Okpan Arhibo: A Traditional Kind of Disco Music

When Manu Dibango invented disco music with his phenomenal hit “Soul Makossa”, besides the breakbeats, jazz and soul influences complete with saxophone, trumpet, drum kits, bass and lead guitars, piano/keyboards and other western musical instruments that made it the big success it was within the New York music scene and worldwide, its central sensibility as was developed and perfected, came from somewhere. Africa. Subsequently, Fela, Osibisa, Mariam Makeba, Hugh Masekela also working within the breakbeat, soul, funk, and jazz found instant fame and recognition as innovators in the world music scene and “Afrobeat” credited to Fela soon became an international art form with a strong legitimacy of its own.

Traditional musicians like Okpan Arhibo who remain true to the source Manu Dibango had astutely appropriated to create a new music phenomenon did not achieve either international fame or massive commercial success simply due to their tenacious fidelity to the purity of their art form. Some may classify such fidelity to traditional music as timid, unadventurous, retrogressive or impervious for a creative artist. Such a conclusion is both uninformed and premature. When Okpan Arhibo came out with his seminal hit “Catch Fire Dance” by the turn of the 8th decade of the last century, he had in one go changed the style, approach, spontaneity, and permissiveness within the Urhobo nation and the wider Wafi (Warri, Delta State) arena to music and dance. We must remember till Okpan came along with his hits, Urhobo youths who were desperate to be “civilised” (westernised) had resoundingly rejected the traditional music form. It was Okpan who made Urhobo music totally acceptable to the youths; his music found the restless youth and turned them. Continue reading

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