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Celebrating Highlife Culture: The Ugo Stevenson Example

Ugo Stevenson

I woke up this morning angry. The cause being the numskull call of one Umara Kumalia for a Northern (National) conference for Northern Nigeria, to discuss the self inflicted poverty and non development of the region, when a radio announcement from one of the now many radio stations in Owerri brought me back to cheerfulness.

The announcement is the celebration of the ten (10) solid years of a record album titled ‘Ndaa Chineke’ by that irreplaceable Ugo Stephenson. Ndaa Chineke, a fusion of highlife music and contemporary Christian music, stormed the airwaves in 2004 and majestically stepped up the podium to grab the Nigerian music Award of the year. 2008. Don’t ask me if Ugo Stephenson ever received the one million Naira (1million) then governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim promised him for his efforts. What came on me, after the announcement, is a thought over the dwindling future or the unprecedented attack on this genre of music by the new culture called hip hop in our society.

The Highlife genre, authentically African, having it’s root in Ghana was appropriated by us especially the Igbo man and made our own by the likes of Osita Osadebe, Oliver d-coque and Rex Lawson all gone to the world of the muses.

Ghana, originated the highlife music in the 40s and 5os. A transformation of the brass-band type of music. Victor Olaiya, Rex Lawson could be termed the first generation of the Nigerian highlife family. In their stead came the likes of Chief Osita Osadebe Oliver d-coque, Nze Dan Orji of the Peacocks band, and now Ugo Stephenson. Events, homes and beer malls are never complete without the pulsating, rhythmic melody of the masters of highlife music then. (Don’t ask me my age) it was at the point where highlife was aging so to speak, with the likes of late Nze Dan Orji, Dan Satch Opara, Late Christogonus Opara, (Oriental Brothers) Late Oliver de-coque not producing, that Ugo Stephenson took the highlife music loving Nigerians by storm. A phenomenal production and soulful rendition of a new brand of highlife, titled Ndaa Chineke. It is this authentic brand, that is about to be celebrated once again. It is meant to keep alive the spirit and soul of the music, it’s dancer and it’s lover, before the current rootless brands that hurt our airwaves these days do more damage.

But the question that keeps nagging is, what is wrong with us, especially our governments who are supposed to be our cultural gatekeepers and promoters. The South East home of highlife legends like Osita Osadebe, Nze Dan Orji, Oriental Brothers, Dansatch and others has done nothing to promote this brand, or even immortalize the names of these great maestros who have bestrode our firmament in the recent past. These men who made us proud are left unsung and their works and memory left for the dustbin of history.

Even when a jaundiced attempt is made in the promotion of our culture and music, South East governments, often and always leave the work at the hands of half baked culture nobodies. The result, a total eclipse of cultural orientation in the land. Leaving us with children and future generation that hover in between the mad culture of the West and the non descript culture of the East.

I want to thank you Ugo Stephenson, not for ‘Ndaa Chineke’, (though merited) but for through the celebration of this music and it’s coming of age, so to speak, reminding us that we have our own and we must not let it die. It is also a clarion call to the people and government to appreciate what is good in our people especially culture icons and original creators of entertainment, history and development.

As we await Sunday November 29, just three days after Nigeria would have celebrated her independence or half independence, it is germane to call on all highlife music lovers to jam the Rockview Hotel Owerri, venue of the event for this would be an unforgettable night of Ndaa Chineke.

Happy birthday Ndaa Chineke congratulations. Ugo Stevenson, you are the last of the authentic Mohicans.

Andy Adibenma writes in from Owerri. He is the editor of Oriental Life Newspapers.

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