- First, a caveat. This blog post is out of a need to have a post this week. I grappled with several concerns that shape my thoughts and design for this blog, chief of which, is a consistent desire to interrogate contemporary African tunes and, sort of, unearth their lineage with older and perhaps extinct musical forms, if there is any such thing, as they say art is incestuous.
- I wanted to address contemporary Nigerian tunes and Dance, if there is any such thing. And I started out by picking a title called Dance in Nigeria, halfheartedly modeled after a Lorrie Moore story called Dance in America. This is how my brain works. In very baffling and discordant ways.
- I am listening to my personal compilation of Rex Lawson’s songs which I intend to pack into a personal CD souvenir the moment I clear out copyright issues. I am a lover of Highlife even though I am on the wrong side of my twenties. I have been accused of using my writing as a propaganda to legislate nostalgia for Rex Lawson’s sake. I think there might be some truth therein. See here. Another explanation is that I may have re-incarnated but facts from the family tree negates this as well. So let’s just say I love good times and Highlife music portends an exemplary mood of good times.
- I should add that listening to Highlife acutely distracts my thoughts on contemporary dance. See I wrote a story called Situation Highlife which almost became but for my laziness. It was an attempt at making life imitate Art. The opposite of mimesis, if you like. Trust that Highlife was part of the scenario. A painter caught a woman dancing to Highlife to catch a man’s attention in one of his works. The work is shortlisted in a painting prize. A journalist who was to write about the painting experience the painting at the banquet organised for the painting prize.
- So instead of writing about Etighi, Yahooze and Galala, I have written about something else, in fact, nothing, perhaps I might have succeeded in projecting a state of my mind, but I really wanted to write about songs that were self-help dance manuals. Think Artquake’s Alanta. Then recently, Davido’s Skelewu, Olamide’s Position Yourself, etc. But I guess I will write that later
- In Rex Lawson’s words, I dey go paddle my canoe.
Tag Archive for: Rex Lawson
Think James Moody or The Temptations or even Frank Sinatra. Legends with towering names and achievements, yes? Yes, now think Cardinal Rex Lawson, the General Overseer of Nigerian Highlife.
Although he met his untimely death in car crash, younger than say Albert Camus, he was known to have said that he would die as a musician. Indeed, he died en route a concert at Warri. But even death at a young age, an eerie trend amongst Highlife musicians (see Israel Nwoba, Crosdale Juba, Celestine Ukwu), did not truncate his genius. He was a prolific musician with a substantial body of work in record pressings and his soul-rendering performances were deemed unforgettable.
I have chosen to write about three songs by the late Highlife maestro, a mish-mash of varying quality, language and ethos. A Kalabari man born by an Igbo mother, he was known to sing in many languages of the West Africa including Efik, Igbo, Kalabari and Twi. Add to this the English language and the more accessible creole, English pidgin. A former band member with Bobby Benson, Rex Lawson, in singing in various indigenous languages, was operating in the zeitgeist of his era.
Nigerian short story writer, Igoni Barrett says this about So Ala Temen, “I learned how to laugh and cry at the same time. And this without even understanding what the words of the song meant.”
His words are rather apt. There is something transcendental about music that even when you don’t have an insight as to the lyrical content, the mood, pulse, energy trapped within the organized sound reveals itself to you. Little wonder, Rex Lawson was notorious for being overly emotional to the brink of tears when he performs So Ala Temen.
“Hannah I Don Tire”, done in both pidgin and Kalabari, is a different kind of song. There is something incessantly gnawing about the bass guitar that leads the tune with such reckless aplomb. The possibilities of the lyrical content are also of interest: a sated man implores his virtuous kept woman to let him go home. Highlife has that mimetic quality. Adultery is a recurring theme that continues to intrigue humanity.Women always reveal themselves in Highlife tunes.
“Angelina Pay My Money” has always cut the picture of a colonial Lagos for me. Jaunty rhythms with a teasing percussion, Rex Lawson assume the role of a petty trader hoping to redeem his credit facility from Angelina, unarguably a debtor and arguably a prostitute.
So one of my short stories got published a few days ago. 2013 was a really productive year and this story is important to me.
Situation Highlife, as it is called, is essentially a story of love in the time of Highlife. And it is a small chunk of a bigger work.
Here is an interview that elucidates that.
Here is a short excerpt,
“…Onye became breathless in the wee hours of the morning after. She was lying next to Iyin’s naked body in his shabby bed. They had made love and were both naked and spent. The air was weighty and the chorus of squealing neighborhood generators interfered with their otherwise blissful post-coital sleep…”
I should start by quoting FRSC statistics on how many people die on our roads on a daily, weekly or even yearly basis but I ask myself, how does this show the devastating effects of a death toll when it hits a family, a community, a tribe? Summarily, statistics are impotent, ineffectual and blameless for its inadequacies.
But every once in a while, the misfortune of a popular figure calls our attention to an obvious truth lwe have left unattended. We don’t even need an utterly responsible government to put the question of basic amenities behind us; but we remain plagued by the lack of smallest benefits of governance like cursed people.
Nigerian roads are historically deathtraps. Nigerian roads have been killing our geniuses since since. Here are a few of the geniuses I remember. My list is a lesson in remembrance. I enjoin everyone with intact and trustworthy memories to remember along with me.
- D. O Fagunwa Teacher and author of popular Yoruba novels like Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, Igbo Olodumare and Ireke Onibudo died in Niger state while returning from a promotional book tour. Although there is a mystery around the finicky details of his passage, it is unarguable that he died on the road.
2. Cardinal Rex Lawson
Rex Lawson, born of a Kalabari father and an Igbo mother, was arguably the finest Highlife musician of his time. Trumpeter and bandleader of “His Rivers Men”, he was known for his heart-rending lyrics done in several ingenious languages. His songs have been sampled by Juju music doyen Ebenezer Obey, Orlando Owoh and more recently by Flavour Na’bania. He died en route a concert at Sapele. He was 36.
3. Celestine Ukwu
If Rex Lawson was the finest Highlife musician, the only competition he had in terms of sonorous voice is Celestine Ukwu. Known for his deeply philosophical songs and a delight to trail away almost absent-mindedly to ad-lib falsettos, Celestine Ukwu will always be remembered for his sensual sounds that coerce bodies to dance with much success. He died on road too in 1977 in an auto crash.
4. Chinua Achebe
Achebe did not die from that accident but his legs did. Some of his intellectual stance died as well. Achebe, the champion of African pre-colonial civilization, was exiled from his home country for practical health reasons. How ironical it must have been for the sage to swallow some of his reservations and offer himself to the western hospitality extended to him. Something must have died in him. We must thank Nigerian roads.
5. Da Grin
We have to share the credits between Nigerian roads—where the stationary heavy-duty truck which Dagrin’s car ran into—and the bottle of liquor that inebriated the twenty-year old rapper who took a deathly dash on the throttle of his vehicle. Chief Executive Omo-Ita has become the deceased’s Magnum Opus on this account.
Poet, Teacher and Mother died in a car crash along Lokoja-Abuja Highway at a tender age just last year. She left an infant daughter behind.
7. Festus Iyayi
I remember my first encounter with that name in the library of International School Lagos. The book was called Violence; I was so engrossed that I had to steal it from the library to finish it up at home.
Festus Iyayi died yesterday. His Wikipedia page reads, “He died in a ghastly motor accident caused by a reckless convoy of Kogi State govenor Idris Wada while on his way to Kano State to attend ASUU (academic staff union of universities) NEC meeting concerning a four month strike embarked upon by the union.”
May he find peace in this rather forceful rest his fate has met.