This is how I met OJ, as he is popularly called:
Jazzville! I had been grooving at the then popular nightclub on a Friday as was usual with me and some of my friends at the time. Jazzville, located at Onike in Yaba provided a nice, culturally sensitive, controlled and inexpensive but reasonably classy outlook for us in the late 90s and the Friday show was always a sellout with popular names like Sharp Band, Excite and Time band playing the night away.
Many famous names in Nigerian music, living or dead, took their roots from Jazzville or at least made their mark there. I can’t recall any DJ evening as it was always live, live and nothing but live. I recall Tunde and Wunmi Obe, late Jaiye Aboderin and wife, the delectable Stella Damasus, and the then upcoming artiste, Dare Art Alade. Jazzville’s proprietor, Muyiwa Majekodunmi (Majek), even reminds me that Jaiye’s elder brother, late Wale Aboderin used to croon in the wee hours of the night on that venerated stage.
In the earlier days, there was Tunde Ajijedidun, Peter Fisher, Marine Akpofure, Seun Olota and, of course, Grammy nominee Femi Kuti. One of the most outstandingly entertaining shows by a Nigerian artiste that I have witnessed was staged by Daddy Showkey and it was a surprise performance that tore the whole place apart. He took the stage along with a muscular dancer who was an expert contortionist, and man became chicken in an orgy of talent and creativity: Chicken dance!
There was an assortment of passionate MCs who just did their thing out of interest, I think. One of them was Charles Novia and I have to tell this particular story: one day Charles Novia made an attempt at singing Majek Fashek’s monster hit: Send down the rain. His rendition wasn’t a hit; it was just ok—the alcohol was working after all…then somebody sighted the real Majek Fashek lounging by the bar! Everybody screamed with excitement and urged him to the stage. So we all got to see the big star perform his biggest song absolutely for free! That’s the kind of uproarious surprises you can get on an evening out at Jazzville—this was in the 90s and early 2000s.
And when all was said and done, in the wee hours of the morning, the indefatigable entertainer, Demola Olukotun, aka Demola Omo Ibadan would take the stage and sing playfully while tapping on the keyboard. Always a solo. Even though the place was owned by Muyiwa Majekodunmi, a former brand manager at the beverage manufacturer, NDL, who later found that his heart belonged in entertainment management, Demola Omo Ibadan, in a way, was one of the moving spirits of the nightclub. I mean, an evening at Jazzville without a drink and banter with Demola was totally incomplete, for me.
Long after the place had been shut down by Majek and converted into some kind of a worship centre after he “found Christ”, I searched for Demola. I had missed him so much. We connected and he actually paid me a visit in my Magodo residence. At the time he was running a band and based somewhere in Ikoyi. It was a very interesting meet.
Not long after this I had a telephone chat with Majek and when I mentioned Demola, he told me the man had passed! The lean, ever smiling, ever lively man who consumed big stout and smoked cigarettes with relish was gone forever. I mourned his passage. Continue to rest well, Demola.
It was at that same Jazzville, on a Friday, that I got notice that the great Orlando Julius who had relocated back to Nigeria a few years before then was going to be performing there on a Saturday. I can’t recall the exact date but it was sometime in 1999 or 2000. I tried to get the exact date, but neither Mr Majekodunmi nor Latoya Aduke Ekemode (OJ’s wife) is sure anymore.
I wondered at the time why the show did not hold on a Friday, but I felt, perhaps, Majek did not want to tamper with the more mainstream Friday night groove. That’s just a guess. In any case, Majek thinks it was a Friday but I am positive it happened on a Saturday. The sparseness of that Saturday was impossible on a Friday in the heydays of Jazzvile.
Before then I had read a lot about Nigeria’s great export to the United States and his world tours. Orlando first made his name in Nigeria in the 60s and 70s when he became an Afro highlife superstar before relocating to America. It turned out to be a long sojourn of about 20 years and by the time he returned to Nigeria, most of the younger generation who consumed music were like the generation that knew not Joseph. If you read music reviews and all that, you will know about OJ, if you listened to more that mainstream music you will know his music. But how many people go that route?
This was supposed to be one of the re-launch shows to help him take his place back in the country of his birth. But his flock knew him not—at least not on that occasion. On that Saturday, I arrived to enjoy this beautiful live music only to find myself alone, facing a complete band of instrumentalists, singers, dancers, the famous African American dancer and singer, Aduke Latoya was right there! Of course the ageless OJ led the vocals and blew his saxophone all night like his life depended on it.
I expected the band to stop after a couple of tracks if more people did not come in for the show. I expected the shinning glint in his eyes, as he made constant visual contact with me, to dim. But he just continued beaming his trademark big smile, it never waned, the energy never slacked. I expected the band to lose the initial enthusiasm as the night wore on, playing to this nondescript lone audience. It never happened.
These guys played a full show, complete with all the “jarasis”, from the beginning to deep in the night, and ended the show after hours of world class entertainment with their heads held high, leaving me in indescribable awe.
I don’t imagine that my person or the pittance of a gate fee I paid [That is if I paid one as we used to bluff our way in because “I am a reporter o”] was worth all that trouble. I think there was something much more significant, more important, at work. Values already ingrained in the body and soul of these tested professionals led by a globally acclaimed musician who laughed at fate and faced the night of the empty hall with absolute defiance and total discipline.
He played as if the entire world was watching, yet there was not a even a camera recording the show. For all those hours of sitting, unmoving, untired, I kept processing different thoughts in my mind, and my admiration for this band and its invincible leader grew so much. This is what true professionalism is, this is it, I kept saying to myself.
In the decades that followed, before his eventual demise last year, we became closer and he would stay over at Eagles’ Park in Ikeja whenever he had a show around the mainland. He and his energetic wife, the dancer/singer, Latoya Aduke were always great company. I am not so sure Nigeria was kind enough to this highly creative artiste, but that is an old story. He did his bit, and his beat goes on.
Below, me with Latoya as she arrives at Eagles’ Park after her long holiday abroad post OJ’s burial. It was an evening of recollections as we worked down a bottle of Expression red wine.
May his great soul continue to rest in peace.