“Where you dey go ooo, where you dey hurry go? You don forget say when motor jam you, you no go reach where you dey go, life no get duplicate ooo. Better make you late say you no reach you house ooo… make you dey look road before you cross…”
This was one of my favourite teenage songs reeled out by Nigeria’s erstwhile queen of reggae music. I remember vividly that this particular track, Look Before You Cross, taught many teenagers the basic ethics of road safety and the principles of road-crossing when it was released. Evi Edna Ogholi Ogosi ruled the Nigerian musical stage over the late 1980s and early 1990s with her own brand of reggae music which her fans subsequently tagged “Njoku Reggae,” because most of her tunes were usually oiled with a scintillating rhythm guitar chord which sounded something like “njoku, njoku, njoku…” Without doubt, most of her tracks were instant hits and she frequently performed in musical concerts across the country in those days, especially those sponsored by Benson & Hedges, Abtonia, Star Lager and others. Her songs were definitely a large part of the tunes that made my teenage days so much fun. Evi had an outstanding ability to transform words in her native Urhobo mother tongue into beautiful reggae lyrics, and interestingly, many Nigerians who enjoyed her music in those days never understood a single word in Urhobo language.
I recently stumbled upon some of her tunes posted on Youtube and oh my God, they brought back lots of memories and nostalgic feelings of my days as a boy growing up in the city of Lagos. Hmm!!! They remained evergreen, as beautiful as when they were first released. As I listened to some of her classics such as Ririovara (Wipe your tears), Oghene Me (My God), Message to the Youths, Look Before You Cross, Jealousy and Happy Birthday amongst others I just couldn’t resist having tear drops from my eyes because they made my day worthwhile. In fact, I couldn’t help listening to them over and over again. I smiled and remembered when Nigeria was Nigeria, where things worked; when Lagos was Lagos, the pride of our nation; when I saw traffic lights working; when power supply was near constant; and my family then belonged to what we could term the middle class, before the advent of our country’s economic recession that wiped out the middle class and created only two classes- the rich and the poor. Of course you can guess which class we painfully became.
Anyway, away from socio-economics and back to Evi-Edna. Remember her Happy Birthday track? It was the most popular birthday song of its time and the only contemporary song I can think of that comes near in comparison to its popularity was Sunny Nneji’s Oruka at wedding ceremonies. However, more than Oruka, Evi-Edna’s birthday song had a wider appeal, as it was accepted across the length and breadth of the country, from North to South, East and West. Everbody rocked to that track with lyrics starting off with the words “Silver and Gold have I not, so I give you my token gift… Uuuuye I wish you happy birthday… Uuuuye very very many happy returns.” When I remember Evi-Edna and her music, it saddens my heart that the impact of brain drain on the African continent, more specifically Nigeria, definitely cuts across every spectrum of our social fabric. Do you remember Evi’s husband, Emma Ogosi? He was one of the most talented music producers we had in Nigeria in those days, producing the works of Evi and a host of other artists. I remember he played the Keyboard, Guitar and particularly the Flute, and he also released an album with one track that was relatively famous, Eb’Awelem Di. I’m not really sure many people would remember that track, except those classical old skool enthusiasts, because that track was what we could refer to as Highlife-Blues back then. In addition, I also remember other musicians we lost to the same exodus that witnessed the exit of Evi from our musical scene. The likes of Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, Oritz Wiliki, Mandators, Alex O (Okoligwe), Felix Liberty, Alex Zito (the tickle-me crooner), Lijadu Sisters, Mike Okri, Tosin Jegede (another young favourite of mine), Prince Wale-Man, Lieutenant Shotgun and a host of others. The list is endless and I believe you all remember them from time to time. We learnt that most of them left Nigeria for the UK, United States and Canada amongst others in search for greener pastures.
I really wonder where the lovely Evi-Edna has been all this while. Has anyone got any information about where she and her family have been hibernating? I must mention that she remains a musical icon in her own right and I honestly believe that she should be one of those honoured for her outstanding achievements and contribution towards advancing the course of Nigerian music, especially at a time when musicians were seen as geeks by some section of our society and when there weren’t many women in the scene. Wherever she has been and is at the moment, I only hope she and her family are faring well and that life away from home has been fruitful to them over these years of sojourn. I’ve got a couple of shout-outs to make to her, hoping that somehow it gets to her. Firstly, I want Evi to understand that she is one musician that is still remembered, loved and cherished in the heart of many of her fans, for the beautiful renditions she reeled out during her glory-days as queen of Nigerian reggae music. Secondly, she should realise that her numerous fans still await her grand home-coming.
The Nigerian music industry is huge and booming today, and the last few years have witnessed a good number of our musicians returning from their long-lost sojourns. The likes of Felix Duke and Lieutenant Shotgun have now returned home. Reports have it that Ras Kimono is also set to return home very soon. Perhaps the most successful comeback story so far has been that of 70+-year old Pa Fatai Rolling Dollars. Since his home coming and grand welcome, the grand dad has had the opportunity to bolster his musical career. He constantly jams at the elder’s forum and other Highlife Gigs organised by O’Jez Music around the country; and has also released a new album, featuring the famous track, Won Kere Si Number Wa, which has continued to be aired on TV and radio stations across Nigeria and beyond. Finally, Evi should understand that the country’s current musical landscape is vast enough for all talented artists and musicians to flourish. In this regard, I strongly advise that she considers linking up to one of our leading entertainment outfits (such as O’Jez, Kennis, Mohits-DonJazzy n others) in order to help her promote and stage a number of return concerts across the country. I’m pretty sure that even though many of her fans may be dancing Gan Gan Aso and Lori Le today, they would still be glad Evi’s returning home, very willing to attend her concerts and more enthusiastic re-patronise her music.