There Is Only One Funsho Ogundipe!

Some people are so obsessed with becoming famous that they can do anything to always be the focus of attention. Others court publicity the way wannabe Nollywood actresses chase entertainment reporters to remain relevant in the social circuit. After all, it was Oscar Wilde, a publicity freak himself, who once declared that “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” But here is one musician who eschews publicity in a profession that thrives on it. Mike Jimoh dug out Funsho Ogundipe from his house in the heart of Ikeja where he has been hibernating…

There are those for whom striving to become famous is almost anathema. In both their private and professional lives, they eschew popularity because of the very thing it stands for. Not for them the earned or undeserved public adulation for any accomplishment. They prefer to stay out of the limelight, carry on with their work assiduously like a computer and quietly like a Hoover.

To this class of non-strivers for fame, distinct from ambitionless folk, belongs Funsho Ogundipe, whose pedigree alone entitles him to as much recognition accorded some from famous families today in Nigeria.

His father, Olagunju was a pioneer merchant banker in his time, being the first Nigerian chief executive of a merchant bank and later the promoter of Prudent Finance Limited, a financial services company which morphed into Prudent Bank, where Funsho himself would come to work and later serve as a director. But it never turned his head for once. He was connected by location and vocation to a music legend in Nigeria but never tried to clone him – musically or sartorially – as many latecomers have done, not for any exceptional talent but for the possible publicity mileage they can mine out of it. He can tool around Lagos in any of the cars parked outside the family house but retains a childhood habit of walking around his neighbourhood on quiet evenings because “walking is peaceful.”

The first time my path crossed with Funsho’s was sometime late last year in an out-of-the-way close somewhere in the heart of Ikeja. We acknowledged each other with direct eye contact and a casual tilt of the head, the way new acquaintances react in a relationship that may or may not develop. Ours did.

…the most influence came from none other than Fela Anikulpo Kuti himself, after he relocated to Ikeja from Jibowu. His first place on Atinuke Olabanji Street was near enough but the next abode on Gbemisola street was just 500 metres away from the Ogundipe household. In retrospect, the lawyer-turned-banker-turned-musician saw a “pattern to my introduction to music,” that is, from his father’s collection to the Sunday vibes across the fence and then Fela literally next door.

 

One day, I asked if he was an artiste.

“Yes,” he said. It was obvious. There was the hair in locks, the long fingers and unusual sartorial disposition. He wore African fabrics, a sort of loose and airy aso-oke worn over custome-made orange trousers. It wasn’t outlandish but different, giving his entire sartorial expression an understated elegance in a purely African way.

We have become closer as time lengthened, talking about this and that most times. Also in abundant supply are the books in his library, books by authors you never heard of, or authors you know but never read, except the one or two works by them. One such was Ryszard Kapuscinski.

The Soccer War was the closest I ever got to reading any of the Polish writer’s work, particularly an abridged edition I chanced on online many years ago. I was bowled over. After Funsho gave me a copy of The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life, I became a convert for life, of the incomparable storytelling style and descriptive ability of Kapuscinski, not minding his sometimes unconcealed racist predisposition.

I have been privileged to read other remarkable works from Funsho’s library ever since, books that stir the mind, so to speak, such as Yambo Ouloguen’s Bound to Violence, Steven Kinder’s Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds and Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall. At the moment, I have a copy of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

Funsho’s library does not quite occupy an entire section of a wall in his room, but the collections are as diverse in titles and authorship as can assuage any bookworm thirsty for knowledge on just about any topic. His eclectic taste in books, he says, has a long tradition, which he traces to his family.

A Family of Readers

“My parents were teachers,” Funsho told me one Friday evening in his studio-quiet sitting room in a part of the family compound, an imposing clay-painted, storey building on Obokun Close, Ikeja. As any rookie designer knows, clay is the colour of mud and mud is a unique feature of African architecture across the Sahel through the savannah down to some parts of the coastal region.

The sitting room itself is an extension of Funsho’s sartorial bias. Instead of imported rugs, there are mats on the floor, mats for table tops on the dining; there are woven baskets here and there, either as receptacles or as decorative pieces; in place of lace curtains, a dozen printed African fabrics billow like sails as the evening breeze wafts through the open windows.

In his very late forties, at 6’ 5” in socks and with a disciplined physique, Funsho has the waistline of an adolescent without the teenage swagger, stepping gingerly around his house with the quiet dignity and unobtrusive confidence you see in the well-born and well-groomed.

