Happy 75th Birthday Babafemi Esho, The Gatekeeper Of Nigerian Music
Cerebral, charismatic, handsome, humorous, jovial, polished, refined, smooth, suave, urbane and trailblazer are some of the words that best describe my dad.
Call him Baba Musician, Baba Awon Elere, Professor of Music, he will always reciprocate with his usual gentle mein and gentlemanly look.
When the history of popular West African music, especially with regard to the highlife music genre is to be truly and authoritatively written, one name that will continually resound and have a global acclaim and respect is Samuel Babafemi Esho, the indefatigable patron and promoter of evergreen music, home and abroad.
Femi Esho is a purveyor of Nigerian and Ghanaian music of yesteryears who have made it his life’s mission to preserve the posterity and longevity of an era threatened with oblivion.
Being a key player in the industry himself, Femi has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of evergreen music masterpieces that enshrine the best of African culture and tradition.
As the iconic founder of the Evergreen Musical Company, Femi holds an esteemed position of trust and stewardship with the vintage music community causing him to be appointed as a sole custodian and distributor of the complete works of many African music legends for whom he campaigns tirelessly in a bid to immortalise their achievements as a symbol of cultural continuity through sound.
Born precisely on 29 October, 1946 in Ilesa, Osun State of Nigeria, before Nigeria’s Independence and at a period when highlife was the signature tune for the growing West African entertainment scene, Femi Esho has, since his birth, metamorphosed into Africa’s foremost indigenous music revivalist, especially the highlife music genre.
As a young boy growing up amid the emergence of a great music phenomenon referred to as highlife, Femi Esho had a somewhat oddly hot passion for various genres of indigenous music of his time and felt the power and effect of music in the society. Thus, he realised early in life that music is a universal language, which cuts across all frontiers of human life, be it political, religious, tribal or social.
Since the age of 12, he has been going around to all nooks and crannies of the world collecting musical works of Nigerian and African musicians.
As a result of his self-chosen musical adventure it was easy for Femi Esho to collect the works of most of these iconic musicians from Ghana, Benin Republic, South Africa, Togo, Nigeria, etc.
He frequented many social clubs dining with different musical giants to unravel the mystery and magic music held for them. He was a regular at popular clubs like Paradise Hotel, Independence Hotel and Central Hotel, all in Ibadan.
In Lagos, he was a popular patron of the Kakadu Hotel, Paradiso, Coolcats Inn, Lido Bar, Central Hotel, Western Hotel, West End Collisieum, Abalabi, Ambassador Hotel, Stadium Hotel and Caban Bamboo, etc.
At the age of 22, Femi Esho joined the Lagos State government in 1968, working for His Excellency Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson ( First Military Governor of Lagos State). He later rose to become a first-class secretary to His Excellency.
After seven years of service with the Lagos State government, Femi had a five year stint with the biggest Nigerian architectural company at that time (Niger Consultant Architect) with over 35 architects under his supervision.
He thereafter set up an advertising/PR agency which later metamorphosed into a first-class printing consultancy, and which he ran till early 90’s when he now dedicated his entire life to music.
With a deep innate passion for music, and with the various requests from many of his friends and top elders in the society, Femi Esho was propelled to establish the Evergreen Musical Company Limited.
The major rationale for the company formation was to, among other things, meet the yearnings and ease the tension of the various senior age groups and connoisseurs of good heritage music who yearn for music with content and philosophy.
He also formed an 21-man Evergreen Band in 1993 and the band has performed in highbrow places like Metropolitan Club, Ikoyi Club, Muson Center, Island Club and Yoruba Tennis Club and for various corporate conglomerates.
Alongside all of these and still for the love of music, Femi Esho has, over the years, presented various television and radio programs in virtually all the high-class television and radio stations across the country.
The longest of these was his famous “Highlife Renaissance Program” on Raypower which he presented on Sundays between 4-5pm for a period of about three years, while his last major television program was his one-hour insight into Nigeria’s music from 1914 – 2014.
Today, Femi Esho is the undisputed largest collector of music of yesteryears with over 150,000 vinyls plates made up of 78rpm breakable plates, 45rpm and 33rpm, hundreds of reel to reel tapes, thousands of cassette tapes of various music, along with archival materials such as His Masters Voice ( HMV), various reel-to-reel machines, turn-tables with the oldest 100 years, books and newspaper article on Nigerian music, video recordings of early Nigerian music icons.
Happy 75th birthday to the man of music, a colossus in the world of entertainment!!!
•Esho is the Managing Director, Evergreen Musical Company Limited, Lagos.