An In-depth Analysis on the Traditional Wisdom in Selected Songs of Ebenezer Obey

Academic Paper, 2021

21 Pages, Grade: 2.5

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Works Cited


Ebenezer Obey is known for weaving invaluable traditional wisdom in his music. His type of music, that is the popular genre know as Juju music has become a medium for passing quality insight on living. Perhaps, two things are notable for supplying residual animation that irrigates his lyrics: the fact that he borrows his raw materials form the lived experiences around him; and, the fact that his music gives free rein to the spirituality which takes its root from uprightness, virtue and being righteous. Ultimately, importation of this into his music makes it possible for his music to serve as a repository for traditional wisdom. To buttress the established premise, this research shall engage Obey's songs titled: “Igba Owuro”, “Aimasiko”, “Oro Ogunpa”, “Ota mi Dehin Leyin mi” and “The Horse, The Man & The Son”. These songs are classifed according to the similarities in their thematic preoccupation. They are also carefully selected because, apart from the fact that they bear witness to the research intention, they also touch on different aspects of our existential aspiration. It is, therefore, the aim of this research to portray how the Juju music of Evangelist Ebenezer Obey's lyrics encode traditional wisdom within it.

Keywords: Ebenezer Obey, Traditional wisdom, Juju Music, Nigerian Music.


In Africa, songs that capture traditional wisdom are not just transcript of excited brains or caprices of contemporary enthusiasm. Rather, within the architectural creation of this type of songs through which traditional wisdom finds corpulent ventilation, there lies a lyrical cornucopia of sustained cultural values that mirror customary ethics, native intelligence, folklores, folktales, proverbs amongst others. The inference here is that the motivationof such songs does not rest with emotional impulse, rather with an unmitigated objective to instruct, direct and reproof. Therefore, the importance of such songs that fall within this category cannot be overemphasised; these songs manifest the stature of the essentiality in virtually every aspect of our collective living. To corroborate the veracity of this claim, Celestine Mbaegbu in his paper titled, "The Effective Power of Music in Africa" avers that “music plays an indispensable role in the being of Africans at work, in politics, in their socio-economic engagement, in religious worshipn interval development, in their morals, etc.” (176).

The submission here is an attempt to offer evidential exegesis on the fact that certain pre-modern African music encapsulates “an indispensable handmain of any meaningful behaviour and sustainability of being of any African person whether young or old” (Mbaegbu 176). Correspondingly, music serve to intervene in the hiatus ostensibly visible in the society; it suffices as a vehicle in the transmission of values. In his article entitled "Music and Nation Building", Richard Okafor asserts that “one of the most important uses of music is to transfer social values and morals” (5). The critic goes further to submit that “parents in those days use folktales and didactic songs to transmit moral lessons to the young” (5). To further corroborate his position, he registers that:

Even in adult life, people were interested in what the musician said. The musician of any community poured out some of the values of the people. They provided quotable quotes and even reference materials. They gave the sign posts, which guided the people on their pilgrimage of life. Such values, transmitted through music, often stick and pass from one generation to generation, and enter into group un-conscious, but always producing the required results. Music provides its own hypnosis in teaching of very big lessons. It removes the pain while strengthening the homes and the flesh of the lessons (5).

What the foregoing presupposes is that the musician is that individual that engages the aesthetics and music mode of communication to reel out values that conform with acceptable societal behaviours.


