Ayke Ezeani
by on January 19, 2019
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Ayke: How did you start your musical journey?

Seun: My dad was Grammarian in the 1930s. I meant that he was a student of CMS Grammar School. At that time the school still resided in Lagos Island. But CMS has a very rich music tradition that was for a time before the governments began to take over the mission schools. Also, my dad was an organist in his youth until he proceeded abroad to study medicine and so he encouraged us to read literatures and local texts, listen to the news, watch broadcasters and participate in congregational singing of hymns. Hymns are a lovely set of tunes and tunes, harmony and poetry woven together.

My dad exposed us to the basics of music theory and typing. He was a typist teacher before his further studies abroad. At that time typing then was a big deal before the invention of the computer. At home each child joined his weekend typing class once he or she gets to Form 1 in Secondary school. It was from him that I first learnt theory of music- lines and spaces, treble clef, bass clef and some music terminologies. 

I remember that in my primary school days, my mum bought me a flute and which I used to play any popular song I knew. My mum also would sing along with me one particular Federal Government’s campaign song at that time. I can’t remember the campaign it was now or the ministry that spearheaded it but she adapted the song to her words that “I will make my Seun Great! Great!! Great! right now and forever.” My mum also hails from the clan of drummers, the Àyàn family and I have an aunt from my mum’s side that was verse in bata dance. This background and pickups influenced my music flair.

Also our neighbour once bought me a Sakara drum as birthday gift at about age 7 or so. There must be something that she must have observed that prompted that her action. Even before the Sakara drum gift I habitually drummed on benches and anything that could suffice for percussion. I went about with pairs of sticks that I cut for at least four to five players and I went about looking for friends to make music with. I wouldn’t wait for my friends to come to me; I went after them because they could get distracted on their way to our meeting time.  

Also in my street where I grew up in Akoka-Yaba, we the kids in the neighbourhood made music at the corner of one of the streets. This was a place where we played football and we assembled metal scraps from mechanics and around then used turned them to our musical instruments. It was a communal living really- we did football, table tennis, swimming, music, skateboard, roller-skate, ludo, ayo, night masquerade, tyre-games, word contest, dancing, yabing and many creative, explorative and expressive things.

I was also regular at Oliver De Coques house that lived down my street in the 1980s. He was loved in the neighbourhood, very friendly and liked children. We went there as kids to play with his monkey, maybe that’s where my Igbo music flavor came from because music never stopped banging in his house.

Basically in my nursery school, Rosecottage Nursery School; we only did poems and rhymes but in primary school, Oluwole Primary School Akoka I joined the school band when I got to primary 3. It was a privilege because only primary 5 pupils were recruited into the school band at the last term before they get promoted to primary 6. The purpose was for the pupils to undergo apprenticeship in preparation for their final year, primary 6 but I joined much earlier in primary 3. I later became the school-band leader although primary 4, 5 and 6.

I just found music surrounding me or me running to music at some point or the other. I found myself in social gatherings while I was in secondary school in Mount Carmel College from Forms 1 to 3 then Government Secondary School in Ilorin, Kwara State from Forms 4 to 6. In Form 1, I won the dance contest and became the second overall best dancer. The person that held the overall position was in Form 4 then and he was also from Lagos. Students from Lagos were generally very social and trendy.

At this time, other students would request that I should entertain them and some seniors used their veto powers to summon me to come perform for them also. My singing and dancing provided me safety avenues at times- some seniors would substitute my portion of grass cutting, sweeping, water fetching or working at the house master’s house for my performance. That was the music vibes surfacing at some point or the other.

It was in Ilorin that I became more cultural awareness. I got my cultural birth experience and exposure to traditional norms, native music and local flairs. I heard a lot of Yoruba native music like dadakuada, rara, sakara, awuerebe, ijala, ekun-iyawo, apala songs from places to places. I was privileged that my first school was located in the interior part of the state that can only be accessed by passing through the real lands of the natives of the state. This cultural experience is what I fall back on interpreting my world views and art practice. Local music played unstopped at the motor parks, in buses, at neighbourhoods and on the radio but we did disco and pop music in school and literary society gatherings.

