By NBF News

Magic of old school music, by Femi Esho
Friday, March 05, 2010
Music is a universal language, which cuts across all frontiers of human life, be it political, religious, tribal or social. Because of music, David in the Holy Book, became God's trusted friend, and his sins were overlooked.

Legendary playwright, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) in one of his plays, The Twelfth Night said 'If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it…''

Also William Congrieve (1670 - 1729) in one of his books; The Morning Bride, asserted that music has charms to soothe a savaged breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak'

Oliver Goldsmith (1728 - 1774) in a book titled: Miss Hardcastle, also had this to say: 'Women and music should never be dated.'

All the above quotations underscore the power of music in any society.

In the traditional African society, the situation has always been the same. Like the media, music was used to educate, entertain, predict the future, chastise, warn or mirror the society at large. Even during the war, music was always used to deceive the enemies. In the years between 1930 and 1975, many musicians in Nigeria and Ghana through Highlife or Juju music ruled their communities. Majority of them used their musical prowess to serve society. Unfortunately, many of them retired to poverty or died in penury.

Many of these great musicians include E.T. Mensah, king of highlife, The Black Beats of Ghana (King Bruce) and His Golden Highlife Hits, Joe Mensah, Jerry Hansen and The Ramblers Dance Band, Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya (OON) and His International All Stars, Jim Rex Lawson who died a year after the end of Nigeria's civil war; the Obi of Trumpet, Eddy Okonta and His Top Aces, Roy Chicago, I.K Dairo, Haruna Ishola and His Apala Group, Ambrose Campbell, Iwarokun, Ojoge Daniel, Bobby Benson, Adeolu Akinsanya, Fatai Rolling Dollar, Ayinde Bakare, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Billy Friday and Tunde Nightingale.

But as a way of sustaining the legacies of these great stars, Mr Femi Esho, music enthusiast and CEO of the Evergreen Musical Company Limited based in Lagos, has reproduced the works for posterity. He told Daily Sun that his mission is to prevent their works from extinction.

Reviving great music of the past
The highpoint of the project was the recording of the works by the late Afrobeat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. On March 23, 2008, we launched the complete works of Fela at MUSON Centre. The 40 quality CDs include the works he had done right from his Kula Lobitos days up till his death in 1997.

The ceremony was well attended by Nigerians and foreigners.

This was our greatest job. We had earlier reproduced the complete works of the late Ayinde Bakare, Roy Chicago, Tunde Nightingale, J.O. Araba, Adeolu Akinsanya, Chris Ayuba, Eddy Okonta and other works by great musicians. The idea is to embrace the works, which are truly ours, and not depend on foreign music jobs. That was why Evergreen Musical Company was set up. We want to be able to make reference the great jobs of our forefathers in history for our children and those yet unborn.

Let me say that our target now is everybody. But we found out that older people enjoy the music more, particularly when what we get now from our present crop of musicians is junk music which has no meaning and which could not stand the test of time. The music of Victor Olaiya, Rex Jim Lawson and Ambrose Campbell would forever remain evergreen. Whenever you listen them, they are excellent. You would always like to dance to the rhythms. The same thing with Bobby Benson's Taxi Driver which he waxed in 1951.

Poor state of legendary musicians
This is a very serious matter. Musicians of those days were very committed with what they were doing. They lived well for their work and gave society their best. Unfortunately, only a few of them could boast of financial rewards from their musical works. Bobby Benson had the first night club in Lagos, Dr Olaiya was so lucky, he is now at Stadium Hotel in Lagos. Victor Uwaifor is lucky too as he had Joromi Hotel and one or two others. But others have passed on. Osita Osadebey is gone, Roy Chicago is dead, Bobby Benson, the doyen of highlife too is gone, Chief Billy Friday is gone, only a few of them are left. Rex Lawson died as far back as 1971.

The various Ministries of Culture should encourage these musicians' works which are indigenous to us. We should promote the works of such musicians as Haruna Ishola, Ayinla Omowura, J.O. Araba, Ayinde Bakare and others. It is a pity that our government is not interested in music. Let me cite late President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in those days. He used to go about with a band called The Black Beats. The latter was more or less the government's band in Ghana at that time.

Role of musicians in society
One man who comes to mind is my late friend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who fought the government to a standstill. Many people might say Fela was a rascal! No. I think Fela was a crusader who used his music to check government's excesses. Everything Fela said is now coming to pass. We now have suffering and smiling and our people sit in buses, 49 sitting and 99 standing.

Today, we use power generators because there is no electricity and there is fuel scarcity. Fela sang about all these in his songs to draw the attention of government to the pains of the people. We would remember Olaiya's Ilu le o, ko sowo lode.My friend Eddie Okonta also played with Arinze in 1962, at Kakadu Hotel. He sang Austerity measure lode. All what our musicians sang then, are now happening today. What I am saying is that their music were full of philosophies even decades after they were produced. Today, what we get from our musicians are Omoge Fedi e Sile, Igboro ti Daru o. Arapala,…..'

But despite all these lewd lyrics, our musicians are now smiling to the bank because the society itself is rotten.. The society itself should go back to its past and do the right thing. Our cultural heritage should not be swept under the carpet only to imbibe foreign culture which has demonized our society.