Isedale’s journey to Christmas Eve groove

This material was first published in The Nation, Lagos

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Isedale 

Last December, Isedale and De Cowries and other artists go on stage launch the next level of their musical pursuit. His is a fusion of traditional rhythm and elements of classical jazz. Alliance Francais first put him on stage. Then Felabration at the Afrika Shrine last year confirmed his worth. The crooner cum instrumentalist spoke on his journey so far with The Nation Group Arts and Culture Editor PRINCE SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE

When his name was announced as the next performer during last year’s Felabration, an event set aside to celebrate the life of late Afro beat king Fela Anikulapo Kuti, hardly did anybody know what to expect. He was billed alongside other artistes both worldwide famous ones and obscure ones. But what kind of name is Isedale? Could it be another imitation of Lagbaja?

The opening glee was a fast rush of heavy African percussion reminiscent of acrobatic masquerades’ shows. It is a hot charge that seemed a thunder on assignment in the dry season. The musicians, instrumentalists and dancers skimped onto the stage with the same gusto skipping like dervishes. The choreography reflected coordinated complex moves that could only have been born out of rigorous rehearsals.

At the head of the team was Isedale himself. Standing at six feet, dark skinned and well built, he was the archetypal African male image. Surging with energy that befits a poster boy of African personality, he moved so deftly that at times members of his Cowries band had difficulty moving with him as he changed from one mode to another.

The fast tempo drums work lasted only a few minutes. It was brought to an arresting halt that created an eerie silence. The audience did not know what to do – applaud or wait for the next. Before anybody could resolve what to do next, the musician changed gear.

Blaring horns ushered in the mellow ballad that followed. Lagbaja has succeeded in incorporating traditional drums into his Felaresque Afro calypso. But this was something else. Both the rhythm and the predominance of percussions in their raw forms spoke of deep-rootedness in African tradition.

Then the lyrics.

Any child who grew up in traditional African village knows about the folklores the entertained, enlightened and instructed young ones in Africa of those days. One form of folklore is what the Yoruba people call alo apagbe in which call and response songs go with the tales. Imagine presenting it through a modern musical orchestra ensemble and you would begin to perceive what Isedale is all about.

The king put together a special reception to receive a unique guest. The festive gathering was to welcome Isedale. No, not Isedale the musician although pun was intended. The Isedale is :tradition” personified in the track, Teremina. The difference between sweet potato and Irish potato is as clear as that between the heads of an elephant and the buffalo. Thus Isedale blended witty lines with mumbling additives to chart out his conviction that African traditional culture remained superior to modern pop culture.

He is actually a product of the tradition he celebrates. His father was a peasant farmer and the mother a petty trader. They could hardly afford to train him and after his mother died an aunt took him to a neighbouring West African country where he had a first taste of people often encounter when they stake their destinies upon promises of mortals.

His father was also a musician who had his own band. “He played molo,” Isedale said, “which some people sometimes call sakara. It is a genre that has more or less disappeared completely by now.

“My father taught me to play drums when I was eight and a half years old. In those days, someone would actually carry me on the shoulder while another would hold the drum for me to dish out my stuff.”

Even at that early stage his prodigious talent was manifest. The community had a number of were bands that would go round in the morning to rouse up Islamic faithful early to prepare sari during the fasting month of Ramadan. The leader of one band took particular interest in young Isedale. He would take him out to perform with his band even that early in the morning. Isedale’s father was not happy about this development. He had lived a hard life and concluded that life as an alagbe begging minstrel was not for his son. Although he taught Isedale to play drums he insisted the young boy must aspire to acquire western education and seek career far from the music industry.

Primary school was at the village while secondary school he began there was concluded at Ota when he went to stay with one of his sister to get exposed to life beyond the limited horizon of hamlet – more or less a farmstead – where he grew up. Thereafter he headed for the technical college to study computer. This he did not conclude as an aunt resident in a neighbouring West African country invited him over with the promise that he would continue his training there in a better set up.

Isedale soon returned to Nigeria as the promises made were nothing more than empty shells. Frustrated, he drifted up and down swimming in the slime of lack and emotional pain. Depression was his daily companion.

A friend he had known before leaving Nigeria introduced him the his brother who was a sailor. Without any maritime training, he was brought on board as a cook. In the course of this, the friend’s brother who was the captain started breaking him on the rudimentary principles and practical of handling a vessel. It was when he moved to another sea-faring fishing vessel that fate brought him in contact with a captain who himself was a saxophonist. The man encouraged him not to abandon music and so when the crew of the vessel were dismissed alongside their captain Isedale came back home to turn to music.

Meanwhile, an incident occurred upon his return from his first sailing trip. When he was leaving home to pursue his career, his pauper father was able to put together 300 naira for him to transport himself from Ogun State to Port Harcourt where he was to report. Upon his return, a mysterious eye problem made the chairman of the company give him money and put him on a flight to Lagos from Port Harcourt to go and treat himself.

As he landed in Lagos, the eye problem just disappeared. “It just disappeared. It was as if it was never there.”

Well he was home anyway. So he headed for Agege where his fiancé, a lady he had met during his computer training, lived with her family. It was upon getting there that he was met with the devastating news of his father’s death. Having lost his mother much earlier in life and seen what the father had to go through to make sure he became something in life, it was difficult to handle. The 5,000 naira he had packaged as a gift for his father now went into funeral expenses!

Isedale was trying to put together a demo when fate brought in contact with the man who would become his manager. Together they have put together a formidable band of trained professionals and cut at least three solid tracks.

It was the manager who introduced him to the French Cultural Centre in Lagos where he was first given an opportunity to perform live on stage during their celebration of Fela. Incidentally his next engagement was Felabration at the Afrika Shrine. He could not honour invitation to perform at the World Music Day concert put together by the French Cultural Centre as elements within PMAN insisted only “registered” artistes could perform.

Tonight, Isedale goes on state at the Community Hall at Alagbado, a suburb of Lagos that is the location of a major railway station. Other upcoming artistes too will be on stage with him.

“What we plan to do,” he explained to The Nation, “is to try and raise fund while at the same time creating more awareness about our music. We need the fund to put finishing touches to and get our first work into the market.”

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