After my secondary school education, my brother who was already as established organist and a choral director doing classical music taught me further rudiments of music and sight reading from music score and proper piano playing. At this time, I began to search for opportunities in music and someday walking along a Shyllon street in Palm-groove Lagos, I heard the sound of the piano coming from the late Pa Fayemi’s house. Pa Fayemi operated a music school, piano and organ sales showroom; he installed, repaired, and maintained pipe organ and piano for churches, homes and institutions. Pianists and organists went to his place to practice the piano thrice a week as a very subsidized rate. I then enrolled there and became regular there and later became a tutor that helped out to teach new intakes and those that I was ahead of musically.

I continued sniffing around musicians and bands in Lagos for the interest of music. I then came across a sign board of a saxophone teacher in Ilupeju-Lagos around my computer school. So I met Mr. Festus Ogunji whom I took only one saxophone lesson from because it was just to killing and expensive, with little income I just couldn’t afford it. The teacher ended up being the one playing the sax at the first lesson. Music is not cheap really that where the government needs to try to subsidize its access but it has been made cheap by churches for those musicians that had access to church musical instruments. This wasn’t my case. 

I continued with my piano practice and got sponsored by someone who never wanted this mentioned nor get a thank you for it. He sponsored me to study piano at music school of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON Center). Although it was just for one module of about 6 weeks thereabout, I studied under Mr. Kehinde Okusanya; a classically trained pianist. He spotted my interest in jazz and gave many reasons why only classical music was the ideal thing. This situation still exist in some cases till date in Nigeria, many teachers where only exposed to classical music and or choral music so they try to impose what they are familiar with on the student.

The student’s interest is does not hold weight. For example, in the universities, drum students ended up being frustrated when forced to take the piano and another minor instrument of which the option of the drum set was not available. MUSON lessons were very expensive and the student cannot practice there after the 30 minutes class. It was Pa Fayemi’s piano house that provided me the opportunity to practice during week. I couldn’t afford to continue with MUSON due to its cost. I remember that I had wanted to study piano with one of my older brother’s friend who was an established concert pianist and he bluntly told me that he was expensive that I can’t afford him. Music is not cheap really.

I continued with my piano practice and I would transfer the things that I had learnt on the piano to my flute when I got home. I would practice my piano pieces with my flute because I thought about nothing then but making music. At this time I had lost many friends who found me engaged always and that my priorities had changed as well. There was no time for hanging around or roaming the streets because there were challenges to meet.   

At that time, formally trained musicians remained in the classical music setup because that was what was taught to them. Some didn’t want to stretch beyond that because a doctor or professor told them that it was the only music of class. As for me, I was just interested in everything and anything music; I could sieve the bad fragments afterwards. The grip on me was intense. I hung out with some root reggae rastafarian musicians in Akanimodo-Mile 12, Lagos. I remember Rasta Jessic (Rasta Black) took me to perform as a solo artist a show at The Rodeo by Allen junction in Ikeja-Lagos. Then I met some other musicians that played at Royal Garden by Allen around about and about 3 buildings beside Ikeja Airport Hotel. The Rodeo was parallel to Royal Garden.

Another interesting experience was when I went for an audition in a Juju band. It was woeful. I didn’t know that playing music from the music sheet was completely a different ball game compared to how street music was operated. I couldn’t fit in but before the audience commenced I was so confident that it was a done deal because the other musicians there could not touch the keyboard when they heard me playing classical pieces. It was then that I discovered another lesson, “that learning is knowing.” This means that one only gets to know what one learns. So I began to devote time to learning the informal and the street approach to music practice. That is why till date, I don’t discard any form of learning.

Hanging around the African Shrine from watching Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 band from secondary school and the music was heavy. I also recalled seeing Shina Peter’s show in Ilorin and I completely believed he must be possessed or be on drugs and all those unfounded rumours that we hear about musicians due to the heaviness of the sound and the energy in the performance. Musicians usually end after their night gigs at Victor Olaiya’s place or Fela’s Shrine and places like that that ran all night shows.    

