As I racked my brain last week in search of how best to begin a befitting tribute to Ras Kimono, Nigerian-born Reggae icon whose funeral rites began August 17, I stumbled on this piece by Sly Ojigbede of Classic FM 97.3 titled “Where are the prophets?” – apparently adapted from Peterside Ottong’s song of that title.
“As the ‘Roots Reggae’ subgenre is symbolic with struggles against economic oppression, poverty and the likes, one would expect a significant number of ‘freedom fighters’ in the subgenre echoing continuous chants with reference to the state of Nigeria today, failing governments and huge public outcries as innocent lives are brutally slain day by day,” Ojigbede wrote.
That was what Ras Kimono and his contemporaries on the Nigerian music scene stood for. Indeed, after a recent interview with Orits Wiliki, I have busied myself digging into the musical archives to unearth those great reggae songs of the late 1980s and 1990s. Luckily for me, most of them are available on Youtube. Every morning since then I’ve interchangeably listened to several tracks by Kimono, Orits Wiliki, Majek Fashek, Peterside Ottong, Maxwell Udoh, Evi-Edna Ogholi, Andy Shurman, The Mandators, and the rest of that generation. I have carefully listened to the lyrics of those songs again and again and, Oh my!, there is no single track that doesn’t speak to my soul, that doesn’t draw tears to my eyes.
Over and again I have played Kimono’s “Under Pressure”, “What’s Gwan?”, “Natty Get Jail”, “Kimono De Want”, “Slavery Days”, “Kill Apartheid”, “Gimme Likkle Sugar”, “Rumour Mongers”, “Dem Persecute Rastas”, and a host of others. Every single one of them speaks against one social injustice or the other, and each one remains as relevant today as it was when it was released decades ago. Things have gone progressively worse. Talk of the musician as a prophet.
So, when I read Kimono describe himself as “a comrade and a social advocate” in a July 2017 interview with Premium Times, I merely nodded in agreement.
“I live with the people and know what they are going through, suffering and smiling,” he told Premium Times. “So, that is why I don’t live in highbrow areas like in Lekki or Ajah and all those kinds of places. I live where the people live so I can see the tribulation they are going through; suffering and the humiliation, so we can put it into our music and expose it. Like I said, I’m an advocate of the people. If I don’t expose it, who is going to do it for them?”
Alas, how much the drive and content of Nigerian music has changed! The lyrics of today’s songs are meaningless and profane, the videos terribly nasty. None speaks truth to power nor sings against social injustices. It’s all about pecuniary gains and fame. That’s why the songs have terribly short lifespan. If only today’s so-called music stars could de-emphasise instant gratification and create songs that would outlive them, just as Kimono and his contemporaries did.
Born May 9, 1958, Ras Kimono came to limelight in 1989 with the release of his album “Under Pressure”, after a long apprenticeship on the Nigerian music circuit that saw him experimenting with a number of styles. He would go ahead in subsequent years to release more hit songs.
When Benson & Hedges came with its Golden Tunes concerts in Nigeria, Ras Kimono was on board, alongside many others. Ahead of the concert at the Kano Pillars Stadium on May 29, 1999, Kimono had had an auto crash with members of his Massive Dread band, after which he had complained of a troubled chest.
Kimono relocated to the United States in 2004, where he spent about six years. On his return to Nigeria in 2010, he released an album in 2012 titled “Matter of Time”, which had tracks like “Veteran”, “Wicked Politicians”, “Matter of Time”, “Screw Face”, “Good Time”, and “A Tribute to Lucky Dube”.
Kimono passed away in Lagos June 10 and will be laid to rest August 25 in his hometown, Onitsha-Olona, Delta State. and will be laid to rest August 25 in his hometown, Onitsha-Olona, Delta State.
As Orits Wiliki told me recently, “The reggae man is not a rich man.” Kimono himself told Premium Times last year, “A lot of reggae musicians like us were not rich because we don’t sing what they want us to sing.” Kimono may not have died a rich man, but as Bob Marley tells us, “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”
Kimono was a positive influence on many young minds who listened to his songs. His life should remind us of what Wale Adenuga constantly tells us: we are pencils in the hands of the Creator. What we write on the walls of people’s memory as we go through life is up to each one of us.
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