Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ogunde… This month I am feeling the doyen

Perhaps, it was that short conversation last week between Biyi Bandele and myself in the thick of the First Lagos International Jazz Festival that has brought me to this conundrum. Otherwise, why would I all of a sudden be filled with the thought of the late Hubert Adedeji Ogunde, 18 years after his passage to higher service on April 4, 1990.
Last Sunday after a soak in the classic jazz menu flowing from the guitar-riddled jazz ensemble led by Bright Gain, I had strolled over to the corner where Makin Soyinka, Lemmy ‘Radio’, Jide Bello and Biyi Bandele were reveling. I hadn’t noticed Biyi minutes earlier when I saw the group trooped to the venue of the Inspiro-organised jazz fiesta at Studio 868 on Aboyade Cole Street, VI, Lagos. It must have been the missing dreadlocks, of course. Okay, I had been hinted earlier on Mama Pako’s blogsite that Biyi had indeed jettisoned the locks for a skin-scraped look – in protestation against certain iniquities in world affairs… it must be the tibetisation of fellow human beings by the soulless Chinese political leadership or the endless cycle of dehumanization in Darfur – to which the world has decided, no resolved, to be overtly, criminally silent or pretentiously – as in half-minded – bothered.
Ohhhh, I am digressing so much.
Anyway, I had joined up to the group; and after initial banters, Biyi who was in the country to run workshop for younger writers, as well as to do a tour reading of his latest work, ‘Burma Boys’ (published by Farafina), had pulled me a little to the corner…
“Jah, I have been thinking… what do you think we can do about our photographer friend, Hakeem?’
‘Oh Hakeem, sad story, very sad story.’
‘Oh yeah, sad. I was thinking that we could do some documentation of his works…’
‘Great idea. Really, it was the mum that frustrated an earlier attempt to take those works into preservation as a testimony to Hakeem’s legendary work around the art.’
“But where can one get the works?’
‘Well, I can’t guarantee the ones with the Mum, though his brother a lawyer, told me last year that some of the works can still be redeemed’.
‘Oh, great. Can we start working with him...’
‘Yes of course, he is very ready. As a matter of fact we were going to do something around the 10th anniversary of Hakeem’s death last year. But somehow it never came to be’.
‘Never too late anyway… oh yeah? You know I was one of the lat people to see him at the hospital then. I would go to see him at the hospital, and we would gist endlessly. ..’
Yeah I remember the at the Cromwell hospital, I recall that hospital recently when I had to stay in Cromwell vicinity.. his ghost was sopresent in my head that I could not sleep properly.’
‘My last visit to him at the hospital, I still remember vividly.. he was wrapped up with all this massive bandage after an operation, and the man was still managing to share jokes and talking about the future of his career’’
‘Yeah, that was Hakeem… do you know that shortly before he returned home only to die, he had given the sum of 1,200 pounds to Ambassador Olusola, towards the opening of a gallery for his photographs, some sort of monument to hios memory… but the problem with the family killed that dream.’
‘But some of the work must still be somewhere..’
“ Sure. Wasee Kareem, the CEO of ZMirage – the company that supplied the stage and lighting materials for this festival – has quite a collection. Maybe about 600 framed works, which Wasee collected from Hakeem shortly before he died.
‘Oh yes, why don’t we start from there.
Sure. Wasee had collected some of the works as his own contribution to the ‘Save Hakeem Shitta’ project that was launched in the heat of his illness then. He had done a beautiful display of those images at his former office at the Gateway Hotel, Sango Otta. We may be able to get him to get the works for whatever we decide to do’. I am sure he will be too glad to cooperate with us… Anybody who knew Hakeem will be ever too ready to help in any project that will help keep his memory alive’.
‘Sure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’.
‘Hakeem was indeed an invaluable asset to the Nigerian art, especially the much work he did in the 80s through the 90s… those documentation….’

That was it. Biyi had reawaken something buried deep in my psyche: the debt I think I owe not just Hakeem but the entire art community to which I have spent my entire working life servicing within my limited resources and opportunities at my feet.
A process is already forming in my head about how to push the idea forward. And very soon, much very soon, much shal be heard about this process and project. It is a promise!!!!!

But then this is not about Hakeem… it is about Ogunde, right?
