By Anote Ajeluorou
AFTER his 30 years on stage celebratory concert in August, Orits Williki missed a chance to return to the big stage again when he pulled out of the monthly Afropolitian Vibes’ show at Freedom Park last Friday. Of course, this threw some spanner in the works for the Ade Bantu-led 12-piece band’s monthly gig. But the Nigerian-German quickly rallied and Jimi Solanke stepped in. Not just a few were disappointed as many had come expecting the old reggae warhorse on stage to relive his 1980s and 1990s golden voice.
And so, when Uncle Jimi, all the way from Ile-Ife, stepped in with his folkloric, deep-throated, Afrocentric lyrics rendered in his usual storytelling style, nobody seemed to remember Orits or reggae again and the odd mix of audience fell under the spell of Jimi Solanke’s tales and flowed along with him. But this was after Ade Bantu, Bankole and Wunmi had had their equally scintillating opening performances.
As usual Ade Bantu and his 12-man band were first, and through their fusion of various Afro-mixes, the audience trickled in from the Food Court, where they first touched down to eat and have a bottle of beer or two. They always needed to be in the mood – Lagosians, Asians, Europeans and what-not – savouring the gourmet and drinks. Having been a bit sated, they then headed to the stage while still clutching bottles or cans of beer or simply head straight to Ade Bantu’s palmwine stand for calabash or plastic cups. But on this night it was clear the palmwine had been spiked with too much saccharine, way beyond the limit, as it tasted wild and all sugary and little palmwiny. It just wasn’t the way to make big sales; Bantu should have tasked his Badagry tappers to produce more wine rather than saturate it with saccharine. Palmwine connoisseurs will not touch that thing served with a long cup! Fortunately, the Lagos crowd doesn’t seem or care to know better either how glorious palmwine tastes, and they drowned their weekend sorrows and stress on the milky liquid with gusto, anyway. Which is just as well for the only show that gives so much for a city that is starved of it.
Several medleys from the band culminated in a piece for the return of abducted Chibok schoolgirls. It was a prayer, a request, an appeal that the girls be brought back home. As usual, it resonated with the crowd. Bankole, a saxophonist, was pushed forward, and he held his own strongly, as he blasted out several tunes. Bankole showed he’s got it in his masterly fusion of his Yoruba and other sounds to create a unique, saxophonic blend and backed by the band.
When Ade introduced Wunmi, not many knew who she was. She wasn’t the sassy Omawunmu on the music scene that everybody knows. When she appeared with her weird, matted hair that towered horn-like into the night skyline, with her equally raffia-like, multi-layered costume, and lithe dance steps that emphasized her suppleness and nimble feet, the audience first held its breath and then went wild with excitement. Wunmi is a bundle of music and dance. Although she lives in New York, there is nothing of the absurd Yankee in her; she is total Nigerian, Yoruba package in a refreshing way. Even her rhythm and beat essentially emphasize her African roots. Local artistes who strive to be Yankees will do well to emulate Wunmi, who has retained her essential African musical roots and pride.
What sets Wunmi apart is her nimble, energetic dance, as she struts the entire stage in near-acrobatic performance fashion. Spritely and lithely, Wunmi’s feline grace as a dancer is unmatchable, and she wowed her audience at Freedom Park. Whatever expectation the audience had of this unknown quantum, Wunmi surpassed it and gave some more. She is distinctively unique, yet she echoes Fela while she still remaining herself and in her own world. She did a piece on Africa’s peculiar predicament, as a continent still struggling to find its feet where others have run far ahead. Wunmi has a new album she calls ‘Body Fit’, which stresses her amazing love for dance, as indeed, she is fit as a fiddle. Even backstage after her breathless performance, Wunmi will not stop dancing when iMike came on.
Jimi Solanke came on after Wunmi, and introduced another kind of African rhythm of the slow grace. Well over 70, Solanke looked far younger as a performer as he also nimbly controlled the stage in his body-twisting, rhythmic dances waving his way around. He had the audience as choir, as it sang along his popular, folkloric, storytelling tunes.
Apparently, Solanke’s performance was the high point of the night, and perhaps should have been reserved for last. But no; when 2009 Project Fame winner, iMike came on, it wasn’t exactly anti-climatic because he was ingenuous enough to start off on a Bob Marley love note that got the mostly youthful audience singing along. iMike managed to hold his own to the end, but it was a shade or two lower in rank than Wunmi and Solanke’s performances.
By the time Ade Bantu took over from iMike, it was close to 11pm, and the show had begun to wind down after another Friday outing of Afropolitan Vibes at Freedom Park. At which the addicted audience could only look forward to the December 19 show while sipping from the tepid, saccharine-laced palmwine on offer. But this was also after Ade Bantu had, as usual, passed round his offering-taking, beaded calabash, pastor-like, for the sustenance of his monthly show.