Undoubtedly, songs have been considered as an agent of socialization which preserves cultural heritage of a group of people. Through songs, the world-view and traditional wisdom of people are transmitted from generation to generation. In his critical article titled "Traditional Music in Nigeria: Example of Ayinla Omowura's Music", Sekinat Lasisi acknowledges that music functions in social structure,and that it is a means of expressing worldview. Similarly, Olupemi Oludare in "Preserving Indigenous Yoruba Musical Heritage: A Study of the Music of Ayinla Omo Alayan" maintains that, “music is known to function as an auditory avenue of expression, existing in every human society” (2). Usually, in a traditional system, such avenue is constructed to immure vital truths and wisdom for appropriate living. Emurobome Idolor in "Music in Contemporary African Society" delivers that "every society or nation is identified by their indigenous or traditional music which exists mostly in oral tradition, performed by both professionals and non-professionals and characterised by societal or national ownership” (71-2). The study of Oludare discloses that music serves a “tripartite function of preserving, exhibiting and developing the musical and cultural heritage of a people or society, with the musicians playing a significant role” (2). To adopt Oludare's opinion on the tripartite essentials of music is to note that the act of chronicling the ideals of people can be achieved through a lyrical documentation. On the heels of this, elements that curatively mark the identity and attitudes of a people are sure of protective sustenance. The lyrical documentation of this and expected sustenance orchestrate the possibility of the transference of cultural heritages in which traditional wisdom can be wrested. To consolidate this, Eniayo Sobola in "Metaphor of Time in Ebenezer Obey Songs: A Pragmatic Analysis" agrees that “songs has been an agent of socialization which preserves cultural heritages of a group of people” (88). A.O. Olagunju in his paper entitled, "Orin as a Means of Expressing World-view a among the Yoruba" establishes that music functions in a social structure, and that it is a means of expressing world view (qtd in Eniayo 88).

Lasisi in her work, theorises that music cannot be separated from the living experiences of Africans. Her theoretical inquiry suggests that traditional music embody within it high wisdom that define the attitudinal patterns of the people. This becomes unassailed with Eniayo's stand point that “traditional songs encode indigenous knowledge. This knowledge is shared by members of an ethnic group. It is developed and upheld by indigenous inhabitants of a community who use it in their daily living” (89). In the commerce of this living, music is used to describe aspects of life - in celebration, in social-community, in reproofing and so on. In her thesis, "Art as a Media for Social Commentary: A Case Study of Igbo Bongo Musicians, South-Eastern Nigeria", Ruth Opara writes "music in many cultures has always been a mode of communication; it has been a repertoire of knowledge and of intellectual and life expressions” (1). His contribution in the Journal of Education and Practice, Ogunriade broaches the subject on the importance of music by airing his opinion on its inclusion in the educational curriculum. In his subjectmatter, he argues that the communicative value of music has become an accessory for the advancement of national development. For him:

Man uses music to communicate effectively with the various group members of his community [...] music in traditional Nigerian societies provide an efficient means through which community shared values and skills are transmitted from one generation to another [...] Therefore, music is one of a complex system used to express the totality of human thoughts, ideologies, feelings and emotions which are paramount important to national development (30).

The above indicates that music is inherently ladened with the responsibility of ensuring national development. To offer fine bearing to his research investigation, he concludes that:

Creativity and imagination are required for solving problems. Our social, economic and political problems could be better solved through the application of infinite space and time dimensions was brought into being through the application of imagination and creativity by supreme intelligence. Imagination means the ability to visualise what can but is not, while creativity means the ability to bring such abstract notions into the realms of reality, for our material, spiritual, social, economic, political and psychological benefit. Music [...] offer unlimited potentials for national development at both the material and human levels in a pluralistic, multilingual and multicultural nation such as Nigeria (31).


Music in Nigeria has passed through several transformation, birthing what it has come to be identified with; it, therefore, now assumes a position of endless possibilities. Scholars have revealed that many variables account for this transformation and even the hatching of different micro and major forms of musical expressions. Ikenna Onwegbuna in "Trends in African Popular Music: Socio-Cultural Interactions and the Raggae Genre in Nigeria" remarks that “music, the conscious and, at times, fortuitous combination of individual notes that appear successively (melody) or simultaneously (harmony), or even both [...]” (2). At the epicenter of Onwegbuna's remark is the possibilities that is associated with the creation of music. The shape of music is conditioned by the musician. Thus, the classification of music is attained on the determination of how a particular music has been created.

