Benson Idonije really loves highlife, no doubts. At times
his love becomes obsessive and begins to tamper with his aesthetic assessments.
Last Sunday, I confirmed his obsession during the Great Highlife party in
honour of Mrs Marie Ekpere. As the emcee, he called out Lagbaja to come on
stage and render some of the ‘highlife tunes of his music’. Of course we know
that Lagbaja does not sing highlife. His music is afrobeats reinvented in his
own way. When Lagbaja mounted the stage he rendered a coolly composed blues
dedicated to mothers and the hit, Konko Below.
Furthermore, Benson Idonije is well acquainted with Titi
Oguntoyinbo and her music which of course fits into the categories of highlife.
He introduced her thus: “… a young talented artist; ladies and gentlemen, Titi
Oguntoyinbo. When others are singing rap and hip-hop, Titi Oguntoyinbo is
singing highlife. Could you put your hands together for…’ no problem if Titi is
singing or not singing hip-hop or highlife. Again, it only says something about
the MC’s leanings. But he is not helping her neither is he helping the
transmission of the highlife tradition which I understand the Great Highlife
Party stand for. He has written celebratory reviews of the new crop of
highlifers but one essential thing he misses in his reviews is the absence of
novelty, creativity and imagination. Titi Oguntoyinbo is someone I have been
observing for quite a while now. And she is so very apt in copying. She
disingenuously copy beyond the level of fair use but outright plagiarism. Last
Sunday she just re-run Orlando Owoh’s lyrics from A to Z. She later switched to
her signature tune Tatiye tataye which we have been hearing for ages now.
I am still holding consultations and doing research to find out if this Tatiye
is really her own. If it is not lifting Orlando Owoh, it is from other
evergreen masters of highlife. Truly she has good stage presence but what is
really her own? What is creative and new?
I even noticed that this plagiarism is common to the new
highlife flow. Like the tragedy called Nigerian gospel music genre, profusion
but no novelty. They just replicate themselves and from the pool of the common
praise worship songs. Listen to their lyrics and sounds it is either traceable
to a traditional folksong or Victor Olaiya, Bobby Benson, Tunde Nightingale,
Adeolu Akinsanya, Roy Chicago, J.O. Araba, Eddy Okonta etc. These are the
issues that should engage the critical skills of Benson Idonije, the highlife
connoisseur and veteran critic. What is this generation adding to the
tradition of highlife? What folk lyrics? What social satires? What love line?
What philosophical verses? Like Bobby Benson’s If you marry taxi driver, I
don’t care…, Victor Olaiya’s Eba mi so fun sisi yen ko ma ilo o, that
have passed on as legendary or even Eddy Okonta’s Bisi’s thematic tie
with Orlando Julius’s Jagua Nana and Rolling Dollar’s Sisi
Jaiye Jaiye, what new energy is the new generation releasing? Yet the
realities from which the old masters derived lyrics are still around us even
Furthermore, Benson Idonije in his sound and screen
column of Friday Guardian, June 24, 2005 wrote: “…Fatai Rolling Dollar whose
combo sound has assumed a protean orchestrated configuration in a bid to
identify more with highlife than the limited scope of juju music”. When did
this ‘has assumed’ start? Certainly not in the two albums he has released
during FRD’s second coming and none at the songs he rendered at the party.
What he identified newly (albumwise) with is agidigbo not
highlife. More, the scope of juju music is not limited. Evidence: Fatai Rolling
Dollar. Dollar is an innovative force but there is not evidence that his output
is now more of highlife. What Dollar has done is to push back the envelopes of
juju music, incorporating elements as diverse as from rumba (Baba rise again…).
Making FDR a patron of the Elder’s Forum does not make his music
“Like John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Dizzy
Gillespie, Herbie Hancock or even Miles Davies and Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Fatai
has continued to demonstrate that a meeting point can always be found between
creativity and commercial viability”. It will always be good if Idonije, to
make clear his thoughts, sight examples. He continues, “And, towards this end,
he is blending the roof of highlife with today’s music to forge a new direction
for himself in highlife”. It is Uncle Ben that is projecting his illusions on
FRD and I do not think it is the role of critics to be making artists in their
own image and likeness. He is less than semi-accurate to say that “to this end”
of finding a balance between money and talent that is why Dollar is
blending (see, he is assuming that FRD’s music is highlife) with today’s music
(he is not specific. Which of today’s music: hip-hop, reggae,
himself in highlife. Evidence?