Jul 14, 2010
Down Memory Lane With Orlando Julius
ORLANDO Julius Ekemode (a.k.a O.J) who left Nigeria for Ghana a couple of years ago, is back home. In this exclusive interview with CLETUS NWACHUKWU, he revealed that one of the major reasons he left the country for Ghana was the perennial epileptic power supply in the country. He went down memory lane and also spoke on the Nigerian music industry.
I am Orlando Julius Ekemode and I am from Ijebu-Jesa in Osun State. I was however born in Ikole-Ekiti in 1943, and went to school there. When I got to high school, I lost my father who was a trader and I had to move to Ibadan, Oyo State.
I started music in Ibadan in 1957 and I say, as an apprentice. You know, to be a musician, you have to learn how to play different instruments. I was one of the lucky ones who benefited from the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who showed great love for music and as a friend of the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who made music, a subject taught in Ghanaian schools.
Although Awolowo was only the premier of the then Western region and through his political party called Action Group (AG) established what I would not call a music school as such, he bought several musical instruments that were enough for over 30 bands. It was open to all those interested in learning and playing music. That was where I learned music alongside Alaba Pedro, Y. S., Eddy Okonta, Akani Moses and many others.
The first band I played with was Eddy Okonta's band in 1958, at Oke-Bola, Ibadan. I was with this band for two and half years and appeared on television (WNTV) with him.
Apart from the saxophone, what other musical instrument can you play?
During my school days, I was playing the drums with the school band. At Ibadan, I learnt more about the drums, the rudiments of music and can now play the guitar, trumpet, keyboard and of course, saxophone in all notes.
What happened after Eddy Okonta's band?
After I left Okonta's band, I moved to Ijebu-Ode and played at several hotels and clubs, together with the likes of late I.K. Dairo, Y.S. Maybe you should know, I am related to I. K. Dairo because his mother and my own mother were from the same parents. He was the one who encouraged me to return home because somebody gave them some musical instruments, which they were not using. Then they were playing Juju-highlife and so I returned to Ilesha. I led the band then called I.K. Dairo's Band and I recruited musicians from different places including Lagos and Ibadan. In fact, Jimi Solanke was also in the band, including Isiaka Adio, who later left to help Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to establish his band called Koola Lobitos. Indeed, things moved so fast for me and probably a year later, I moved back to Ibadan to form my own band and began playing at Independence Hotel, Oke Bola.
What was the name of your own band?
It was called Orlando Julius and His Modern Ace. Before then, I remember recording a song Igbehin Adara, which I composed, wrote and performed at WNBC studios in Ibadan. Later, I got signed on by Phillips Records and I recorded Jagua Nana and other hit songs. Afterwards, some of my band members left to join Fela's Koola Lobitos. My band continued playing and we recorded many singles because then, there were no LPs. We did lots of singles and extended plays.
When was your first album released?
That was in 1965, when I did the album Super Afro Souls.
What motivated your movement to the United States several years back?
Well, my contract with Phillips Records expired in 1972. It was a 10-year contract and then I decided to move around and so, went on a visit to the United States to see how things were being done over there. However, it was in 1974, that I finally decided to move to there to work and do music. In the United States, I was able to study film and it was the same time Tunde Kelani was also studying film in London. I read film and production at San Francisco University and also had a music band. And in 1977, I became the first African to do a collaboration with an American star called Lamon Dozia. The song was Going Back To My Roots and I added the Yoruba lyrics (Awa oma ranti se ranti ye o, isedale baba wa).
So far, how many albums have you produced, apart from the singles?
I would say about 14 albums.
How would you describe the music scene back then?
Music was very big, particularly highlife. And my contemporaries before I left Nigeria were Rex Lawson, Eddy Okonta, E. C. Arinze, Dele Ojo, Osita Osadebe to name a few. But then, I was doing a different kind of highlife. I modernised it to Afro and I called it Afro-Highlife.
You reportedly spent over 25 years in the United States. Was that where you met your wife, Latoya?
No, I met her first in 1987.
And you got married immediately?
No, I met her through the late Ambrose Campbell and after that, we lost contact because I was living in North California and she was living in South California. My band was busy moving around doing music and it was in 1989 when we met again. At that time, I needed a dancer and a back-up singer. She joined my band in 1990 and started working with me. I would say she was a very good singer and dancer. Four years later (1994), we started getting closer.
How many children do you have together?
She already had kids before we met and I had already had kids here in Nigeria before I went to the United States. But we don't have any kid together and it's a mutual understanding.
How would you describe her?
She is a blessing to my life. As a wife, friend, partner, dancer, singer and member of my band, I continue to bless the day she came into my life. Unlike other musicians, she was not money-conscious and was ever-willing to do things to help move the band forward. She is like a mother to me. In fact, she is too much! It might also interest you that she in fact made the marriage proposal.
What's the difference between your generation of musicians and the present ones?
