Why is it that true love often occurs to the accompaniment of great music?
I remember that one of the happiest periods of my life was marked by my discovery of the music of a very good Nigerian musician called Rex Lawson.
Now, like all good Nigerian musicians, Mr Lawson had a “title” he had awarded to himself. He was called “Cardinal”.
Why not? Other famous musicians from that country had also accorded themselves titles, hadn’t they? Victor Uwaifo was a “Sir” (Knight of the British realm no less!) Others were “Kings”. And so on.
I came across Rex Lawson at the Ghana Press Club, then one of the most hospitable social centres in Accra.
It always had cold beer. And khebab personally grilled from excellent beef by a Barman called Rockson.
If you had just lost the love of a person you thought was going to be your life companion, it was an excellent place to go and drown your sorrows. Chairs and tables were arranged on very green grass in its spacious garden. There was enough distance between the tables to make conversation private. I spent hours there.
In between the beer-drinking and khebab munching, one could go into a fair-sized hall, where there was always music playing. Members who travelled abroad often brought records with them and donated them to the Club.
I think Rex Lawson arrived in the company of a funny number called “One short man” – a song that had amused a Ghana delegation of newsmen who had travelled around Nigeria, in the hope of befriending Nigeria newsmen and thus – hopefully – helping to reduce lessening the hostility that seemed to exist between the politicians of the two countries at the time.
The most fetching thing about Rex Lawson’s music, as far as I was concerned, was that there was an underlying element of melancholy in both his voice and the music that accompanied him when he sang.
The particular song of his that suited my mood best was entitled Tamuno bo Ibrima or something like that. I didn’t know what it was about, or, indeed what language it was being sung in. But it got to me with such power that it was as if it had been specially composed for me, to see me through that particular period! I couldn’t buy my own copy of the record (for then, as now, trade between neighbouring African countries was notoriously absent. So, if I got to the Press Club when there weren’t too many people present, I put the gramophone on “Repeat” and played that song again and again and again.
Eventually, I found a new love, and I often took her to the Press Club. But, of course, my melancholy had by now totally vanished. And so did Rex Lawson. I now discovered the joys hidden in Congolese rumba songs. One in particular, entitled “Linda! Linda!” embodied a spirit that said, “Hey chum, you were not born with a woman attached to you! They come and go. So buck up!”
I bucked up, Congolese rumba was not difficult to dance to, and eventually I became very fond of it, learning to craft fancy footwork to accord with the amazing guitar playing that dictated the rhythms of the songs.
I’ve recently discovered, through exercising my curiosity faculties, that some of the lovely songs that captivated me in the days of my youth, can be retrieved from the Google computer application called Youtube. When I typed “Rex Lawson” into the “Search” facility, almost everything that Rex Lawson had recorded in his lifetime was listed for me. I looked through the titles and tried to remember the song that had served me so well during the period that I thought love would kill me.
I am so glad I searched Youtube. For I discovered (after many trial and error attempts) that Mr Lawson recorded several versions of the song before he came up with the arrangement that I had loved so much. In one version, his vocals dominated the production. In a second, there was a greater instrumentation, but that was still a bit muted.
Then he came up with a balanced version that married instrumentation and vocals seamlessly, to achieve what is no doubt a masterpiece. I loved the idea of having been able to penetrate his mind to see how his ideas of musical expression developed and became “flesh” on the record I had treasured so much all those years ago.
As far as Congolese music is concerned, I have graduated from “Linda Linda” to sophisticated works of genius like Nes Nes; Voyage Instrumental;
And Dally Kimoko’s We Love You Nelson Mandela. That last song, happily, is not the only attempt by a Congolese band to offer the English-speaking word a product of its musical genius: those of us who don’t speak either Lingala or French can now understand some of what they’ve been telling the world.
A band called Soukous Stars has actually brought out catchy songs in English and Twi (one of the main languages spoken in Ghana!) If you are a Ghanaian, you will be thrilled to hear expressions like “Asabone nnkum asaase” distinctly recognisable in a song by a Congolese band, in such albums as Face To Face or Ghana Success. There are also Congolese albums entitled Lagos Night and Nairobi Night.
The attempts by Congolese bands to make themselves intelligible to English-speaking Africans is entirely logical. I have personally witnessed Congolese bands enchanting African audiences and if African unity had been pursued in an organised manner, instead of ‘sporadically’ (as it has hitherto been) Congolese music would have conquered the African continent and invaded the rest of the world as well.
As for me, I sincerely thank Youtube for enabling me to recover so much of the lost musical delights of my youth that I feared had been lost to me – for ever!