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Beautiful Nubia:

Sounds of Joy

Posted on May 24, 2012

From about the mid-1960s to 1980, my father ran a popular music and electronics store at Oke Bola, Ibadan. The Oke Bola–Oke Ado axis, at this time, was the commercial hub of Ibadan. Highly populated in its heyday by Ijebu entrepreneurs and new settlers, it was home to the rich, the aspiring, the intellectual elite and even the most popular political leader of the era, the great Obafemi Awolowo.

Awolowo’s stately yet simple house was a constant reminder to all the young ones that if we worked assiduously and studied our books we could become notable men and women. Well, this was my unlettered Grandma’s line and she never tired of reminding me. She, like many people at that time, found my father a big puzzle. A quiet, easy-going, kind-hearted man with a big laughter yet very shrewd and tough when it came to business, Daddy, as we were told to call him, was a man way ahead of his times, with intelligence way beyond many of those he dealt with in his business and private lives. His store was right in the thick of things at Oke Bola and the movement of people in and out was never ending.

Daddy was the second of the two surviving children of Ojo Ademilokun, a successful Ife entrepreneur who had made an early and growing fortune in agric commodity trading and seemed on his way to even greater things. The Ademilokun clan is an Ife royal family entrusted with the care of the Oluorogbo deity who, as history has it, was the son given in sacrifice to the Esinmirin river by the Yoruba heroine and matriarch, Moremi, after her triumphant return from captivity and the defeat of the Igbo people (literally means ‘people of the bush’, not the Igbos of present Eastern Nigeria). Oluorogbo, as the object of supreme selfless love and sacrifice, became a high deity supplicated by many as a means of reaching the Creator and who could be counted on to descend from the heavens whenever the people were in trouble. The place of worship (which some may call a shrine) has been maintained by the Ademilokuns since time immemorial. Ojo trod the path of his ancestors and one of my father’s duties as a child was to sweep and clean the holy grounds. Unfortunately, Ojo died in his 30s due to complications arising from hernia. My father, Akinlolu was only about 3 and Sammy, his brother, not much older. With the breadwinner gone, the future that faced the boys was bleak. The many years that followed were characterized by lack, instability and the absence of a regular family life.

Upon my persistent pestering, Daddy narrated his earliest memory, painfully and slowly, to me in early 2001. I insisted on hearing that story oblivious to the reality that he was already showing early signs of the stroke that eventually killed him 8 years later. Slurring his words and shifting in his chair, he told of how his mother and a group of other women would run helter-skelter in confusion and fear to avoid rampaging World War II-bound soldiers looking for free sex. His earliest memory was of being dragged along as his mother ran in panic. My father’s early life was filled with uncertainty but he was a very intelligent and smart child who excelled at school and always won prizes. He eventually left Ile-Ife, trained as an Agric Officer at IAR&T in Ibadan and became a seed salesman. Restless and unfulfilled, in his spare time he underwent training as a radio technician. In those early days of radio in Nigeria, he was one of the visionaries who saw the goldmine it would later become. Within a few years, he had become quite good at installing and repairing radios and other electronic equipment. He set up shop in Oke-Bola under the name Akins Radio and the road to success opened to welcome him.

It was about this time that he met my mother, Olumuyiwa Moore. She was of a notable Egba family domiciled in Osogbo. Her grandfather had been one of the first modern medical practitioners in Yorubaland and her father, Akanni Moore, who died when she was 5 years old, a popular educationist and politician who was one of the early pillars of the Action Group and an associate of Awolowo. Her mother, the elegant and beautiful Arinola, was a native of Ibadan who had been a wife to the king, Olubadan Aleshinloye, upon whose death she married Akanni and bore my mother and two other children, Kayode and Dupe (I mention these names in the song “Oke Bola” in the 2004 album, Awilele).

Olumuyiwa had just started enjoying her freedom, having come out of a recent difficult relationship, when she met smooth-talking and enigmatic Akinlolu. He convinced her to leave her comfortable clerical job and work full-time with him promising to pay her a specific amount as salary (“He never did, your father still owes me years of unpaid salaries”, said my mother, laughing, recently when we were reminiscing about the man). Mother, an industrious and very likeable person, attracted many customers to the business with her warmth and friendliness. My uncle, Abioye Johnson Ademilokun, who had been with my father for a while, completed the threesome. Apart from repairs, Akins Radio also got into sales and became a major manufacturers’ rep. Daddy did the investing and repairs, mother managed the store, made sales, and kept the customers happy while Uncle Bioye, the trainee, did the legwork.

