Monday, November 10, 2008

A Song For The Canary

Born Stephen Oladipupo Olaore Owomoyela in Oshogbo in 1932 to a part-time musician father who never wanted him to become one based on his own sad experiences as a musician. The young Orlando did everything to please his father, including completing an eight-year apprenticeship in building construction but eventually went to Ilesha to earn his Standard Six certificate.

His kind of music, which he called 'Toye' music has its roots in the local music of the riverine areas of the old Ondo and Bendel states. You would notice the common strain in his music with those of Sir Dr. Victor Uwaifo, Osayomore Joseph, the late Chief (Mrs.) Comfort Omoge and lately in the music of Daddy Showkey, Father U-Turn, African China and Stereoman.

As Western production electronics began to infiltrate the music of other bands, Owoh stuck to his low-tech approach; his music sounds distinctly rootsier than that of other highlife bands and strongly evokes the music's traditional base. He also generally remained true to the small guitar-band format of highlife rather than adapting his style to the huge, kinetic ensembles of the juju genre of King Sunny Ade and others. He sang mostly in Yoruba but recorded music in English on occasion.

On October 19th 1986, foremost Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa, was killed by a parcel bomb sent to his home. The whole nation was shocked and Orlando in 1987 sang a tribute song to Dele Giwa; in the song 'Ofo to Se Naijiria' ('The Calamity That Befell Nigeria'), he lamented the security situation of the country and made several accusations which the government of General Ibrahim Babangida considered 'provocative'.

It was common knowledge that most musicians lived rather Bohemian lifestyles and encouraged anti-government rhetorics at their shows and concerts. The use of drugs - particularly marijuana- was common in these musicians enclaves. Until then, the 'provocations' of musicians like Orlando, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and others had been largely tolerated by the government but the newly formed National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) provided a new front to their cat-and-mouse relationship.

Orlando and Fela basically shared the same fate. They were the scapegoats of successive military regimes in their contrived fight against the drug trade. They were both jailed on the crime of 'possession'. He spent 8 months in the infamous Alagbon Close Detention Centre by the Narcotics Division of the Nigerian Police. If you know Alagbon, its a fate you will not wish on your worst enemy.

On his return from prison, he released what became a monster hit, though it was just released on a whim. It was called 'The Message': It was based along the lines of the hit of the same name by the Everly Brothers and for me the genius of this song was in the peculiar lyrics as compared with the Everly Brothers' original.

E j'ise mi fun Folashade mi Take my message to my Folashade
E ma so fun pe mo wa l'ewon o But don't tell her I'm in jail
E j'ise mi fun Folashade mi Take my message to my Folashade
E ma so fun pe mo wa l'Alagbon But don't tell her I'm in Alagbon
E so fun pe mo ti rin jina Tell her that I have gone very far
Mo to d'eja oju omi That I have become a fish in the ocean
Amo b'ori ba yo mi l'owo Narcotics But if I ever get out of the clutches of Narcotics
Ao pade 'ra pe l'ayo We shall meet again with joy

In 2006, Orlando Owoh suffered two strokes and also lost his wife within the same year. A couple of months ago, I read in the newspapers that he was admitted at the General Hospital, Agege for some ailments on the bill of the Lagos state government as directed by the Governor Tunde Fashola SAN.

On Friday night, I was at the annual 'Yinka Ayefele Night' at the Ikoyi Club 1938, when the musician started belting out some of Orlando's tunes, apparently in tribute. That was when I learned that the Canary has ceased to sing. He did not survive a third stroke on Wednesday night.

What do we do when the Canary ceases to sing?

We shall
We shall sing
We shall sing a
We shall sing a song
We shall sing a song for
We shall sing a song for the
We shall sing a song for the Canary.


NoLimit said...

Just hearing aboutthis...May his soul R.I.P...he sure ws a legend...

ablackjamesbond said...

Great tribute to a great musical icon. I still remember that monster hit abt alagbon...the description the Canary gave was so vivid that it was enuff to keep a lot of youngsters on the strait and narrow.

Shubby Doo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shubby Doo said...

we shall sing a song for the Canary...we shall sing to the Lord as we pray... may his soul rest in perfect peace...

thank you for allowing me to share this tribute.

pls don't stop doing these updates on Nigeria anytime soon...i am learning so much:)

Loomnie said...

Nice to have discovered this!

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