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* “mj” and fela, *helluva road, *Halliburton “a-go-go”

By Bisi Lawrence
How do you like your “MJ” served? Medium rare? Piping hot? With ketchup, cole slaw and all the trimmings? You can have him any way you want for the next few weeks, or so, and then you will have to release him to history, for that is where he now belongs.

Actually, Chubby Checker was more up my street. I had a “stroll”, you might say, with Aretha Franklin, the Supremes, and those Motown quartets who, with James Brown, actually started with the Detroit music factory. But talking about “black music”, I was really more inclined to the Swing Era rather than the Soul Age. I was wrapped up with the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie; Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald – and even Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis (Junior).. You know, stuff like that. On a dark, sultry night, I guess I am still quite a part of such carrying-on.

And that was the way it was, until I linked up with this cherub-faced bundled of sheer music, with every fibre of him a sweet, sweet sound – Michael Jackson. I can’t remember when I first heard him, but I do remember the song – “1-2-3″, a song for the young which left the old calling for an encore. He was fronting the “Jackson Five”, and the driving seat suited him to a “t”.

After that, this “whiz-kid” slew me with “Blame it on the Boogie”. But the truth is that by the time he started doing the “Moon Walk” I had dropped out. It is not easy to sing the same song with great enthusiasm along with your own children, unless it be “Happy Birthday to You”, or a hymn of praise. What I am saying is that by the time Michael Jackson was at the crest of his prowess, I was really no longer a part of the scene. I had gone back to my Duke Ellington and Count Basie, to say nothing of Miles Davis the Modern Jazz Quartet.

But still identified, to some extent, with the presentations of Michael Jackson. I felt he was trying too much, doing too much. He was like a runner who was miles ahead but was still straining hard to increase a lead no once could really ever catch up with.

It was a kind of gut feeling I had, having seen what happened to Sammy Davis and some of the other “brothers”. The performance-enhancing drugs that make it all possible would have to take its toll at last. You have only to step on a stage in front of an audience that was expecting a great performance from you through the promise of your reputation, or by right of the money they have paid to watch your act, to know what the pressure, the monumental stress of a public appearance could be.

But now we are talking not even about one single performance, but a continuous series of appearances over a considerable period, in the midst suffocating competition, and in the face of fierce criticism.

It was easier for artistes whose performances did not demand too much of a frenetic presentation, that is, generally. But even in that area, singers still go through soul-searing exertions. For instance, Perry Como was a balladeer whose delicate rendition of sentimental songs was so soothing they called him “Mr. Relaxation”. Little did so many people know that he had to keep a psychiatrist on his staff for the stability of his own person.

Michael Holliday who died at a much younger age than Michael Jackson, in fact, ended up in an asylum. His style too was so much “laid back” that, as someone described it, it was as if he sang directly and only for you. But he was living on his nerves until they were strained to a breaking point.

Even here in Nigeria, we saw it happen to some of our artistes. The example that comes readily to mind, of course, is Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. I can’t think of Michael Jackson without thinking of him. He was, first and foremost, a professional with a massive measure of talent. The instrument he was identified with at the last was the saxophone, and he taught himself how to play it.

He began with the piano and then switched on to the trumpet, which he probably felt was the instrument of bandleaders, since he had always wanted to lead a band of his own. But he was not well received at the beginning. His music simply had no appeal. We got to talking about it one day, and he challenged me introduce him to a tune illustrative of what I had in mind. That was how “Ojo t’o su” and “Oloruka” came to life. Both titles were developed from one song and from there his genius took over.

Fela called himself “Abami Eda”. Many people found it easy to translate that as a “strange person”, or an “unusual person”. But it could also mean a “spirit incarnate”, or in stark terms, a “demon”. In fact, Fela himself once declared that he was “possessed” by a demon. He said it happened in the United States, but none seemed to pay any attention to him.

