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A glimpse through early years of highfliers with my kind of music

By Anote Ajeluorou (Assist Arts Editor) and Florence Utor
22 October 2017   |   3:49 am
“The first song I fell in love with was King Sunny Ade’s ‘Syncro Syncro,’ that was when I was about eight. I used to love dancing; I still do. I guess that is why I do musicals; I use to do that to control my muscle.”

Publisher of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Ibru, cutting the tape to open MUSON Festival, with Vice Chairman, MUSON Centre, Mr. Louis Mbanefo

When the 21st edition of MUSON Festival 2017 opened last Thursday at Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, it delivered the musical promise the culture venue has consistently provided over the years. A brief opening ceremony set a tasteful tone for the festival at the Agip Recital foyer, with a welcome performance conducted by Mr. Babatunde Sosan (MUSON’s in-house pianist).

Thereafter, Vice Chairman of MUSON Centre, Mr. Louis Mbanefo, commended the festival organising committee for its hard work. Then the Publisher of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Ibru, cut the tape to declare the festival open and everyone filed into the hall for ‘My Kind of Music,’ which featured four highfliers in the corporate and diplomatic fronts. The engaging musical session had Mr. Kitoye Ibare-Akinsan as moderator.

Through My Kind of Music programme, a significant aspect of MUSON Festival, successful individuals, Nigerians and foreigners alike, select the type of music they listened to all through the years and why such pieces of music are remarkable in each of their developmental stages in life. Unwittingly, the music selection each year provides insight into the candidates’ life journeys from the early years through to adult life. Indeed, it is a sort of barometre for measuring the phases and cadences of candidates, as last Thursday’s event also proved.

To set the ball rolling was popular Lagos Pastor-in-Charge of Trinity House, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo. He recalled his 1967 or ’68 visit to Ibadan and how a relation brought home the vinyl LP record of the man he called his ‘friend’ from America. As he put it, “I went to visit my godmother and her step son came from America and he brought this LP of a very good friend of mine; his name was Michael Jackson and his music. At that time, he was about my age; the music was ‘ABC.’ It (the group) was actually called the ‘Jackson Five.’

The music got the audience rocking. The second song on Ighodalo’s playlist had him relieving his escapades at Kings College, Lagos. He recalled, “The first time I jumped the fence while in secondary school was to go and drink beer and eat akara and bread. The second time was to go to the shrine (Fela’s Shrine) and I was going to get used to the shrine. But on my way back, they stole my shoes in a molue. So, I didn’t go back there again. The third time was to watch this beautiful musical that came to Nigeria all the way from South Africa at the National Theatre, (Iganmu, Lagos). It was called, Nana Thembu by Ipi Thombi.”

Ighodalo’s reminiscences had a wondrous throwback to some of the individuals, who are shaping the Nigerian society in certain fields in remarkable ways. His third song selection is telling in the characters it threw up.

“I belonged to our Kings College choir; I started with soprano and graduated to alto. The only reason I left the choir were, first, my voice broke and the rehearsals were usually after school before lunch and I will be extremely hungry, but we had a wonderful teacher Mrs. Oshinowo and there was a gentleman in the choir with me, the present Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi Lamido. But one of the songs I never forgot is ‘Halleluyah’ chorus by Handel’s Messiah and we were taught that you sang that song with gusto, dignity and control.

“It is in three parts, beginning with the prophets foretelling of Jesus, his birth and it goes up to the crucifixion and resurrection and this made more meaning for me after I became a pastor. This piece of music told of our salvation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the end of the second half, when the music goes ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords,’ the king stood up and everybody else had to stand up!”

The pastor’s fourth song selection was Saturday Night Fever by Bee Gee and it got him recalling how he walked to the British Embassy and asked to be given a visa to visit London and how the British pound was at par with the Nigerian naira. He wondered and prayed for a return of that glorious era again in the country. The selection also showed that Ighodalo was a man about town before he had God’s calling.

And he recalled, “I remember when my sister got married. There were parties all the way, but the highlight of my season that year was a song in 1978. I went to the British Embassy to get a visa to travel for summer and the song that just came out was Saturday Night Fever.”

