By Bisi Lawrence
The proposition of recreating the old Western Nigeria, now split up under several administrative structures, is intriguing. Those who advocate idea are, of course, of Yoruba descent. As it is, only Edo State, cannot claim to be Yoruba, though a section of it is ascribed a Yoruba ancestry which, howbeit, has been strongly contested in recent times.
Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Oshun states, which were the former components of the Old West, are distinctly Yoruba. And that has a meaning beyond mere social identity as it translates into ethnic traits.
From the dawn of the people’s history, the path of their progress has been described by the conduct of internecine wars. The old prejudices have mingled with personal ambitions and sectional preferences promoted by political interests, to create even deeper divisions than those of the past. Fortunately, we can no longer engage in open warfare, though some would appear to pine for it.
Yet, there is a crying need for a coming-together among these people who were once considered the leading group in several aspects of community life in the country.
Some other sections that were not so assertive of their identity, or tended to be subservient to other groupings in their outlook, have now acquired a more respectable profile. But the Yorubas still face the conquest of small-mindedness amongst one another.
The sponsorship of the near cohesiveness that was ever achieved was a function of Obafemi Awolowo’s political career. He confidently presented himself for the leadership of his people with remarkable success.
The feeling of a sameness of purpose was engendered; and the sense of a common desire for excellence was shared; but then it all fell apart as the centre could no longer hold things together – to paraphrase the title of a well-known book.
The “centre” migrated to another sphere where it became no more than just an arc in the realm of a circle, leaving the magnificent structure it had supported to crumble. Since that crash, that formidable structure, The Action Group, which had once sustained and symbolized the strength and resilience of the Yoruba, has been re-presented to represent what it once stood for.
It first metamorphosed into the Unity Party of Nigeria, and then reappeared in ever dwindling dimensions under various other names like the Alliance for Democracy, the Action Congress, and the Action
Congress of Nigeria, until the latest stump suddenly bloomed to reveal a possibility of the full re-birth of the “real thing”.
This was the moment many people had been waiting for. To usher in the occasion, suggestions had even been made to retain Awolowo’s domicile, at Ikenne, as the meeting-ground for the scattered adherents of the old party.
And coming on the heels of the prospects for a beginning of unity at last, was this conference of the component parts arranged to be held at Ikenne. Unfortunately, that meeting served more to show the extent of the disarray by sharply depicting the areas of disintegration.
The shards of the broken vessel of Yoruba unity, the Action Group, were initially ranged into two main groupings, following the differences between the leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and his deputy, Chief S.L. Akintola.
Today, some four decades later, permutations occasioned by changes in political fortunes and misfortunes, have turned up several shades of associations and affiliations within the fold of Yoruba leadership. The shibboleths of old subsist as well, since history and tradition will not be denied.
There are camps divided by divergent political suasions, whilst the ancient disagreements still rankle, and we are confronted by a cleavage in the relationship between the governorship elements at the top of the political hierarchy of the Yoruba States, and what might have been considered their putative source, Ikenne.
If a strong and progressive leadership should emerge soon to hold the flag of a viable rallying point for the Yoruba States” political powers, the recent Ikenne meeting would be nothing less than the swan song for the so-called “Awoists”.
All that makes one to wonder why they called that meeting at a time like this, anyway. What did they want to demonstrate or achieve? Definitely not Yoruba unity through a showcase of their disunity?
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has been the object of adulation among so many people, and for so long, that I believe his glittering image as an innovative artiste can endure a little bit of bashing. I myself didn’t care too much for his extensive abuse of marijuana, and I say that as someone who was really there before him.
Nor was I overly impressed by his express reason for “getting high”. He said it made him do well with women. I mean, how “vacant” can you really get?
But all that has nothing to do with his music. He started with the keyboard from school, but he had a passionate desire for getting to the front in the manner of his boyhood heroes, like Victor Olaiya. So he studied trumpet and voice – yes, voice – when he was in England.
And right there, he began to front a combo unit, and he and his fellow-travelers called themselves, “The Koola Lobitos” .. I never knew what it meant. I asked people who were close to him, people like Wole Bucknor, of beautiful memory, and they weren’t too enthusiastic about the subject.
I meant to ask Fela, but I myself soon lost any interest in the matter. That was after I had listened to them once or twice. I remember it was Art AIade, also of an unforgettable memory, who conveyed me to the venue of the happenings on those occasions, in his three-wheeled car – the first “Marwa” I ever rode in – and it was in London, circa “61”.
Well, after that couple of sessions, I simply cooled off the Lobitos. The output wasn’t exactly my speed, if you
know what I mean, lacking in identity and devoid of character.
I said that was it, for Fela. But he returned to Nigeria and joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, before it became FRCN – the Federal Radios Corporation of Nigeria. I had just finished a stint under Steve Rhodes in the Music Department of the Home Service, and he was in the Music Section of the External Service.
But he also had his band, which gathered quite a following in those days with numbers like “Black Man’s Cry”, the real first turn into the ultimate path of his career. That was from where he began to discover himself after mingling with the creative flow in Ghana.
In short, it was a blending of the basis, the essence, of his musicianship, which had its roots in jazz, and the core of his native artistry – the human voice.
Of course, his memorable performances only projected his versatility and brilliance as an instrumentalist to the general public, relegating – in fact, almost totally discounting – his accomplishment as a vocalist. That can better be appreciated in numbers like “Wahala”.
There is more to Fela’s music than the term, “Afro-beat”, which Orlando Julius recently proclaimed he created .. “Afro-Beat” is really a generic term for a style of music – like Jazz, or Highlife, or Tango, or Bossa Nova. Who created the Tango, for instance? Or the Rhumba?
It was really Orlando’s comment on how he invented the Afro-Beat that brought these thoughts about Fela up in my mind. Well, maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. He probably created Batakoto too, for all I know.
But it is indisputable that the origins of Afro-Beat are more associated with the “Abami Eda” than with anybody else, and what Julius plays even today, is yet no more than a fairly passable imitation of the true Afro-Beat sound. It is hardly more than one pace away from highlife, barely at par with the ‘’Koola Lobitos” sound.
Perhaps in the mindless effort to establish a place for himself in the development of popular music in Nigeria, the “middling-to-fair” saxophonist forgot himself enough to be downright uncharitable and untruthful. Orlando Julius probably does not know much about what a “deejay” does. He is a “disc-jockey”, engaged in spinning records for other people’s entertainment.
Fela never did anything like that. He was a Music Producer who supervised, and controlled the output of musical programmes on radio.
It is also absolutely false to aver that Fela’s mother drove other musicians away from Lagos to give Fela a place. It was indeed alleged that Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti once had occasion to warn Bobby Benson away from trying to intimidate her son.
Bobby had a penchant for such antics in those days, as the venerable Chris Ajilo, for example, would testify today. Look, we were there, right there. And that’s all that happened, while Orlando Julius was still in search of other people’s names to bear, and bleating on his sax behind Eddie Okonta.
No other musician ever had any problem with Fela or his mother. Orlando’s creativity should stay with his artistry on the sax. Fiction is for those who use the pen.
In the historic words of the late Magnus Williams, we mislead other people to believe a lie, when we “allow spurious history to pass muster”. Hence one is compelled to call out Mr. Orlando Julius in this manner. Otherwise, who would even bother to react to such wild statements? Needless to say, he and Fela are simply “not in de same category”.
Echoes: (of “The Giant”)
“A simple but Giant Step;
This is how Transformation can take
A Practical Step
Ahead of a Revolution.
Good Thinking (0702.531.18220)
Well, I consider that a fare compliment, sir, for simple me.