Excerpt from Road One

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Music was often played around the campus. Students who owned stereo cassette players (gbẹdu) often blasted the latest hit songs and old favourites from their rooms. It seemed like a competition to see whose stereo player could crank out the loudest music.

During the few weeks when the students were on campus, before the 1986 Christmas holiday, the most frequently played song was the 1984 hit “Hi Life” by Wally Badarou, the French-born musician with ancestry traceable to the neighbouring West African country of Bénin. Some students incorrectly referred to the musician as Wale Badaru, ascribing a Yoruba name to the artist. Similarly, a few years earlier, the widespread claim in several parts of Nigeria was that the Guyanese-American singer Rafael Cameron’s real name was Rafiu Kamoru, an indigenous Yoruba name. As “Hi Life” was an instrumental song, students would often hear the song but not know the song title or the artist. In their unique way, some students formulated their own lyrics, in Yoruba, to sing along to “Hi Life”. The song turned into the Yoruba singalong “Ẹ ma yọ, ẹ ma jo, Great Ife” (keep celebrating, keep dancing, Great Ife). This singalong served to lift students’ spirits.

Banji flashed back to his high school days when it was common practice for students to replace a song’s English lyrics with their own lyrics in Yoruba or other Nigerian languages. Banji remembered that it did not matter whether the original song contained lyrics or was an instrumental, such as Ray Parker Jr’s 1980 hit, “For Those Who Like To Groove”. Students in his high school came up with Yoruba lyrics that musically fit the thumping rhythm generated by the lead bass synthesiser being played on the song. “Raji m’ẹmu yo…. Gbish gbash gbosh… o lu’lẹ. Raji m’ẹmu yo…. Gbish gbash gbosh… o ṣubu.” A totally made-up story about the Head Boy at Banji’s high school, whose name was Raji. It meant, “Raji got drunk on palm wine… gbish gbash gbosh, was the sound heard, as he fell over in a heap.”

Similarly, the song “Cherish” by the band Kool and the Gang was customised from English into Yoruba. The original lyrics became “Shẹri ti lọ, mo gbe. Ani, Shẹri ti lọ mo gbe, Shẹri ti lọ.” The customised lyrics were a lamentation over a girl named Shẹri, and meant “Shẹri is gone, I am doomed. I said, Shẹri is gone, I am doomed, Shẹri is gone.”

The trend continued into 1986 with songs released that year receiving the same treatment. The opening line of Midnight Star’s hit song, “Headlines” became, “Esther, Esther, oni ṣe ku ṣe” meaning, “Esther, Esther, the one who is naughty and risqué.” Another song, “Midas Touch”, from the same Midnight Star album, contained echoing lyrics. However, the way it was sung sounded like “Tosh-o, Tosh-o” and it quickly became the way to refer to students with the Yoruba name Omotosho, commonly abbreviated to Tosho. The bassline from The SOS Band’s huge hit, “The Finest”, turned into the singalong, “Ẹ bẹrẹ iranu, ẹ tun jo ni party”, meaning, “you all have begun idling, and partying your lives away.”

It did not matter the language of the original song’s lyrics, as demonstrated by the song “Umqombothi” by the South-African singer Yvonne Chaka. The song title and opening words were in the South-African language Xhosa. The words became “Jambites are many, wọn tun wa’yawo, Jambites are many wọn tun wa’yawo.” Translated from Yoruba, this meant, “Jambites are many, and they have the audacity to seek wives (girlfriends).”