Kako Bi Chicken!

Posted on 25/08/2012


Kako Bi Chicken!


You may not have observed it, but there has been a subtle revolution going on in the Nigerian music scene. It began slowly, surreptitiously, like a cat lurking in wait for prey, but the movement is making a huge noise these days, gate- crashing all available air space. Can you understand the music your kids are hearing?


Have no fear. Nigerians have always been a musical people. In our history, as is with most parts of Africa, a child, right from youth naturally blends into traditional music culture by taking part in socio-cultural musical activity within the community he or she develops. The rituals of growth, lineage, coming of age and worship are embellished with musical ceremonials. So, although with the influence of urbanization and development, much of the traditional aspect has been lost, music is still within each one of us. However, due to the foreign influences cultivated since the advent of colonization and globalization, much of these root influences have been neglected. There is valid reason for this.


At independence the popular music forms were guitar-based music that blended with traditional percussive instruments. The guitar as we know it today evolved from the Lute, which originated in the Renaissance era, but the guitar’s country of origin cannot be identified definitively since, according to archaeologists, it is still rather vague although its etymology presupposes it may have evolved from the Greek cithara, the Chaldean quitarra or the Persian sitar. Ancient Egypt also had a stringed instrument that looked much like our modern guitar. Although its precise origin cannot really be determined, Greek mythology tends to confuse it with the Egyptian lyre supposedly invented by Tehuti, the God of Wisdom whom the Greeks assimilated as Hermes or Pan. Some believe that the modern guitar has roots in Spain, but realistically, it cannot be traced back further than the 15th Century. It is thought to have been invented by the people of Malaga. Ed Keazor, the founder of the Nigeria Nostalgia (1960-1980) Project enlightens us that the first Nigerian musician to play with a guitar is probably a fellow called Irewolede Denge, who plied his trade as a local minstrel in the Lagos of the 1920’s. But there were also others, like Dixon Oludaiye, and Justus Domingo, who released an international album, called ‘Roots of Juju,’ which was recorded in London in 1928! And, of course, there was Kokoro, the blind minstrel.


The origins of the Highlife form of music has always provided animated banter between Nigerians and Ghanaians. Who owns the copyright of the music form? The argument may never be amicably decided, but few are in doubt that the style of music emanated in original form from Ghana, but redefined it’s modernized dance-style out of the palm wine and tombo bars that birthed deep within the homesteads of Eastern Nigeria. While Ghana had the E.T. Mensah’s, Rambler’s International, Uhuru Dance Band and others, Nigeria flouted the Bobby Bensons, Celestine Ukwu’s, Victor Olaiya’s, Rex Jim Lawson’s, Eddy Okonta’s, Victor Uwaifo’s, the Oriental Brothers and Osadebe’s. Much later the Nico Mbarga’s and Bright Chimezie’s joined the clique. Today in Ghana, highlife has evolved into Hip-Life, as embraced by the youth who have blended the influence of the American rap music to the intertwining guitar chords of traditional highlife. In Nigeria, the genre is almost dead, save for the encouraging rescue efforts being made by young artistes like Flavour, Bracket, J. Martins, Omawumi and Iyanya. But even what they play is not exactly highlife…or is it?


Three Nigerian musicians of great repute developed the spread and popularity of the juju music genre. They are Tunde Nightingale, I.K. Dairo and Ayinde Bakare. There were a few other early players like Adeolu Akinsanya, Dele Ojo, and Fatai Rolling Dollar, who at almost 90 years old and still performing has become a major referral point in the annals of juju music history! The Sunny Ade’s, Ebenezer Obeys and the others further developed the format and reigned supreme like colossi over a few decades, and even successfully managing to expand the format to international appreciation – ‘world music’ as a term became accepted internationally only after King Sunny Ade’s world tours had torn the barriers of music acceptance and appreciation apart! After Sunny and Obey’s seeming retirement from active performance and the deflating inactivity of their heir apparent, Sina Peters, whose Afro-Juju rave exploded through tribal barriers like a blitzkrieg in a wave of back-breaking albums in the 90’s, the influence of juju music has petered out, restricted these days back to where it all began, the ‘owambe’ circuit. Juju music seems all but dead. Sad.


