We catch up with Fuji legend K1 de Ultimate who has some new music up his sleeve.
King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall (KWAM1, K1 de Ultimate) was seating at the window ledge of his room at the luxurious Oriental Hotel, surrounded by lights, camera and minimal action. The Nigerian music legend had made this space in Lagos home for a few weeks, recording a new music project. He’s sharing a joke with photographer August Udoh, and A&R executive Bankulli Osha about Lagos and the intricacies of human experience.
It was delivered in Yoruba, and everyone, laughed hysterically. Too bad I don’t speak Yoruba. It was a great joke, judging by the reaction it got.
The photos from the shoot were coloured portraits of the Fuji legend who was taking a new step in his career. August Udoh props his crew to wrap up the shoot. There were interviews lined up for K1, and he had limited time to go through all of them. “He is travelling to Europe for a concert tomorrow. Everything is ready, and that’s why you have to do this interview today.” Bankulli tells me.
K1 De Ultimate is a popular for introducing the Traditional Fuji genre to the sounds of keyboards, saxophones and guitars. With over 9 studio albums and 12 live LPs, the musician has grown to be one of Nigeria’s greatest exports. His first global tour was held in 1984, when he played sets in numerous cities across North America and Europe. He has continued to tour annually since then. In 1996, he delivered the first Fuji performance ever at the World of Music, Arts and Dance Festival (WOMAD). And have also performed at London’s Troxy, World Music Expo, and SOB’s.
Fuji is a popular Nigerian musical genre. It arose from the improvisational Ajisari/were music tradition, which is a kind of music performed to wake Muslims before dawn during the Ramadan fasting season. Were music/Ajisari itself was made popular by Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister. Over years, the genre has grown through the years, with K1 de Ultimate emerging as Nigeria’s most recognizable name.
Fuji is general regarded as music which appeals to the older generation, with local chief and monarchs serving as prominent patrons of the genre. A typical K1 concert in Lagos attracts the elite members of society and the political class whose members interject his performances by sprinkling large wads of cash on the performer.
In April 2016, K1 de Ultimate was the headliner at the weekly ‘Industry Nite’ concert. The vent was attended by popular Lagos monarch, Oba Saheed Ademola Elegushi, Kusenla 111, the Elegushi of Ikateland. His opening set was more notable for the competition to spray wads of cash on him, than the music. He had to put a stop to it by pleading with them to allow him express himself via the art.
But world music is changing, and the emergence of new sounds have altered music tastes among Nigerian and global millennials. K1 is seeking a new direction with the music direction targeting that demographic. The new project is titled “Fuji The Sound.”
“It’s a new direction. I’m trying to step up Fuji music. Fuji Music is indigenous music that has lived with us for so long. I would say it is sort of the only survivor of the country’s indigenous music. From what we have been doing over the years to see that having presented it to the world’s attention, we want to bring it to be so classified as music of yesterday, today and the future.”
The creation of the project came from an unexpected encounter. In 2005, Bankulli Osha who was working closely with Entertainment mogul Ayo Shonaiya, was in London for the Intro Summer Jam. During the trip, Bankulli stopped by the Barbican Center, where K1 de Ultimate was performing. While backstage, he introduced the idea to the legend who was interested. But nothing happened.
Fast forward 10 years later, Bankulli who had gone on to manage D’banj, Wande Coal and numerous African pop stars, crossed paths with K1 at the 2016 Nigerian Entertainment Conference in Lagos. The duo engaged each other, and began working on the project immediately.
In 1979, Marshal independently released his first album ‘Abode Mecca’. He instantly became a force to reckon with and was picked up by Baba Laje Records. Since then he continued to wax stronger as he recreated Fuji by including the sounds of keyboards, saxophones and guitars with an up-tempo rhythm which was atypical to the genre. Furthermore, initially Fuji only appealed to Muslims as it stems from the Islamic genre Were. Yet with his kind of Fuji those of various religious and nonreligious sectors fell in love with the genre.
Marshal continued to recreate the genre by giving birth to Western Fuji, Modern Fuji, Fuji dancehall, Classical Fuji, Mature Fuji and Fuji Step-up. Along with each reincarnation of Fuji, he also rebranded his name hence Alhaji Wasiu Ayinde Barrister, Alhaji Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, Kwam 1, and finally K1 De Ultimate.
“Fuji has young followers. With what K1 has done for the genre, he has been able to spread awareness richly to some extent. But I felt that the only way the culture can be sold to a larger crowd is to put a more definitive appearance to the taste of Fuji, to people that are not traditional fans.” Bankulli says.
The new project is remade for the digital age. With production from Mystro, and guest vocals from songstress Toby Grey, the team set out to work.
“This has been my problem for years right now. What we see everyday says a lot about the new generation of children. We do not want Fuji music to die with this generations and new inventions of music that the world is embracing. We want to see that Fuji does not die with us.” K1 says.
To achieve the vision, Producer Mystro and K1 de Ultimate selected a number of songs. Notable among them are ‘Thinking about you’, ‘Awade’, and ‘Omo Naija’. The tracks were stripped of the signature talking drum emphasis, and updated. The rhythm, sound and direction were altered for new age Trap, R&B, Highlife and Dancehall influences. The track lengths were also reduced to fit in with global radio specifications and packaged into an EP. “Fuji The Sound” EP. K1 refers to the process as “Fantastic.”
“Fuji lyrics is sang exclusively in our indigenous languages. The lyrics have value, which will not let our music go into extinction if we do it right.” K1 says.
“You want to play this new project on the dance floor, when you are driving, partying or anything else. It will blend in and make sense to you, just like all the others.”
The new EP will be marketed across global digital platforms, with a strong roll-out planned and scheduled for release. K1 de Ultimate opens his Mac Book, and plays the entire EP for everyone in his hotel room. His eyes glowed with excitement as a completely new genre of Nigerian music wafted through the air into our ears and our hearts. It was a special moment, one that challenges the musical stereotypes in Nigeria.
“Music is something that is inborn inside of you. There’s no terminal point” He responds as we ask a parting question on his career and how this affects his plans to retire. “If you look at Commander Ebenezer Obey. Still playing music at over 70. King Sunny Ade just celebrated his 70 birthday, and he is still very kicking. I am not up to their age, and if they can be doing that in that age, definitely, I have long way to go.” pulse