Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Memory Lane (1)

One day, I was passing through the end of Park Road, music was blaring out of a building. That building happened to be Unicoco Hotel. The block had openings such that someone could peep in to see what was going on, so I did peep in. I saw a musical group performing and people were dancing. I also saw so many people at the gate struggling to pay and get in. I wondered, "these people are struggling to pay and go in only to dance, and those guys playing will go home and share the money". I decided to enjoy such cool money, sitting or standing to play my instrument, watching people dancing, and sometimes fighting, and finally going home to share money with the other cool people on stage with me. I did it. The band that I saw when I peeped into Unicoco Hotel was Bob Miga and the Strangers. The song that they were playing has not left my head till today (must have been about 1973). The players finally left Bob Miga, formed One World and became everybody's darling. Cyril Abdullah never missed any of One World's shows at Unicoco Hotel. When I mustered the courage, I applied to the Apostles to be one of their vocalists. They invited me to an audition. I showed up on the agreed date. They were all on stage looking at me and I almost got intimited. I remembered that I started to play the keyboard from age four, and that there was nothing to fear. I knew that I belonged to the industry, but only needed to explore where to start the career. The Apostles' band leader Walton Arungwa, asked me which of their songs that I would feel comfortable singing. I told them "She's A Dropout". They played the song, and I vocalized it perfectly well. They complimented me and said that they would get in touch with me. They never hired me to join their band. What they did much later was to come to my house to pick me up whenever Benji (their organist) was away. I did some tours with them to places like Warri, Port Harcourt, etc.

Do you remember "Everyday when I question, and feel I can't find the answer, I don't know what to do, Oh yeah, one-more-time, everyday when I question, and feel I can't find the answer I don't know what to do, Oh yeah." That is a popular chorus in Tex Soul's hit song. Tex Soul also sang, "You'll make it someday (someday), someday in your life" (Sure, you will remember this.

Down, down the valley by the Apostles was one of the most powerful songs of our time. Remember "She's A Dropout". I cannot stop loving Apostles' songs. What about the Wings during the days of Spud Nathan? Manford Best was my favorite song writer. Spud was my favorite singer. Both of them wrote and sang songs that would make you cry. I memorized many of their songs. If I have anything good to do for somebody, I'll do it for Manford Best for very special reasons.

I do not think that I can do this exercise again. It was probably only possible at the time that soldiers were supervising us. Since the exercises were good for our physical fitness, there was no harm in doing them. However, after that, it was over. I was wondering whether Jonathan Akwada actually did it. He reported for youth service at a different time. He enjoyed life at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (That was some kind of America in Nigeria). I visited him once and loved the place!

It is amazing how youth service could be avoided by some people. It was fun keeping text books behind. I only used my native brain instead of memorizing principles and codes. I also made friends at all the activities scheduled as training to equip us in diverse strenuous situations. One of the toughest tasks was done at the Man-O-War Bay. I was not a big fan of that, but I knew that it was just for a time. It would come and go, and it did. I enjoyed youth service.

Odo-Oba Corpers Lodge

My gigantic building in Odo-Oba was like an Oba's Palace in the midst of a pretty-much unknown village. The building behind me is a two-level four-apartment facility. Each flat has three bedrooms. The front right flat (apartment) was where I lived. I occupied one bedroom (the very window upstairs that overlooks where I stand). My roommate (who hailed from a Yoruba-speaking area of Kwara State) lived in another room opposite mine while the third room was vacant. The adjacent flat had Fidelis Oboh, Felix and Moses O'himwen respectively occupying all three rooms. We did not have much to do with the corpers living downstairs. They were also nice guys, but for some reason, out interaction with them was minimal, if at all existent.

