Success could be cruel because it destroys its beneficiary if one is not properly prepared to receive the new status. The aplomb and gaiety that accompany success inebriate the so-called lucky ones. It is not only artistes that fall prey to the grandeur of the power of success, but also politicians and some other achievers who lose their normal selves to hallucination, pretending to be super humans.
The story of Majek Fashek, for example, is not uncommon in Nigeria. Chief Bill Friday, the legendary leader of the Ambassador Down Beats that popularised “Bosue” in Nigeria, predated Fashek’s case by decades. Bill was a trumpeter of no compare who on his return from the Second World War in Burma played with Bobby Benson before he moved to the Gold Coast. There he later played at Weekend Havana, Accra. The proprietor of Ambassador Hotel, Lagos, Mr Rosek, moved Bill and his boys to Lagos where they changed the music culture of the island. The band had Stan Plange, Joe Mensah, Amissah and other accomplished stars with proper educational background. Stan and Joe attended Adisodel College, Cape Coast. They could not fall victim to drugs because of their background. Chief Bill Friday died at Maroko, insane, blowing bottles instead of the trumpet after bouts of “ogogoro” and marijuana. It was the same fate for the talented Jibril Issa, the trumpeter and clarinetist. Issa was a star in Bobby Benson’s Jam Session. He moved to Accra and played with E.T. Mensah’s Tempos Band and later Shambrose Dance band in 1957. Like Bill Friday, Jibril Issa was famous in the music world in Africa. But while he could handle music scores, he was unable to tame the monster of high living associated with artistry. He ended up at Idi Araba like Bill, insane, because of drugs and drinks.
I was shocked that the Nigerian media did not announce the death of Kiki Gyan of Osibisa fame. He died in his toilet back home in Accra, a victim of the accoutrement of fame. He was one of the best pop music pianists the world ever produced. He was a music prodigy.
At 14, he was the pianist of El Polos Band that rocked the West African pop scene in 1969. Teddy Osei conscripted him into the Osibisa band still in his teens and the band dazzled the world.
Gyan, the child prodigy of music, was sought after by studios and bands all over the world to moonlight because of his talent. He became a super millionaire barely out of his teens, living the conduct his educated middle-class family gave him in Ghana until he fell into the hands of tempters, who dragged him into drugs. His habit, like his millionaire pocket, became king-sized. He spent thousands of dollars daily on the habit. Worse of all he contracted tuberculosis. The family laboured to save him by sending him to all available rehab centres in America, the country of those dope merchants who hooked him into the habit.
The late Mac Tontoh of Osibisa fame, younger brother of Teddy Osei, and others tried their best to tear Gyan off the cocaine circuit in vain.
After some harrowing years battling T.B. Gyan died on his toilet seat in Accra in 2013, a colossal genius and artistry lost to habit. There are so many cases of artistes and their eccentricities. Do intellectualism and genius share some strange connection with madness? There was a man in the 1950s who was an accomplished guitarist and composer. He took Victor Uwaifo through the early preparation for stardom by teaching him how to play the guitar. His name was “We We” Odiase. An ex-service man and well-spoken, he also was of noble birth, a soldier who served in Burma with his elder brother. A driver on his return from Burma though he attended the Holy Cross Catholic School, Benin, he always had a binge with alcohol. But music made him to hit the bottle too hard that he became a hermit. He built his shack on top of one of the walls of the Benin mote, living alone and composing songs. He was swept away from there by flood, drowned. What would one say of Howard Hughes, who success made reclusive after many inventions and wealth, also driven to live in the dark, fenced out of any possible interaction and communication with the normal world and reality?
This is why I admire writers like Wole Soyinka, John Pepper Clark, and Chinua Achebe for not seeking administrative political positions, would you have imagined them being minister in any government which would cage them to toe the line?
Achebe and Clark, at best, were journalists, one a feature writer for the Daily Express and Achebe, a feature writer for radio, which influenced their effective delivery in communication with the reader. But they were thinkers and could not be shorn of some eccentricity like Soyinka, who was a drama teacher. Their love for man and politics must have saved them from insularity customary of the artiste. All three crusaded politically for rights; and so that diversion from extreme concentration on scholarship. That relaxed them. One could also say that of Bobby Benson, Zeal Onyia, Victor Uwaifo, Sam Akpabot and Eleazar C. Arinze. But one would not come to such conclusion in the case of Olu McFoy the musicologist and composer who was behind the creation of most of the beats that hit the headlines in Nigeria and Ghana in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was head of Radio Nigeria music department. He was a super pianist with a creativity, which only the heavens could assess.
To McFoy, life was music and the bottle, politics, management and what have you could go to hell. He lived music and had no regrets that he breathed his last, perhaps, with a glass in hand.
When I heard that Lateef Amao (alias Loughty Mann) who blew the horns for the Jazz Club band led by Guy Warren (later Kofi Ghanaba) in Accra was shot and killed in Los Angeles, I grieved because I knew his eccentricity must have led to the fatal shooting. He was great with the saxophone and lived an easy lifestyle. He was one of Africa’s best, playing for Eddy Quansah’s Stargazers and Sammy Obot’s Broadway Dance Band before forming Osibisa with Teddy Osei in 1971.
Great artistes have no guiles because they live in the world of continuing discovery of new art form, be it in music, poetry, prose, sculpting or sketching. Their triumph always is like when a scientist breaks new grounds, jumps into the street to shout Eureka! Eureka!! Eureka!!! Artistes are scientists. If intellectuals like Professor Chike Obi, Professor Akitunde Akisanya and Professor Sanya Onabamiro had had no diversion a bit to politics, they would have been cases for studies of the consequences of genius. They were not conventional because they saw beyond the surface and were psychic.
There was also a teenager who from Achimota College, Accra, stormed the drums world. Remi Kabaka (real name Aderemi Adenihun), younger brother of Brigadier Sunday Adenihun, played for Paramount Eight Band that made the “Jolly Papa” piece that was stolen by Rex Lawson.
The band was led by Adliboung Anim, the great trombonist, earlier leader of Stargazers Band. Kabaka was the founding drummer with Osibisa and he played gigs with many American bands. Where is he now because he was no stranger to reefers?
Fela Kuti was a late arrival to the crowd of musical eccentrics though his crusading escapades burnt like wild fire. I think Muhamadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan need to read how success intoxicates and destroys if badly handled like the case of OBJ, who is now drunk with the new wine of egoism.