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For years I have fantasized about being a guest of Kirsty Young. Imagining how accomplished I will need to be before I could be banished to the famous Desert Island. Well, while the hustle is still on and I have still not gotten the call from Ms. Young (a man can dream!), I decided to banish myself to the Sahara. In heading to the Sahara, I decided to pack a disc of eleven (11) songs (thought of making it twelve but let us avoid Judas and stick to the abiding eleven apostles!!) that represent pivotal moments of my life, most treasured moments of my short life and evoke enough nostalgia to make my Sahara desert trip worthwhile. They are by no means the best songs that I have ever heard but they sure are musical landmarks in the journey of mine called life. Also, three (3) books to keep me company in the desert. In true Kirsty Young style, I will complete the list with a sacred holy book.
It is an often heard cliche when people say that music has always played a part in their lives right from childhood. However, it is often true. Irrespective of social strata, religious affiliations and location, most homes are filled with music. It is a common denominator that dominates the abodes of the rich and the poor. It is a common thread that runs through the childhood of black, Caucasian, Asian and Arabic kids. Despite growing up in a home where my parents were not huge music fans, music still played a huge part.
From an early age, the universality of music had been ingrained in me. Language was never a barrier to me and even in adulthood, I have retained a love for music even those I do not understand its lyrics. Growing up in Port Harcourt in the late 70s, Rex Lawson was a staple diet in homes, at parties, weddings and even burials. My first pick for the Sahara banishment would be Cardinal Rex Lawson‘s So Ala Temen. I grew to love the horn arrangement of this highlife classic. Listening to it during my banishment in the desert will remind me of a childhood filled with innocence, a Port Harcourt where kidnapping was alien to the social fabric, where the best kids went to public schools and cultism had not been unleashed on the public by marauding barbarians masquerading as political leaders. The trademark Rex Lawson hearty laughter in the middle of the track reminds me of my childhood when I lived freely without any fear of worry.
My teenage years was a musical void. Like most youth I blended with what my mates listened to and what was a hit with the females. It was in this era that Hip Hop arrived on the scene. I was not a big fan but I did enjoy the flows. At least then there was no much misogynistic lyrics, less objectification of womanhood and the booty shakes had not gone crazy nor the champagne popping become an art of its own. It is such a void that nothing in that period will be going with me to the Sahara desert. For my second Sahara Island pick, I have gone for something more recent. Tuface Idibia‘s Spiritual Healing. Experimental song with an exceptional result. This song was released in 2012 but it is so good that I had a period of 3 straight months when I played it every morning and it refreshed me a great deal. Its Indian influence spoke to my eclectic musical taste buds. The lyrics spoke to me and I shared and still share its message of not trampling on another man’s ego to be elevated. Also, that life is simple and we don’t have to make it complicated. I sure will be going with this to the Island as my second song in the collection. I need to be reminded where I was in 2012 and how far I have come from the pains of that period.
At the turn of the new century in 2000, I got immersed into the South African culture while pursuing a graduate program. I went for a degree and returned years after a South African cultural aficionado. I was overwhelmed by the South African jazz scene. I had never experienced such joy and the music I immersed myself in that period still elates and refreshes my soul. Walking to campus each morning with Sipho Gumede‘s Please Don’t Dance soothing my soul from my earplugs was a common ritual. Playing this track in the Sahara will remind me of the extremely exciting times I had in South Africa and it will be my third track. Despite its crime history and notoriety, my times in that country has been filled with overwhelming exposure to music, especially of the jazz variety. I am nostalgic of the times I was going from one music venue to the other soaking up live music from exponents of such high craftsmanship that even as a student I gladly spent premium rands to enjoy such treats. One of my enduring memories was seeing Sipho up close while he played at the North Sea Jazz festival in Cape Town in Easter 2014. Few months later, he died of a terminal illness. I have long being convinced that at his passing, Africa lost its greatest bass-guitarist.
The awe I held South African jazz scene and its musicians is partly borne out of the fact that such a vibrant jazz scene did not exist in Nigeria (and still does not exist). I was mesmerized by the sheer brilliance of their mastery of their musical instruments and how much jazz-rooted music was easily accessible and not elitist. Almost every African had heard of High Masekela but I knew little about his music until the turn of the century. While some prophets are not recognized at home, Bra Hugh (as he is fondly called) is recognized both at home and abroad. It was not long before I was bombarded by his works during my graduate study days. I have since become a lifelong fan and chased him as far as Down Under to see him strut his thing live on stage. Bra Hugh blowing his flugelhorn unrestrained is a thing of joy. One evening, I was browsing channels and stumbled on a show where Hugh Masekela was playing Thanayi. It is an African wedding song that celebrates a fat lady who is about to get married. Besides being won over by Bra Hugh’s horns, my opposition to the shaming of fat women made me a fan of the song. Of all Bra Hugh’s numerous hits (and I have over 8 albums of his besides countless greatest hit compilations), this is the one I will like to take along to the Sahara as my fourth pick.
The nostalgia of my graduate school days is never complete without remembering most weekends. It often started with a night of hip-hop and kwaito music at one or several nightclubs followed by a late morning in the mall trawling several music stores sampling endless jazz albums followed by a purchase of one or two albums (often on sale). With this routine, almost every weekend was a one of discovery as I found one gem after the other. It was on one of such Saturdays that I found the music of Moses Taiwa Molelekwa. It is generally agreed that when he died in 2001 at the age of 28, a genius had departed. His body of works are not particularly expansive but his mark was and still is indelible. Listening to Moses Molelekwa‘s Mountain Shade brings tears to my eyes almost every time I hear it. This will be my fifth track in my Sahara Desert track list.
