â€¢AT 12, I BECAME A SUPERSTAR IN ENGLAND
â€œShina Peters is about to play musicâ€¦all you got to do â€“ dig it right, dig it leftâ€¦. Omoge loke-loke, loke-loke. Omoge di-e di-e, di-e di-e. I say Shina Petersâ€™ about to play musicâ€¦all you got to do â€“ dig it right, dig it leftâ€¦. Omoge loke-loke, loke-loke. Omoge di-e di-e, di-e di-e. Omoge loke-loke, loke-lokeâ€¦Omoge di-e, di-e, di-e di-eâ€¦ Omoge loke-loke, loke-loke, loke-loke,â€ his mellifluous voice bellowed as his supersonic guitar twanged in unison. The enraptured throng of fans gyrated in ecstasy. The enthralling artiste â€“ the king of Afro Juju â€“ in his psychedelic dark glasses and magnificent stage dress, looking larger-than-life on the centre stage sang again with a higher pitch: â€œAfro Juju, Shina Peters, igba ti wa lode, tele-teleri a ti gbo orisirisiâ€¦â€ and the ecstatic crowd screamed into the empty riotous cloudless night. It was the dawn of a mania. He would later be known as Sir Shina Peters â€“ an artise who at the age of 12 was addressed as â€˜Sirâ€™ in faraway England. An enduring character, he found fame, fortune and freedom as he explained in an interview with THISDAY. FUNKE OLAODE captures the moments
ifted but unknown, the young boy that would later become Sir Shina Peters played musical instruments and sang to his heartâ€™s delight in the church. His face could be lost in the crowd; he could pass as nobody but his voice, one of a kind, when it wafted through the air, was unmistakable. He had all the attributes of a megastar â€“ at ten, he was already leading the choir in a Cherubim and Seraphim church. He was not yet a teenager when his star showed up on the horizon. Thereafter, he caught the eye of General Prince Adekunle. Playing along the veteran, he became an instant prodigy. It was little wonder when he was exported to the United Kingdom to titillate an audience that had never seen the like of him before. It was a trip based on a cultural exchange programme between the British government and its Nigerian counterpart.
Sixty years old on May 30, the unassuming superstar summed up that experience in England: â€œGoing to England with my leader, Prince Adekunle was a sign of greatness for me. We were about five artistes from Nigeria and other African countries. I was given an award at the event because it was very rare to see a young lad playing a guitar with the leg. The crowd was blown away and at the end I was given an award by UNICO â€“ the United Nigeria Cultural Organisation. That was when the appellation â€˜Sirâ€™ stuck.â€
With fame came fortune and class but for Shina Peters remains deeply rooted to his origin â€“ to a place that has always been home to him. â€œI am a man of the people. Shina Peters on stage is different from Shina Peters off the stage. I bought this land (referring to the property his house sits on) in 1970 when we came back from that London trip at Â£1 and 10 shilling (N21). It was about an acre and half. My parents just advised me to do something with the money. I obliged and bought the land. I am a man of the people. I always attend to their problems. If I leave them I wonâ€™t be the same because this people made me and I would love to pay them back,â€ he admitted.
The grass-to-grace story of many singers often starts from the church â€“from the spiritual to the secular: Shina Petersâ€™ is no exception.
â€œI was the leader of the choir where I learnt how to play organ (keyboard). You know there is no way you would have Cherubim and Seraphim background and you wonâ€™t have music flowing like blood in your veins. That was where I got the talent to go into music,â€ he recalled with nostalgia.
Prior to his hit songs, he had released a few albums with little-known success. Though his star had appeared on the horizon since he was a kid it did not shine until he dropped an album that changed the face of music in Nigeria. From that point going forward, his music gained nationwide acceptance â€“wafting through the airwaves of the South up to the North; serenading the West and waking up the East. It was â€˜Shinamaniacâ€™.
But nothing good came easy for him as he said: â€œWhen I went to the studio to release ACE in 1989 it was out of frustration. Because when I parted ways with my former partner, Segun Adewale, I went to the studio and released an album titled, â€˜Way to Freedomâ€™. At that time I was having cases here and there over breach of agreement. My record label insisted that the contract that we signed was 10 years. Again, there was individual differences between me and my partner, who still wanted us to be under the â€˜Established Ordersâ€™ shadow.â€
However, Shina Peters had other ideas. He knew the kind of music he wanted to play. He knew the audience who were waiting for him to accept his new flow. He continued: â€œI wanted to play something that would be very unique; that Nigerian youths would be carried along no matter their ethnic backgrounds.â€
It did not take him long for find a winning formula â€“ one as he would later disclose that the weird one, Fela, had successfully deployed â€“ that changed the face of Juju music in Nigeria and would be the forerunner of hip-hop music as some have claimed.
