In the global spirit of love this Valentine’s day, Yinka Olatunbosun narrates a true story of a father, music aficionado and founder, JazzVille, Muyiwa Majekodunmiwhose unconditional love for music and his family fortified him to raise a special son who lives with Down Syndrome witha self-styled attitude, namely Mission Inclusion: Possible
Muyiwa Majekodunmi, the founder, JazzVille, a once famous jazz club in Yaba which was active from 1990 till 2001, is always in company of his first son, BJ at events. Their close-knit relationship inspired more curiosity when BJ’s pictures atmusic performances flooded his father’s Facebook wall to the admiration of friends who are generous with encouraging comments and likes.
Often, many parents quietly raise children with disabilities and remain clueless as to how to make their special needs children become financially independent. But that’s not the case with raising OlumakinwaAdewale a.k.a Baba Junior fondly referred to as BJ, a 31-year old, cultured and sociable percussionist.
Accepting his son is one of the first unwritten rules of inviting Majekodunmi to an event. BJ is his shadow or to quote him, “My Wingman.”
“He was born on October 24, 1988 at a private hospital on Allen Avenue, Ikeja,” Majekodunmi began during our first encounter in December, 2019. “At conception, he had 47 chromosomes instead of 46. I didn’t know what Down Syndrome was. But he looked different with slanting eyes, fluffy body and the doctor recognised it immediately. I saw it as a gift from God.”
There was no internet access to read or conduct extensiveresearch on BJ’s condition at that period so BJ was enrolled in a regular school while his father sought professional advice from doctors. In spite of the reality that BJ has intellectual challenges, his father was determined to discover his talent.
“I had a very crazy habit. All my children- while in the womb- listened to music. So, they all grew up musically-inclined. My daughter sings and my last born who studies engineering plays violin and keyboard,” he said.
Sadly, BJ was a victim of bullying at school. In time, formal education was set aside to allow him learn at his pace in a non-toxic environment.
“Some parents requested that their children should be moved from my son’s class. I have no shame. I feel sorry for those who don’t know the joy of having a son who keeps you on your toes,” he said. He had previously worked at the DownSyndrome Foundation where he had encountered more children like BJ.
Occasionally, BJ may be slightly restless but he is in no way violent. At home, he has a regimen of household chores which include arranging his father’s clothes and keeping the house clean. But his father wants more for his beloved son.
“I kept writing to many bands to give my son a chance to play.Emeka ‘Ed’ Keazor was the one who obliged him; he insisted that BJ should perform in his band, the West African Highlife Collective. Also, Segun Adefila allowed him to perform in the Jankariwo play and paid him. He was the first to pay my son. He only asked for his account details. Seun Olota bought him his very first percussion bag while Samson Olawale brought him a drum,” he recounted. BJ plays the African drums, calabash and cowbell with good timing.
Everyday was for practice, including Sunday. When this reporter arrived at the Onike home of the music connoisseur a fortnight ago, his special son had gone to church. “BJ doesn’t joke with church,” he said, leading the way into his den: a self-curated music hub with a shelf full of album covers, books, journals, piano, drum set, head set amongst others.
In the heyday of JazzVille, the club attracted music greatssuch as Fela, Wunmi and Tunde Obe, Ras Kimono, Asa, Heavywind, as well as jazz ambassadors from France, US and Netherlands. But then it grew larger than life and attracted young students who smoked, made noise and sometimes got into fights. In 2001, JazzVille was shut down. Before then, BJ’s mother was away from Nigeria on a holiday that later stretched into eight years.
“My wife is a long-suffering woman. Sometimes, you need to separate to find out who you are. I appreciated what it meant to be a mother and I played both the roles of father and mother to my four children in those years,” he recounted.
Today, they live quietly, putting music in its rightful place-allowing it to serve a therapeutic function in BJ’s life.
“I’m on holiday compared to parents of children with cerebral palsy. My son can move around and take care of himself. BJ enjoys performing; he likes to show off. And I want to showcase him to the world,” he said. BJ has performed at the Evergreen Concert, Brazilian Embassy, Freedom Park and is actively involved in advocacy.
It was impossible to ignore BJ who was listening attentively to the conversation. When asked about his rights, he gushed,“I have right to education, right to vote, right to marriage, right to work and right to go to Shoprite,” with a hint of mischief in his smile.
Majekodunmi is currently working on another project to be launched next month that will be a haven for children living with Down Syndrome.