“Music is supposed to be a weapon of social change. A musician is supposed to be a prophet who speaks the truth as it affects everybody in the society. But can you tell me what these young artistes are preaching about. They do nothing but sing about butt, boobs and other mundane things that do not add value to anybody. It is not a bad thing to sing party or dancehall music but there is a problem when 95 per cent of the music out there sound the same and don’t even have any meaning. Most times, I listen to these songs and get angry. Look at the musicians of yesteryears, the songs are still relevant today, decades after they were originally released. But if you listen to a song that was released just last year, you may want to throw up. That’s because those songs have very short life-span. After people dance to it for some time, they dump it in the trash bin of time and move on to the next song. That is not what music is supposed to be about. People still play Fela’s music today because it still has something to offer. Reggae music, which I do, dwells on topical issues bothering the society. I really want the younger artistes to have a change of heart and think of the future; it is very important.”
Indeed, the words of our elders are filled with wisdom… Such was the passion, the genuineness of spirit, sincerity of heart and patriotism in Ras Kimono. He dropped the above immortal words, barely a year before his painful demise as if he knew he was going to die soon and needed to give the advice as a parting shot to the younger generation of singers and the country at large.
Even now that he has just completed exactly a year of his joining the angels, his words, his passion for a united and progressive country which he delivered in his immortal, sonorous lyrics still resonate loudly in the minds of socially-conscious Nigerians.
His was a life, an enviable life, dedicated to the struggle for the betterment of Nigeria and the advancement of mankind. He had a massive impact on everyone close to him. That is why one of his pretty daughters, Oge Kimono (a true chip off the old block who has mastered her dad’s unique dance steps on the stage!) has taken over the struggle from where he left. That is also why his loving wife, Efemena Okedi, could not survive three months without him and also joined him in the great beyond in September.
He was a talented singer, a very disciplined entertainer who focused strictly on his art and avoided smoking (even as a reggae singer!), and other ills associated with artistes. He was a versatile and consummate entertainer who mastered the Jamaican-style reggae music with the rhumba style he introduced. The power in his songs, and the depth of his lyrics which focused on social ills like poverty, injustice and inequality, made him a force to reckon with in Africa and beyond.
He however served a long apprenticeship on the music circuit, experimenting with a number of styles, before making his late 80s breakthrough as a reggae singer.
Born Ukeleke Elumelu Onwubuya in Delta state, Ras Kimono alongside his massive dread band came into prominence following the release of his debut album titled, ‘Under Pressure’ under the label, Premier Music in 1989.
Prior to this, Ras Kimono was already known in music circles as he was an ever present face at bars and clubs performing on a weekly basis as a member of the band, ‘The Jastiz’ that had other talented acts like Amos McRoy Jegg, Black Rice Osagie and another legend, ‘Majek Fashek.’
The album which had breakout singles like ‘Under Pressure’, ‘Natty Get Jail’, ‘Kill Apartheid,’ ‘Gimme Likkle Sugar’, a song that touched on police brutality and bad governance with the massive hit single, Rhumba Style were to however establish his presence on the scene and make him a household name.
The success of the album opened Ras Kimono to a global audience, as this was a time when reggae music was the leading genre in the country and he was able to tour across Africa, Europe and the United States, winning numerous awards along the way.
For Ras Kimono, he was more than just an artist as through his music, which was greatly influenced by the hardship and inequality he witnessed, he became a voice of the people.
While Rhumba Style was entertaining and one for the dance-floor, Under Pressure was his reflective state addressing situation within the polity under the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida.
Ras Kimono was also one of the very first Nigerian artistes that could properly infuse the Jamaican Patois in his delivery, standing him out from the crowd of other Reggae acts at the time.
Ras Kimono was to later release three other successful albums in ‘We No Wan’ in 1989, ‘What’s Gwan’ and ‘Rub A Dub’ in 1990 and had concluded works on a 4 track EP late last year.
His album, ‘What’s Gwan’ was also a major success as he touched on subject matters like the legislation of marijuana, apartheid and colonialism, sealing his position as one of the continent’s all-time greatest.
Aside not smoking, which was rare for reggae artiste, he was a vegetarian for 27 years and was known for his traditional dreadlocks, which he carried for over 30 years.
Ras Kimono won several awards including the Nigeria Music Awards, Fame Music Awards and many more.
Ras Kimono’s strongly polemical lyrics produced album sales of over 100, 000 copies. He was fervent with his advocacy of social change.
The reggae legend was to later take a break from the scene, relocating to America for many years with his wife and two daughters, only returning in 2009, where he became a member of the Copyright Organization of Nigeria (COSON) and performed at several events in an attempt to resuscitate his career.
Ras Kimono carried his traditional dreadlocks hairstyle for over 30 years. He saw himself as someone on a mission with music as his tool.
Barely a month before he died at the age of 60, the reggae icon marked his 37 years on stage and was planning to hold a concert later in the year with the inclusion of a big Jamaican reggae artist.
Throughout the span of his career, Ras Kimono earned reverence among industry colleagues for his passion, outspoken nature and indelible mark on the music scene.
Ras Kimono passed away exactly a year ago but he will continue to be remembered and celebrated and his legacies documented for generations unborn, because for 60 years he was a man who was on a mission and with music as his tool, he brought hope and joy with his message staying ever true till date.