Yeah, that is my second debt. I have got to dream up something on Ogunde… not because it is fashionable to do that.. nope. It is because Ogunde, the way we his survivors – we… we are all Oginde’s theatre offspring, aren’t we?… even of his politics cast us out of his thatre kingdom as ‘awon alacada’ theatre artistes – have proceeded with his theatre estate, his memory may fade further into the abyss of the forgotten.
I have been asking myself: so what happened to the brilliant idea of the Hubert Ogunde Foundation Award – HOFA -- which one of his sons, a lawyer and his dutiful wife had headlined in the early 90s.
I think the next time I am chanced to be in the presence of the Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel, my only request to him shall be: ‘sir, it is not enough to name the performing hall of the Ogun State Council for Arts and Culture after a man, whose tenacious holding to a dream led to the flowering of a profession that today has produced thousands of Nigerian working class; and as well put the nation’s name on the global stage. Yes, I must remember to tel him that.
At this time, may I share a piece I had done in 2000 for the Millenium heroes project – ‘People In the News’ -- of the TheNews magazine on the legendariness of Hubert Adedeji Ogunde. This will at least serve to remind me of what I set out to write tonight: I am feeling like Ogunde….






Sage of the stage
Jahman Anikulapo
He came in like any ordinary person; no star or unusual event heralded his arrival. When he exited 73 years later, his name was known world wide; the heavens sang in preparation to receive the grand artiste.
Ten years after his exit, one of his monumental creations, Ire Olokun resurfaced on stage in Lagos, during the week-long national and global celebrations to usher in the new millennium. The songs of the theatre doyen remain evergreen. His productions are far more authentic and didactic, more politically and culturally relevant and more socially committed and audience-friendly than pieces that were produced as recently as the first week of the year 2000.
By 4 April 2000, it will be 10 years since Hubert Adedeji Ogunde, revered as the doyen of Nigerian theatre, passed on to higher service, yet no other name surpasses his in Nigerian theatre. No other artiste-figure can contest headship of the art house.
1916: Ogunde did not start out as a nobody. He was the scion of a lineage of political leaders. His grandfather was the head of Ososa, his birthplace, a sprawling string of settlements in Ijebuland in the present Ogun State in western Nigeria. Ososa was one of the earliest towns in western Nigeria to embrace missionary activities and European education. Even at that, the practice of traditional religion was very strong (still so today) and little Ogunde was probably more grounded in the traditional customs than he ever was in Christianity.
“I was born into a family of idol worshippers”, he said. “We are used to singing, drumming all day long and all night long as well”. Besides, being the grandson of a village head and by extension the spiritual head of Ososa, he grew up close to his grandfather, who, as he recalled often presided over the traditional religious ceremonies. In addition, the young chap had a manifest talent for composing songs and creating imaginary scenes even in the middle of festive singing and dancing. He was born already infected with the bug of the performing arts.
Between 1924 and 1928, he was the lead performer in the Egun Alarinjo, the itinerant, as well as Daramojo Atete and Eko Oko masquerades. He would lead the tumultuous chanting, singing and dancing, that were hallmarks of these masquerades.
At St. John’s School, Ososa, where he began schooling in 1925, he was a little star twinkling brightly in the class of equally brilliant pupils.
His parents, Jeremiah Dehinbo and Eunice Owatusan, who had taken up Christianity, were not particularly worried about the predilection of their little boy for ‘entertainment’, as theatre activities were dubbed. He was brilliant in school and that was enough consolation. They could not stop him from performing with the masquerades anyway. He was protected by his grandfather, whom he said had the greatest influence on his life and career.
Ogunde joined St. Peter’s School, Faji in Lagos in 1928, and to his parents dismay, he got more steeped in performing arts. Lagos was one vast pool of opportunities and experiences. The European sailors and their brass bands, ballroom dances and dinner parties were the height of entertainment in the city, and an impressionable Ogunde took in as much as he could.
Schooling at St. Peter’s served to enhance his abilities in the performing arts. Even a short break form Lagos between 1931 and 1932, when he attended Wasimi African School, Ijebu-Ode, could not divert the starlet from his attraction – Lagos and the theatre world.
While teaching between 1935 and 1940, Ogunde was known more for his mastery of the organ than for his speed when writing on the classroom songs and stories. He organized them into a sort of drama society and they engaged in acting plays. According to reports, many of the pupils defied their parents to follow their teacher to his church. As Ogunde’s fame as a gifted organist grew, he was constantly in demand by other churches. It was said that he was no ordinary church organist. He would play folk tunes even to back famous Christian choruses and hymnal songs.
