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Brigitte Sesu Tilley-Gyado Headshot

All That Jazz...in Lagos

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Following my recent articles on Africa, I find myself in Lagos, arguably the most populous city in Africa, and the bustling entertainment and commercial capital of black Africa.

I am here because I have been invited to perform at the prestigious international Lagos Jazz Series (www.lagosjazzseries.com), at the request of its organizers and my agent Chin Okeke, founder of Eclipse Brand Agency (www.eclipsewestafrica.com).

I arrive in Lagos one dusky, hot September evening and the vast metropolis lies stretched out before me. Arriving in Lagos is like stepping right into the architecture of a heady jazz symphony. Think of the improvisations of John Coltrane. Think Fela Kuti, and you begin to grasp a frenetic yet unhurried everyday jazz of the city in which every person is an unwitting yet vital musician, and everything and event an instrument.

The city stage is set for the concert of daily life: hazy streetlights, dark purple clouds, a gray fog, and a light lilac sky holding a fierce dying sun. Sparkling skyscrapers and stately structures tower over impromptu roadside vendor-shacks. Smooth paved roads run along rugged bare earth pavements.

Now the sounds: cars suddenly halt; move slowly and then quickly in irregular jolts and stops as the flow of traffic becomes the syncopated rhythm of jazz drums. Haphazard okada (commercial motorbike) drivers weave in-between static cars and smoke emitting danfo passenger buses like lone saxophone riffs. Blaring car horns punctuate the city like insistent trombones.

Here come the vocalists: ambulant street vendors advertise their wares in strong baritone, tenor, soprano and alto solos. Original refrains erupt from each hidden corner: canoeists and fishermen calling to each other on the blue lagoons, a sale of goods, a street scuffle, a cow, brand new chassis and customized chrome wheels of a car, a shouted greeting, or a hissing threat.

Pedestrians, the dancers of this great urban concert, dodge the traffic in skillful maneuvers, balancing briefcases or buckets with the inimitable Lagosian blend of purpose, survival and insouciance.

And at the end of the day, the pounding September rains are the deserved applause from nature.

As I soak up the everyday music of Lagosian things, I realize that although I came to perform to Lagos at the Jazz Series, it is actually Lagos that will sing to me.

S├ęsu performs live at the Lagos Jazz Series from 24-27 November (www.lagosjazzseries.com)