To map out the portraiture of African music as well as highlighting some of the intervening variables that account for the myriad of genre within the Nigerian music milieu, Onwegbuna goes on to mention that:

African [...] music - an acculturative product of the African folk music - can be scrutinized along the lines of musical and social process [...] In Nigeria, it is the congruent collaboration of creativity and politico-socio-economic activities of the mid-1940s (the period following the World War ll) that have evolved the various genres of popular music of the land - a process that is still in being! The social processes that span through the diverse fields of economics, politics, linguistics, sociology, philosophy, and religion make up a manifold agency of acculturation, commercialization, urbanization and class stratifications. Similarly, the musical processes emanating from the folk musical practices of conception, composition, and classification of genres [...] are carried over into a parallel development of a neo-folk [...] The genres developed include Highlife, Afobeat, Rock, Calypso, Disco, Hip Hop, Rhythm ‘N’ Blues, Funk and Raggae (xi - xii).

In a similar rendition, Christian Onyeji acquiescence that the type of popular music are, in fact, more than Onwegbuna's mention. The former appears to capture a wider range of the music types by including other major genres in his mention . For him, “the types of popular music performed and enjoyed [...] include disco, raggae, rhythm and blues, funk, calypso, makosa, highlife, soul, Latin American Chachacha, mambo, tango, rumba, kwaito, rock and roll, juju kalanga, Afobeat [...] (21). To agree with this mentions, Abel Akponome in "Folk Music in Contemporary Nigeria: Continuity and Change" vents that “Nigerian musical terrain is alive with many diverse types of musical practice such as Jazz, highlife, Juju, pop and calypso among others” (42). He further adds that “[...] from the night-clubs to the parties, and the churches, to the social ceremonies and other related activities, pop music of different kinds such as ‘highlife’, ‘makosa’, ‘raggae’, ‘gospel’, and ‘hip-pop’ ‘spiritual’, ‘calypso’, ‘disco’, ‘juju’, etc” (5). Whether we decide to come on the strength of Onwegbuna's research or that of Onyeji or even Akponome, the fact remains that Nigeria seems to be boisterous with an avalanche of different types of musical formations.


The Juju music is considered to be one of the popular music genre in Nigeria; its position in the Nigerian music space is not in doubt. Michael Oluniyi in “Origin and Development of ‘Directing’ in Juju Music Performance" articulates that “Juju music is a prominent popular genre performed mostly by the Yoruba speaking people of South Western part of Nigeria” (25). This section of analysis has become an important aspect of this research because apart from the fact that Juju music s a genre in Nigeria, it is also the genre that our case study, Ebenezer Obey is popular for. To trace the origin of the popular Juju music will inescapably lead to identifying with certain scholars that have provided the foremost research foundation into this genre of popular music. Some critical intervention on this brand of music include, Vidal's "Lagos State Music and Dance" (1976) and "Traditions and History in Yoruba Music" (1977); J.Collins' "Post-War Popular Band Music in West Africa" (1977) and West African Pop Roots (1992); C. Waterman's "I'm a leader not a boss" Social Identity and Popular Music in Ibadan, Nigeria" (1982) and Juju: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (1990). The above mentioned as well as others were able to preserve the identity of Juju music through documentation. For Vidal, in his paper titled, "Three Decades of Juju Music" (1983), he offers that the Juju music is a “commemorative and panegyric music” (2) which is described as “a guitar-band music derived from the various palm-wine styles (Collins 54). Waterman lends his voice to the discourse through his 1990 publication by noting that the Juju music is “a local variant of the urban West African palm wine guitar tradition” (55). The submission of Ajala-Browne in "Ere e Faaji to o Pariwo. An Ethomusicologist's Research into the Origin and Development of Juju and Music" also adds to the discourse by educating that:

In its early years (c. 1929-33) it was known as Juju music, but a kind of "native blues" which captured on reflective songs that are accompanied on the box guitar and struck idiophones, and which provides a means of self-expression and a basis for social interaction among a group of boys [...] in the area of Lagos known as Sara Town or Olowogbowo (1).