In 1941, however, more out of willingness to satisfy family expectations, Ogunde joined the Nigeria Police Force. It wasn’t a worrisome development to him. He had always been a service-oriented young man, conscious of the need to assist in putting the society on the path of sanity. He felt that the police force was a place where he could contribute to societal progress. Besides, the force workload and rules did not legislate against private practice – not against theatrical activities.
Between March and September 1941, he was at the Police Training School in Enugu, (then in the Eastern Region). In October, he was posted to Ibadan as a 3rd class constable. In 1943, he was transferred to the Force ‘C’ division of the force, in Ebute Metta, Lagos.
Returning to Lagos afforded Ogunde the opportunity to pick up his suspended theatre career, which the six months police training had somewhat interrupted. On 12 June 1944, he presented his first opera – Te Garden of Eden and The Throne of God at the Glover Memorial Hall, then the main venue for artistic programmes, and social events dominated by colonial officers.
While he received huge applauses for the great performance, which to fellow Nigerians was novel and to the European, unimaginable for a black man, he earned a warning from the police force. I 1945, when he presented Worse than Crime, he resigned his service and formed his a company of amateur performers called African Music Research Party.
‘Tiger’s Empire’, which launched the company and Ogunde into professional practice in March 1946 again earned him harassment from the police: even though he was no longer in the force. In spite of this adverse reaction, he presented in 1946, Darkness and Light; Mr. Devil’s Money (Ayinde); Herbert Macaulay and Human Parasite.
From this time onward, nothing could stop Ogunde! His troupe embarked on a tour of the old Western province, extending to Benin and Asaba. When he ventured up North, his troupe was banned in Jos for staging Strike and Hunger in October 1946. The artiste and radical however, still sought to register his message; he flooded the tin city with posters of the play, which highlighted the predicament of workers and their families in a corrupt system. He was fined 125 pounds for that effrontery.
By this time, Ogunde had gained a good measure of notoriety such that he had to take extra security measures at his performance venues. According to him, “truth is bitter; and worse when it is directed at the man who holds the power to punish you. As an artiste however, I saw myself as an opinion moulder, as speaker for the deprived and that was what I did, even though the authorities did not like it”.
Organizing the troupe was no easy task, especially in the areas of recruitment of artists and financing. This is what he said about his experience in 1943. “It was very difficult at the beginning “ he told a crowded press conference in 1986. “My first problem was casting – getting boys and girls on stage to come and perform was most difficult. Nobody wanted his son or daughter to become a beggar or street dancer, which was what they took artists to be. I had to devise a way. I married three or four of the women and they performed with me, so their parents had little chance of discouraging them”.
“But finance was my biggest problem. My savings when I left the police force was nine pounds, which was lot then! And that was after about eight years in service. It was from that little savings that I maintained my first group. But when we started to perform, we had a huge audience and fans who came to see our shows, so we were earning just enough to keep us going. What really sustained us though was the commitment of those artistes who were not particular about money as most artistes of today. The whole idea of theatre was new to them and they loved it; they liked the fame it brought them.”
Though it had a huge audience at home, the African Music Research Party was haunted by law enforcement agents. The troupe was becoming a security risk. It was at this time that Ogunde, the adventurous artist, ventured to take his company out of Nigeria.
In October 1946, the company took Strike and Hunger to Dahomey (now Benin Republic). It was the first time the company performed outside Nigeria. Ogunde discovered there was a huge market potential for his productions on the West Coast, which he was later to tour extensively.
With the growing profile of the company around the West Coast, the relentless adventure took a shot at Britain. When he and his lead actress, Miss Clementine Ogunbule, who later became Mrs. Adeshewa Ogunde, were refused passports by the British High Commission. A gale of protests swept through the land as thousands of fans condemned the inconsiderate action of the colonial officers as undue censorship. Ostensibly, this was the first test of the magnitude of Hubert Ogunde’s national status. With so much uproar, the authorities were forced to issue the couple passport and the two left Nigeria in March.
When he returned to Nigeria in October 1947, the dramatis t had been exposed to a more effective organizational structure for a theatre company. Thus, the African Music Research Party transformed to the Ogunde Theatre Company. The change of nomenclature was then perceived as a strategy to re-position the company for a new professional phase. The Pan-Africanist and patriotic disposition of the company.
