The occupation of musical and entertainment space in Nigeria today by young chaps with little understanding of the profession is not in any way a yardstick to score the old generation of musicians as underachievers.
Rather, the forces behind the financial accomplishments recorded by such singers like Wizkid, Timaya, Rudeboy etc are only traceable to the avalanche of computerized equipments as well as the stupendous sponsorships received by the singers from private and corporate entities. These and other accounts were rendered to our Umuahia correspondent Dan Maduagwu, by Mr Lasbrey Okwudili Ojukwu, popularly known as SEMI COLON AJUNKWA, a man who enthralled his crowd of music lovers with the dexterity of unique singing and dancing styles.
Can we know you Sir?
Thank you very much. I am Mr Lasbrey Okwudili Ojukwu but am popularly known as Semi Colon Ajunkwa. I am from Amichi in Nnewi South Local Government of Anambra State. I was born in 1947.
You were a household name in the music industry in Nigeria especially among the elderly people, so how did it all start?
I did not start up as a musician but I worked for Radio Nigeria Lagos in the 1960’s precisely at administration and publication departments. I initially wanted to become a journalist which made me to take up a course in journalism while still working in Radio Nigeria. I loved journalism and wanted to practice it. I took up a course from the famous London School of Journalism but unfortunately, the crises of the 60’s thwarted the dream. I returned to Enugu at the heat of the crises in Nigeria in the 60’s. Before returning to Enugu, I had worked from 1963 to January, 1967.
What happened after you returned?
I reported to the Ministry of Information Enugu, and I was posted to Enugu Television Authority (ENTV) Channel 4, now called Nigeria Television Authority (NTA ABA). But while in Lagos and even at Aba, I was doing music as a freelancer, playing guitar. In Lagos, we formed music group known as CYCLOPS. We were 5 in number. Then I was a singer in the group. We played music which could be likened to the type played by the famous Liverpool-based music group, The Beatles. We did not perform in hotels but we performed in private parties and other private events. We even performed at the birthday party of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1965. But while in Aba, I formed a music group and along the line during the civil war. Enugu failed and the seat of Biafran government moved to Umuahia, present day Abia State.
The late Senator Uche Chukwumerije got wind of my music exploits and wrote the ENTV Aba, to release me to entertain the Biafran Armed Forces and that was in 1968. I was on secondment from ENTV. I was still being paid my salaries at ENTV while still entertaining the Biafran troop up to 1970. My music band was known as The Incrowd pop group. The band initially played pop but during the war, we veered into highlife and other genres of music. At the later part of the war, I had a disagreement with two Biafran Air Force (BAF) Regiments at Ezinifite Uga where my band was based commandeering my musical instruments. The man tried to use my band to make money which I refused.
After the war what followed next?
When the war ended, I reported to Radio Nigeria to be retained in Enugu and the request was rejected. Then I returned home. By that time I had recovered my band instruments from the BAF Commander.
How was the Semi-Colon band formed?
I formed the band Semi colon in my home at Amichi Nnewi in February, 1970. My hit and favourite songs were Slim Fit Maggie. It was a single on 45 RMP released in February 1973. But the song that brought me to limelight was Chi Chi Loving. It was an album released in 1978. And then the next was You go high also an Album released in 1981. These three are the principal songs that made me. The first Slim Fit Maggie and Chi Chi Loving were love songs. It was in vogue that time. You go high depicted the dangers in consumption of Marijuana. It was used to warn the Nigerian youths against destroying their lives with Marijuana. The song You go high looked like Fela music so people thought I took it from Fela because of the Afrobeat flavour it had. But it was my song.
How do you see the music industry in Nigeria now?
We laid the foundation. When we played, we had no money but only depended on royalties from music companies. We played authentic music. Then, you cannot record a song without having a band of your own. But now, somebody can jump on a computer and a singer will start singing a trashy lyrics. It is only beat that reign these days, not quality music.
But Sir, despite the poor quality songs from these musicians, they still ride high, live in opulence, travel round the world for shows and enjoy top rave acceptance among young listeners. Your kind of music and the ones by the likes of Oriental brothers or even Rex Lawson did not bring commensurate reward to you people, when compared with the likes of Wizkid ,Timaya etc. Why is it so?
I maintain that these young singers are not better than us. During our time, corporate bodies did not give us endorsements. But today, many companies are pumping money to sign these artistes today as endorsement and they are rich. We depended on royalties and live performance. It is the same thing happening in football world today where a goal scored by small player can land him instant millions of dollars.
Do you still perform?
Yes, I still perform. I even released an album few years back which you are aware of.
I also do live performance in events, so am still around. Laughs.
Away from music, how do you see the Nigeria of today when compared to the Nigeria of old?
The county is in a terrible situation. It is not the type of nation envisioned by founding fathers. The country needs a miracle to return to normalcy because successive leaders have failed the country.
But Sir, President Muhamadu Buhari has maintained that corruption has received a big fight by the APC-led government. Do you agree?
Cuts in: I am totally disappointed with the anti-corruption war by the Buhari administration. First, my disappointment stems from the fact that the President rode to power, holding to his Mr Integrity Mantra. Many Nigerians hoped that the issue of corruption would be thoroughly tackled. We also believed that corruption would suffer a big defeat for the country to move forward. Unfortunately, these hopes are dashed as almost every facet of the country is infested with corruption and you begin to wonder why the monster (corruption) is gaining more strength at the time we have a President who promised to clear the country of Augean stable of graft rot. Look at the level of killings and spate of kidnappings going on daily basis.
Is there any hope in sight?
Only a miracle, like I said earlier, would take Nigeria out of its current situation because the crop of leaders we have had have not impressed in us the so-called efforts at repositioning the nation. Let us still wait till that miracle happens.