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DJ gives Nigeria bold voice

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 (cash) 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."

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 had 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."