Tuesday, 13 December 2016

REMEMBERING THE OZZIDI KING - SONNY OKOSUN

Sonny Okosun

Sunny Okosun was born on new year day (January 1) 1947, he is an Esan man(Edo state). He grew up with his grandmother at Obore, near Irrua in Edo State, and later with his parents in Enugu at the Nigerian Railway Corporation quarters. He attended St Brigid's School, Asata, Enugu, Government Trade Centre, Enugu. While at the Trade Center, he visited Lagos and decided to go into acting, between Lagos and Enugu, he enjoyed his acting carrier, later he worked with Professor John Okwerri  - a notable drama lecturer and a member of the Mbari Club, a movement started by Ulli Beier, with J. P. Clark and Wole Soyinka as members. Okosun featured in some radio and television shows with the Eastern Nigeria Television Station.



 That was the point he develop interest in music. He got his first guitar as a gift from Mariam Okagbue, she encouraged him in his music pursuit. In 1965, his drama group won the first prize in a competition, with a 'J. P. Clark's 'Song of a Goat' and Okwerri's Masquerades'. His drama group represented Nigeria in the 1965 Commonwealth Arts Festival held in London. On his return to Nigeria he joined the cast of 'Ukonu's Club', an Eastern Nigeria Television variety show where he was able to showcase his guitar playing abilities. In 1966, he joined the Postmen band, as a rhythm guitarist.
In 1969, he worked as a second guitarist with Victor Uwaifo's band and did a tour with Uwaifo to Japan and Europe, during this period he experimented a fusion of African and rock rhythms. He also played with Fela's band 'Koola Lobitos', playing gigs at Yaba, Lagos. By 1972, he took over the band 'Paperback Limited' which he later regrouped as Ozzidi.

Dr James dressed like the Ozidi king in the 1980's he was a great fan


Ozzidi was his band's name as well as his kind of music, 'Ozzidi' meant "There is a message", the music is a synthesis of Afro-beat, reggae and funk music. In the mid 70's he played more of protest songs about Pan-Africanism, freedom and a few other social and political issues affecting Africans.
His band lineup was made up of a lead vocalist, supported by three backup female dancers, a trombone player, keyboardist, bass, trap drums and himself as the lead singer. His first breakthrough was with the single "Help", which sold close to a hundred thousand copies then.



In the late 1970s, he released a string of reggae infused Afro-pop music, including "Fire in Soweto" 1977, which became a major international hit and his first gold album. He was featured on the anti-apartheid album Sun City, and his song "Highlife" was on the soundtrack of the 1986 film 'Something Wild'. His trade mark was the headband he tired round his head, and yours truly was a great fan, I wanted to sing like Okosun and fight for the liberation of Soweto too. By 1990's he switched over to gospel songs as Evangelist Sonny Okosun.
His 1990 album 'AFRICAN SOLDIERS' which was recorded in the United States of America The album had tracks like 'Jesus, King of Kings', which was a return to the days of Third World. His reggae rhythm was more matured and dancers fell in love with him, it was much better than its previous versions by him. The song was a gospel rendition singing the glory of Jesus Christ.



The title track, 'African soldiers', was a celebration of African heroes, a manifestation of Okosun's belief that African heroes should be celebrated like the Christian saints in the Western world. The names of African revolutionary leaders like Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumunba and Sekou Toure featured prominently in 'African soldiers'. The theme and presentation of the track was similar to ‘Africa wants a leader,’ a track lifted from his previous album, 'Now or never'. It took off on a jazzy note and ends in a rhythmic African Makosa.


He also did a song on 'Mohammed'. It was a surprise to many of his fans to hear a Christian gospel singer singing the praises of the Islamic prophet, Mohammed. But, that was Okosun for you. There was also 'Wind of change' a track with so many questions and messages, that track rendition created a reflective atmosphere that encouraged soul-searching on the part of the listener. 

In 1993, he released 'Songs of Praise', followed by 'Revival'. In 1998, he started the House of Prayer Ministry, a Christian church. He continued not looking back in preaching the word of God through his music. In his life time he had hundreds of songs and dozens of albums either with the band or as a solo artist. He died at aged 61 of colon cancer on May 24, 2008 at Howard University Hospital, Washington DC.

* The photos are cover photos of some of his albums

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