The Orbit

April 27, 2014

BOB MIGA (1949-2014)

By Obi Nwakanma

Valentine Soroibe Agim was mostly known as Bob Miga. For those like me who grew up in Nigeria in the 1970s and early ‘80s, Bob Miga was a classic act; a superstar, and one among a wave of music celebrities whose sounds touched a core in our lives in a powerful and memorable way. It was particularly so for those in the East of Nigeria who came out of the civil war utterly devastated by war. Music saved our lives. It was young men – many just barely out of high school – who consoled us with the pulse of the most invigorating sounds ever created in the continent of Africa – with their unique, modern Afro-rock idioms. These young men took Nigeria by storm. They played music to fob-off anger and despondence. They played music to live.

It was easy, at the end of the war, for the general population to slide into the miasma of despondence, bitterness, and collective depression. But in 1970, rather than wallow in self-pity and loss, Eastern Nigeria erupted in the most scintillating sounds of music – joyous and pulsating music that celebrated life and love; that roused the youth into the dance halls in cities and counties to dance, make music, make powerful love; speak in the idiom of life rather than of death and self-pity.

The music that exploded from Eastern Nigeria was healing; it did not simply speak of survival but of the triumph of the human spirit. It was music made by the youth of that era – some of them had been recruited in the war to play music to the soldiers fighting in war. Many came out of the war with the sounds still in their souls. It was the ironic effect of that war that the East of Nigeria witnessed the most powerful musical renaissance in the continent in the 1970s. Eastern Nigerian cities in Aba, Umuahia, Owerri, Port-Harcourt, Calabar, Enugu, and Onitsha had resident bands that toured the East and the rest of Nigeria, shaping the performance culture of that era of great hope and possibility.

They were brought to our living rooms and our consciousness by the great radio jockeys of those years – the great Alan B Onyemaechi and the now late Teddy Oscar Uju at the Imo Broadcasting Service (IBS), Owerri, and on Pal Akalonu’s “Now Sound” on the NTA Channel 6 Aba – a great station in those days, which also had Osochi Egbuna’s program “On the Wings of Music” and the greatest variety show of the 1970s on Nigerian TV, Mazi Ukonu’s “Ukonu’s Club” every Saturday on Channel 6, Aba that featured these great musicians.


*Valentine Soroibe Agim

Such places as the Hotel Unicoco in Aba and the Orupolo night club with its sea-front location in Port-Harcourt were the equivalents of the Apollo Theatres and the Carnegie Halls of New York in the East of the ‘70s. These groups rocked in these clubs. I was quite young but I remember the college students association of my local town organizing, raising the funds and inviting these groups to play during the Christmas holidays of ’76, ’77, ’78 and ’79 in the local Community School Hall in my village.

The last of these events that I remember was the performance by Joel “Wahehe” Njoku and his Rock of Ages band. Many of us kids would take impudent peeks through the cracks in the windows, darkened even further with palmfronds to hear the music, see the bands, and the dancers in their platform shoes and “bongo” trousers.

The intrigue was powerful, so also the lure to be part of the great collective dance of the spirit and the bon joie of those times. I think it ought today be a clear example to anybody who wishes to retool Nigeria that an important means towards social recuperation is to invest in community entertainments that would rouse joyous rather than melancholic instincts among especially the young.

Music was the lifewire of modern Nigerian culture in the 1970s and 1980s. Contemporary Nigerian music performers owe much of their better situations today to the pioneering work and stardom of the group of musicians that held Nigeria spellbound between 1970 and 1980. The Hykers of Owerri, the Funkees with Jake Solo, Harry Mosco Agada, Sonny Akpan, and the lead guitarist Fela Dey,  Founders15 with their massive hit single, “Be My Own,” the Apostles of Aba, featuring Walton Arungwa and Chyke Fusion, whose song, “Drop out” and “Enyim” – a dirge on the Aba Market disaster of 1977 was a dance hall favorite of those years; the Aktion Band that found its paces in Warri, Lasbry Ojukwu’s Semi-Colon band in Umuahia with the immemorial single, “Slim Fit Maggie,” the likes of Dan Ian with monster hits like “Money to Burn” and “Fuel for Love,” Sonny Okosun, who had lived in Enugu before his transition to Lagos with the powerful song, “Help” or

The Wings ( Ari Okpala, Spud Nathan Udensi, Charlie Duke, Manford Best, Emma Chinaka, Jerry Demua) whose “Tribute to Spud Nathan” was for many years a schoolboy anthem for my generation; The Black Children with “Love is Fair,” and “Satisfaction,” Wahehe Njoku and his Rock of Ages band, One World whose song “Victory,” remains one of the finest songs ever played by a Nigerian group; and then the scintillating Sweet Breeze (Nestor Philips, Bazy Cole Akalonu, Vin Ikeotuonye, Jackie Moore Anyaora, and Danny Anyanwu) – those IMT Enugu grads who took the music world by storm with the album that had “Mr & Mrs Fool,” “Palmwine Tapper, “Igbara Aka Bia Ilum,” etc.

At the Lagos end were such superlative acts like the BLO trio of Berkeley Ike Jones, Laolu Akins, and Mike Odumosu, and the Schoolboy band, Ofege, with unforgettable Melvin Ukachi on the vocals. This was of course a prelude to the 1980 eruption of Chris Okotie (“I Need Some”) and Jide Obi (“Front Page News”) straight out of the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus Law School, Dizzy K Falola, Onyeka Onwenu and Oby Onyioha – who took the scene by the storm and changed the direction of Nigerian music in 1980.

All these, is a foreground in celebration of one the greatest of that era of music – Valentine Soroibe Agim – Bob Miga. He was the rousing spirit behind “The Strangers” band based in Owerri which became one of the most famous bands out the East in the 1970s. Its hit single, “Love Rock” – with the lyrics, “some talk about love/ some live it…” is unquestionably one of the greatest rock songs written anywhere in the world. Bob Miga was also perhaps the finest organist in Nigeria before he quit the stage. Three weeks ago, Bob Miga died in London where he’s been living since the late 1970s.

It is true that a younger generation of Nigerians may not know the joy he and his generation of musicians brought into our lives, but there is no doubt that the annals of Nigeria cultural history will record in his name a fine musician – a fantastic band leader – and a great musical genius. That is why some of the greats I’ve named – his musical peers – are preparing to give him a rousing farewell concert in Owerri in May, under the aegis of his friend Alan B Onyemachi – himself famous broadcaster and Radio jockey. Bob Miga lies today with the immortals. No question about it.