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The Danfo Bus Conductor

The Danfo bus conductor is a favorite feature on the Lagos soundscapes project, and most of my Lagos soundscapes installations have highlighted this character who I consider a preeminent soundmark of the megacity. He is an icon of the Lagos sonic map, a lyrical wordsmith dishing out the Lagos bus routes like a rapper. The Danfo bus conductors are the innovators and proponents of using verbal mapping to navigate Lagos, melodically vocalizing the bus routes to draw the attention of potential passengers and, conversely, notify them of upcoming bus stops to disembark.

The advent of verbal mapping may have resulted from the lack of associative visual materials (i.e. display of bus stops and routes) at the bus stations. Bus conductors improvise by calling out each bus stop and route. This method of oral communication is a singular cadence—the bus stations and routes the conductors call out are unique to the city—captured within the Lagos soundscape repertoire. Without these monikers, Lagos would invariably sound like any other Nigerian or West African metropolis, but when you hear these verbal maps in a recording, it is almost certain the sounds originate in Lagos.

Verbal mapping is an art form of successive freestyle-rap deliveries honed by many hours of non-stop ranting. The Danfo bus conductor’s language is hybrid and his lyrics are spontaneous, converting real-time occurrences into short and remixed poetic verses. When deployed at bus stations, individuated chants are orchestrated within a collective context where a single annunciation reverberates among many to compose a temporary audio map that diagrams the distribution of Danfos within the bus station and orientates passengers to seek out their preferred route and ride. The bus conductor will hustle you, drawing your attention as you navigate the sea of yellow Danfo buses searching out the right bus to board. The bus conductor must be listened to intently as he rattles out these routes in machine-gun-styled verbal assault, or else you will be lost in this space. You must make sense of what may appear to be his nonsense; names of bus stop and routes are abbreviated, verbally flipped, re-flipped and flipped again. The bus conductors modulate these vocal deliveries to stand out within the cacophony of the bus station and draw the attention of potential passengers. The conductor must be heard amidst the non-stop Lagos bus station din, his voice surpassing the clamor of engines, loudspeakers, hawkers, horns, chatter and verbal maps of other conductors. While vocal patterns are specific to a conductor, they do copy each other sometimes, and are thus loosely associated by the harsh guttural pitches they share.

 

The Danfo bus conductor is the one who navigates the routes of Lagos, riding all day with his co-conspirator, the Danfo bus driver, morphing his lyrics to the different routes they ply. He is the nagging noisemaker and at the same time a symbol of order in the chaotic Lagos bus stations and routes. He is always informing you, as you ride along with him en-route to your destination, dishing out the cartographic layout of the city so you know when and where to get off.

With experience, he cultivates an efficacious sonic fluency at bus stations and alongside the driver; new conductors sometimes shadow, as an apprentice, old ones to inherit such tricks of the trade and learn the various bus stops and short cuts.

 

However, to make sense of this influx of constant information, you, the listener must filter the myriad sounds that substantively map the landscape of a chaotic city like Lagos. This soon becomes a systemic requirement for navigating the city. The lyrically imbibed perceptions of sound bites systemically encrypt the mind of the listener like pre-recorded codes of regulation and linkages to reveal the organic cohesion of the cityscape. And like mnemonics, the isolation of a single sound can stand-in for the cumulative activity present in a space. The involuntary action of immersive filtering creates a network of synthetic signs and interpretations, directions and movements to differentiate between environs of aggregated sound and absorb the nuanced systems of communication that express the multitude of individual activities taking place in the city’s soundscapes.

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