IN PRAISE OF BABY JOWO REMIX

by thepingofpong

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Popular old songs are fragile keepsakes. And remaking a song that has become a classic— that elusive, hard to define label— is a delicate act. A little tampering on either side of time’s trajectory threatens the balance of beauty, and of symphony: the producer aiming to honour the past without modification courts indifference from the public who may respond with ‘why bother?’. Worse, pandering to the new and trendy, by applying massive adjustments to increase an old song’s appeal to the younger, greater demographic, may render a song indistinguishable from modern radio, reducing a classic to pop ephemera. It is a tightrope— skill and daring are needed; both are useless without a sense of balance.

It is this balance that makes the new remix of Baby Jowo a triumph.

The song has been remixed before— famously by Lt. Shotgun in the ’90s and a few years ago by a gathering of Nollywood stars. Those versions make a case for the song’s indestructibility. Yet neither were truly transcendent. The former was reggae tinged to attract the young; the latter barely survived the fanfare associated with actors singing. This last version had an atrocious verse by Basorge Tariah which escapes rebuke only because of its tongue in cheek delivery.

Certainly, some of the older generation were unimpressed with these infrequent tampering, and may have prayed these young people, with their wholly different notions of the divine and profane, leave their music alone. That wish has since been granted. But there is something about the song that calls the young—perhaps, it’s the timelessness of love and romance set to a tune, perhaps it’s the whimsy of highlife—so it always seemed another version was inevitable.

Now, with the remix featuring Tuface, it is hard to conceive of any person, old or young, quarrelling with the results of the newest tinkering. Why does it work so? What makes this version brilliant?

For one, the inclusion of the old singer brings an ironic novelty to the proceedings. The average follower of contemporary has not been treated to a lot of live instruments which Victor Olaiya brings with the use of the trumpet and band.

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Again, the conservative experimenting: In the heyday of Primetime Entertainment, Kenny Ogungbe and company had tried to modernise a few old school tunes by featuring a rap verse— one of these experiments was accompanied by an ill advised video which unlikelihood culminated in the older singer donning a face cap. Asked to generate enthusiasm and suspend incredulity for over 3 minutes, the public ignored the product of that meeting. The new version succeeds with the addition of a sung verse, rather than a rapped one proving that great singing is always in demand. Singing may be the the least likely form of melody to annoy.

The true masterstroke, however, is the selection of Tuface Idibia as Dr Victor Olaiya’s partner. Tuface more than any other contemporary artist, is the voice of today’s music. His inclusion on the song goes is sound musically as well as symbolically. The debut of his old group, Plantashun Boiz, heralded the new wave of music. It was poised between the tunes of the 1990s and today’s radio. And his use of his native Idoma and English on songs puts him, linguistically, in the middle of Nigeriana and the foreign. He is also both a middle class delight and an elite indulgence. The man maybe the one unifying Nigerian artist for all classes. 

For the Baby Jowo remix, his verse harks back to the qualities that endeared him to the populace upon the release of his own classic African Queen, and also sees him using the celestial imagery used to mixed results on his last album, Far and Away. This time it works: “I see the sun in your eyes…I see the colours of the rainbow in your eyes” is as likely, in certain circumstances, to win a lover back as the plaintive cry of Olaiya.

Asked what he scores the younger man, in an interview following the song’s release, Dr Victor Olaiya said, laughing, “85 percent”. Far from a hoarding of marks, this is modesty—the man fully understands the score he gives the younger singer is what he scores himself as well.

Yet for this remix, the whole surpasses the sum of its parts since the greatest gift here is the potency of the combination. So great is the musical chemistry, both men could be calling out to the same woman: Olaiya to the woman, older; Tuface to the same woman, younger. Or, considering the release dates of the original and the remix, perhaps it is Tuface serenading the older lady and the younger Olaiya singing to the younger lady.

The video, directed by Kunle Afolayan, winks to this idea as it flips the chronology of motion picture history by filming Tuface, the younger singer, mostly in black and white, while Dr Olaiya, performs exclusively in colour. Eventually, a young woman, won over by Tuface in early scenes, dances between both men, apparently enjoying the performance and, in terms of her position, onstage also embodying a link between the past and present. Her youth is irrelevant: she could be older and more clearly suitable to Dr Olaiya’s overtures and yet not be out of place.

Whatever the case, whatever the age of the woman, a gift has been handed to her: she has defied age by achieving transcendence—which is precisely what Baby Jowo, in both incarnations, has attained.

 

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