Sikiru Adepoju: The Nigerian Percussionist Who Won Another Grammy

The 2009 Grammy Awards have come and gone with the usual fanfare and pomp. The brief detention of rising pop R&B star, Chris Brown over an alleged assault of his superstar girlfriend, Rihana didn’t dampen the gay mood for the Grammy generates its own glamour and ‘effizy’ that linger long after the winners and losers have headed back to their respective bases. Lil Wayne swept away more awards than any other artist to confirm that he’s finally arrived as a Big Boy rapper; no longer overshadowed by Kanye West and other superstars in the Hip-hop scene even though his trousers slide waggle down his butts like the self-conscious teenager who is intent on making an impression on the streets.

My eyes roved and scanned the list of awardees hoping I would see a prominent Nigerian musician on the shortlist. Since our Naija hip-hop artists like Tu Face, P Square, Timaya, Sound Sultan, Asha, Banky W, Nigga Raw, Kc Presh, Dare Art Alade, were obviously absent from the preliminary nomination list, so I would have torn the cloak over the heavens in high praise had angels been able to smuggle in their names with a miraculous stroke of an indelible pen. If our Nollywood movies are rated the 3rd most viewed films across the globe, our wish as Naija music fans to see our music climb to a higher pedestal isn’t misplaced to say the least. Even with the profuse injection of Naija local content into our contemporary music albums, our best Naija hip-hop artists are still a mere silhouette of their American counterparts for whom the Grammy’s are made for. We can only be second best in such contests where the rhythm is hip-hop, and the rap song tailor-made for an English-speaking audience that expects the right slurs and interjection with curse words and slangs that have is alien to our culture.

A few weeks ago, our female crooner and world music exponent, Asa held a sold out concert in New York during her first US tour. She has toured Japan where her songs are celebrated, and her popularity in Western Europe has been soaring, and her tour schedules are so tight that one hardly reckons that Asa was a little over a year ago, a proper Naija girl who learned how to strum her guitar from Peter King in Lagos. Another Naija singer, Ayo has been making waves across Europe with her eclectic sounds and though she has some German genes in her blood, her Naija identity is not mistaken, and they have been hoisting Naija music flag for the world to see. They may not win a Grammy anytime soon, but their influence has crossed the boundaries of Africa and has won the admiration of people across the globe.

But SIKIRU ADEPOJU; an obscure and uncelebrated Naija percussionist made Nigeria proud at the Grammys as part of the GLOBAL DRUM PROJECT quartet that beat the world class SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR to win the award for the world music category. The group made up of four percussionists Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo and Sikiru Adepoju came into prominence in 1991 when the Planet Drum’s self-titled album broke the Billboard World Music Chart and remained number one for 26 weeks, and also received the Grammy for Best World Music Album; the first Grammy ever awarded in this category.

Sikiru Adepoju has been called ‘ the Mozart of the talking drum’ and has taken his mastery of Yoruba talking drum and other indigenous percussion instruments ( dundun, gudugudu, gome, omelet, shekere) to a world class level. But how many people would believe that Sikiru learned the art of drumming from his late father in his Eruwa village in Western Nigeria and never felt he should abandon his musical heritage to embrace western music hook line and sinker. He also played with the miliki maestro Chief Ebenezer Obey until 1985 when late I.K. Dairo’s nephew and afrobeat artist, O.J. Ekemode took him on a US tour. He would later perfect his drumming skills under the tutelage of the late Babatunde Olatunji, the world-renowned percussionist and Naija artist who is widely-acclaimed as the first to release an album in the ‘world music’ category and reputedly influenced musicians like Carlos Santana, Mickey Hart, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan. Like Fela the freedom fighter, Babs Olatunji also fought for the rights of Africans during the civil rights movement and even performed at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and his albums have sold more than 5 million copies.

Sikiru Adepoju and his fellow musicians at the Global Drum Project are poised to elevate the traditional rhythms of the world to an enviable level and have fused the dance and rhythms of the ancient with the sounds of the modern world. The traditional rhythms of our forefathers stirred and roused the soul and spirit and rejuvenated the body and were the medium through which people of yore years in Africa maintained the healthy balance of their body, soul and spirit. The West appreciates the rhythms of Africa and that is why Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Soweto Gospel Choir and other artists of South Africa origin have won the hearts of people all over the world, and Grammy awards too. Other world music artists of West African descent like Benin Republic-born Angelique Kidjo, Senegal-born Youssof Ndour and Malian Salif Keita among others, have made the world appreciate and respect the rhythms of Africa and have made our forefathers proud and ensured that African sounds are not considered to the classical rhythms of the Western world.

There are many other Sikiru Adepojus who masterfully play the flute, shekere, gongs, xylophones and drums in our Nigerian villages, slums and suburbs but however feel inferior because the contemporary Nigerian society appreciates little of our indigenous music and traditional rhythms. They feel inferior and out of place because they are excluded from the Star Mega Jams, MTN Campus Shows, the GLO Music Shows, and other corporately-sponsored music shows in Nigeria. Yet time and again, the evidence of history and common sense have proven that Nigerian and African rhythms are by no known standards inferior to music from any other part of the world. Fela Kuti proved that by jettisoning his classical training in western music to create Afro beat music which the world respects till date. Kunle Ayo is dazzling jazz music audiences from his base in South Africa with his authentic fusion of jazz chords with his authentic and indigenous Yoruba sounds.

So the world awaits another Sikiru that talks and sings with the drum. We await a Mallam Adamu from Kano or Katsina who would play his ‘goje’ and blow his long Hausa flute to the delight of audiences around the world. Yea the world awaits an Emeka Okonkwo who skillfully plays the hand-held xylophone and blows the Oja till goose bumps rise from the skins of audiences and music connoisseurs across the world. We need not wait till the next Grammy to get a stamp of approval on the desirability of our indigenous music; it is authentic, sublimely artistic and wholesome and deeply spiritual. It is ours!

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