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.

Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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