When Nigerian music craved originality, focus

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I STUMBLED on a master piece written by a colleague, Onyechi Ogene, who was trading his journalism career then with ‘Source’ magazine. The article, titled ‘Disappearing Stars’, caught my attention and after going through, I agreed with the writer, hence Old Skool Fun providers are no more on the turf for according to him, “Nigerian pop crooners stand on quickstand!

Yes, for they are here today and are gone the day after. Their candles burn out too quickly, for these purveyors of happiness disappear after few ovations and what are the cause(s)?

  According to Felix Liberty, whose two elpees – ‘Lover Boy’ and ‘One Life To Live’ were mega hits, the reason is that “only foolish musicians would hang around in Nigeria waiting for their fortune to come. How many people are now buying records in the country?

There is no money in the country at all”. This answer has been illuminating. As reports had it, and to match his answers with action, this self acclaimed lover boy, who sprang up from the stable of Tabansi Records, left Nigeria for United States of America in the late 80’s, abandoned music and took to bus services, simply put ‘taxi-driving,’ an enterprise that earned him 300 dollars daily then.

  However, Felix Liberty was not the first to lead the way to the lush green pastures of the western world. The path had been beaten by groups such as Wrinkars Experience, who made waves with hit tunes like “Fuel for love” and “Money to Burn”, also the Hykers and Benders.

  In the early 1970’s, the Funkees of Aba, rising from the perils of defunct Biafra, thrilled music lovers with the monster hit, “Akula”. They too fizzled out less than two-three years of their debut.

Their producer, Jake Sollo (Nkem Okonkwo), a master guitarist in the ranks of Jimi Hendrix, took his fellow band men, Harry Mosco Agada and ace drummer, Abdullai Mohammed to England. Fame and fortune inflated their sense of self-esteem and they disbanded on their return to Nigeria after a playing tour.

 In their stead, a tight Afro funk aggregation that played what they called “body music” promptly took their place. Under the aegis of William Edozie, Johnny Kpayie and Tyrone Patterson, the band did incredibly beautiful tunes with singles like “Farewell to Ibusa”, “Try and Try” and “Tei Egwu”.

  During that era, youth audiences came very close to venerating members of reigning pop groups like Semi-Colon, led by Lasbrey Ojukwu. Their claim to fame had rested squarely on the dance hall number, — “Slim Fit Maggie”, a single which is now an evergreen in the music rack.

In the long list of crowd pleasers were; Strangers, led by Ben Alaka, One World, led by Anii Hofnar Umebuani, CS Creew, led by Burtley Emeka Moore, The Doves, BLO, Tony Grey and the Black Messengers, Apostles that hit the music industry with “Don’t Hustle for Love”, Sweet Breeze of “Chasing after Rainbow”,

“She is cooler than you” and “Palmwine Tapper” Fame, OFO, the Black Company, Black Children that released “Feelings I have Got” led by Ricky Mohammed, that is rated as the best bubble-gum sledge funk from East of the Niger.

  In 1973, Jerry Boy Fraind gave Igbo youths who had survived callous bullets in the jungles of Biafra, the festive number “Shooting Star” with his group, Heral 7, although Ifeanyi Okwedy, a highlife crooner, in 1970, released the celebratory single, “Happy Survival”, Boy Fraind’s message was directed at the youths. The musician, who had played with other groups like “Genesis”,

“Angels” and “Superwings”, told them that they had the ability to recover the years the locusts had stolen. He called his music “Cyclopaedic”, defined as “music” which speaks of many things you don’t know.”

  Aba was the epic centre of happy grooves in the then Eastern States when the war ended. Those who survived the Nigerian onslaught could not believe their luck for the parties were simply unending.

  The girls were not left out. They gave generously, whatever, the musicians demanded of them. The juju musician, Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi, once said this of women, “A musician is like honey around which bees swarm, a flower around which butterflies fly.

 As a musician, I have had my fair share of women; women in all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of colours, dark or light complexioned, or with chocolate skin. Women play important role in music, in the life of a musician and in all aspects of a man’s life.”

  Some of the musicians somehow allowed the sensual antics of their females get into their heads and they succumbed to base emotions. When the boot-stomping youths dispersed in search of better things to do with their lives, these musicians were the last to see them.

  Not all the musicians were that naïve anyway. The Sweet Breeze recorded strings of hits but the individual members of the group had loftier goals. While the phenomenally gifted and natty dressers like Dallas Anyanwu and Jackie Maurice Anyaora were eager to travel to the United States of America to continue their academics, Vincent Iketuonye, their bass guitarist did not nurse the same ambition.

His indifference to leave the shores of Nigeria is understandable, for he had in 1977 obtained a degree in Political Science from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and after his mandatory one year youth service at Agbor, in then Bendel State, now Delta State, he went back for a Master’s degree and later took another degree in Law.

So in terms of educational attainments, he was no longer on the same pedestal with other members of the group and it was clear to the rest of the band members that he could survive without the band unlike most of them. It was probably one of the reasons Anyaora and Anyanwu broke away from the group to form “Essbee Family” on which platform the duo eventually travelled to America.

