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[Watch] Eko o gba gbere composer, Pa Chris Ajilo, in his own words

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Legendary highlife singer, Pa Chris Ajilo, is dead. According to the singer’s caregiver, David Ekanem, the highlife singer battled malaria shortly before his death. He died in a hospital on Saturday morning at the age of 92. Ekanem said, “He had malaria last week, so, we gave him medication. The malaria persisted, and as there was no improvement after three days, we rushed him to a hospital at Ilesha, but there was no bed space.” We reproduce below an interview he gave to Golden Tones.

I thank God that I’m alive. I had an accident in my bathroom; I slipped on the soapy tile, and I became a toddler after.  You can call me a toddler now (laughs) but I thank God. Some people have gone through the same experience and gave up the ghost, but Jesus kept me alive. The Lord God kept me up till now.

My birthday comes up on the 26th of December, Boxing Day. Though I’m not a boxer, I always look to the day. I was born in Lagos; I went to school in Lagos. Luckily for me, my educational base was situated around the same vicinity; my primary and secondary schools were near each other. That’s Saint Peter’s Primary School, Ajele Street. I finished primary school and proceeded to CMS Grammar School. The schools were all around the same vicinity before I travelled abroad.

Eko o gba gbere by Chris Ajilo featuring Banky W. and Korede Sax

I went to London and started my musical journey there. I began my music education at the Central School of Dance Music, West Street, London under Johnny Dankworth, Don Randell, Jimmy Ducher, Aubrey Frank and many others. I started to know music, and it was a pleasant time that I met very many people that were very friendly.

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Of course, they showed me all I needed to know as a music student.   I learnt various musical instruments, and from there I started playing the flute, clarinet and saxophone. I had excellent music teachers who were also friendly. From there I graduated into the music scene; played with various bands and I later decided to come back home. In the course of studying music, I looked at myself as a learner and my teachers were my friends. They taught me many things as far as music is concerned; composition, arranging and all sorts.

It was in 1955 that I decided to come home. During my musical education, I met many people; those who were much older than myself including my teachers who were my friends. People like Johnny Dankworth; they were all interested in my musical occupation and discussed with me a lot of things before I ever decided to return home.  Since I returned home, I have been in the music business. I started my band, Chris Ajilo and his Cubanos. You may ask me why Chris Ajilo and his Cubanos?

It was because Kenny Graham, who was my early band leader was playing the Cubanos. He was a friend and a good band leader. I learnt a lot from those musicians because I’m always ready to learn; always eager. Through all these, I became a better arranger, composer and they all helped me to be what I wanted to be.

When I got back home, I was travelling with my band and recording, teaching and from there I went into music production. I met many younger ones who were also very friendly to me. From there, I went into the music business; production of recordings and one of my early records was done with Polygram Records. I was doing all these because I’m interested in music and later I worked with Polygram Records as a Staff Producer which in those days was very unusual; to have a Staff Producer in a recording company.

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I was doing all these not for my daily bread, but because I’m interested in music generally. Later, I started teaching people interested in music and musical instruments. They know me as Music Teacher because I never looked at myself only as a musician but as a teacher of music. These days, you find some younger artists who call themselves rich men, millionaires but my interest was producing good musicians and excellent productions. They all came to learn how to play musical instruments or record under Polygram Records.  I’ve never been so much interested in how much I made but my interest is making good musicians, and I’m interested in good productions.

Of course, I never ignored the trade union. We were the ones who started the music union, and we were so much interested in it. I led our trade unionists to the defunct Soviet Union for almost a year to study. I was the leader of the Nigerian Union of Musicians.  During that trip, I had an attractive lady who was then a professor of Theatre Arts in Moscow that wanted me to stay behind and learn more music at the University of Moscow. Tamara Makarova, that’s her name. But unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my group to stay behind and continue my music education at the university.

The interest in trade unionism made me very popular as far as a trade union in Nigeria is concerned. I did a lot of musical training for the younger ones; unfortunately, or fortunately, I didn’t become a millionaire like these boys of today. My interest was to make good young musicians; to learn how to play and make popular music.

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It’s not like the music of today, but still, it was an exciting time. Over the years, I also was interested in performing, in joining the Performing and Mechanical Right Society (PMRS). We got into compositions, copyright and all that. I don’t know whether it’s of interest to musicians of today but I love the music business and I’ve always been a musician throughout.

It was only later when I had this accident that I stopped training the youth in my music school; I had to suspend my lessons because it would affect recovery time. That was when I decided to stop lecturing; holding classes for students who want to continue their music education. I’m waiting for when I’ll be strong enough to continue. But in the meantime, I’m happy to be alive. I thank God that I’m getting much better so that I’ll continue to run my school.

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