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Nigerian music: A passionate critique

By Orji Kalu Nigerian music has been globally accepted as rich, inspiring and progressive. Only a few persons would disagree with this notion. There are diverse genres with which many Nigerian musicians were or are still being associated. They include: highlife, juju, fuji, hip-hop, Rhythm and Blues (R&B), gospel, reggae, afro-beat, afro-pop, naija gbedu, etc. In each of these genres Nigerian artistes have excelled, drawing global respect and recognition. In fact, Nigeria has been described as “The heart of African Music” by the world in appreciation of its role in revolutionizing music.

The fame that Nigeria enjoys in music could be traced to the West African “highlife” and “palm wine” music fused into native rhythm with techniques imported from Congo Brazzaville for the development of several popular styles that were unique to Nigeria.

This takes us back to the period between the 50s and 80s, even early 90s, when music was really music. The major concept of music in the period under review was to be used as a socialising agent, through which society was moralised. Among the early musicians in this mould were Celestine Ukwu, Victor Uwaifo, IK Dairo, Rex Lawson, Zeal Onyia, Victor Olaiya, Osita Osadebe, and Mike Ejeagha. Among these early musical exponents that popularised this concept was Chief Osita Osadebe (the Ogbaru traditional chief) whose music assumed some sort of cult-worship among his admirers. He had a larger-than-life image. Chief Osadebe (of People’s Club of Nigeria fame) traversed the nook and cranny of Nigeria and even beyond like a colossus. His music has remained evergreen, even in death, making him an idol so, to speak. I know of some persons who had thought that Osadebe was immortal. He wielded this kind of influence, because of the great emotion and candour he brought to his music. It was no surprise therefore, that latter-day musicians such as Oliver de Coque (the Ezinifite, Anambra-born music crony) and Ali Chukwuma attempted to toe his path. Oliver de Coque came very close to creating the kind of huge image that Osadebe carried about wherever he went. But there was a big gulf separating the two as Osadebe combined great talent with panache.

The lyrics of Rex Lawson, Celestine Ukwu, Victor Olaiya and IK Dairo aroused inner feeling of self-mollification whenever one listens to them. They conveyed deep messages about the ephemeral nature of life and the need to lead a pure and righteous life. They did much of praise-singing and concentrated in entertaining the listeners. IK Dairo, whose son has successfully taken over from him, was a Yoruba music idol. Even though they played the same music genre, Dairo’s son has added some vibes that have made his own music catch up with the expectations of music-lovers.

As an adventurous young school boy in Aba, it was always very fascinating paying to listen to Osadebe, Lawson and Celestine Ukwu performing live at UNICOCO and Ambassador Hotels in Aba. The large crowds that trooped out to these hotels whenever they performed told a big story about the men’s acceptability among music buffs in the commercial city. Interestingly, some people even had to travel from as far as Port Harcourt, Calabar, Enugu and Onitsha to watch them play.

The uniqueness of each musician, in those good old days, was visible. No two musicians sang alike: each had his own identity, which he cherished and guarded jealously. Have I forgotten the irrepressible Bobby Benson of the “Taxi Driver” fame? I can never forget him. He was a colossus. He left a big legacy for which he is still remembered. I am filled with pain each time I drive through Onipanu Area, along the long-stretched Ikorodu Road, Lagos, and look at the spot where the magnificent Bobby Benson Hotel once stood toweringly? I shake my head in disbelief that such an edifice could be sold and later demolished by its new owners. Such monuments should stand as signposts for which generations unborn will remember their founders. I had expected the government of Lagos State to have converted it to a tourist centre instead of allowing it to wallow in neglect and abandonment for years before its final interment in the early 90s. It was, indeed, a grievous sin against tourism and history.

Those that patronised the Bobby Benson Club had memorable stories to tell about the fun they had there. It was a melting-point for big-time fun-seekers and night-crawlers that made night life in Lagos then tick. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti also popularised it with his ‘Shrine’ based in Ikeja. Fela was miles ahead of his peers, an extraordinary entertainer.
This aspect of entertainment is gradually fizzling out in Nigeria. Modern-day musicians hardly set-up such centres to entertain their fans.

