Akinibosun: Rhythm halts for the highlife legend
In writing the story of post Nigerian Civil War highlife, the name of Yinusa Akinibosun who passed on in the early hours of Monday, March 14, 2016, will be mentioned in the same breath as Victor Olaiya, Stephen Osadebe, Celestine Ukwu, Orlando Julius, Orlando Owoh, Alaba Pedro, Tunde Osofisan, Oliver De Coque and Maliki Showman. Known simply as Y.S., the legendary saxophonist, band leader died after a protracted illness.
As a matter of fact, Akinibosun’s name would not be mentioned for the mere purpose of enacting a roll call, it would resonate with frequency of impression and would come up for special recognition and acclaim because of the significant role he played in holding almost all the musicians together in the process of promoting highlife even when it was obvious that the music no longer generated popular appeal.
As a rallying point, he succeeded in keeping a regular band (the Classic Band) of loyal musicians most of whom were young and willing to learn at his feet. He cannot be described as a music instructor as such, but the fact that he maintained a band that had at its disposal all the instruments of the orchestra provided a learning opportunity for young, upcoming musicians who began to grapple with musical instruments at a time that computerized music was in vogue.
Y.S. Akinibosun was part of the ebb and flow of highlife in Nigeria and Ghana – from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, but the striking aspect of his career was the fact that he became even more active from the 1980’s to date when vintage highlife was supposed to be experiencing extinction.
Akinibosun was not only proficient in the performance of highlife; he was an Afrobeat musician, having benefited from an apprenticeship with Fela Anikulapo Kuti as a major saxophonist with the Egypt’80 Band.
This was in the 80s with the reconfiguration of the first tradition of the band. And while the association lasted, Y.S. was a favourite of Afrika Shrine devotees. He was in the habit of joggling with tunes and blundering into popular and familiar melodies as a solo concept, in the course of articulating his improvisational lines. And the audience loved it: they hummed the songs along as they savoured the nostalgia that his instrumentalisation evoked.
On the other hand, Y.S. contributed more to the promotion and revival of highlife than any other musician till date. Even at the time that nobody wanted to listen to the music, he kept his Classic Band going; and groomed hundreds of young musicians in the business. His Classic Band performed continually for ten years for the now suspended highlife revival initiative in collaboration with the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA); and provided a platform for highlife to develop in Nigeria.
In 1999, the Classic Band was the standing orchestra for the first ever edition of the Great Highlife Party which held at the Lagoon front garden of the Goethe Institut, Ozumba Mbadiwe street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The second edition of this highlife festival was even bigger in dimension and greater in quality of music – in that it found him performing with such veterans and superstars as E.C. Arinze, David Bull, Sunny Brown, Nelly Uchendu, Ralph Amarabem among others who all came from the South Eastern part of the country.
A tested saxophonist and drummer, he has led his own bands and at the same time played with almost all the big names in the business, as sideman. Reflecting on the genesis of his career, Akinibosun said, “I started from Central Hotel, Ibadan as a percussionist with the late great trumpeter and band leader, Agu Norris. I played bongos, conga and drums. This was in 1956.”
Playing with Agu Norris was a good start for Akinibosun because Norris was a no-nonsense bandleader who upheld discipline as a pre-requisite for good musicianship. He usually led small groups, which generally afforded its members the opportunity to benefit from the intimate cohesion of a well-knit band.
Akinibosun acquired the techniques of drumming and the ear for rhythm from Agu Norris. He did not find it difficult to get a job with another band when Agu Norris disbanded a year after. Said he: “When Agu Norris’ band disbanded, I came to Lagos in 1958. With the skills I already acquired on drums, I was in great demand. I immediately joined Jubril Isah, an ex-Bobby Benson Jam Session saxophonist who had struck out on his own and was leading a good band.”
According to him, no sooner had he established himself with the band than Jubril got an offer to go to Ibadan as resident band at Paradise Hotel: “I went with him but the contract did not last for more than three months,” he informed.
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