In the agglutination of the critics' remarks, certain things have remained constant. For example, it is not in doubt that the Juju music in Nigeria seems to have its etymology from Ghana's Palm-wine styles; also, that the Juju music is popular among the Yorubas. The commendable addition that Ajala-Browne renders provides the turning point here because he notes that this music genre “centred on reflective songs”. Verily, the Juju music did not thrive on meaningless lyrics but lyrics that enable one to conduct some sort of self-introspection and self-inspection. Perhaps, the reasons for this is because the boom years of the Juju music was a period when Christianity and, generally, morality flourished. This, on the plane of this, the lyrics of the prevailing Juju songs became a veritable channel to deliver truths and traditional wisdom. Beyond this, during this period, musicians were professionals and experts in various fields; as a result, much of their wits slithered into the crafting formulae of their music. B. Ita in Jazz in Nigeria: An Outline of Cultural History marks that, “at the time music making in the country was part-time. In that era of Christian respectability it was inconceivable for mother's sons worthy of their families to be full-time musician” (15). He is quick to add, “the music-makers were professionals in other fields lawyers, clerks, teachers, etc” (15).

The Juju music has faced its fair share of boom, decline and rejuvenation. Even in terms of its formost pioneers, the arguments among scholars are obvious. While some consider Tunde King as Fuji pathfinder, others did not betray their aversion. With the unstable graph curves of a boom, decline, and reflourishing, it cannot be excised that certain persons and events including the recognised Tunde King, saw to the ascendancy of the Juju music alternative. For example, The World War ll and the then crash of the stock market made people take solace in Juju Music, embracing it as a seeming compensation for the depressive times. In addition, with the discovery of Oil in Nigeria, the Juju music was able to find its feet in the face of a declining ambulating. Certain people that saw to the promotion of the Juju music include: I.K Dairo with his hit songs titled “Salome” and “Angelina”; the hit records of Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Add in 1972 was also instrumental to the promotion of the popular music genre. The successful hit album, “Ace”, by Sir Sina Peter also added its quota. Others crusaders of the Juju movement include: Sumbo Jibowu, Kruman Sunday Harbour Giant, Irewolede Donge, Togo Lawson, Theophilus Iwalokun, Tunde Nightingale, Akanbi wright, Ayinde Bakare, etc. Among them, Ebenezer Obey cannot be forgotten in a hurry for his contributions and the development to Juju music. Aboyowa Ogisi's " The Origin and Development of Juju Music: 1900- 1990" pontificates that " during the mid 1960s Ebenezer Obey introduced the bass guitar, which he used as a low- pitched drum in generating rhythm [...]”(32). Ebenezer Obey became unique for his style as he christened it "juju miliki" which is a constant reminder of the hotel popularly known as "Miliki Spot" where his band was, at the time, domiciled.


Literature is replete with Literary interventions on the music of the legend, Ebenezer Obey. Music and Literature scholars have appreciated Obey's music from various prismatic lens. While some have decided to look at the musical import of it. Others have taken to considering the auditory aesthetics it generates. In the broad field of language and literature scholars have approved Obey's music from a pragmatic and semantic frame. Critics within the milieu of literature have not just only considered its oral essence but also the symbolic relationship his music has with society vis-a-vis its reverberating impact.