National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)

At the end of my final exams, I received my results; the second best in my class and the third best in the entire institution. My youth corps posting came out a little late, and I was posted to Ibadan. I reported there, and spent my first few weeks at the Anglican Parsonage where two youth corpers were living and teaching for the Anglican College. Emmanuel Otutubuike and his friend from Anambra State lived there and taught there. It was from their corpers lodge that I set out every morning to the NYSC Secretariat in Ibadan to find out my posting. I was eventually posted to the Methodist College Campus of the Oyo State College of Education, Elekuro where I taught Business courses. I met Fidelis Oboh, Moses Omoruhimwen and other corpers. My corpers lodge was in Odo-Oba (behind Molete) in Ibadan. From there I commuted everyday to Elekuro to teach. I also visited University of Ibadan where my cousin, Ihuoma Nwaogwugwu, was studying statistics. My future brother-in-inlaw, Emmanuel Okoronkwo Chukwu, was also there studying Economics (I suppose). I also made a new friend Chibuzo Anyim who hails from Isiala-Ngwa. He was a very nice and friendly guy. During my youth corps activties, I developed and hosted "Igbo By Television" at the Television Service of Oyo State (TSOS), Ibadan. I was also in the NYSC Choir. I took part in a nationwide competion to find an Anthem for the NYSC. One colleague won the lyrics competition. I won the music composition. My martial music was rendered with the lyrics, and I won a national award for that anthem. At my award recognition night, I was invited to the Sheraton Hotel in Ikeja Lagos where Alhaji Bunu Sherif Musa read my citation and shook my hands (of course, that was a big deal). You know that everything is not money. I was happy that my composition won the first position and became the NYSC Anthem. A few people still remembered that the NYSC Anthem was composed by Frederick Nwosu (none other than Arthur Freds) while serving in Ibadan.
Traveling back and forth during the school year necessitated reading at night. This is what what I did everytime that I was on campus because I wanted to get one of the best results. and I did. While reading at night, you will be amazed to know that I listened a lot to music composed by Alex Kalu. He is one of the very good song writers around. My night was also so serene and only punctuated by the music coming from under my reading table. My television set was there to keep me current on events. I also watched myself on that set. Reading, reading and reading.

Coltech, Now Federal Polytechnic, Nekede

The program at the School of Business and Public Administration lasted for academic years. I spent most of that period traveling with bands or recording albums for different artists. I was out of town almost every weekend on tour with one group or another. I was also performing live shows in different cities during that four-year period. I will hold off on exactly how many days that I spent on that campus. I want to recollect, though that one day, someone had a party in the Old Market Road Hostel where I lived as a student. Girls were trooping in there for that party, and the porters did not stop them. It did not really matter to me, but one day two girls came to visit me and four of my class mates living in the hostel, but the porters said to me that it was past the time for visits. I referred them to the night that girls were trooping into the hostel, but the porters said that the party was organized by the hotel governor. I shouted 'Hostel Governor!!!!' I imagined me as a star musician, but a student in a higher institution. I did not believe in obstacles. I told them that I was going to become the hostel governor and have parties in the hostel in just that same way. They knew me. They loved my music. They respected me, and did not have any problem with my ambition. The next hostel governor was me! I chose the largest room (which I was entitled to, of course). I moved my closest classmates into that room called Governor's room. They were Dyke, Ugonna, Solo Petrus and Chyma. Whenever I traveled out of town to play music, I would first of all keep for them a crate of minerals, a carton of beer and every textbook needed for the courses. Whenever I returned from my music tour or recording sessions, I would copy notes from them - the notes that they made while attending lectures in my absence. I lived in a mansion. I had parties. I had guests any time of the day or any time of the night. I did not like the Ikenegbu Hostel. I did not even like the on-campus hostels. They felt like a joke to me whenever I went there to visit my classmates. I went for gyrations in town and out of town. I nominated Dyke for Chief and follow through until the night Dyke became the Chief of the Keggites as I had already become the Metuselah. My friends knew that I was behind it because I brought Dyke into the Keggite Club. When I graduated, I became the MetuFellow. My stay in Owerri was made possible, easy and enjoyable by Chief Dr. Nnamdi Olebara who was with the Imo Broadcasting Service at that time. He also gave me the first exposure to radio broadcasting, and people began to hear my voice on radio.

