The population of Nigeria's biggest city Lagos has recently been measured at over 20 million residents, making it easily the largest city on the African continent, and nestling it somewhere around the top 20 largest cities in the entire world. If noise and the avant-garde have achieved anything during the last few decades, it's been to massage our eyes and ears in preparation for such 21st century moments of singularity; when exponential growth sees populations and cities explode in size, turning demographic line graphs from paltry Ben Nevises into towering unwieldy K2s. The insertion of modern urban textures so directly into this music goes back a long time, such as the moan and groan of Soviet composer Arseny Avraamov's Simfoniya gudkov ("Symphony of factory sirens"), first performed in November 1922 in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. The symphony made use of a quite literal arsenal of flotilla foghorns, artillery guns, machine-gun regiments, hydroplanes, and all the city's factory sirens to assemble a spectacular mass of industrial noises. Avraamov himself conducted proceedings, wielding a pair of flaming torches from up on high. However, the symphony is now nearly a century old (and was quite clearly engineered through sheer iron fisted bolshevism rather than a purer artistic will), so its vast scope and almost peaceful sense of space seem practically ancient, and utterly devoid of that modern sense of urban paranoia, or that claustrophobic wall of city noise. Most vital of all, Avraamov and the several generations of noise and industrial music that followed him were mostly unaware of the dissonance of urban multiculturalism.
Billy Bao is the project of William, a young Nigerian troubadour from Lagos who wound up landing in the Basque country's largest city Bilbao back in 1986, and soon became one of the many agents of chaos in the city's punk scene. Most punk of all perhaps, William doesn't even really exist. He's the creation of Basque musician Mattin, a long-serving noise artist who's collaborated with the likes of Oren Ambarchi, The Dead C's Bruce Russell, and Skullflower's Matt Bower, and avows a vehemently anti-copyright, anti-capitalist ideology. The Billy Bao project has gone on to spawn several aptly confused releases since its inception. 2010's Urban Decay released by PAN, and 2012's Buildings From Bilbao were two of the more substantial artistic leaps forward. Both albums collaged the group's red raw noise rock alongside lengths of confused conversation, studio rustling, field recordings, and swathes of silence into woozy and confusing concrète portraits of the city. Notably, a mid-2013 entry to The Guardian's excellent 101 Strangest Records on Spotify blog highlighted Urban Decay, describing "Nigerian band Billy Bao", completely buying into the existence of fictional band leader, William from Lagos.
Only a few minutes into The Lagos Sessions it's clear that the Billy Bao project has been building up to this. In the manner of Buildings From Bilbao, it's a beautifully scarred portrait of the Nigerian metropolis, but it's surprisingly listenable for something both so radically experimental and coarsely textured. The production throws the listener about like loose change in a washing machine, hurling us quickly between angered screaming noise of the Hanatarash variety and passages of unsettling quiet. The addition of Lagos' own sonic fingerprint take the whole rugged affair to the next level. Billy Bao travelled to the city for 12 days, recording in the local studio of Eko FM, and gathering material including contributions from a cast of local musicians such as Orlando Julius, former Fela Kuti Keyboardist Duro Ikujenyo, and Russo-Nigerian Afro-Jazz singer Diana Bada. There are practically no projects in existence that seem to have quite so starkly stared into the heart of a multi-faceted and culturally dense African city as an outsider, and come up with something that neither steals nor 'appropriates', yet still embodies its subject as wholly and honestly as The Lagos Sessions.