Olusegun Titus and Rachel Titus in "Jimi Solanke and Ebenezer Obey's Music on Environmental Degradation and Flood Disaster in Ibadan, Nigeria", concern themselves with the aspect of literature known as 'Eco-critism'. Their paper focuses on the use of music for cultural promotion that enhances environmental sustainability"(III). The environmental or Green critics examine the ways in which Obey attempts to warn his recipients of the dangers associated with wrong manhandling of our environment. To this, they acknowledge, Obey's music as orchestrating social change and Obey himself as an advocate of Green environment that thrives on a clean surrounding. The critic analyses his song titled "Ojo a bami". In their analysis, they render that "Ebenezer Obey reiterates the spirituality, worship, and need for personal and community cleansing from evil that brought the tragedy. From a religious background, he notes that super humans are known for clean environment" (119). They substantiate their point by buttressing that " the Hebrew governed the Israelites when they were moving from Egypt to canaanland that they must keep their environment clean lest he send plagues upon them" (119). The reason for introducing the religious subject as a vital example here is perhaps because of Obey's religious leanings. The critics in their ideology to estimate that what must have motivated Obey's eco-essential lyrics must have been his Christian background. Approximately his early life with this particular song, they render that the point of convergence cannot be obfuscated here. They note that “Ebenezer also reiterates the socioeconomic loss experienced after the flood which is as a result of “the inability to obey religious rules to keep the environment and rivers clean [...]” (120). For Ibitayo Daniels, she seems to be coming up from the strength of gender discourse portrayed in Ebenezer Obey's lyrics. In her "Music and Gender Relations in Yoruba: Reflection on Ebenezer Obey's Lyrics", the critic exhibited her cerebral acumen in acknowledging that Ebenezer Obey's music demonstrates a balance between the male and female gender. For her, the bane of Obey's music with regards to gender relations dictates the complementary role between the sexes. She explains how Obey is able to portray the Black Consciousness of the ideals within a family, making sure to note that the man should not be dominating rather embrace the Yoruba culture that recognises the strength and place of the woman in the society. Daniels establishes that “the oneness and the unique roles of husband and wife” (14). For her, using Obey's music as a yardstick, the unique role of a woman originates with being the home maker and if she fails in this role, then she fails as a woman. Similarly, the man is the home provider and he too, like the woman, should not fail in this.

In "Preserving History through Popular Music: A Study of Ebenezer Obey's Juju Music", Olupemi Oludare is interested in “the role of music and musical arts education in African society” (1). At the periphery. Beyond the margin, Oludare engaged in a sustained preoccupation as he examines the functional role of popular music in the historical preservation of the Yoruba's musical and cultural heritage” (1) using Ebenezer Obey's Juju music. To drive home his point, the critic informs that “Yoruba music are used not only for entertainment, but as a means of celebration and memorial of significant event, public figures, cultural and historical occurrence” (9). Even though this aspect of critical inquiry formed the coordinating theme of Oludare's research objective, he still gravitates towards the linguist as he observes the linguistic element that validates Ebenezer's Juju music. Also sharing in the field of Linguistics, Eniayo Sobola in "Metaphor of Time in Ebenezer Obey's Song: A Pragmatics Analysis" identify with the context meaning of Ebenezer Obey's Songs. His area of concern appears to be with the symbolic representation of time and the meaning potential it encodes within it. In exploring this, he adjudge that Ebenezer refers to time -within the context of his songs - “Igba Owuro Lawa” and “Aimasiko” as having a “spatial nature” (94). He also unveils that Obey sees time as being a “keeper of activities in human life” (95). What Sobola has been able to achieve with his in-depth analysis is to provide a pathway for the pragmatic study of Ebenezer Obey's music. He has been able to single out the motif of time and engages certain pragmatic tool to review how the construct of time refers to a higher substance of meaning within the context usage.

Regardless of the approach the aforementioned critics adopt, what has been kept invariably fixed within repository of their research is that all of them detail the wisdom that reels out from the lyrical rendition of Ebenezer Obey's songs. They confirm that Ebenezer permitted his Christian doctrine to have free rein in him, making him deliver songs recollected in the tranquil of traditional wisdom. Thus, it is almost impossible to discuss about the music of Ebenezer Obey without considering the wealth of wisdom that accompanies each delivery. Unarguably, this why Sobola believes that Ebenezer Obey “has since the inception of his music career being a moral philosopher who believes that music should be an avenue to teach and build moral values in society” (90).


