By Debbie Olujobi
A long time ago, I attended a concert for peace in Africa. International and local artistes were billed to perform. If memory serves me correctly, a lot of the American ones didn’t show up but quite a lot of the African ones did. My assessment of the concert was that it was abysmal; the arrangements were at best poor and the cheapest seats turned out to be the best as the VIP section was so far removed from the stage. One needed hearing aids and binoculars to hear the music or see the artistes. It started out late and most of us were understandably upset that the superstars we were promised didn’t come.
To make the best of a disappointing situation, we had taken our seats on the floor of the football field and were eating and drinking whatever vendors had to sell. Most of the stars that came didn’t really get a rapturous welcome till some beautiful but haunting voice stilled all the noise. It was an artiste from east or southern Africa; he sang in a language that was strange, his use of rhythm was almost hypnotic and I heard a male voice behind me exclaim in wonder “I can bet my life that, that is a love song!”
We all kept quiet; the unruly crowd of students quietly listening to this minstrel as he weaved a spell of beauty in a song that spoke directly to the soul.
That encounter is something I haven’t forgotten; I also haven’t stopped kicking myself for not finding out his name. He stopped performing as suddenly as he started and we left shortly after to avoid any attack from miscreants if we stayed till the very end. I remember that another artiste called Manu Dibango performed as we were leaving but the mysterious artiste remains an unknown quality many decades after.
I have found that language is not the tool of communication for the soul. The soul trades on emotions; latent convictions and feelings, passions unrestrained and unrefined. It is not always beauty; the soul speaks from a place deep within us that lacks finesse; it exposes our demons, our fears, desperation, belief, our true and authentic selves.
True artistes are those who connect with their audience on the level of their souls. I was at a service a while back and a lady with a most beautiful voice was singing and I stood there wooden and almost disinterested for most of the time. It wasn’t the first time I would hear her sing but it’s not often I enjoy her performance.
In my view, she doesn’t sing from a place of conviction but of obligation. I don’t believe that she believes the words she is singing; so no emotions show or even passion. She covered one of my favourite gospel songs and in my view murdered it; it was technically okay but lacking the emotions that make most people cry when they hear it and it touches them.
Raw emotions are the language the soul understands and the message is always loud and clear. It’s not always the exclusive preserve of artistes; we all communicate on a deeper level when we remove that façade of civilisation and give ourselves the liberty of authentic expression. I love eye contact, a touch and a raw declaration. I once listened to a Mesopotamian poet recite a poem and I sat transfixed; captured by the beauty of it all even though I didn’t speak the language.
It was as if he spoke to my soul bypassing conventional means; I didn’t need a translator to understand he was talking about freedom, oppression and the yearning for revolution. In the same vein; I haven’t needed words to feel apprehension and fear when a troubled and dangerous soul sends ominous threats. We all speak soul; it’s the first language we ever spoke; a dialogue without known words; guttural; heart wrenching and authentic.
Lately I have found myself captured by a young Nigerian gospel artiste who seems to draw his listeners into what can best be described as an intense ministration. I love music and I am fond of many of the local artistes but this young man differs from most. While most artistes sing about God; he sings to God; almost like he is serenading the Most High.
He does it in a variety of languages but he is most electric in Igbo dialect. I don’t speak a word of the language but I find myself playing the songs again and again and again. I am not alone in my fascination and almost obsession with this artist and I watched a concert of his and saw this young man break down in tears as he talks about the Lord; his love for Him and his devotion; it brought tears even to my eyes.
Frank Edwards is a force to be reckoned with; he is slight of frame; young and maybe inexperienced but many artists lack the conviction and soul connection he finds so easy to make. His progression is easy to track from his first efforts but his last two albums/CDs called Frank Edwards verse one and verse two are master pieces.
My favourite tracks change per week and they are in languages I don’t speak but infused with the love of God my soul connects to. It’s obvious he wasn’t thinking money when he released his latest efforts; he put 19 songs on each CD; he could easily have made 6 instead of 2 but I guess his conviction comes from a place of ministration not commerce. I’m a fan and an admirer; I wish him greatness and pray he remains connected to the God he so loves and shares his soul with the rest of us. He is a good example of a soul that speaks when words become redundant.