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In raise of the songs of Nigeria

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Sonny Okosun

To sing a song in praise of the songs of Nigeria is like begging God in the name of God to help Nigeria. Double wahala for the owner of the petition! But no matter, it is Nigeria, a special case. To live in a country where you can be stranded at home must be an argument for a special case. The occasion for this praise of Nigerian song list was a few weeks ago when my friend listened in awe to a performance of the song Great Nation, by Timi Dakolo. It was not just the song but also the grandeur and the depth of feeling it engendered in the young men and women who not only listened but sang along, all these impressed my friend and he shared the lyric. But later for that.

In thinking of the singing of Nigeria we are not going to mention the first Christian hymnal imitation national anthem Nigeria we hail thee and so on as if we are saluting a big man arriving from a long journey. We don’t want to be reminded that tribe and tongue differ, do we?

There is another song that we recognise but refuse to call attention to right now in this play list. It is the high life danceable tune entitled WAZOBIA, “Come” in three languages as if we couldn’t say come in more than a hundred languages.

Years ago, an article was written about the absence of the Nigerian federation in the Nigerian novel. Perhaps it was too early to ask for the presence of the country in the novels of Nigerians. To look for the country in the songs of the country in the popular entertainment sector was also a little early. Artists, writers, sculptors have to try on the country before they could begin to understand its measurements to dress it up for us.

One of the first Nigerian songs to mention is Sonny Okosun’s Which Way Nigeria? Sonny Okosun (1947 – 2008) was the leader of Ozzidi band and his music, we are told, is a fusion of pop music and reggae and funk and he was best known for protest songs.

Which Way Nigeria was released in 1983. The musician wants to know “which way Nigeria is heading to.” “Many years after independence”, it continues, “we still find it hard to start/how long shall we be patient still/we reach the promise (sic) land/let’s save Nigeria/so Nigeria won’t die.”

Perhaps we must remind Sonny Okosun and ourselves that the best way to predict the future is to plan the future. If we want to know where Nigeria is heading to let’s determine the destination and fashion the route.

The next song would not have merited mention as of Nigerian national relevance but for the title and refrain. The title of the song by King Sunny Ade of juju music fame, is Gather round me my people. And the refrain initially was “Mi o mọ” meaning I don’t know. “This journey I am on, is it carrying me forward or backward?” The chorus in 1974 was “I don’t know.” “When the song was released for Island Records on the cusp of international success, the chorus was changed to “mo ti mọ” “now I know”. What prompted this change of title?

There is a story, which could not be fact-checked for obvious reasons that a head of state intervened. It was to the effect that the song was likely to be seen as an indication of the cluelessness of military leadership at that particular time soon after the civil war. King Sunny Ade was appealed to, to change the chorus to a more positive one. And he did.

Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (1966 – 2010) popularly known as Alhajji Agba was a consciously political musician. His Muslim background and brief service in the Nigerian army exposed him to politics in Nigeria. He could not complete his education at Yaba Polytechnic and so he went back to his first love, music. His albums are full of advice to Nigerian politicians to behave themselves and be reasonable. Nigeria ta wa yi yo si mama dara, (This Nigeria will still turn out good) is a hopeful song but full of ifs. If Nigeria could find dedicated leadership. If Nigerian politicians can obey the laws of the country. If the people can empower true leaders and not charlatans and thug.

Tunji Oyelana and His Benders played the lyrics of Wole Soyinka’s I love my country I no go lie as part of the long playing album Etikẹ Revo Wetin released in the early 1980s. Critical of the brand of revolution being peddled by the politicians and the military, it commits to continuing struggle within the country. Whatever happens, whichever way the politicians and the military turn the country, there would be contestation until the right way is found.

It is in this light of continuing struggle that Timi Dakolo’s song pertinent.
Here is what Ladipo wrote on listening to Great Nation, by Timi Dakolo: “Under-50s in the audience – the majority – sang along standing and with passion.” Here are some quotes from the lyrics: “Here we stand as a people /With one song, with one voice/We’re a nation, undivided and poised/We will take our stand, and build our land/With faith to defend what is ours.”

The chorus is as follows: “We’re all we have, we’ll defend our land/We believe in this nation, and we know we’ll get there/We’re all we have we’ll defend our land/ We believe in Nigeria and the promise she holds/And that one day we’ll shine like the sun/We’re a great nation.”

This is a national anthem that affirms and identifies a land Nigeria, worth defending. It is a national anthem that confirms and identifies the people of the land ready to defend Nigeria. It is also a national anthem that situates the field of victory and the arrival in the promised land and the achievement of the deserved goal in the realm of the future, of dreams and of wish-fulfillments. It is the terrain of “I have a dream. . .” and of “We shall overcome one day. . .” It is the best we can ask of our artists and writers.
bankole.omotoso@elizadeuniversity.edu.ng


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