THE lives and times of legendary people cannot be exhausted in one lifetime.
However, recently the family, friends, colleagues and associates of the late famous and avuncular singer, Orlando Julius Aremu Ekemode – popularly known as OJ Ekemode – came together in the electrifying atmosphere of Tunde Odunlade Arts and Culture Connections in Ibadan to pay tribute and respect to their loved one who passed away this year, on April 14, at the age of 78.
The Osun State born popular Afrobeat musician started his musical career in Ibadan but later moved to Lagos where he rose to fame in the 1960s. His popular hit songs include but not limited to limit, “Jaguar Nana”, “Adara”, “Ololufe”, “Emura Sise” and “Asiko”.
Ekemode’s life and influence were out of proportion. According to an article by Sanya Osha titled “Nigeria’s Afrobeat Pioneer Orlanda Julius Lived for His Art”, published in The Conservation in South Africa, Ekemode had some influence on the musical career of Fela Kuti and even taught one of Michael Jackson’s older brothers how to play. African drummers, having formed a warm relationship with the parents of the Jacksons.
“He had a head full of experience and a heart overflowing with memories that he was always kind to share with the younger generation of artists,” Osha wrote. “It didn’t seem like he was driven by fame and fortune. He was basically an artist and that’s what he took to his grave.
On Ekemode and Kuti, reports show that Ekemode sometimes brought Kuti on stage to perform alongside him, and it was through him that Kuti learned to play the saxophone.
During the event, many family members, friends and associates of Ekemode paid nostalgic tributes in words, songs and tears.
His wife, Latoya Aduke Ekemode, born in Chicago, Illinois, USA, said she first met Ekemode when she was seventeen and a half at Ambrose Campbell’s house in North Hollywood, California, also in the USA.
She added that she was surprised to see Ekemode at Campbell’s because anyone can meet anyone there. She recalled that Campbell always spoke to her about Nigerian music and he mentioned Orlando Julius, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer, Fela, among other Nigerian singers.
“For Orlando to come knocking on his door, and Ambrose Campbell said I had to answer it, and I opened it, and there was Orlando,” she said. “So I really knew his name before I met him.”
She said she had been in music all her life and even had her own band before she met Ekemode. She added, however, that thirteen years after she first met him, Ekemode hired her as a professional to sing and dance in his band in the 1990s.
“I was divorced and single at the time. I met his brother Sarumi who told me Orlando was looking for dancers,” she said. you from OJ Ekemode?’ I said “yes, the musician who plays the saxophone”.
Latoya said her late husband taught her Yoruba through the lyrics of his songs, which was hard work. She said there were people who liked Ekemode’s phonological music, but she wanted to know what the songs meant so she knew what she was singing.
“He was surprised and impressed when I asked him what his songs meant,” she added. “He said no one ever asked him that when he was singing in Yoruba.”
When asked if she spoke Yoruba, she laughed and replied, “I don’t know Yoruba. I only know music. I can sing it all day. I only know the Yoruba professionally. But now that I have free time, I think I have to learn Yoruba.
She also said that she thought she was a professional singer and dancer, but not before she started working with Ekemode. She confessed that Ekemode put her in the wall of fame because she traveled with him and the Nigeria All Stars, which was the name of the group he used in the United States.
“For me to see the whole of the United States, it took a Nigerian to take me,” she said. “Then we didn’t have the Internet. So we took the Atlas map to go around unless we were flying. I was shocked that he knew everywhere in the United States, even in Ohio. We went to Ohio.
Latoya said that throughout OJ Ekemode’s musical career, no one ever sponsored him or his music, that everything they did, they did on their own. She said they didn’t wait for the government or the sponsors. She added that Ekemode did their best and released it because people liked it.
While talking about the song ‘Colombia’, she sang and danced it on stage for a few seconds. She said everyone thought she was the Colombia Ekemode was singing about, but that was not the case.
“Colombia is a South American country. They called Orlando to play. When he got there, he saw you beautiful people there. He saw black people speaking Spanish,” she said. “They played ‘Adara’ before we arrived. So OJ was the king of the whole festival.
Also at the South American festival, Latoya recalled that they hadn’t seen anyone dressed in African attire, until Ekemode performed and some people in the audience said they wanted to be like him. She added that Ekemode set a good example by always dressing like a true African, Yoruba no matter what.
