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Fela, Ayinla Omowura, Obey in MUSON’s hallowed hall

Memories of some of the country’s finest musicians were relived at one of the activities of the 2016 MUSON Festival.

IT was an interesting quartet of creative personalities that shared their favourite music with the audience at the ‘My Kind of Music’ segment of the 20th MUSON Festival held last month in Lagos. They were writer and producer, IfeomaFafunwa;  engineer, art collector and philanthropist, Prince Yemisi Shyllon; broadcaster and music critic, Benson Idonije and music teacher and broadcaster, Princess Banke Ademola.

A major activity of the festival, ‘My Kind of Music’ is an evening where guests share their favourite music and reasons for their choices with a live audience who also get to hear recordings or live performances of the selected songs.

With chair of the Festival Planning Committee and moderator, Architect Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan, skilfully probing the guests on their choices, it was always an enjoyable session that most people usually don’t want to miss. Interestingly, there were some overlaps among the choices by the guests this year.

 

Ifeoma Fafunwa

The writer and creative director of I Open Eye Productions, got the session going with her first  choice being a Spanish song, ‘Nem As Paredes Confesso’ by Amalia Rodrigues. Most had assumed Fafunwa  understood the lyrics but she disappointed them,  disclosing after the song finished playing that it was much later that she knew what the artiste was saying.

It touched me when I first heard it. It’s a very disconnected song and was the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish but it spoke to me as an artist. It captured for me the way a teenager that’s an artiste growing up in Nigeria felt in the 1970s and 80s; I felt very disconnected. There was not much in school for an artist and there wasn’t much in the environment. I wasn’t the favourite of my parents; there were better understood children in my family. I really was wandering around, not sure how to connect. I pick it because there are lots of young artistes that feel the same way today,” she said.

The next choice of the producer of ‘Hear Word,’ an insightful production that highlights the plight of Nigerian and African women and which toured North America and Europe was ‘Staying Alive’ by Bee Gees.Fafunwa disclosed that she moved from being a moody teenager into the groove of FESTAC ’77 and the bubbly period after it, hence she felt very alive.

Her third choice was ‘Guilty’ by Barbara Streisand while the fourth was Fela’s ‘Shuffering and Shmilling’. Like the late maestro, Fafunwa bemoaned the docility of Nigerians and how they have allowed organised religions to keep them subservient. She particularly condemned leaving everything to God and how pastors allegedly terrify people into parting with their money during services, casting and binding demons.“Who is the gatekeeper of the kingdom of heaven, this song calls out all religions. Please, make una all open eye o,” she added.

Sharing why Asa’s ‘Bibanke’ is on her playlist, Fafunwa disclosed that the singer was among the fine  people she met in the art and music communities when she returned to Nigeria and was feeling down, not knowing that kindred souls were out there.

“My next choice is ‘I Feel Good’ by James Brown just to shake up the room,” she announced while her last number was ‘Trust in Me’ by Etta James.  “Everyone is feeling it [recession] we don’t know when it will end; we should trust that things are going to be well,” she said.

 

Prince Yemisi Shyllon

What song does an art collector, engineer, chartered accountant, lawyer, arbitrator, auctioneer and philanthropist amongst others listen to? Prince Shyllon’s choices were as eclectic as his professional interests. His first song was Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’. The piece, he noted“gives us hope when things are awry; that one day things will be okay in this country. We shouldn’t despair. If others have got it right, we will get it right.  Let’s look at the bright side of things.”

Up next was Dolly Parton’s ‘Coat of Many Colours’ that reminds him “of those who are suffering and helps my philanthropic thoughts.It makes me want to help and relate to the challenges that people go through.”

The next set of songs Shyllon shared reflected his philosophical side. They were Tunji Oyelana’s classic ‘Mo lo Soko’, Fela’s ‘Shuffering and Shmilling’ (which had earlier been chosen by Fafunwa) and Ebenezer Obey’s ‘Board Members’ which he noted reiterates the transiency of wealth and power. For him, the song also underscores the importance of living meaningful, impactful lives; and ‘Papa was a Rolling Stone’ by The Temptations. Shyllon also chose Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ he described as very African and “in the spirit of Pan-Africanism”, and ‘Frankie and Johnny’ by Sam Cooke.

