Highlife: Fallacy Of Self Projection Of Benson Idonije On Rolling Dollar And Titi Oguntoyinbo

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

stronger.

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

highlife.

“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, Fuji or soukous) to find a new direction for

himself in highlife. Evidence?

Written by
Damola Awoyokun
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