But later, on, I was a bit disturbed by the fact that this “total” musician seemed to have two personalities, as he virtually changed his nature. Before that trip to the United States, he was a sober, very polite and calm person – in fact, sometimes almost shy, except when among his friends. But his personality suddenly seemed capable of assuming another dimension – that of a loud, vicious character – once he was on stage. He divested himself of his upper garments and publicly “got high” on stimulants.

I began to pay more attention to his “shrine” activities and became somewhat uncomfortable with them. Even as you read this, are you not somewhat startled that no one has been able to really play Fela’s music apart from his won, Femi? And I challenge you to play his song, “Wahala” every day for seven days, without experiencing the real thing!.

In the same vein, I doubt if anyone will ever sing Mike Jackson’s song like “The King of Pop.” He too was a professional with a monumental talent for his art. He was sober, respectful and very calm, until he got on the state. And then he gave himself up to his “must”(?), as if possessed by a principal spirit.

That is why I prefer my “MJ” served as he was in “1-2-3″.

I finished my Saturday shopping, two Saturdays ago, at the Apapa shopping area, and ran smack dab into a traffic logjam just at the base of Randle Street where I could turn back to Wharf Road. That I did with the intention of avoiding the traffic, which was in a total mess ahead. My intention was to get on the Express and turn back on the Badagry interface to cruise down my abode in Upper Badia.

From the shopping centre home would have taken about twenty minutes on a normal day, but it was doubtful that the traffic would be better in anything less than one hour. On the other hand, the route I had chosen would normally take about thirty minutes, so I felt I had made a good decision, to get home from a shopping outing.

The time was a quarter-to four, the air was clear and the first two kilometers of the journey passed in less than two minutes. Eventually, however, the journey took over five hours. I arrived home at five minutes past nine in the night.

I was still one of the fastest motorists to go through that hellish road that night. The resultant aches and pains that came all over me are still with me. I have had to change some components of the clutch of my car. All for driving over a route of no more than ten kilometers in a city, on the return from a shopping trip.

The problem was compounded of very bad road surface, broken-down vehicles and inadequate traffic control. In fact, there was no traffic control at all; the police were nowhere in sight. But God was kind to us. It did not rain or we would have shared almost the same fate with Soddom… and that other place.
That road is plied over by heavy trucks and tankers daily. It was a well-built road but badly maintained by the Federal Government who has the responsibility for its upkeep. It is the only direct link of the biggest and busiest port in the country with the hinterland.

The damage that has occurred in several areas on the road, took quite a long time to get to its present deplorable state. While the Ore Road which links Edo State, and other States to the East, directly with the commercial capital of the nation was crumbling, a lot of noisy complaints were raised to attract the attention of successive Federal Governments, without any appreciable success. The Apapa situation, without the benefit of such fanfare, could not, of course, be expected to fare better.

It may be that, out of sheer humanity, the Lagos State Government might encourage the Federal Government to attend to its responsibility about this road by bringing it to the attention of the Abuja “overlords”. That, actually, is no more than to what the Fashola administration could be expected to commit itself. And it should make it plain to the community, lest the Federal rubbish be swept on to its doorstep.

I could hardly believe it when I read it, although I should have expected it. I just felt that with
“transparencies” being flashed all over the land, a little change would at least be reflected in our attitude to how we handle the tax-payers’ money.

I am referring here to the news that it will cost you and me the tidy sum of 45 million naira for the committee investigating the Halliburton scandal to go on junket ostensibly to perform its duty. You will recall that the matter is about a bribe of some 180 million dollars supposed to have been received by some Nigerian officials over a period of about ten years, from 1994.

Now in the age of highly sophisticated communications advancement, we are sending this delegation to collect “evidence” all over Europe and the United states. And that after the names of the officials allegedly involved have been released.

It is unheard of that very competent officials of government would allow an occasion of squeezing a junket from any exercise to pass muster but, for goodness sake, the excuse for this trip is not even faintly plausible. Why do they think they can fool all the people, all the time?
Time out.

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