If Culture Can Die, Why Not Our Music? – 4: When even death can’t stop your rhyme!
If Culture Can Die, Why Not Our Music? – 4
- When even death can’t stop your rhyme!
By Femi Akintunde-Johnson, Lagos
Though, the process I described in the last article may not hold true for all of today's young stars; a large chunk of them follow scripts similar to that foolishness. So, you can easily assume that the so-called stars of today are on their way to the dustbin of history.
Michael Collins, the Marvin Records Boss, a.k.a Don Jazzy the notable new culture producer and entrepreneur
Can they do something about it? The real question is: Will they do something about it? The answer is probably no! When you make the kind of money they have access to; or live in the esoteric falsehood of charmed stardom spawned by a consuming society, planning for posterity is a concept that is very difficult for such people to grapple with.
In any case, only those who have original talent can survive any reorientation. And then, they must possess the common sense and willingness to reinvent themselves; wisely investing whatever they have amassed from this current aberration; and studying diligently the course taken by their more illustrious forebears. Surely, none of it invites an artiste to depend on recorded CD's in order to perform live music!
A couple of years ago, Wande Coal, a young artiste, revealed in an interview how Don Jazzy (a notable new culture producer and entrepreneur) discovered him. In a blunt paraphrase, the producer realized he could sing, and went on to lay tracks for him. All Wande needed to do was to put his voice to the 'sound' created by Don Jazzy. He had no idea how the music was stringed, synthesized and laid. He just threaded the beats through his own natural muse, and lyrics long suppressed simply gushed out. How can such an artiste last long? How will he ever be able to sustain a band; remix and restructure his beats, and remain relevant, long after his name is no longer able to stick on Don Jazzy? Except by a freak of wisdom or acceptable counsel.
Let me give further examples to illustrate my point. During the course of reporting music, I would visit Femi Kuti while practicing on his sax. All by himself. He'd spend hours puffing at his instruments; nodding quietly as some compositions coursed through his brain… you need not be told that the genii of music were releasing creative toxins that needed to be charted, sifted and stored. It was such a beautiful thing, just watching him evolve and create. I have also witnessed Lagbaja in his quiet, contemplative, compositional elements… I am always awed at their incredible devotion and concentration. Their hunger to stretch the limits of the moments and scratch at the ceilings of intangible imaginations is both awe-inspiring and transformational. There are few others too with similar traits.
So, when such musicians refuse to “die”, it is simply because they can reposition, reinvent and revitalize their craft and style on a platform that is alive, evolutionary and controllable by them: the band. Talent and band management can really go a long way to make you live long beyond the immediacy of your ‘hit’ music.
Look at Pa Fatai Rolling Dollar. What will make an 83-year old musician come back strong, after a 30-year hiatus (in 2009)? Beyond packaging and timely intervention: his old band created the music that a new band is now regurgitating in 'hip' baggage. Suddenly, we realize that “Won Kere Si Number” of the 60's can find some level of acceptance in the twenty first century. If Rolling Dollar can be stabilized by more focused and energetic management team, his wintering days will be far greater that his youth.
Another is Commander Ebenezer Obey, who along with Sunny Ade, clutched the Nigerian musical world by the jugular, for two decades. Though some critics lampooned him for returning to secular music long after he abandoned it for the Lord's vineyard, I think they are myopic. His musical antecedents had illustrated that the best of his music were embellished in biblical imagery. He sang God before he 'met' God. Even Paul, the greatest of the Apostles, recognized that a minister of God must not be a burden to his church. Paul returned to his tent-making job even after planting several parishes. His credo: He who does not work should not eat.
Running a music band is Obey’s work. He can return to it, not only to consolidate his position as a composer of extraordinary talent, but as a successful manager of men and music. Except it is proven that he exalts men over God, the ex-Miliki man is justified to return to music, albeit with distinct modifications, to reflect his now pristine status. And he has remained sombre and lofty since his deliberate come-back… leaving signs that even death cannot smear his trailblazing accomplishments and mastery of the art of staying strong and relevant through tides and times.
So also can Onyeka (after politics), Orlando Julius (after self-exile), etc…because they have undeniable capacity to manage the veritable sustenance of timeless music: the band. I end my case, for now.