Indestructibility of Living Arts

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Arts are a lifetime preoccupation. Imagine any professions that lure you to operate at your evocative height even at the age of 70, 80 and beyond. That is the grace almost exclusive to the creative concourses. Devotees of performative art forms are largely blessed with increasing acuity and flourishing temperament even as they age and endure. Outside of debilitating ill health or devastating physical disability, nothing else – sans Divine intervention – is able to stop the creative mind from adapting and cavorting to the demands and devotion that human creativity engenders. 

 Such is the grace of the truly talented and gifted acolytes of music, acting, and such expressive engagements. “Actor no dey die” is a mantra we associate with the inevitability of the performer’s indestructibility: we trust that he or she would return to us in another form, script and screen some other time, again, and again… ad infinitum.

  That is why we return to the grotto of adulation every year on the 3rd of April to serenade one of the utopian offspring of the Muse who shares this space and moment with us: Ebenezer Rẹmilẹkun Arẹmu Olasupọ Fabiyi – the one we fondly call Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey!

  Last year, when he turned 81, we were able to conscript him via modern tele-call technology to share his thoughts and reminiscences with us on our weekend radio show. You see, for quite some years now, Baba Obey has adapted to the crunching retribution of aging even as he soldiered on magnificently in his professional outpouring – you would not be surprised to see him on the music stage every weekend, for the formidable pleasure of truly high-heeled devotees of Juju music, especially irredeemably fanatic agelong admirers and fans. He would be found seated regally on a stately sofa while churning out his repertoire of ancient wisdom wrapped in mellifluous melodies and that cherubic vocal cords untainted by the ravages of geriatrics.

Back to last year (8 April, 2023), and Obey’s reminiscences: Let us hack back to 12 months ago, and refresh with his timeless words and wishes. 

 On obeying his mother’s wishes… but one: “I asked her (his mother) ‘why is it that you don’t want me to be a musician?’ She said, ‘musicians, they smoke hemp, they smoke cigarettes, they are drunkards…I don’t want my son to be a drunkard, a smoker…’. So,  I told my mother, ‘if that is all you want, I promise you, I would go to music, I would not smoke…I would not drink… I would not do all those things that scared you’. And my mother prayed for me. 

 “But one thing my mother didn’t tell me…she didn’t tell me about the temptations of ladies (all laugh)… She didn’t tell me that!  When I entered music everything was going on fine for me… I kept my mother’s promise… but when the temptations came…(more paroxysms of laughter) 

  “God made the process of life for us to pass through experience. It is the most important thing in life… I refused to smoke hemp… I refused to take alcohol… everything my mother told me…

But there’s something in music…about the attraction of ladies… I don’t know how to explain it… All artistes will tell you about this issue… But God knew where He was taking me to…so that for every mistake I made, God helped me to quickly be able to correct myself.

  “I’m saying this to let our listeners know that the experience of life… God has planned it all.. He knew that we would go through all these experiences… So, in summary, God has a purpose for our lives…because He has a plan for us. And at the same time, the devil also wants to snatch us from God… It now depends on everyone… most especially, the younger ones, they must not allow the devil to snatch them away from God.”

  It took his parents a few years to notice traces of musical robustness in him after his birth in 1942. Ebenezer Olasupo Fabiyi however, had to wait 16 years to start what has turned out to be a most illustrious career.

He toiled with the “rave-of-the-moment” Lagos bands of Ade Ade, Akibo Salvage and Fatai Rolling Dollars between 1958 and 1963.

  Right after leaving Rolling Dollars and founding his own International Brothers Band, Obey released a delightful debut, Ewa Wo Ohun Oju Ri.

From a repertoire in excess of 200 original compositions, Nigerians of the 20th and 21st centuries have been titillated by the sonorous philosophy and lingering didacticism of this Idogo, Ogun State born maestro. A classic checklist: Board Members, Kẹtẹkẹtẹ, Happy Birthday To You, Awọn Ika Eniyan, Laiṣẹ Lairo, Iwọ Ẹni To Nsebi, Abanijẹ Eniyan, Eniyan Lásán, Orí Mí Koni Burú, Ọta Mi Dẹhin Lẹhìn Mi, Eda To Mose Okunkun, Olomi Gbọ Temi, Ẹni Ri Nkan He, Gb’ẹbẹ Mi Oluwa, Ajo Ko Dabi Ile, Edumare Sọrọ Mi Dayọ, Iba F’Oluwa, Aimasiko Lon’ Damu Ẹda, Ẹ Sa Ma Miliki, Baba Lo Ran Mi Wa, and so on.

 Almost 25 years ago (in late 1999 when he was aged 57) and at the dawn of the incoming millennium, I caused the following concluding statement to be published in a multi-entry series of articles dubbed ‘Millennial Mementos’:  “As this century winds up with Obey-Fabiyi devoting his incredible talent to the ministry of God, we salute this astute businessman, devoted father and creator of Miliki music.”

Today, (akin to the Phoenix) in glorious fulfillment of those thoughts, and with massive admiration for an uncommon living legend, in the art and craft of knitting words, faith and fun in a musical contraption that keeps people of all tongues, tribes, creeds and strata on their feet, gyrating to the power and pungency of the invisible force of Juju music… we wish the ageless creative Commander, and iconic  lamp holder of edifying minstrelsy… a benevolent and peaceful 82nd year on this side of the universe.

Long live the Chief Commander! 

Long live the MFR…!

Hearty Felicitations!

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