And again, “My university days in 1979 to ’82, when we had the likes of Michael Jackson doing some phenomenal things like ‘Off the Wall’ and things like that. So, my university days, when I hung out with serious people like Toks Ogubanjo and the likes, one of the things I learnt was a song by this gentleman called Al Jarreau, We Are in this Love Together.”

And Al Jarreau got the pastor on his feet to show how it was done back in the days, with a jocular caveat that his church need not know he danced! He got applauded for the 1980s’ dance style he dexterously demonstrated.

“In those days, we hung out at Museum Kitchen, Paradiso and we went to parties and there were songs like Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye,” he said of his seventh song. “I almost chose the song, but I said I couldn’t face church on Sunday (audience laughter). And there is We Are The World, but the song that took the season for me was this one by Whitney Houston, The Greatest Love of All. I love it for two reasons: it was the theme song of the Mohammed Ali movie and it had such a powerful impact on me. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all!”

In Ighodalo’s last song selection, he recalled ow his life experienced a dramatic change from the worldly man to a Godly man, saying, “In 1992, something very dramatic happened to me. I thought I was the oldest bachelor in Lagos, but I finally became born again and old things passed away and all things had to become new and my thinking, music, party, tone totally changed and I found myself doing more gospel, church and things like that.

“With one more song to chose, my greatest song of all is ‘What a Wonderful world’ by Eves Armstrong; my greatest hymn is ‘How Great Though Art,’ but for this last song I have to chose, what I consider to be one of my most contemporary pieces of music that I really enjoy at this time is ‘Ori se Iyanu’ by Nathaniel Bassey!”

FOUNDER of Nigeria’s private, most accomplished arts centre, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters, was next and her selection got the audience swooning, as it was her childhood favourite to which she used to dance a lot, a trait that hasn’t quite left her, as she showed it on the night, with Tekno’s music.

“The first song I fell in love with was King Sunny Ade’s ‘Syncro Syncro,’ that was when I was about eight. I used to love dancing; I still do. I guess that is why I do musicals; I use to do that to control my muscle.”

Her second song was ‘Off the Wall’ and, as she recalled, “My brother used to love Off The Wall, which he listened to a lot and I also fell in love with it, because it was such a danceable song.”

Austin-Peters’ third song was the one that became her companion in faraway Ethiopia “while I was working with UNDP; we used to see a lot of atrocities done to people and the only thing that used to keep me company was music. I will travel long, lonely hours and music kept me company. My husband recorded all forms of it; then I fell in love with classical music and one of them that I really liked was Canto della Terra by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.”

For her fourth song, she recalled, “incidentally, I went to International School, Ibadan, for my A-levels and I remember then that Shade Adu was popular and I fancied myself to look like her and I fell in love with her music. And her song that was reigning was Sweetest Taboo and I fell in love with it.”

Fela was her fifth song, “I love Fela, which inspired some of our musicals and we have used one particular piece he sang: Water no get enemy, and it occurred to me that you can’t fight water no matter what.”

Grace by Michael W. Smith was Austin-Peters’ sixth song. For her, it’s a prayer and benevolence, saying God’s grace has been all her sufficiency in life’s journey.

Her seventh song selection was a tribute to the younger musicians currently plying their trade, with Tekno, who provides her inspiration for the age, especially in a country, where lamentation has become the staple diet of most citizens.

According to Austin-Peters, “It is incredible what has happened to the music industry in Nigeria. These guys are incredible; they have raised the bar and changed the perception of our music industry worldwide. So, this particular one means so much to me because it is speaking to the Nigerian situation; it is called Rara.”

And she got up, like Ighodalo had done earlier, and danced to it with such suppleness it was amazing watching her at it.

CORPORATE player, Mrs. Nimi Akinkugbe, was next and her selection was spiced with the narrative of her musically inclined family. A pianist, her children are also skilled in making music, both in the classical and modern idioms.

According to her, “One of my favourite songs of all time is ‘The Long and Windy Road,’ but it was one of the reasons why the Beatles broke up because the producer produced orchestration and choir because he wanted it to just be a piano and ballad thing. About two years ago, my son won an award to record at the same studio the Beatles recorded ‘The Long and Windy Road.’ It was a special moment for me!”