It’s cousin Fuji has gone through the same eulogy. Fuji music developed as an expression of the Islamic-influenced ‘were’ music and it’s major proponents were Dauda Epoakara, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Kollington Ayinla and Salawa Abeni, who began her career as a child prodigy. Ayinde Barrister once tried to explain the terminology. He said, “Fuji music is a combination of music consisting of sakara, apala, juju, aaro, Afro and gudugudu, possibly highlife.” After the pioneers, many other fuji musicians of note came to the fore, including Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (formerly Wasiu Ayinde Barrister), Adewale Ayuba, Abass Obesere, Wasiu Alabi Pasuma, Saheed Osupa, Shinna Akanni, Sule Adio Atawewe and others. Perhaps because of its relevance to the localized communities in which it thrives, fuji has managed to maintain a momentum with the emergence of a bunch of ‘young lions,’ to borrow an idiom commonly used on the jazz music circuit; such as Shanko Rasheed, Wasiu Container, Kokolo, Global T, etc. You wonder how they got the names…?


But Fuji music has gone a step further than its sibling, in recent times – it has managed to renew itself by merging with hip hop. The term fuji hip hop is credible when you mention names like the pioneering Lord of Ajasa, the poetically correct 9ce, the prolifically dynamic Dagrin and the new maestro’s of the art, Wizkid, Davido, Brymo, Skales, Reminisce, oLamide, Seriki and others.


The story of hip hop in Nigeria would never be complete if one denies the mention of the revolutionizing work of pioneers of the art like the Remedies, the Trybesmen, Maintain, and, without any doubt, Ruggedman, whose hit diss song, “Ehen Part 1” was a rap revolution all by itself. Further down the line came a few dedicated professionals like Big Lo, Terry tha Rapman, Elajoe, K-Show, and Mode 9. On behalf of the ladies, Sasha took a big leap to take the game further, germinating from where the pioneering mistress of rap, Weird MC had started. Did I say ‘Mistress’ of rap…? A conundrum. Other ladies are blazing the trail. That’s right…Blaise, Bouqui, Eva Alordiah, Muna, Mo’cheddah, Kel, and of bunch of fringe collaborators. There’s a music revolution going on in Nigeria, and it’s getting viral!


But we must stretch back to where the influences began. Once upon a time the only foreign music that had great influence on Nigerian youth was pop – the worldwide pop frenzy began with the Beatles, and as their music got more complex and delved more into acid rock formats, we discovered the hard rock bands, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rare Earth, The Rolling Stones. The sixties in Nigerian high schools were all about the school bands playing rock music hits, pumping drums and wild guitar solo’s. Rock music thrived during the civil war years with all the bands playing the wildest rock you could imagine – The Clusters, BLO – Berkely Jones, Laolu Akintobi and Kunle Odumosu (later Lemmy Otu Jackson), The Strangers, Wrinkers Experience, Cloud 7, The Funkees, Ofo the Black Company, The Wings, Joni Haastrup’s Monomono, Akeeb Kareem, Harry Mosco and Jake Solo, Question Mark, Tirogo, and Ofege, the school boy band. All the major school’s had rock bands back in the day. And then James Brown came to burst the bubble! Soul brother number one pulled everyone back to the roots and we all suddenly remembered that ‘white music was for white folk. Mashed Potato Popcorn!


And then came Fela. Blackman’s Cry!


Fela Kuti’s story is well told – while in London, studying at the Trinity College of Music, he formed the Koola Lobitos, playing a fusion of jazz and highlife. In 1969, Fela took the band to the United States, where he met a certain Sandra Smith (later Isadore) and his whole vision on life changed, forever. Fela discovered the Black Power movement, which would heavily influence his music and political views. He first renamed the band Nigeria ’70, and later, The Africa ’70, as lyrical themes changed from love to social issues. Afrobeat was birthed. But nobody could do Fela – there were weak imitations that fizzled out quickly. The only ones who quite succeeded had Kuti blood running through their veins. One imitation had to wear a mask to create his own identity. Another has still not found his true identity! The King is dead. Long live the King!


