BY OSA AMADI
Smart Oshoko, in this interview with Saturday Vanguard, shares the confidence he has in Prof. Ben Ayade, theCross River state governor, and the linkages between arts, culture, tourism and the environment. Excerpt:
You were a cartoonist, musician, and now a prominent broadcaster. When was your first song recorded?
My first music album was released in 1989 with the title Virgin. After, I released Soukus Exponent, Going back to Abanlikwo, King of Kings (a gospel album), and Aya Kaya (a remix).
What do you mean ‘going back to Abanlikwo’?
That’s my village. It’s a wonderful place. During hot season when people would be sweating, in Obudu, my hometown, people will be cold. snow falls there. The Ranch is right in Obalikwo, my village. Everyone who loves nature and tourism should visit Obudu. It is a wonderful place.
Were you born at the Cattle Ranch?
No, I was born in Kaduna. I grew up there too. I did my primary school there.
Do you speak Hausa?
Yes, I speak Hausa. I also speak Yoruba, Igala, Bishiri, and I am learning to speak Igbo too. My wife is teaching me Igbo. She is from Cross River, but she speaks Igbo fluently. Whenever I go to Niger Republic, I communicate with the local people in Hausa.
How would you classify your style of music?
My songs are truly African with complex fusion of East African, Caribbean, and West African rhythms and structures. My Soukous Exponent album contains tracks like Nigerian Girls, Ayakaya, Elizabeth, Africa must unite, Tribute to Agba, Oshoko, and Soukous Exponent. The track, Africa must unite, is heavy on bass and the kind of song that drags everyone out to the dance floor.
How did you become the unofficial cultural ambassador of Cross River, and what’s special about Smart Oshoko?
It’s a title my radio and TV audience gave me, because I am always promoting the culture of my people on radio, on TV, and wherever I go. Others wait to be commissioned and paid to do it, but I do it on my own with my own resources. It also has to do with my belief in the potential broadcasting has – bearing art, culture, tourism, and environment as content – in taking a state like Cross River and Nigeria to the Promised Land.
My program, Na So I See Am, which comes up on Star FM 101.5 every Saturday from 3.30 pm and on MITV from 9 – 9.30 pm on Fridays is loved by the people because people see their true reflections in it. It is about their culture, their music, and their language. Pidgin English is the language of the ordinary Nigerians who form majority of the population. So Pidgin English, the language of ordinary people, is part of what makes Na So I See Am special. It is about our culture. It is about the people’s identity.
What are the connections between arts, culture, tourism, and the environment?
Arts, culture, and tourism are all connected to the environment as a baby in the womb is connected to its mother. Without the environment, there will be no art or culture or tourism. If the environment – the soil, forest, waters, animals and hills, – doesn’t exist, or is destroyed, what is going to be there for tourists to see and enjoy, or for culture to thrive on, or for artistes to draw inspirations from? If the foundation is destroyed, as they say, what can the righteous do?
Arts, culture, and tourism have always flourished in Cross River.
Yes, but it has a greater opportunity now to be more attractive, profitable and sustainable than ever. With Professor Ben Ayade at the helm of affairs now in the state, and the wind of peace blowing across the country, Cross River and Nigeria are in for good times in tourism, arts, culture and the environment.
Why do you say so?
The governor is someone I know very well. He is familiar with my works, and I know he has interest in arts, culture and tourism; every true son or daughter of Cross River ought to be. But the governor is also passionate about the environment. You will recall that he was an environmental consultant. Some time ago, the Japanese government gave him an award for an outstanding research he conducted regarding global warming in Africa.
Actually, this is the first time someone with such background is taking the mantle of leadership in Cross River. What many people don’t know is that arts and culture are part of environmental issues. We call it cultural diversity and that is exactly what we are doing in Na So I See Am – promotion of different cultures through radio, TV, and movies.
You seem to have a lot of confidence in Prof. Ayade’s ability?
His Excellency, Prof. Ben Ayade, has a well known track record of performance, especially in the area of environment. His passion for the masses and his philanthropy is well known too. I believe he will deliver, I have no doubt about it.
Specifically, what do broadcasters and artistes like you expect from leaders like Prof. Ben Ayade?
There’s an acute shortage of environmental awareness in Nigeria and Africa: awareness about deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, waste management, efficient use of energy, investments in renewable energy sources, resource conservation through recycling and re-use, sustainable development, wildlife conservation, over-population issues, of which most leaders don’t care about or even understand – the solution lies in effective, grass root communication, as Lagos State Government is doing presently, though not enough. People need to be led to see that their lives, arts, and culture, have direct links to the well-being of the environment.