Epochal, phenomenal, unprecedented, and unique. These are some of the words that unarguably describe the 100 songs, composed and performed by the multi-talented and multi-skilled artiste, Benson Omowafola Tomoloju, which have been captured in an Application (App) which was released recently on Google App.
As Concrete Communications Studios, launched the app containing all the 100 songs, via zoom, penultimate weekend, the excitement was palpable.
This is quite understandable, with the unveiling of 100 songs, the multi-talented, versatile artist, playwright, theatre director and producer, mentor, pioneer of art journalism in Nigeria, and former Deputy Editor of The Guardian, did what no one had ever done before in Nigeria. Moreso, it is a bumper harvest of music with a cross-over appeal. Added to this is the fact that downloading the songs has been made very affordable.
At N1000 giveaway price, all that an interested listener needs to download the evergreen songs by Tomoloju, also known and addressed as Ben T or Pappy Ben, from Google Playstore, is a token N1000, and you are course to enjoy a rich tapestry of musical genres and forms — folk, highlife, reggae, pop, Ilaje trado-modern and theatrical songs.
The formal launch also brother together numerous members of the acclaimed Kakaaki, a performance group founded by Mr. Tomoloju in 1980 while he was a school teacher, other mentees, friends and admirers across the globe.
Speaking at the launching, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Concrete Communications Studios, Semoore Badejo, who is the Executive Producer of the project, said that the songs captured in the App are just a fraction of the many songs composed and performed by Mr. Tomoloju. We have combined fun with work, recording 100 songs of Ben Tomoloju in our studios.
And trust Pappy Ben, a master that he is, reeling out songs over songs, with that sonorous cannery-like voice you will love to hear. You will certainly find your choice of genre in this compilation that I choose to call a reference in Literature. Where else can you find a package of 100 songs in one, which will also come with the lyrics and the inspiration behind each song?
This is a collectors’ item. A product I am proud to be associated with. You’ve got to have access to it. “All these 100 songs he did not only compose them, he also sang the songs. Thank God he still has that voice. We have a good product for you,” Badejo said. He added that if not for COVID-19, the launch would have been done earlier.
According to him, it started with Ropo Ewenla. “We wanted to create publicity for the studio. And to do this, some of the songs of Ben Tomoloju were recreated. He was deeply involved in it and fired us. He composed some of the songs and we felt why can’t we document this, and even Showcase the enormous potential of the icon?
Badejo, who worked on the project alongside Ropo Ewenla and Jahman Anikulapo, revealed that they were thinking of an ingenious way to archive Tomoloju’s work. “We were actually thinking of moving away from the norm which is the normal album launch where you will call people to come and launch and buy, but we were looking at how we will make this production a global one.
“We are looking at how we can make his song available to people all over the world by building an App to archive these 100 songs,” said, adding that they discussed the idea with Tomoloju.
“He reverted with volumes of comments so we said the owner must come to do his thing. We felt he had done a lot and that we needed to document him. Some people don’t know him as a singer, and we thought we should showcase this icon. The first challenge was hoping he would agree, but when we told him, he said he would pray over it. He did and later got back to us.
When we started, we were the ones running after him because of his pace. He composed and voiced all the songs. Here is an excellent product for you,” Badejo revealed. On the choice of an app for the songs instead of compact disc (CD), He explained that they wanted to make Ben T “a citizen of the world” without leaving Nigeria, and they were able to launch it on Google play store.
“So today, I am happy to inform you that we have successfully launched this app into the play store. If you go to Google play store right now and search for ‘100 songs of Ben Tomoloju’ you will be able to download from there. Just for a token of N1000, you will have access to those songs.
“Our mission is to get across to the world. We would rather reach out to millions of people than a few thousand. The app is mobile literature; it comes with lyrics and the inspiration behind each of the songs. You can gift people this app. It is not on i-phone yet, but it would soon be in about three to four weeks.”