The objective lure is to demonstrate that encodes in the songs of Ebenezer Obey is wisdom that fills the moral gap of shaping behavioural patterns. As a result of the wisdom that is undeniably noticed in the lines of Ebenezer Obey's songs, it therefore has the capacity to deliver social change and modify attitude to birth an expected acceptable living culture. Sobola agrees that “music, to him, is an inspiration ment to transform and build society” (90). Sobola also acknowledges that his Juju music “is filled with philosophical thoughts that emanates from Yoruba indigenous knowledge”(90). Oludare comes up from a similar clime, for him, “Obey's musical strength lie in weaving intricate Yoruba axioms [...] his songs also dwell on political and national issues” (10). This suggests that Ebenezer Obey's song reserves the capacity to cause a positive change through the wisdom that invigorates it. Oludare also appraises that Obey “always used his songs to educate the masses on moral values, Civic responsibilities, good governance and piety” (10).


When a critical mind listens to the songs - Igba Owuro and Aimasiko, what inevitably comes to mind is the famous nursery rhyme on time and its importance. The nursery rhyme reads, “tick says the clock, tick tick, what you have to do, do quick”. Beyond this, certain English common sayings have also been able to flesh out the importance of time. Examples of such sayings are: “make hay while the sun shines”, and “a stitch in time saves nine”. All these have gone to support the fact that time is critical to the activities and existence of man. Sadly, the concept of African time is an abberration to this Creed. Perhaps, it is with this stream of consciousness that Africans are notable for keeping late time attitude and have even found a convenient concept - “African time” - that these musics appear to kick against.

In the songs, time is personalised and its impact is seen irrigating the lyrics of every single line. This is why the line which reads “Aimasiko lon damu eda o” this translates into “inability to recognise time is human. Obey does not just only give life to time and even human attributes but goes to elevate “him” as if “he” lords over everyone. Conversely, Obey attempt to posit that we humans need to understand the place and supreme importance of time; the wisdom in this cannot be veneered; Obey uses these songs to proclaim the deep truth about life and living. Apart from “Aimasiko”, he also uses “Igba Owuro” to emphasize his set out objective and time. Again, just like “Aimasiko”, Obey seems to be chanting panegyric to time, sustaining the human attribute it has established for it in the earlier songs. It captured in its lines: “Ise rere lagogo n se// o nka Igba pelu akoko”. This interpretes that “that clock is doing a good job// it counts time and season”. The import of this can only be realised beyond the surface structure. Connotatively, what this, arguably, presupposesis that Obey is excited by the fact that time is the ultimate compensator. By this he means that he is happy that each man will be rewarded in due time; and that those who waste their time will be so rewarded while those who make judicious use of time will be so compensated. There is great wisdom in this as Obey sermonises that time, hardword and success are three variables that are interconnected with ostensible line of symmetry. Accurately, he preaches that people should take responsibility and ensure that they can give good account of how they have been able to spend their time.

Quite beautifully, in the two songs, Obey seems to cleverly suggest that the portraiture of time is God Himself. This is quintessential in every regard. After explaining the importance of time and showing how success is inevitable when we make judicious use of time, Obey then clarifies by framing the personified entity of time into the supreme being. This conjectured that Obey, without doubt, is not only evangelising on the need for people to be responsible by ensuring religious use of time but also attempt to pontify that people should use their time to be of service to God. In that vein, Obey calls for the reward of dutiful service on earth (daily activities) and service to God (obeying his commandments). The lines of “Igba Owuro Lawa” delivers, “Igba Owuro Lawa” delivers, “Igba Owuro Lawa// Baba, je kale san ni// je kale san ni// je kale san wa o//Baba, je kale ye wa”, this interpretes that “we are on the morning// Father, let night be favourable to us// let night be favourable to us// Father, let life honour us”. The Father, Obey calls here is God who he acknowledges as the supreme rewarder. As he prays to God he come on the strength that as he walks from morning to the close of the day, that night should favour him; as he does the hardwork expected of him, both in service for food and in service to God, that God should reward his time and effort. In another line, he offers “gbogbo ojo to ba lo nile aiye// la tojo ti won bi wa sa iye// lagogo ti bere ise” this interprets “all the days we spend on earth// from the day we are born// the clock started working”. The plural marker confirms that Obey is talking to his listeners. He is trying to nudge them that there no time available for one to be lazy or engage in improper things as the ultimate rewarder, God, rewards our efforts.