There were the struggling years, when the music seemed unprofitable, but the artistes trudged on, nevertheless… Dizzy K Falola now performs as a London based gospel artiste, but he is perhaps best known as a former eighties pop star, famed for the hit ‘Baby Kilode.’ Reverend Chris Okotie has always been hot in demand – perhaps more so now that he pastors a church than back in the day when he sang more universal lyrics. His biggest hit was ‘I Need Someone.’ The man still needs a new wifey, methinks! Who remember the Mandators, Victor and Peggy? Or when Kimono used to be a toasting DJ at the Floating Buka at Quayside? Mandy Brown Ojugbana…how time flies? You didn’t marry a taxi driver, did you? Onyeka Onwenu…still the elegant stallion…? Where are you, Dora Ifudu, Veno Marioghe, and Terracotta? I’ll never forget Terracotta – Gboyega Femi, that was his real name; he had this monster hit back in 1992 called ‘A City Called Sodom.’ Alex Zitto, Evi Edna Ogoli, Blackky, and Daniel Wilson are all still doing good, I hear. Hey, Ras Eddie, did you ever solve that ‘bang belle’ problem? Then there was the Koleman revolutionaire, Orits Williki, the Rain maker, Majek Fashek, and Mr. ‘Love Me Jeje’ Seyi Sodimu. Oritz is still the big production executive he always was, Majek is taking care of his demons – and make no jest, we all have them, and Mr Sodimu is still wearing his baggy pants all over Maryland, USA! The more things change, the more they seem to remain the same.


The 90’s were also the period that the established local and multinational record companies in Nigeria were dying. Due to economic reasons, companies like EMI, Polygram, (later Premier records) Ivory Music, Decca, Tabansi, etc. closed shop and left Nigeria, while others are relying on reissues of past recordings and dubbings of international affiliate music products. For almost a decade Nigeria had no recording industry in place. Entre Alaba!


The new music pioneers deserve some level of commendation for sticking it out through the frustrating conditions. For many of them the commitment shown is finally paying off. The Platashun Boys released two highly successful albums together – a third album was released as a reunion album after they split. Today Tuface Idibia is the biggest Nigerian artist of the modern era. The Remedies had their moments at fame. Despite what critics may postulate, Tony Tetuila, Eddy Montana and Eedris Abdulkareem deserve to be mentioned in defining terms in the history of the development of modern Nigerian music. They perhaps had the first collaboration effort with traditional music format when they teamed up with juju musician, Wale Thompson for the hip juju remix, ‘Lalale Friday.’ As early as 2005, people were already calling the Trybesmen, “legendary.” The Trybesmen were three original members known as Eldee, Kaboom and Freestyle. Today, Eldee, no doubt is very much still, ‘da Don!’ The group, Maintain, also deserve some special mention for consistency over six years. Olu Maintain is still very visible – and I didn’t even mention Yahooze. Oops! Ruff, Rugged and Raw had loads of airplay and stage performances and still remain a reference point to the origins of hardcore Naija hip hop. And how can I ignore the mercurial contributions of Paul Play Dairo, son of legendary juju music icon, IK Dairo, who started his career as a producer, songwriter and back up vocalist before hitting the limelight with the classic hit, ‘Mo So Rire.’


The emergence of Alaba market entrepreneurship in the industry may have affected the progress of true professionalism and development of impacting structures, but like a double-edged sword it has also enabled the industry the opportunity to rediscover itself. Perhaps the emergence of the Alaba conundrum was a necessity that the industry needed to move forward. Judging by the examples of the influence of Alaba on Nollywood and the multi-billion dollar industry it has created, it all can’t be such a bad thing, really. What is additionally required now is simply the provision of enabling structures that can protect, develop and nurture the motley groups of emerging new talents that abound within our society.


Technology has also had its part to play…digitalization, minimalism and automation of the industry has ensured that production is easier, yet more profound, fuller, finer and complete. The distribution process is also encouraged by the

universality of our modern day existence and the tools that have removed the barriers and strictures that once confined. Globalization, downloading and internet access are indeed a plus to the music industry.


Nigerian music business needs to move to the next stage, the stage of seeing music as a dedicated, professional business. The wise ones are there already. Stand up, Kennis Music, Chocolate City, EME, Mavin Records, and all the emerging music labels, artiste management and recording companies. Next stop? The international market, of course! The Kanye West/D’Banj deal has shown us it is possible. Asa’s French management team, Naïve Label and Christophe Dupouy have revealed it has much promise, and artistes like Darey, M.I and many of the new emerging stars, like Davido, Ice Prince, Iyanya, and others have shown that true talent exists. The new music of Nigeria is emerging out of everywhere. Watch out dads and moms, your 7-year old could be making a mix tape in his bedroom! Sooner than later, the whole world go dey “Kako Bi Chicken!” Place no bets on that!


God’s guidance, always.

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