Radio Lagos

In Nigeria, American disc jockey winning fans with bluntness on Lagos radio station

July 16, 2001


LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ From the air conditioned heart of a place he calls Fantasy Island, American disc jockey Dan Foster is bouncing hip-hop grooves on radio waves to millions of listeners in the sixth-largest city on earth.

A lot of people tuned to his early morning drive-time radio show on 96.9 Cool FM are trapped in their cars, stuck in traffic jams so bad the police are racing down freeways the wrong way to get ahead.

His is in-your-face, American-style radio, but the 40-year-old San Francisco-born DJ is a long way from home.

"It's the best mix in Africa, with a Nigerian touch. You better believe it baby," Foster crows smoothly between tracks at Cool FM's slick studio, tucked away on a side street in Lagos.

American music is nothing new on African airwaves, where Bruce Springsteen can be heard as easily as the latest hit from Congolese superstar Papa Wemba.

But an outspoken DJ with no qualms about knocking the powers that be _ and an American one to boot _ is a sound rarely heard in Africa.

On one show, Foster interrupts a newscast mid-sentence. "The law?" Foster asks, laughing.
"You mean the police officers on the street harassing me for naira (dollars) and putting up roadblocks for no apparent reason? That's the law?"

Another day, he urges Nigeria's Cabinet members to help President Olusegun Obasanjo buy a new plane after the House of Representatives denied his request for another one.

"All you ministers ... take some of that money from some of those offshore accounts that you have hidden in your woman's name and hook the president up a plane. He's a cool president. He'll be glad you did," Foster says.

Nigeria struggled for nearly four decades under a series of repressive military regimes that often executed or jailed their critics.

But life changed dramatically when one dictator died unexpectedly and Obasanjo, in 1999, became the West African nation's first elected civilian leader in 16 years.

"We all love Dan Foster. He's proof that things are changing," says 30-year-old Anayo Okenwa, a businessman who distributes beer and cement. "If he'd been on the radio here a few years ago, during military rule, they'd have put him in jail."

The music on Foster's five-hour "Breakfast Jam" flows easily from Puff Daddy to Nigerian singer Fela Kuti.

The show features fake helicopter traffic reports _ fake since no station in Lagos has a helicopter _ and characters like "The Village Woman," who speaks pidgin English and calls in to educate the foreign DJ on the intricacies of Nigerian life.

Lagos' other DJs are rarely critical of authorities _ even though many have accents so American it can be hard to tell if they're Nigerian.

"I watch a lot of American TV and talk shows. I guess it rubs off a bit," said 26-year-old Toluwaleke "Lakeside" Laguda, another Cool FM DJ who does weekend shifts.

Foster says Cool FM's Lebanese owner was looking for an "American flavor" when the station heard a three-minute sample of his work on the Internet and offered him a contract.

Curious, Foster took leave from his job at Mix 106.5 radio in Baltimore, and left for Nigeria in February 2000.

It was the first time he'd ever set foot on the continent.

"What I saw from the window of the plane ... it was prehistoric. I was scared. I never saw so many people, so much pure human traffic in my life," Foster recalls.

"But when I got to Lagos, all of the sudden I saw these big modern buildings and I was impressed."

The deal was even more impressive: It included a paid apartment equipped with a maid and a cook, use of a company jeep and a daily allowance _ all on top of a comfortable salary paid into his bank back home.

Foster concedes most of his listeners live in a very different world.

The average Nigerian earns just a few dollars a day _ not enough to afford the juicy hamburgers, pepperoni pizzas and ice cream advertised repeatedly on Cool FM.

"I call this island Fantasy Island. It's not the real Nigeria," Foster says, swerving his Suzuki jeep around potholes and beggars in the rich suburb of Victoria Island where he lives.

"The real people are out there struggling, so I try to keep it real," he says.

Foster says his friends in the United States believe he lives in the jungle with lions and elephants.

"Most people back home have no idea. They can't imagine what Lagos looks like. They think I'm broadcasting from a hut," he says laughing, spinning CDs at the station's digitally automated studio.

Copyright 2001 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.