Veteran music composer, Engineer Olajide Oluremi Oshinnubi, was an item in the 60s through the 70s during the glory days of highlife and juju music in Nigeria. Born into a music family in Lagos, Oshinnubi, who will clock 77 years later this year, commenced his journey into the Nigerian music industry as a composer, writing songs of the day for renowned musicians such as Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and the late Oliver De Coque. He has traversed the length and breadth of the musical sphere of Nigeria and Africa from the earlier 50s and now. Against the background of this wealth of experience, the septuagenarian discloses the failings of the present music industry as well as the remedies in this interview by Newton-Ray Ukwuoma.
How did you make your mark as an early music composer?
I started from the choir. My dad played four musical instruments during his time. He played accordion, guitar, organ and the drum. He was also a composer of both gospel and secular music. I inherited the trait from him. I didn’t have any formal education in music composition before I started working with musicians. Living in Lagos at the time gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of musicians. We were all young music lovers. I attended dance classes with some of these old musicians. During our days, dancing was an elitist art. You had to be taught by an instructor. Dance music such as Slow Foxtrot, Bolero, Amber couple, Calypso, Highlife were popular in our days. Juju came in much later.
What songs are your best known compositions in the industry?
I composed ‘Obey de Olohun Orin’ by Ebenezer Obey. [He sings the chorus.] I composed ‘Sweet Banana’ for Sunny Ade. [He drifts into the song] I was the one that composed ‘Ori mi tete dami lohun’ by Sunny Ade. I composed the song Oliver De Coque did about President Babangida. [Sings the entire song.] This was the only Yoruba song Oliver De Coque did. He was the rhythm guitarist for the late Jacob Oluwole, who led a juju band, before he formed his own. He used the characteristics of name calling and praise songs in his music. Oliver De Coque started it before Morocco and other Igbo Highlife musicians followed him.
How did you meet Oliver De Coque?
Oliver De Coque was the rhythm guitarist for Jacob Oluwole. It was during the band’s trip to London that he met with me and a lot of Yoruba musicians . That was when we met. I started working for him afterwards. Let me tell you something, in other climes, the music business is about division of labour. You have the composers, the producers, the mixers and other experts even before the musician himself. We practised it during our time. Making music was not the exclusive preserve of the musician. I think this is one of the problems these young people are facing. They want to do everything by themselves.
In your opinion, do think music composition needs to be farmed out to specialists?
Yes, because what these young people are singing now cannot last another decade. All they want is money. Tell me the song that they have sung that is reasonable, that parents can listen to with their children? Music should entertain, educate and teach morals or discipline. In our time, musicians sang about the consequences of doing evil, they praised good deeds and parents used their songs to influence their children. Amazingly white people still sing songs that have moral lessons even now, but most of the songs we have here are either about money or women’s body part, songs you wouldn’t even want your kids to listen to. Sometimes I wonder what those handed the responsibility of regulating songs are doing. They have allowed gangsters to dominate the music industry.
Do you have musicians that you appreciate or are they all the same?
A large majority of these musicians fall under my earlier description. But the truth is some people are keeping this industry strong. People like Psquare, Flavour, 2Face [2Baba], Davido and Olamide are doing well. But I am most inspired by what Don Jazzy is doing. The way he manages crisis. See how he has groomed these small boys into superstars. If not for people like him, the music industry would have gone under. But Don Jazzy needs good composition for his boys. I want him to come to me. I have composed a lot of songs for him and for other musicians like him. I want to release what I have for the modern musicians. I have made songs that would interest people like Davido, Wizkid, Flavour and Don Jazzy. I am looking for them. I am inspired by what they are doing.
Are these songs written down somewhere?
Yes. [He retreats into his bedroom and returns with a worn-out notebook.] I have more than 150 songs here. I have made these songs for them. I have been following their progress especially Flavour and Don Jazzy’s.
What if they have music ideas that are not in this book, what would you do?
I am a composer. I can compose any song they want me to. It would only take me two weeks to develop any idea.
Why didn’t you venture into music full time?
I did establish a factor earlier, my main occupation is composition. I didn’t want to do more than that. God gave everybody different talents. You can invite me to your studio, I will do my job but you will be paying me for it. Besides that I was pursuing a career in engineering at that time. I only had time to compose, not to sing or own a band.
How did you meet Ebenezer Obey?
I met him during one of his shows back in the day. After his performance, I simply walked up to him, told him I wanted to work for him. He and Sunny Ade just accepted me. I need to thank these people for the opportunity they gave me. I told them that I didn’t want to sing, that I wanted to just write songs. They accepted. Oliver De Coque was another person that gave me the opportunity.
What, in your opinion, is not right with today’s music composition?
We have too many more music imitators than creative musicians today. Some of these songs are not composed to last longer than a year before they are forgotten. This is because they lack essential components of good music.
What are the components of a good music?
Good. Lyrical quality and touch. By touch, I mean the ability to relate with people’s sensibility. For instance, people like [Ebenezer] Obey and Oliver De Coque had compositions for every event: wedding, birthday, naming ceremony and so on. Femi Esho still has relevant archive of streamlined songs these people did. Bands like Uhuru Dance Band, Ranbrance Dance band from Ghana were very popular here. During the days of highlife in Nigeria, Chief Billy Friday was pivotal to the spread of the music across Nigeria. These people operated by popular demand. And most importantly, their lyrics were powerful. Secondly, they were not singing the same thing. Everybody came up with different ideas. I can still remember all their songs because they had deep meanings. Every tribe danced to songs from other tribes, because they all had good lyrics. Songs by Oliver De Coque were loved all over the country. There was no discrimination, whether you are a Yoruba or Calabar man, people gravitated to rhythm and lyrics. During those days we enjoyed music from the north [Sings Hausa song]. Today’s musicians are chiefly imitators. Once someone comes out with something catchy, all they do is imitate him, and then it’s gone. There is no structure in the music industry.
What is your message to Nigerian musicians?
Let them use this opportunity to sing and compose lyrics that will last through time. IK Dairo is still remembered today because of the kind of music he did in the past. The future lies with anyone of them who can use this opportunity to etch himself in the sand of time. I appreciate that most of the young musicians are going back to old school rhythms and songs. It shows how timeless what these old people have done. I’m 77 years old. I have a lot of songs I want to give out before I pass on. I want any of them that is interested to come.