Back home, the international fame garnered by the troupe my stified its status in the eyes of a people just stumbling on oil wealth. There was a huge demand to see the unofficial Nigerian cultural ambassadors, did not change, as Ogunde continued to use his drama to conscientize the society; rousing the people's consciousness and sanitizing the psyche of corrupt leadership.
He continued his exploration of the West Coast and took his company to the then Gold Coast in 1948 to stage King Solomon, which marked the first major setback of the company. A more politically conscious Gold Coast society, already familiar with Pan-Africanism and the political determinism ideology of Nkrumah, gave a cold reception to Ogunde's biblical story. He hurried back home with his troupe, disappointed but not defeated. Later the same year, he revised his strategies and stormed the Gold Coast with ‘Swing the Jazz’, and got them hooked to his authentic African concert party idea. He had the last laugh as they celebrated him.
Having conquered Ghana, Ogunde and his company faced French-speaking Ivory Coast, where they became lords of the theatre house, breaking language and culture barriers.
Later in the fifties, according to Professor Ebun Clark, an ardent documentarist of the Hubert Ogunde phenomenon, "the Ogunde Concert Party was founded, Ogunde modeled the style of this theatre on the Western variety theatres".
Professor Clark continues, "it is a measure of the man's originality that it is with this much misunderstood form that he created yet another revolution in Yoruba theatre, moving it away from musical form to that of speech. It was during this phase of his theatre that he gave his actors the free rein to speak their line rather than sing them." The theatre also became multilingual; exploring pidgin English as a means of reaching a wider audience.
An indeed innovative move in theatre, movement of the time, which also paraded Kola Ogunmola and Duro Ladipo among others, the new deal of the Ogunde Concert Party spurred a prolific creative enterprise in the troupe. In the new form, he produced ‘Towards Liberty’ (1947); ‘Swing the Jazz’; ‘Yours Forever (Morenike)’ (1948); ‘Half (S'eranko S'enia) (1949); and ‘Gold Coast Melody’ (1949).
The new form, however, exposed Ogunde more to the vagaries of censorship. He went to Kano in May 1950 to stage Bread and Bullet -- about his most biting satire. His company was banned, and he was arrested for sedition. Upon discharge, he was fined six pounds for putting up his posters in spite of the official sanction.
On the occasion of the seventh anniversary of his troupe in 1951, he staged My Darling Fatima, which, because of its mild political undertone, was perceived as a traditional phase of his career in terms of thematic focus.
From ‘Bread and Butter’ to ‘My Darling Fatima’, the Ogunde Concert Party had gradually shifted from plays with a political focus to social satire: getting more engaged with themes of every day living.
Some critics felt that his bitter encounter with the law in Jos the previous year, had cowed the activities of the great artiste. Ogunde replied that he was responding to the yearnings of his huge audience, who he said had had to succumb to the rot and immorality that were being imported from overseas by returnee Africans. His theatre was for the people, he asserted.
After ‘My Darling Fatima’ in 1951, he went on to produce other satirical pieces such as ‘Portmanteau Woman’ (1952); ‘Beggar's Love’ (1952); ‘Highway Eagle’ (1955); ‘Princess Jaja ‘(1953); ‘lle lwosan (Village Hospital)’ (1951) and ‘Olowo Ojiji (Delicate Millionaire)’ ( 1958).
In 1960, the Ogunde Concert Party seemed to have been jolted back to political themes, when Ogunde was commission. He wrote and produced ‘Songs of Unity’. Though the title sounded harmless, the concept was politically biting; an excoriation of the problems of the emerging nation, forewarning of the factors that could hinder the unity of Nigeria in future. It didn't find complete favour with the government, but it projected Ogunde nationally as the true artistic voice.
Moreover, ‘Songs of Unity’ set the artiste back on the political path. His next play, Yoruba Ronu, produced under the name Ogunde Theatre, was banned, and his company was forbidden from performing throughout tile Western Region by the Samuel Ladoke Akintola government. The play had analysed and caricatured certain political leaders, especially functionaries of the ruling party in the region; exposing their iniquities. Premier Akintola thus banned the company.
