Bimbo Esho is the daughter of veteran music collector Femi Esho. She presently oversees the Evergreen Musical Company Limited which boasts of a rich vault of timeless indigenous music from Nigeria and other African artistes. In a chat with The Interview, Esho highlights the difference between the musicians of yore and the present day artistes, while pointing out that Afrobeats is a wrong choice of word for African sounds.
Who were those musicians that sang about freedom during the pre and post-independence?
The independence era paraded some of the most iconic artistes. In the east, we had Rex Lawson who sang about Biafra and other songs that binds people together during the civil war.
Remember we had the first civil war in the 40s that later gave us freedom before the popular civil war that took place in 1967.
Before then, there was Victor Olaiya. He had some independence songs and even performed on Independence Day. He performed with Chris Ajilo.
We also had Ayinde Bakare, Bola Johnson. Basically, the songs on freedom is not Olaiya’s forte. The late Sunny Okosun was more of a freedom fighter.
The highlife stars of that era were not really freedom fighters. Nigerian musicians then were not really keen on freedom fighting.
King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey sang more about the way things used to be in the country. They try to make us remember our past and see how we have changed or not.
If we are moving forward or backward. It was like a comparison between two generations.
One of the things that puzzles me is why our music is not reminding us of our past. Why are they not enlightening us on our history? Why are they concentrating on sex and money?
Do you think that same pattern is still going on in the present music scene?
No, Hip pop has taken over.
One of the things that puzzles me is why our music is not reminding us of our past. Why are they not enlightening us on our history?
Why are they concentrating on sex and money?
With music like that, how do we define ourselves? But you can still listen to Sunny Okosun’s ‘Which Way Nigeria’, and you can listen to songs of Funmi Adams.
Those songs make you feel pride in your country and the spirit of patriotism is awakened.
Now, there is nothing like that. Only few musicians toe that line like Femi and Seun Kuti.
We don’t really have core conscious music. Falz the rapper tried but he is still figuring a way around it.
It is really difficult to stay in that genre, that’s why you see some singing about love. But that also makes it complex because you will not have a definite identity.
Does it mean that Nigeria has not grown musically?
Personally, there is a big difference from the music of yesteryear compared to today in terms of lyrics; content.
It is very glaring. The music has grown definitely but it has taken another form.
We can’t explicitly say that JuJu is no more. It is there but has taken another form. See the way Flavour has changed the face of highlife.
One of the things that have affected them is the dearth of record labels and lack of diligent artiste managers. Radio and TV stations do not even play these indigenous songs
How curious and eager are the younger generation in gathering knowledge about our music history?
They are very curious. That is a fact but one of the things that have distracted them is hip-hop.
Hip-hop has certainly taken over like a kind of virus but is now mixed with local beats just to make people feel the vibes.
There are however some younger artistes who are still playing indigenous sounds like Adekunle Gold.
He is doing it his own way, calls it urban highlife, and they have a cult following.
Also, the brands and the government are not helping the indigenous music to grow, because if they want to do it they will give opportunity and platform to some of the indigenous musicians to grow.
You will be surprised that the children of some of these indigenous musicians are following their footsteps but they are not recognised.
One of the things that have affected them is the dearth of record labels and lack of diligent artiste managers. Radio and TV stations do not even play these indigenous songs.
How many indigenous radio stations do we have in the country?
The cable TV hardly play indigenous music because according to them, it doesn’t meet their standards.
So until we start educating ourselves on the kind of music we play and how it represents us, then we can make headway.
So you don’t subscribe to the boxing of Nigeria sounds into Afrobeats?
No I don’t. It is a silly term. The white man waited for us to come out with our music.
They wanted to know our musical identity. But the Fuji, Apala and even highlife musicians could not come up with their own identity.
Today, the present artistes have tried to coin all manner of names to describe their kind of music. Fela was able to define Afrobeats because he owned it.
He stood by it and never deviated from it. Everyone saw his music as that. He was able to define his style of music.
Funny, it was even the white man that coined the Afrobeats which many of the artistes box their music into.
I would rather they call it African beats instead of Afrobeats because limiting African sounds to Afrobeats is like taking advantage of something that has already been in existence.