Celebrating a Blessed Soul…. Steve Rhodes — 9 Years After

[blockquote author=”” pull=”pullleft”]Today, i celebrate STEVE RHODES… a one-in-a-lifetime cultural phenomenon. Sir, continue to revel in your well-deserved rest, Daddy, Uncle, Mentor, ‘Motivator’…. and all…[/blockquote]


The great man of music and the arts stepped on to eternal glory nine years ago…..

It seems like last night that the star dimmed on the artistic and cultural horizon of Nigeria.

The terrible way the Nigerian philistine system treated him when he needed its help in his last moments in a UK hospital, has since been condemned to the graveyard of our many failings….

The tears have since dried up but not so the memory of the man who accomplished all that was possible in broadcasting, music, arts&cultural management and even in his personal life.

However, two days ago, the big man, ElderArtsMan (sometime referenced as the ElderArtsStatesman) STEVE BANKOLE OMODELE RHODES returned in a blazing glory as his memorial serial award-winning organisations — STEVE RHODES VOICES & the STEVE RHODES ORCHESTRA — gave a most memorable 2-hour performance before a well-appointed audience of elites and ordinary people.
It happened on the scenic jetty of the Lagos Motor Boat Club on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi– on occasion of the wrap party for the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of celebration of the creation of Lagos State.

It was a fitting tribute to the very Lagos where Uncle Steve spent nearly six decades working, and especially grooming young men and women, honing their skills and moulding and shaping them for local and global recognition. A tribute to a Lagos that from all reckoning failed to honour him on his death bed, and at his death…
NB: I recall that the so-called money approved by the State government for his medical needs while in a London hospital was NEVER RELEASED, when it was needed; and has never been TRACED… as the fingered officials kept passing the bucks…. the money, a very tiny sum compared to what they WASTE on frivolities — has been perhaps ‘chopped’ by one government official or force!!!!

Uncle Steve deserves gratitude and immortalisation by Lagos And Nigeria for the SELFLESS SERVICE he rendered to the industry of the artists and cultural workers in his lifetime.

Having failed him in his LIFETIME and, especially in his final hours of NEEDS, there is a chance for redemption on the forthcoming TENTH ANNIVERSARY of his passing in May 2018…

The plan CAN/MUST start NOW!!!!

Today, i celebrate STEVE RHODES… a one-in-a-lifetime cultural phenomenon.
Sir, continue to revel in your well-deserved rest, Daddy, Uncle, Mentor, ‘Motivator’…. and all…

Excerpted from (http://www.livingprojectslimited.com/…/biography-childhood.…)

Early days…
I grew up in a home where music was the order of the day. My mother played the piano, my house was always radiating in music. There was a large collection of gramophone records, which I was allowed to play. When I was six years old, I was sent to start learning how to play piano with late Lady Abayomi after which I joined the Cathedral Choir. I then moved on to a school in Port Harcourt where I joined the school band. So, it was right from the beginning, I think, that it was obvious to me that this was where I was going. I didn’t know how I wanted to or which particular type of music I wanted to play but I knew this was the direction I was going.

Where and when were you born?

I was born at No. 38 Igbosere Road , Lagos on April 8, 1926.

How did you get into music?

Hmm… right from the beginning. My home was musical. My mother sang.

Where was she from?

Equatorial Guinea . Our family is drawn from all over the world. We have got relatives in Spain , in Togo and Sierra-Leone. She came initially from Equatorial Guinea which then was known as Fernando Po . The three of us, my two sisters and I were given music lessons. I went on to join the Cathedral Choir. And then, when I went to school in Port Harcourt , I joined the school band. So, it was a continuous process right from the beginning. From day one, music was there.

What was it like, growing up?

Well, like most children who grew up in Lagos at that time, I was cool and I messed around with schoolmates. I had to go for Piano lessons, choir practice and got into all sorts of troubles that children get into. Like you go playing masquerade, fall down, bruise your knees and when you get home, you are beaten up immediately again for doing that particular thing. So there ‘was nothing really spectacular about it. It was like most kids growing up in Lagos at that time.

