Asked to write an essay in professor of psychology, Scott Allison’s “Heroes & Villains” class at the University of Richmond, Virginia, Corinne Devaney chose Bob Marley.
Marley was a mulatto born in a crime-centric slum neighbourhood of St. Anne in Jamaica. He was a product of a liaison between a black mother, then 18-year-old Miss Cedella Malcolm, and Norval Sinclair Marley, a white father from Crowborough, East Sussex, UK. The older Marley was then about 60 years of age. Sinclair and Cedella had met and later married while she was working as a supervisor on a Jamaican plantation.
Norval later abandoned both Cedella and her son after his less-than-illustrious second world war military expedition to Jamaica and died in 1955 while Bob was 10 years old.
In spite of the horror of his upbringing, Marley made a heroic transformation from the slum to the pinnacle of stardom, becoming one of the global best-selling artists of all time.
His signature was a queer assortment of unkempt dreadlocks. This was sauced by an anti-imperialist, pan-Africanist, asceticism-prescribing Rastafari religion that venerates despotic Ras Tafari Makonnen, otherwise known as Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia as “King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”. This was woven around an obsessive fascination with smoking marijuana as a religious sacramental object of worship. Marley died in May of 1981 while battling melanoma cancer.
While the Rastafari religion, whose major precepts are taken from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s liturgy, tempered Jamaican musical stars from manifesting weird traits associated with musical stars all over the world, it is not the same elsewhere. Rising from rejection in an audition by the London Decca Records company on January 1, 1962, after performing 15 songs in about an hour, Decca’s assessment report was that the guitar group, The Beatles, was not up to standard. Indeed, Decca said they couldn’t see a future in the group. However, a few years after, The Beatles became world-famous, ruling the world. It sold 1.6 billion singles in the United States, 177 million albums, and 600 million albums in the world, with 21 number one “Billboard Hot 100” which was recorded to be “the most any band has ever”.
Apparently basking in the euphoria of this stardom, John Lennon, a member of the band, during an interview with an Evening Standard reporter, Maureen Cleave, in March 1966 had remarked: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re more popular than Jesus now – I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity”. Not long after, the rock and roll group, made up of himself, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr got separated and Lennon himself got shot on the evening of December 8, 1980. He was fatally wounded in the attack which occurred at his New York residence by Mark David Chapman who claimed to have been incensed by his lavish lifestyle and the unconscionable 1966 comment about Christ attributed to him.
The recent spat between celebrated hip-hop Nigerian musician and Buga hit song-maker, Oluwatobiloba Daniel Anidugbe widely known by his stage name, Kizz Daniel, and organisers of the Summer Amplified Show in Tanzania last Sunday has opened the byzantine world of musical stars for examination. Daniel’s absence had courted the ire of the Tanzanian fans who thronged the venue to see his widely admired eclectic performance. Irked by this act, the show promoter, Steven Uwa, had to report his absence to the police. Uwa, who claimed to have expended about$300,000, with a booking of the musician for $60,000, said that the “flimsy” excuse offered by Kizz Daniel was that his baggage containing his gold chain was not brought on time by the airline he flew with.
Stardom as a feature of popular culture has been explored severally by scholars. One of the issues that engage research works on its whether stardom is innate or artificial, what leads to it and its impact on society. Issues of explanation are sought around the way stardom valorizes the identity of its holders and shoots them to celebrity status, while opening and closing doors for them. Is stardom natural or predestined? This has provoked an examination of that famous statement, “a star is born” with questions arising as to the probability of attainment of star status without the input of the individual.
In December 2020, with the piece I entitled ‘Ayinde Barrister: In memoriam of a musician who peaked by Ayinla Omowura’s graveside’, I naturally ruptured the ice of that divide between predestination and the natural progression of stardom. With it, I provoked the bile of fans of famous Yoruba Fuji music star, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister. Barrister was a known protégé of late Apala music star, Ayinla Omowura, who was killed in 1980 in a barroom squabble. At Ayinla’s departure, Barrister generously filched songs sang by Ayinla at live performances without acknowledgement of their ownership. So when I stated in the said piece that if the Omowura had not pre-deceased, the Ibadan-born Fuji musician, Barrister would not have garnered the kind of cult-like stardom he got at death, hell was let loose. The African Studies Association (ASA) has asked me to come and articulate the claim I adumbrated at its November conference in Philadelphia in a paper I entitled ‘Between Ayinla Omowura and Ayinde Barrister: Conflicting notions of stardom in Apala and Fuji’.