I heard a musician playing at a club beside Fela’s house called the Classic Club if I can recall sometime in 1996. I walked into the place and made friends with the drummer who introduced me to the band and their master. The master name was Dr. Victor Chukwu and he played strictly Igbo higlife and Kwokirikwo music. I didn’t even understand what they were saying but I loved their vibes. I did two gigs with them. It was fascinating but the schedule did not work with my school schedules as it became evident that the musicians were living with him.

I met Duro Ikujenyo through jazz music and he was very helpful along my music journey. It was him who simplified the years of struggle with jazz, its vagueness and basis on two sheets of paper for me. This was on our first meeting when he heard my interests and background after a lengthy discussion. In one day, I got the master key that I was to use to unlock many materials that I had gathered in my library that I couldn’t interpret.

Thereafter our friendship grew and we began to meet regularly and my appointment with him was to make copies from his jazz scores to add to my little collection. We later began to share score collections- I would give him score that I had gotten that he doesn’t have. Then we became regular rehearsing at Black O’Rice’s Rastafarian Centenary in Isheri-Lagos where musicians played and communed. On call were Angel Zig-zag, Emma JahCrew, Ras Revo, Sly D’Bass, Don Perry, Prince Joseph, Emperor Kay, Rotimi- Fela’s Bassist and so on.    

Later I got to join the Extended Family Band at Jazz-38 run by Mr. Tunde Kuboye and his wife Dr. (Mrs.) Frances Kuboye. They band was a place for expression and open to as many talents as possible. After the band’s performance, guest artistes feature on stage. I featured doing my thing. I found that the music drive was just ignited always- I was either studying theory, practicing, playing or listening. I counted critically listening to music time wasting until Duro kept drumming its vitality into my ears. He held that listening has to be done with much attention, even without touching one’s instrument. It takes discipline to practice but a greater discipline for critical listening. I kept coming in contact with music or people bringing it to me.

 

I began to get invites around this time to put up music or set up a band for programmes; like when Madam Dotun Ransome-Kuti marked one of her birthdays in the 1990s, she requested for an acoustic music combo. She Frances Kuboye’s mother and Fela Kuti’s older sister- we met in Jazz 38, a Jazz performance centre where her daughter Frances Kuboye and her husband, Tunde Kuboye both ran and both perform on Fridays and Saturday at Awolowo road Ikoyi. The space is presently occupied by Sweet Sensation eatry and it housed the great of the greatest musicians at that time. Fela Kuti also featured regularly there with the band before going to play with his band at the Shrine all through the night. Musicians like Harry James, Papa Jaret, Tunde Martins, Kayode Olajide, Batik, Kola Ogunkoya, Mellow, Baba Taju, Mr. Bassey of the Navy, Mc Loed, Odili and many others.

Then sometime in the 1997 I was invited by Mr. Majek, the owner of Jazzville at Onike-Yaba to assemble a live-band for one weekend like that. At first my heart skipped because like Jazz 38 Jazzville was the spot where the likes of Fela Kuti, Charley Boy, Malik, Mike Okri, Papa Dopulous, Willie Bestman, Kola Ogunkoya, Batik, Kayode Olajide, Ras Kimono and countless many other great artistes walked in from time to time for a jam session or an improvisation with a standing band or had days when they ran their gigs.    

It was in the University of Lagos (UNILAG) at the Centre for Cultural Studies that I met Prof. Abayomi Barber, the renowned visual artist and sculptor that gave me access to the clarinet to discover. He was awed at what I was doing with the flute and he said I would be able to play the clarinet since I knew the fingering of the flute. He then gave me access to one of clarinets. I then bought its manual, combined with my knowledge of the keys of the flute the transferred the knowledge of the piano and the logic of music theory into studying the instrument. The growth was amazing to Barber because he had played with several bands in Lagos in the 1950s as a saxophonist, he understood the difficulties of the instrument. He then bought a used tenor sax and kept it in the studio for interested persons’ to practice with.  That was what gave me access to studying and discovering the saxophone.

