Both deal with romance. But unlike Nothing For You, in Lagbaja’s last musical video collection which glamorizes the dark registers of a social malaise: the aristo and the sugar daddy, Never Far Away, in his new Africano album, engages the themes of ego, conflict of mutual interest and reconciliation.
Like his name that has been improved from Lagbaja to Lagbaja!, the technical quality of his video and the editing have improved to a world music premiership quality. But his storyline? A young lady plays the role of a girlfriend (from the position of her finger ring) cohabiting with a masked man. To her lover, soaked in his piano lessons and frustrated that he is not getting things correctly, she presents a hot drink. He declines; he does not have time for that now. She sprints in with a mobile phone for the man to share in the delights of a lovely conversation she’s been having. She is waved off. Loyal to her feelings once again, she hurries in cheerfully with a displayed yellow aso oke for her lover to admire. He calls her attention to the fact that he is busy with work – can’t she see? Annoyed at his lack of attention to her, she lunges at his piano compositions one by one, flings them away and leaves. As a flashback later discloses, she actually shreds the compositions and the man watches with mouth and legs agape, as the work he is obsessed with glides to him in miserable shreds. Not done with that, she goes ahead and humiliates him out of the house. (It is hard to know who actually owns the richly furnished apartment though there is a life-size painting of the man hung on the wall.)
The flow of the video then sets the masked one (the just-driven out) with his drummers in a village square, mocking unfortunately, the expressionless classical instrumentalists for their difference of attire. And the masked man offers them a boutique of rich adire in different hues of blue. Why are they mocked for their wears? Because they are foreign? Why are their western instruments not also mocked and replaced but rather assimilated?
Like Jennifer Lopez, the lady catwalks with distress and nostalgia along a road, boards a taxi, alights somewhere in the city and walks suddenly into a village where the final dress rehearsal is taking place. When she picks up the microphone (in a place where there is no speaker or any sound system) singing, that we know she is also part of the band not only a lover of the masked one, mixing business with pleasure.
Lagbaja! a soldier of culture, understands the authentic meaning of refreshing the traditional aesthetics, and handles it proficiently through modernisation and fusion with the sublime in urban and foreign elements. Indeed, Akin Euba, Fela Sowande, Ekundayo Phillips, Ayo Bankole had composed and had orchestral accompaniments that included indigenous musical instruments in the last century, Lagbaja! attempts this feat too. He puts together an ‘orchestra’ of membranophone family of gangan, dundun, bata, ogido (an ensemble of gbedu) and a family of only stringed instruments: violin, viola, cello, double base. But their classical instruments output- is from the audio recording not from the musical video is closer to the sound synthesised on a keyboard rather than what is seen on the video. Double base for instance as shown in the video cannot be really there and we derive that audio.
Of course Lagbaja! takes risks and plays tricks because in another video in this album, Lagbaja Live!, he with his band is performing to a virtually empty arena. He just finds a dozen or less to sit and dance in the front and he expects us to accept that this represents a concert. Unlike his previous video album, the cameraman or the consol controller is always taking shots of the audience disclosing their emotional involvement and responses. In fact from the stage, one could see and feel the Lagbaja band confronting a large number of people. It is not surprising therefore that in Never, none of the string instrumentalists looks up to their masked conductor at anytime for directions as he perambulates around whereas the drum ensemble does look up to him only as a spectacle.
The synthesised strings played in chord prefer oddly to follow the R and B (a style not a genre) aspect of the music instead of establishing a mode -that of the dramatic tonal characterization: Sipanpala iyawo towo osi bobe, sipanpala which is chord two mode.
Lagbaja! as usual, celebrates the simple: the village life, the pre-colonial urban town planning and landscape, the taxi, the okada, the corn barbeque, the puff-puff and tangerine and claypot sellers, the roadside marts including Baba Ijebu lottery kiosks and other textures and habits of urban life- ordinary but they are ‘us.’ But what does Lagbaja! seeks to achieve depicting the lady because of frustration from unrequited passes, driving out her lover. Of course in Euro-societies, women have the legal licence to do so should there be a heated argument or more. Being a passionate fusionist, is Lagbaja trying to offer this as model for us too? Or is he trying to illustrate the unwholesome consequences of a woman who feels herself empowered enough to drive out her lover regardless of his high station allegorized in the man’s intimidating height? Immediately after, she is seized by sorrow, depression, and starts having memories of their intense romantic pettings. She peeps out of her window in nostalgia having abandoned tradition but later converts back to it when she gets rid of her ego. While searching for her man, she, metaphorically, puts on her headgear skentele in the taxi that she never wears. In some cultures, this signifies her commitment to respect and humility.
Goes the lyrics: Sipanpala iyawo towo osi bobe, sipanpala (Whao! What an abomination! How dare you thrust your left hand into the common pot of soup?) What is the abomination, the shredding of the compositions or the driving out, or both? There is time for everything; there is a time one allow romance to dictate and there is a time to shut it up. The lady does not seem to know, because there were flashbacks where the couple are really having a hitch free pleasant time while the masked one was on the piano unlike the sore one.
The energy of the Never Far Away comes from the exuberant use of these flashbacks rich in stunning video effects embodying their prior romantic flourishes. At the earlier part of the video are flashbacks plucked from the lady’s memories and at the later part, the man’s such that it tasks the imagination to know exactly which is the narration and which is the flashback even if one tries to map costumes.
The musical video has no credits besides telling us the artiste, title, album, label so it is not easy to know whether the masked character is Lagbaja! or the young lady, Ego and more, since they are not referred to by names. Many of the shots that make up the sequences are unmistakably Tunde Kelanish – of the Nigerian foremost cinematographer. The opening scene and the contemplating pose of masked man under dark clouds but over the horizon of a place that looks like