Distilling the inspiration and themes of songs on Eko

By Olutayo Irantiola and Opeyemi Bamisebi

From time immemorial, Eko, as it was called by the early settlers, and later Lagos, from the days of the colonial masters, had always attracted the creative industry and this has led to various themes and lyrics based on the experience of individual artistes. These artistes are not necessary from Lagos but after residing in the city for some years. They creatively put their experience into songs. In this piece, we have a review of the themes of some of these songs across decades.

One can imagine what the Eko meant to an Ijebu-Ijesa man although born in Lagos, who is currently over 90 years old. The leader of the National Band at the Independence of Nigeria in 1960, Pa Chris Ajilo, has a song titled; “Eko O gba gbere” was released in the 60’s. The highlife musician whose full name is Christopher Abiodun Abayomi Ajilobiaran spoke about the warning of a mother to a child on the alertness required in Lagos and the need to be smart in order to avoid anyone with sinister motive. Everyone is clearly in a race to make money in Lagos.

According to the artiste’s interview published in the Nigerian Tribune newspaper, “he got the inspiration from his Mum’s consistent advice to always be a good child and that I should always remember the home from which I am free. At a point, I felt that I should not be the sole beneficiary of this candid advice. This was why I had to make it general as a way to preach morals and also express how beautiful the metropolitan city is. I love Lagos and I enjoyed my early life there.”

From the agrarian town of Ososa rose another creative genius by the name, Hubert Ogunde, the doyen of Yoruba theatre. He sang about Eko, it is a song about a journey to Eko. It is a prayer- like song, called “Iwure” in Yoruba. He chanted about the commercial success of Eko and the water bodies, the Ocean and the Lagoon. The different in the atmosphere of Eko for the rich and poor- the scarcity of accommodation, food, work and others all abound. He advised his friends to count all their blessings in Eko- entering the city few clothes, getting a job, saving a substantial amount thereby purchasing a car. He also spoke to the vices of alcoholism; extreme fashionista amongst others.

In the same song, he gave a mythical description of Erelu Elebutu who came to Eko after consulting the oracle and she was told to sacrifice and she became successful in Eko. He prayed that Eko will bring him remarkable success in all spheres of life- career, family, real estate amongst others.

Hubert Adedeji Ogunde, born on the 10th of July 1916, founded the first professional theatre company in Nigeria. He is the father of the contemporary Yoruba Theatre. He wrote more than 50 plays which incorporate dramatic action, dance and music. He was the leading producer of Yoruba celluloid movies with his movie, Jaiyesimi. He died on the 4th of April 1990.

Another artiste whose song about Eko was directed at the Royal throne in Eko is Yusufu Olatunji, popularly called Baba Legba, in his song titled Awon Oba Eko. He started from Oba Kosoko; Crown Prince Suleiman Adisa Esinlokun; the heir apparent of Odunsin who had a lot of wives. The kings mentioned in the track include Obas Ado, Gabaro, Akinsemoyin, Eletu Kekere, Ologun Kutere, Adele Ajosun, Esinlokun, Idewu Ojulari, Oluwole, Akitoye, Kosoko, Dosumu, Oyekan, Esugbayi, Olusi, Falolu, Adeniji Adele, Adeyinka Oyekan. He also touched on the traditional rites of becoming a King in Eko which involves the Eyo festival and he mentioned that there would be other ceremonies to herald the declaration of his Kingship.

Yusufu Olatunji aka Baba Legba was born in 1905 and he died in 1978. He popularized the sakara music genre. His village Gbegbinlawo in in Ogun State, however an account said he converted into Islam in his mid-life.

In another highlife song by another artiste, Adeolu Akisanya titled, “Inawo Eko”. The musician speaks to the expenses that men face in Lagos which include house rent, electricity bills and also the laundry-man. Other bills include festive wears, party collective wears popularly called Aso-Ebi and accessories for the wife. He is also required to pay school fees; give money to other people when they have events. All of these expenses do not exempt people from loans.

Moses Adeolu Akisanya (aka Baba Eto), the inventor of Agidigbo, was born on the 18th of February 1928 into the Totoro-Owu, Abeokuta, Ogun State. After his primary school education at St Paul UNA School, Lapeleke, Abeokuta, he moved to St Judes School, Ebute-Metta, Lagos. His band was christened “Rancho Boys Orchestra” which was disbanded in 1952. In the following year, he formed an Agidigbo band called “Rio Lindo Orchestra”. He died on the 2nd of November 1987.

Similarly, another artiste that gave Eko its befitting garland is Fatai Rolling Dollar in his song titled “Eko Akete”. Like other artistes during his time his song describes Lagos as home and how one has to be wise in Lagos because Lagos is a place for the wise. He also describes Lagos as land full of body of waters. He adds that no place can be like Lagos.

The Ede-born Prince was christened Olayiwola Fatai Olagunju in 1927. He acquired his stage name from his childhood life. This genre was a unique fusion of Carribbean influence, Yoruba traditional influence using the native thumb piano (Agidigbo). He formed his band in 1957 called Fatai Rolling Dollar and his African Rhythm band. Another song of his, “won kere si number wa” was used by a manufacturing company in the early 2000s. The Kokoma highlife maestro passed on June 12 2013.

