it "danfo beat" (after the danfo bus--the rickety vans that serve as public transportation in the streets of Lagos) when he debuted with a Yoruba-language version of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough."

At the time, the record was appealing mostly on a novelty level--maybe a step or two above a parody--but listening to it now, I'd say it's quite brilliant in the way it retrofits the song with fuji percussion while maintaining the integrity of the Michael's original. (The sonic excellence of Bimbo's debut LP is unsurprising, considering the fact that it sports the typically baroque credit "Production, Concept and Music Arrangement by Sound Master Odion Iruoje.)

Bola Bimbola (now known as Bola Abimbola) went on to join King Sunny Ade's African Beats for a while and has been based for the past couple of years in Denver, Colorado where he leads his Wazobia band and continues to work with other artists both in the US and in Nigeria.

You'll notice that the Wikipedia page linked above makes no mention of his 1987 debut. His currently offline website, Fujupop dot com did, however... Though for some reason it described his English-language cover of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" as a duet with Linda Ronstadt!

Oh yeah... That's another thing: The sleeve lists "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" as "Off The Wall," which is of course the title of the Michael Jackson album the song appeared on. It also credits "Silifa Bamijo" as a cover of "Fever Bobijo," which is actually "Viva Bobby Joe" by The Equals.

(Just in case you're wondering, the unity schools are mostly rubbish now. Even back in my day, the government was already complaining that 38 FGCs in 19 states exerted too much of a drain on federal resources and was considering turning over the responsibility for the schools' maintenance to the governments of the respective states they were located in. Twenty-odd years later, Nigeria's 19 states have multiplied hydra-like to 36, with yet more tribally-cartographed states agitating to splinter off. With two FGCs in each one, it looks like the federal government has just stopped caring; the schools have fallen into disrepair structurally and educationally and become as provincial as the state schools they were supposed to be an improvement over. I don't know if they even still hold the cachet of prestige they used to; it seems like regional private schools are the place to be now.

Oh well... 'Twas a noble experiment from which I and many others benefited immeasurably.)


1. Sumomi Famomi (Off The Wall Yoruba Version)
2. Silifa Bamijo
3. Eleda Mi Gbemi
4. Mama

1. Olorun Mi Ye
2. Off The Wall (English Version)
3. Afrika
4. Don't Say No When You Mean To Say Yes



Tee Boy said...

The Big U,
Men you always find a way to exceed my expectation. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined ever listening to this LP again. I vividly remember watching some of the videos on OGTV and LTV8 Lagos, back in the day.
Thanks for sharing and keep the great job up!
From Houston with love,

Comb & Razor said...

Ah... I thought you might dig this, Tunde!

(And yes, I know I owe you an email... been a bit busy!)

Claudio said...

Don't Stop Til You Get Enough in Yoruba?! I'm glad I stumbled into this gem. The inventiveness of the artists you feature here is breathtaking! Cheers!

Comb & Razor said...

Cheers to you, Claudio!

ababoypart2 said...

Uche - what year where u at FGC IK? I left there in 1983.

Comb & Razor said...

Ah! Aba Boy, I no sabi say you be IK guy o!

Looks like you left the year before I entered, though... You were in Idy Kool's them set, shey?

Ivory Dome said...

wow I can picture in ur uniform. did u guys wear blue ? I feel like my generation did not do me enough justice with music but it's funny how we look to the past as the good old days but fail to realize that our present will inevitably become the past, an addition to the good old days.

Comb & Razor said...

Yeah... We wore blue & white (I was about to post a photo, but then I thought better of it!)

I think the current generation of Nigerian musicians is doing great things, actually... I mean, the music itself generally tends not to be my particular taste, but I think there have been some interesting developments.

But of course, time has a way of putting things into perspective. I'm sure in the next 15 years, we'll be looking back on the Timayas and Wande Coals and TuFaces through the misty lens of nostalgia and wondering where the great old days went!

Sean said...

Hey, I'm an ethnomusicology student interested in Nigerian music. I'd love to ask you a few questions about your views on fuji and fuji influenced pop styles. Bola Abimbola (his real name) is actually a friend of mine. I produced his first recording in the US. I could give you a little more insight on what the Linda Ronstadt thing is about. Anyway, if you have a few minutes email me.

Bola Abimbola said...

This article on Bola and his music made us smile today. Anyone who would like more information can feel free to contact Bola directly through the contact form at FCR Media (