  Some other gifted solo artistes who feared they could be marooned in the country and fled before it happens include Remikabaka in whose London flat the group “Osibisa” was conceived. A drummer approaching the legendary status of Ghana’s Guy Warren, Aiye-Keta (Third World) his collaborative grill with Steve Winwood and Abdul Lasisis Amao released in 1973 on the Island Record label is still undisputed as a work of a great genius.

  Joni Haastrup, Tony Alex, formerly late Fela Kuti’s drummer, Segun Okeji and his Afro super feelings, Fred Coker and Charles Ononogbo, who jammed with Assagai, a London based Afro-rock group led the first wave of migrating musicians.

Haastrup, who went to the United Kingdom, released an album he titled, “Wake Up Your Mind”. In the album, he made the following appeal. “My fellow Africans, wake up your minds; my brother Africans wake up your minds;

it is the only way to find out what we have to do. It is the only way to get the power we need, because we have everything. We have to open our eyes so we can see where we are going. We should open our mind, so we can get back our land.”

Singing from the sweet comfort of Europe, Haastrup, who had hit the limelight with “Give the Beggar A Chance,” soon had his pan Africanist senses beclouded by the beauty of the industrialised Western World.

  A second wave of Nigerian musician’s thronged America, Germany, France and Britain from the 1980’s through 90’s. The long list include: BoyeGbenro, Dizzy K. Falola, Mike Okri (aka Omoge man), Mandy Brown Ojugbana (aka, Taxi driver), Alex Zilto, the exponent of Tickle me Walakolombo, Rick Asikpo, NkonoTeles, Jambos Express (Prince Bola Agba),

Bosa Abimbola, Akeeb Kareem, Tosin Jegede, Yvonne Maha, Victor Esslet(Mandator) Evi Edna Ogholi-Ogosi, Lorine Okorie, Teddy Razor, Oby Onyioha, Femi Gboyega (aka, Terakota) and Alex ZIHO (aka OkoroIgwe).

  The experience of Majekodunmi Fasheke, popularly known as Majek Fashek manifested that the West could be deadly and or dangerous for the fickle minded. Majek with his 1988 debut album “Prisoner of Conscience” became a star and earned for himself the sobriquet “Rainmaker” because of his hit track in the album – “Send Down The Rain”, which coincided with the torrential rains of that year. Savouring his new fame, he headed for America and rapidly headed down hill.

  The “rainmaker”, a musician of immense talent and promise for his first album won four prizes in 1989, during the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) Maiden Award Ceremony in Lagos. In the following years, Majek released “I and I Experience” and “Majek Fashek in New York” which was inspired by his American tour with Jimmy Cliff and Tracy Chapman in 1992.

But he was also on a roller-coaster. His behaviour became a source of concern as he took American slangs and mannerisms to dizzy heights. Sadly, during those disturbing times, some of his band members left him and rushed back to Nigeria.

 Managing to clean up his act, Majek came back home to Nigeria to promote his records and do some shows. It was in the course of that trip that he was asked the direction he was taking his music and he said: “You see, first of all… it is good for artistes to travel to other parts of the world, because, if you do not travel, you cannot see.

Trips helped me. I found out that Jamaicans when I travelled to London always feel proud that they originate reggae. So when an African comes and play reggae, they see you as their boy. They feel they are the “Babas”. So all those things pissed me off and when I got to America, I saw they had good singers.

I came back to my roots; I discovered that every music is a culture, a tradition. Then I went into the history of our music and discovered that Africans are the richest when it comes to rhythm and blues”.

  Majek was further asked the image he was trying to carve out for himself and whether an African really had to go to the West in order to make an impact?

He responded in these words: “I am an evolutionary not a revolutionary. Evolutionary means taking the mind to a different plane to a new consciousness, in a radical manner. In revolution, there is too much bloodshed and tears.

Evolution is higher than revolution because you look for progress of the mind, taking it to a higher plane. To the Western ear he said; African music could be boring if it was not fused with American elements.” His discovery was that the guitar was a very popular instrument in the West.

What Majek had wanted to do was to barrel into the American consciousness with his guitar, the way Carlos Santana, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and the rock groups of old succeeded in doing.

  But he was wrong, Americans don’t have a unified music taste, which is probably why the drums hold tremendous appeal among African – Americans as African music is polyrhythmic rather than polyphonic.

  The slaves that were shipped to the new world came mostly from the coastal rain-forest areas of West Africa. This region favoured talking instruments such as talking xylophones, flutes, and drums. Some of these instruments survived in the Caribbean and South America. In the Cuban Abakwa rhythm, the “bonkon” drum is used.

In Puerto Rico two drums, the “burlador and “Requinto” feature. These, of course, are Congolese drums; In Haiti and Dominican Republic, “Gayumba” Ganbo” and “Quitiplas” instruments found in Africa dominate their music.

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