What were the funny or ridiculous things you found yourself doing while growing up?

Well, I enjoyed anything that was musical right from time. I was a member of my school band in Port Harcourt , Enitona High School , a brass band. In those days, schools used to have brass bands for matching and empire games and things like that. And in most cases, they didn’t even allow us to go out and play for engagements. So many people in the society wanted the band that I was in. In the band, we thought it was so strict because we had night engagements. The band was made up of mainly the bigger boys about two or three of us were the only little ones. Those of us who were the little ones always wanted to measure up with the bigger boys. So we got slapped down every now and then. That was funny.

How many wives and children do you have?

(Laughs) I have just one wife. As a matter of fact I don’t even have a wife right now because unfortunately, my wife died a couple of years ago. All the same, I have four children, ranging from 13-45.

Can you recall how you met her?

As a matter of fact, it is my last wife that just died. I met my first wife as a student when I was in Oxford . She lived in London for training and was born in the West Indies . She lived in the same hostels with one of my sisters and that was how I got to meet her. She went back to the West Indies and that marriage broke up.

On oxford and Cambridge universities…

The university gave me a chance to get a more rounded education. The music education which I got came as a second stage and the point is that I had already had a developmental stage as an undergraduate which helped me to appreciate the more, my evolution to the second stage.

Did you have any issue from your first wife?

Yes, one daughter.

What is her name?

Maxine. She lives in London.

What about your late wife, any issues?

No issue. Actually, my late wife was my third wife. My second wife was a German and she is back to Germany right now; I had two daughters from her. My last daughter was not from any of my Wives.

You seem to have a lot of women in your life, were you a flirt or something?

Well, let’s put it this way, the first time I got married, I was a young student. I didn’t really understand what marriage was all about and therefore I was immature. I wasn’t ready for it, we broke up. The second time I got married, I was working in Germany away from home. I was there for some time. You know I was not a Priest, so I had a friend while I was there. There is another thing to note here, I am not a womaniser. If I have a woman or a friend, that is it for that time. I’ll keep just that one alone.
So what I am trying to say is that while I was in Germany , I needed somebody, a companion and it was easiest to be respected in a foreign country if you were not seen to be playing around with their women. So I got this lady who had two kids fur me. By the time I wanted to come to Nigeria , She wouldn’t come with me to Nigeria . She went away and my children were left with me.

And your third wife?

My third wife was a South African. I met her here in Nigeria, Precisely at Ibadan. We didn’t have any child together, although she had children before I met her. We had a good family relationship but it is unfortunate that she died recently.

Would you like to take another wife, probably a Nigerian?

To take another wife, particularly a Nigerian, at this age is rather foolhardy because I can’t think of a Nigerian woman who would be interested in marrying a 76 years old man. What is she going to get from such a man? But if you talk of a companion, yes I would need a companion but then I don’t think there is anybody that can marry a 76 years old man.

Do you have any sons?

Well, I never learned how to make male children. All my children are females.

What brand of music do you specialize in?

That is interesting! It is difficult to class-type what I do because basically, what I do is to interpret the sounds of different areas. The way I started out was that I began with the Nigerian folk materials and then broadened it out to include African materials and then broadened it out further to include music of the black man. But if I write them, I write things that speak to my mind. For example, one of the things which I did few years ago was called “The Road to Freedom”, which was a work that interpreted how people in different parts of the world see ‘Freedom’ .
There are people who have grown up with freedom like the British. To them, it is a matter of course. Then there are people who have never had it with them and by the time I wrote this, Apartheid was a big thing in South Africa and we looked at that situation. Then there are people who are just acquiring freedom, like the newly independent nations. What do they see as this freedom? Some people wonder that now I’m free, I can do whatever I like. Now I am free, I don’t have to pay taxes any more like I used to pay. The meaning of freedom was what I was exploring in this particular work.
Other things like preserving our environment, taking care of the trees and plants are the sorts of things that I wrote about. But I will interpret any type of music mainly trying to put the element of that kind of music into a framework that can be understood and appreciated by anybody. Basically, that is what I have been trying to do.

Did your parents want you to do anything else apart from going into music production?

