Debbie Klein

Debbie Klein 2015


I have been conducting ethnographic research with performing artists in southwestern Nigeria for over twenty years. Based on my fieldwork throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, my ethnography, Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global: Artists, Culture Brokers, and Fans, tracks the living tradition of Yorùbá bàtá performance and its significance in the making of a Yorùbá culture movement. Focusing on collaborations between Yorùbá performers and overseas culture brokers and artists, I describe changes and reinventions of bàtá performance during a time of Christian and Muslim religious intolerance, neoliberal reform, political corruption, and economic collapse. I document the reinvigoration of local musical ensembles as they perform in Europe and the United States and return to establish centers of cultural production in Nigeria. Devalued in Nigeria, bàtá performance has found lucrative markets overseas, elevating the power and status of its practitioners as important brokers in acquiring visas, foreign exchange, as well as symbolic and cultural capital. Such expansive markets for this culture movement do not break from the tradition but build upon it, drawing on mechanisms of innovation and reflexivity that characterize Yorùbá performance and culture. As an anthropologist, I am interested in a variety of topics: the relationship between culture and power, globalization, political economy, popular culture, social justice, performance, aesthetics, decolonization, social theory, diaspora studies, human rights, gender studies, Yorùbá studies, and Africa.

My current research investigates the aesthetics and politics (gender, class, and morality) of Yorùbá Islamic culture within Nigerian popular culture. Specifically, I am examining the Nigerian popular music genre called fújì. In southwestern Nigeria in the 1980s and 1990s, fújì music was everywhere. Fújì recordings blasted from speakers, enlivening markets, public transportation, food canteens, beer parlors, barbershops, storefronts, parties, and people’s homes. By 1968, Síkírù Àyìndé Barrister pioneered and branded fújì by turning wéré music, songs performed by and for Muslims during the Ramadan fast, into a popular dance music characterized by its Islamic vocal style, Yorùbá lyrics, and drums with the eventual addition of saxophone, guitar, keyboard, and a driving rhythm section.

Teaching & Program Development

Gavilan College is located in Gilroy, a rural agricultural area of the central California coast, with additional sites in Morgan Hill and Hollister. About 75% of the students entering Gavilan need basic skills assistance prior to taking transferable courses. I have been working with my colleagues to develop majors that are relevant to students' lives, interests, employment, and transfer needs. So far, we offer two new social science majors: one with an emphasis in Community Studies and one with an emphasis in Global Studies. We have also institutionalized our Service Learning Program in the Social Sciences. We are also thrilled to offer our new Anthropology ADT (Associate Degree for Transfer) degree that will facilitate transfer into the CSU system.


From 2015-17, I'm serving as a Regional Governor on the Board of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC) and as Co-Chair of Gavilan College's Social Science Department.


B.A. in Anthropology from Brown University
M.A. & Ph.D. in Anthropology from UC Santa Cruz


Select Publications



Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global: Artists, Culture Brokers, and Fans


Yoruba Bata Goes Global jacket image

Articles, Book Chapters, and Reviews

"Fújì." Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Volume 11, Bloomsbury Academic, in press.


"Being Àyàn in a Modernizing Nigeria: A Multi-Generational Perspective." The Yorùbá God of Drumming: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Wood That Talks, edited by Amanda Villepastour, University Press of Mississippi, 2015, pp. 192-215.


Review of Yorùbá Music in the Twentieth Century: Identity, Agency, and Performance Practice, by Bode Omojola. Leeds African Studies Bulletin, vol. 75, Winter 2013/14, 2013, pp.114-116.


"A Political Economy of Lifestyle and Aesthetics: Yorùbá Artists Produce and Transform Popular Culture." Measuring Time: Karin Barber and the Study of Everyday Africa, special issue of Research in African Literatures, vol 43, no. 4, 2012, pp. 128-146.


"Strategic Collaborations Between Nigerians and Germans: The Making of a Yorùbá Culture Movement." Development, Modernism and Modernity in Africa, edited by Augustine Agwuele, Routledge, 2012, pp. 131-145.


"Lamidi Ayankunle." Dictionary of African Biography edited by Emmanuel K. Akyeampong and Henry Lewis Gates, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 307-309.


"Performing Pop Tradition in Nigeria: From Yorùbá Bàtá to Bàtá Fúji." Africans and the Politics of Popular Culture, edited by Toyin Falola and Augustine Agwuele, University of Rochester Press, 2009, pp. 133-164.


"Building Status and Overseas Networks: Erin-Osun Artists Manage Devaluation." Money Struggles and City Life: Devaluation in Ibadan and Other Urban Centers in Southern Nigeria, 1986-1996, edited by Jane I. Guyer, LaRay Denzer, and Adigun Agbaje, Heinemann, 2002, pp. 221-237.

Alhaja Seidat Fatimah Aljafariyah generously granted me and my research team an interview in August of 2012. Here she sings an excerpt, unplugged, from her famous CD, Kádàrá (Destiny). She also asked her daughter, Subúólá, to sing.

Ìlorin Fieldwork 2012

Delving into my new research with wéré, fújì, and Islamic artists in Ìlorin during the summer of 2012. Emir Gambari offers some reflections about the recent violence in Nigeria.

Sng Opening Ceremony

A small slice of the opening ceremony for the celebration of òrìsà Sàngó in Èrìn-Òsun, Nigeria. Behold the beautifully clear dancing and bàtá drumming, which inspired possession.

Yorùbá Alrnj Group with Bàtá

The Lébe Alárìnjó group plays for a funeral in Ifón. They are training the young children to dance by encouraging them to improvise for their audience. Túndé Ayangoke plays the omele méta drum to inspire the dancers.

Yorùbá Neotraditional Praise Singing

The Èrìn-Òsun alárìnjó troupe, Lébe, performs for a local funeral in Ògbàagbàá. They are singing in the neotraditional style called ewì, praise poetry sung by masquerade performers. Songs include: oríkì, prayers, incantations, proverbs, moral stories, etc.

Yorùbá Alárìnjó Acrobatics

A wonderful clip of acrobatic tricks performed by alárìnjó troupes in Yorùbá culture. Alárìnjó performers are entertainment masqueraders born into masquerade families. They worship and bear the sacred masks for the Egúngún (òrìsà of the ancestors).
A depiction of reconnection, long-term anthropological study and a preliminary exploration of the intersections between òrìsà, Islam and popular culture in Òsun, Ondó and Kwara States, Nigeria. Egúngún make an appearance.

Yorùbá Masquerade Dancers Sing Oríkì & Dance Bàtá

Yorùbá masquerade dancers, Fúnké and Wusilat Òjéyemí, sing praise songs and dance bàtá in Èrìn-Òsun.
The late Alhaji Durolu, master drummer from Èrìn-Òsun, leads this ensemble. Alhaji asked me to record these Òrìsà songs.
ÀyànÀgalú of Èrìn-Òsun drum for Òrìsà Èsù, Sàngó, Obàtálá, and Òsun. Featuring Làmídì Àyánkúnlé on ìyáàlù. This is a straight-up drumming archive so that we don't forget the rhythms.
Introduction to Yorùbá Bàtá performance as practiced in Èrìn-Òsun, Nigeria. Featuring Làmídì Àyánkúnlé, master bàtá drummer from Èrìn-Òsun.
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open...No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
— Martha Graham (1894-1991)
Copyright © 2017 Debra L. Klein. All rights reserved.