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Tunde Baiyewu: Being A Lighthouse Family

Lighthouse Family

Growing up in an era where cigarette adverts were permitted to air on television and radio, it was a tad difficult to miss those deceptive cuts that told us it was a mark of pristine masculinity to puff on neatly wrapped nicotine. 

It was also one of those ads – St. Moritz’s – that introduced me to the music of Lighthouse Family. Ocean Drive’s simple yet inspiring lyrics contradict the reality cigarettes represent, but the minds behind it found it beautiful enough – maybe it’s Tunde Baiyewu’s voice – to rest the soul of the commercial on. Such was the power that the band had in the late 1990s and the early 2000s despite the diverse backgrounds of its members. 

Baiyewu, although born in Willesden Green, north London, is firmly rooted in the culture of his Nigerian parents. The death of his father at the age of 42 when he was a kid forced his mother to return to Lagos, Nigeria, where he was introduced to Yoruba culture and the music of Fela Kuti, Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. His partner Paul Tucker is a thoroughbred Briton who grew up in a world where such music influence is alien.

Lighthouse Family

Naija Boy

Decades after leaving Nigeria, Tunde insisted he is still a Nigerian without a shade of doubt. Married to a British-Nigerian Tope Adeshina, the Lighthouse Family vocalist said there was no reason to “shy away from my heritage” especially since that heritage enables his creativity.

“A lot of our melodies – I do melodies for most of our songs – come out of the Yoruba language which I speak. There is a certain rhythm to the Yoruba language.”

The bridge in one of Lighthouse Family’s best-known songs, ‘High,’ was influenced by Yoruba. The first line of the bridge, “At the end of the day remember the days,” was written to rhyme with the Yoruba name Ogunmodede, Tunde said. Loosely translated as Ogun (Yoruba’s god of war and metals) brings the hunter home, the name embodies the essence of Yoruba traditional religion and history. And at a point, he had a Nigerian singer – Tiwa Savage – sing backup for the band.

He also pointed to the use of Yoruba on ‘Anaesthetics,’ a song that shows the depth of his emotional vulnerability after his mother’s death, as a way of him connecting to his culture.

What Tunde gained in being acculturated in Nigeria was instrumental to his outlook on music and the creation of melodies for Lighthouse Family songs. It also proved, at some point, to be the cause of healthy conflict with Paul. 

“Overall, we are generally on the same page,” Tunde told me. “But there are creative differences that happen sometimes… because of my Nigerian roots.” 

But in those “conflicts” Tunde and Paul found the building blocks that form the core of “what we do.” 

They found a bond in music so strong that 18 years after their last album – Whatever Gets You Through The Day –, the duo returned in 2019 with an album, Blue Sky in Your Head.

Lighthouse Family

Obasanjo’s son

Years after his father’s death, his mother took another shot at marriage. But his mother getting married to Nigeria’s number one citizen was not what Tunde bargained for. In fact, he was not ready to be someone’s stepson, especially if that person wields great influence.

“I was very standoffish at first, and pretty unforthcoming. I was used to having just a mother–and a mother, I felt, was all I needed,” he said in a 2013 interview.

He was wary of the air of power and influence that came with being a stepson of a military head of state. But his standoffish stance was petered out by his military ruler stepfather’s jocular takes on life.

“I was very standoffish at first, and pretty unforthcoming. I was used to having just a mother–and a mother, I felt, was all I needed,” he said in a 2013 interview.

He was wary of the air of power and influence that came with being a stepson of a military head of state. But his standoffish stance was petered out by his military ruler stepfather’s jocular takes on life.

Tunde did not exactly grow under the nose of the former Nigerian leader. But he could remember his large entourage coming to his mother’s house. The aversion he felt was not for the man but for the attention such unmistakable influence his presence brought.

Although Obasanjo might have earned a reputation for being a hard-nosed wartime general, Tunde told me he was very jovial and insightful. He remembered Obasanjo accepting him as his son. Obasanjo would ask him about his girlfriends even though he was just 14. But he would quickly follow up with pieces of advice that Tunde said helped shape him.

“He was a funny kind of guy,” Tunde said of the former Nigerian president. “He’s always giving advice.

“He said something one day that I still remember. He said, ‘Whatever you do in life, make sure you are good at it.”

The Comeback

Tunde and Paul tried making a comeback in 2007, 2010,2011 and 2013. But there was a general loss of the spark that could propel them to do new music. But they did do tours in 2010 and 2011.

The hiatus was also enabled by personal tragedies they suffered individually. Tunde lost his mother in 2000, 20 years after he left Nigeria for the UK to study accountancy. Her death left him demoralised so much that he felt like quitting music. Although he was always in constant touch with her before she passed away, he was unable to travel to Nigeria to see her due to unrelenting band commitment.

His bandmate suffered a similar tragedy years later.

“When something like that happens to you, it puts some spin on the way you look at things. I just thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’” he said.

Tunde did manage to “get himself back together again” to start a solo career. His eponymous debut album – Tunde – carries a tinge of the pains he felt after his mother’s demise even though it came four years after that tragedy. “I’m still a child beside you/How did we come to Inside this helpless moment/Oluwa shanu mi/Wa shanu mi,” he sings on sad ‘Anaesthetics,’ his voice almost tearful.

Although they were always in constant touch with each other, It will be almost two decades later – and another solo album – before Tunde and Paul could finally come back together not only to do tours but to also release an album and remaster 10 of Lighthouse Family classic hits for the first time.

Their fans have their long-term manager Keith Armstrong to thank. Before Armstrong even reached out to him, Tunde had a premonition of what was to come: he had a vivid dream of Armstrong, whom he hadn’t talked to for about 15 years. Three months later, Armstrong called him and the journey to the making of another Lighthouse Family album began.

“It was different this time, it still wasn’t easy but there was more of a will to make it work,” Paul said of their comeback in an interview with Songwriting Magazine. “ It still had all the same challenges that it had in 2010 but it was just a case of the determination to make it work and not to let it go.”

They pulled through those challenges to deliver an album that serves as a reminder of why they were one of the most famous bands in Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Lighthouse Family is going on a tour towards the end of the year. That includes a date in South Africa, where Tunde can get a whiff of Nigeria. But he thinks maybe he can get more than a whiff: playing on home soil.

“That’s something we would love to do,” he said. “Paul is always reading a lot of Nigerian comments on Twitter and Facebook page. He loves them. And I always say to him, ‘Whenever we do go, you will have such a good time.’”

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light houseTunde Baiyewu
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