In a short while, they added the sale of records and the store became known as ‘Sounds of Joy’. My father’s admirers, drinking buddies and others took to calling him “Baba Sound” (the father of sound) and he would respond, “Omo Music” (the child of music). In the early 70s, outside of politics, there were few men as famous as my father in urban Ibadan. Most people just knew him as Akins, a successful businessman, a man about town, fun to be with, always ready with a smile, happy to buy beer for his buddies all night and ready to drink anyone under the table. My father was an astute businessman who had a knack for knowing what would bring money in. He often travelled around the country finding and buying up technological rarities and oddities, which were then resold in Ibadan or Lagos at great profit. His drinking did not seem to affect his work and he never spent his operating capital on the nightly ‘beer fest’.

His constant companion was Uncle Bioye, his cousin, electronics trainee, personal assistant and unofficial confidential secretary adept at keeping his spiraling womanizing a secret. This uncle of mine went on to become an audio engineer and worked for about 30 years at the historic Decca/Afrodisia Studios. He was the engineer who recorded our big hit Jangbalajugbu in May-June 2002 by which time Afrodisia had become a shadow of itself and it took ingenuity and experience to keep things going. In his many years at the studio he engineered a lot of great albums and worked with many famous acts including Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Dan Maraya Jos, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Hubert Ogunde, The Oriental Brothers, Orlando Julius Ekemode, the Lijadu Sisters, and hundreds of other African and foreign musicians. If you check the sleeve of any album produced at Decca/Afrodisia from the late 70s to the early 2000s, you are likely to him credited as “J. Ademilokun”, “Mr. Johnson” or simply “Johnson”, the Assistant Engineer or Chief Engineer.

To me, ‘Sounds of Joy’ was a wonderful haven. It seemed more than a little store. It was my music garden where I could feed my hunger and love of music. I would insist that I be allowed to play Resident DJ and spin the records that we played to attract customers into the store. Artists, many of whom went on to become huge stars and legends, often came by and spent a little while in the store. All the major musicians, actors and comedians of the era, popular period icons, major highlife/juju stars, and many emerging talents, were a frequent sight around Oke-Bola and they would often stop by to do business with their friend Akins or hang out with him. I remember being in that store with fondness and even now can still recall the peculiar smell of the freshly released LP. We stocked albums in very genre and from everywhere and I loved looking at the jacket designs. We sold all kinds – traditional acts like Haruna Ishola and Batile Alake, highlife icons such as The Rambler’s Dance Band of Ghana and Cardinal Rex Lawson, trado-contemporary innovators like I.K. Dairo and Orlando Owoh, juju maestros and competitors like Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, Pick Peters, Ahuja Bello and Dele Abiodun, all the trendy disco hits of the period, local pop explosions like Ofege and BLO, and foreign acts ranging from Elvis, to Cliff Richards, Harry Belafonte, Mahalia Jackson, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Nash, Jimmy Cliff, Ray Charles, Jim Reeves (a personal fave of Daddy’s), The Jackson 5, The Beatles and so on.

Everything we touched was gold, bar a few exceptions, for example, Fela Kuti’s “Ikoyi Blindness/Gba Mi Leti Ki N’Dolowo” which simply wouldn’t move no matter what gimmick we employed. Fela’s previous works had always done well so this was a strange thing. We blasted it from our speakers, shoved it in customers’ faces, and even hawked it on the streets, yet were stuck with hundreds of copies which no one would buy. We gave out most of the leftover to friends and the rest were left to rot away in our dank store at home. Eventually, the beautiful album sleeve designed by Lemi Ghariokwu was, to my consternation, employed as fans or dust packers. Not long after, the same artist released “Zombie”, and you couldn't seem to get enough copies to sell. This was my first introduction to how fickle the music business could be; you could be a famous artist yet not be able to move albums or connect with one offering, but you have to keep moving on and let your audience play catch up.

