Where Do Songs Come From?Posted on May 15, 2012
Over the years, I have been the subject of many interview sessions, both formal and impromptu, on TV, radio, in newspapers, academic journals, on the street with fans, etc. I have no problems with being in the limelight and enjoy the opportunities to reflect on my career, especially in response to smart and intelligent questions (not just some silly enquiries about my sexuality and marital status).
One of the most difficult of questions to answer is the one about the source of the songs I write. Where do they come from? How do you get them? How do you write them? Many times I have tried to answer by just saying, “Well, it’s a gift that was kindly bestowed upon me and I don’t try to unravel it". That is very true in the purest sense, but songwriting is as much a talent as it is a craft.
I have deeply and intensely loved music since as early as I have memory. My earliest memory is of me as a 1-year old singing joyfully on the expansive shoulders of my burly cousin Biodun, who died a couple of years ago. The singing and wriggling led to the loss of one of my birthday shoes and got Bro Abey a big tongue-lashing. I could have saved him by explaining how the shoe got lost but I hadn’t totally mastered the art of speech, yet sing I could.
At the age of 9, I started composing songs. They just came to me out of nowhere. I wasn’t trying or anything. We would be playing in the bush surrounding my father’s house, playing hunter-gatherers or father-mother-on-the-farm and suddenly, out of nowhere, a tune would pop into my head and would stay there for days. I initially thought maybe these were things I must have heard somewhere but somehow I came to realise they were original ideas and, by the age of 13, I was writing them down in a notebook. They were my closest kept secret but eventually I started sharing them with my younger siblings and friends.
My teenage years were full of emotional turbulence, but I had music and literature to stabilise me. I read voraciously, consumed books as if my life depended on them. In tandem, I attained high proficiency as a songwriter. By this time, I was no longer just writing down the lyrics and melody, I was painstakingly arranging the accompanying instrumentation for each song. I couldn’t write the western-style notation so instead I wrote sounds and music notes as I pictured them in my mind. By the age of 19, I had written about 500 songs and was immensely proud of them. Each one was like a child whose every curve and scar I knew. Even now, hundreds and hundreds of songs later, I can still remember the tune to almost every song I have ever written.
So where do the songs come from? Well, from my head primarily, and from my daily experiences, from my subconscious, from the things I have seen, heard, read and done. I got a beautiful gift and I have developed it and made the most of it despite all the impediments thrown my way by disbelievers who thought my pre-occupation with songwriting and music was a silly waste of time. Many were those who laughed at me to my face in high school, friends who taunted me for carrying this tattered notebook with my crazy scribbling. I refused to bow to peer pressure and kept writing.
What they did not know was that writing was my way of dealing with the fire burning within; it was my tool for tempering the anger, my cool drizzle of the early evening lulling me into peaceful slumber. It has been a long, oft-painful journey, but every time I hear the songs and realise how many people they have influenced positively, each time I get a message about how these songs have changed people’s lives, every time I reflect upon the tool of mass sensitization that this music has been, I can lean back and smile and be thankful for the gift.
The other day, my mother, despite her advancing age and portly constitution, decided to take a commercial bike to her destination. The biker refused to accept the fare stating that he couldn’t receive money from the mother of a man whose music has shaped his life and helped him to find meaning. MaSegun’s first concern was how a complete stranger knew who she was and her relationship to me. I told her she was enjoying part of the dividends of fame and we had a big laugh over that. But I did inherit the gift of songwriting from her and the deep love of music from my father. The rest I did by myself, through constant writing, re-evaluation and learning to ignore pop music trends while staying true to the sounds in my head.
I have been writing now for close to 35 years and the songs are still coming. A new album will be released later this year with 12 totally new tracks. With more than 1000 songs in my tattered old books and new ones still coming, I could be making ten albums a year if I had the money. Yet, I cannot call myself a master of music or the king of this or that; everyday I learn something new. I still get excited over a new tune popping into my head; I am happy learning at the foot of Mother Music and am glad to be her chosen vessel. Music makes life beautiful. I am blessed and so are you!
Demo-craze in Action
So I couldn’t end this without making a passing remark on the upcoming elections in the US. Just glimpsed the current American president on a talk show and was not surprised about the carefully guided questions and the controlled applause from the audience. No one was asking any hard questions, this is just another show for the man to make his political spiel that really expresses nothing and stays on point with whatever his team has decided should be issues for their campaign. There is no truth to “democracy” as practised today, there is no transparency, and true leadership cannot come from a process driven by how much money each candidate has raised and who is able to avoid scandal the most.
This same crap has been shipped all over the world and, of course, any honest student of world affairs should know it is not working anywhere, well at least not for the average person. Unfortunately, the so-called common person is his/her own worst enemy. Slaves to the superficial and to hype, we refuse to make the sacrifices necessary to bring true change and positive growth. We are all now in bondage to certain unknown selfish, greedy interests running the world. And don’t get me started on those ones in Nigeria…