When I was a child, maybe about six years of age or less, whichever, I was old enough to understand that I was particularly captivated by music, but not all kinds. It was in the mid to late 80s, and for some reason, I wasn’t as fascinated by most Nigerian mainstream music at the time. I can’t completely explain why, but as I got older, I understood better. The more current songs were beginning to lack depth, poetry, melody, and storyline. The type of attributes consistent with the folk music of the 60s and 70s that captured my attention.
However, every Saturday and Sunday mornings, I enjoyed being awakened by the old Nigerian folk music played over the 70’s cartridges by my dad. As I laid in bed, ensnared by the tunes traveling through the doors of my father’s living room, and the toilet that separates it from the boy’s room; I listened to the stories, almost prose-like. More often than not, I stayed in bed with my eyes wide open, transfixed at the brown concentric tracks that stained the white ceiling above my head. Admittedly, they were lasting impressions made by the sweet rain that had leaked through the roof over time. My brothers, still in deep slumber, indifferent to the tunes from my dad’s 60’s Sanyo stereo. Sometimes, I wondered if the stories touched them the way it did to me.
Of all the songs played from my dad’s old school cassettes or better described as cartridges that only goes in halfway when inserted into the tiny player, my favorite was the story about “The man, his son, and the donkey” that sets out on a journey. As a child, the more I listened to the song, the more I was confused. But, as it played week after week, thanks to my father, it slowly became clearer what the message was about. Now reflecting on it, I could have asked my grandmother about the meaning of the story, but I didn’t. I had to figure out the message, masked by the idiomatic storytelling style of Ebenezer Obey – the musician. I have not listened to this song in almost three decades, but I could never forget how drawn I was to the words.
My favorite song began with a man and his son. They decided to set about a journey, so they secured a donkey. The man, who was quite old mounted on the donkey, while his son walked next to him and the donkey. As they pressed on, a stranger approached them and said, “You lazy old man! How could you make a little child walk in the burning sun, while you ride on the donkey?” Of course, abashed, the man got off the donkey and put his son on it while he walked next to them.
As they continued their journey, they came across another passerby who exclaimed, “You disrespectful little boy! How could you ride on the donkey, and make this old man walk?” Confused, the old man climbed on to the donkey and joined his son.
As they rode together on the donkey, they approached a village, and there was a crowd. The crowd noticed them and murmured, “How callous of both father and son to ride on the donkey at the same time? They are trying to kill the poor donkey!”
Both father and son dismounted the donkey and started to walk alongside. They arrived at another village. The locals noticed them and began to whisper, “These two must be crazy or something. How could they walk alongside a strong and perfectly healthy donkey, when they could ride on it?” The father turned to his son and said, “Ko s’ogbon t’o le da, ko s’iwa t’o le wu, ko s’ona t’o le mo, t’o lefi t’aiye l’orun o.” Which implies, “No matter how wise or tactful you are, no matter what strategy you deploy, no matter what path you take, you could never satisfy the men of this world.”
Of course, this story reminds me so much of my father’s life, his words, and his warnings about life and the journey it won’t spare us. “Son, if you are to emerge always standing, be yourself, seek the best in you even when you think you are doing your very best, because there can always be a better us. Always seek the truth and never compromise your integrity, for vanity is only the beginning of self-destruction. Believe in yourself, and never let any man tell you who you are – because you will never be able to please the people of this world.”