It is significant to mention that though these musicians sang in their dialects they were still appreciated by people from tribes other than theirs. They played in club houses and pubs, providing entertainment in a sizzling and soothing manner. This contrasts with today’s musicians who engage in big concerts and played for individuals and organisations for a fee.
There is another great attribute of these early musicians: their ability to play one or more instruments, and this marked them out as gifted and talented and made their music original and rich. Oliver de Coque, for instance, was a guitarist; Victor Uwaifo (the Benin music exponent) was a trumpeter. The same goes for Zeal Onyia and Victor Olaiya.
Unlike today’s artistes, these early music giants carved a niche for themselves by concentrating on the genres in which their talents were richly showcased. Today’s artistes can be described as Jack-of-all-Trades. Many of them dabble at music in which they are not gifted or passionate about. This makes them struggle to impress. In the process they lose fame and fade into obscurity.

When we write about gifted musicians, I cannot forget the Ramblers Dance Band of Ghana. This band was as popular in Ghana as they were in Nigeria. I recall with nostalgia their popular tunes, such as Knock on Wood, Ekombi, Nyame Mbere, Agyanka Dabra, Better Ni, etc. Up till date, I still feel the deep impact of these tracks. Harry Moscow was also gifted: he was a singer and producer par excellence. I still remember his studio tucked away somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos.
The 70s (immediately after the civil war) witnessed some sort of explosion in Nigerian music, when younger artistes ruled the airwaves. Bands, like Oriental Brothers, Ofege, Uhuru, Cloud 9, Sweet Breeze and Peacocks were the talk of the town. Their music could melt a heart made of stone and was often a source of inspiration to the young and old. As young boys, we played their music with immeasurable attachment and were motivated by their lyrics, because they were didactic and soul-lifting. Oriental Brothers almost had a larger-than-life image among their fans. I remember Dan Sach, the guitarist and Warrior, the lead singer. Wherever and whenever they performed they always had a full house. In fact, tickets were sold out weeks before each performance. Sweet Breeze was a classical group, bonded by a common focus and experience. Their sell-out track “Spot Nathan” – a tribute to a fallen friend - remains memorable. Here I will also remember people, like Bongos Ikwue, Onyeka Onwenu, Essien Igbokwe, and Sonny Okosun.

Let us talk about the period between mid 80s and early 90s when younger musicians controlled the space. In this category were such dudes as Shina Peters (popularised Afro-juju), Evi-Edna Ogholi (sang in her native language), Majek Fashek of Send Down the Rain fame, Ras Kimono (Reggae idol), Victor Essiet, and Bright Chimezie.
Then let us move to the period between the 1990s and 2000s. This is an era I have chosen to call the “explosive period.” It is an era Nigerian music scene witnessed daily berth of musicians, both talented and untalented. They come in droves and churn out tunes ranging from the melodious to preposterous. In fact, the number of musicians produced in this period outnumbers all that came before them.

One thing one easily notices in these new-age musicians is that they hardly bear their names. They are also well-educated, unlike their forbears that barely passed Standard Six. In addition, they prefer to adorn new stage names that give them a new identity to suit their aspirations. Among them are Acho, whose full name is Onuoha Iheanacho. He comes from Ezinihitte, Mbaise in Imo State. A pop artiste, who cut his teeth in music at the tender age of 13, Acho, a graduate of Petroleum Engineering, also writes songs in the genres of Ballad, R&B, and Soul. 2Face Idibia (Tuface) is another shining star whose music is acclaimed globally. He was born Innocent Ujah Idibia and comes from Cross River State. He plays R&B and groves in Lagos and many cities in Nigeria and abroad. 2Shotz (real name William Iroha) is a rapper who came into limelight in 1999 after teaming up with another artiste, 2Ply to form the Foremen. 9con is based in Kenya, where he is making waves.

