Ebenezer Obey In Steps Of A Com­man­der

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - SOUNDN’ SCREEN - By Ben­son Idonije

ONE of the at­tributes of gen­uine mu­si­cian­ship is the abil­ity to at­tract reis­sues decades af­ter ini­tial record re­leases – as a re­sult of authen­tic­ity and pop­u­lar ap­peal. Chief Com­man­der Ebenezer Obey ex­em­pli­fies this feat and has achieved re­mark­able suc­cess in this re­gard over the years.

First, it was Obey In The 60s put to­gether by Decca Wes Africa, a record com­pany for which he recorded ex­ten­sively from his ini­tial suc­cess with the hit sin­gle, Olo

mi gbo temi in 1963. This was a dou­ble record – set on vinyl in the 80s ; but here comes a mas­sive ef­fort, a tech­no­log­i­cally up – graded ver­sion by Ev­er­green Mu­si­cal Com­pany. Ti­tled, Steps Of A Com­man­der, it is a pack­age of 80 au­dio CDS con­tain­ing 660 songs from the leg­end’s back cat­a­logue.

Ar­guably the great­est liv­ing leg­end of juju mu­sic, Obey is for­tu­nate to be alive to wit­ness th­ese in­spir­ing de­vel­op­ments in his ca­reer- more so as he is still per­form­ing. This sit­u­a­tion af­fords the new gen­er­a­tion of mu­sic lovers the op­por­tu­nity to rec­on­cile what they hear on this recorded ev­er­green stuff with his con­tem­po­rary live per­for­mance.

Only re­cently on Septem­ber 15, 2018, he al­most pulled down the roof of the now pop­u­lar 10 De­grees Events Cen­ter in Ikeja, La­gos. What with ex­cite­ment al­most reach­ing burst­ing point and ap­plause ris­ing to a deaf­en­ing crescendo? He was per­form­ing at a high so­ci­ety wed­ding with the Ex­ec­u­tive Gov­er­nor of Ogun state, His Ex­cel­lency, Ibikunle Amo­sun as chair per­son. Obey went down mem­ory lane to re­mind the au­di­ence about the past. He also came up with new songs most of which he cre­ated on the spur of the mo­ment with the spon­tane­ity of a pro­lific com­poser. At 76, his voice is still as strong as ever, mov­ing with con­sid­er­able ease in all the vo­cal reg­is­ters –high, mid­dle and low.

Not many mu­si­cians are ca­pa­ble of play­ing mu­sic that has the en­dur­ing al­lure of Obey’s juju mu­sic: full of melodic in­ven­tive­ness and driven by mes­sages of peace, hope and good­will, this trait has char­ac­ter­ized Obey’s mu­sic from the very be­gin­ning of his ca­reer. I re­mem­ber the im­pact he made in the 80s while I was still in broad­cast­ing and was or­ga­niz­ing a sci­en­tif­i­cally cred­i­ble hit pa­rade that had Pop­u­lar Mu­sic and Nige­rian So­cial

Mu­sic as its ex­tent of en­quiry. Most of his re­leases topped the charts and re­mained there al­most for­ever where some oth­ers hit the num­ber one slot and crashed out in no time – an in­di­ca­tion that th­ese were just in­stant hits and dis­pos­able flukes that could not stand the test of time. Ebenezer Obey is the pi­o­neer of modern juju mu­sic. His melodies and mes­sages have a way of nat­u­rally grow­ing on the peo­ple.

The first at­tempt at mod­ern­iz­ing the mu­sic was by Julius Araba and his Afro Sk­if­fle group and Joseph Oredola Oye­siku of the Rain­bow Quin­tet in the 50s. In­spired by such typ­i­cal early bands as the ones led by Tunde King, Am­brose Camp­bell and the Jolly Boys Orches­tra, their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of juju mu­sic turned out to be a fu­sion with high­life. They seemed to have an edge be­cause the two of them were ed­u­cated and older than most of their coun­ter­parts of that pe­riod.

They also had ca­reers out­side mu­sic and con­sid­ered them­selves a cut above the ‘il­lit­er­ates’ who were play­ing early juju mu­sic. Lit­tle won­der, their ef­fort was cre­atively pro­gres­sive and full of melodic in­ven­tive­ness as it took juju mu­sic to in­spired mu­si­cal heights, us­ing palm wine styles blended with in­ter­na­tional el­e­ments sim­i­lar to high­life, but with the juju feel.

How­ever, Ebenezer Obey came in the 60s to revo­lu­tionise the mu­sic with a unique vo­cal de­liv­ery and in­stru­men­tal con­fig­u­ra­tion. He brought in more gui­tars and Western drum kits used at the time by big band high­life out­fits, and the tran­si­tion of the mu­sic from a neo - tra­di­tional form to an ur­ban so­cial mu­sic type was com­plete. “I no­ticed,” said Obey who made his first record in 1963, “that peo­ple like to stick to their own ways, es­pe­cially old peo­ple, they don’t want to bend, they don’t want to com­pro­mise. But the younger ones, they al­ways want free­dom from the old sys­tem.

They want new things. And know­ing that, I mod­ernised the mu­sic and cre­ated my own fash­ion in mu­sic, the ‘Ma­liki’ sys­tem.” Con­tin­u­ing, he fur­ther ex­plained, “I hap­pened to be the one who started the mod­ern­iza­tion of juju mu­sic.

The fa­thers of juju mu­sic only played one gui­tar. I in­tro­duced three gui­tars and ar­ranged it in such a way that would catch the at­ten­tion of the youth and cross to the older folks, so as to have both sets of lis­ten­ers, and it worked.” “The three gui­tars are tenor, lead and rhythm,” he in­formed.

The un­der­ly­ing ob­jec­tive of this ex­per­i­ment was to cap­ture the at­ten­tion of the youth who seem to be more amenable to new changes, but his “Mi­liki”sound has since “crossed over to the old folks” the way he pre­dicted.

As a mat­ter of fact, the gen­er­a­tion of the 60s which he re­ferred to as the youth, and which he con­sid­ered his tar­get au­di­ence at the time, have to­day be­come the ‘old folks’; they now con­sti­tute the bulk of his clien­tele six decades af­ter, as ev­i­denced by the high pro­file gigs he plays to­day at high so­ci­ety mar­riages and other pres­ti­gious events - al­most ev­ery week end.

A pack­age of 660 songs might be rather in­tim­i­dat­ing par­tic­u­larly for a new Obey con­vert in terms of sam­pling and lis­ten­ing. But the tunes to watch out for, even though they all have their dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties and lev­els of ap­peal, in­clude Board

Mem­bers which has turned out to be an all - time best seller, Epo Ila, Igba owuro lawa, Iwa Ika kope, Baba lo­ran mi wa, Mukulu muke

and even the clas­sic, Olomi gbo temi it­self, among oth­ers.

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