This narrative is profound and it is instructive to young people to understand that whatever one finds to do should be done well with diligence because something leads to another. I didn’t know that 3 years after I had my first saxophone lesson and couldn’t continue due to the cost of the lesson and buying the instrument, a saxophone would be waiting ahead in Prof. Barber’s studio for me to use. Prof. Barber and I had a connection, the meeting point which was jazz music. He had played jazz in London and had so many collections. He paints with his jazz records on. Keep working on the immediate as they come, the later picture start to make meaning at some point along the line.

As for University applicants seeking admission into the university, I would advice that even if what you called your choice course-programme has not come; don’t stop working on what you find within your means and your reach at every point in time. It is surprising how the work that you’ve done in the past for instance in an unrelated field or place late come aligning together into a connected whole.  Barber also taught us tap dance because his boss in the 1950s, Willie Payne was a tap dance major. He operated a dance band called the Willie Payne’s Band. Tap dance was one of their items show used to entertain the audience in conjunction with the music. The band was said to rival Bobby Benson’s Band.

My studies in (UNILAG) brought me in contact with great minds in the arts like Prof. Laz Ekwueme, Prof. Duro Oni, Prof. Olaiwola, Dr. Ngozi Chinwah, Dr. Alaja-Browne, Emmanuel Tettey, Prof. Bode Osanyin, Dr. Ajasin and many others. They made us see the arts as related disciplines such that the languages spoken with different branches and mediums of it are the same. I came to understand that there is rhythm in the lines of a music, a poetry as well as a painting and they utilize elements like harmony, balance, tone, colour, texture, logical order, balance, mood, pattern, theme, symbols and gradient.     

Among ourselves as students, we formed a jazz band and we did a couple of gigs but school choice, career choice, life realities and later, academic demands spread us all out in different directions. Some travelled out, changed school, got called into ministry and others moved on with bigger bands.    

The Janvier Band was established in Jazzville and we played the Jazz Africa Network nights for a while till its last edition. Then we metamorphosed to the DotCom Band and then the focus on original materials began in 1999. The ExTaSi Gang Band was another development of the band’s nomenclature in 2012 with newer members except one person. Starting from the bottom is not most people’s wish but a master once said, it is the only way. I am yet to see a tree without a root or an enterprise that stood for years without a ground build up. I am not talking about people that inherited position which most likely is grounded because years of experience is earned not bought nor given on a platter of gold.

 

Ayke: Ha ha ha (laughs) did you learn to play any instruments or during your early days?

Seun: By now you know. You know all in the paragraphs above, in Question 1.

 

Ayke: Did anyone in your family influence musical career?

Seun: Answered already in paragraphs 1- My father, mother and my brother

 

Ayke: Which famous African musician do you admire? Why do you think he /she is good?

Seun: A lot of them: Rex Lawson, Roy Chicago, Yusuf Olatunji, Ambrose Campbell, Victor Olaiya, Fatai Rollin Dollars, Haruna Ishola, Adeolu Akinsanya, Oliver D’Coque, Hubert Ogunde, Fela Kuti, Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, Barrister Ayinde, Osita Osadebe, Tunji Oyelana, Jimi Solanke, Bob Marley, Prof. Laz Ekueme, Prof. Abayomi Barber, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Bode Osanyin, Prof. Femi Osafisan, Pa Akisanya, Gbenga Adeboye, Dr. Alaja Browne, Prof. Douglas Anele, Duro Ikujenyo, Angelique Kidjo, Awilo, Fatoumata Diawara, Salif Keita, Youssouf Ndor, Hugh Massakela, Manu Dibango, Oumaou Sangare and too many to mention.

I am interested in their works because they have shown different perspectives and they all have unique flavours to their works and interpretations.

 

Ayke: Do you write and produce your sounds?

Seun: Yes. I studied composition in school also and it has helped my approach and interpretation.

 

Ayke: How will you describe your genre?

Seun: Fusion. Fusion- of African music experiences and styles in as much as we are exposed to more global sounds now yet the African sound influence plays a dominant part in all. Overall, I want to make good music that stands the test of time and it doesn’t come by an overnight trip else it would a case of garbage in and garbage out and phase out in such split of the flight that brought it overnight.

