Before There Was Fela, There Was Faaji Agba: A New Documentary Explores The Long-Forgotten Musicians Of Nigeria’s Past

Before there was Fela, there was Faaji Agba. A new documentary tells the captivating stories of Lagos’ long-forgotten musicians.

Screengrab: Faaji Agba promo video
Many know Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Nigerian pioneer of afrobeat, activist, and politician, but few know of the Yoruba ‘master musicians’ who make up the Faaji Agba Collective.

In a new documentary project six-years in the making, British-Nigerian filmmaker Remi Vaughan-Richards explores the captivating stories of several of Lagos’ long-forgotten musicians.

One of the musicians featured in the film is the celebrated Prince Olayiwola Fatai Olagunju, better known as the late Fatai Rolling Dollar. Fatai’s home was a stone's throw away from the Kalakuta Republic, the compound of the young soon-to-be megastar Fela Kuti. The infamous attack on Fela’s compound and the subsequent fire that engulfed the area destroyed much of Fatai’s livelihood. What remained was stolen by looters, severely hindering his livelihood, with Fatai sliding into obscurity.

The musicians had a revival in 2009, when Kunle Tejuosho, owner of Jazzhole Records, met Fatai Rolling Dollar and other largely forgotten musicians of Nigeria’s past, including Alaba Pedro, SF Olowookere and Ayinde Bakare. The group became the Faaji Agba Collective, and began recording under Jazzhole, even going on to play Brooklyn's Prospect Park with Seun Kuti in 2011.

The Faaji Agba documentary delves into the long, rich, difficult, and beautiful history of the music scene of Lagos and Nigeria at large beginning in the 1940s to the present day through the resurgence of the chronicled musicians.

The film was screened this past summer at Lights Camera Africa in Lagos and earlier this month at the Pan African Film Festival in L.A. It’s currently being shopped around and being entered into film festivals. In the meantime, check out a promo video for the film below. Keep up with Faaji Agba here.


7 Gengetone Acts You Need to Check Out

The streets speak gengetone: Kenya's gengetone sound is reverberating across East Africa and the world, get to know its main purveyors.

Sailors' "Wamlambez!"Wamlambez!" which roughly translates to "those who lick," is the cry the reverberated round the world, pushing the gengetone sound to the global stage. The response "wamnyonyez" roughly translates to "those who suck" and that should tell you all you need to know about the genre.

Known for its lewd lyrics and repetitive (often call and response) hooks, gengetone makes no apologies for belonging to the streets. First of all, most artists that create gengetone are grouped into bands with a few outliers like Zzero Sufuri riding solo. The songs themselves often feature a multiplicity of voices with screams and crowds coming through as ad libs, adding to this idea that this is definitely "outside" music.

Listening to Odi wa Muranga play with his vocal on the track "Thao" it's easy to think that this is the first, but gengetone fits snuggly in a history of sheng rap based on the kapuka style beat. Kapuka is onomatopoeically named, the beats have that repetitive drum-hat-drum skip that sounds like pu-ka-pu-ka-pu. Artists like Nonini were asking women to come over using this riff long before Ochungulo family told them to stay home if they aren't willing to give it up.

Here's seven gengetone groups worth listening to.

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