“And he never said anything bad about Nigeria,” she said. “OJ said there is nowhere you will not meet prosperous and healthy Nigerians. He said Nigerians are great people and Nigeria is a great country.
Talking about their marriage, she said they only thought about being close four years after they started working for him.
She said Ekemode was officially married in the United States and divorced within a year. She also said she thought he was polygamous in nature, having seen on the road – “what happens on the road, stays on the road” – but that when they met, she knew he wasn’t.
She said they did not get married in the US, he brought her to Nigeria and they got married in 2002 in Lagos at Evergreen Music office.
“Orlando and I came from different worlds, places and ages, but for us to be together is something extraordinary,” she said. “I was his only wife. He didn’t want another wife.
She said she had no children with Ekemode as they already had children from their previous marriages.
“So we decided we didn’t need kids,” she added. “We just wanted to be together, make our music and take care of the kids we already had.”
While talking about his death, almost in tears, Latoya said death was kind to OJ Ekemode, that he didn’t have to be rushed to the hospital, that he went to bed, s sat up, coughed and died peacefully in his arms.
“And when they put him on the latte, I said you’re not going to leave us like this, and when I kissed him, he opened his eyes and smiled, people in the morgue n didn’t even want to put it on ice,” she added. sobbed “Yes, I am alone, but I am not afraid. He has his family, his children, and we are all here, and we will keep his name.
In her tribute, Latoya thanked her late husband for being her beloved, partner and best friend, caring for her and trusting her. She added that she doesn’t regret standing by his side in friendship, music and love.
“I won’t be saying goodbye because we both agreed that our love is forever,” she said. “I will continue with your dreams and plans, until we meet again.”
According to the event handbook titled ‘The Life and Times of Orlando Julius Aremu Ekemode’, some of the people who wrote their tributes were Tunde Kelani, Tunde Odunlade, Tokunbo Olaleye, Professor Femi Oshofisan, the Ambassador Yemi Farounbi, AJ Sequential, Aralola Ogunjobi, Toluwanimi Wyse, Ogundeji, among others
In his tribute, Kelani noted that he met Ekemode in the 70s and followed him because his highlife, soul and Afrobeat music was distinct. He added that the late singer’s talent with humility and kindness melted hearts.
He said he recently selected ‘Ololufe’ for the end credits of their new film ‘Cordlia’ which is currently in final post-production. He added that the piece was re-orchestrated and performed by the University of Delaware Orchestra, taking Julius’ genius to another level of cultural fusion.
“My only regret is that OJ didn’t listen to it before he died,” Kelani said. “He will be missed, but Orlando Julius Ekemode will never be forgotten.”
Ambassador Farounbi said he met Ekemode through his music before meeting him in person early in the late singer’s musical career, when he was still developing his own unique musical voice.
He further stated that Ekemode made his creative contribution to the global soul movement with his soulful unique “IJO SOUL” which appealed to him for three reasons: First, it was made like most of Ekemode’s records in an African language; second, the lyrics talked about the popular soul movement and explained how easily the African can dance it; and finally, it was a unique, original and less energy-intensive beat.
“JO, you got beat up. You created a rhythm that was excellent, and today you gave opportunities to many artists,” said Farounbi. “Live in the minds and hearts of great Yoruba, great Africans and even great citizens of the world. I remain your admirer, your friend and your brother.
Ogunjobi admitted that she hadn’t met Ekemode in person, but loved his music before she was old enough to understand the difference between his unique style and another genre of music.
“Orlando Julius was indeed a legend and his legacy will live on forever,” Ogunjobi added.
Odunlade said Ekemode was known to friends as “orange juice,” especially in the Bay Area of California. He described him as a “cool guy and a hidden gem” who was truly a master of his own musical genre style.
“The global music scene has lost a soulful saxophonist whose work will take forever to process, the legacy that lies there,” Odunlade said. “JO we love, but Olodumare loves you more.”
AJ Sequential, in his short tribute, said of Ekemode: “Baba Orlando Julius was very humble and kind to excess. He was our hot cake, then Aunt Latoya came to add icing to the cake.
During the tribute evening, the late Orlanda Julius Ekemode and his wife Latoya received awards for their contributions to African music and entertainment.
After receiving the award, Latoya said she was happy for Nigerians to recognize her contributions to her late husband’s life and music.
“I don’t have any blood relatives here, and it hasn’t been easy,” she confessed. “There are too many ‘wahala’ living in your country.”