Your recent collaboration with Tuface Idibia is the talk of the moment. How did it come about?
Premier Records and Spinlet put heads together to commission us to do the collaboration in order to bring something that will be a novelty in the music industry.
So it wasn’t your idea or his?
No, it wasn’t any of our ideas. The idea was formulated by Spinlet and Premier Recording Company. I was approached and I viewed it and I told them there was sense in the collaboration.
But you have not really done such a collaboration before…
Oh yes, I had for some time refused to collaborate with any individual. I wasn’t able to measure the degree of what they could contribute to my music. Most of my numbers, over the years, have been hit numbers. I couldn’t imagine anybody could come and make it ‘hiter’ or better.
Was the collaboration worth your while? Do you have any misgivings?
I don’t have any regret so far. It is the talk of the town now and it gives me joy.
The chap involved is very talented. He is respectful and respectable and highly gifted. He has the qualities.
Would you have agreed to this project if any other artiste was considered?
They say the taste of the pudding is in the eating. I would have listened to anybody brought my way. I wouldn’t have been able to determine the musical qualities of the individual until I had tasted it and considered it what I would love. Tuface is gifted. I adore him, I admire him and I love him. He has most of the qualities I would expect of a young lad like him.
Going by the success of this collaboration, would you have wished you considered this move earlier than now?
I wouldn’t have thought of it. I was successful. Over the years, my lyrics have been hot cake in the market. Even before I was nominated to play at the Independence Ball in the 60s, my music was on top. In fact, the idea of collaboration came on a few years ago when artistes felt they wouldn’t be able to do it all alone so they needed somebody to join them. But I was doing it alone and I didn’t have such feeling until this suggestion and I decided to give it a thought.
Do we see you collaborating with any of your contemporaries or those that came after you?
Most of my contemporaries no longer exist. The chances of collaborating with them are cancelled. The only people I could collaborate with are the up and coming ones. I will try and see which ones are talented.
As much as the present generation artistes are making it more commercially, are you comfortable with their lyrics?
I do not agree with most of their lyrics. In my days, I made sure that anything I composed or dished out to the public is not only musical, but also educative and poetic and it must convey sense and good music. It is a concord of sweet music. I think we have to re-plan with the youth and tell them to go back to the archives and be able to do something meaningful and educative and musical. I am not criticising; I am not even a critic as such. But most of the things I hear and watch on the TV, they don’t give me much to desire. They don’t give me the full joy of a good musical composition. However, no matter what we say, they are getting on with it and making money from it. Everybody wants to be a musician and there is nothing we can do about it. With time, I hope they will improve and we have a better ‘musical’ tomorrow.
Watching the video, it is obvious that age is not telling on your dance moves. How did you retain such dexterity?
It is just God’s grace and guidance. I do a lot of physical exercise as well to keep the body and soul going. I rehearse with the band every Wednesday. Every Saturday, from 11pm, we play till the sunrise on Sunday. A lot of people wonder how I have been able to manage at this age. But this is something I have done over the years.
Of all instruments, why did you choose to play the trumpet?
I would say it was by accident or design. I played the drum in the school band in my school, Africa School Onitsha in 1946. I was playing the A flat French horn, then B flat French horn. I discovered my band leader, Chris Odiachi, was on the B flat cornet. The cornet has the tendency of piercing through all the instrument. It was dominating the lyrics. I loved that very much. I appeared to have a domineering stance, which was why I played football as well. I decided to go for the trumpet. It was easy to manipulate the B flat trumpet. It was easier to play than the cornet. I have never got tired of playing the instrument and I will not get tired until the stars lose their glory.
Why didn’t you concentrate on football?