Therefore if my music sounds like any of Igbo’s Kwokiriwo, Oduduwa’s Bembe or Dundun, Tiv’s Swange or Hausa’s Arewa lingua tone; so be it. I own the sound the perceiver owns the nomenclature. Boxing art can be boring, tiring and killing. We are all influenced even unconsciously by art exposure that you run into unexpectedly and so boxing art particularly in its early stage in my view is not needed that’s why you start some writing with a figure in mind and you arrive at something completely different. Like I said earlier, playing with an all Igbo music band that I didn’t even understand what they were saying. It was just for the love of the music. My influences must have come from this too as well from Oliver D’Coque that lived down my street and also from robbing minds with cultural troupes in the theatre.

The question then becomes “how early is early?” It’s time that assesses that maybe in decades and other several scores of year’s measure. Artists evolve with their sound over time depending on the available instruments, skills of players and the technology of its time.  I have had so many flairs, influences and interests that made and make me give an ear to many people (both in the formal and the informal learning spheres of music) and so the choices of sound come with several neck ties. 

Another question then arises whether art or music can be thought or not and the answer to this will have a double-edged sword cutting two mutually inclusive as well exclusive views. Art is what you have in-born (inherent) through experiences, interaction and the imbibed. Also there is that aspect of music that comes with formal or informal tutorship where some forms, techniques, structures, aesthetics, secrets, ethics and others are shown and explained to an individual. I am of the view that talent must be refined, groomed and developed else it remains a treasure in the debris of with mud among many un-needed particles and materials.

There is also that part where innate talent plays a role and regardless of how long and well someone was taught, the place of gift or calling (Àkọsílẹ̀ or Àkọmọ́) cannot be ruled out. And so, no matter how long a child was carried to dance or rocked with lullaby songs; if the child does not have that dancing motion within s/he just would not do the dance beyond the ordinary. Yoruba say “kíkọ́ ni mímọ̀,” that’s what I see about art generally.

 

Ayke: Is there any latest sound from you and on which platforms can your fans find it?

www.seunolota.com

https://seunolota.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Ayke: Is your sounds equally uploaded on RadioVybe?

Seun: Yes, it is on my RadioVybe page

 

Ayke: When you are taking a break from music, where do you spend your spare time?

Seun: No particular place. I like solitary confinement a lot because that is the place where destiny is birthed. There is always a thing to work on or an unfinished project to fine tune. So anywhere depending on my need not want then position and mood come in.

 

Ayke: If you will become a jazz musician, what instrument will you like to play?

Seun: I play African music first of all. I have also played jazz in the past and still do till date but, there is not that much jam sessions and band music venues happening around town now as it was in the 1990s when I began to take music serious. So, that has reduced playing jazz outside but one still has his music collections and keeps oneself amused sometimes when rehearsing with my group and at stop or break times one person can just introduce a melody or phrase all persons that were game would join the challenge and amusement.

Ayke: Whom will you like to work with and what will you bring into the musical collaboration?

Seun: Anybody whose values matched mine no doubt and the time was right. Also, if the vision for the particular project aligns well: Why not?

Ayke: What rituals do you do to calm your nerves before a musical performance or a competition?

Seun: Past experience, positive thinking, meditation and relying and reflecting on preparation; there is also a concentration and relaxation exercise that theatre artistes prepare themselves for performance with. It helps but above all preparation is the first relaxation guarantor because an unprepared person will naturally be under pressures. Getting to the performance venue on time also helps your relaxed state.

 

Ayke: I know you have pulled a lot of gigs but which one stood out for you and why?

Seun: No particular one because they all come with different flavours, challenges, qualities, reception, hospitality treatments, memories, audiences, demands and encounters that make the man and his music. For example, in the days when I still do Piano almost as my major; someone walks up to me from the audience of a small crowd and engage me one-on-one on music history, albums, collections and versions of titles that I rendered that night. Occasions like that have helped me to discover more, gained more confidence (the re-enforcement effect) and sometimes get me to hear facts that made me have self assessment on area to works on.

