Meet Captain Rugged, the Only Superhero Who Can Dance
A new superhero is fighting for freedom, justice and the Nigerian way in the mean streets of Lagos. And – oh, yes – he can dance too.
Meet Captain Rugged, the creation of Nigerian musician Keziah Jones. He is the inspiration for Jones’s latest “blufunk” album release and, unusually, the subject of a graphic novel published along with it.
The idea, Jones says, is to show off Nigeria’s premier city to the outside world – as a place that is as arresting as Paris or London, yet also transformed by unshared oil wealth into a blight of shanty towns and homelessness.
“Nigeria is one of the fastest growing economies but none of that is trickling down,” Jones told me. “The Captain Rugged project was really an attempt to put something on the map about Lagos in a way that could be understood by non-Nigerians.”
The captain of the novel and album is an army officer said to be absent without leave from his patrol in the Niger Delta – the hub of Nigeria’s oil business. Now in Lagos, he fights with almost super-human strength against corrupt police and money-grasping politicians.
“He will look at all the pollution and death and say, ‘What do I do?'” Jones said.
Rugged’s first intervention in the novel is to stop police officers Godbless and Lucky from beating up a street urchin pickpocket called Jetlag. Young Jetlag is so impressed that he joins the local chapter of the Lagos Recovering Criminals Association.
This and similar developments upset the powers that be – army generals and rich politicians – who worry that the poor are becoming so demanding “some of them are even asking for education”.
The book, drawn by Lagos-based Native Maqari from Jones’s story, is graphically dark but witty. It will be released in Nigeria as a series of comics, more in line with the country’s tradition.
Captain Rugged is more than just a graphic novel, however. He is also the hero and title of Jones’s album – an appropriate melange of African, American and European roots that the musician dubs “blufunk”.
“I play the guitar like percussion,” he explains. “It’s blues. It’s funk. It’s rhythmic. It’s Afro.”
It is here that we learn in decidedly funky rifts about Rugged and the society he lives in.
“From the stars I came/Don’t know who you’ve been serving/Well, I’ve been surviving/An Afro-superhero/The only one who knows how to dance.”
Other songs touch on Nollywood – the Nigerian film industry, on laughter, on how traditionalism can be submerged by modernism, and on how Nigeria’s “utopia” has only the fleeting “life of a daydream”.
Jones says his music style for these songs is dictated by the lyrics or message that the songs hold. “I deliberately try to write as broad as I can,” he said. “If a song calls for rock, it is rock. If it calls for folk it is folk.”
Jones and Captain Rugged begin a European tour in March, with stops in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Britain. There are plans for U.S. concerts towards the end of the year.
(This is an edited version of an article I wrote from my regular employer, Reuters)