Goodnight to the Organ Grandmaster, Pa James Adekunle


Adedayo Adejobi

It was Williams Shakespeare who once said “…in my stars I am above thee but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

In relation to this, Mr. James Adekunle who, in his later years became known as Pa Adekunle, was certainly, a Nigerian, from Akoko- Edo local government, Okpe, Edo state, Nigeria and an individual who achieved greatness by hard work, great vision, and zeal for excellence in his chosen profession of church organ music, despite not being born great.

I first set my eyes on this quintessential personality, sometime in 2016 in the company of Lanre Delano, Sole distributor of Allen Organ in Nigeria and Co-founder of the Church Organ Projects In Nigeria- CHOPIN). This was at CHOPIN’s office on Awoyemi close off Ogunlana Drive in Surulere Lagos.

There was a buzz of excitement in the office that peaceful Wednesday afternoon, so much so that even the neighbors and passers-by were listening to it and kind of curious to know where the vibe was coming from, as the sonorous sound coming from the massive Allen Organ located at a corner of the CHOPIN office filled the entire room, who was on the keys?, the organ grandmaster himself, Pa Adekunle as he was fondly called by all.

From the gates of the office apartment, you could hear the sound of the organ resonating back and forth as the master kept reeling out the sound with such an immense passion that only a master of the game can give. I was wowed.

As I stepped into the office eagerly, to see who the person behind the sound was, I was amazed to see a simple, ordinary looking, a grey-headed man dressed in a simple native attire behind the organ playing effortlessly without even looking at the keys on the piano, so engrossed that even my presence was not noticed until he completed his lines!

Yes you can describe Pa Adekunle as an exceedingly simple and humble person who is passionate about his job and cared less about the money involved, his watchword was giving an awesome delivery.

After that meeting, we met a couple of times to discuss one project or the other. Pa James Adekunle can be described as a jewel of the inestimable value of our time given his astute and selfless contribution to the church organ music profession in Nigeria.

In retrospect, Pa Adekunle was born into the humble family of Mr. and Mrs. Adekunle on October 22, 1930 to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Adekunle,

James was the organist and choirmaster of the Holy Trinity Church, Ebute-Ero Lagos from 1962 to 2019 (58years) till his death on January 20, 2019.

After 58 years of active service as the organist and choirmaster at the popular Holy Trinity Church Ebute Ero, Lagos, Pa James Adekunle finally took a bow.

Prior to this time, he attended St. Luke’s Teachers College Ibadan during which he won the first prize at the Western Nigeria Competition for Original Music Composition.

While still a student in London, he was, for two years the Organist of Harmony at the Methodist Church (1960 – 1962).

On arrival in 1962, he was appointed the Senior Programmes Assistant at the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation Ikoyi but was re-deployed to King’s College, Lagos in 1963 where he taught music for ten years (1963 – 1973).

In 1973, he was redeployed to the inspectorate division of the Federal Ministry of Education as one of its pioneer inspectors and was head of the Western State branch (Ibadan).

In 1976, he was transferred to Calabar as Head of the Cross River branch (Calabar) and moved to head the Lagos state office in 1977 where he retired on 01-01-87 as Deputy Director of Education.

In February 1989, he was invited by the Musical Society of Nigeria {MUSON) to actualise the establishment of its school of music which was accredited in 2002 as being at par with any diploma awarding music institution in the U.K.

He retired from MUSON in 2005 after 16 and a half years as pioneer director. He was a frequent resource person at CHOPIN – Church Organ Projects In Nigeria Music seminars and workshops. He was honored with the Organ Grandmaster Award by LOOM (Lovers Of Organ Music). He was a Patron of the Guild of Organists in Nigeria.

It is no wonder some of his students and friends had very beautiful things to say about this legend of our time.

“Mr. Adekunle really sowed the music seed in me. Through him, I was able to appreciate the great composer, George Frederick Handel, who composed the Messiah and many other great works such as Ode to Saint Cecilia. Handel superfluously sprinkled great trumpet obligato parts in these great works enhancing my love for that instrument. If I had my way I will dispatch Mr. Adekunle to the great heavens with Handel’s Zadok the Priest, with the lines, MAY HE LIVE FOREVER, HALLELUJAH AMEN AMEN. Mr. Adekunle had a sweet soul, I am very sure he died peacefully”

Another student wrote; “I met baba Adekunle in my second year in King’s College Lagos. He was a good motivator encouraging students to take music seriously. One of his star students was named Akinyele was popularly known as MOZART. I’m aware he sent one of Akinyele’s composition to the Royal School of Music and he was given a full scholarship to study music. One of the pieces he taught me was Symphony no 8 by Beethoven. I still remember the piece till today. He was a funny person who related very much with his students I was endeared to him when I discovered that he went to the same music school with my father The Guildhall School of music.”

And yet another by Ebenezer Ekundayo Omole, director of music, Saint Jude’s Church Odi Olowo Lagos. “Pa James Adekunle, my father and mentor…I never had the opportunity of being tutored by him, yet he had the greatest and profound influence on my musical career. We met in 1972 during the dedication of Pipe organ in our church in Saint Judes Anglican Church Odi Olowo, where Pa Adekunle and Mr. Jones (the partner of Pa Fayemi who manufactured and assembled the organ) were invited to play.

“The duo performed and demonstrated the capabilities of the two manuals pipe organ on that day. The performances of these people were impressive although I was just playing grade3 piano exam pieces at the time, a few months after this dedication, I went to King’s College Lagos to meet him with the intention of making him my Piano and Organ teacher, getting there I was welcomed by the family and was asked to play my exam pieces. Unfortunately, after that, Papa gave me shocking news, that they were already packing out as he had been transferred out of Lagos. It was a terrible blow on my musical ambition.

“Unknowingly Pa Adekunle included my name in the list of King’s College Students for ABRSM Exams that year. It was after the exams that I knew I was registered. Pa Adekunle gave me the opportunity of attending his Choir practices at Ebute- Ero between 1973 and 1975 where I learned a lot of techniques in teaching Church music. Since that time, Papa always monitored and supported me anywhere I worked, for example between 1985 and 1990 when I was at Saint Paul Cathedral Shagamu, he was there on two different occasions to accompany my choir during our Choir Festivals.

“Similarly, when I came back to St. Judes Odi-Olowo as Organist and Choir Master in 1994, he was also there at most of our programmes: Festivals, Carols, Cantatas and particularly two times, we performed “Complete Messiah by G.F Handel”. Each time he was there, he will make his observations known within two weeks after the programme. Since I became the Head of Music and Music Education Section of the Lagos State Ministry of Education in 1990/1991, I always invited him for State Music Workshops.”