Wednesday, April 5, 2017 9:10 am
By Azuka Jabose
On the firstfloor of 11 Kadiri Street, Surulere, Lagos, a two story building dotted with face-me-i-face-you rooms, was Baba Femi’s Repair Shop. Baba Femi was an electrician noted for his tales of weekend rendezvous, at Chief Ebenezer Obey’s Weekend Owambe parties and midweek gigs at his Miliki Spot, than his knowledge of repairing troubled televisions, Kenwood stereo systems, KDK mosquito killing fans and other electronic home appliances of that era’s comfort. Apart from being an annoying “loudmouth at his Shop, Baba Femi also doubled as a “Dee Jay’. He had equipment and latest selection of newly released vinyls for his side kick deejay midweek music musings.
Baba Femi opened his store at 9a.m every day. The street knew when he was opened for business. He would disturb our mornings with nonestop selections of Chief Ebenezer Obey’s latest music. That was around 1973. “Edumare Soro Mi Dayo” was a monumental hit of Commander Obey then. It preceded the wickedly mega hit, BOARD MEMBERS. Every mid morning, the neighborhood came alive and gyrated to the polyrhythmic sound of miliki king blaring from Baba Femi’s Shop.
Commander Ebenezer Obey’s unique juju music featured wailing lead guitars, scattered electric guitar solos, bouncing bass that interpreted stanzas of his lyrics, with mind blowing talking drums and sassy percussions, leading a scarcely but baited bass rhythm. You couldn’t resist the music when the tenor voice cuts through the lane:” Alaja lo se obokun fun alajala… emi meje o.. emi meje…” The street kids gathered and fretted, singing along to the call and response infectious juju philosophical progression of Chief Ebenezer Obey. That was how Baba Femi steadily introduced me and few area kids to the Miliki music by the greatest music composer, maker and singer of my generation. I became an Ebenezer Obey addict: Incurable. Every miliki music sent me back to rehabilitation. When the monster hit “KETEKETE’ was released within that decade, though young, I was “permanently miliki disturbed”. I have not recovered since then. I refused several rehab offers because Miliki was a cure to doomed life..
My paths with Commander Obey crossed when I became an Entertainment reporter at Punch newspapers. My Entertainment Editor/mentor, Ladi Ayodeji privileged me all access: My partner then at the entertainment desk, Kafui Gale Zoyiku and I had unfettered access to everything entertainment news, thanks to Mr. Ayodeji’s confidence in our judgments and trust. He allowed us freedom to blaze with entertainment stories. In one of my early assignments, Ladi sent me to cover Chief Obey’s University concert at the University of Benin, Ugbowo campus. That afternoon, I was privileged the front seat with the sage in his Mercedes Benz vehicle, driven by Muhammed, his driver.. few years ago, I visited Commanders home at Ikeja and met Muhammed who still recognized me.. We drove four hours from Lagos to Benin. During the drive, Commander and I struck a conversation and something improbable exploded between us. He referred to me as “My dear AzukA” throughout our conversations,the drive to Uniben and back next day. That moment was, as I remembered, how we developed a certain father/son relationship. Since that weekend drive to cover his concert, Chief Ebenezer Obey always called me “My Dear AzukA”. He recognizes my voice from legions of crowd and would break out his infectious smile to humble my presence.
In life, we may never know what or whom life privileged us: I don’t know why, but whenever I visited Commander Obey at his Ikeja residence, I was always welcome like a member of his family: he took me to several places and I have met great Nigerians by being in his company. Commander introduced me to the late MKO Abiola and I became fond of visiting. . I remembered once encouraging him to be proactive with the media. I described him then as ”a gently aggressive”but humane human. That night in his home, he listened, calmly and fatherly nodded his head. He is a blessing to all situations.
September 1987, I returned from Music Against apartheid concert in the old Soithern Africa region, with serious illness. I had moved into the Punch Mulero compound. On the same street as my flat was Commander Obey’s younger sister’s home. He suspected I liked his niece, Funke, but baba was always soft, tender and lovely. So one weekend, he paid a surprised visit to my house…He heard I was sick and offered prayers for my swollen right arm. He invited me to his church, located along the road to my estate: unbelievable to see such a cultural icon in my small living room with no electricity, offering songs of praise for my healing. It was spiritual and Magical. I didn’t know why Commander had special likeness for me, a spectacular relationship that still exist to this day; I was young, restless, rascally and never cared about anyone. I was pure, natural and a hopeless Entertainment Editor, but Commander never gave up on me. He privileged me dignity, respect and explored my young critic with his new releases then. He was never angry with my truancy as a free spirit bohemian Entertainment Reporter. He never complained…
Few years ago, I returned with a remarkable idea to promote Commander Obey alongside King Sunny Ade in a concert billed ONE NIGHT STAND. I will tell the story another day. Through the years, Commander Ebenezer Obey continues to reform: from International Band to inter-reformers. He went deeper with his faith and religion, an unapologetic believer of Christ. He built a home of worship in the densely populated area of Mulero/Agege, on the outskirts of lagos, city dwellers axis for everyday people of the city, expanded his outreach and proclaiming Christ as King in all his music, messages, characters and behaviors. This great national treasure is pleasantly Nigerian. His music is regional. But his humanity is universal. He turns 75 this week: I am privileged to have been blessed by his presence in my life as a young lost teenager, hooked on his music, first heard from the blaring speakers of Baba Femi the electrician and as a careless free spirit young bohemian reporter.
He allows me to still refer to him as COMMANDER EBENEZER OBEY, years after he became known to us as REVEREND EBENEZER OBEY. I am humbled by his candor and unconditional love for me: a kind man, a tribe less statesman: when life provided me a fresh bachelor opportunity, he purchased and delivered my first VONO mattress to my scanty flat then. I was 23 years old. I dared not confess the sins on the mattress, to him. Please rise and salute today and everyday, Nigeria’s pop culture genius, icon and legend, on his birthday. MEGA EARTH RUN COMMANDER REVEREND EBENEZER FABIYI