The football we were playing in those days was during the time of Teslim Balogun and Inyang Henshaw. We were all playing at Onikan Stadium then. Football wasn’t something anybody could write home about. We were just playing for the love of football. As time went on, the teams weren’t stable. I found out I was more inclined to music than football. I found more joy in music. On one occasion, I was marking Teslim (Thunderbolt) Balogun. I was playing for Land and Survey and he was playing for Pan Bank. So as I was marking him in the game, Thunder pinned down my right toe as we were going to head a ball. He aimed at my right toe and pressed it down. It was very painful. I watched him. After a while, I decided to return the hat trick, the referee had to warn me. He saw what I did but he didn’t see Thunder when he did his own. The pain went on for a while. I eventually concentrated on music.
Was music something to write home about then?
We found joy in music. I, ABC Cole and Bala Mila. We wanted to do something. Bobby Benson was dominating the whole scene that time. We put our heads together and formed a band in the 50s.
So the band was formed to primarily deflate Bobby Benson’s dominance. Did you succeed?
That wasn’t the main intention. We had to make good use of our leisure and we started doing music. We even succeeded. Bobby was playing jazz and we were ‘managing’ to play highlife. What we started with was nothing to write home about but we got better with practices. When the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti left school, he came to join my band. It was with my band that he learnt to play the trumpet. He was one of my scholars. He had music in him anyway. By the time he left school, he was already playing the piano. As at the time he joined us, our band already had a good name. He was able to manipulate the trumpet very well before he now went to England.
But before you formed you own band, you were with Bobby Benson…
Yes. I broke away from him to form my band. I was leading one of the strings. He had about four strings and he was leading one and me and somebody were leading one jointly.
Did you quarrel with Bobby Benson?
We had a minor quarrel. But that wasn’t the main reason I left. We had nursed the ambition of forming our band. The night we had that simple disagreement, ABC Cole jumped at the opportunity and told me that we must go and form our own band.
Can you still recall what caused the disagreement between you and Bobby?
I remember. Each time I closed, he usually gave me transport to take me home to my Tinubu Square antique father’s house. I cannot remember what actually happened that evening but Bobby wanted me to take a solo on the trumpet. I told him I wasn’t keen. He asked me to repeat what I said. I told him that I wasn’t keen. I didn’t know he had memorised the word ‘keen’. When the show ended, I went to him for my transport fare and he told me he wasn’t ‘keen’. ABC Cole who was watching just took me home. That was how I left the band and I never returned. I didn’t even collect my pay.
Why didn’t you play jazz like him?
I had flair for highlife and not jazz. Each time we played highlife, I discovered the floor was always jam-packed. It was a good attraction for me.
You eventually broke away from the band. Why?
We got divided for inevitable reasons. The band became so big and powerful. People started tempting players out of the band. Bala Mila eventually left Lagos. I and ABC Cole fell out. I had to manage the band solo. I was to go to England to study Law but the boys in the band appealed to me. They told me we should play for a while before I leave. All the money I saved, I used in buying second hand instrument and we continued playing.
What happened to the dream of going to England?
It was abandoned till now. It got to a point I wasn’t talking about going to school. My band had become so big. I played at the Independence Ball. Then again, it was at that time that Daily Times started the Miss Nigeria beauty pageant. I was nominated to play at the show. I was backed up with big publicity. We played in so many cities. My brother was the one that decided we should go to England to study. I told him that he should go ahead and I would join him later. But I eventually, discovered that I had bookings even till the following year and I had even issued receipts. I had to tell him he should go and that I would join him. This was what caused the end of my first marriage.
Yes. I had to ask my wife to proceed to England so that I could complete all the engagement I had in order to avoid people who had booked and paid me taking me to court. I was going to join her but eventually, I didn’t. We had to part. I had to stay put. My brother qualified, came back and still met me playing music.
So after the marriage crashed, you got married again and again?
How many wives do you have now?
I have not taken the delight to count the number of wives. Suffice it to say that I am respectably married with children. At the moment, I have one wife. I managed to wriggle out
Your recent collaboration with Tuface Idibia is the talk of the moment. How did it come about?