He has collaborated with artistes such as Timaya, Wyre and Redsan to shake the music industry. Bracket, comprising the duo of Nwachukwu Ozioko and Ali Obumneme, is very popular among the youth. They both come from Enugu State. Asa (Bukola Elemide) is an Afro-pop and reggae artiste with an amazing energy. Banky W’s real name is Olubankole Wellington. He is a Nigerian R&B artiste born in the United States. A graduate of Industrial Engineering from RPI, New York, started music by singing in numerous choirs in Lagos before going to the States for further studies. P-Square (both come from Anambra State) is a magical group and amazing ‘twins.’ Their emergence on the music scene has added some flavour to Nigerian hip-hop. They met at the University of Nigerian, Nsukka, as students and competed in Star Quest from where they shot into the limelight in 2002.
Other Nigerian music stars that make us proud, even though some of them exhibit excessive puerility, include D’Banj (Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo); Dare Art Alade (Darey) – R&B artiste, who was born into music; Da Grin (Dapo Olaonipekun), referred to by many as the 50 Cents of Yoruba, died in a fatal crash in Lagos last year; Djinee (Osayamwen Nosa Donald), Don Juan is a Nigerian musician based in London; Eedris Abdulkareem is a hip-hop artiste; Ego Ogbaro (paired with the masked Lagabja for 12 years), Dr. Sid (Sidney Onoriode Esiri) is the son of the legendary actor Justus Esiri and is a graduate of Dental Surgery from the famous University of Ibadan; Faze (Richard Chibuzor Orji) was a member of the R&B group Plantashun Boyz that featured Blackface and 2Face Idibia before they broke up to pursue individual careers. He graduated from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma.

Others are Femi Kuti (son of the Abami Eda, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti), Holy Mallam (Ajibola Adebayo) is a gospel singer. J. Martins (comes from Ohafia, Abia State but brought up in Onitsha). He studied Mass Communication in IMT, Enugu. JJC (Abdul Rasheed Bello) is a UK-based Nigerian artiste. Lagbaja (Bisade Ologunde) is a masked Afro-beat musician and his name Lagbaji means somebody, nobody, anybody or everybody. Naeto C (Naetochukwu Chikwe) was born in Houston, U.S. Olu Maintain (Olumide Edwards Adegbolu) loves to mimic the songs of M.C. Hammer and Bobby Brown. Timaya, Duncan Mighty, Wande Cole, Slow Dog, Niggaraw, and TJ.
Nigerian artistes have come a long way and the sky is awaiting them. But let me leave you with this short story that will tell you the impact modern Nigerian music is having on our young generation. Enjoy it.

I left my house at 6 p.m. to visit a friend in Abuja last week. I was baffled by what I saw: two of his children – ages between 7 and 10 – were gyrating to the tune of a popular Nigerian musical dude with all the energy and vitality they could muster. Their dancing steps, coupled with the foul language of the lyrics oozing out from the KDK loudspeakers in the expansive sitting room were typical of the new craze that is threatening to consume our youth. As the boy and girl danced away, oblivious of who was watching them, my mind raced back to a programme I watched on TV the previous week about the impact of modern music on the youth of our nation. I recalled vividly how the narrator on that programme heaped the whole blame of increasingly moral deprivation among our youth on modern music lyrics, some of which he referred to as “lewd.”

From the excitement in the faces of the boy and girl, it was certain they were totally engrossed in the music, as they cared less about the repeated entreaties by their mother to go and have their evening bath, and get ready for supper. Time was 8 p.m. It took the intervention of their father, who, at the time, was getting embarrassed by the recalcitrant behaviour of his children, to get them to comply. Even though they later agreed to go and take their bath, it was clear from their disposition that they were not happy. To them, it would have been better to continue in their unproductive pastime than to go and eat.

I must confess that that incident left me totally forlorn and depressed. It opened my eyes to how much parents and guardians shirk their responsibilities toward their children and wards. I could not understand why a father should sit and watch his children misbehave, without calling them to order. Was the man’s attitude not overindulging? How could he have encouraged his children to dance in such a solicitous manner – worst still to salacious lyrics? Somebody should tell me which way our nation is headed.
Truly, I have nothing against children having fun. But this should be done with decorum and decency. There are many other ways to indulge our children. Definitely, not the way my friend did it. Even though he feigned nonchalance, I saw total frustration and helplessness written all over his face. It seemed as if his children would find it difficult to adapt to the new regimen of behaviour being demanded from them by their mother.

In the culture of where I come, a child can never override his father or mother. In fact, our culture frowns at any child that behaves disrespectfully. In a similar article I wrote some time last year I traced the causes of moral degeneration among our young ones. In it, I stated emphatically that parents should receive a chunk of the blame. The family is a social unit and that makes it an important part of any society. It is in the home that the child cuts its teeth and receives the first lesson of life. This is why every child exhibits what it learns from its home.

How then do you the reader indulge your child?
 
 

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