One very important attribute of Ebenezer Obey's songs is that as it points to a direction at the surface level, at a deeper level of lyrical investigation, the investigator can notice that it points to different corresponding areas. This position is true of the song in “Oro ogunpa” which means Ogunpa river. In this song, just like the above analysed, Obey confers human attributes on the river and therefore goes ahead to use it as a metaphor to comment on the daily living of humans. In this song, Obey is very much interested in the unhealthy, dirty living of man. He notes that the dirtiness of human is not in tandem with the ways of healthy living. Through this song, Ebenezer seems to be drawing his reference from her manhandling of nature.

Of a truth, especially when the song was released, was floundering in environmental pollution. Nature was not left out as all, faced the wantom nature of man's environmental degradation. In his creative disposition, Obey engages his artistic prowess to deliver a song that will mirror our existential portraiture. His song encapsulate traditional wisdom on the need for all to embrace cleanliness. To achieve this, he explains in his melodious song that estimating the Ogunpa River for all of nature - while setting the river as his authorial frans, he seems to be speaking of nature at large. He admonishes that when we manhandle our ecological space, it calls into order, an unprecedented challenge that enfeeble man, humbles him and put him in a very big problem. This picture is what Obey attempts to capture in his song.

In this song Obey speaks of a mysterious rain that has wrecked the largest city in Nigeria, Ibadan. Still in that stanza, Obey identifies that the cause of this unprecedent predicament could be as a result of the sun of man - that is our wantom ways of living. He says this mysterious rain has destroyed properties, thus, it could be that the river is enraged and so, Obey mediates in appealing to the spirits of the river. However, as he appeals the river, Obey speaks of the terrifying sight of the destructive nature of the rain which he feels is much animated by the river and the spirit that is domiciled in it. For him, he seems to render that the dirty attitude of man towards this river has occasioned this chaotic and traumatic event. Indeed, through the song, Obey preaches on the need for humans to ensure that it treats nature with utmost reverence. He foregrounds that our pathological attitude towards nature is highly alarming and have become the antecedent that births the itinerant casualty.

Beyond this cursory extraction of meaning, Obey attempts to be passing a deeper message. He appears to be saying that the unholy nature of man is horrendous and that until man is able to turn a new leaf, he is bound to face this equally shocking and atrocious incidence. Obey known for passing very strong traditional wisdom in his song, delivers that the need for man to embrace an honest living should not be contested. By touching on man's wantom behaviour to the river, he estimates it to the attitudinal problem inherent in man as he deals with another person. Obey mirrors that in the sociology of man's living that the reward of man is consequent upon his behaviour to others. The nature of the river symbolically represents other human while the rain or flood is a representation of the reward man receive for his unjust action in the commerce of his living. Unarguably, Obey uses his song to kill two birds. First, at the surface level and second, at connotative base. He warns that the divergent trajectory that has characterised our ecological system is linked to the way in which man has destructively treated nature. At the deeper structure, it seems to touch down on the core man's spirituality by noting that our purity and fidelity as humans must be evidently spontaneous, manifesting at all times us, else, the wrath of an otherwise culture will lead to havoc.


In "Ota mi Dehin leyin mi" (henceforth, Ota) and "The horse, the man and son", (henceforth, The horse), Ebenezer seem to be addressing a culture that defines the being of some people. The fulcrum of Ebenezer's lyrical commentary here is an attempt to address a personality complex of the contrivance of pleasing people. With this forming the authorial vision of two songs, Obey attempts to pass a very rare native wisdom on the condemnation that will definitely accompany pleasing people. Without inhibition, he castigates the very idea of trying to be the friend o everyone by doing their will. For him, such contrivance will end in jus self - deception but futility. Obey lambasts people who expect certain behaviour from him which only fulfils the demands of those people. He considers those people as his enemies and this accounts for the title of the first song "ota mi dehin leyin mi". The interpretation here is "my enemy, get thee behind me". This statement alludes to a certain spectacle in the Bible where Jesus Christ had just ended a forty days dry fast and was hungry and the Devil attempts to capitalise on Jesus' weakness by tempting him and Jesus responded that Devil should get thee behind him. There might be some sense in arguing that Obey attempts to show the relationship between Devil who wants Jesus to do his selfish demands. The second song, "The horse"the man and the son", emphasises the first. Here, Obey borrows from an oral tradition to advance his lyrical motivation. The folktale tells of a situation in which it is impossible to please man owing to his individual peculiar and insatiable needs.