This did not deter Ogunde. He reacted by producing Otito Koro (Truth is bitter), which worsened his case. Nevertheless he produced Awo Mimo(Truth Is bitter) , which worsened his case. Nevertheless, he produced Awo Mimo, which engaged allegories and metaphors to criticise the insincerity of the leadership. The ban on Ogunde Theatre was lifted in 1966 by the new military regime headed in the region by Col. Adekunle Fajuyi. In 1967, the Ogunde Theatre was chosen by the Nigerian government to represent the country at the famous Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada. A glorious era of international fame had begun for the prophet despised at home by over zealous political leaders. At the expo, Ogunde was contracted by impressed scouts to make a detour through the United States of America, where he performed at the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City.
From this point on, the troupe became a regular sight on the international stage. Between 1968 and 1970, the troupe staged three plays in ‘London: Mama Eko’ (1968); ‘Obanta’ (1969); and ‘Oh Ogunde’ (1969); and ‘Ogun Pari’ in 1970 to celebrate the end of the Nigeria Civil War(1967-1979).
Back home, the international fame garnered by the troupe mystified its status in the eyes of a people just stumbling on oil wealth. There was a huge demand to see the unofficial Nigerian cultural ambassadors, the Ogunde Theatre. In 1970, upon return, the energy and resources of the company were excessively stretched to realise three plays at the Glover Hall Lagos —‘Ewe Nla’, ‘Iwe Gbemi’ and ‘Ayamno’.
A journalist with the Daily Times recalled that the vast Glover Hall was too small to accommodate the number of people that turned up from Lagos, Abeokuta, Enugu, Kano and parts of West Africa. The reporter noted in particular, the changes in Ogunde Theatre's technique of staging — there was profuse use of lighting effects and a more stylised form of acting, different from the realism that was the hallmark of previous presentations.
In 1971, the troupe returned to Glover Hall with ‘Onimoto’, one of its most popular pieces, which eventually sold thousands in musical album format. That same year, the troupe went to Obisesan Hall, Ibadan with ‘Kehin Sokun’, which featured the death by firing squad policy of the Nigerian government.
Ogunde's exposure to professional theatre management in the West as well as the growing influx of charlatans into the theatre production business, partly spurred by the new oil wealth and the profligacy of the elites' consumption pattern, led him to found the Union of Nigerian Dramatists and Playwrights. He was appointed the pioneer president. At inception, there were as many as l50 members.
The formation of the union was also to prepare the theatre producing community for the challenges of the impending National Festival of Arts, proposed by the Nigerian Art Society as a prelude to the proposed festival of black and African arts and a sequel to the first Negro Festival of Arts held in Dakar in 1966. As much as possible, Ogunde's vision helped to present a common theatre agenda to the government
Ogunde himself spent much of his time, especially between 1971 and 1976 engaging the organisers of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in media battle over what he saw as an attempt to undermine the professional integrity of the indigenous artistes. In 1975, he led a national protest by artistes against the organisers' invitation of Ipi Tombi, a dancing troupe from South Africa, to formally open the festival.
Deploying clout and resources of his office as president of the Union of Nigerian Dramatists and Playwrights, he canvassed that an indigenous Nigerian company should perform at the opening of the festival. When the government and FESTAC organisers were adamant, he was reported to have threatened staging a parallel festival of dance, music and drama that could dwarf the FEST AC opening ceremony.
In the euphoria of FESTAC in 1977, he produced ‘Nigeria, Igba lode’ and ‘Orisa Nla’ -- three highly entertaining, culturally rich works that were instantly acclaimed by critics as masterpieces. The government was eventually grateful for his immense contribution to the success of the global fiesta.
As Ogunde battled the FESTAC organisers, he was still equally active in his career, and came out with a monumental production, ‘Aiye’ — a piece loaded' with myth, fantasy and a profusion of magic realism, which changed the face of theatre production. Glover Hall was the venue of the performance witnessed by royalty and political leaders; including tourists from across the West Coast.
After Aiye, Ogunde slowed down or so it seems! His next production, Ekun Oniwogbe was in 1974, followed by Ekun Oniwogbe in 1975. Murtala Mohammed, a politically patriotic piece, was dedicated to the memory of the military Head of State, General Ramat Murtala Mohammed, who was killed in a coup . d'etat on February 13, 1976. It was also staged at the Glover Hall, followed by Oore Niwon in the same year at 1lorin.
