Sonny Okosun: Leading figure in Nigerian music

One of Nigeria's leading recording artists for much of his career, Sonny Okosun gained a wider following between the late 1970s and mid 1980s with US and UK releases and several international tours.

His warm, genial voice effortlessly carried a moral authority that suited the social and political commentary of his lyrics. He called his ever-changing mix of reggae, highlife, Afro-soul, rock, funk and various indigenous elements "Ozziddi", meaning "there is a message". Best known for his anti-apartheid reggae anthem "Fire in Soweto", he also espoused Pan-Africanism and Black Pride, singing about the need for honest leadership in Africa, and the plight of the continent's children.

Okosun once declared: "All my mates were singing love songs. I was trying to talk about what was happening to black people." Such a strategy landed his more sharp-tongued contemporary and compatriot Fela Kuti in hot water for choosing targets too close to home. However, Okosun (who soon switched to singing in English after early efforts in his native Esan) set his sights further afield and couched his messages in more general terms, which sometimes meant West African politicians misappropriated them.

Both his parents were traditional musicians, but the teenage Okosun taught himself the guitar, inspired by Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and The Beatles. In 1964, at the age of 17, he formed the Postmen, a covers band also known as the "Local Beatles". He visited London with a theatre group for the 1965 Commonwealth Arts Festival, but in 1967 the Biafran war prompted both the dissolution of the Postmen and a move by Okosun and his family to Lagos. There, he worked briefly in television before moving to Benin, where in 1969 he joined Victor Uwaifo's Melody Maestros, celebrated for updating traditional music.

After a tour of Japan and Europe, Okosun established his own group, Paperback Limited, informed by "underground" Western rock. But in order to formulate his own back-to-roots sound he dissolved the band in 1974, returning to his village. By 1976, his new group, Ozziddi, had their first hit with "Help" – yet another Beatles reference. The following year, the album Papa's Land was mixed by Eddy Grant, and Okosun then recorded the albums Fire in Soweto (1977) and Holy Wars (1978) at EMI studios in London. A collaborative album with the calypso star Lord Superior followed, as did Nigerian tours with Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals.

Nevertheless, EMI (UK) were indifferent, so it wasn't until the London-based independent label Oti licensed the albums Third World (1981) and Mother and Child (1982) that Okosun got a UK release. The US label Celluloid licensed Togetherness in 1983, and in 1984 the UK's Zomba issued Which Way Nigeria? while the compilation Liberation (1984) became Okosun's most widely distributed LP. In 1985, he contributed to the anti-apartheid album Sun City, and the following year "Highlife" was featured in Jonathan Demme's movie Something Wild.

By the late Eighties, Okosun's star was fading, but he reinvented himself with the 1994 comeback album Songs of Praise, which sold nearly a million copies.

Jon Lusk

Sonny Okosun, singer, songwriter, producer and preacher: born Enugu, Nigeria 1 January 1947; married; died Washington DC 24 May 2008.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

£20000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Project C...

EYFS Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Our Primary School in Grimsby ar...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 6 Supply Teacher Position a...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?