By KUNLE JOB
Femi Esho, Nigeria’s No 1 custodian and collector of Highlife and yesteryears music in Nigeria, has raised an alarm about the impending death of the only genre of music we can call ‘Our Own’ in this part of the world.
In an interview with Kunle Job, the chairman of ‘Evergreen Musical Company Limited, drew attention to the sad development that should have been anticipated by our leaders.
“Our music is our Culture and objects of tourism so we cannot afford to toy with our past. The practitioners that brought highlife to Nigeria have passed-on and their efforts have not been adequately preserved even in our National Library.
It is on record that the father of Pan-Africanism, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, a former President of Ghana took a highlife band, The Blackbeats of Ghana with him on his foreign tours to perform at state functions as a Public Relations strategy a long time ago. But nowadays, our governments and corporate bodies do not patronize indigenous musicians as if they do not Know where we are coming from. The ministries of tourism and culture have not fared better.
Only the French Cultural Centre has been celebrating the ‘World music Day’ with live Bands in Nigeria.”
Ghana, where the pioneer, E.T Mensah hails from is worse. E.T. Mensah brought the genre to influence Bobby Benson, the Doyen of highlife in Nigeria.
On a trip to Ghana, about three years ago with his team from Evergreen Musical company limited, Femi Esho recalls that, after a conversation with Edmund Mensah, the son of E.T.Mensah, the Father of Highlife, they asked to be taken to a spot where highlife music was played live but could not find any.
It was unbelievable in a country from where Highlife spread to Nigeria. The Ghanain youths, just like their Nigerian counterparts have abandoned their musical heritage to embrace Hip-Hop music. Nigerians are even doing better in Keeping highlife alive.
Recall that during ‘FESTIVAL 50′, a music concert to celebrate 50 years of Nigerian Independence at the CITY HALL in Lagos, Evergreen Musical Company brought highlife greats such as C.K Mann, Jerry Hanson and others to perform with our own Evergreen Band and our boys played their music better than Ghanaians.
The concert was sponsored by a communication giant, MTN, but since 2010, we have not seen anything of that magnitude. Maybe it is due to the huge cost of the national event.
Unfortunately, Some of those musicians that performed at Festival 50, such as Fatai Rolling Dollar, C.K. Mann, Jerry Hanson, Alaba Pedro and others have died. We are grateful that Sir Victor Uwaifor, Chief Dr.Orlando Julius, Dr. Victor Olaiya and a few others are still with us but unsung. Many of the living legends are not invited to state functions.
Nigeria is better than Ghana, thanks to individual efforts of Dr Victor Olaiya and Femi Esho’s Evergreen Band. Olaiya,s Stadium Hotel in Surulere, Lagos now a shadow of itself, is a Mecca for music lovers every Saturday night with his band and other upcoming highlife musicians as guests while the Evergreen Band performs the widest repertoire of highlife tunes ever recorded
Highlife is our life and can be described as the off-shoot of what the new generation of Nigerian music stars are playing. But, in the words of Femi Esho, “Although they are trying their best, You cannot give what you don’t have’. Many of them are music artistes and not musicians as they are not properly schooled in music and so miming has become the order of the day.”
“Few schools teach the theory and rudiments of music in their curriculum and have school bands. You must be able to read and write sheet music and be proficient in a music instrument or be versatile with many.
The digital recording process has not helped matters as any producer can programme beats on the computer and get his artiste to sing on it, instead of the analogue process that requires the services of session men who are great instrumentalists. Session men are now endangered species without means of livelihood.” Esho said.
Now that we are diversifying our economy from over-reliance on oil, we should pay attention to our musical heritage to enhance culture and tourism. Our Ministries of Information and Culture have a major role to play if they know their responsibilities.
By KUNLE JOB