Hubert Ogunde did not only counter the FESTAC organisers for their lack of respect for indigenous artistes in their programming, he also tack- led the management of the National Theatre in Lagos for indiscriminately increasing the cost of hiring facilities in the edifice. He held many public briefings and in the end succeeded in getting the hiring fee slashed. When he stage Igba L'ode in the national cultura1 edifice later, it was sweet victory for the indigenous troupes that had been prevented from using the facilities at of the theatre complex. It was however the first time Ogunde would stage a premiere of his own play at the theatre or at any other venue other than the Glover Memorial Hall.
Hubert Adedeji Ogunde extended the frontiers of theatre production when in 1976, he put his famous work, Aiye, on celluloid. Like all his innovations, Aiye the film, was an eye opener on the potential of the film medium. A large number of theatre practitioners took to the use of the medium. He went on to produce Jaiyesimi (1980); Aropin N'tenia (1982), his 1964 political drama script. He capped the film exploit with Ayanmo in 1989, said to be partly an allegorical autobiography.
Even after over 35 years of global acclaim and honour, which Ogunde had brought to his country, he was not formally recognised by the Nigerian government until 1983, when he was awarded Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He rejected it, to the bewilderment of the government. He cited personal reasons for the rejection, but observers said he was disenchanted with the corrupt tendencies of the government.
In 1985, however, the Obafemi Awolowo University, IIe-lfe awarded him an honourary Doctor of Letter.
The greatest national honour given to him was his appointment as the founding Consultant/Artistic Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria. Against widespread trepidation that the maverick, radical artiste would reject the appointment by a military government, Ogunde took up the onerous responsibility; traveled all over the country to sample over a thousand potential talents for the troupe. He later congregated an initial 46-member troupe called the Ososa Experiment, comprising mostly members of his own troupe and selected artistes from parts of the country, whom he took on tour of Burkina Faso and Morocco.
The Ososa Experiment was to prove to a doubting federal government that it was possible to constitute a National Troupe. The troupe was to have gone to the Commonwealth Festival in Auckland, but Nigeria boycotted the festival as a mark of protest against the apartheid situation in South Africa. After taking the troupe round the then 19 states of Nigeria, Ogunde disbanded the group and persuaded the government to send him on a nationwide tour to recruit members for a 120-member group, which he christened The National Troupe of Nigeria, and nursed, nurtured and groomed to international standard.
Ogunde sought to launch the troupe internationally when he contracted them to the cast and crew of Mr. Johnson, a Hollywood film project to which he had been appointed a Co-producer. He developed a heart problem while on the set in Jos. Millions of fans and admirers went into mourning. He died at 5.25a.m on Wednesday, 4 April 1990, at Cromwell Hospital in London.
And the Heavens wept.
And the face of Nigerian theatre was distended for ever!
A hollowness caused by the exit of the grand patriarch of the living stage.
But in the year 2000, ten years after his death.
Hubert Adedeji Ogunde remains an evergreen memory;
the towering lroko;
the grand force of the swirling theatre world of Africa.
A legend of the world living stage.
This is one artiste who shunned
success and instead went after greatness.
He was greatness itself.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Death of The Music Man

(As published in The Guardian, April 5, 2008)
By Cletus Nwachukwu
THE entertainment world and indeed arts writer’s constituency woke up to the rude shock of the news of the death of the grand master of entertainment, Essien Ibanga Akpabio.
The late Akpabio who traversed the entertainment landscape like a true colossus, thoroughly impacted the music industry with his numerous roles as musician and bandleader, entertainment manager, promoter and patron of the industry. Described as a great son of the Akpabio clan by His Excellency, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, Essien played immeasurable roles in the showbiz scene. And he helped to bring to the fore, the likes of Chris Okotie, Ras Kimono, Orits Wliki, Majek Fashek, Feladey, Victor Essiet of The Mandators fame, Onyeka Onwenu, Xty Essien, Alex O, Shina Peters and many others who ruled the waves in the 80s through the 90s.
Akpabio was a handsome man whose elegant dress sense and taste for the good life rubbed off on those who came in contact with him. He was renowned as one of the premier movers of night clubbing as represented then by Klass Night Club owned by the late showbiz impresario, John Chukwu.
Wherever Akpabio went, the fun and excitement followed suit and his presence was equally felt at clubs like Ozone, Deroof, Wazobia, Lords, Niteshift, Singerr’s Cruise and several others.
