Meeting The Virtuoso, Bongos Ikwue 

Posted on June 9, 2024

DELE AJAJA 

It was a while back, but I would piece together what I remember about my chance meeting with Bongos Ikwue, who turned 82 a few days ago. He was one of the most appealing crooners in Nigeria of that era. Candidly, Ikwue was a maestro among the musicians of his time – a shining star above the nation’s horizon. I don’t recall any of his tracks that wasn’t a chartbuster. Among others, the philosophical “Show Me a Virgin” and the breathtaking “Cock Crow at Dawn” (the soundtrack adapted for the TV drama with the same name,) remain national treasures to date.

It was sometime in the late 80s, when I was experimenting with what to do with my life – a few years after graduating from the university. For the most part, I desired to be a journalist, so I could exhort the nation to embrace transparency, accountability, and integrity, like the columnists I admired back then – Tai Solarin, Bola Ige, and Ebenezer Babatope (Ebeno Topsy,) On the other hand, some people recognized that I had some musical talents. I bought my first guitar at the university, and fantasized about becoming a singer someday. Consequently, I got stuck between my love for Journalism and music.

I strolled to the EMI Recording Studio in Ikeja, Lagos, one mid-morning, and asked for the person in charge. Luckily, Mr. Aro, the recording engineer, a native of Ido-Ani, Ondo State, agreed to talk to me. The man and I bonded instantly when I told him that my grandfather had the chieftaincy title of Aro, in Ekiti. He joked that my grandfather could be one of his relatives who migrated from Ido-Ani. Mr. Aro, who was working on “Ozigizaga,” one of the albums of one of the prevalent singers of that time, Chris Hanen, advised me to come to the studio daily, to learn from that singer. The man was right. I learned something from Hanen’s credence and vibrancy in a few days.

Hanen was kind enough to allow the band that backed him to back me for some minutes, so Mr. Aro could do a “demo cassette” for my song, “Ẹ̀ bá Dúró ká Jọ Ṣé.” Thereafter, Hanen continued with his rehearsals. Suddenly, a gentleman walked into the studio. The instant respect he commanded informed me that he was a very important personality. Everyone in the studio stood to welcome him. The face was familiar, but I didn’t recall where I knew him right away. Shortly, his images started flocking into my memory – “That’s Bongos Ikwue!” I recognized his face shortly. I joined the chorus of “Welcome, sir” and “Good afternoon, sir.” I felt remunerated for seeing one of the prominent musicians in our country without bargaining for it.
Ikwue listened twice as much as he spoke during the time he spent at the studio. He sat quietly and listened to Hanen’s Ozigizaga as the band played. He congratulated Hanen at the end, by saying, “That’s beautiful.” “Thank you, sir,” retorted Hanen. While Ikwue was exchanging pleasantries with Hanen, I begged Mr. Aro to play my demo cassette for the man, too. I wanted to hear his opinion about a greenhorn singer. To my surprise, Mr. Aro played my track for Ikwue. “Who wrote the song,” the man asked, and I proudly told him that I did. He said I had some potential, but needed to work on intensity. The man encouraged me to find my place in the music industry. Somehow, I walked away from music, because I didn’t like the lifestyle, and became a journalist.
I felt like I knew Bongos Ikwue from Adam during the short time he was at the EMI Studio. He was a complete gentleman, but one could feel his sincerity, geniality, and kindheartedness from the few sentences he made at a time. He was an accomplished singer, but I never sensed an air of self-importance or “I’m better than you” in his speeches. He carried himself with the aura of a man who knew his worth, but left the trumpet for the others to blow for him. He was the metaphorical man who carried a big stick, but spoke softly. I probably would have asked for Bongos Ikwue’s address, so I could visit him thereafter, but he was discussing what appeared serious with Mr. Aro on his way out. I felt it was rude to interrupt the two older men.

Who among those who grooved in that era would forget Bongos Ikwue’s “Show Me a Virgin (in the Maternity Ward,)” “Still Searching,” “Riding High,” “What’s Gonna Be’s Gonna Be,” “Amen,” “Groovies Funk,” and the evergreen “Cock Crow at Dawn”? Who would ever forget Bongos Ikwue & The Groovies? Who would forget the music and time of the man who sang when all of the sounds in an album were made by humans? Who would forget the man who stood out when synthesizers and computers were not available to aid singers? Happy birthday wishes to a talented star and gentleman, whose ditties will last for generations.

 

For more write-ups on Bongos Ikwue, visit deleajaja.com

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