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People

Ebenezer Obey

QUICK FACTS

NAME
Ebenezer Obey

OCCUPATION
Musician

DATE of BIRTH
3rd April, 1942

PLACE OF BIRTH
Idogo, Ogun State

234 LEGEND
 

Overview

The trajectory of music in post-independence Nigeria, mostly the South-West, was a struggle of dominance among the different genres of music. Artists that sang Fuji, Highlife, Apala and Jùjú music all incorporated different forms and styles to emphasize their artistry and ingenuity. One of the few standout artists during this era was Ebenezer Obey; a man who stole the entertainment spotlight in the 1960s and became the binary force of Jùjú music alongside King Sunny Ade.

Early life

Ebenezer Obey, fondly called Chief Commander or just Obey by his fans, was born on the April 3rd, 1942 as Ebenezer Remilekun Aremu Olasupo Fabiyi. Favored with the gift to sing from an early age in his local choir, the young Obey left his hometown at an early age in search of a bright future in the busy and vibrant city of Lagos. It was in Lagos that he learnt how to play the thumb piano and the guitar. This acquired knowledge carved a niche for him when he performed various gigs with different musical bands such as the Royal Mambo Orchestra, the Guinea Mambo Orchestra, the Federal Rhythm Brothers and the Fatai Rolling Dollar and his African Rhythm Band.

Musical Career

Obey worked as a band member and clerk while he composed songs during his spare time. At nearly 22 years of age, Obey will form his own band, The International Brothers, in 1964 after years of guidance and mentorship under Fatai Rolling Dollar. He introduced Yoruba percussion, the bass guitar, multiple Yoruba talking drums, vocals and layered guitar sound to his Jùjú music. His ingenious move allowed the band’s arrangement to generate more rhythm and also gave the band its nascent popularity and acceptance. In 1971, the band renamed itself the Inter-Reformers ’70 band and subsequently delivered continuous hits on their new musical label.

Aside from the alluring percussions of Obey’s music, his songs are also known to convey meaningful content that addressed thematic preoccupations centered on morality, ethics, honesty, father-son relationships, love, human struggle and religious allusions just to mention a few. These themes were often discussed via his use of engaging tales and proverbs that were meant to further captivate his audience. He also sang songs praising politicians, the rich and people of prominence in the society when called to perform at social functions. One of his predecessors, I.K. Dairo, worked tireless to modernize Jùjú music in an attempt to have the genre attain a comparable and prevalent appeal as its major contender, the Ghanaian Highlife music, which was recognized as the desired party music in the 1950s and 1960s. In line with I.K. Dairo ambassadorial love for Jùjú music, Obey stepped-up his game by introducing the use of many talking drums, guitars, and bass. He also sang mostly in Yoruba and often switched to English. Obey first major hit came in 1972 when he recorded Board Members shortly after the band returned from Britain.

Obey will name his style of music Jùjú Miliki (Miliki is a Yoruba word meaning enjoyment) after the “Miliki Spot” Hotel where his band often performed and resided. Another reason why his music was known as Jùjú Miliki is due to the genteel rhythm of his music which allows listeners to gently shake their bodies and dance along with the rhythm. This genteel dance rhythm is often said to depict a mental image of enjoyment.

Obey’s key competitor was King Sunny Ade, who was popularly known as KSA by his fans. Many believed that the supposed rivalry between Obey and KSA was manufactured by their fans some of who were fiercely loyal and were proclaim the superiority of their Jùjú star no matter what. It has been reported that the musicians were good friends but chose not to address questions about their invented antagonistic relationship. Many believe that Obey and KSA intentional silence was simply a ploy to sell tons of records which they did for several years.

Later Years

Before the 1990s, Ebenezer Obey sang for business tycoons, politicians and his songs also cantered on Yoruba socio-cultural preoccupations. But in 1990, he retired from singing secular Jùjú songs and decided to start singing gospel music. While he still maintains his style of music and performance, he chooses to focus more on religious themes and his lyrics draw allusions from the Bible. On a sadder note, Obey lost his wife, Lady Evangelist Juliana Fabiyi, on August 23rd, 1011. They tied the knot in 1963 and the union was blessed with several children and grandchildren.

The word “Lágbájá” is a Yoruba word that means “nobody in particular” and connotes “facelessness” in a relative metaphorical sense of the word. Some critics have opined that Lágbájá’s use of mask is an act of cowardice, but the musician himself explained that the reason for wearing the mask is to represent the hopeless, voiceless and faceless in the society. Another reason behind adopting the use of a mask is to demonstrate that anyone can make a change in the society; a belief he unavoidably expresses in his songs.