â€œIn those days, Yoruba music was referred to as â€˜ngbati musicâ€™. So I wanted the kind of music that would carry everyone along no matter their ethnic backgrounds. My partner couldnâ€™t agree with that and we went our separate ways. Prior to that, we have had other issues. Similarly, before the hit album I have had some acceptance. My previous albums â€“ first, second and third record: â€˜Way to freedomâ€™, â€˜Freedom at Lastâ€™, â€˜Build Mine for Meâ€™ â€“ were accepted by the people. That was an era when landlords and tenants were having altercations here and there. After that â€˜Sheweleâ€™, Showers of Blessingsâ€™ was also released. I later went back to the drawing board because Fuji took over from Juju and that genre of music (Juju) was fading away,â€ he reminisced.
With a calm mien, good looks and dazzling cloths, Shina Peters was always the rave of the moment. He shimmered and towered above his league. His dress and grooming was second to none. And he explained why he went to great lengths to dazzle with his dress sense. His dance steps were similarly unforgettable.
He said: â€œThere is nothing spectacular. Dancing and dazzling dress sense were my concepts. You know exposure is very important because your first appearance counts as an entertainer. You have to give it all that it takes. It is like attention-grabbing that anywhere you go people must notice you.â€
The showman also said about his dancing prowess: â€œI didnâ€™t go to a dance school. I believe music and dance are art and art is life â€“ so I am dead the day I stop playing music. I have never been ill that I wouldnâ€™t be able to play. Music is everything. For instance, take music out of life, what would remain?â€
It has been 29 years since he released the album that changed the face of Juju music in Nigeria. How much did he make from the ACE album â€“ which was produced by Laolu Akins? â€Surprisingly, Shinamania sold more (copies) than ACE. When we do the current survey to know where our music is selling most, we realised it is from the former mid-western state Benin City and the East where we had 65 per cent rate of acceptance while the Hausa and Yoruba share the remaining 35 per cent. I am still accepted by other ethnic groups â€“ and I donâ€™t speak Ibo. You will rarely see me in Lagos performing. It is either I am in Owerri, Port Harcourt, Ughelli and so on,â€ he added.
What has been his winning secret and who inspired him?
â€œI see Fela as my godfather. I started my career with Commander Ebenezer Obey; Prince Adekunle, then Segun Adewale. But I remember when I went to Fela that I wanted to start my own music. He said: â€˜Go jo! Yeye boy! See his head like coconut. If you want to start your own music, no problem. You can start now. Sebi, you are a multi-instrumentalist.â€™ He said: â€˜Shina let me tell you, everybody can sing but you become a star the day you discover music that suits your voice.â€™ That is lesson number one. And he said I should make my lyrics 50 per cent pidgin or English and the rest can be Yoruba. He pointed out that when I would be outside my domain, I would be able to carry my audience along with me. That is how the lyrics, â€˜We are ready to play music we are ready oh. I want to play you want to danceâ€¦. and â€˜Make una dance o, make una dance ohâ€™ evolved. You also have: â€˜Omoge you fine yeyeye baby oh!â€™ That was how I mixed both languages together and it became a wow!â€ Shina Peters stated as his face lit with pride.
If there is any regret he has, what will it be? His response was instructive: â€œTodayâ€™s young artistes are lucky that they are living in the social media era where things are readily available. How I wished the social media had been in existence in our time as it would have eased the tension of artistes. Back in the days, we saw journalists as policemen. For us as artistes to be able to refute or disclaim a bad press back then usually took a long time to do. Today, if you write anything negative about me I will go to the Instagram and put out the facts because of my followers.â€
Now in the league of yesterdayâ€™s superstars, the evergreen Sir Shina Peters has some words for rave-of-the-moment artistes and upcoming ones. â€œI am happy for the young artistes who are making waves and even collaborating with superstars on the global stage. We tried the same thing in our time with big ones nationally though we didnâ€™t take it across the oceans. Again, everything about this age is digital. It took me four years before I came out with Afro Juju. I didnâ€™t do anything; I just wanted to make it and put Juju back to where it belongs. Today, an artiste can just put down a portable mixer and in less than 24 hours they are out with an album.
â€œMy take is that they should be careful so that their music can be an evergreen. I started the hip-hop genre in 1990 with the song â€˜Omoge loke-lokeâ€. And the rap in Yoruba was started by me in 1992. They just have to build on what we have started,â€ he asserted.
The superstar no doubt relishes the thought of some collaboration with the young artistes: â€œIt is a welcome idea but the collaborator must be ready to maintain originality. Again, there is time for everything and when the time I will like to do justice to my intellectual property. There are plans,â€ he said.
At 60, he is expected to slow down, take things easy â€“ the glint in his eyes suggested otherwise and he translated that body language into words when he said: â€œI still have a long way to go. You know some people when they turn 60 they are winding down. At 60, it is like another chapter of my life has just been opened. I feel I should continue to do more because Nigeria has not seen the best of me.â€
A ladiesâ€™ man to boot, it is rather intriguing that Shina Peters is married to one wife. But the sombre-looking star would not want to explore that course saying, â€œI wouldnâ€™t want to talk about my family. I have reached a stage in my life where private matters should be kept private. So letâ€™s leave the family aspect out of it.â€ he said.
His infamous grammatical error would also not be revisited, he insisted politely. In spite of his foibles, he will like to be remembered as what he described as an artiste who uses his music to put smile on peopleâ€™s faces, down-to-earth, generous and humble.