Earlier, Tomoloju had expressed excitement at the initiative, saying: “It is quite significant and exciting that Concrete Communications and her partners have deemed it necessary to compile these songs. They are a hundred in number. But the hundred are just a fraction — between a quarter and a third — of my entire repertoire of original compositions. I’m not sure we can recover all.
But we’ll try. So far, in quality and magnitude, and also for its combination of the philosophical and the popular, I think we have here a bumper harvest of music with a cross-over appeal.”
Also speaking, the producer, Ewenla, said 100 songs of Ben T was conceived “as a means of expanding our collective memory. There’s a tendency not to archive our products.
Still, we hope this project will expand folkloric knowledge we can bestow to our children. This project is beyond music and art. It’s history, and we have not even scratched the surface. It’s cultural evangelism, and this is just the beginning.” On his part, Anikulapo, who was also the moderator of the virtual launch, said the project is about archiving songs by Tomoloju, most of which have been appropriated by artists and others.
Highlights of the launch include mucical video clips, short reviews by Ayo Bankole Jnr., Dafe Ivwurie and former Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Steve Ayorinde, who also worked under Tomoloju at The Guardian.
Bankole Jnr, in his review, described 100 Songs by Tomoloju, as remarkable and awesome. “What you’ve done is remarkable; 100 songs at once is much. This collection is awesome. It’s almost a crime that you are giving it out so cheap.”
He added that the songs are multidimensional, their appeal, beyond just the lyrics. “One can look at the songs and redo as Ras Kimono did with ‘Aja Kubo.’ I’m happy that you have taken time to catalogue a few, but I’m horrified by the cheap price. You listen to the songs and engage with them on several levels.”
Ivwurie, in his short review which was read by Ewenla, notes that the “Hundred Songs of Ben Tomoloju ensures that the consummate thespian gets due and appropriate recognition for ‘Aja Kubo’ and many other original songs. According to him, in general, “the collections of songs are soothing, calming, sometimes prayerful and contemplative.
Strongly recommended for your quiet time when you need the muse to visit. If you drive in Lagos traffic, or any other traffic in any other crazy city of the world, download the app, and you have a soulful companion.” For Ayorinde, the 100 songs in a single compilation deserves all the commendation, all the accolades.
“This is a brilliant one from our boss.100 songs in a single compilation is the first in Nigeria. It deserves all the commendation, all the accolades that we can give and not just for the project alone but also the man in whose honour it has been done.”
Ayorinde called for cross-generational collaborations to popularise the songs. He commended the producers, adding that what’s been done for Ben T means he can enjoy the benefit of his labour. “Let’s celebrate this as the first part of what we should do with this compilation.
The second part will be how to milk it; how to sell to the world, and the world includes the younger generation—the 15 to 25 age group. I want to see collaboration with a Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido. We should break the compilation down to bits; break it down into 10s and 20s. I would love to see a collaboration with Yinka Davies, Tiwa Savage. Don’t let’s restrict him to those who know him; sell him to other generations. We should make the songs available to the younger generation,” Ayorinde stated.
Tomoloju, in his remarks, expressed appreciation of his colleagues for the honour given to him through the project. “It’s exciting for me to go back in time and scoop out some of my old works. Not only scoop them out but process them into some exciting form of music. Music that I call eclectic.
Why 100 songs, you may wonder? I want to be empathetic to students who come to my house or theatre base to make me sing directly to them when they wanted to do my theatre productions. They travel from all corners of the country. Now, they can have these songs. They are songs from about six or seven plays of mine.”
The songs, he noted, are an eclectic mix, comprising teatre, gospel, reggae, folk and gyration. According to him, “some of the songs were composed for his students as a form of cultural pedagogy in the educational process.
This was at Saka Tinubu Memorial High School, where I started as a teacher. Some of these songs came from when I was teaching, and I used them to minimise tedium that literature was for students in those days.”