To some persons, their notable concert experience can be about financial reward while in some cases it’s not about the crowed but about the personalities in the audience. At other times you are just fulfilled to join a movement, support a worthy cause, promote a campaign or a project or by joining a solidarity cause. These bits form a whole bunch whose experience combination I count on for future projections, actions and decisions. So, none is small to me- they form a whole at the long run.

For instance, I learnt about the personalities in the audience as opposed to the crowd in the 1990s when I began to run my band in Jazzville. Jazzville had a standard where you can be refused entry regardless of your money-in-my-pocket if you don’t behave. It was a place where your money does not matter to the psyche of the management that ran the place. There was a notice close to the door that glasswares can’t go beyond the point which means that if you had to see someone off, you can’t get beyond a point within the premises with your drink. Such places where respect to its respected customers and audiences are most valued beyond a customer’s I have my money-in-my-pocket arrogance that’s exhibited in most places today. And so, till the last person in the audience leaves the musicians played as it should be played.

Also about the respect for the audience or fans, I also recall the days with Peter King’s set that from sound-check the papa has started playing the gig. For a 7pm to 11pm gig the sound check starts from 5pm but PK will not sit down after the sound check by the time we were about to rest before the gig time, it was already 7pm to start the gig so we had to continue and PK plays till the last audience with the same vigour. These fragments formed part of the cherished experiences.  

Or will you talk about Fela who at his legendary and super-stardomic height would never took his fans granted with height of the show given even though he did it regularly in his club house. He would have his sound-check as early as 10am for a outdoor gig that would hold in the evening or through the night meanwhile the so called trending stars today just want to get on stage and be throwing hands to show they are the boss in charge.

 

Ayke: What do you think will improve the state of musical artists and producers in Africa

Seun: I would wish to see a brotherhood and sisterhood relationship and support as well as collaborations. Support from our governments, agencies, ministries and our people is key. It is not enough to hear people proclaim the African dream and spirit yet invest outside Africa, keep their funds outside Africa and buy from outside Africa. We need to promote, project and patronize ours because a financially bouyant business or brand keeps it in operation; cash-flow is the blood of business.    

We need subsidized rates on musical instruments imported and purchases, grant avenues for art projects to get works from Africa showcased.  The production of local instruments should be funded and encouraged to because be cheaper to produce locally than produce them abroad. With this, we will also be able to pass on the knowledge of how to manufacture them that is fast getting eroded as those with this indigenous information are dying. This can lead us on the path of culture preservation as well as further developing the art of manufacturing them.

Formal studies schools for art should be on the rise to have the level of refinement and audience appreciation and understanding of what seriousness the arts entail.  So many people and the so called institutions and governments are yet to understand the reason why they should pump funds into the arts. But, when the world falls into recession or runs into chaos, it quickly runs to the art for a bail out or succor. Then they begin to think of peace concerts, making art practitioners ambassadors or contacting artistes for campaign initiatives.

Free access to other parts of Africa without so much cost and visa restrictions is affecting how exposed we are to ourselves. With more access to one another, we get to exchange ideas, partner on projects, network and pus for goals.

 

Ayke: Funnily what will ever make you render your services for free?

Seun: Charity!!! And I do this from time to time because some other people have given freely to me to. Helps have come to me from the people and places where I least expected it from and like my oga, Peter King once told me looking me sternly in the face that, “freely you were given and freely you must give too. Heen, you must give!” I never will forget this. I have had people that for no reason just felt “hey, this hey must be heard’ another saying, “I don’t have much but with the little within my reach, this guy must be given a push.” Life is not always about harvest but the seed that give for a greater harvest. Giving is just part of living. A mother gives and nature gives however, the motif behind the giving can be faulty though.

 

Ayke: Finally, Secrets! secrets! secrets! (laughs) your fans said I should ask you if there is a woman in your life?

Seun: I am happily married with two wonderful kids.

 

 

Ayke: Thank you so much for chatting with RadioVybe

 

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