The 80s and early 90s were memorable and interesting periods in the history of the entertainment industry. That era was replete with remarkable musical concerts such as the Reggae Sunsplash, Lekki Sunsplash, Badagry Music Festival, Freedom Jams, Roots, Rock and Reggae Festival, Children Of Africa and Benson and Hedges concerts. All of them had huge contributions from Akpabio.
Outspoken and thorough in his quest for the best for his artistes and indeed the industry, Akpabio had always spoken against the nefarious and cheating nature of several labels and recording companies. In the interest of his artistes, he held no prisoner and gave recording companies a good run for their money.
His decision to leave Lagos, the hub of the entertainment world, for his native Akwa Ibom State, came as a big shock to his numerous colleagues, particularly arts writers who saw him as a most important tool in the discharge of their professional duties and of course, a ready ally for the writers’ lust for fun and night crawling.
But Lagos’ loss was Akwa Ibom’s gain as Akpabio helped to lift the entertainment scene over there with the establishment of his own night club at Ikot Ekpene. The amiable Akpabio has definitely left a huge gap in the industry. Yet, one can hardly say he was a celebrated figure in the industry. Save for the quality relationship he had with the entertainment writers.
Akpabio, who died at the age of 60, certainly calls to question the recognition or lack of it, he had received in the industry, particularly, by successive governments in his home state, Akwa Ibom. Like many others, he died quietly, unsung, despite his immense contributions to the entertainment industry.
It is fervently hoped that his first loyal constituency, the music industry, the artistes and his state government would endeavour to immortalise the man who, without doubt, came, saw and yes, conquered his world.

Reactions from the industry…

SEVERAL musicians who reacted to Akpabio’s death, especially Feladey, expressed great regret, saying he would be surely missed. In an emotion-laden voice, Feladey, a multi-instrumentalist, described Akpabio as a mentor to several musicians.
“I’ve known Essien for a very long time and in fact, from our days together at Aktion 13 Group, in Calabar where he was the lead singer and band leader, and I was the lead guitarist,” Feladey recalled.
On Akpabio’s impact on the music industry, Feladey revealed that Akpabio, who was instrumental to the formation of Diamond Records, touched many lives and used that platform to bring the likes of Adu Deme and Chris Okotie to the consciousness of music lovers across the country.
“When I was producing my ‘Band Boy’ album, he was always with me in the studios, encouraging me and telling me what to do. He contributed immensely to the success of that album and my musical career,” Feladey said.
He disclosed also that plans are afoot to ensure that fond memories of Akpabio, are not washed away. “We held a concert for him at his burial at Ukana,” Feladey recalls and added, “even the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio has promised to make the concert a yearly affair and next year’s concert would hold at Uyo Stadium.”
Feladey regretted that the musician’s body, PMAN, did not play any role in Akpabio’s burial but was quick to add that it was informed of the man’s passing rather late.
Meanwhile, a seven-track album entitled Tribute To Essien Akpabio has been released as part of measures to immortalise his name. According to Feladey, the carefully selected songs are some of the popular tracks done by the Aktions Band in the 70s.
“We call it Aktions Remix and it’s dedicated to Essien Akpabio. We hope that with the release of this album, music fans across the country, particularly, those who knew him, will not easily forget the great music man,” Feladey said.

Friend We Lost

Just got to read a tear-inducing obituary on page 61
of Punch today that Essien Akpabio, the stylish music
and entertainment manager, promoter and patron of the
late eighties through the nineties died on February 2,
2008. The announcement was made infact by the governor
of Akwa Ibom himself, Godswill Akpabio- who described
Essien as "a great son of the Akpabio clan".
