When my phone beeped on the evening of June 9, 2001 and I saw it was a text message from Lydia Idakula, I didn’t look too far to know it likely would be an invite to a concert. And sure it was; another in-house gig at the exclusive Salamander’s Café, in the highbrow Wuse 2 area of Abuja where she invited us in April, to listen to Deji Williams sing and strum his guitar during his homecoming from France. I once had asked Lydia how she’s managed to pull through a couple of well-organized but impromptu gigs, in addition to Taruwa; the well-acclaimed celebration of music, poetry and arts and she’s been organizing such events since her days as a Law student at University of Jos and the Lagos Law School.
And to my pleasure and surprise, her younger brother BEZ, the ecclectic guitarist and crooner was in Abuja to spend the June 12 weekend. And to make it sound pretty cool, the gig was going to be free and I could also invite some friends along to listen to this Bez that I have been stalking musically for the past few years, that is. Not many people know that his late dad, Hon. Amos Bez Idakula who had taught him to play the guitar, doubles as one of the unsung heroes of June 12, who had resisted IBB’s intrigues and pressures to have the results of Social Democratic Party unannounced in 1993 as the National Publicity Secretary of the Party.
Friends had texted and pinged each other such that the news circulated not among a small circle of his friends and fans in Abuja within hours of his entrace in Abuja. And Bez who had thought he could slip into his town Abuja, quietly to eat suya and sharwama, was literally confronted by one Alhaji at a suya joint who told him how he liked his songs, and would be there at Salamander’s with other fans, as if this was not a ‘private gig’. But that is the lot of artists who have carved a niche and mastered their craft; for they are like the sun that can’t hide from the glare of humans that need its light and energy, and there is no end to humanity’s need for good music!
And so it was on that cool Saturday night of June 11, lovers of good music of the avant-garde class and fans of Bez literally vied for the limited sitting spaces at the exquisite Salamander’s café, and many had to stand wherever theirfeet could rest to enjoy the evening. The usually quiet café turned into a seeming bedlam of ecstatic clatter voices of the fans who ate, drank and talked freely, amidst the ceaseless blinking of camera flashes and click sounds of the shutters of the photographers that milled around. Being a photographer myself, I freely mingled around to snap as many shots of the faces and various moods of the chattering lot at Salamander’s,and you bet my flashlight hit Bez’s face and traced shadows cast by his hat.
Khamal, the University of Abuja student who doubles as the in-house guitarist and singer at Salamander’s opened the gig around 7pm and he played a couple of soul lifting songs to set the mood for the evening. Lindsey, an Abuja-based female guitarist and singer (a University of Jos law graduate, who will be rounding up at the Nigerian Law School in a couple of months) took up the stage gracefully like she did during the last Nigerian Idol’s reality show as a contestant. She serenaded the guests with songs that seemed effortless in her rich vocal range that exuded maturity from singing over a long time at various gigs in the past. She would earn a deserved applause from the crowd for efforts.
Zainab Sule, another Abuja-based singer, guitarist, web designer and writer, and a graduate of mathematics from the University of Jos stepped in after Lindsey to play a few of her ‘soft rock’ songs. Zainab lately has been gaining a fan base among literature and arts enthusiast in Abuja, and she’s working towards her own gig (a soft/hard rock show) middle of July where Threadstone, the Jos-based rock band will also perform.
I had nudged, poked and literally pressed hard on a friend who quietly was munching spring rose and other edibles with a lady friend of his, and soaking in the beautiful songs that filled the evening. Lydia had added to the pressure that helped to thaw the heart of Bem Sar, one of Abuja’s mainstream guitarist and rock singer. He reluctantly yielded, climbed up the stage to perform two songs that closed the curtain of performances by the four guest artists.
As I moved around to take more pictures, my eyes would occasionally alight on Bez, who sat quietly on a row of seats at a corner where a few of the fans sat. His signature hat snugly perched on his clean-shaven head, and his bold pair of glasses shielded his smiley eyes from anyone angling for a peek into his thoughts. Seemingly pasted on his handsome face was that boyish smile that could stand for a mischievously wry crease which hides that humorous and playful side of this bundle of artistic genius.
My Igbo elders said you need not shout into the ears of the deaf when the music from the drummers has changed into a high tempo, for he would be sure to figure that from the heightened moves and the outpouring of sweat on the body of the dancers. So it after a hilarious introduction by Lydia when Bez stepped onto the stage with rows of books written mainly by Nigerian authors in the mini bookshop that is housed inside Salamander’s serving as a backdrop.
Bez amazes and wows his audience with unique way he literally hits, beats and plucks his rhythm guitar as though the strings are as big and strong like a bass guitar. It is obvious he’s perfected this original style that produces what I understand he calls a “ca-chi-ca-chi-cheng-chi-ca-cheng effect” into a sublime art form which has earned him a unique presence and some bragging rights over and above majority of his hip-hop peers who hardly can play any musical instrument, let alone attempt some of the crisp notes that Bez could hit with his crooning voice.
Bez is a storyteller and he regaled us with stories and ‘yabis’ in between the four songs he performed. His first song was “Supersun” which he made us sing along with him, so we could feel and be infused with the glowing thoughts of being more than superstars; for to aim at being a super-sun, one would be sure to emit light far brighter than any that can be seen or felt on earth by any superstar. And we gladly sang ‘I know that someday, I’ll be a supersun.aha ahaaaa..!” feeling and nodding like Supersuns who shine brigther than superstars!
He also did the romantically-seethed song, More You which is tinged with a deep longing for more intimacy and bonding with one’s beloved. Seems some people had thought that the romantic song was written for an obscure Kemi somewhere in the Southwest, but he tried to douse the embers of jealousy and envy for the unanimous Kemi by quipping that it may have been dedicated to an Nkechi in Igboland, or a Fatima somewhere up North, to achieve a romantic balance in the spirit of federal character principle enshrined in the constitution.
Bez related how the audience at a dinner organized by Preston Billy in Lagos, ‘treated him anyhow’ as they gaily chatted, drank seemingly oblivious of his presence of his band and the song they played. To have fun and play some mischief, he led his band to form an impromptu but ‘meaningless song’ while they moved from one progression to the other. The comic song which we all gleefully sang along with him sounded more like any of those comic verses that a Julius Agwu or Holy Mallam would have composed:
My baby know it’s the right time to smile for me like the rainbow
My baby know it’s the right time to sing for me like the rainfall
My baby know it’s the right time to dance for me like the reindeer
Oh oh oh oh..hohoo ho ho.oooh oooh.hooohoooo
The last song was Zuciya Daya, which saw him hitting cruising to a very high pitch with his voice laced with jarring guitar notes that reverberated and pierced through the ambience of the evening. And having lifted us so high up in the clouds of musical pleasure, Bez
like a ‘wicked pilot’ that he tried to assume forced us to make an emergency landing back to the earth without warning.
For when we wanted more of him and his lovely songs, this young and urbane Emmanuel Bezhiwa Idakula, chose to stoke this longing for him without plans to give us more. We’d learn the gig was just an appetizer and if the goal was to tease and whet our musical palates, then he did it masterfully. But we believed him when he promised to be back again in Abuja for his debut album launch in July with his full band and Emmanuel Cobhams Asuquo, his ace-producer, singer, pianist, guitarist, song writer and a purveyor of extremely good music, that could morph into the avant-garde!