In this piece, however, what engages me is why and how stardom has become a very huge graveyard replete with skeletons of once burnished stars whose prematurely killed stardom resulted from their vacuous Buga and indiscretion. This is aside from their inability to manage the glowing fire of their successes. In life and death, Marley transcended that profiling. Upon his rise to becoming one of a coterie of music artists who hailed from the Third World and who achieved international stardom, Marley’s star never dimmed, even 41 years after his demise. This probably was why in his ‘Zion Train’ track, Marley warned superstars not to be lost in the cryptic maze of stardom. “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver and gold,” he advised.
Many superstars never heeded this advice and fell into the precipice associated with stardom. Surrounded by the quadrupedal infamies of alcohol, women, cash and glitz, many stars allowed themselves to be driven by the whims of these infamies and down to their ruins. In my piece entitled ‘Our water bottle children are here’, (October 18, 2017) a commentary on the thunderbolt that hit the Nigerian music world as a result of the deaths of musical associates of hip hop musical superstar, David Adeleke, aka Davido, I used the song of another street boy hip-hop star musician, Temitope Adekunle, aka Small Doctor, entitled ‘Penalty’, to illustrate the pestilence of drugs – which I called the water bottle culture – and how drugs crash the stardom of stars.
That week, the water bottle culture was implicated in the deaths of Olugbenga Abiodun, son of the current governor of Ogun state, “Prince Dr Dapo”, aka DJ Olu and Chime Amaechi who were both found dead inside a BMW car in a garage in Banana Island, Lagos. Three days earlier, another Davido’s friend, Umeike Tagbo, had reportedly died on his birthday at a drinking bar located in the Lekki area after an alleged consumption of 10 shots of tequila drug. DJ Olu and Chime’s remains were said to be oozing out blood from their nostrils and mouths. The Lagos police command said preliminary physical examination suggested deaths from a drug overdose. Substances suspected to be drugs were also recovered by the police from the victims.
In faraway South Africa, a star I adored for her nightingale voice, Brenda Fassie, also ended in an unmitigated tragedy due to drug overuse. Fassie, whose Xhosa name was Nokuzola, a feminine name which when translated means “quiet, calm or peace,” was a highly talented South African young lady, so gifted that the great Nelson Mandela was fascinated by her song and danced with her on the dancehall. Born November 3, 1964, in Langa, Cape Town, Brenda was a wonder to watch. Her album, Memeza (Shout), which was released in 1997, is rated as the apogee of her musical success. It went platinum on the first day of its release. After Yvonne Chaka Chaka, arguably no musician from that country possessed Fassie’s waltz and voice. She also made a huge contribution to Miriam Makeba’s Sangoma, as well as Harry Belafonte’s anti-apartheid song, Paradise in Gazankulu. She was once voted 17th in the Top 100 Great South Africans.
Brenda was not only highly talented but possessed the tantrums of divas, so much that Time magazine dubbed her the Madonna of the Townships and fans affectionately called her MaBrrr or The Black Madonna, due basically to her bold stage antics and outrageous dance steps. My favourite of her songs was ‘Wedding Day’. As a rights advocate, she was outspoken and held very strong views against the system, making frequent visits to the poor townships of Johannesburg. Her songs also mirrored her persuasions as she sang about life in townships, thus harvesting her tremendous popularity among the poor people. In 1989, Brenda released the song entitled ‘Black President’, a tribute to Nelson Mandela and deplored her music to oppose the regime of apartheid.
The world, however, began to notice hiccups in Brenda’s life when her weird passion spilt into the limelight. Brenda was found to be a suicidal drug addict and addictively wedged to lesbianism. In 1995, she was found in a hotel room with the remains of her lesbian partner who passed on during their lesbian orgy, gingered with drug consumption. She had died of an apparent heroin overdose but Brenda survived. She must have gone in and out of rehab about 30 times and on one occasion, sure she had overcome drugs, screamed: “I’m going to become the pope next year. Nothing is impossible!” A few years after, Brenda reportedly collapsed in her brother’s arms, flung her last cocaine straw on the kitchen floor of her home in Buccleuch, fell into a coma and died after suffering from brain damage. Before she passed on, on May 9, 2004, Mandela visited her at the hospital. A few days later, a post-mortem examination reported that she was even HIV-positive at death. The fall of that highly beloved and celebrated Nigerian musical star, Majek Fashek was similar to Brenda’s.