The privileges of life, JF Kennedy once quipped, are distributed unevenly at birth. By virtue of his birth to a banker father who knew influential people in Nigeria, Funsho had more than a fair share of childhood privileges. “I was very fortunate” Funsho says of his years growing up under very protective parents. “And you have to have the grace to accept that. Because of what our parents were doing, you ended up knowing what was going on in town.”

Funsho was only 11, for instance, when he travelled abroad, courtesy of his father who wanted him to see the world. This was in the late seventies through the early eighties when old money meant exactly what it was – with a dollop of culture thrown in for good measure. It was the equivalent of the golden age in Nigeria, unlike now when parvenus of all shades flaunt their wealth gaudily – either to show they have arrived or as a status symbol.

One thing Funsho also grew up with was music, sort of presaging his future métier, after studying law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), working briefly in a law firm (Badejo & Co in Lagos) and a stint in his father’s bank. Along with the books, his father had a collection of LPs – the Obeys, Sunny Ades, Emperor Pick Peters, as well as a sheaf of highlife, jazz, country and classical music.

The Ogundipes didnt have to impress anyone. There is a spiritual side to the family which acts as a counter balance to whatever money tries to offer. A methodist, Ogundipe senior was singular among the bankers of his time for not having landed asset outside Ikeja and Ilesha. There are no houses in Lekki or London or New York or financial asset in foreign currencies. He had an almost puritan-like aversion to excess and flamboyance and lived as simply as he could.

For Funsho, the most enduring legacy today is the rows and rows of books shelved in the family house at Ikeja.

Funsho himself is not particularly money-focused. He comes across as a thoroughgoing Africanist, guided by Ahmadou Hampate Ba’s philosophy that, in the Africa of yore, long before Western civilisation disrupted things, “the most important thing regarding a man was nobility of birth and behaviour.”

On this particular weekend, Funsho is sitting opposite me, wearing a Yellow T-shirt fringed with adire print around his arms and a matching design on the breast pocket, lending an African motif to a Western-style shirt. From a set somewhere, Bembeya Jazz, the great musical group from Guinea, serenades the room with string instruments accompanied by a soloist, reminiscent of the vocal virtuosity of singers like Salif Keita and Habib Koite, both of Mali or Youssou Ndou of Senegal.

Now and then, Funsho rises from his seat to fetch a book or two from his library, on my request or to support an argument, a learning process he is quite familiar with, starting from his own house.

To become effective, teachers must read. Father and mother not only read prescribed texts they taught in schools, they expanded their horizon with publications on whatever caught their fancy. “My father always gave me books to read or we exchanged books, with others and friends.” His siblings were not left out, all of them competing to read books the father brought or the ones they bought and brought themselves.

Moreover the family once had a bookshop, Choice Bookshop, on Allen Avenue, which was run for just under 10 years before it was shut down because of “the prohibitive rent.” (It says something for the changing social values in the country that on a stretch of road where pleasure houses, banks, boutiques, hotels, expensive eateries and restaurants are doing business round the clock and forever finding rental space, the only place you could access educational materials lasted barely a few years).

Listening to the Muse

One thing Funsho also grew up with was music, sort of presaging his future métier, after studying law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), working briefly in a law firm (Badejo & Co in Lagos) and a stint in his father’s bank. Along with the books, his father had a collection of LPs – the Obeys, Sunny Ades, Emperor Pick Peters, as well as a sheaf of highlife, jazz, country and classical music.

More influence was still to come by way of a neighbour who lived next door to the family home in Ikeja. As Funsho recalls, the man in question used to play highlife and Igbo classics from such as, Oriental Brothers, Osita Osadebey, Celestine Ukwu, etc. “I used to go close to the fence as a young man and listen to all that.”

But the most influence came from none other than Fela Anikulpo Kuti himself, after he relocated to Ikeja from Jibowu. His first place on Atinuke Olabanji Street was near enough but the next abode on Gbemisola street was just 500 metres away from the Ogundipe household. In retrospect, the lawyer-turned-banker-turned-musician saw a “pattern to my introduction to music,” that is, from his father’s collection to the Sunday vibes across the fence and then Fela literally next door.

“Random things really affect your life,” Funsho says. “If Fela didn’t come and stay in Ikeja, I don’t know if my music would have had as strong an Afrobeat influence.” That influence would be strengthened by interactions with musicians and artists like Rilwan Fagbemi aka Showboy, Dede Mabiaku and other music lovers in Ikeja, as the centre of gravity of afrobeat shifted decisively to middle class ikeja.