Release of My Album

Towards the end of 1979 I entered the studio to record my album for Anodisc Records. It was a light reggae album with one calypso song. The calypso was the first track titled "Everybody Must Farm". It took over the airwaves for quite a while. The rest of the songs are simple reggae. There was no rub-a-dub involved. No 'ska'. They were the relaxation type of reggae music: Jah Men, Golden Rule, Let's Come Together, Simplicity (which was my guy name from Class Three through Class Five), and Accept My Sympathy, which was my message to me after losing my uncle who was a final year student at the University of Ife. My album was released by Anodisc Records. I was backed up by my band, the Friimen Rock Group. The line up for the production was Charlie Eze on the drums and Ken Okogbue on the guitar. Dan Igbaji on the bass (he played bass on 'millions' of albums of other artists). Dan lands his bass notes, and you cannot wonder whether or not there are bass notes in the album. The keyboard session alone had four players: Eliss Kofie, Beni Tudumey, Arthur Freds, Alex Tony-O on the clavinet for the "Sweet Home" track. (Tony Okoroji; you will remember him from his 'Big Big Sugar Daddy' album). My album was released in 1980 when I was a student at the College of Technology, Nekede, Owerri. Other session personnel were Simeon Anaba on the congas, Sam "Buccana" on the congas and Arthur Freds also on the congas. The Magic Handclaps were provided by Chalie Eze, "Doctor" (the handsome Afro-hair black guy who was often in the background, but was a good musician), Grace Ayozie and Arthur Freds. Background Vocals featured Sam "Buccana" and Grace Ayozie (I suppose Grace Ayozie should still remember the joke "Alora..., Crocodio - though I did not spell it well). All the songs were written by me. 'Maoby Freds helped to arrange the songs. Producers were Arthur Freds and Charlie Eze. Publisher was Anodisc Records. Recording Engineers were John Malife and Martins Ikebuaku. Substantial inspiration came from Don Taylor of Island Records with whom I was in constant touch. Albert Griffiths of the Gladiators in Jamaica also was writing me, supporting and inspiring my work. My management outfit at that time was Fonorg International which laterbecame a small label. I provided the sleeve concept. The Executive Producer was Simeon Anochie (blessed memory) who believed so much in me from the day he visited me on Danfodio Road with his wife. He came that evening to watch me play the organ. After that evening, he invited me to his office to begin a business relationship that saw me circulating in the music industry as an icon. I play keyboards in over 350 albums of other artists. My name and roles are on the sleeves of those albums as testimonials.

My album also reigned at the campus because the student DJ. Bright Chimezie of Imo Broadcasting Service, who was also a fellow student, played the calypso tune "Everybody Must Farm" and the hall was rocking. Students found me, picked me up, and carried me around the auditorium shoudinig "Oh Seke, Oh Seke, Oh Seke, Oh Seke" because the main notes and drum beat of the song went in that direction. This also led me to competing at the College of Technology Owerri DJ competition. I am sure that I did well. I did not win because Bright Chimezie was a State-wide DJ with the radio station. He won that competition, but something happened to me that night. I am not able to understand that thing till today: While I was rapping over my song that was being played, several people were doling out currency notes and pasting on my forehead. My performance duration was long because the audience appreciated me, being a known musician. Money flowed ceaselessly while I stood on the podium rapping. At the end of my session, I stepped down and could not find who picked all the money given to me by admirers. Till today, nobody came clean, and I know that an insincere person is on the loose out there. My album added to my existing fame. I was already appearing three times per week on television, having worked with the NTA. I was appearing on stage with all kinds of music groups. My album became another source of identifying me.