Another prominent artiste, Isaiah Kehinde Dairo, MBE, popularly called IK Dairo, also has a track titled, “Eko Akete”. In this song, he saw the beauty of the various constructions in Lagos. He appreciated the Federal Government for the bridges at Apapa, Ebute Metta. The historical tilt of the song was that it was done during the administration of Mobolaji Johnson and the reign of Oba Oyekan. He further went to appeal that the state should also look into areas like Mushin, Somolu and other suburbs for all development.

The leader of His Blue Spots also sang another song titled “Eko Nile Ayo”. The song is about the Miliki (a funky way of saying enjoyment). He urged Lagosians to keep enjoying either male or female; he noted that there is no place that can be compared to Lagos when it comes to enjoyment and hospitality. He equally urged people should drift towards modernization. As typical of musicians of Yoruba descent, he eulogized some specific individuals.

He was born in Offa, Kwara State in 1930, after his family migrated from Ijebu-Ijesa. He returned to Ijebu-Ijesa to work as a barber and due to his prolific drumming skills, he joined a band. However, when the band was disbanded, he migrated to Ede, Osun State as a pedestrian cloth trader and musician. He later formed his band in 1957 and he attained prominence when he played at a party in Ibadan. He was the first high-profile musician to play the accordion. His son, Paul Play Dairo has continued to play music like his late father.

Still on title “Eko Akete”, another artiste, Ayinde Bakare and his Meranda band. He mentioned that Eko is a good place, renowned and elitist city; there is always a good reason to celebrate good tidings.

Saibu Ayinde Bakare Ajikobi was born in 1912 at Okesuna, Lafiaji area of Lagos Island. He hailed from Ajikobi compound in Ilorin, Kwara State. He attended St Matthias Catholic School, Lafiaji. He worked as an apprentice boat builder with the old Marine Department in Lagos, He fought in the Second World War and that was where he learnt how to play the Guitar. He died in unexplainable circumstances in October 1972, his body was discovered at the back of Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, Lagos.

We move on to another artiste who titled his song, Eko Ile, the eccentric and veteran singer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, that was released in 1973. He reiterates the fact that Lagos is home all through the song. He adds that regardless of where he goes Lagos is home. He also takes pride in the fact that Lagos is different from every other place across the globe. He specifically mentioned our driving signs as at that time as distinct. He also takes pride in the women of Lagos.

Another song by him and his Nigeria 70 band titled “Eko” was a description of those accommodated in Lagos such as the Wise, Indolent and Pilferers. It is worthy of mention that his song, Monday Morning in Lagos. Although the title is in English but the lyrics goes thus, “Lojo Monday, Eko oni gbagba kugba” meaning that Lagos would take no non-sense on Monday morning. As an artiste, the fun during the weekend is its peak but on Monday, there is no way to get credit for drink. This song aligns with the believe of some people who do not give out loans and they neither take nor refund of credit on Monday because they believe that the way in which you started the week determines if it will be a profitable week.

The King of Afrobeat, Fela born on 15th October 1938 was a multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, political activist and Pan-Africanist. He is the pioneer of Afrobeat genre. He fought the various military governments through his various songs and his Kalakuta Republic was burnt down by the government. He died on the 2nd August 1997. In his honour, Felabration is celebrated annually in Lagos.

Thereafter, we have the song of Chief Commander, Ebenezer Obey with the title, “Lagos State”. The Ogun State born artiste mentioned that it is a state for all, the state of the affluent and influential people and this is very obvious. He went ahead to eulogize various communities that make up the state and some of the prominent people in Lagos.   

Chief Commander, Ebenezer Obey whose full name is Evangelist Professor Ebenezer Oluwaremilekun Obey-Fabiyi, is one of the living sage of Juju music. Although he has become an Evangelist but he is still sought after by prominent members of the society who savoured his music in their hale days.

In his own rendition, the first son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Femi has his own song titled, Eko Lagos. His own is a dream of what he desires that Lagos should be; he wants money to flow everywhere and that there should be peace but he woke up to the reality that he is still in this suffering. He ended the song with these lines, “like I dream make things start to better for Africa”.

Femi Kuti was born in 1962. In the similitude of his father, he is also a multi-instrumentalist, composer and musician. He started music with his father’s band before he formed his band in 1986 called Positive Force. He has been nominated fout times for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album Category.

We will now consider some new age artistes that gave attention to Eko. Interestingly, there are different artistes with the same title, “Sisi Eko”, namely Felix Lebarty; Oriri, Darey Art Alade, Gabriel Afolayan, Subzilla; Jaigz Morgan; Deremi; Konga amongst others. What is it about Lagos ladies? The answer is left for you and I to answer.

These are some of the songs on Eko, in the next piece; we will be transiting to other contemporary songs on both Eko and Lagos. You will not surely want to miss the groove. Kindly share the songs about Eko that you can remember and let’s get the list growing.

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