After some weeks of waiting his turn again, Funsho got his second chance and took it firmly. He dazzled the audience, becoming one of the favourite piano players at the shrine, following an illustrious line of afrobeat keyboard players like Duro Ikujenyo, Dele Sosimi and Keji Hamilton.

On his visits to Afrika Shrine, Funsho noticed that he could independently hear everything that was being played. “I could hear what the guitarist was doing, the bass player and the rest of the twenty-something or so band distinctly. It was mind-boggling.” He soon realised he wanted to play the music. There is a tradition that afrobeat shares with that other great improvisational vehicle, jazz, which is that of sitting in. Aspiring musicians come and test themselves on the same stages with their heroes. Sometime in 1988 while about to graduate from the law school, Funsho got a chance to sit in with the mighty Egypt 80 orchestra. Venue was Afrika Shrine on a Friday night with Abami Eda himself presiding.

Funsho walked up to Fela and asked to be given a solo spot. Fela took him on stage and asked him to play. Left alone on stage, the young man could do no more than tap his feet, as if his fingers were paralysed. As a debut performance, it was a disaster. “I fucked up and I could see Fela glaring at me from where he was,” Funsho recalled of the event that happened 30 years ago, shaking his head in disbelief as he narrated his worst musical misstep ever.

What was the cause? Who knows, maybe stage fright or maybe having a fixed idea and being thrown off. “I was looking at the faces in the audience,” he told Fela during a post mortem. “Why did you look at the faces in the crowd?” Fela shot back.

Mortified about his maiden show that never was, Funsho didn’t give up. The next weekend he spoke to Fela to at least get another opportunity to play, if only once. A busy man in every sense of the word – what with the music, politics, his harem and much else – Fela could have kept refusing but in another twist again, he sent him to Baba Ani, the bandleader. “If Baba Ani clears you, then you can play,” Fela declared with the certainty of an Ifa priest.

After some weeks of waiting his turn again, Funsho got his second chance and took it firmly. He dazzled the audience, becoming one of the favourite piano players at the shrine, following an illustrious line of afrobeat keyboard players like Duro Ikujenyo, Dele Sosimi and Keji Hamilton.

Baba Ani, Funsho says today, “was my real introduction to the craftmanship side of afrobeat.” He knew how to gently introduce you to material and as bandleader he chooses the tune to play, so he would say, for example, on maybe a tune like “Look and Laugh” or “Beasts of No Nation”, Ogundipe go and play. After hearing him perform on the keyboard on several occasions and listening to his demo tapes, Fela took notice and became a supporter, making sure that he became a permanent fixture in jam sessions at the Afrika Shrine. And so from that initial unimpressive and unpromising note, Funsho mastered his art and soon began to cut his tunes.

His band, Ayetoro – meaning let there be order – might not elicit a ready snap of the fingers as mentioning Tu Face, for instance, would. But they have had concert billings in and out of Nigeria, perhaps more than any contemporary hip-hop band. What’s more, an admirer, Gboyega Grillo, a graphic artist and son of Professor Yusuf Grillo of the stained glass fame, says that Funsho and his band play “a unique blend of music for a select audience.”

The most recent musical video from the Aiyetoro label titled “Yaro” was shot last year, much of the action taking place right in front of Funsho’s house and Jazzhole on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. It is devoid of the rowdiness and bawdiness common to musical video promos. “Yaro” has never been shown on any television station in Nigeria, and may never be. In his characteristic manner, Funsho did not take the lead role, though he skims the keyboard expertly with fleeting appearances now and then. The star performance in the video is reserved for the lead singer by name Yaki from Kogi State.

“Afrobeat No. 9” is another, an instrumental rendition done in the Afro Jazz genre Funsho is now known for.

The Ilesha Connection

Proximity to the Afrika Shrine and Afrobeat music was not the only connection Funsho had with Fela. Their relationship goes much deeper and farther, back to Ilesha, the third largest town after Ile Ife and Osogbo, capital of Osun state, and home to a brand of lager that is fast gaining ground in Nigeria.

