Curiosity was the chief reason why this reporter waited till midnight last fortnight to watch Abass Akande Obesere in performance at the Lagos International Jazz Festival 2017. The show started quite late; although most of the performers arrived in time. The usual ensemble for the festival is like a hat trick-three stages in one venue, Freedom Park. However, the size of the crowd and the stage that night spoke volumes about the budget for this edition. Constrained by lack of sponsors, the LIJF should have been the most exciting because for the first time in three years, there was no fuel scarcity on the days of the last festival. Also, the next day after the grand finale of the show was a public holiday; hence, ideally it shouldn’t have been difficult to fill Freedom Park to the brim.
It turned out that a lot of jazz music lovers were hanging around at the venue, drinking and conversing before the show began. It was the biggest stage at the park that was lit, unnamed and managed by the Inspiro Productions. Not long into the show, Obesere, one of Nigeria’s frontline Fuji musicians, showed up in company of his band members and manager. With the exception of a few, if not negligible, grey hairs around his chin, Obesere has not changed physically. Unlike some successful artists with airs around them, Oberese sat humbly in the audience, watching patiently and applauding the younger artists who were performing.
It wasn’t long before this reporter caught up with him to have a brief talk on his career and involvement with the jazz festival. Of course, anyone would wonder how Obesere could possibly perform jazz music but the respected entertainer was poised to show the relationship between Jazz and Fuji. His band members and admirers were standing so close until he asked them if they had been invited for the interview. Expecting them to take the question as their clue to maintain some distance, he adjusted in his chair and gave this reporter an undivided attention.
“I feel good to have been invited to the Lagos International Jazz Festival. Any artist should be appreciative when invited for this kind of show,’’ he began, as camera flashes shone on his face.
Describing himself as the paramount King of music, Obesere didn’t think it was out of place to mix jazz with Fuji. As a matter of fact, he insisted that there’s an element jazz in Fuji.
“I never thought I didn’t fit in to the Jazz festival. I believe that there’s jazz in traditional music and for being invited here, I believe traditional music is recognized and still appreciated. Although as a professional artist, I am known for Fuji music. But I appreciate my God for being here,’’ he added.
Obesere has been a performing artist for 33 years and most people don’t know this. He is famed for nicknames such as “Omo Rapala”’, “Baba Tosibe’’ and “Oba Asakasa”’ (meaning the King of dirty slangs). Before the virtual world developed the code name for words associated with intimacy and romance, Obesere had long composed songs with lyrics that adequately supplied sufficient code words for adult usage.
He gained much popularity with the hit album “The Introduction’’ and his graphic lyrics are not solely responsible for it. Oberese played his part as a very humorous lyricist, making references that are either exaggerated or simply unimaginable. In one of his songs where he sang in Yoruba “Mori bi ton ti yagbe sabo…’’ is a claim that the artist once saw people defecating in food plates. True to his words, this assertion of his is not just a passing commentary on street life particularly, sanitation deficiency but a common sight in overcrowded shanties and tanker driver dominated streets in Lagos today.
He is unperturbed by the choice of traditional Fuji artists to experiment with hip-hop. In his view, hip-hop has paved way for many artists to have a voice in world music.
“I think hip-hop is a plus for us in Nigeria. Before now, we didn’t have hip-hop on most radio stations in Nigeria except for the ones produced by foreign artists. But now, 90 percent of the songs played on radio and television today are from Nigerian musicians. Hip hop has made more talents to emerge in Nigerian music,’’ he insisted.
Meanwhile, Obesere couldn’t escape questions about his fascination with female anatomy in his music videos and lyrics and he made a good defense but in words and later on stage.
“They are there to entertain the viewers. That’s what we call entertainment. We don’t want it to be boring for anybody. Women are very important and without them, we can’ have this world that we live in,’’ he argued.
If this reporter had ideas on more interesting staple for exciting music videos other than scantily-dressed voluptuous women, they were kept personal. It made no sense to argue with him as his show which began without female dancers became totally inflamed when two female dancers from Inspiro crew arrived on stage to add some spice to the show. Definitely, Obesere knew his onions. He would later sing a song which suggested a curse for someone who doesn’t like women.
Having enjoyed the mentorship of Alh. Arisafe Aremu for almost four years, Obesere ventured into solo music career in 1983 and dominated the scene for many years before international tours took him away from the frequent view of the music fans in Nigeria. He believes that anyone who is not naturally gifted cannot have a successful career in music.
“You don’t learn music. Although there are schools for music, but you have to have passion for it. But if you insist on it, people will know that you have no gift in music,” he said.
Like hip-hop, rivalry is rife in Fuji music but Obesere said he has no rival. Married with five children, Obesere doesn’t discuss his personal life in the media. But he revealed that three of his children may be interested in future careers in entertainment although he advises them to focus on education before pursuing a career.
Obesere has no fewer than 20 albums including “Live in Europe’’, “Asakasa”’, “O.B.T.K.’’, “Mr. Teacher’’, “Omorapala Overthrow’’, “Okokoriko’’, “Effissy’’ amongst others.
Later on stage that night, Obesere, accompanied by his band members performed songs-some of which had sexual innuendos. One moral lesson that most critics of his music miss is that he asks if his desired lady wants “it”, he doesn’t just take “it”. So, read Obesere between the lines.