Essien Akpabio was a large, charascteristic and
unmissable image in those very resourceful years of
the entertainment scene when the like of Chris Okotie
and his soulbrother, Obi, Peter k Falola, Berkely
Jones, Emma Ogosi, Evi Edna Ogoli-Ogosi, Tony Okoroji,
Funmi Adams, Lijadu sisters, Ras Kimomo, Oris Wiliki,
Majek Fashek, Victor Essiet, Peterside Ottong, Onyeka
Onwenu, Xty Essien, Uche Ibeto, Tina Afrika Oyibo
Onwudiwe, Stela Monye, Bunmi Fajugbu, Mike Okri,
Charley Boy, Alex O, Alex Xitto, Mustafa Amego, Chris
Hanen, Feladeh, Pat Solo, Excempt E, Godwin Omabuwa,
Gbubemi Amas, Frankie Lee, Andy Shurman, Victor Oris,
Souleman, Goddy K Obi, joined by their fuji and juju
brothers Sina Peters, Segun Adewale, Emperor Pick
Peters, Wasiu Ayinde, Adewale Ayuba etc etc strut the
music landscape. He was one of the movers of the
clubbing scene from the Afrikan Shrine, to Klass (this
was his favourite run by his good friend John Chukwu
who later died and eddy) to Wazobia, to Ozone, to Faze
2, to Deroof, to Lords, to Niteshift, Singerrs Kruise,
Jazz et al etc. He was also part of the great concerts
of the time _ Reggae Sunspash, Lekki Sunsplash,
Badagry Music Festival, Black Water Music Festival,
Freedom Jams, Lagos Jeans Carnival, Roots, Rock and
Reggae Festival, Food and Music Festival, Surprise 89,
Children of Africa, seven up's I got the power, as
well as the early part of the Benson and Hedges
Concerts among others. He worked his artists into the
schemes at Polygramm (Premier), Sony, Decca, Tabansi
(particularly Tabansi!!!!) , Emi... I notice he was
unhappy with virtually all the labels and recording
companies. They are cheats he would always say. He
would go - in his coarse voice that however has a soft
timbre - hagggling with Dean Disi at polygramm, and
drive over to bang on Laolu Akins' table at Sony; he
could have killed somebody at Tabansi, though Aibtonia
seemed his eternal verbal punchbag... But he would
always get his artistes to get a fair deal; and for
poor reporter like me, an autograph copy of the arti
ste's album... Delivered to my office. Then we would
go to the Shak by Adipo market for fresh peppered fish
and Star larger, with uncountable sticks of Marlboro or
Rothmans as damnable victims.
Sometime in mid 90s the tall, fine face chap with whom
a rascally version of one had attempted all the
unimaginables, suddenly declared he was tired of Lagos
- the very city that he had affected with his
goodnaturedness and tireless passion for the good
things of life - and that he was heading home (now I
think it was almost at the time Akwa Ibom State
was created); he said he was going to kick off
entertainment scene in the new state. He left. Not
much was heard of him, except once in a while.
Travelling from Jos-via-Makurdi- through-Ogoja, I had
decided to stop by to catch up with Nico Mbarga (late)
in Ikom, I had run into him at a popular eatery at
Ogoja and he had driven me to Nico's truly fascinating
(oh, those hefty boobs!!!!) Sweet Mother Hotel;
unfortunately Nico was away to Port Harcourt for a
show. After a nite of savouring great rocafill jazz
with Nico's second eleven amidst other indulgences, we
had parted ways. But he had given me a contact to his
club in Akwa Ibom. In 1999, while on a near
nation-wide trip to sign on veteran highlife
muisicians for the second great highlife party, I had
visited his (family's really) modest clubhouse in Ikot
Ekpene situated right along the way to Port Harcourt.
My mission was to enlist his support to trace Ralph
Amarabem of 'Eddy Kwansa' fame. I never got to see the
good old Essien, he was in Calabar on a business trip;
but through phone he was able to direct his younger
ones at the club to give me and the late Renate a
special treat and to link us with the aged blind
musician, Amarabem - who eventually was a top bill at
the great highlife party 2000. I had promised to walk
my path back to Akpabio's club in the nearest future,
especially as I had been presented with a 'kristen' by
the good brothers of Essien. I never made that journey
and now my old buddy, and I am sure a great pal of
many arts writers on the field then, has journeyed
forth to greater service, leaving his loved ones with
lament and fruitless tears.
He had been born 1948, so he died at 60.
………………………………………………………………

Jahman,
Thanks for this jab at a once-upon-a- passionate
past....Akpabio was a great artist manager/promoter.
His constituency was his loyalty to his artists no
matter their marketability. ..As such, Goddy Tabansi
and Phillip regard him as a one man threat to their
sinful music biz practice...always with an infectious
smile, he would bulldoze his large frame into my
production room at The Punch and yell, "Jebose, I beg
you must stop the press...this artist must enter SH
this week"...not with intimidation, but with such
irresistible affection and respect for the profession:
and who would deny such a fine man a STOP PRESS.
Whether he is pushing Victor Essiet and The Mandators,
or Tera-Kota or Late Peterside ottong, he always
believed so affectionately...May his soul rest in
peace.
Azuka