Ekefa Olubadan of Ibadanland and the First Culture
Ambassador of the National Museum and Monument, Ile – Ife
Today, Friday 17th, April, 2020 is the 23 rd anniversary of the death of one of the world’ s greatest musicians/trumpeters, Eddy Okonta. May his creative and noble soul continue to rest in peace. Amen. Following is my 1997 tribute to the doyen of Highlife music. Please, savour it.
Paradise, according to the world’ s two leading religions, is the heavenly abode for the righteous. They go further to say that as it is on earth, so it is in heaven. Going by the celestial logic, therefore, all those who dwelt, swung and made merry at the defunct ‘Paradise Club’ , Ibadan, can be presumed, without committing heresy to be destined for the promised paradise hereafter.
Among the numerous attendees of the earthly paradise in the 1950s, 1960s till her demise were Pa Afolabi Majekodunmi, alias ‘King of Boys’; Papa Branco, Gaizer, OBJ, the late proprietor of the glittering “Broking House ” , in Ibadan, Oyo State of Nigeria, that today majestically sits atop plot No. 1, Jimoh Odutola Street, Dugbe/Oke –Bola Business District of Ibadan, where the defunct “Paradise Club” , owned by a Lebanese, Salifu, was situated.
The club was the spot to be in the 1960s for good highlife music rendered by the resident ‘band’led by Eddy Okonta, the ‘Obi’ of trumpet, who passed on, on Thursday, April 17, 1997, after a brief illness. Born Edwin Chukwuemeka Okonta, Eddy, was the royal melody maker at his ‘ palace ’, the Paradise Club. He led the Top Aces Band which ate, drank and breathed pure, pleasurable high class music dubbed “highlife ” , in the swinging ‘50s, ’60s and post Nigeria civil war until high decibel profanities masquerading as music, under various pretentious titles, surfaced with the country ’s oil boom.
The branded noise wrestled the decent, melodious and philosophical music of Victor Olaiya, Eddie Okonta, Roy Chicago, Rex Lawson, King Kennytone, Eric ‘Showboy ’Akaeze, et al to the ground. I still wonder how Fela and Victor Uwaifo escaped being worsted! Eddy Okonta, was a true king (Obi) of trumpet. He left no-one in doubt about his mastery of the tool of his trade. The legendary American jazz dude, Louis ‘Satchmo ’Armstrong, admitted, during a concert tour of Nigeria in the 1970s, that Eddy was “damn good”.
An indigene of Onisha Ugbo, in Delta State, who lived and breathed Ibadan, Eddy was detribalized and jolly. His generation belonged to the time when all you needed to truly flourish and belong in your abode of choice anywhere in Nigeria was talent and good neighbourliness.
A man of some resemblance and mannerisms to Louis Armstrong, Eddy Okonta was urbane, witty, vibrant and dexterous on his tool, the trumpet. “ Paradise Club” was his palace and he truly held court. The trumpet was the scepter and the evergreen “Oriwo ” was the anthem, which he sang serially. He had a large following from the academic, the civil service, the media, the professions and the society at large. Eddy ’ s followers were enlightened; highly sociable and dynamic. They worked hard for their money and enjoyed life to the fullest.
I became a regular at Eddy Okonta ’ s shows at the “Paradise Club”in the 1960s through Mr. Ade, a young science teacher who was residing at Oke-Bola, the ‘Hollywood’ of Ibadan social circle in the swinging ‘60s.
Mr. Ade was affable, and he cultivated a set of students for, in his words, “ our brilliance, good character and showmanship, ” qualities which he considered to be tickets for male students to find favours with their parents teachers and you guessed right, daughters of Eve! The man encouraged good manners and conviviality, besides academic/sport excellence. He promoted our attendance at the popular “Sunday Jumps ” at Paradise Club, where we were restricted to drink either lemonade, Krola or “Frizzles”–a non-alcoholic drink made by dissolving sugar-coated tablets in water. It was the rave at teenagers’ parties in the ‘60s.
As the entertainment/social editor of the Ibadan – based ‘Sunday Sketch’ newspaper in 1974, I had become privileged to review the works and performances of entertainment stars in the genres of apala, juju, sakara, highlife, soul/pop, jazz and waka. Among stars who I came in contact and cultivated friendship with, was Eddy Okonta.
In paying tribute to the Obi of trumpet, I publicly wish to proclaim his good naturedness, promptness, self-respect and loyalty. He honoured my several invitations to play at private or corporate functions. If the functions were private, such as my second book launch on 30 th March, 1994, at the Premier Hotel, Mokola Hill, Ibadan, Oyo State. Eddy appeared gratis and only took tokens for his session men.
In return, I paid Eddy full compliments at every public/corporate function compered or promoted by me. There was a particular session at the weekly Segi Jazz Night in Ibadan, ably put together by the Amazon daughter of the late Femi Johnson, Diana, who is also now late.
The mood was very right. We were all in our right elements that night, when I went into a rhapsody. Eddy was overwhelmed and we toyed with the idea of a documentary on his life and career.
When time and schedule permitted, Eddy and I shared drinks and enjoyed camaraderie whenever I visited Lagos or he visited Ibadan. Our last outing was at Ken ’ s quarter within the precinct of the Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos State. Ken was the Managing Director of LAH. The fellowship dragged into the wee hours, and a principled man that he was, Eddy turned down all offers by us to stay the night at LAH. His reason? “I told my people at Ikorodu that I am on a night out and not staying out”.
Our young doctor-friend’s offer of a ride home that night prevented Eddy from walking across the Obafemi Awolowo Road, Ikeja to take ‘kabukabu ’to Ikorodu that night. But now, Eddy is gone to Paradise. May his soul rest in peace. Byebye Eddy ‘Nwamama ’.
Slightly edited, this tribute was first published in the Saturday Punch issue of 26 th April, 1997.