FELA AND OKOSUNS: The Last Visit – Azuka Jebose

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Late Ozziddi music star, Sonny Okosuns died on this day in 2008.

The mid-summer of 1990 was blazing in New York City for Nigeria’s music giants. Earlier, juju music icon, Chief Ebenezer Obey performed at the Brooklyn Ballroom. In late summer, Nigeria’s Ozziddi music maestro, Sonny Okosuns also came to visit the Big Apple and reconnected with me. Afrobeat music creator, Fela Anikulpo Kuti was on his US concert tour. Summer was ending. The promoters branded Fela’s tour as a “Free James Brown” concert.. So Fela was the megastar to headline that American city tours. Okosuns and I attended Fela’s New York City concert at the famous Apollo Theater. That night, we walked into the sold-out venue and Sonny Okosuns was instantly recognized as a Superstar International musician by the organizers’ staff at the door. He was accorded the star treatment reserved for super-star concert guests. Okosun requested a visit with Fela before the concert. One of the staff members led us backstage. We met Seun Kuti’s mom, the late Fehintola by the backstage entrance curtains. She recognized me and smiled to welcome Okosun and I. Fehintola and a few queens and dancers hung around the low section of the stage area, ready to explode with their seductive and colorful Afrobeat dance. Fehintola walked toward me and we hugged. She greeted Sonny Okosuns as she led us to Felas’s dress room.


Fela was holding briefs with visitors, fans and Afrobeat groupies when we walked into the room. His face glowed with excitement when he saw us in the room: he stood from his seat and welcome us thus: “Ah Azuka and Sonny Okosun”. We were extremely excited to be in the midst of the frenzy of that evening. I was in awe: at 27, being blessed with the presence of two world music icons from my country Nigeria. I knew I would never forget that night: an unforgettable moment. Fela offered us seats next to him: and asked that we stayed and joined the crew at the stage area. Okosuns also began to attract crowds, recognition and respect. You could feel the aura in that room. The moment was pulsating.

About an hour later, the concert began to open up for the theater’s stage spotlights. Fela, Okosuns and everyone else in the room filed out of the dressing room, toward the stage. Egypt 80 Band members lined along the hallway of the theatre, as we walked in the direction of the stage. I walked behind Fela. Sonny Okosuns was gracious to follow behind. As Fela climbed the stage to an enthusiastic and ecstatic audience reception, he signaled I walked to the stage and sat beside the big Conga drum he introduced to the band’s repertoire when he got out of prison in 1986…..I was livid. I, a hopeless rascal from an unknown small town of Onicha Ugbo rural town, buried in the belly of Delta State, sitting in the front row of a widely loved and respected African music ensemble, with its creator and exponent, about to mesmerize a captivating crowd at the Apollo Theater in New York. Man, as I sat there, I felt those unforgettable moments as a young music journalist. Who would have thought that my journey in life then would include that monumental detour to Grace with Fela and Okosun…
After the concert, we went back to the dressing room. Fela sat on the couch and I sat on the edge of his seat.. I noticed rashes and dark spots scattered on his back. As I stared at the rashes, Fela began to complain to me that he had been having constant headaches. He looked worried and stressed. I asked about the rashes and dark spots on his back. He said his skin was reacting to native bath soap.
A few years after our New York visit to the Apollo, I learned that Fela was ill. I saw one of his last pictures taken during a concert: I was shocked by his looks.. I called my friend Femi Akintunde Johnson
in Lagos: he confirmed Fela was ill and rumors were circulating that he had contacted the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS. I encouraged Faj to speculate that Fela was H.I.V positive on the cover of his breezy entertainment magazine, FAME,. My mind raced down to those rashes and headaches complaint inside the dressing room at Apollo Theater that summer.


As Sonny Okosun and I left Fela after the concert and rode in a cab back to his hotel, Okosuns joked that I was more famous than him because Fela privileged me with a spotlight on the world’s greatest stage. He was sincerely happy for me:” jebose, you are a very good journalist. You write from your heart, not to destroy us or any artist, n aim make everybody dey fear and love you”. Okosun said as the cab sped toward our Manhattan hotel. Man, I didn’t know why Fela chose that night to place me on the frontline of his band and acknowledged me as a brilliant journalist from Nigeria. But that’s the Fela we adore…..And the affirmation from Sonny Okosuns was larger than reality”
AzukaJebose

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