Music VIPs

Walton Arungwa on the guitar, Joel Madubuike on the drums, Benji on the keyboards, Fusion Okoro on the vocals, Murphy Williams on the vocals (You can cry when Murphy is singing), Henry Asu Tandu on the bass. You cannot leave out Barry Starrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! 'The Elemarangwa of Ekpete Iri' This is the title that I gave to Barry. I also call him 'The Elemarangwa of Ohu Ekpete'. I will talk about these individuals separately in another writing. I just want to remember them and mention them here. Charlie Eze on the drums, Jimmy Henshaw on the bass (Jimmy Castor Bunch!), Beni Tudumey on the keyboard, Ken Okogbue on the guitar (remember tauwnn, tauwnn, tauwnn that sounds with the fourth, third and second notes in that sequence or 'fah', 'mi', 'ray'. It became (for me) Ken's signature. When I asked him he told me how he traveled to Port Harcourt to see Fela Dey to acquire that. I'll still talk about Fela Dey who called me 'Headmaster'. He and Etim of Polygram studies in Ikeja called headmaster either to tickle me or to make me feel bad, though they were also my friends. Moving on with the list: Simeon Anaba on the congas, Arthur Freds on the keyboards. Tony Mansound on the trumpet, Uncle Sammy on the keyboard. Names of the other members of Genesis have escaped my mind. When I was teaching at Holy Ghost across Overrail, the Genesis funk band rehearsed in that general area. They wanted me to join their band. Uncle Sammy was a strong keyboardist, and was already grooming his younger brother Anil. I did not join the Genesis. Much later, Anil (I heard) took my place at Rock of Ages after we changed our name from Sweet Unit and I left to go to pursue two things: (1) higher education and (2) independent music sessionist job. There are so many names to mention. I'll go a little further. Mohammed on the vocals with Black Children. Essien Akpabio on the vocals with the Action Funk Ensemble. Harry on the second vocals with Foundars 15, Iyke Peters on the vocals of the Foundars 15, Ify Akpati (blessed memory) on the drums with Foundars 15, Sunny Enang on the organ with Foundars 15. Tex Soul on the guitar with the Vibrations (a band that I played briefly after Goddie Odik left). I loved the song that Tex Soul wrote "You'll Make It Someday". Iyke on the base for Vibrations. Shanker on the drums. Bazy Cole Akalonu on the drums for Sweet Breeze (I always traveled to play keyboards for them whenever Nestor Phillips was away on one of his many overseas trips); Dallas King Anyanwu on the lead vocals (Choirmaster), Jackie Moore on the guitar and also serving as band leader. He was the one who arranged to come and pick me up at my house on Ulasi Road whenever they needed me on their tour. Vin Iyke on the bass. Jerry Boifraind on the mike, though he had a box guitar that he played from time to time. He was simply a powerful singer "Mama Was A Roving Gambler" album was titled "Leave That School Girl". I played keyboards and all polyphonic emsemble on that album. I was the first musician in Aba to use Mini-Korg in a recording. All the polyphonic work that I did on that album stood out when the album was released. Jerry Boifraind rose from the height of his former "Shooting Star" to a new height. Go and check out his "Momy Owe Me" and see what he is doing today. You will see that he has been on this journey for a long time. Goddy Oku's studio was no third home after Decca, then followed by Rogers Studio in Umuokpu, Awka. I also used Phonodisk, Polygram and other studios but not as much. I'll mention other names some other time, as well as find another time to talk about the individual VIPs.


One day, my group, Sweet Unit, was invited to play at the then popular program 'Now Sound' that belonged to Pal Akalonu (we always called him "Ndaa Pal"). I was the keyboardist and did vocals when necessary within songs, since George Black was the lead vocalist. Wahehe Njoku was the band leader and played the lead guitar. Reginald Njoku was the drummer. I don't know if he will still remember our joke about "Can't Depend On". That's by the way. After play for for Ndaa Pal on his Now Sound program that night in 1977, Ndaa Pal asked me if I went to school. I told him that I did, and that I completed my secondary school education. He asked me if I would like to work for the Nigerian Television Authority; of course, I said "Yes". He told me to come the following Monday to see him. When I got there on the appointed day, it happened that the station was interviewing candidates for jobs. Those candidates probably saw advertisements, applied long ago and waited till the day of their interview (for those who were invited for interviews). I came in and asked for Pal Akalonu. He came out of the interview room and saw me, told me to sit in the lobby and wait till he called me. That was when I realized that I did not just come to give him my curriculum vitae, but that I came to an interview without preparing. In any case, I waited. When I was called, I went in and saw a panel of big shots. They first began to give me compliments on my performance for their Now Sound program. Questions that were not serious were asked and they asked me if I would like to work for them if they employed me. I agreed. They sent for a messenger, told him in my presence to go and put a desk and a chair in an existing room where there were already two tables. When he reported back that he had done what he was told to do, he was told to lead me to that office. They told me that I should follow that man to my desk. They told me to report for duty the next day when I would receive all instructions pertaining to my job. I followed that man to my desk and Saw three desks. Surprisingly, one desk belonged to Zebrudaya. The other one belonged to Clarus. I reported for duty from the next day and began to be loved again over there. The Masquerade crew took me in and casted me for some irregular parts. I also acted the spirit of a dead man for one of Emma Eleanya's serious plays that even frightened me - which means that I have experimented being a spirit! (That's funny). These new developments further enhanced my music career because I began to do other different TV programs for other producers. Osochi Egbuna scheduled me on his "On Wings of Music" where I performed Stevie Wonder's 'Village Ghetto Land'. I learned that song from Beni Tudumey when I went to his house on Jubilee Road and he played Stevie Wonder's album and spoke to solemnly about that song. It sank in my head and when the opportunity came to appear on Osochi Egbuna's show, I performed that song. I still sing that song till today. I also performed Elton John's 'Daniel' for Osochi Egbuna. I formed a trio with Iyke Ekeoma and Prince Orji where we performed on TV sentimental songs and some Christmas tunes at the end of every year.

