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Legendary Nigerian Highlife band produces a barnstorming revival concert

The legendary Mayor’s Band, formerly led by the great Highlife Trumpeter and composer Cardinal Rex Lawson, performed their long-awaited reunion concert, at the Ito-Ogbo Festival, Obosi, Nigeria on Saturday, 14 March 2015.

The Mayors Band, founded in 1962, by Rex Lawson, were responsible for a string of Lawson’s early hits, such as ‘Mama dey for Kumba’, ‘Adigboloja’, ‘Isoboye’ and many more. In particular, ace percussionist Tony Odili was to become inseparable from Lawson throughout his career, from the band’s early days at the Dolphin Cafe Onitsha, through the Nigerian civil war years (1967-1970) and up till Lawson’s death in 1971.

The band was reconvened for only the second time since 1971, for a performance at the ancient Ito-Ogbo Festival of Obosi, in Nigeria’s Anambra State, which held on Saturday 14 December 2015.  The band mounted the stage at about 2pm, with personnel consisting of the afore-mentioned percussion phenomenon Tony Odili and the imperious and charismatic Guitar maestro Isaac Onote, who had also been an original member of the Mayors line-up of Dolphin Cafe. Others included equally distinguished stand-in’s, in the person of drummer Eddie Offeyi, famously of the Army Second-Generation, Christy Essien, Headzfunk and Akwasa band’s. Felix ‘Feladey’ Odey, a legendary Highlife Guitarist, with a cv that included periods with such national treasures like, Bongos Ikwue, Monomono, Segun Bucknor and many others.

The band launched itself into a series of its old and evergreen favourites, starting off with ‘Tamuno bo ibro ma’, ‘Oweibo nua’, ‘Sawale’ and more. The climax of the performance being a rendition of Rex Lawson’s first hit ‘Mama dey for Kumba’ (released in 1962). Onote’s haunting Guitar intro, was lovingly coupled with Odili’s lavish Conga roll, taking the audience on a sublime journey through what was acknowledged by most music critics, as one of Lawson’s greatest recordings.

The undisputed star of the show was the incredible Tony Odili, whose boundless energy and stage theatrics held the audience spell-bound. His effervescent solo’s- played on his 47 year-old, ‘Native’ Conga, was pure joy to behold. The most shocking aspect for the audience, being that the man responsible for all these pyrotechnics, is 86 years old! Isaac Onote, who delivered a large number of the vocals on the evergreen hits, did not disappoint, with a startling vocal similarity with Lawson’s original output- once again, stunning the audience with the comparative energy of his performance, inspite of his 76 years of age. The audience in true Nigerian fashion, did not hesitate to show their appreciation, showering Odili, Onote and the rest of the band with cash gifts.

The band rounded off its historic performance with a rendition of Lawson’s iconic hit, performed in the 6/8 progression, ‘Anate’, which sent the audience on to the dance-floor in a joyous frenzy. It was truly a memorable performance and well worth the 14 year wait since the last such performance. The only sad  post-script to this account, being the inability of two of the billed members, trumpeter, King Sunny Brown and Bassist, Victor Uzowulu to perform, as a result of sudden and quite severe ill-health. Music In Africa wishes them speedy recovery.

The Mayors Band has as a result of a move facilitated by Music In Africa, been signed to perform at the 2015 edition of the Lagos Jazz Fusion Concert, scheduled for November, in Lagos (date to be confirmed). We here at Music In Africa are proud to have witnessed, what was a truly historic performance and congratulate these living legends of African music.