Femi Esho at 75: Music collector extraordinaire

Music collectors are defined by their music collections. The extraordinary music collection of Mr Femi Esho, Chairman/CEO of Lagos-based Evergreen Musical Company Ltd, who turned 75 on October 29, makes him a music collector extraordinaire. “I started collecting music at the age of 12,” he told attendees at an electrifying event that celebrated “10 Music Legends of Lagos Evolution” […] The post Femi Esho at 75: Music collector extraordinaire appeared first on The Nation Newspaper.

Femi Esho at 75: Music collector extraordinaire

Music collectors are defined by their music collections. The extraordinary music collection of Mr Femi Esho, Chairman/CEO of Lagos-based Evergreen Musical Company Ltd, who turned 75 on October 29, makes him a music collector extraordinaire.

“I started collecting music at the age of 12,” he told attendees at an electrifying event that celebrated “10 Music Legends of Lagos Evolution” in December 2017. The show, which took place at City People Event Centre, Gbagada, Lagos, was organised by City People Entertainment, Evergreen Musical Company and Members of Music Icons.  It was a celebration of Apala, Sakara, Juju, Highlife, Fuji, Waka, Folk, Agidigbo, Afrobeat and Were.

Many of the melodies that evening were blasts from the past.  They were from a time when things were not what they are now. I had wondered: What makes music evergreen? Today’s music will become yesteryear music tomorrow. But evergreen music is not just yesteryear music. Evergreen music means more than yesteryear music. The quality of memorability makes music evergreen. The sounds of yesterday prompted reflection on the sounds of today.

Ultimately, Esho was the star of the show. His company is described as “Africa’s greatest custodian and producer of music of yesteryears.” He was at the centre of the show with his long white beard, doing what he had mastered over the years. He gave insight into the works of the awardees and why they deserved the awards. He displayed impressive knowledge of Nigerian music history.

When I first met him some months before the event, at the Lagos residence of his friend who is also my friend, he gave me a valuable collection of the works of Afrobeat king Fela Anikulapo Kuti that included “5 Audio CDs, 1 DVD (Live Performances) and 24-Page In-Depth Biography.”  We got talking and he got me thinking.

His passion for music is infectious. I thought about his services to Nigerian music and his enthusiasm. When he gave me his calling card, I was struck by the fascinating quote inscribed on it: “Without music, life would be an error – Friedrich Nietzsche.”

Information supplied by his daughter and Managing Director of Evergreen Musical Company Ltd Bimbo Esho, who has chosen to follow her father’s path, shows that the outstanding music collector is in a class of his own. She said: “Today, Femi Esho is the undisputed largest collector of music of yesteryears with over 150,000 vinyl 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 Master’s Voice (HMV), various reel-to-reel machines, various turntables with the oldest 100 years old, books and newspaper articles on Nigerian music, video recordings of early Nigerian music icons.”

Before he formed his musical company, he had worked for the Lagos State government under its first military governor Mobolaji Johnson, and a major architectural firm. He had also set up an Advertising/PR agency, and ran a printing consultancy.

His social life equipped him for the formation of his musical company. “He was a regular at popular clubs like Paradise Hotel, Independence Hotel, Central Hotel, all in Ibadan,” his daughter said. “In Lagos, he was a popular patron of the Kakadu Hotel, Paradiso, Cool Cats Inn, Lido Bar, Central Hotel, Western Hotel, West End Coliseum, Abalabi, Ambassador Hotel, Stadium Hotel, Caban Bamboo.” She also said he “gave his entire life to music” in the early 1990s.

Apart from his musical company, he also formed a band dedicated to evergreen music. It is a testimony to his band’s quality and the demand for evergreen music that the band has performed at prestigious places in Lagos, including Metropolitan Club, Ikoyi Club, MUSON Centre, Island Club and Yoruba Tennis Club. It has also been patronised by various corporate giants.

He has presented radio and television programmes promoting evergreen music, particularly Highlife. He presented “Highlife Renaissance” on Raypower, the first private radio station in Nigeria, weekly for about three years.  To mark Nigeria’s centenary celebration in 2014, he reviewed Nigerian music from 1914 to 2014 in a programme on the network service of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

His musical company has revived the works of music greats such as Bobby Benson, Eddy Okonta, Rex Jim Lawson, E.T. Mensah, Joe Mensah, Haruna Ishola, Victor Olaiya and I.K. Dairo through a repackaging project involving music from the 1920s.

“Highlife and some of its variants originated from Nigeria, Ghana and a few other African countries, hence it can be described as our gift to the world,” Esho observed, adding “In terms of the reign of Highlife, you can hardly find more than three of four recreation spots where the music is still enjoyed by patrons of musical bands. We feel that the situation portends a great danger to our indigenous contribution to the world of music, something that has the potential of being a major income earner for Nigeria if properly harnessed.’’

Esho launched the Evergreen Music Heritage Foundation, located in Surulere, Lagos, “to preserve and safeguard musical heritage.”  Significantly, it is “a one-stop place for research and documentation of over 10,000 Nigerian musicians,” and  ”will help to create a world-class archival institution to cater for the needs of researchers, anthropologists and sociologists the world over.” The public and private sectors should support it as a service to culture and tourism.

Born on October 29, 1946, in Ilesa, in present-day Osun State, he has attained an international stature based on his services to music, which he regards as a universal language that transcends boundaries.  A striking story, narrated by his daughter, demonstrates the value of his efforts to preserve yesteryear music. When he visited Ghana in 2008 to seek permission rights to release the works of some old Ghanaian Highlife stars, the late Jerry Hansen of the Ramblers Dance Band, who was then 86, “could not hold back his tears as he exclaimed that it was a great shame that Femi Esho came all the way from Nigeria to present to him all his lost works.” The drama showed the importance of music collection, and underlined Esho’s significance as a music collector.

I wish the man of melodies more melodious years.

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