I am not a particularly patriotic Nigerian and I make no pretence about it. I am not one to wipe up unnecessary sentiments in defense of the country nor praise its mediocrity in an attempt to defend an attack from a foreigner. In view of the above, it is easy to remember a moment when you felt most proud of your nationalistic heritage and sincere patriot, if only for a night. It was at an international Jazz festival far from Nigeria and surrounded by forigners of all hues and languages. With a stellar line up like Sadao Wtanabe, Stanley Clarke, Miriam Makeba, Cassandra Wilson and many more, Femi Anikulapo Kuti had been chosen as the closing act of the two day concert. I have never witnessed a more energetic performance in my life and singing along every lyric of every song from the start to the end of his performance made me the cynosure of all eyes. I had never been prouder of a Nigerian product nor had I felt more enthusiastic to brag that with all its decay and brokeness, I was a Nigerian. I have always been a fan of Femi and his Positive Force band but for that night alone, I will take Femi Kuti‘s Eh Oh with me to the Sahara as my sixth pick. A relatively mellow Femi track that ponders on the wonders of climatic differences in various parts of the world and a call on the creator to grant us wisdom in this troubled times. It will be an apt choice when the heat of the Sahara gets the better of me when I am banished.
A few years ago, a friend lost his wife in a most tragic manner. Most beautiful lady died tragically leaving behind a child of barely two years old. How do console a widower who was barely forty in such circumstances? I sent him a song. Nothing else could encapsulate my thoughts and prayer for him in his loss. This song reassures me exceedingly, reminding me that He reigns in all and through all. Even when the word caves in, our hope should cling to His promise. Hillsong Live’s Glorious Ruins is my seventh pick for my Sahara Desert disc.
When I am banished to the Sahara, I sure will have all the time to think about those left behind here. Certainly all the time to think about the love of my life. I am sure to take the soundtrack of our love with me to the desert. Every now and then, you hear a cover of a song that hits you better than the original. Billy Joel is an exceptional talent (but he is certainly not as easy on the eyes like Ms. Krall). There is a comfort that comes in a union when your feelings resonate with every word that Diana Krall echoes in Just The Way You Are. This will be my eight pick for the desert.
Years ago, I stumbled a song that made me cry uncontrollably. Everyone else who heard the song around me found it good but not as moving. I concluded that the effect of music is personal. This is a song that proved that to me. It felt like the singer was talking about my experiences at that specific time. Every now and then, when I tend to be forgetful of where I am coming from and who brought me, I just play this song and be overwhelmed. Smokie Norful‘s Dear God is my ninth pick and I am sure of a Holy Ghost filled worship session in the desert.
I started with highlife, I am unashamed to end with highlife. The beauty of this genre of music is the philosophical messages its key practitioners pass through their music. Barely out of my teenage, I found the music of an Igbo highlife artist called Morroco Maduka and fell in love. Pretty odd for a young person but I never claimed to be anything but odd. A favourite of mine is Ome Mma. It is basically a tale of good and evil in the world and how good will be ultimately rewarded. I am sure taking this with my as my tenth and final pick.
Long before climate change became a buzz word, Fela Anikulapo Kuti had been an advocate of the impact of natural resources in every day life. Long before the dreadful war in Darfur which culminated in a genocide that claimed over four hundred thousand lives, Fela had preached about the centrality of water in our every day life. Water No Get Enemy was released in 1975 and is a classic worthy of my time in the desert. eleven (11) minutes of sheer delight. The first four and half minutes are some of the best African jazz you will ever find in the history of mankind. You are serenaded with some of the best horn arrangement ever before any vocal shows up. This is not a song to be treated with levity despite its present classic position. Water scarcity was at the root of the Darfur genocide and while Fela is better known for his political views, this song could easily be an anthem for the climate change movement. Besides the obvious message in this song, it resonates with me due to the fact that it reminds me of the boring time I had as an undergraduate. My school had a Theatre Arts department that was buzzing with activity and talents. They put up lots of shows and plays and I was an infrequent visitor to these. One night an advertised play that was to be part of the assessment of a graduating class was postponed after a two hour delay due to the non-arrival of the external examiner. The intending cast just blasted this song off the speakers and gave an impromptu cheorography to a hopeful audience. Fela himself would have been proud of the performance. Every time I hear this song, I am reminded of that night and my continual love for African theater in particular and the performing arts in general. I can’t think of a better song for the desert. This is my eleventh pick for the Sahara trip.
As hard as it was picking the songs to go into the disc for the banishment, it is even harder picking three books for this journey. Christian apologetic is a subject that has interests me and occupies most of my reading time. I have always been an advocate of the fact that faith does not equate an absence of reasoning. The maxim that an examined life is not worth living is one I live by. While I think my time in the Sahara will be lonely (despite my love for solitude), there can be no greater company than a copy of The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. In my view, no one else has made a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. Whether through symbolism in the Great Divorce, biting satire in the Screwtape Letters, or unflinching logic in Mere Christianity his defence of the Christian faith shows through clearly. In a world where a belief in God is being ridiculed, every believer ought to be apologetic. The God of the bible is surely not anti-reasoning.
My second book will be a copy of Greg Boyd‘s God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God. No Bible teacher has encouraged, challenged and edified me like Greg has in recent years. I will go with a hard copy of this book as I will have to read this severally. I find the views herein slightly controversial but comforting and reassuring for my faith.
My third pick will be the hardest but I have settled for a copy of Brady Udall‘s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. It is a sharp, funny, generous and often tragic novel. I loved it and I am sure it will be good company in the desert heat.
For obvious reasons, I will go with a copy of the Bible. I have asked for either an NIV or NLT version. I just can’t deal with THOU and THEE English, especially not in the hot sun of the desert. Kirsty Young, I am waiting for that call. Sahara Desert, here I come!!