Oh yes! My father wanted me to be a lawyer because he was a lawyer. My mother wasn’t much worried about where I went as long as I did it right. But my father wanted me to become a lawyer.

How did your dad react to your abandoning your studies for Germany?

My dad died while I was in Germany . By the time I left Oxford , I’d severed all ties with home. It was the only way I could focus on what I wanted to do. If I had kept ties with home, I would have been under pressure. I got to know about my daddy’s’ death two years after his demise. And I still didn’t come home after I heard the news until five years later.
My coming home was occasioned by the pressure my mother mounted through a friend who knew how to reach me in Europe and secondly due to the fact that I was offered a job back home to work with NBC.
Home coming was not spectacular. I was approached by Tom Charmerson who was the then director of the NBC. He’d offered me a position in broadcasting and I moved out of university and accepted the job. But it turned out that the job offer was not what I’d expected. I accepted the job more as a sacrifice, because before I returned to Nigeria , I worked on three jobs. And what I was paid as income tax was more than what I was paid as salary to come home. I was earning 520 pounds.


A day in his life…

My day starts about 7 o’clock in the morning and I don’t stress myself unnecessarily. Between 7 and say 9 o.c1ock in the morning, I have a meal, look at my day’s programme in order to know what’s happening and so on. I make phone calls to check and confirm appointments and cancel some if necessary. I then spend a lot of time working in my studio because I do a lot of work there. I write my music electronically.
I spend some time in appointments, talking to young people that have booked appointments with me and so on. I try to keep fit in the evenings except if I have an event to attend. I do try to attend many events, relevant events where young people are involved, just to see what is going on and ensure that progress is being made around there.

Father to son…

In my immediate family, no one has shown interest in inheriting the path I had taken. My children are all performing, but each one of them has a chosen career. One of them is a lawyer who is working in Nigeria, another, a teacher. They’ve all gone on their own and I’m not one of those parents who compel their children to follow their chosen profession, no. They will develop along the line, which they have so chosen. They appreciate the great place of music in their lives by getting involved in performances but they have their own paths to tread.

On succession…

This issue of succession goes to somebody who is not in my immediate family but who is a son I never had and this young man who is very interesting enough, is an engineering graduate but he has dedicated himself to music. His name is Benneth Ogbeiwi and he has been with me in the past ten years.
If you come into this hall tomorrow, you will see him at work. I think he is the person that really is in the position to continue with what I’m doing. But it’s not a one-man thing, he is one person that I look at and I say I know he is there and I’m proud of him. And there are other people.

That’s a difficult one because I went through so many changes. There was a period when r was doing nothing but classical music, there was a period I was doing nothing but jazz and in each of those periods, there were people who inspired me, who led me into that particular direction at that particular time in my life. But for me to say one….

Oscar Peterson in piano, Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet, Miles Davies, Fat Waller. Then in serious music, the music of Chopin has been a very strong influence on me and later because I spent time in Germany studying there, Wagner became one of my strong influences. Some of the works I did were influenced by him. In the popular idiom, Nath King Cole, et al were there and back home Fela, Victor Uwaifo, Rex Lawson and many of their kind brought a lot of innovative work to music.
Rex Lawson in particular moved around and drew his ideas from the east as well as his own people in Rivers State and there’s a lot of beautiful music from this area.

Do you know that I brought James Brown to Nigeria ? Oh yes, he toured Nigeria , he was in Lagos , Ibadan , Benin , Kaduna . .
James Brown was one of the strongest influences on black music, funk or soul music at that time, mainly because he had a message that was essentially a black message; put the other way round, he was proud of his colour. He stuck to his idiom to the admiration of millions of people especially blacks all over the world. Till this day, his contemporaries and the young generation of today admire and respect him as the innovator and king of soul music.

Michael Jackson is a young man who had too much to do and ruined himself in the process. His Break performance was the best of him. He had the world on his shoulders but any man who is ashamed of his roots will end up getting lost. He wanted to be a white man, well good luck to him.
It is difficult to explain that music goes beyond the glamour in it but this is the main trapping for most young people aspiring to be musicians. Music goes beyond money and glamour and it is important to recite this refrain for those who will be our future ambassadors in the realm of music.

