THE RHUMBA DANCER – Mike Okri. Nostalgia arises, when memories of time past collide with present realities. Some memories leave a sour taste, while others are unforgettable, like those legendary footprints on the sands of time. One of such positive memories is the focus of this piece.
The man whose life is in focus, added colour to the Nigerian music scene decades ago and still parades a measure of significance. When his name is mentioned, a particular word comes to play, because of the way he popularised it for many who had not heard the word before.
Mike Okri, the man who popularised the word, omoge, which he set to music, was a musician of repute in Nigeria. He burst into the music scene in 1988 with his album, Concert Fever, which contained the evergreen hit singles, ‘Omoge,’ and ‘Time Na Money.’ He became known as the Omoge Crooner, and by the time he released the song, ‘Rhumba Dance,’ he had become one of the leading musicians of his generation.
The songs were a favourite of people in the 80s and 90s in Nigeria, could be heard playing at radio stations, on TV, parties and blasting from homes of people with enthusiastic fans twisting excited bodies to the rhythm of the sonorous beats. It looked as if he had come to stay.
When the rhythm of the rhumba dance faded and the Rhumba Dancer was no more found on stage, questions began to pour it from besotted fans. And the answer came: The Rhumba Dancer had found a new stage outside the country, large enough for his performances.
Slowly, the rhumba rhythm faded and the fans found other pastimes. Twenty-six years after, whispers of glee resounded in the circles of those who were enraptured by the rhumba dancer’s beats. They rejoiced to hear that he had returned to Nigeria after decades of living in America.
Premium Times sought to know the plans he had to revive his music and Mike’s responses uncovered a sea of revelations. He was excited about returning to his country and spoke of the issues with management of business that led to the challenges he had with his record label.
Mike Okri told the story of how he tried to fit into the American music scene, which was difficult because the citizens protect their pop culture and do not embrace foreign interference so easily. He recorded more success in Europe and persevered, with the support of his wife, to revive his musical career, even when there was no support from other people.
‘I was able to create what is called Afro Mystic Souls. Afro Mystic Souls became the norm of my style of music,’ he revealed in his interview with Premium Times.
Mike Okri had contemporaries. Other legends like himself whose musical beats thrilled the ears of people in the era when they were played. He spoke of how he performed with two of them, Alex Zitto and Felix Liberty at the memorial of Sunny Okosun, who was their senior in the musical field and revealed that they also plan to go on a U.S. tour. The legendary musician revealed that he is working on new releases and has set up a music entertainment enterprise. The enterprise, which has a number of artistes is a springboard for other artistes to join again.
Mike hopes to leverage on the innovativeness of a young vibrant manager who works with him, to intermingle with the younger artistes and pave way for collaborations.
Premium Times asked if he is fully back home and he gave his reply: The whole idea is not for me to be permanently in one place. If I decide I want to stay here, it is fine, but as soon as my business picks up and I’m more involved in leading live shows, I’ll spend more time here and travel to Europe with my band. So, I’ll be going back and forth like every other musician.
When news of his return to Nigeria broke, there were speculations about him remixing some of his classics. To this question, Mike stated that there are three songs in the works. He is doing collaborations with some artistes on ‘Time na Money,’ working with Omawumi on ‘Omoge’ and Seyi Shay on ‘Rumba Dance’.
He advised younger artistes to get educated and balance the home front. Speaking on receiving royalties for his songs in Nigeria, Mike Okri said he was yet to get any and suggested that a revival of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) will help Nigerian musicians reap the fruits of their labour.
Mike Okri who works as a counsellor in the states and is also an entrepreneur, hopes that Nigeria will attain the status of the Giant of Africa once again.
The Omoge crooner enumerated the benefits of social media which has made the whole world a global village. On how he intends to restore his brand of music, he admits that though he may not be as young as he used to be, but that has changed nothing because age is just a number.
The Rhumba Dancer is poised to defy the limiting forces of age, to re-establish his brand and restore the glory of the music that once cheered a generation of Nigerians. His words are full of hope, revealing the possibility that the rhythm of the rhumba dance will soon resound and the rhumba dancer will once again take his place on the Nigerian musical stage.
Ify Omeni – The Tale Weaver