The recent collaborative venture between veteran Highlife musician, Victor Olaiya and contemporary artists, Tuface Idibia, has led to an emotional outpouring of analysis. Early this week, the internet group, NIGERIA COLLECTIVE also enthusiastically weighed in, about the bridge between musical generations. Invariably, we went into other aspects of artistic history; I am sharing with readers, one of my contributions to the more restricted forum in today’s column:
“It’s quite interesting that Siddique in Zaria remembers the fierce musical rivalry between Haruna Isola and Kasumu Adio. It was the stuff of legend because Isola had long been the eminence grise of Apala until Adio, which was actually a two-person act of Kasumu AND Adio burst onto the scene! Kasumu was leader; a very good drummer who was said to stammer, and the other was Adio, the vocalist.
So Haruna did a biting song: Akilolo to fe pe Sokoto (the stammerer attempting to pronounce Sokoto); he added: Soko- Soko- so-ko-to, koma ni ripe (he will labour in vain trying!). Rivalry seemed central to the worldview of Yoruba musicians.
There was one between Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade; while “Emperor” Pick Peters was such a perfect ‘copier’ of Sunny Ade, that the more distinguished singer, did a song: ‘Ekilo fo omode’, literally warning the upstart, Peters, the hunter’s son, because Pick Peters was said to be from a hunter background. The rivalry extended to Dele Abiodun.
These rivalries helped push sales as supporters lapped up new songs from the feuding artists. They also pushed the frontiers of musical innovation; brought ever more sophisticated instrumentation to our popular music; adapted arrangements from Congolese, Cuban and other influences; they re-arranged folk tunes; reworked classic songs and explored newer themes.
In a broad historical, political and cultural sense, the emergence of a form like Highlife was a phenomenon of the post Second World War period, with its dramatic impact on West African social life. There had emerged the urban space and the urban type, from different ethnic and social origins, who converged in these new towns and cities in search of opportunities.
They were clerks, teachers, urban proletarians, the Michael Imoudu-led railway workers, lumpens, prostitutes, shopkeepers, the indomitable lorry driver and his apprentice, etc. It was a hodge-podge. There was also the journalist and lawyer, providing intellectual leadership for an emergent nationalist movement.
This ensemble needed diversion, entertainment and sin! Away from intimate hometown settings/sureties, the urban space was sufficiently anonymous for each one to take a bit of these colonial, often railway towns, like Zaria, Jos, Enugu, Ibadan and most cosmopolitan of them all, Lagos.