About three years ago, it was reported that Lágbájá unmasked himself. This singular action has raised a lot of questions among his fans. Some have wondered if his “reported decision” should be seen as Lágbájá retiring from his music career while some are curious to know if the reason is tethered around the boredom of anonymity. The reason behind Lágbájá supposedly unmasking himself is best known to him. However, it is important to note that he hasn’t released any other album since the news broke about his unmasking.

Works

1964 Ewa Wo Ohun Ojuri (come see what the eyes have seen)

1965 Aiye Gba Jeje,  Ifelodun, Gari Ti Won, Orin Aduran (Song of Prayer)

1966 Awolowo Babawa Tide,  Oluwa Niagbara Emi Mi, Palongo, Teti Ko Gboro Kan (Listen to this Word), Oro Miko Lenso, Orin Ajinde (Song of Resurrection), Late Justice Olumide Omololu, Iyawo Ti Mo Ko Fe (Omololu, the Wife I First Married)

1967 Olomi Gbo Temi (Listen to me, My Lover),  Maria Odeku, To Keep Nigeria One,  Awa Sope Odun Titun (We are Thankful for a New Year), Edumare Lon Pese (It is God that Provides), Omo Olomo, Ope Fun Oluwa (Thanks be to God), Paulina

1968 Ore Mi E Si Pelepele (My Friend, be Cautious), Ajo Ni Mo wa, Ijebu L’ade, Lati Owolabi, Col. Ben Adekunle, Ori Bayemi, Lolade Wilkey, Adetunji Adeyi, Gbe Bemi Oluwa, Olowo Laiye Mo (The World Knows the Rich)

1969 Ode To Nso Eledumare (The Hunter that Watches God), Pegan Pegan, Sanu-olu, K’Oluwa So Pade Wa (May God Guide Us), London Lawa Yi, Oro Seniwo

1974 Inter-Reformers A Tunde, Eko Ila, Around the World, Iwalka Ko Pe

1975 Mukulu Muke Maa Jo, Ota Mi Dehin Lehin Mi (Get Behind me, my Enemy), Alo Mi Alo, Edumare Dari Jiwon (Forgive them, God)

 

1976 Late Great Murtara Murtala Ramat Muhammed, Operation Feed The Nation

1977 Eda To Mose Okunkun (The Human that Knows the Deeds of Darkness), Immortal Sings for Travellers, Adam and Eve

1978 Igba Owuro Lawa, Oluwa Ni Olusa Aguntan Mi (The Lord is my Shepherd), No Place Be Like My Country Nigeria

1979 In the Sixties Vol.1, In the Sixties Vol.2, Igba Laiye (the world is a phase), Sky, E Wa Kiye Soro Mi (come and observe my words), Omo Mi Gbo Temi (My Child, Listen to me)

1980 Leave Everything to God, Current Affairs, Sound of the Moment, Eyi Yato

1981 Joy of Salvation, What God Has Joined Together

1982 Celebration, Austerity, Precious Gift

1990 Count Your Blessing, On the Rock

1991 Womanhood

1993 Good News

1994 I Am a Winner, Walking Over (1994?)

1995 The Legend

1999 Millennial Blessings

2000 Promised Land

2002 Ase Oluwa

234Impact


The Jùjú music of Chief Commander relives the precolonial Nigerian societies where the form of education they practiced was informal. From this informal education which was mostly oral, these societies learnt ethics, morality, culture, religion and all other preoccupations. Through songs, moonlight tales, stories, Nigerians learnt of their history, heroes, and past and these lessons were all passed down from one generation to another. Their lives were shaped by their beliefs as captured and enshrined in these oralities. Obey’s secular Jùjú music serves as a form of entertainment and also a preservative of Yoruba philosophy, identity and socio-cultural beliefs. He is also considered a creative and innovative artist for the Jùjú music genre and many have said that if King Sunny Ade is considered the King of Jùjú music then Obey should be regarded as the God of Jùjú Music.

References:

  1. “Ebenezer Obey” – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Modiefied February 9th 2016. Web. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebenezer_Obey
  1. Brett Allan King. “Ebenezer Obey Biography” Musician Guide. Web. http://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608004179/Ebenezer-Obey.html

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