BONGOS IKWUE: HIS PASSION, HIS LEGACY
A legacy etched in our history, Bongos Ikwue has continuously given life to his audience through his music, which is a testament to the theory of evolution and re-invention. Raised in Benue State, Nigeria, he has wooed his followers time and time again with hidden messages of life, love and nature in evergreen numbers like Cock Crow at Dawn and Wulu Wulu.
As someone who is part of what many refer to as the golden era of Nigerian music, what are your thoughts on music today?
First of all, there are so many things happening today. Today’s world is different from the world I grew up in, from religion and legal gay marriage to the way business is done and so on. I can’t put a definition to Nigerian music today, if I’m being honest. But it seems to me like the younger generation is arranging music that is simplistic, with fewer chords. The songwriting is also simple and not about serious issues.
Music is a way of expressing your feelings and ideas. The application of minor chords and an important message within the song is part of it. What I hear today doesn’t seem evergreen, as opposed to music from the past. Too many songs follow the prototype. They are very repetitive and computerized; very different from musicians in my days, like Victor Olaiya. The spirit and feeling of the music has been taken out of it too. It’s a bit too technical.
Do you believe that artistic integrity should always be placed over making money?
Oh yes. Definitely. Making money is nothing. In the first place, you’re never going to make enough money. If you’re thinking only about money, you’re doomed. Artistic integrity is by far more important than making money. You have to be able to stand by your credibility at all times. Making money is the worst enemy of spiritual development.
Are there any young artists today you admire, and whom you would like to work with?
I do admire quite a few. I’ve heard a few songs that I like but honestly, I don’t know their names. One person I can definitely say for sure I admire is Tuface Idibia.
What changes would you like to see in the Nigerian music industry?
What I would like to see is the performance of music, the use of live instruments and the end of lip-syncing. We also need to write more songs about our reality.
Do you think young Nigerians are growing up to appreciate and respect our music culture, as much as they appreciate and respect Western music culture?
No. I’m not quite sure of the genre of music we’re producing today. We replicate Western TV shows like the American Idol. In fact, we have the judges behaving the same way. There is always one mean male judge, and the female must always be sat in the middle. What really is this culture you speak of?
Which of your achievements are you most proud of, musically or outside of music?
The achievement I am most proud of is the one I haven’t done yet (laughs).
You have been very socially active with your music. Do you see your social activities as a responsibility, given that you have a voice people listen to?
I do. I believe I should be even more socially involved. Music is used to convey messages, just as you do with writing, preaching, and poetry. The only difference between all of these and music, is that music has added flavour, which are the instruments, rhythm, melody and feeling. People are always going to listen to what you say, and I believe that if you have talent, you should apply it to help society positively.
I wrote a song called Mustapha and Christopher decades ago. That song is even more relevant today. In this song, Mustapha and Christopher are brothers who live together peacefully as one. I believe that’s how God expects it to be. I also have another song called Your God is my God that explains how we’re all one and the same. We need to write more about what’s happening in the world and try our best to make a positive impact on our society.
What is your greatest concern with the Nigerian society as a whole?
I have a lot. I wish we would just take our time to clean up our act. The streets are filthy. Why can’t we obey simple traffic laws? We apologize for our bad behaviour and then turn around to repeat the same behaviour tomorrow. I have serious concerns about our state of mind and our mentality. We have to first start from there and work on ourselves as individuals. After that, we will start making progress in Nigeria.
Your daughter, Jessica, has embarked on a career in music, how much are you involved in her creative process?
I am as involved as I should be. I am very happy that she has chosen that path. I have to be careful though. I don’t want her to be like me, so I would prefer not to produce her music, as she is her own person musically. I must respect her completely. I respect her freedom, her identity and her integrity.
As a father, what advice do you have for other parents with their children, regarding exposure to the arts?
Honestly, it shouldn’t be just about the arts but also about exposure to everything. The world would not work if everyone did the same thing. Creative artists are workers just as bankers, footballers, engineers and the likes. So the advice from a parent of a child in the arts should be the same as that of a child in any other field.
I would advice parents to encourage their children’s passion. Respect your children. Make sure that they derive joy and satisfaction from what they’re doing. I am 74 and still thoroughly enjoy making music and performing live. I’m not sure I would enjoy doing anything else at this age if I had chosen a different career.
Is there any part of the older Nigerian music culture you wish to see in this generation?
Live music performance. Not only does it sound better, it also feels better. The audience gets to hear and see more. As a live performer, you can do whatever you want on stage. You can change the song; you can make it longer, shorter, stop in the middle and have a chat with your audience, sing acapella, change the arrangement, or make a ballad a dance song. You can also perform an acoustic song with a whole orchestra and vice versa. The possibilities are endless. We need to work harder as musicians. A showman is only as good as his last show.
Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians out there?
All I’ve said so far are my words of wisdom. Tune that guitar before your show, rehearse as often as physically possible, work harder and dare to be different.
After a long hiatus, you recently came back on the Nigerian music scene. What message do you wish to pass on to your teeming audience?
I mostly want to connect properly with my audience. I would like to pass on messages through my music that will have a positive social impact on the country, as I mentioned earlier—a message of hope, peace, love and unity.
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