Michael Jackson was another superstar who failed to understand the ephemerality of the glitz of stardom. An American singer, songwriter and dancer who was labelled the King of Pop, Jackson was regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. By the 1980s, he had begun to catch the bug of the ills of stardom due to the catacomb of controversies and speculations that surrounded him. He changed his appearance from his delectable black look and sunk into a controversial lifestyle that caught attention for its awkwardness. Then, he lapsed into child abuse. In 1993, allegations of sexually abusing a family friend’s child were appended on him but banking on the lack of evidence against him, he had to circumvent the lawsuit by settling out of court. The same accusation was pelted at him in 2005. He was however acquitted by the court due to a lack of evidence. He later died on June 25, 2009, from an overdose of propofol administered to him by Conrad Murray, his personal physician. In 2011, Murray was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Saibu Ayinde Bakare Ajikobi, popularly known as Ayinde Bakare, was another pioneering Yoruba highlife musician who stardom snuffed off the light of his candlestick. Born in 1912 at Okesuna Lafiaji area of Lagos, to a father who retired as a soldier and who hailed from the Ajikobi compound in Ilorin, Kwara state, Bakare luxuriated as a juju musician beginning from 1935 after his apprenticeship to the then famous Tunde King and Alabi Labilu. He was rumoured to have been the first juju musician to make use of an amplified guitar in 1949. Bakare was the king of bandstands and was extremely popular in the social circle of Yorubaland, especially in Lagos and Ibadan in the 1950s and 1960s. His sobriquet was ‘Mr Juju’. In 1957, Bakare toured the United Kingdom and in 1968, released an album recorded in Britain entitled ‘Live the Highlife’.
However, as the words in the tribute done for him posthumously by Ayinla Omowura say; “when one is as lowly as to be able to afford to eat only an ordinary vegetable for dinner, they have to be as watchful and mindful of danger as the man who is rich – b’eyan nje’fo sun ko sora, belentase eni l’owo l’owo“. Those who sought to extinguish Bakare’s shining star found out his Achilles heel – voracious consumption of the flesh of a species Wole Soyinka referred to as ‘Daughters of Discord’. In 1972, Bakare had gone to perform at a party in Lagos. When the band took a mid-performance break, a sultry damsel he had been ogling during play literally summoned him backstage. That was the last anyone saw of him. Police found a floating body three days later on the Lagos Lagoon which it buried as an unclaimed body. When tracing by the family led to his burial ground, he was exhumed and a coroner’s inquest concluded he died by drowning. Two members of his band who had earlier complained of being underpaid were suspected but police had to set them free them due to the absence of irrebuttable evidence of their involvement in his murder.
Naira Marley, Hakeem Okikiola (the Zah Zuh Zeh crooner), Burna Boy and many of Nigeria’s musical stars have been accused at one point or the other of going the Brenda route or living a violence-propelled life. This must have been due to their huge overestimation of their star status. Recently Burna Boy was accused of getting enveloped in a violent scandal in a club while the earlier two embraced Brenda with abandon. Omowura got killed in a squabble over an okada.
There are so many music stars who though did not die as a result of their inability to study the nuances of stardom, got dragged down and into infamy by naivety. The Achilles heel of some of them is their inability to appropriately appropriate the gains of stardom leading to regrets when stardom which will wane at some point eventually does.
Some musical stars complain of being unfavourably and excessively singled out by society for demonization. Must you be a musician to fall into disrepute? They ask. The attention on them and the over-concentration of what I earlier called quadrupedal infamies of alcohol, women, cash and glitz force them to have their lives driven by the whims of these infamies. This leads to the plastic and unreal lives they live. While Daniel Anidugbe aka, Kizz Daniel, has effectively acquitted himself of blame in the Tanzanian show fiasco, he and all stars – whether musical, showbiz, the wealthy, famous, etc – should take a lesson from the aphorism of the Yoruba which says; “the man who carries a bucket full of palm oil should be wary of the stony ground – epo ni mo ru, oni yangi, ma ba temi je“. Most of the superstars take cognizance of the wealth and fame surrounding them but are oblivious of the huge responsibility to tread the ground softly placed on their shoulders.