For Funsho, it is all a waste of time, all vanity and he wouldn’t trade his privacy or the privacy of those around him for any kind of popularity. “I like my privacy. I don’t like any kind of intrusion. I don’t want to come here and play popular music. I don’t want to be a Michael Jackson. I don’t want to be a Fela, either. The same fame carries its own wahala that messes everything up…”

However, not many people are aware that Ilesha has distinguished itself in a more creative way: Being the only town in the entire South-West that has produced the most number of musicians across all genres. History books and word of mouth often assume the Kutis are native to Abeokuta in Ogun State. That is not true for, in reality, the patriarch of the Kutis – not the principal of Abeokuta Grammar School – was an indigene of Ilesha.

Legend has it that Fela’s grandfather was captured as a slave from Ilesha right about the mid-nineteenth century and transported to the west coast of Africa, Sierra Leone most likely. Anti-slavery movements were hard at work at the same time, dissuading slavers from the inhuman traffic across the Atlantic. Thus did Fela’s grandfather’s journey terminate in Sierra Leone and not any of the plantations in the Americas.

On his return to Yoruba land, the new free man, settled in Abeokuta instead of his natal Ilesha. The rest, as they say, is history.

History also shows that IK Dairo was from Ilesha, the same with Pangolo music exponent, Majek Fashek, not to mention the Ogundipes. The current band leader of Egypt 80, Baba Ani, is also from Ilesha. Although there isn’t much historical proof, singer and actor, Moses Olaiya, is said to have found his roots in Ilesha, or from somewhere within a respectable radius of a town whose musical history goes centuries back to the guild of hunters reputed for their Ijala chants. Even today, there are a group of people in Cuba called Ijesha originally from Ilesha, who are also very musical.

No Fame, No Pain

Fame, as any publicity hound knows, has its downsides. Sometimes, it comes with a price, sometimes not quite inexpensive and with hard lessons. Kurt Cobain, the golden-haired phenomenon of rock group Nirvana was mama’s boy until overwhelming public frenzy drove him to premature death when he committed suicide in 1994. Most people would have thumbed their noses at whoever had predicted Michael Jackson’s physical deterioration from the round-faced lad he was in his early years to the gaunt spectacle he became later in life.

However anyone may consider it, fame has something to do with the current state of Majek Fashek, not to mention the demise of South African musical prodigy, Brenda Fasie or the gone-too-soon Nigerian rap artiste, Da Green.

For Funsho, it is all a waste of time, all vanity and he wouldn’t trade his privacy or the privacy of those around him for any kind of popularity. “I like my privacy. I don’t like any kind of intrusion. I don’t want to come here and play popular music. I don’t want to be a Michael Jackson. I don’t want to be a Fela, either. The same fame carries its own wahala that messes everything up. We would have liked to have Fela for much longer. We would have liked to have him talk to us, share things with us. I think that is what fame does. Me, I don’t want that thing o.”

Since his primary audience is Nigeria, isn’t he bothered that his music will not be known, not popular? In short, isn’t he worried about the future of his music?

“I am not bothered. What is music for?” He asks rhetorically. “Is it to be popular?” In his view, music, African music specifically, is a communal thing, like art that is shared and enjoyed by all and never competitive.

Funsho has been a music director for the 2015 art house film, Pastor Paul, a Ghanaian/Nigerian and American co-production in which he also acted and supplied original music. In Ghana in 2008, he was chosen to be music director for the Culture Caravan, a concert party stage production of original music and theatre, done as a collaboration between the governments of Ghana and France and produced by the Ghanian, Panji Anoff in colaboration with Ogundipe and French artiste, the late Michel Crespin. “So when you can do all these things, why won’t you be satisfied? To be able to utilise the gifts you are given by the creator is a joyful thing. It is a thing of wonder and that in itself is the reward.

“If I was born into a family where we had nothing, my abilities may have died with me or I would be forced to compromise so much. Because of all that, I owe it to myself and all the people who have the same kind of talent but who won’t be given a chance to resist everything the system throws at me and be independent for as long as I can. Music will get out there because someday, somehow, somebody is going to listen.”

Mike Jimoh, arts journalist and critic, writes from Lagos.


DOWNLOAD THE PREMIUM TIMES MOBILE APP

Now available on

  Premium Times Android mobile applicationPremium Times iOS mobile applicationPremium Times blackberry mobile applicationPremium Times windows mobile application

TEXT AD: To place a text-based advert here. Call Willie - +2347088095401


All rights reserved. This material and any other material on this platform may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, written or distributed in full or in part, without written permission from PREMIUM TIMES.