Akinkugbe’s second song was a throwback to highlight, an often-neglected music genre. As she noted, “We were told not to play highlife music on the piano, but Uncle Steve Rhodes arranged some pieces, Joromi, Taxi Driver and Baby mi da for us on two pianos and I felt we were not hearing enough highlife and the younger generation are not appreciating highlife. So, it was such a delight when 2face and Victor Olaiya teamed up to perform the song, Baby mi da.”

And she also recalled, “My daughter, Kalin, won first prize at a school of music for a song she wrote about social change, Bring them Home. She was just telling me how she was talking to her daddy and he was telling her how powerful music and that there are three major influences in life – leaders, politicians and musicians. Hear what she said about this song – ‘being far away from home and feeling helpless, I wrote this song to help create awareness about the abducted, our precious Chibok girls!’

“The song was played everyday for one year by Smooth FM. We are happy that many of the girls have been returned, but it is so sad that so many of them are still in captivity.”

Akinkugbe also recalled her parents’ love for music, saying, “My parent love classical music and my father did choral works in piano music on the record player in those days. This particular interpretation of Shubert’s ‘Impromptu’ piece is played by my son, Dolapo; he played it at his commencement ceremony at Brown University two years ago. He also sent me some rap music, but I chose the Shubert’s piece.”

She also used the occasion to admonish Nigerian musicians on the use of drugs, warning, “It was devastating that we lost Michael Jackson, Emmy Winehouse, Prince and, Houston. As the Nigerian music industry grows, it is important that we find a way to mentor these young superstars that are just coming up otherwise we will face terrible tragedies like we did in the past.

“Jackson was a fantastic dancer and musician, as well as a songwriter. These are the words of one of his songs: I’m standing with the man in the mirror; I am asking him to change his ways and no message could have been any clearer: if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change.’

“We complain a lot; if we can make that change, the world will be a better place. Man in Mirror by Michael Jackson.”

Her sixth selection was a hymn, which she said, “I enjoy contemporary Christian music, but I really don’t want us to loose sight of the most incredible hymns we sang in church, especially as an Anglican. If we do, we lose the most priceless legacy. It is so important that we sing them. I love playing the pipe organ in church and at family occasions.”

Akinkugbe also showed her love for music of the youngsters, enthusing, “I’m an absolute diehard fan of Wiz Kid, to the point a friend of mine called me agbaya. Last Sunday, I was on my way to the shrine to catch a glimpse of him. Unfortunately, my age got the better of me and by 11pm, I fell asleep and had to go back home only for him to perform at 2:30am.

“I love him because he tells of his story from grass to grace; he portrays family support. He talked about his father praying for him. September 28 this year, he performed the song, Ojuelegba, as his last piece at the Royal Albert Hall; he is the first ever African artiste to sell out at the Royal Albert Hall!”

The German Consul-General in Lagos, Mr. Ingo Herbert, was the fourth in the My Kind of Music line-up. Through his music, the audience followed him up through his childhood, as a good singer in primary school, his law school days and private practice before he took up diplomatic service, the many ups and downs in his life. His music choice reflected on the different stages of his life. His narrative provided a glimpse of a jocular man, who laughs a lot, both at himself and what life throws his way.

His first choice was Voices of Spring (Fruhlingsstimmen), Waltz by Johan Jr. and Josef Strauss by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Carlos Kleiber at a New Year’s Concert in 1989. He followed it up with Vissi d’ arte, an aria from opera “Tosca” by G. Puccini, Maria Callas. Then Marie Theres! terzett from opera “Der Rosenkavalier” by R. Straus, at a Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan in Salzburg in 1984; then “O Welch Lust” choir of prisoners, from opera “Fidelio” by Ludwig Van Beethoven at a Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Interestingly, it wasn’t surprising that Herbert’s choice of music was mostly classical, specially informed by his Austrian background.

Moderator of the show, Ibare-Akinsan, promised two musical take-away, which came in the form of soloists. First female soloist to perform was Kanje Oguntade, who performed Wind Beneath my wings by Betty Midler, with Sosan providing piano accompaniment. But it was Aderayo Odebiyi’s performance of Oh for the Wings of a Dove by Felix Mendelssohn that really got the audience. It completed an evening of harmonious musical entertainment specially provided the MUSON Festival way!