This was a good time in Nigeria; the civil war was over, oil money was flowing and people had large disposable incomes in our part of the country so the music and electronics business enjoyed a boom. My father had completed a house into which he moved his family when I was only 2 months old and he commenced the building of another shortly after. He also opened another branch of his store not too far from the main one. But some of those he did business with were not always happy with his style. They accused him of cunning and non-transparency, but he was just a very shrewd person who had learnt life’s lessons the hard way and didn’t always follow the rules others laid down. My father would batter your price down to the barest minimum, give you a large down payment and then pay the balance over a long period by which time the seller felt he had somehow been outsmarted. Many did not his style but they would still do business with him because he was charming and always paid eventually anyway. With his wealth and drinking, he also acquired a lot of hangers-on and people who resented his success but pretended to be friends. Such questionable company landed him in trouble with the law a few times but upon investigation, he was always declared innocent and set free.

My father’s drinking was legendary. He could practically out-drink anyone in his heyday. Drunk and stubbornly refusing to go home in a cab or be driven by someone who was sober, he suffered several terrible auto mishaps but somehow always survived. In one particular instance, he was driving home late at night and ran his fancy sports car under a stationary truck-trailer. He was hacked out of the wreckage and taken to hospital unconscious. On awakening, he demanded to be released immediately and rejected all medication. He never took tablets or injections, had his misgivings and doubts about western medicine (he never seemed to get sick anyway) and would only take his children to hospital as a last resort.

His stubbornness was equally notable. He was a real tough cookie, he could endure hardship and derision and didn’t seem to care much what you thought or said about him. He went his way peacefully but if you crossed him, you were in for an unforgettable experience. I remember once, in the 70s, when the uncompleted house opposite ours was illegally taken over by immigrants from North Africa. My father had largely ignored the squatters until one of them hit and destroyed a part of our fence. He demanded that they should pack all their belongings and leave the area that night. Following some heated arguments, a struggle ensued and it was only he against several of the men. Despite being outnumbered, he gave them a thorough beating. In desperation, one of the men grabbed a metal pole and hit him on the head. He fell unconscious and the strangers, thinking they had killed him, packed their things and left within minutes, never to be seen again.

Daddy was a blurry picture in my early childhood. I knew there was a man and he was my father but I rarely saw him and didn’t miss him because there were so many other people to lean on. I remember when I was about 5 or 6, he would gather all his children, put on some music and get us dancing; the winner got some fried or baked delicacy. He would often have us do these dances while drinking in the company of his friends. We enjoyed the attention and the promise of the gift always got us moving. He also took us for occasional spins in his cars, many times to the UI Zoo where he would eat ice cream with us and seemed quite happy and relaxed but those moments were always too short. My private moments of intimacy with him were also rare, mostly when he would ask me to come into the bathroom and wash his back with a rough sponge. I used to think then that he had the softest skin I had ever touched.

Eventually, though, things started to change; a slow economic downturn that had started creeping in after the early boom years started to fulminate as the decade wound down. By 1980, my father had closed down “Sounds of Joy’ while my uncle made his way to Lagos to seek his fortune elsewhere. Daddy made a short-lived, half-hearted effort to kick-start another store near the University of Ibadan. Not long after, as the 80s rolled on, facing dwindling fortunes and with his fair-weather friends gone, he basically retired to his Ring Road home where he lived out the rest of his life. To augment the earnings from his real estate investments, he engaged in all kinds of odds and ends, things that other men would have seen as below their status, but my father always said there is nothing to be ashamed of in honest labour. He still drank a bit, but we all noticed a growing change in him. He was becoming more and more of a presence in the children’s lives and the drinking soon became a one-bottle-a-night thing. But nobody wanted to be the one to have to go and get that one bottle because the demand often came close to midnight when we would all be asleep.

Inexplicably, by 1984, my father gave up drinking and took on religion. Since he always did his things with passion, he rubbed many of us the wrong way with his forceful style of proselytizing. An extremely intelligent man, by the time he took ill in 2001, he could recite from memory, the holy book of his new religion in its entirety. He also loved music deeply and possessed this rich tenor and a strong whistle. We could tell when he was near the homestead once we heard the characteristic key-jingling and whistling. He was difficult to read and I didn’t know how he would see my musical adventures. But, surprisingly, he was very complimentary and encouraging and was the first one to ask me when I would do a follow up to ‘Seven Lifes’ my 1997 debut. He was always proud of his children’s achievements, often telling people about his 2 vet doctors, a banker, an architect and so on. He just never openly expressed this pride and love to us.

