Bimbo Esho, Managing Director of Evergreen Musical Company. Photo by Ayodele Efunla

Bimbo Esho is the Managing Director of Evergreen Musical Company and daughter of Mr. Femi Esho, a highlife music enthusiast who has supported the preservation of works of Nigerian musicians for decades. She is devoted to helping to build a great legacy for African music stars whose names are almost fading out. She is organizing a music festival tagged “ARIYA EKO” which will hold from 15th of December, 2019.

In this interview with TAIWO OKANLAWON and AYODELE EFUNLA of PM News, she spoke about the festival’s preparations, objectives, sponsors, projections as well as other issues relating to indigenous music.

Excerpts:

Tell us about you.

My name is Bimbo Esho. I’m the Managing Director of Evergreen Musical Company, which has been in existence for many years. I am an events person; I’m into branding and printing. I’m somebody that has total knowledge about creativity, so I’m a creative expert, and being a creative expert can cut across everything along that line.

I’m from Osun State but I grew up and schooled in Lagos. My primary school was Aboa International School, then I went to Mayflower Secondary School in Ikenne and from there I went to the University of Ibadan where I did Anthropology. I did my final thesis on Highlife Music in Nigeria. I later joined my dad’s printing press where I did a lot of printing works and of course, I set up a lot of businesses along the line including event management, printing press and a corporate branding for uniforms and all, that’s who I am and as you can see I am very easy going person.

Since when have you been involved in music?

You know, when you have a father that owns the largest collection of music in Africa, you are already grown inside the music, and you just found out that there is no day of your life that music will not be a part of you. The most recent one was when my driver was in a sitting room with me and I played a particular song because I do music therapy maybe when I’m down or slow, I play music. So when I played the music he (driver) was crying because the music touched him. It was a song by J.A Adelakun, the man that sang Amona tetebo. So that’s how powerful music can be around you and of course been in music is like forever, I grew up liking music, everything around me is music, and like somebody said ‘without music, life would be a mistake’ and that is what it is for me.

Is any of your siblings into music too?

None of my siblings is into what I do in terms of music but they do other businesses, the family business like the printing, the branding and all that but I’m the major force that is into the music thing because music is more of a passion and not more about inheritance, you have to have the passion and that’s why you found out that when many musicians died, people will be asking if they don’t have a child to pass the baton to, so it is about passion, you can’t force it.

We have parents trying to influence the child in their area of interest, was there a way your dad tried to make his children love music or take music as a profession?

Father must always pass the baton to us and if he has to pass it, one of the children must surely catch it. So, that’s what I’m doing. My brothers are also part of the management, they are directors here too but I’m the one that has that intense passion for it.

Do you sing or play any musical instruments?

I don’t sing. If I want to sing maybe we are talking together and I can just do freestyle (laughs). And playing instruments is a serious thing o.

What is the concept behind ‘ARIYA EKO’ and what you intend to achieve with this project?

For us at Evergreen, ARIYA EKO is not the first of his kind. We have been trying our best to preserve our identities as Africans. We have been trying our best also to let people know that we have a culture and what is our culture? We have our foods, our music, we have our celebrations and it can never be taken away from us no matter how far away are we from home, you just cannot detach from it because that is our culture. So having said that, we felt like, the company, being a collector, it has every kind of musicians that you can ever mention that have passed through Lagos State or should I say Nigeria as a whole. When you have such a situation and you have their music around you, you will start thinking of what you can do with it. So we think of preservation and that’s what we do and we also do promotions. We are keeping history for children yet unborn. We have a lot of musicians in our archives. We have and sell complete works of legends like Fela, Victor Olaiya and so on.

So we also thought that beyond the preservations, let’s also celebrate these people, so while we celebrate them, we want the world to know that some of these people are still very much around. In 2010 we put an event together for the celebration of 50th anniversary of Nigeria. We just thought let’s put five Nigerian musicians together with some from a neighboring country like Ghana. We celebrated them at City Hall. It was a very big event and they felt fulfilled and after that 2010 we lost a lot of them due to age, Fatai Rolling Dollar, David Bull, Chikema and a lot of them and for me losing a musician is like losing a museum, it is like you are losing something that ought to be preserved, we see them like products and it’s not something we find funny and for us, what is the next thing, preservation and you found out that the younger generation of today also use those songs for their rapporteur. That’s what we have been able to achieve.

We also decided to do an individual event, where we now preserve someone like Victor Olaiya as an icon, we celebrated his sixty years on stage, that one was also a beautiful event. Then we did Faaji Agba and found out that the elderly ones don’t have space in terms of music, you just hear hip hop everywhere so what about indigenous music? That’s why we are coming out to say that hip hop, Reggae, R‘n’B are not who we are, we have an identity but we can also blend it with our identity like what Ras Kimono was doing. We cannot just come out to decide on a thing that it is only one music we have in Nigeria. We have Sakara, we have Juju, Afrobeats, Apala. We have rich music genres.

