The Return of the Grand fathers of Rock Music



Tony Amadi


On stage, the governor danced the night away with his beautiful wife. This was at the concert of the Pop Stars of the 70’s staged by his Ministry of Diaspora and Culture in the Alex Ekwueme Centre in Awka. It was the return of the grandfathers of rock music as we know it in Nigeria today, as the ageing rock musicians returned to stage in what was either their final act or the beginning of another era of influential pop sounds.

Under the aegis of the Principal Secretary to the Governor, Sir Willie Nwokoye, the ministry sourced out the remnants of the musical groups that kept Biafra alive with the originality of a musical genre that would later take Nigeria by storm after the Nigeria/Biafra civil war. Because music was the only entertainment during the war, there was a special attachment to the music by the dozens of bands that emerged during and after the war in 1970.

The governor’s spin machine, which is masterminded by Commissioner Tony Nnachetta tagged it all as “the resurrection concert”,  because it was held on Easter Sunday.

But there was no attempt to take the political mileage out of the event to help the governor’s second term re-election, which comes up this November. It was purely an attempt to touch the lives of people who made historical contributions to the growth of Igboland. For, apparently, the governor had kept former Rangers footballers like Emmanuel Okala, Nwabueze Nwankwo and others in return for the huge impact they made to social development in the eastern states, on the pay roll of government. Now, he has decided that it was time to extend the largesse to the musical sector, hence the crystallisation of the concert.

This time the emphasis was on the musicians of the 70s and he assembled the pop stars that made that period the great decade it has become in Nigeria pop history. Even if the governor was doing this for politics, he didn’t need to because all seems to be going very well for him and his administration, since it appears that no politician in the state could out do him in good governance for now. Obiano has improved the internally generated revenue, IGR, to very high levels from where Peter Obi left it and the state is doing well with export of vegetables while his agricultural policy has led to improved results in rice production that was enough to feed his state.

For me, the concert was historically important as I had worked in the pop music industry during the war and even afterwards. So, it was interesting meeting friends I had not seen for 50 years or more. Because many of the musicians had passed on, it was a bit of a puzzle how the promoters of this concert would resurrect the dead, literally. However, the musicians used their wisdom to recreate the sounds of the 70s and they managed to create some miracle.

For instance, the Funkees who headlined the concert had only two members in the original line up alive and present. Chyke Madu and Danny Heibs produced the best music of the concert with some young and vibrant session men. With their hit single “Akula”, they opened their first concert in some 40 years. They began low-keyed and then built into a crescendo of heavy tribal African percussion and vibration before climaxing into “Dancing Time” to the emphatic “Onye Mmanya”, a tune played as a celebration of the palmwine tapper. Needless to say that they brought the house down and showed that if they wanted to, they could still produce some of the finest afro-rock sounds of all time.

The Funkees were vibrant and played when the VIP audiences had long gone, but they ensured that those who waited for their show did not go home without the best music of the evening. I was thoroughly enthralled by the sounds of the Funkees and it amazed me that they could still produce the tightly-knit sounds that made them famous in the 1970’s. Billy Iyke their late singer, Manager Marcel Ihekweme and, of course, Harry Mosco had all gone to meet their Creator, but they should be happy with the musical representation of the group exhibited by Chyke and Danny and the young session men that worked with them.

At the beginning of the concert, the music of the 70s was highlighted with a medley soul sounds such as Wilson Picket’s “Knock on Wood” and James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, delivered competently. The disc jockey embellished it all with Errol Brown’s “You Sexy Thing” with heavy applause all the way through the rendition.

The concert had opened with Aktions led by Renny Nwosa, still looking as trim as ever and performing with a rare athleticism as he jumped around the stage, clutching his microphone and aiming to out-do Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger in typical Jagger-antics format. He recreated his group’s hits like “Tell Me Baby”, “Sugar Daddy”, “I’m in Love”, the rocky “Groove the Funk” and “Masquerade” before bowing out with loud ovation for his effort. At age 66, Renny must be the youngest musician among the grand fathers of the pop acts that performed at the memorable event.

Lasbury Ojukwu, leader of the Semi Colon, opened his set with his big hit of the same 70s titled “Dumia Gbossa”, “You Go High” before plunging into his all-time hit, “Slim Fit Maggie” to round off his set. His sessions was obviously rendered with competence and a highly professional style. Lasbury’s contribution to Nigerian pop music is vastly underestimated but he was essentially the lone bridge between Beatlemania and modern Nigerian pop in the 60s. He still carried his freaky outlook to his 75 years of age even though he looked more of a 50-year-old man during his Awka concert.

Much was expected from the Wings, perhaps because of their new book by drummer Manford Best but they were under-rehearsed and their late singer, Spud Nathan, was sorely missed but they still got a huge cheer from the 3000-strong audience. With their “Loving You” and “I Need Someone” hits, they reignited the memory of their late colleagues and left no one in doubt that they can still revv up the fans.

Governor Obiano had a special joker for the night. Mid-way into the event, his Senior Special Assistant Chido Obidiegwu having reeled out the achievements of his administration decided to call up the governor to the stage, with his wife and a number of his key aides in tow, unleashed his joker – the presentation of top-rated musician Flavour on the audience as a special guest.

Flavour was delighted to appear on stage with his musical fathers and thanked the Pop Stars of the 70s and said that it was because of their great work in the past that his own generation was able to breakthrough bigger than anyone imagined. Flavour then opened up his repertoire of hits and Governor Obiano grabbed his wife for a dancing session that showed that the governor has not lost his dancing skills. The governor was moved by the passion that enveloped the concert and decided to upgrade the welfare package for the musicians by adding another one million naira to each of the musical groups and those specially invited including retired broadcaster Pal Akalonu, Comedian Zebrudaya Okorigwe Nwogbo Alias 4.30 and others.

A devoted crowd of youngsters most of who were not even born when the musicians were top of the pops, remained, listening and enjoying the 70’s beat all the way to the end. By 3 am when the Sweet Breeze played, they still stuck their ears to the beautiful music pouring from the well-decorated stage and perhaps it would appear that the people of Anambra and neighbouring states of the South-east had a night to remember.

When the Funkees ended the seven-hour concert, the lingering revellers seemed reluctant to leave. The organisers had provided enough food and drinks to go round, but not to the level to make them drunk as everyone drifted home happily with the foreknowledge that the deadly armed robbers and kidnappers who had made the state uninhabitable for some years, had now found new havens outside the state as the governor’s security strategy had produced outstanding results.

It was a night to remember as I headed back to Abuja to the cheery news that Abuja Airport was set to reopen ahead of schedule.

-Amadi was in Awka for this event