In "Ota", Obey opens up the song by hurling abuses on "Ota", his enemies, for wanting to dictate how people should leave their lives. Ebenezer Obey preaches that human beings are only interested in you meeting with their needs and the moment you stop responding to this needs, you become an enemy. The contention as to who is the enemy is what Obey constructs here. Obey tells that these people are the real enemies. To this he says, in the English translation, "if you are rich, they will call you their favourite person that knows how to enjoy". What is ostensibly present here is that in this context, "rich" alludes to being benevolent. He continues by saying"when things do bad a bit, ha! human being//they will cough, they will twitch their nose, they will roll eyes". What this presupposes is that human beings becomes angry when the needs of their wish which you once met before stalls. It is in this that the very drive of Obey's wisdom becomes golden. Through the lyrics, he censures that people should withdraw from pleasing people. In a mocking remark, Obey renders at the end of the song, “they think wealth has finished, it hasn't finished”; it has not finished yet, he has only stopped being a people pleaser because he has decided to be a beneficiary of the wisdom he churns out.

In “The Horse”, Obey uses the ancient wisdom in a traditional folktale to pass this inestimable instruction in not being a people pleaser. Here, he sings of a certain man who takes his son on a journey and of course, with the donkey for which they will ride on when fatigue sets in or at intervals. As he embarks on the journey, he encounters people intermittently who berates on who the appropriate rider should be. With such confusion emanating from pleasing people, this sojourner gets frustrated. In fact, some even scold him for riding on riding on the donkey's back while some others cast aspersion on him for making the donkey ride freely. In an estimated value, Obey sings that humans can never be satisfied no matter how you please them. The first line of his song captures the ideal/goal of the song: “ko s'ogbon to let da, ko si wa to le wu// ko si ona to o le mo le fi t'aye lorun o”. This means that there's no trick one can devise or behavior one can put up - indeed, there is no way you can know how to please people because no matter what you do, humans will still find faults in what you do.


Ebenezer Obey's song is a repository of invaluable traditional wisdom. Gifted in the Juju musical artistry, Obey uses his creative craft to ventilate wisdom that touches different areas of life. It has been identified here that through his song, Obey mediates as an evironmentalist, he also features as a moral instructor and life expert. In all of these areas, Obey reveals great wisdom that can occasion a life of bliss if adopted. Again, what makes his song distinguished is the capacity his songs have in capturing double meanings. While at the top level, it portrays a certain meaning, at the deeper level, it constructs a spiritual and deeper and revelatory expression.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Ebenezer Obey. "Aimasiko" music track released in Melanie Records, 1987.

- "Igba Owuro" music track released in Decca Records, 1978.

- "Oro Ogunpa" music track released in Decca Records, 1978

- "Oya mi Dehin Leyin mi" music track released in Ebenezer Obey Music Co. LTD., 1972.

- "The Horse, the Man & the Son" music track released in Decca Records, 1973.

Secondary Sources

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21 of 21 pages


An In-depth Analysis on the Traditional Wisdom in Selected Songs of Ebenezer Obey
University of Lagos
Catalog Number
Ebenezer Obey, Traditional wisdom, Juju Music, Nigerian Music.
Quote paper
Nnadube Ejiogu (Author), 2021, An In-depth Analysis on the Traditional Wisdom in Selected Songs of Ebenezer Obey, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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