I had to go very far to look for children of the legends and also let people understand that this is what we have as our musical identity. Because Oyinbo man that will come down will want to come and see us in our real form and have that feels of who we are, to see a Sakara player or Agidigbo player, all those local instruments, that’s what thrills the white man, not the beats and miming. We have an identity and we have our own beautiful music that Oyinbo will dance to and enjoy. So, that’s the concept behind ‘Ariya Eko’. It’s more like saying ‘Lagos Fun’ but it’s more of root music because we don’t want to be biased, hip hop is not the only music. So we are bringing everyone together and we kind of pick the best from different genres. Like you can see folk music, Jimi Solanke is there. We are also bringing the younger ones that are not known but are very good.

We have taken our time to look at musicians that have been there for years but people don’t know, we know that they are good, if they are given a good platform, they would be able to blossom and they also have a lot of confidence in themselves because most of these musicians have the talent but there is a need for packaging and showcasing of such talent and of course this event is going to be every year. For this year, we are putting Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey in Evergreen Musical Hall of Fame. Why is he getting all these? While growing up, those songs are like morals to us. We might have been listening to it for a while but you will find out that you got many teachings from it and the man has done so much that he has 660 songs! Many people in this country especially after one album, they are off the screen, that’s the way they do. So we want people to see that this is an icon of all time.

Putting this project together, what are the challenges you face?

There is no challenge as such, but let’s just thank the Lagos State Government, especially the Governor, without him, I can tell you that it wouldn’t have been this big. For me, it is a big project, you know when you want to do festivals, it’s a lot of money. We planned to use TBS and it would have been wow, this coming from Lagos but when the Governor came for Faaji Agba, he was deeply touched and he was moved, so he said come and meet me to see what we can do together, and we did. We sent a blueprint to him and see how we can work together and come up with something everlasting. It takes a listening governor or somebody that has the resources to be able to come together as a very strong force to make this happen. So, one should just thank the governor.

Bimbo Esho, Managing Director of Evergreen Musical Company. Photo by Ayodele Efunla

At the same time we cannot say there is no challenge though, but if we have a lot of people; individuals, corporates, conglomerates, governments, that come and put resources together to make this work for us as a nation because it’s beyond Evergreen now, everyone has a take home. Many students come around researching about the history of a particular artiste and these songs also have history. Ours is beyond entertainment, there is always a take home.

My first encounter with Obey was when I asked him a question about his song on Ogunpa Flood during a press conference, he did a song about the incident and from the song, you will know all the people that were there, all the Obas, you will just feel the history, that’s one of the things we are doing and we are also going to be having symposium, where students will have one on one interactions with these people, they are not big deals, they want to also mingle but through a proper platforms.

What steps are you taking to get younger generations to connect with this older generation musicians? Are there provisions for younger generation artistes?

Of course, we have artistes who are younger ones, we have someone like Dollarz, Omileyan, Ibitayo Jegede. They may not be as popular as what you guys call A-list but they are very good, and as I said, we are using people who have band culture, it is not sentiment. I know the likes of Simi, Brymo. They were at some of our events but we will want them to come and see what we are doing on this one too. Then, one of the strategies we will also use to bring the younger one closer is the collaboration they did with 2face and Victor Olaiya, and that of Chris Ajilo and Banky W, Victor Uwaifo also featured one young artiste, that strategy has also helped both the old and young ones and that’s what we are trying to achieve.

With all kind of genres that have flooded our music industry, do you think Nigeria has grown musically?

Well, with the advent of technology and the digital world, which is one of the best things that has ever happened to us unlike then, imagine if these people especially the icons had that same opportunity, you could see where Nigeria would have been. I think the country has really grown, but we can do more for African music.

You have praised some of these young artistes, what are the things you don’t like about them?

Well, what I see is what everybody sees, their videos, Aaahh Pawon! No, that’s too much but I know they don’t play those videos on TVs except online. So on that, the government has a lot of works to do.  Then they should do more songs that can stand the test of time because they have put in too much hard work, you can imagine someone that has put in too much hard work and he is churning out good songs. Some of their songs, after six months it’s gone and it is not good, there has to be a legacy attached to any song that anybody is putting out, sit down and think about it. Maybe if they can do that, then we are good to go, then, the miming culture is not ours, it’s unfortunate because we have the way we do our music in Africa, you will not go to any other African country and be miming, you hardly see such thing because most of them, they are set out to show themselves to the world. But it has come to stay, unfortunately for us.

The problem is that digitalization may not completely put our local genres out there. How can you put the Agogo, Agidigbo, Omele into a computer? So, those are setbacks. The first person that tried it was Wole Oni, a respected musician and keyboardist, one of the best in Nigeria. He infused talking drum into the keyboard, Yamaha. He has saved them from stress and you can see that everybody is moving fast but you cannot get it all. So the best thing is to just go and do your recording and mixing and take those musical instruments there, that’s why we have digital and analogue, they can’t run away from it or just do your live performance.

Burna boy got Grammy nomination for his album, African Giant, with the style of music we have and considering the category, do you think he stands a chance to win?