 

Princess Banke Ademola

The retired director of Radio Nigeria, Ibadan National Station, began with the explanation that though she was a music producer who dealt with all sorts of music while in service, she has zero tolerance for rap music; hence “the selection of today’s music was an uphill task. But I have packaged them under the umbrella I called ‘Memories: music that evoke memories of my life, my work and moments of relaxation. One of my favourite crooners of those days was Dean Martin. They don’t sing like them again these days. ‘Memories are made of this’ by Dean Martin, enjoy it.”

Princess Ademola returned to her classical roots with her next song, ‘Bardinerie’ by JS Bach and performed by the Swingles Singers, while her third was Charles Gounod’s ‘Juliet Waltz’ performed by one of her ex-students, the Paris, France-based Omo Bello. It was a recording taken from the Luciano Pavarotti award Bello won five years ago.

While Fafunwa and Shyllon had earlier condemned peoples’ blind obedience  to religious doctrines, Princess Ademola reiterated that she won’t let go off her Christian faith with her next piece, Bill Gaither’s ‘One Day at a Time Sweet Jesus’. She also opted against playing vocal pieces throughout by choosing an instrumental, ‘Schubert Piano Sonata in A. D664’. The accomplished pianist and piano teacher disclosed that the piece is one of her favourites and that she started learning the piano at a period her mother died.

She dedicated her next piece, ‘JaItannaT’on Tan’  to three great men; her former boss at Radio Nigeria and retired diplomat, Dr. Christopher Kolade, whom she recalled they gave a lot of troubles back then; the late Ayo Bankole (composer of the song) and 91-year-old musician, Pa Christopher Oyesiku, who sang the piece. “It is a trilogy comprising ‘Iya’, ‘Kiniun’ and ‘JaItannaT’on Tan’ which encourages you to make haste, not to procrastinate.

Princess Ademola’s final piece was a live performance of Pastor D.K. Olukoya’s ‘Mo Gboju Le Jesu’ by students of the MUSON Music School. She disclosed that apart from his priestly calling, Olukoya used to be a choirmaster and that he believes in using music and sports to build young people.

 

Benson Idonije

Having been Fela’s manager at a point in his illustrious career as a broadcaster and music critic, many did not expect that Pa Idonije, who clocked 80 recently won’t have the Afrobeat creator on his playlist. He chose two numbers, ‘Beast of No Nation’ and ‘Onidodo’ representing different epochs in the ‘Abami Eda’s musical development. His first song, though, was the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s signature tune ‘Take the A Train’.

His next choice, the late Ayinla Omowura’s ‘Ebi Ki Pagun Dale’ was very warmly received by the crowd.  “My next choice is Apala music, Ebi Ki Pagun Dale,’” he announced to applause and roars of approval from the audience. I selected it because it groomed me into enjoying Apala music. It was released in 1972 by Ayinla Omowura. Before his emergence in 1970, the likes of Haruna Isola from Ijebu Igbo and Ligali Mukaiba from Epe were dominating the music scene but the emergence of Ayinla Omowura raised the game. The music became racy; his voice was guttural, he was very enterprising. There are a lot of proverbs, anecdotes, exhortation, all sorts in his music.”

The music columnist with The Guardian also chose the late Christy Essien- Igbokwe’s ‘Seun Rere’ and Lagbaja’s ‘Koko Below’. He said of the masked musician: “Lagbaja is one of the finest musicians in this country, I call him Mr Rhythm. He thinks I don’t like his music because I criticise him a lot but it’s because I love him.  Though influenced by Fela, he tries not to be like him. The only horn he uses is the saxophone and lots of percussions,” said Idonije who conclude with ‘Take 5’.