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Go-Slow Di: The voice and memory of an age

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When Adaighofua Omofue Salami was to be born, he made a remarkable choice at urhoro (the threshold of life) where he picked the gourd of songs and drank it dry. For the nine months that the journey from erivwin (abode of the dead and unborn) to akpo (life) took, Uhangwha (god of inspiration) and aridon (memory god) kept him company, tended and nourished his song-full destiny. When he uttered his first earthly cry one dawn in 1930, the cry was a song! Popularly known by his music cognomen Go-Slow Di, he lived a life of songs. He lived to sing and he sang to live and now that he is gone he will be remembered for his songs.

Go-Slow Di, Urhobo music maestro, was born at Oria-Abraka and he passed away on January 7, 2018. His remains were laid to rest on Friday June 29, where he was born. Go-Slow Di joined a musical group at the age of 12 in 1942 and by the 1950s he had started performing on his own at social gatherings using such basic tools like bottles, spoons and sticks as musical instruments. His voice was eloquent, audacious and unmistakably philosophical. Satire was his forte as he strived to reclaim the moral imperative in Urhoboland and beyond.

At the time of his passage, he was credited with over 20 musical albums the most popular being his 1977 hit Emete ri Nigeria, a song every Urhobo man and woman knows how to sing. The lead track emete ri Nigeria satirises the decline in moral and cultural values with reference to marriage norms. His mellifluous voice declaims ladies who go to the city and live with men without being properly married off by their fathers. The significantly memorable lines are: “emete ri Nigeria eh/ emete ri Nigeria eh/ ede kpota romote awanren/ ose romote koyen brera/ orakpona ro shere niovo me/ emete vwo ma brogo obe eko….” The song was against the background of the oil boom of the 1970s and the attendant urban drift as well as moral turpitude that was the corollary of that experience.

Go-Slow Di shares the same temperament and social consciousness with contemporary Nigerian writers of the 1970s and 1980s in his valourisation of socio-history especially in matters of class-consciousness. In the same album, the song “efe kirhuo” bemoans the gap between the rich and the poor thus: “eh efe kirhuo Urhobo/ efe kirhuo/ eh efe kirhuo kwaya me/ efe kirhuo/ itu ri gbere da amerika/ edafe di whiskey/ kono wo brenu ke…”

He laments the plight of the poor who make do with amerika the local gin also called ogogoro while the rich drink whiskey. This coming in the 1970s is also a satirical commentary on the acquisition of foreign taste traceable to the oil boom years. This intimation of class conflict is implicated in the poetry of Tanure Ojaide and Niyi Osundare; in the prose of Festus Iyayi and the plays of Femi Osofisan. He also dedicates a track to mami water, the water maid, a significant motif in Niger Delta poetry ad music.

Go-Slow Di embodied the voice and memory of an age. A genius, he was also a talented visual artist who produced beautiful drawings and paintings. He was the kind of mind and hand that could have functioned practically in an Institute of African Studies or a Centre for Niger Delta Studies if one was close by. While not rehearsing he would be painting and both vocations are distilled in artistic imagination of his environment. He was a rounded artist.
Go-Slow Di’s musical accomplishments were not fortuitous. He came at the right time and sailed with the tide. Urhobo is a nation of songs and dances. An Urhobo man climbing the daunting palm tree is energized by the song in his throat. An Urhobo woman drying garri derives energy from songs. Thus the Urhobo have some of the richest repertoire of work songs in the world. It was from this rich culture of songs and dance that an Aladja Musical group burst forth with the first Urhobo recorded music, Sokolobia, in 1948.

The poet-raconteur Ogute Ottan released his own album in 1953. Other maestros followed. Today musical stores in Urhoboland and beyond boom with the inimitable voices of Omokomoko, Ogbiniki, Jarikre, Juju and Udjabor, Eghweyanudje (of afama ni kebe fame), Ayandju, Okoloko, Toroh, Adama, Gometi, Oyibo, Olakpa, Lady Rose, among others who have sojourned to erivwin. These music avatars have worthy standard bearers in Sally Young, Johnson Adjan, Okpan Arhibo (catch your guilder), and the younger generation of Orhire Okoro, Lucky Okwe, Nathaniel Oruma, Egbeku Kenairu, Sanny Olomu, Onorume Toroh, Face to Face, Rume Otovotoma, Jarikre Wuru and more.

Go-Slow Di and his fellow bards have helped in stabilizing Urhobo culture in the face of western technological incursion. In their songs are vistas of history, philosophy and strong evidence of rationality. Many of them qualify for the Nobel Prize for Literature if only their songs were translated into international languages. For if Bob Dylan, the singer could win the Nobel, why not Ogute Ottan, Omokomoko, or Go-Slow Di?


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