Beyond that, it is not about winning, I like his songs really because he has shown he’s a master and don’t forget he couldn’t have settled for less, he’s the grandson of Fela’s former manager, Benson Idonije. That man is one of the most respected media gurus in Nigeria. When I was doing my research as a student, I used many of his write-ups for my research, so Burna boy being a grandson of a man like that, he cannot just settle for less, where would he say he is coming from. There is a Yoruba adage that says ‘Ile lati keso rode’ and that is what he has proven and that man is firing him under but we would not see. A manager of Fela for years? Someone that has worked with Guardian for over 50 years, he has written some things that if they put them together it will become an encyclopedia of Nigerian music. So, coming from there, he can’t settle for less. All we can be doing basically is to encourage and support him.

Many of these young indigenous musicians, especially Highlife, Juju, Fuji and so on don’t take the advantages of digitalization like hip hop and Afrobeats musicians.

Bimbo Esho, Managing Director of Evergreen Musical Company

One of the things we have been telling the older musicians even some of the ones we want to bring together is that they have to take the advantage of the digital market, that’s why we are also working with them. It’s part of the things we have also been telling them, there is a platform that we have where they are all there, so if they can put that together because we have a lot of digital markets now, we have Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Boomplay, a lot but most of them don’t even know how it works, so we have a lot of works to do to put them through. We have pin downloading sites but they don’t know it. Some of them don’t even have Instagram or Facebook accounts. You have to move with the tides of technology if not you will be left alone.

Do you plan to take Ariya Eko outside Nigeria?

Yes, I like that question. We have our consultants abroad and we are also using African Heritage in Diaspora’s platform even for this event, because the idea is that over time, we found out that indigenous musicians will go to abroad for a wedding or play at one small club and they will do a big flyer and say Kinni kan Live and it is just one small club but now we have to be serious, I want to see us on the international stage, we can do it, we have seen a lot of people from other African countries going with their bands. Look at Mariam Makeba, we saw the likes of Sunny Ade in those days, you can go and check his Syncro System, you will see some of these live performances, like Fela’s own too.

That’s who we are. It is not about miming, that’s my point there are so many things attached to our music, the esthetics and without that we are nobody. So for our Diaspora community, most of them are also coming for this event, to watch this and because of the test of our music, many of them also want us to take it there, when you take it there they watch it live, even a lot of people abroad don’t want to be in abroad, they want to come home. We found out that our music is a strong force that connects them back home.

Hopefully, we will be able to take ‘Ariya Eko to London’, we can do it, it not impossible, those are the things we want to do.

As an authority in music, we need to have a bridge that connects old and young ones; do you plan to have a record label to mentor the young ones?

What we have for now, of course, our company is more of a music promoting enterprise, we can say we are record label in the sense that we preserve and promote musicians and we have their records, we get copyright for them and all that but the other steps that we plan, because my dad has taken it to his own level, on a bigger and larger level is to now develop a record label so that we can interpret what we are saying. Then, a lot of artistes have been coming here and record label is a big deal, it is a very big deal in the sense that you are taking the artiste from the mud, like a diamond in the mud to a signing star, it is a big deal and the reason is that, will the artiste as an individual cooperate from the beginning till the end? And you cannot know. But, when you trace back the history of many musicians and their labels, it is always fight, confusion, they don’t understand the game. So for us to be able to do that, we would first train even if the training program is going to be for a year or two. That’s why I said I have seen it all, because that’s the story of a lot these labels, disagreements and it’s all about money, and for us that we have built a very strong reputation, it has been handed over to me and my expertise and my experience is what I have to put into play.

You also have to let them know, tell them stories, tell them why Sunny Ade and Abioro’s problem became a big story, tell them why a breach of agreement is always a problem, let them know why an artiste will die and the legacy will just go. You have to let them know.

The record label will be in total charge of everything, in the sense that when they sign artistes and they provide everything including accommodations, shelters, and cars for them, that’s where they have problems, the record label will use their money, you can see why there are no record labels. All these kids now have their own record labels because they have seen the experience and it is working for the rich ones among them because they know the tricks. What’s the record label? It simply means, have your cash and know the right people you talk to, that is what the younger ones are doing. They have learnt from the older ones and now they are bringing in new artistes and it costs them little because they have developed that strong platform.

What should people be expecting from the ‘Ariya Eko’?

It is going to be wow! In the sense that, it is a mixture of icons and the younger generation, and having such mixture under the same roof is a big deal because lots of things would happen. There is a young girl, her name is Helen Ibe, if you go online you will see her, she’s a Wizkid when it comes to playing the guitar. So, you can imagine her mixing with other musicians. There is someone like Topsticks, she is a drummer girl, she’s the best in Nigeria as we speak, and you will see her doing ‘Aimasiko’ with her drum. Some very unique things that have never happened will happen that day. You will see Chief Ebenezer Obey being inducted into the Musical Hall of Fame for the very first time and other loads of fun.

We thank all our sponsors especially all the media houses that have been there including your own and the Governor of Lagos State, without him like I said, we won’t be able to go this far but he understood what we want to do that it is part of tourism. We also thank other people that have been supportive of this and we believe that the new event after this, maybe next year will have a lot of sponsors coming in and that’s why we are taking our time to invite them so they can see what we put together and everybody will now know that this is where they should be.