How would you appraise the bombardment of foreign music on our shores?

You see, the young Nigerian artist has a problem because he has not been given a reason to be proud of who he is. If you walk out into the street and stop the first Nigerian you see and say to him” Are you prepared to die for Nigeria ?” I am sure he would say to you “No O”! This is really what is the important line. If you don’t have a situation where people believe in who they are and believe in the substance of what they are and their country, then you can’t get the people who are vibrantly creative.
It is easier to just pick up some body else’s and copy it but then to try and develop your own means you’ve got to put in a certain amount of creativity in your work So what is happening with the young artist is that he has no reason in any case to be proud of what he is. He is quite satisfied to be a Michael Jackson and any other Hip Hop artist or whatever it is they call it these days.
To him, that’s it. He looks at Awilo, for example, who is from Cameroon and says I want to be like him. Awilo is from Cameroon and he is proud of being a Cameroonian. So what have we in Nigeria offered? You want to be a Cameroonian and then fight a war in Bakassi? I think there is a problem here. We just do not yet have enough reasons for our young artists to be proud of who they are and to fight for the things that have substance.

Has government assisted you in any way?

Well, some years ago when the Steve Rhodes Voices traveled abroad, at the time that Chief Anthony Enahoro was the minister of Information, we got some government support. They helped us with flight tickets. That was the only instance that I can say that the government supported me. It was just a marginal sort of support. I am not depende
nt on the government in any way. I am not relying on the government for any of the things that I do.

What has been your most challenging moment?

It is very difficult to state one because I have so many challenging moments. You know when you are confronted with difficulties, you are tempted to turn back but by nature, I never turn away from challenges. So each one has something which it teaches me. Each one has a little bit of strength that it adds to my whole system. Really, I won’t say this is the most challenging moment because I have much challenging moments ahead of me. Each one in a way is good because each one teaches me something.

What advice would you give to upcoming Nigerian artistes who would want to be like you?

First of all, I would say decide what you want to do as earlier as possible. Having made that decision, apply yourself to acquiring the skills to do that thing that you want to do. If it is in the area in which academic qualification is necessary to enhance your progress, acquire that academic background.
If it is in the area which practical experience is required, acquire as much experience as possible, but don’t ever look upon any ambition, project of yours or anything that you desire as something that would happen because you desire it. It would only happen because you worked at it over and over again. It would be good that you achieve any of the things that you want to do because you worked harder and harder for it.

Now that you are retiring, what happens to the Steve Rhodes Voices?

Let me come back again to this thing. I am not retiring. What I am doing is that I’m pulling out of certain types of activities, which is more suitable for the younger people. I will continue to work on the sort of things that are form age and for my mind, that’s important.
Now going back to the question that you asked. What I am trying to do is to ensure that in the various things, which I have done in my time, there is no vacuum because I’m no longer doing those things. Therefore, I have brought along young people who have acquired skills by working with me and looking at how I do things and so on. I have been able to impact certain amount of knowledge and information. So they are in a position to take over and continue to do the sort of things, which I say I will no longer do.
One of the biggest problems that we have, not only in Nigeria but also in Africa as a whole, is that we don’t respect continuity. Each person does whatever it is he wants to do; he gets to a certain point and then vanishes. It is like what has happened to a lot of traditional medicines that we had in this country.
I could remember when I was younger. There were some people who were doing remarkable things in development of traditional medicines. But they did it themselves; they did not document any of it. They did not pass the knowledge on to anybody else and today you have people struggling trying to do the same thing, reinventing the skill.
This is what I am trying to do, to create an atmosphere in which there is continuity, in which there are people who can go on doing the sort of things which I say I can no longer do and even doing it better than I did because today, they have better facilities, the technology of today makes a lot of things possible, which were not possible in my days. And again, Steve Rhodes Voices is like an institution. These are things that must go on because they are good things and I feel they should be there.

While you step aside for the younger hands to take over, what exactly do you intend to do meanwhile?

I am now looking at the projects, which are more suitable to my years, experience and ability.