I do not judge my father now. He was, for the most part, a good man, a man of his times who had endured a childhood of extreme difficulties and instability to become a successful businessman. That past eventually caught up with him and, even as his fortunes dwindled and lean times came calling, he remained a very proud man who would rather transport people and wood with his aged bus rather than go begging for money to feed 11 children who gave him a hard time and couldn’t understand his financial situation. My relationship with him was fraught with tension especially in my teenage years. He often saw me as a challenge to his authority, the one who would dare speak back. Often, in the very late 90s, while I worked as a Vet doctor in Lagos, he would pay me unexpected visits and spend a weekend, just the two of us in my flat – we didn’t hug, but we didn’t fight either, we had come to a point where I was beginning to understand and could be patient with him. Full understanding, however, came much later.

When he died in 2009 after 8 years of a debilitating illness that had him almost immobile towards the end, we felt a sense of relief that his suffering was over but the relief gave way to a deep sense of loss and sadness. I am a very emotional person yet I don’t always cry when bad things happen. In the past, when depressed about the situation in Nigeria and the world, and realizing one’s powerlessness to change things, I would bunch up in a little corner and cry my eyes out. But 2009 was a particularly painful year. Just a few months before Daddy, we had lost two good people - my sister, the easy-going Olusola, and our favourite cousin, Biodun. My tear ducts had never known such intense productivity.

The last time I saw my father alive, he was all curled up like a baby; I had no idea if he was feeling any pain, but he wept and, since I couldn’t help it, we wept together for quite a while. I left the country and got a call about his passing a few days later. I couldn’t stem the flow of tears but I wasn’t just crying for my loss, I cried for my father, for the little, fatherless Ife child who had to learn to face the world in his own way with only his wits and intelligence to count on, for the many challenges he surmounted and the struggles he went through, for the way many (including his children) didn't always understand and gave him a difficult time. At his lying-in-state, many people, whom we’d never known, came out to express their deep sorrow over the loss of their benefactor. My father had a kind heart, would give a friend the shirt off his back, but he didn’t always say the right things at the right time in the right place and, subsequently, sometimes got maligned unjustly.

Sometimes we look at our parents and ancestors and blame them for what we are today or for the struggles we have had to face. It is important to take what we consider the good and bad as an advantage. We should see their errors, and the pain and loss it caused them, as a sacrifice they made so that those of us coming after them would be able to avoid similar pitfalls. My father’s memory is ensconced in a special place in my mind now. I remember the two critical lessons he gave us all the time at his daily morning sermons: ‘Let what you have be enough for you’ (contentment) and ‘Do not waste what you do not want’ (conservation). I keep them close to my heart and teach them to everyone I meet. Someone once asked me, “If you had the chance, would you come back to the world through the same parents?” Yes, I would. Only this time I would do a better job of managing the relationship. Sometimes the son has to play the father’s role.

Our 2011 album Sun No Dey Sleep was dedicated to my father in celebration of his life and transition, his unabashed love of music and the many beautiful gifts he gave the world. I didn’t come from a fancy place. My folks were not rich people who stole from the poor or crawled on the backs of the helpless. They were simple folks who did honest, hard work. My father was a successful music seller. He’d be proud that his son hasn’t left the business. My fruit hasn’t dropped too far from the tree.

DATES TO NOTE:

Beautiful Nubia - Live in Ado-Ekiti
Date: Thursday, December 12, 2013
Venue: YDL Events and Conference Centre, Dayo Fajuru Road, Opp Novel Filling Station, Okela, ADO-EKITI
Time: 5pm-9pm
Fee: N500 (Children under 13 get free entry)

Beautiful Nubia - Live in Akure
Date: Friday, December 13, 2013
Venue: Helena Hotel, Ijapo Estate, AKURE
Time: 5pm-10pm
Fee: N1000 (Regular)/N500 (Students)

EMUfest 2013 Concert in Ibadan featuring Beautiful Nubia and other folk stylists
Date: Friday, December 20, 2013
Venue: Alliance Francaise, 7th Day Road, Iyaganku
Time: 5pm
Fee: N1000 (Regular) N200 (Students)

EMUfest 2013 Grand Concert Lagos featuring Beautiful Nubia and other folk stylists
Date: Sunday, December 22, 2013
Venue: EniObanke Arts Centre, 19 Adekunle Fajuyi Way, GRA Ikeja
Time: 2pm - 10pm
Fee: N2000 (Standard) N500 (Students)

You can view the full schedule of EMUfest 2013 at www.eniobanke.com