Before the turn of 20th Century, Nigeria was blessed with a number of people who improved on the sounds and vibes that preceeded their careers and left us with innovations that we cannot forget. eelive.ng brings you the first part of a recall of the lives and times of these geniuses.
Sunny Okosun, born January 1947, is best known as the leader of the Ozzidi band. Although he named his band after a renowned Ijaw river god, to Okosun, the meaning was “there is a message.” The musician, whose surname is sometimes spelled as ‘Okosuns’, was one of the leading Nigerian musicians from the late 1970s to mid-1980s.
His career as a professional musician started circa 1966 when he joined The Postmen as a rhythm guitarist. The band often played the music of Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
At the onset of the civil war, Okosun and his family were forced to flee Eastern Nigeria and move to Lagos. While living in the city that never sleeps, he worked as a stagehand for a television station and jammed with a number of groups. In 1969, he found steady work as a second guitarist in Victor Uwaifo’s Maestros band. During his time in the service of Uwaifo, Okosun honed his skills in musical composition by experimenting with a fusion of African and rock rhythms.
From 1972 to 1974, he led a band that was originally called Paperback Limited but later regrouped as Ozzidi. Prior to regrouping as Ozzidi, he and some members of his group teamed up with Fela and his band, Koola Lobitos, to play gigs in the Yaba area of Lagos.
After forming Ozzidi, Okosun released several albums with the band and as a solo artist. The albums included Ozzidi, Living Music and Ozzidi for Sale. His early Ozzidi sound combined the highlife roots of his Edo heritage with a touch of guitar riffs.
He had his first big break with the single ‘Help’, which sold close to a hundred thousand copies in Nigeria. The Ozzidi band was headed by Okosun as lead vocalist, supported by three backup dancers, a trombone player, keyboardist, bass and trap drums.
Towards the late 1970s, Okosun began to release a string of reggae-infused Afropop music.
His brand of African pop music is a synthesis of Afrobeat, reggae and funk music. From 1977, he became known for protest songs about Pan-Africanism, freedom and other social and political issues affecting Africans.
His 1977 song, ‘Fire in Soweto’, became a major international hit, landing him his first gold album. He was subsequently featured on the anti-apartheid album ‘Sun City’. His song, ‘Highlife’, was on the soundtrack of the 1986 film ‘Something Wild’. Okosun’s follow-up album, ‘Power to the People’, took him on a tour of major Nigerian cities.
By 1993, Okosun had started gravitating towards gospel music, releasing albums such as ‘Songs of Praise’ and ‘Revival’. In 1998, he launched the House of Prayer Ministry, a church located in the Ogba area of Lagos state.
At 65, the iconic musician died of colon cancer on May 24, 2008 at Howard University Hospital, Washington DC.
Okosun’s musical styles included reggae, highlife, Afro-funk, and gospel, among others. He made music in a number of languages, including Esan, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and English.
Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, who would be later known as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, was born in October 1938. He was a pioneering Nigerian musician and activist who launched a modern style of music called Afrobeat, which fused American blues, jazz, and funk with traditional Yoruba music.
Kuti was the son of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a women’s right advocate and labour activist. As a youth, he took lessons in piano and percussion before enrolling at Trinity College London in 1959 to study classical music. While in London, he encountered various musical styles by playing piano in jazz and rock bands.
Upon his return to Nigeria in the mid-1960s, he reconstituted Koola Lobitos, a band with which he had played with in London. The Afrobeat sound which is now revered emerged from the group’s experiments.
Following his 1969 tour of the United States, where he was influenced by the politics of Malcolm X, Black Panthers, and other militant groups, Kuti’s music became increasingly politicised.
He exhorted social change in songs such as ‘Zombie’, ‘Monkey Banana’, ‘Beasts of No Nation’, and ‘Upside Down’. Fela and his band, which was known variously as Nigeria 70, Africa 70, and later as Egypt 80, performed for packed houses at early-morning concerts staged at Fela’s often-raided nightclub in Lagos.
The firebrand singer, who gyrated over the keyboard as he sang in English and Yoruba, struck a chord among the unemployed, disadvantaged, and oppressed. His politically-charged songs, which decried oppression by Nigeria’s military government, prompted authorities to routinely raid his club, looking for reasons to jail him.
Close to the club, Fela also set up a communal compound which he proclaimed the Independent Kalakuta Republic. As head of the commune, he often provoked controversy and attracted attention by promoting indulgence in sex, marijuana and polygamy — eventually marrying 27 women.
A 1977 raid on the compound by Nigerian authorities resulted in his brief incarceration and the eventual death of his mother the following year due to complications from a fall. While living in exile in Ghana in 1978, he changed his name from Ransome to Anikulapo, which means “he who carries death in his pouch”.
In 1979, Fela formed a political party, Movement of the People, and ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of Nigeria. Five years later, he was jailed for 20 months on charges of currency smuggling. Upon his release, he turned away from active political protest and left his son, Femi, to carry the torch of Afrobeat music.
Fela was jailed again in 1993 for murder, but the charges were eventually dropped. He died as a result of complications from AIDS in August 1997.
Bongos Ikwue, a native of Otukpo in Benue state, was born in June 1942. Due to his knack for creating original songs and melodies as a student of St. Paul’s Secondary School in Zaria, his friends called him ‘Forge’.
While at Okene Comprehensive Secondary School in 1962, he formed a group called Cubana Boys. During his undergraduate days at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), he created another band, UniBello Brothers, which comprised of university lecturers.
In 1967, he founded the Groovies band, which became extremely popular in the 1970s through to the 80s, churning out iconic songs such as ‘Cockcrow At Dawn’, ‘Still Searching’, ‘Amen’ and ‘Otachikpokpo’.
Ikwue, now 76 and retired, is beloved for his soulful, folksy songs, his dedication to his craft and the quality of albums he released in his heyday. The elegance, precision and electrifying nature of his live performances also endeared him to fans aplenty.
Although he is now retired, plans are underway for a new album where he is expected to remix some of his old classics.
His daughter, Jessica Bongos, is walking in his footsteps as a recording/performing artiste. She released her debut 12-track album entitled ‘Broken to Peace’ in 2017.
Jessica started singing with her father in 2006, recording backing vocals on a few of his songs.