How do you relax when not on stage or in the studio?

I do a lot of reading, that is one of my main hobbies. I listen to music of different types, from different parts of the world. I am not a terribly sociable creature, so I don’t like partying. I also write.

Which is your favourite music?

I have what I can call Catholic taste in music. I like all types of music, but it is a matter of mood. There are times when all I might want to listen to is the sound of the piano. There are other times when I want to hear good strong sounds of Jazz and there are other times my mind will be set at rest if listen to Symphony. I listen to all sorts of music, Fuji , Sakara, Juju, Latin American music, that is a music I don’t appreciate, maybe because I don’t know enough about it. But otherwise, I like to listen to anything.

Secret of your longevity?
Basically, there is only one secret, and that’s if one is able to do what one enjoys. That’s the key to a fulfilled life. ‘It may be long or short, but at the end of the day you feel you’ve had a fulfilled life and it’s been worth the while.
As for me, I’m happy with my life achievements. Of course, there were those things I couldn’t get the chance to do and if I do get the chance I’d love to re-do them again.
First, if I have the opportunity again, I’d would be more business minded. I spent my life doing things that gave me pleasure even if it meant my doing so at my own cost. This had disadvantages because, when I look at people who passed through the same path that I opened but on a commercial venture level, I realized that they are rich.

So, it’s a combination of two things: doing what I liked and doing it commercially without compromise: I find it very difficult to promise on goals and values.

Do you have more regrets?
I should have started early because by the time I started doing the things I wanted to do and which were my own initiatives, I was already in my 40s. By that time, it was already too late to tackle too many things. If I had started earlier, I would have a broader platform. I spent a lot of time playing music and enjoying myself and not really focusing on what I’d wanted to do. Although I’m not complaining, I did what I had to do. I think I would have achieved more if I had started off early.

Relationship with daughters

Sometimes, most people can understand what exists between me and my children. The truth is that I have the healthiest relationship with my children. There is nothing that is a taboo between us. We are friends with a difference, but close knit. I tried to give my children the kind of training that would prepare them for life.
But the closeness was not suffocating. They are still who they are. And if I’m no longer here, I’m sure they will cope without me.

Are you a lonely man?

Oh no, I am a very inward looking person – you can leave me absolutely alone for a month with no contact with other human beings, and I would not vegetate because I’d be drawing on what is on the inside – read, listen to music, walk around the car park. I don’t need human contact to be complete.

What do you miss sometimes? Is there anything you say “I wish I had” to?

That is a slightly complex question. My biggest problem in the creative field here is the fact that there are no “Filling Stations”. Whatever I am doing, I am drawing on my own resources. I would like for example to be in a situation where if I picked up a newspaper and I saw a show opening in New York next weekend. I could jump in a plane just to go to New York and see that show – spend a couple of days…, and “refill” and comeback a little bit stronger to be able to continue what it is I am doing. I still try to retain a level of privacy that makes it possible to put myself and to see myself in true perspective.
One of the problems with fame is that one does tend to magnify one’s significance and importance to a point where it loses contact with reality and therefore, one becomes a monster of one’s own making. That is ‘lot one of my problems, because by drawing on my own inner resources, I look at myself in true perspective,

When you look at yourself In a mirror every morning and every time, who do you see, what do you see?

I see the person that I have grown to be. I see the truth of that person.

What are the things that people complain about in you?

The biggest complaints that I get is that I am a slave driver. That I am difficult. I would not bend. I would not compromise. If all of these are true, then my answer is: So be it, because by being difficult, by being uncompromising, by being a slave driver, I have been able to demonstrate the very thing which I believe in.
I have also heard. I have been told that I am “arrogant.” That is a word which in the mouth of the user takes on different meanings. In the mouth of one, it ,might mean “Proud,” In some other, “Withdrawn:'” So, I don’t let that worry me too much because I know that I am an inward looking person and so, don’t open up very easily to other human beings; unless I can see an area of common interest which to me is going to be fulfilling.

(With additional reports from The Guardian, Gliterrazi, Mr Magazine and Vanguard Newspapers.)


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