Things change with time. They really do. The fact that change is one of life’s constants is not new nor profound knowledge but it is a realisation that puts into proper perspective how our time here on planet earth is akin to a river that never stops flowing. That realisation further hit me when, as I walked home from work last night, children aged 6-11 by my wild guess danced happily and carelessly to Naira Marley‘s ‘Soapy’ as it blared out of a road side CD seller’s hefty speakers. My fascination at their carefree demeanor was boosted no less by their adept, rapid feet movements whilst displaying some of the most flawless ‘Zanku’ moves I’ve ever seen. I, along with several others making their journeys home after a long day, was for a moment transfixed by the impromptu roadside merriment before my eyes.
It was a scene to behold and I’d leave with a tingling feeling as I reminisced on my childhood.
Apart from the bittersweet blows adulthood has continuously dealt me since I landed in its sacred territory several years ago, I may not have realised how much I missed my childhood until that moment. Growing up, I was these kids; Naira Marley may just have been born when me and my neighborhood cohorts’ exuberance was recklessly displayed as we danced to Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Sir Shina Peters, Kolington Ayinla, Salawa Abeni, Obesere and even Wasiu Alabi Pasuma‘s music on the streets. And some of the lyrics by these crop of musicians were not any less crude.
In that nostalgic spirit, I’ll share some of the indigenous songs that dominated the speakers inside my parent’s humble home and on the streets – as they ultimately defined my childhood.
1. Pasuma – Orobokibo
This was an anthem in the streets circa ’95. There were hardly any bright or dark corners where Pasuma’s brash voice and street slangs over funky Fuji instrumentals weren’t heard. It’s hugely satisfying to know that Pasuma has now gone on to become an icon of the genre.
2. Ebenezer Obey – The Horse, The Man & His Son
If there was any perfectly fitting analogy for man’s inability to please anyone in life, Obey’s story of a man and his son’s valiant attempt to get to their destination with a heavily saddled horse without offending passersby is it. Obey’s highly impressive collection, which still gives me chills till this day, is timeless music that is deserving of responsible sampling by today’s crop of pop musicians.
3. King Sunny Ade – Esubiri Bo Mi
Like Obey, KSA had hits for days – and with invaluable messages. This song is a personal favourite as it encourages one to have unwavering determination while paddling through life’s uncertainties. KSA remains one of Nigeria’s finest musicians and is still going strong at 73. His ageless collection consists of many other gems, with ‘Eri Okan’ being another personal favourite.
4. Sir Shina Peters – Shinamania Afro Juju Series
I know all of this man’s lyrics from hearing his songs in the streets – at night parties and on the speakers of a good old roadside ‘radionic’ (a term used loosely and erroneously by us in describing an electronics repairer). The foundation of SSP’s art was heavily built on his public appearance and he never took a moment off from looking resplendent – shiny suits, tight pants, fancy goggles and all.
5. Good Women Choir – Odun Nlo S’Opin
There is no way this classic gospel song/album will not be number one on the list of most popular Nigerian songs/albums of all time if there was ever a need to create such list. Despite being a Christian album, it broke all religious barriers as Muslims, Traditionalists and, dare I say, Atheists knew the lyrics by heart. What’s more, it has become the unofficial anthem for year end celebrations/prayers in Nigeria since its release decades ago.
6. Haruna Ishola – Oroki Social Club
I’m not sure I’d ever want to listen to this album again after my father passes at old age or I’ll never recover from the heartbreak. Apala as a genre of music resonates well with me because I grew up listening to it on my paternal grandfather’s radio, but Haruna Ishola’s ‘Oroki Social Club’ would further make the genre one of my favourites even as a Hip-Hop aficionado.
7. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti – Water No Get Enemy
I could put all of Fela‘s songs here and I’d be right on track. ‘Water No Get Enemy’ was, however, a favourite growing up because even as I couldn’t swim (I still can’t, sadly) I’d follow other kids in the neighbourhood to a nearby stream to sing and dance away. Great times.
8. Salawa Abeni – Gentle Lady
Like SSP’s, Salawa’s music was never intentionally put on rotation in my parents’ music player, but there is hardly any line I can’t recite from ‘Gentle Lady’.
‘I’m a singer oh oh / I’m a dancer oh oh… There is no one like mother to me, no matter how poor she may be / I’ve travelled over land, I’ve travelled overseas / no one like mother to me’ Salawa sings. The queen of ‘waka music’ was indeed endearing with her thin voice and Mecca tooth.
Though I have now fully grown to become a thorough Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul and Pop music lover, I never pass on an opportunity to listen to some of these timeless songs which catapult me right into a state of blissful nostalgia. And I can’t help but marvel at the realisation that these young children who gloriously dance to Naira Marley‘s ‘Soapy’ today will also grow up to excitedly reminisce over his songs as some of the music that defined their childhood.
The cycle of life is fascinating, really.