Music, Social Commentary and Generational Gaps: Appreciating Sonny Okosun and Chimaobi Owoh

by Gerald Eze

Everyone even the consumers of the biggest heap of pounded cassava were proved wrong by the Indomie-Generation in the events of October, 2020 in Nigeria when young people organized themselves in peaceful (EndSars) protest to enthrone the dignity of human life. This Indomie-generation which I nonetheless belong to have been told severally that they are not good for anything serious. They have been called “Lazy Nigerian Youths” and even more. A Professor walks into the classroom and takes time to educate this generation on how he/she spent his/her university days in the sixties and seventies; how they ate chicken in the refectory; how they had two jobs with official cars waiting for them after graduation; how they enjoyed quality music and not the boisterous cacophony available at the moment; how this current generation of young people is just a different generation that can best be referred to as Indomie-generation!

From the lines above, one can discern a generational gap and it is okay for different generations to approach life differently. However, “we are living at a time when one age is dying and the new age is not yet born” (Rollo May, in The Courage to Create). The new age can only be born when the old generation gets out of the way of the new one. Another thing that will birth the new age is for the creative artist to courageously create enduring works of art that shape the age they live in. It takes courage to create and the artist, especially the “young artist”, has a major role to play in creating “the conscience of his/her race”.

It is at this point that I proceed to look at the music of Sonny Okosun and Chimaobi Owoh (alias, Zoro); both of them, geniuses in their own rights, led by the spirit of their times. I like to look at both as gifts to their respective generation. I refuse to engage in the Cassava versus Indomie generation argument. But, I will appreciate these two musicians critically. I got enchanted by Sonny Okosun’s Which Way Nigeria from childhood and I also got captivated by Zoro’s innovative use of Ogene in hip-hop especially his hit single, Achikolo, which recounts the beautiful experiences of the growing Igbo child. Pure genius for both musicians.

However, there is a major difference (as there should) in the music of today and the music of yesteryears. I like to look critically into what may be the reason for the way things are in our current experience of music in Nigeria, especially as the focus is more on materialism. Values have changed, simple! There is a generational gap, and this gap did not just emerge; it took years to form. Do not forget anyway that I proudly belong to the Indomie-generation association of Nigeria. But my membership does not make me to ignore the fact that there is wisdom in age; and so, in search of this generational gap, I seek some wisdom from Sonny Okosun while I bounce to the rhythms of my age.

According to Sonny Okosun in his patriotic song, Which Way Nigeria: “Many years after Independence, we still find it hard to start; how long shall we be patient, before we reach the promised land; let’s save Nigeria, so Nigeria won’t die.” Baba Sonny, let me ask in the tone of my generation: so ordinary 20 years is “many years” for you? Na wa o! Nigeria is 60 now abeg!

Verse two goes thus: “Every little thing that goes wrong, we start to blame the government; we know everything that goes wrong because we are part of the government; let’s save Nigeria, so Nigeria won’t die.” Yes o! we inherited the blaming from our fathers. Even the current Federal government gained popular attention and supports during the campaign for the 2015 general election by blaming the previous government. We blame on, abeg!

He goes further in verse four to sing that: “we made mistakes during the oil boom, not knowing that was our doom; some people now have everything, while many many have nothing; let’s save Nigeria, so Nigeria won’t fall.” This is the kind of lyric line that should make Marlians (the faithful adherents of Naira Marley) to shout: Mad O! How can having everything while others have nothing be a problem again? Na wa for Baba Sonny Okosun. I and my fellow Indomie-generation do not understand this Baba. Our man Zoro in his song “Buy the Bar” has given us the way to follow. Or I may say we have given Zoro the song to sing to us, because we are part of the reality he sings. And so we will not drink from the bottle, we will “buy the bar!”

Sonny Okosun continues in verse six thus: “Our ambition to be millionaires, is running the country down; we all want to be millionaires, and to live in the air; oh, let’s save Nigeria, so Nigeria won’t die.” I will just reply this my Baba Sonny Okosun with a line from Zoro’s “Buy The Bar”. Baba Sonny, please listen: “I go buy the bar cos ah hold enough bar; do as I want, spend the money like I’m crazy; I go buy the bar cos ah hold enough bar; do as I want it, spend the money like I’m crazy.” Simple!

Well, forget my “gra-gra”, the realities in the lyrics of Sonny Okosun’s Which Way Nigeria is getting to many Nigerians, especially now that even the elites who have plenty money cannot access quality health care in Nigeria and may die if that invisible rascal called Coronavirus hits them. With all the money people have made, we travel with our hearts pounding, as we worry about the rampant kidnapping that is ravaging the country at the moment.

If we, old and young (cassava or indomie), did not learn anything from Baba Sonny Okosun, let us remember this last line: “Remember that a single step, is the beginning of a million miles; let’s start right now to rebuild ourselves, so as to make the country smile; let’s save Nigeria, so Nigeria won’t die.” I am not sure of the number of people who still believe in the one Nigeria project. Whatever be the case, we cannot focus on making money while every institution in the society rots. Quality life is beyond paper money!

Sonny Okosun’s which way Nigeria can be seen in the light of the following analysis to his lyrics. The chorus reveals that this musician is strongly “seeking direction and is led by the spirit of patriotism and activism”. The lessons in verse one to eight are as follows: Retrospective Thinking; Social responsibility; Condemnation of evil; Creative and empathic thinking; Creative economic initiative; Social equity and justice; Courage and forward thinking; and Trust in God. These lessons call for soul-searching and empathic living.

There is need to dance, but there is need to think. The future does not belong to the old methods that has not taken us anywhere. It is the utmost responsibility of the youth to ask: Which Way Nigeria? And they may choose to do this through peaceful protests, especially if they feel threatened. Truth is that if young people are not deliberately and consistently empowered/nurtured to build the society, to assert themselves, to exercise their ingenuity, they may burn that same society, and we all feel the heat.

With the recent events in Nigeria where ingenuity is at large and criminality is all around, every person who cares about the human beings in this country, old and young, should be persuasively asking: Which Way Nigeria? Indeed, I want to know!

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