The Soundtrack To My Life Story

Can my music be the saviour of my race/ Can you see reality written on my face

Can my music be the saviour of my race/
Can you see reality written on my face

Every stage of my life has been footnoted by a particular song or album. Certain songs remind me of certain periods of happiness, triumph, victories or struggles. I could hear a tune that makes me want to fist pump due to the happy memories it invokes. Then another one would come on that reminded me of a life low. The wonderful thing about music is that sometimes just one lyric or stanza or chorus out of the whole composition speaks to you. That is how I chronicle my life story – based on music I was digging at the time.

Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” reminds me of the 90s, secondary school events, playing Streetfighter 2 with friends all day, sharwamas from Terri’s at 1004 or UTC, house parties, hanging out with friends and going on city trips, summer school lessons and youthful dalliances. The lyrics to “Summertime” are hard and true: Sitting with your friend, cause you all reminisce/ about the days growing up and the first person you kiss/ And as I think back, makes me wonder/ how the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia/ all the kids playing out front/ little boys messing round with the girls playing double dutch/

In senior secondary school, my childish innocence gave away to adolescent rebellion, as I looked to find my place in a Nigeria that was dithering on the blink of socio-political implosion during the last years of the military. I fell in with bad company, and my crew broke school rules and skipped classes. I nearly got suspended from school, save for my folk’s direct intervention with the school authorities. My dad’s disciplining was hash. Life was miserable, and I  was in a bad place with my folks. I listened  to and was inspired by Biggie Small’s song “Juicy” from his first album: Damn right I like the life I live/ Cause I went from negative to positive/

Fast forward to my adult years – I worked part-time in a high-volume call center handling hundreds of customer service calls from very irate customers who vented their frustrations about one irritation or another.

I would slip my mp3 earphones under the call center headphones, and listen to music on the low, while the customers mouthed off. Sometimes customers took out their frustrations on the call center agents, even making personal attacks. One called my co-worker the “N” word, and banged the phone. Another threatened to come over to the call center and shove the phones down another co-worker’s mouth, because he wanted a refund.

One got verbally irate with me, but I was not fazed. Puff Daddy’s song “Cant Nobody Hold Me Down” was playing in my MP3 player. Can’t nobody take my pride/ Can’t nobody hold me down/Oh no, I have got to keep on moving/

Later, I listened to another customer rant on, about seeing shards of a broken bottle on the floor in our company’s store. I apologized on behalf of the company, but the customer was not satisfied and continued to vent. I blocked out his drama with lyrics from Puffy, which I was bumping: Broken glass everywhere/ if it aint about the money, Papa just don’t care/

When my pops passed, it was the worst period of my life. Jay Z had written a song “Lost Ones” about long lost friendships and the death of his nephew, and a line from that song reverberated in my mind, as I stood at the gravesite during the dust to dust rights. I hummed the piano riffs, as the burial crowd looked amazed:

Close my eyes and squeeze, try to block that thought/ Place any burden on me but please, not that, Lord/ But time don’t go back, it goes forward/ Can’t run from the pain, go towards it/ Some things can’t be explained, what caused it/ Such a beautiful soul, so pure sh../ Gonna see you again, I’m sure of it/ Till that time, big man, I’m nauseous/

Seeing so wonderful a man, shoved and shoveled beneath 6 feet of dirt below, made me realize the brevity of life. Everything is meaningless without love, faith and family. It is worthless to put your hopes in worldly vanities, fortune and fame. Too often we chase after the wrong things in life which have a finite existence. Wealth can be lost during a man’s life to economic circumstances, misfortune and waste. It can be lost after his death to graveyard thieves, lack of maintenance culture, spoilt kin, and grabby relatives.

To help me understand this new philosophy, the lyrics of U2’s Walk On helped thus:

All that you fashion, all that you make/All that you build, all that you break/ All that you measure, all that you feel/ All this you can leave behind/ All that you reason, all that you care/
All that you sense, all that you scheme/All you dress up, and all that you see/All you create, all that you wreck/All that you hate/ You’ve got to leave it behind

All sorrows heal, and broken hearts mend like an agama lizard’s tail. That was scant consolation when I got my heart broken the first and only time in my life, by a cheating girlfriend. I was delirious, but my pal Kola laughed away my matter by suggesting I move on quick to a rebound chick, as he advised “The only solution to woman troubles is new women”

He quoted a song that was on rotation in his tape deck so I could make sense of what he was saying. It was from an old Tuface Idibia feature in a Tony Tetulia tune called “My kind of woman”: Ogogoro be like woman; If you shack am, you go high o.

Hmmm…

Certain songs remind me of periods of good, good, loving. When my missus and I first started dating, we would video-Skype and listen to Train’s “Get to Me”, every evening we were apart with lyrics like: Why don’t you hitch a ride on the back of a butterfly and get to me/ I look around at what I have got, and without you it ain’t a lot/

When my daughter was born, I was there in the theatre as the doctors checked all her vital statistics. I couldn’t believe it – Esco, the blogger, lawyer, now papa? I volunteered to ferry her to the nursery myself so that we could James Bond. As we took those baby steps of new father and daughter together, I prayed greatness over the life she was about to embark on. I did a small father and daughter dance with her, as I remembered Nas’s tribute to his own daughter “Me and You” and I quote: “One day, you will meet the right groom/ and then, you will see your life bloom”

And sometimes when life gets me down, as I think about Nigeria’s problems and the new menace of terrorism and extreme corruption, and ponder if we will ever rise above the depths of poverty, misalignment and corruption, music helps me get through that too. It is impossible to listen to “Home” by Cormega and not be encouraged: If your life isn’t  in order, seize control/Adversity’s a lesson, be composed/Above all spread love hate stains the soul/Those with no purpose are afraid to grow/He who walks in small steps has a way to go/On the road to the riches you exposed to resentment/Everybody wants eat but they won’t do the dishes/My whole view is different since I rose from the benches/The goal was to get it and I showed true persistence/

I leave you be with a medley of songs that have been on repeat in my tape deck a lot these past days, as I build last memories of today for the future. The Sountrack to my essence in 2015. Realize that today is the first day that begins forever.