There's a big difference between an artiste and a musician. Today, most of these guys are artistes. As a musician, you must be able to play one, two or more instruments and direct music. But today, it's all about miming. I would blame it on the fact that there are no music schools where they can learn how to do music. That's why our kids are doing hip-hop rather than highlife or juju.
As a man and a musician, do you feel fulfilled?
Yeah, 100 per cent. People all over the world are still enjoying my music. You can get my music to buy from the internet and it is even being enjoyed and patronised mostly by the whites, who don't understand my Yoruba lyrics.
Which of your albums sold the highest and gave you joy and satisfaction?
I can't really say, because most of my albums are classic. You know, I write my music notes, arrange the instrumentations, lyrics and everything and after the hard work of production, listening to them gives me a great deal of joy and happiness. Imagine a kid of 12 or 13 years in love with the song Jagua Nana, produced several decades ago. That's the power of music.
Why did you decide to move to Ghana?
I returned home to Nigeria with my wife in 1998 and we were living in Surulere, Lagos, where we had a studio. We brought in lots to quality equipments and did try to record albums. But we were always having problems with power supply. And it caused us so much damage. Eventually, we decided to move and after performing at the PANAFEST in Ghana, I was impressed with the power supply and decided to stay on and establish a music studio to produce our albums.
Do you plan to establish a music school to help the growth of music in Nigeria?
Yeah, there are plans, but we can't do it alone without corporate and government support. But it's always hard getting government support because of their politicking. You can see the importance of attending a music school, through that young lady, Asa.
I remember that before we travelled to Ghana, a fella brought her to our studio and we directed her to Yinka Davies. On our return, I was happy that she decided to do a good thing with her life by attending Peter King's music school in Badagry. Today, she can play the guitar and other instruments very well as well as compose and arrange her songs. If many of our kids can attend music schools, we would definitely see that this country is blessed with lots of stars.
You said something about both of you releasing new albums. How soon should we expect it?
Over there in Ghana, I did an album and produced some songs for her album too. OJB Jezreel also did some tracks for her in the album. I would call her music Afro-Soul, and she did a couple of songs in Yoruba, which she learnt, from me.
Is any of your children taking after you musically?
Yeah, my son in Los Angeles named Ajamu, born to me by an African American woman is doing music. He plays Afro hip-hop and he is 26 years old and last year, he released an album. His full names are Ajamu Oyegoke Ekemode.
And your own, funkified names?
You should know that Orlando is just a nickname I adopted because of my record label. They advised then that if I use my real names it would seem like I am playing Apala or Sakara music. I took the name Orlando from the popular movie actor, Orlando Martins who acted with the likes of Bob Hope and the late American president, Ronald Reagan. He was a Nigerian the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo brought back home to be part of the establishment of WNTV.
Even Orlando Owoh took the name too, after me. At a time when he was in the army, he would go about singing like me and gradually people started calling him Orlando.
Last year certainly was a bad one for the music industry in terms of death.
Did you at any time approach the past and present PMAN leadership to do more on artistes' welfare?
I have always been interested in helping the industry grow. But the problem is the response of PMAN leadership to offers of help. It's been very nonchallant. After Sunny Ade's tenure, I told my wife that I was interested in participating in the affairs of PMAN. I went ahead, paid my dues but up till now, I don't have a membership card. Who do I go and fight?
When Charley Boy was PMAN president, I did a lot to encourage him and during my stay in Ghana, I invited him over and he was happily received and hosted by the leadership of Ghana Musicians Union. After he left office, I also visited Bolaji Rosiji to discuss ways forward for the music industry. I have also had discussions with Tee-Mac on the issue of getting royalties for musicians.
Today, Nigeria is not enjoying the services provided by other member countries of PMRS. Overseas, radio and television stations have a log book to record music played and on how much an artistes would receive for getting his song played. It might interest you to know that till today, I still receive royalties for my records. Do you know also that I have to operate an account from Ghana to pick my royalties because PMRS stopped dealing with Nigeria long ago due to our past policies. It is a shame that no artiste from Nigeria collects royalties from anywhere.
What's the way out?
It is to get the government more involved and look back at its policies, redress the past mistakes and make the industry an open and level playing field.
What legacy do you intend leaving behind as a fulfilled musician?
I want to be remembered as a musician who loved his country. As someone who gave the people beautiful music and was always ready to help and do the best for the overall growth of this great country and the world in general. Still on the royalty issues, I want PMAN, NCC, MSCN and others to take it seriously because it is now so bad that even radio stations now go to Alaba market to buy CDs and play on air without paying artistes.
I want to also be remembered as someone who helped Nigerian artistes to get their rights. I would not go back on the music school project and I have set up my music studios in my place in Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State.
What's up with your newest job?
My new job is titled Longevity and reclamation.
The interview was published by The Guardian Nigeria, unfortunately not available online at their page anymore!