The other day my daughter came back from school and was singing. I paused to ask where she heard it from because it’s an old school song. “I’ve always been hearing this song from you like forever.” She replied. She did not even know the vocalist or the group that sang it. I was a real music buff as a young adult and I still sing many of those beautiful songs.
The 1980s are renowned for good music with good lyrics and instrumentation. It was a period of live band performances. The music scene experienced a global explosion of soul music from the Americas. This also marked the increase in discotheques and the number of Disc Jockeys (DJs), many of whom worked in radio stations or nightclubs. Music stars of this period were seen as role models whose lifestyles and dress sense were copied. Notable names like the Jacksons whose lead vocalist was Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, Dianna Ross, Cyndy Lauper, KC and Sunshine Band, the list is endless. The airwaves were always jammed with disco music. University Campuses and High schools in Nigeria were always agog with the invitation of one foreign or local music star or the other by campus clubs. I can recall that shortly after the Second World Black Festival of Arts and Culture tagged FESTAC ‘77 held in Lagos Nigeria, many world black celebrities longed to visit Nigeria. Music icons like the Third World, Jimmy Cliff, Stevie Wonder, Osibisa, Shalamar, and many others visited for performances after the global fiesta. Their songs were just dammed good and I still love them because most of their lyrics are devoid of obscenities and profanities. On the local TV stations; we had local popular music DJs like Alex Conde of the former Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (WNBS) and Mr. Dynamite of Ondo State Broadcasting Corporation (OSBC) and on the international scene, programmes like Soul Train anchored by Don Cornelius were aired. Their dress styles of bell bottom trousers and Afro hair grooming were the vogue among the youths.
Disco parties in those days were all night long and a significant feature is the disco light which is magical. The streets were to a great extent safe when compared with what obtains today.
At about this period, I was I staying with my uncle and his family in Akure. These were my growing-up years. I bonded with my cousins and we had a lot of fun as young adults. My cousin, Ayo was well known among party crawlers; he was handsome, soft-spoken, and loved music a great deal. He had just gained admission into the University of Ife and had come home on a semester break when I joined the family. He had a big bag filled with long playing (LP) vinyl discs of various pop artists. He probably had up to a hundred, and some of his friends looked up to him for the supply of music albums whenever there was a party to be organised in town. Ayo could spend his last naira on the latest release of music albums but he was never a disc jockey. The designs of the jackets of these discs fascinated me and I was impressed by the acknowledgments by names of all those who made the albums a success: from the drummers, the backup singers, guitarists, trumpeters, arranger to the producers were always mentioned. I would read them many times over.
“We waited endlessly for my uncle’s transistor radio to be switched off after the BBC news as usual, and had to ensure that everyone in the house must have fallen into a deep sleep”
On a particular night, I was fast asleep, Ayo tapped me “Jaymie, Can you hear that?” At first, I didn’t understand what he was referring to. It later dawned on me that he was referring to the distant sound of music, screaming: “You can ring my bell, ring my bell, my bell, ding dong, ding dong” from a distant disco party about a kilometer away from our house, forcing its echoes through the stillness of the night into our bedroom. Immediately I got the message. We have gone to many parties in the past, with permission if the invitee is known by our parents and occasionally we had to steal out of the house too for fear that our request might be denied.
This night, we dressed up and stealthily moved out of the room; locked the doors; scaled the fence and off to the party. We started chasing the source of the echoing music around midnight. Most of the parties at this time commenced fully at about 9:00 pm and would last until daybreak, so we had enough time to boogie down.
When we arrived at the venue; some guys were at the gate and in an argument with the bouncers who would not allow them into the dance floor without presenting an invitation card. Ayo was not a man to be fenced. His personality accorded him entry to any party in Akureland. When we attended these parties; it wasn’t for the booze or the meals to be served but for the sharing of good times and the need to mingle. We danced and had our fill of fun this night and returned home. We tip-toed into the room, just in the manner we had left. By the time we were woken up some hours later to be involved in the house shores, we were so tired that we had difficulties in partaking in it. Ayo feigned a serious headache and had to return to bed. No one knew what had transpired.
When Ayo returned to school after the semester break, it was like fun itself had gone on a vacation. After some time, I started having the desire to go partying whenever I feel bored. On one occasion, someone was having a party about two kilometers away. This time we were invited but never dared to seek permission to attend.
We waited endlessly for my uncle’s transistor radio to be switched off after the BBC news as usual, and had to ensure that everyone in the house must have fallen into a deep sleep. We scaled the fence and trekked down the streets in the cold hazy harmattan wind. As we got closer, the music continued to be more audible and the desire to be there that minute was palpable. By the time we got there, we saw familiar faces and felt at home. We danced and mingled but we were not just comfortable that our parents might need to wake up early to honour a distant wedding ceremony. I need to get back home before dawn so as not to be discovered. I looked through the dance floor for my co-conspirator. I spotted him having a close chat with a girl. I beckoned to him to let us go home. He was so engrossed with this lady that he said I should give him some moments. After about five minutes I told him I was going and he waived me, bye.
Alone on the quiet tarred road, I hummed Lamont Dozier’s “Going back to my roots”, the song that was playing before I left the dance floor. Occasionally, some vehicles with heavy beams of headlamps sped past me. There was no need to be afraid as I was sure to be home in minutes without any harm. Suddenly, a Land Rover pulled beside me. Two policemen alighted while the engine was still running and asked my whereabouts. I told them I was coming from a party down the road and was heading back home. They asked for my means of identification and I showed them. The fat one with heavy moustache amongst them searched stepped out and searched my pockets for something to incriminate me, but he did not find anything. He collected my identity card and tucked it in his breast pocket and asked me to hop at the back of the vehicle. I hesitated, pleaded and explained that my house is just a few metres away but they wouldn’t budge. I shouted at him, “What have I done to have warranted my being pushed?” I knew I was in hot soup. How would I explain this nocturnal outing to my uncle and other members of the family? I just wished I would disappear into the thin air and never seen again. The officer on the wheel just flew off the handle; he came out of the Land Rover and bundled me into the back of the rickety vehicle for my audacity to ask what crime I have committed. By the time he returned to the steering, the vehicle engine had stopped running. He tried to start the engine several times but to no avail. He opened the bonnet and fidgeted with some parts but there was no show. At this point, I started praying in my mind that the vehicle should not work and by a strange quirk of fate, it did not start.
“If you think say na juju no go make this moto work, I go tell you say you de joke”, the rotund one among the officers said in Pidgin English, meaning that if I have used some mystic powers to stop the vehicle, he would assure me that I have failed. After some minutes they decided to walk me to the police station leaving the vehicle behind and the driver.
We started trekking to the police station and my apprehension about what would be the outcome of the whole issue was beyond comprehension. We were moving in the direction of the party which was also along the road to the police station. I could hear the music getting louder as we trudged along. “Get down on it” was playing as we drew closer to the venue.
“That was where I was before I decided to leave and got accosted”, I pointed in the direction of the party,
Someone came out of the venue and saw me. He identified me as one of those at the party. He rushed in and called the others saying one of the guests had been arrested. The celebrant came out and had a hot verbal exchange with officers. In the melee that ensued; someone whispered that I should just escape. That I did.
By the time I found my way into our compound, it was daybreak, I heard the cock crow and I could hear the creaking of toilet doors and dreary footsteps of people just leaving their beds. Thank God I got home without being caught, but never again!