Saturday 7 June 2014

Sustaining Rhodes' 'musical culture' with touring exhibition. Foundation

By Tajudeen Sowole
Memories of over 50 years career of late musician, Steve Rhodes exhibited via his personal collection, marked a fifth-year remembrance ahead of a foundation being set up in his name.

Prof Wole Soyinka (left) and Chairman of Steve Rhodes Foundation, Prof Johnson Ekpere during the opening of the exhibition in Lagos…recently.

Mounted inside the Museum Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos Island and opened few days ago, the collections titled  The Impresario: 6th-Year Commemorative Exhibition On Steve Rhodes reminded admirers and friends of Rhodes certain events, particularly of musical concerts-related works of the music legend.

And as the opening coincided with the Democracy Day celebration declared by the Federal Government on May 29, the Special Guest at the event, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka argued that honouring people like Rhodes who have contributed to Nigeria's artistic development is something to take away in 15 years of democracy.

Some of the exhibits dated to the 1950s and towards the period of the late artiste's death included memorabilia such as photographs taken at Western Nigerian Televisio (WNTV), Ibadan, concerts, posters of musical evens, newspapers cuttings of reviews, news and interviews. Also on display were Rhodes’ certificates, honours as well as awards given him to him at home and abroad.

For many of Rhodes’ fans who did not know how close he was to the traditional institution, a staff of chieftaincy Olooye Baariya of Ode Remo’ given to him was also on display in the glassed section of honours and awards.

Meanwhile, one of Rhodes’ children, Gloria disclosed that the family was on the verge of registering a foundation in the music director's memory. But the process of "name change", Gloria explained, has been posing a challenge to the family. Her father, she said "already registered The Centre for Cultural Preservation. What we are doing now is a name change; to Rhodes Foundation." The essence of the foundation, she stressed, "essentially is to preserve our musical culture."

The exhibition, according to Gloria, is scheduled to show at select universities across the country after the two weeks showing at Freedom Park.
Rhodes (1926- 2008) founded the famous Steve Rhodes Voices (SRV), a group that boasted of over 250 young Nigerian.

Whoever needed to reconnect one or more memories of Rhodes had the window to do that during the opening of the exhibition. Prof Johnson Ekpere, the chairman of the Steve Rhodes Foundation, showed such example when he noted quite a number of Rhodes' collections on display that reminded him of the artiste's great impact on the Nigerian music scene. In fact, Ekpere admitted that "I thought I knew enough of him (Rhodes), now I know better."

Rhodes made so much impact on the Nigerian music scene, even up till periods when a sharp generational shift was evolving. He died at a period when so much issue of contents rendered the music airwaves.
No doubt he left a legacy of purist and elitist musical culture. But would there be another Rhodes from his children? "Not among us," Gloria stated with laughter. "Maybe from his grandchildren," she added. Gloria recalled how exceptionally gifted her father was as composer and director. “His shoes is not as easy to step into. I can sing, but I can't compose, harmonise write or arrange music...all the things that he could do."

But given the reality of the direction in which contemporary Nigerian music is heading, which is blurring the elitist or classic lines, would the music scene need another Rhodes? "We don't need exactly another Rhodes,"  Benson Idonijie veteran music critic, said during a chat at the opening of the exhibition. "Maybe the music scene needs somebody who can help to stimulate new thinking and galvanise what is happening now to take it to the next level, creatively. It may not be exactly the way Rhodes did it in his time."

A section of the exhibits
In apparent reference to Rhodes’ remarkable work as director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the COJA Games in 2003, Soyinka noted that honouring "those who deserve honour" like Rhodes is the gain of democracy. He also disclosed that "Rhodes' collection speaks to my head." He recallled spending so much time with the "music genius," hence his appreciation of the collection on display.

On the screen at the far end of the gallery was Metamorphosis: The Music of Steve Rhodes, a documentary work produced and directed by Femi Odugbemi.

Known by many as “an encyclopedia of Nigerian music’; ‘a great musicologist and the conscience of entertainment industry in his time’
Rhodes was a pioneer African TV broadcaster at WNTV Ibadan, defunct Western Region.

Born in 1926 in Lagos to Justice Bankole and Mrs. Mabel Jones de Rhodes was educated at CMS Grammar School (Lagos) and Dennis Memorial School (Onitsha). He further his studies by spending 11 years in England and Germany and later was a jazz musician in Germany, where he played with a traveling bands in concert tour through Switzerland and Italy

After the death of his father, Rhodes returned to Nigeria and joined the Federal Ministry of Information. He became the first Nigerian Controller of Programmes of the Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), Ibadan.        

He also worked at the defunct Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria FRCN). The emerging of the West African Dance Orchestra at FRCN was linked to his initiative.

Rhodes founded Steve Rhodes Voices (SRV), a group of award winning young choristers that earned fame performing at music events. For 20 years the SRV trained and mentored an estimated 250 young Nigerians.

The group would later change into Steve Rhodes Orchestra, SRO, and had to its credit shows such as  Metamorphosis, a performance acclaimed as one of the best productions on the  Nigerian theatre space.

Another hit performance of the group included Ode to Freedom, a frontal confrontation to the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

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