  1. Savoir Adore – Dreamers
  2. M.I. – Imperfect Me
  3. U2 – City of Blinding Lights
  4. CL Smooth & Pete Rock – Take You There
  5. Nas – Hey Young World
  6. Scarface – Picking Up the Pieces
  7. The Courteeners – Not Nineteen Forever
  8. Train – Following Rita
  9. Whitney Houston – When you are loved
  10. LifeHouse – Sick Cycle Carousel
  11. Cormega – Rise
  12. Olamide – Church
  13. C.L. Smooth and Pete Rock – Take You There
  14. Makavelli – White Man’s World

Ooh Child, Your Friend Has Got To Go

Make yourself at home.... in your own home

Make yourself at home…. in your own home

My street on after-school evenings was like a mini-PDP rally. Children of primary school age would hang out on the street playing “catcher” and “freeze-tag”, until our mums called us in. Fear of gbomo gbomo was real, but so was the fear of an ass whooping for staying out late.

All the kids old enough to walk came out to hang and play. There were the BMX vs. Chopper vs Raleigh bicycle wars where we raced for bragging rights about which was the best brand. Some of the younger kids played “mama and papa” games where they pretended to be married and made “soup” out of garden leaves, and eba out of sand from the sand pit at the end of the street. That is how I kissed my first crush at 7, a pretty young thing by the name of Felicia.

Our street lights sparked the Lagos night. A few gluttonous kids busied themselves aiming slippers at the ripe almonds (popularly known as “fruit”) hanging from the tree of one the neighbors Mr. Onwubiko the neighborhood sadist. The juiciest fruit always seemed to hide at the top of the tree, out of reach, and out of bounds. He would run out of his house waiving the cane of life and the kids would scramble in different directions, like a babalawo’s cowry shells. On Friday evenings, brutish older kids from the adjacent rougher suburb showed up with catapults which they used to hunt agama lizards almost to extinction. In their own neighborhood, they raced old bike tire rims for pink slips – whoever won kept the loser’s tire rim, thereby condemning the victim to many evenings of dulling. These brutes tried to bully kids from our street, until we met fire with fire with our water guns. It was a medley of childish fun.

However the kids of one particular neighbor Apostle Nimrod never hung out.  They lived in a bungalow at the corner – a family of Apostle and his wife, and two sons and a daughter aged 5, 7 and 11. One would see them moping from behind their fence, martialed by the eldest one, who deterred them from breaking bounds. Some other kids tried to beckon to them to join our din, but they would not dare, even when their folks were not home. Apparently Apostle forbade them from mixing with “those children of the world.”

One day, the middle child out of Apostle’s kin struck a conversation with me, over by her fence. She was my age – a dark-skinned, inquisitive cutie named Modupe. Her hair was neatly plaited in rows of the “periwinkle” style that reigned at the time, with shining white teeth that could make her the poster-child for Pepsodent. She liked my junior parole, and introduced me to her brothers.

Soon, I was chatting with them over by their wall every evening during playtime. I brought over comics, toys, drawings I had made, and entertained them with stories about the latest episode of Voltron, G-Force or the Kunkuru Puppet Show. It was not long before they invited me over. I had a slick mouth as a kid especially when I went on a charm offensive. I scaled the fence, and entered their house.

From what I could see, their parents were strict followers of a Bar Beach based fellowship and had groomed them to be fundamentalists. They were not allowed to watch daytime TV and had never seen Sound of Music, Storyland, Speak Out or Sesame Street.

I made myself at home, and lay on the floor, drawing a Voltron comic on an exercise book I had brought with me, while they watched in fascination.

Then we heard the blare of car horns – their folks were back 40 minutes earlier than usual. Everyone panicked. I ducked and hid under the dinner table. Their dad came in and then he paused. He seemed to sense that there was an illegal immigrant in his home. It wasn’t long before he had sniffed me out from under the table, like the UK Border Agency. As he quizzed the eldest child to explain why he had let me into the house, and threatened brimstone, his attention was caught by a sheet of paper lying under the table. It was a drawing of a robeast. He almost fainted. He tore the drawing into tiny bits of paper, enough to make confetti. He turned to his eldest son, and shook him furiously like a palm-wine calabash, blaming him for flouting the no-visitors rule.

Turning to me, I was declared persona non-grata forever. I did not wait to be told to take an exit. I bailed the hell out of Dodge, grabbing my book of Voltron drawings and crayons, as I breezed pass their mum at the door. Apostle had seized the red crayon. SMT.

The over-strictness and overbearing nature of some parents invariably drive their children into a life of indiscipline, promiscuity or disdain for authority. Some of the most unruly people I know had very strict controlling parents, and they ended up lashing out against the school and then society in their adult years, as way of rebelling against their lack of a fair childhood.

There is also an opposite extreme, where parents over-smother their kids with affection, spoiling them and not giving them a certain independence required for the child to come into its own.

I guess an analogy can be made between parental smothering and the overbearing nature of the Nigerian State. Our motherland has to create a system give its citizens room to breathe and take on the world.

There is a fine balance to be struck between sparing the rod, or putting the child in a vice-grip. My folks were fairly easy going about friends and associate coming over to visit. Their thing was – they had trained me to be a good judge of character, and they trusted me to make the right decisions. Like, it is your house too – if you like, go and invite an armed robber or an axe murderer in.