Published on October 20th, 2015 | by Hondo0
Charity Begins At Home – Eji Oyewole
It can’t be easy being a Nigerian prince. Since independence in 1960 the power of local royalty has been largely eroded, leaving traditional rulers with little to do except resolve petty squabbles. And with the rise of the internet you can’t send someone an email offering them a cut of $24 million without them thinking you’re trying to rip them off.
Nigerian princes are also a dime a dozen. When I was in Lagos, a Nigerian prince called George let me sleep on the floor of his mud brick cell at the back of the Lagos YMCA. George was also a barrister – he pulled out a folded photo of him wearing a black robe and horse-hair wig to prove it – and cleared his diary to show me where to make low-cost international calls and the cheapest place to eat egusi and pounded yam.
Spare a thought, then, for Eji Oyewole. He has spent the last 50 odd years as a Nigerian prince and a musician.
Born to a royal lineage in Ibadan, Prince Eji Oyewole has had a career as a flautist, saxophonist and sometime bandleader. He trained both in Nigeria and Trinity College in London, and his life as an itinerant musician also saw him living for extensive periods in Geneva, Hamburg and in Lyon.
When he first told his parents that he wanted to be a musician they said it was a profession for vagabonds.
“They saw musicians as smokers and womanisers,” he says. “Not people from a royal background.”
Eji Oyewole got to hang out with musical royalty instead. He played with Fela Kuti as a member of Koola Lobitos. He toured West Africa with Franco and OK Jazz. He shared a stage with Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard in New York and spent three years with Bob Marley, famously arranging the horns for the recording of ‘Buffalo Soldier.’ He also played with Vangelis at the Royal Albert Hall in 1976, but the less said about that the better.
Everything that Oyewole had experienced and learned to that point culminated in Charity Begins At Home. Re-mastered and re-released by BBE records this week, it’s considered a classic of the golden age of Nigerian music.
Recorded for EMI Nigeria at the tail end of the 70s, Charity Begins at Home finds Eji Oyewole at the height of his powers. He is often classified as Highlife, not a genre I’m particularly fond of, but on Charity he is as influenced as much by American Funk as by jazz. It features a brasher, horn laden sound that really showcases his skills as a flautist and saxophonist. The lyrics are astute too. ‘Oil Boom’ raises issues that are still topical in the Nigerian oil industry today
Oyewole is still active and playing live. He tours regularly with his own band, The AfroBars, a six piece Jazz-Afro highlife ensemble. And in 2011 he joined up with a bunch of other old skool Lagos musicians to form Faaji Agba, billed as the Nigerian version of the Buena Vista Social Club.
And what became of Prince George of the Lagos YMCA? Six months after I arrived home from Africa I got a late night call from him asking me to invest in a fish farm he was setting up in a pond next to an oil pipeline somewhere in the Nigerian Delta. The fact that he was asking a scruffy backpacker for money – and one who’d slept on his floor – tells you everything you need to know about its chances of success.