London pop-up exhibition tells the story of Nigeria's pioneering Fuji music genre

Fuji: A Opera" is showing at London's Africa Centre from the 18 – 28 August 2023.
Fuji: A Opera" is showing at London's Africa Centre from the 18 – 28 August 2023. Copyright Credit: Canva Images
By Theo FarrantAP
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Delve into the Fuji music genre's roots, witness rare artefacts, and celebrate its vibrant subculture from the 1960s to today in London's latest pop-up exhibition.

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A new exhibition titled "Fuji: A Opera" narrates the tale of the Fuji music genre, a pivotal component of Nigeria's music landscape that laid the very foundations for today's chart-topping Afrobeat sound. 

The melodies of Burna Boy and Wizkid bare an indelible debt to the roots of Fuji music. 

Once hosted in Lagos, this multi-faceted exhibition has now found its stage at the Africa Centre in London. 

It boasts an array of fascinating unearthed archival footage and artefacts, delving into the historical roots of Fuji music, showcasing its seminal origins, and paying homage to its vibrant subculture spanning from the early 1960s to the contemporary era.

The architect behind this carefully curated collection is Bobo Omotayo, who aspired to craft an immersive experience suitable for all ages, while also serving as an educational conduit for Fuji music and Nigerian cultural insights. 

"It's really an edu-tainment exhibition. It's over four floors, so we're very proud of that. And as you go through there's several installations and opportunities for you to truly immerse yourself," explains Omotayo. 

The roots of Fuji music

Fuji music arose from the improvisational wéré music, also known as ajísari, a genre of music performed to wake Muslims before dawn during the Ramadan fasting season, in Yorùbá towns and cities in southwestern Nigeria. 

In the 1950s, pioneering musicians Alhaji Dauda Epo-Akara and Ganiyu Kuti (Gani Irefin) introduced and popularised wéré in Ibadan. 

Emerging in communities around Ibadan, Lagos, and Ìlọrin, these artists also drew inspiration from Yoruba sákárà music, adapting the sákárà drum. 

As wéré evolved, performers like the influential Nigerian-born singer-songwriter Ayinde Barrister integrated mouth organs, enriching the genre's compositions. 

Barrister led the prominent group Jibowu Barrister, pushing wéré into wider recognition and even coined the term 'Fuji'.

According to Barrister, "I came up with it when I saw a poster at an airport, advertising the Mount Fuji, which is the highest peak in Japan." 

"Fuji: A Opera" will be on display at London's Africa Centre from 18 August to 28 August 2023. 

Check out the video for a look inside the exhibition.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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