Friday, May 22, 2015

City of Jos: Lose Not What You Have

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As far as music entertainment is the topic, every region of Nigeria had been unique, coming with a music style that was peculiar to it. According to Toni Omeoga, foremost Highlife Music presenter in Nigeria, the variations in the ambiance of Highlife music in Nigeria was a reflection of the setting in which the music was made. 

Omeoga gave examples: High-life music buzz, as we all know, had been largely in The South of the country. There were, however, daring men who felt that The North would not simply stand aside and be a mere spectator. There was late Bala Milla, who was based in Kaduna. He sang his Highlife music in Hausa. Having known Milla’s music myself, I would say that some of the native instruments that were imbued into southern Highlife were missing in his music. Omeoga also gave another example of a Highlife band that was based in Jos. It was the Sahara Old Stars Band. It was lead by a young Itshekiri man by the name of Ayo Ehindero, and had a prominent member that was known as Herbert Okeiyi, who was from the Ibo-speaking areas of Nigeria’s south. Hence, there were Yoruba and Ibo influences in the music they played, in addition to Hausa, which was symbolic of their setting.  It also was difficult to hear the strong presence of native music instruments of the south in their works.

This brings me to the core of this article. Beyond Highlife music, there were musicians in Jos who looked towards The West, rather than Highlife, which had an African origin. The music had a pervasively strong western influence. There was Bongos Ikwue, who had his early childhood in Jos. On a music scale, with purely Nigerian genres at one end and western music at the other extreme, Bongos music tended remotely to the western end.

I never believed it when rumors made the rounds that Tuface, Nigeria’s contemporary music superstar was born in Jos. I was later convinced, however, when I read an interview Tuface granted a Ghanaian publication. In the interview, Tuface narrated that he believes the cold weather in Jos was the reason why a lot of people who were born in it later became personages in the country. According the Tuface, the cold weather created an atmosphere that allowed peak concentration and creativity. Tuface said he was born in Jos, from where his family moved to Makurdi, then back to Jos, then to Kano, and back to Jos again, from where they moved to Enugu, where his musicianship started. Today, we are all witnesses to the fact that the feel in Tuface’s music is skewed towards the west.

I have often thought that had Peter and Paul –P-Square - been born in Imo state, from where their late father migrated to Jos, they may have ended up as Highlife musicians. If one should listen to their early albums, the music was almost one hundred percent Hip-hop/R&B. It, however, mellowed down, after their long stay in Lagos. But, essentially, their music still hangs helplessly to the western end of the scale. 

A strong western influence is what we see of the Choc ensemble, key members of which are J-Towners: MI, Ice Prince, and Jessy Jagz. If you take Brymo, a Choc who isn’t from Jos, one could feel the heavy Fuji influence in his music. 

We cannot fail to mention the fact that even Radio Plateau, that evolved to become Plateau Radio and Television, had a strong and charming western chic in its broadcast and presentations. It made the station the cynosure of the country. As a matter of fact, it was the station that sustained and preserved the distinct music culture in the city.

The question is: why had pop music from the city of Jos assumed the western stand. Many key onlookers feel it has to do with the history of Jos, a history that created its metropolitan character. This history was shaped by the tin mining activities. Tin mining drew people from everywhere around the world. There were English people from the UK, Arabs, other Africans, and Nigerians from other regions of the country. At that point, the only language that was of relevance was English, which had been the official language in the country since colonial time.  We shouldn’t be in a hurry to forget that English folks controlled the mining activities in the city.

Everywhere around the world, people hold on to a character that differentiates them from a pack, something that is responsible for their identity.  It is the reason why we should hold on to that which made us unique in the country. These days, however, it seems that there is some confusion, as it is difficult to accept that we are still holding on firmly to a music culture that made us distinct. We have to find a way of reviving this culture, or be lost in the crowd.

*The Itshekiri is a minority tribe that lives under the shadows of the Yorubas, just as the northern minorities live under the shadow of the Hausas.

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