Sweet Unit Rock Group

The Friimen Rock Group was always in the studio backing new solo artists or supporting bands that were not strong enough. Towards the end of 1976, my group, the Friimen, had a recording session at Decca Studios in Akoka, Lagos. While we were in the studio, a bunch of guys came in because they heard about the presence of some Ibo musicians in the studio. They also happend to be Ibo, precisely from Mbaise. They were in Lagos doing their music activities. If my memory serves me well, the guys that came to the studio were Wahehe Njoku, Reginald Njoku and Joel Ugo. They told us that they were planning to return to the East to form a band. Beni Tudumey of the Friimen (my current band) told them that our band had two keyboardists and that Arthur Freds was the second keyboardist who could be part of their group. They spoke to me to join them to form the band. They said that upon their return to the East in the beginning of the following year (1977), they would embark on the band formation, and that they would like me to be one of the major shareholders and on the keyboard. I did not give them much thought because I was loved in the Friimen. The band leader (whom I always called De Charlie) became a close friend. I could eat or spend so much time in the houses of each and all the band members. January 1977 swung around. I was still not thinking about forming a new band with the guys from Mbaise. One day, I was strolling along Ehi Road in Aba, and I saw about three guys in front of the house where the Original Wings lived. They were talking with Arinze Okpala (Arii), the band leader of the Wings. They spotted me along the road and called "Arthur Freds". I looked and behold it was the same group of guys that I saw in Lagos. They told me that they were now in Aba and ready to begin. They asked me to come to a meeting where we would iron out things. I told Beni Tudumey about the discussion. He prodded me along and insisted that I would make a huge success if I formed the band with those guys. Seeing how unsure I was, Beni took it on himself to go with me every step of the way. On the day of the first meeting, Beni was there with me and those guys. That same January, our band, Sweet Unit Rock Group, was started. We began to rehearse along Ehi Road, in the same hotel where a band called Atomic '8' was based several years prior. After extensive practice, we hit the road and I started to make the name that took me to working with the NTA, sharing office with Zebrudaya and Clarus, serving James Iroha and playing keyboards in one or more of his recordings, flying from Port Harcourt to Lagos to do a recording for James Iroha, and all such exciting career activities that I witnessed.

Playing Pop Music In Nigeria

It would have been fun watching the Friimen Music Company (Friimen Rock Group) performing at the elementary school at Umuogele, Ohanku Road, Aba. Incidentally, their bus left with music instruments on the roofrack just at the time I was coming in from Umuodo to see my older sister. I tried to settle in and jump across to the elementary school, since it was right next to our compound on Ohanku Road. It was so unfortunate that I watched the bus leave with those musicians sitting quietly resting after a high-powered performance. I remember that Jessie, our neighbor across the street, enjoyed the show because she carried the air of that show for quite some time. I decided that I must join Friimen. A few weeks later, I found where they were based around Ibere Street behind the Aba New Market. I boldly went in there and spoke to them. They all received me, and I began my journey of becoming part of their music family. Beni Tudumey was already the king of keyboards around the area, and I could not even come close, but Beni told me that I was a wonderful keyboard player, but when I watched him play, I was flabergasted. He continued to encourage me. I began to do recording sessions with the band such that Beni would play one keyboard and I would play the second keyboard. Long story short, I enjoyed my days as member of the Friimen Rock Group, but its official name was Friimen Music Company. Charlie Eze, Jimmie Henshaw, Beni Tudumey, Ken Okogbue, Simeon Anaba were there when I approached them and became part of their band from 1974 till I teamed up with some nice guys from Mbaise to form Sweet Unit Rock Group.