It seemed as if the singers and dancers and everyone in the musical video, ‘Olori-Oko’ by the group Infinity got together to give another African Interpretation to Butler Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’. Chinua Achebe first did this: he used a title from line three of the first stanza of that poem as title of his book, Things Fall Apart. Then, as if he wanted to be sure what he was doing, that his theme is the ‘sudden collapse of African societies in the age of European imperialism’ (Wikipedia), Achebe quoted the first four lines of that same poem for his general prologue, built around his near eponymous character Okonkwo. This was Achebe’s first and it earned him international fame. When we were students, we got so enamoured with the idea of a Spiritus Mundi, the idea of a sort of an Everyman or of the possibility of the human mind and spirit connected to a vast corpus of intellects. Of course that prediction that Yeats evinced has surely come to pass with the kind of connection the Internet has established today. In effect, some of us committed the whole of that poem to memory and without any effort about ten years from now, we could still regurgitate the first stanza.
Upon first listening to Olori-Oko, two things crossed my mind: first, that this must be another one of the Senegalese Youssou N’Dour’s masterpieces or that it was something closely associated with him. The one N’Dour that captivated me was way back in 1995 when his ‘7 Seconds’ Album captivated the whole of Europe and literally set MTV first ablaze and then lit it up. In fact that song went ahead to be nominated for a Grammy but the song that actually brought N’Dour a Grammy was his ‘Egypt’ prompting the BBC to acclaim N’Dour ‘the best known African musician in the World’. N’Dour’s is a genre known as ‘Mbalah’, a blend of African, Caribbean and pop rhythms’. N’Dour’s songs neutralized the so-called inferior quality ascribable to renditions of African dirges, ballads and elegies.
The second thing I thought of when it became clear that this was not N’Dour, not Senegalese but Nigerian is that this must be some incantation or an elegy made in the mould of JP Clarke’s Idoto:several worshippers are at the watery presence of their goddess and making ululations and just being ardent. I though of the activities of the Osun Priestess Susan Wenger: though not Nigerian, she had become an acolyte of the water goddess in Oshogbo, Osun State of Nigeria and had gone ahead to give the goddess and local festivities involved therein a touch of international appeal.Because of my Christian orientation I had to restrain myself from fully identifying with what I thought to be this as demonic and goddess worship usually associated with pristine attitudes and with the Priory of Scion: the video had the dancers clad in European suits but were to be found standing in water; there is a cat with a glistening eye and in the dark; the very muscular aesthetic dancer made matters seem worse: the marks on his face, his bodily contortions and contusions, resembled that of a worshipper already in the grips of demons. But as we begin to watch the video, they were to be seen in traditional Yoruba gear of buba and shokoto, gyrating to the rhythm of Olori – Oko.
I observed the musical instruments. They were instruments of the thick forests of Nigeria’s South-West or of the Amazons: drums gotten from what I suspect to be the thick hide of a rhinoceros, dried over the hollow of an obeche tree. The drummers were the musicians and the musicians were the drummers, applying deft strokes to the rhinocerean drums that seem to throb and pulse with the palpitations of your heart.
But much, very much later however we found out that Olori-Oko is a lyrical Christian fugue, a classic of sorts. It has a blend of Yoruba-English diction reminiscent of N’Dour’s ‘Seven Seconds’ and if you were to listen a little keener, there isn’t much difference in the style adopted by the two groups. While N’Dour’s gently says that life’s problems begin at birth, Olori-Oko is a grim but gentle warning that we must be prepared for the Armageddon, the end of days. Olori-Oko urges us to see life as stressful and that is why there is need to gird the loins and prepare for the end of things because surely that end is very close.
Olori-Oko is about the second coming in fact. It is about the second coming of Christ, though not as foretold by Yeats where:
…twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born
For theInfinity group,they had seen the future likeNostradamus I suppose, despite the fact they don’t have the gift of prophesy and were not prophets. According to them, the book of Revelations has a warning to the nations, thatwhomsover has ears should hear and take heed to what it is the Spirit of God wanted to hand down to us. Unfotunately and maybe as a reflection of the density of the message they had to bear, they were to go ahead and encrypt that that they wanted to tell us whatever it is the Spirit told them in a Yoruba ballad that had a semi-slow rhythm, as if not in any hurry to deliver their ecclesiastical prediction. To those familiar with today’s pentecostal songs of the coming cataclysm, ‘Olori-Oko’ certainly is one sure departure from the heat and frenzy that is Harlem’s Negro spirituals that whip you up in a dancing fit and cyclical gyrations. The only kinethic energy generated by that song of forebodding is in the dance steps of their lead dancer. His steps are not steps for the initiated because they seem to bear the weight and the charisma of one who is very masculine and who infuses a depth of meaning in every move he makes. What those steps do you is mesmerize and make you wish you could move thus.
‘Olori-Oko’ may not win any Grammys like’Egypt’ did. Music hot today easily turns cold like three-day old bean porridge. I cannot tell whether that song has crossed our borders into the West African sub-region like the others have done. But I know that when Macarena made its debut sometime around 1994, it took two years later before everyone wanted to dance to its earobic dance steps. Can ‘Olori-Oko’ be the Nigerian ‘Macarena’?Well for now it is in Lagos, that is, apart from the dance.