Topsticks, an all-female band, launches itself to reckoning on the platform of Kole Omotosho’s 70th birthday celebrations in Akure. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
Thumbs up for the Topsticks! It took this all-female band to rouse this rather staid audience from obvious apathy! Now, with the dance floor gradually filling up, not even this hall’s poor acoustics could stymie the efforts of the band’s vocalist, Olukemi Titilope Opasho. Nor do the other band members seem fazed by the largely glitzy audience.
A big CU on the stage... Towards the stage left, away from the vocalist, the black blazer-sporting Chinazor Anozie thumps away on the keyboard. Tope Odebiyi – the original Topsticks – attacks the drums with gusto somewhere in the background. Then the bass guitarist Blessing “Agape” Chidiebere sways to the beat...
The venue – Rubi Hall in Akure – is appropriately festooned for the special dinner in honour of the South Africa-based son of the soil, Professor Kole Omotosho. Much of the pleasure of the gig boils down to the band’s offering of highlife oldies. The band has made audience’s evening and also spared many from the barrage of tympanic assault caused by the racquet of the previous organised cacophony on stage.
Next day at the Akure’s upscale Flourish Hotel’s restaurant, Odebiyi sits slightly distant from other band members. Her engaging smile and her punk-style hairdo distinguishes her from the pack. The band’s beginnings, she says, is a tale of evolution. First, a group of young male and female musicians had converged to have fun. Then, things began to evolve and soon what was left was a band of six girls: a drummer, a bass player, a vocalist, a pianist and a talking drummer. Of course, there was also Odia Ofeimun’s moral support. The celebrated poet and dramatist had watched a solo performance by Odebiyi, the Topsticks drummer girl, at the late Bola Ige’s fifth year memorial.
Ofeimun, it was who encouraged the solo drummer to set up and all-female band. And this was just what she had been trying to do for years! When she cobbled together Topsticks, she’d started with a male pianist, a male bassist, a female talking drummer and a female saxophonist. By her reckoning, the band had performed in several respectable gigs. Among these were Sam Omatseye’s 50th birthday bash, Odia Ofeimun’s birthday celebrations and stage plays.
“The real all-female band started only a few months ago,” she tells her interlocutor.
The picture of the present band began to form when the bashful pianist, simply called Chinazor, joined over a year ago. Then, the singer (better known as Kemi) joined late 2012. Ditto the absentee guitarist, Helen Ibe. Early this year saw the arrival of the bass player (Blessing) and the talking drummer (Simisola). “Professor Omotosho’s birthday is really our outing as a complete girl’s band.”
Understandably, funding has been the major challenge of the band, whose average age is 25 years. “What has brought us together is the strong passion for music,” Odebiyi enthuses. “[This is because] music requires passion and commitment. We believe the sky is our starting point and we will not quit until we hit our mark.”
She mentions her pastor, Samson Jedafe, as “one of the band’s backbones” and Showbiz Network’s Edi Lawani as “an inspiration.”
And Ofeimun? “He’s been like a godfather to the band.”
Odebiyi first tried creating an all-female band as a student of history and diplomatic studies at the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ago-Iwoye. “With me on the drums, Foluke on the keyboard and Damilola as the bass guitarist, we were having a ball. That was until after our graduation when distance tore us apart.”
Odebiyi’s dexterity on the drums at the Star Quest reality TV Show in 2008 first caught the attention of Showbiz Network’s Lawani.
Odebiyi did not exactly enjoy the full support of her parents. “At the early stage, they couldn’t just fathom what I was doing. Their support came when they started seeing results.”
Two years after the Star Quest reality TV show, she had enrolled at the Peter King College of Music in Badagry. In 2012, she studied at the MUSON Music School in Onikan, Lagos. Besides her formal training, she has chalked up an enviable record of performances with a slew of such high-profile musicians as Victor Uwaifo, Victor Olaiya, K Sticks, Bongos Ikwue, Bouqui, Weird MC and Wole Oni, amongst others.
Soon Odebiyi earned herself the sobriquet, “Topsticks” which eventually became the band’s name. With a single, “Omo Eniyan”, to her name, the drummer girl cum drum coach. Her single, she explains, is a Yoruba translation of a song by the American gospel music singer Tye Tribett.
Back to the band, Odebiyi says it is strongly influenced by good music and sound. Among her role models, she listed Sheila E, Cindy Blackman, Dave Weckle, Aaron Spears, Calvin Rodgers, Steve Smith and the host of musicians around her.
Other band members who have assumed their positions around the table began to stir to life. There is the bass guitarist, Chidiebere. The Abia State-born Christ Embassy chorister had developed interest in her favoured instrument only two years ago. “I started my musical career many years back, as a choir member in Christ Embassy, where I developed interest in playing the bass guitar in 2011,” she says. “Ever since then, I’ve been working on owning my skill until I met Topsticks early this year and she asked me to join her band. I believe with hard work and dedication, I will get to the peak in my musical journey.”
Next to her sits the pianist, simply called Chinazor, who is scowling at something on her phone’s digital display readout. Her late dad, Sir B.O.U Anozie (the St. Leo’s Catholic Church Ikeja’s organist), had guided her musical first steps. The fourth out of seven children, she had started playing the piano at the age of six years. Could that be how she earned the nickname, Mozart?
Not exactly. As a student of the high-profile Queens College in Yaba, Lagos she was virtually the school’s official pianist. Not only did she play during the morning devotions, she also featured at commemorative ceremonies as well as represented the school in competitions. This reticent Babcock University graduate of computer technology later became the pianist and music director of Grace Chapel and the Philadelphia Choir. Thanks to her undying love for music, she had joined the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Musical Band in Bayelsa State, where she served. In the band, she had played a very prominent role as the “Drum Major”. Among her musical influences are Georg Friedrich Handel, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Bright Gain, Ini Dminstrel Uko and the Ruach Levite. Regular performances at the MUSON Centre concerts as well as in other shows must have buoyed her aspiration to become a world-class pianist.
Mover over to the vocalist, Kemi. She has detached herself from the table and is chatting animatedly to a journalist. An accountant as well as a professional musician with strong ethics, she has thrilled various audiences with her sonorous voice. She has also performed at various events alongside such artistes like D’Banj, Bouqui, Kaffy, Davido, Yinka Davies, Naeto C and Benita Okojie among others.
Kemi pioneered the Real Music Theatre Production (RMTP), a contemporary musical theatre initiative which offers a platform for actors, dancers and singers.
The absentee member of the Topsticks Band is the guitarist, Helen Ibe. The love affair with music, for the Abia State-born Obafemi Awolowo University graduate of pharmacy, started when she was still a child. “My passion for music was stoked at a very tender age in my life, although I only started playing the guitar about three years ago,” she writes in an email. “With a lot of support from my mum and siblings, I started playing in church and some events.”
Being a female guitarist could be quite challenging, she continues. “Aside from the fact that I juggle school and my guitar lessons, I also have to put in hours of rehearsals and build my repertoires. People believe the instrumental part of music is meant for guys alone, proving them wrong and coming out good takes a lot of hard work.”
The achievements of her role models – Asa, Norman Brown and Peter White, among others – remain her inspiration on her way to the top.
Next meeting place: the band’s rehearsal venue at Obanikoro area off Ikorodu Road in Lagos. Odebiyi, who’d rather be called Tope, reels out the schedule of performances waiting for the group. There is one in Ikeja, another on the Lagos Island and a third in Ikorodu Town Hall.