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Ozzidi Song… Eight years after Sonny Okosuns’ exit

Sunny Okosuns

Sunny Okosuns

May 24, 2016 marked the eight year anniversary of the passage of Ozzidi King, Sunny Okosuns. During the 70’s and 80’s, freedom fighter activity was very high on the African Agenda in World Politics. As documented in this tribute by BAYO DARAMOLA, even though Okosuns never carried a gun, he was part and parcel of the battle for Black African Liberty through his fiery music

The key to a valid insight into the success story of Sunny Okosuns is the understanding that his overall narrative deserves to be written in gold. Practically nothing of less value could ever do justice to his venerated memory. As one of the brightest among the bright lights that illuminated his brilliantly gifted era in African music, he busied himself penning and delivering splendid songs of black African liberation whereas many of his contemporaries relied on the leisurely allure of love songs and light hearted social commentary.

He too would eventually deliver a fair share of well-composed songs of romantic love and sweet adoration; but, who wouldn’t? After all, love songs are a sine qua non of the musical craft. Yet, in Okosuns’ own case, his method was unique in the sense that he took, as his first and foremost duty, the craft perfect use of music to achieve the freedom of wrongly and unjustifiably oppressed black African people living under sub-human bondage in their own fatherlands in South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe. During its colonial dispensation, Zimbabwe was known officially as Rhodesia.

Sonny Okosuns was born as Francis Sunny Okosun on January 1, 1947 in Enugu City, capital of what was known then as the Eastern Region of Nigeria. Appearing in the Monday August 4, 2008 edition of The Guardian of London, the necrology of Okosuns states that his death, at the George Washington Hospital, U.S.A., on May 24, 2008, was due to a valiant but unsuccessful struggle with colon cancer. At the date of his passing, Okosuns was 61. Had he survived the terrible illness that took his life, he would have turned 69 this year (2016).

Early Life: A unique hallmark of Okosuns’ musical triumph is that, as a child, he had very little formal education. He did not go beyond elementary school. Never getting to the point of attending secondary school, he didn’t smell anything in the semblance of higher educational training or tertiary exposure.

All the same, it is evident that both his love and aptitude for music are traceable to the cradle since his mum and dad were known to be traditional musicians in addition to being active and devout Church goers. Thus the youngster was quite fortunate to have grown up in an emphatically musical atmosphere at home.

Sonny Okosuns is said to have taught himself to play the guitar proficiently during his teenage years. Singing and song composition skills were most probably inculcated later on as he functioned as a young chorister in church, which for him was the Holy Ghost Cathedral in Enugu.

Nevertheless, as it was for many would be artistes of his generation who were drawn irresistibly to Western world music standards, the overriding stylistic influences that would shape his formative approaches to an effective professional Life of Art are to be found in John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles as well as Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll.

Career Path: It was inside music that Okosuns would eventually blossom and flourish. All the same, it was as a theatrical actor aged 18 that he debuted when he travelled to London for the first time in 1965 with the Eastern Nigerian Theatre.

In 1966, at 19, Okosuns put together his first band called the Postmen, a singing group playing mostly covers of British pop songs. Three years later in 1969 he disbanded the group in order to improve on his overall musicianship by joining Victor Uwaifo, the virtuoso guitarist and visual artist who had created his own idiosyncratic and psychedelic style of highlife. It was called AKWETE, a hugely popular form of West African dance music characterized by blazing horns and complex keyboard harmonies laced with intertwining guitar melodies.

Come 1972, Okosuns would strike out again as leader of Paperback Ltd, developing his own reggae and soft rock-inflected form of highlife. He would later rename the band, and his self made music style as Ozzidi, from the Igbo word for “message.”

Ozzidism, as it came to be known, evolved in episodic stages into a personal pan-African philosophy of liberation. Though he composed and sang copiously in his parents’ language Ishan, as well as in Igbo, in Hausa and in Yoruba, he made his most remarkable musical milestones with English-language songs like Fire in Soweto (1977), Papa’s Land (1978), No More Wars (1981), Mother and Child (1982), Togetherness (1983), Which Way Nigeria? (1984).

Forever passionate about the quality of his recorded work, Okosuns is known to have once stated that “Nigerian listeners are very sophisticated and they don’t want any trash. An album has to be really world standard before they will put out their money to buy it. So you have to do your best work in the best studio.”

The fact is on record that he was particularly fascinated by the beauty and elegance of a recording session of Osibisa, the world famous Ghanaian highlife/pop band which he witnessed at EMI studios at Abbey Road, London England in 1976. He would subsequently embark on exquisite remakes of many of his own past hits.

Fame and Popularity: The song that actually launched Okosuns into the glitter and razzmatazz of international fame and global popularity was Fire in Soweto which appeared in 1977, incidentally the year of FESTAC. Insofar as protest songs go, Fire in Soweto was particularly timely and appropriate for the fact that it came in the anxious and turbulent wake of the notorious Soweto Massacre of June 16, 1976 when racist police in Azania – South Africa’s ancient name – opened fire indiscriminately on school children protesting peacefully the imposition of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in the Apartheid educational system instead of English.

It is reported that Robert Mugabe’s wife, Sally, was captivated by the spontaneity of Okosuns stage craft during a 1981 London concert for which reason he found himself invited to perform at Zimbabwe’s independence anniversary gala in Harare. In 1985, Okosuns joined Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen and Run-DMC on the Sun City Project which was essentially an anti-apartheid benefit record.

The Reggae icon Jimmy Cliff is notable among frontline cultural heavyweights with whom Okosuns is known to have collaborated fruitfully in his quest for African libration by way of music.

Return to Faith: Sometimes in the narrative of a great artiste, a stage would come in life and experience when the way ahead stipulates the necessity to rethink previous choices and consider a switch of priorities. It is a fact that this turn of affairs occurred to mark the final episodic dramas of Sonny Okosuns’ experiences in life and music.

He did not hesitate to act upon the decision to summarily quit secular music and embrace the peace, calm, joy and comfort of Christian evangelical music. As Evangelist Sonny Okosuns, the former Ozzidi King went to the extent of founding a brand new church called The House of Prayer Ministries.

The newly founded church was housed in Sonny Okosuns’ own mansion at Ogba, near Agege in Lagos Metropolis. He would be as committed to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus as he had earlier been to the propagation the earlier Ozzidi message, if not more. It is said that he was generally more likely to give gifts to his parishioners than make repeated material demands on them as many other church leader are known to do.

But he never neglected to let his members know the importance of meeting up with any vows or commitments once they are willingly made to God for the reason that it was better not to make a pledge at all than to make one only to renege on it.

Quite often, Okosuns the evangelistic preacher made copious use of personal examples from his past life when admonishing his members on the need to seek first the kingdom of God and the necessity to avoid the lure of loose morals and a life of night clubbing.

He would for instance, refer often to his former love of spending his weekends in London in the company of nothing less than three female companions on each occasion, painting the city red in hard partying and wanton spending sprees before returning to Lagos with only the plane fare to hang upon.

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