Garlands as veteran musician, Bongos Ikwue turns 82

Bongos Ikwue

The story of Nigeria’s music industry cannot be written without a reference to Bongos Ikwue. He was incomparable in the sense that he was able fuse genres of music to create a blend that was peculiar to him.


Veteran musician, Bongos Ikwue, whose works serenaded the 70s and 80s music circle in Nigeria turned 82 within the week. It was therefore a time to reflect on his enormous contributions to the industry, and this prompted a lot of stakeholders to celebrate the man who threw light on Nigeria’s R&B potential.

Sharing a post, a veteran musician, Emma Ogosi, who grew up with Bongos Ikwue on the same street in Kaduna, used the opportunity to dispel the age-long rumour about Bongos’ dalliance with a former First Lady of Nigeria. According to the post by Ogosi, the story has no iota of truth in it.

“Bongos and I used to joke about this in the late sixties when we were both starting our professional careers in music in Kaduna…that he is my elder, by two months… ONLY!

“Secondly, we sat for same school cert in 1962. Got the same result, above average; lived on same street, Sardauna Crescent, Kaduna.

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“One more thing before I close; the rumour about him and a former First Lady is absolutely and completely untrue. The lady in question was my maternal cousin, so I should know and I knew it did not happen. Finally, my friend had some health issues last year…I used word ‘had’ because I know him for who he is….. a tiger, a fighter and I know that that sickness is paying dearly for its misadventure.

“By the way, I nearly forgot to mention that I was his special guest at his five-star hotel in Oturkpo, his home town a few years ago and he treated me (among many other things) to a full concert with me as the only audience for two very exciting hours with the full compliments of his band.”

Kayode Fatusin, another music lover and member of Nigeria’s most popular online classic music group, Golden Oldies praised Ikwue’s contribution to the industry thus: “Wishing Bongos Ikwue a happy birthday (born in Otukpo, Benue State in East-Central Nigeria, of Idoma ethnicity on June 6, 1942. His father was a farmer and Bongos’ childhood was filled with the events of simple country living.

“Enamored of all types of music at an early age he absorbed everything he heard: traditional music and folk tales of the Idoma people, a wide array of American styles including gospel, country, blues, jazz and R & B, Cuban and other Caribbean styles that he absorbed from the radio and his brother’s record collection, and of course myriads of popular African styles.

“He began writing songs at an early age but his parents pushed him to pursue a respectable profession and sent him off to school. As he continued his songwriting efforts, he formed his first band, the Cubana Boys. While studying engineering at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, he formed another band, the UniBello Brothers, as well as a folk group; he even learned Irish songs from an expatriate lecturer.

“In 1967 he formed Bongos & The Groovies, which rapidly became a popular performing and recording ensemble that featured Bongos’ evolving original, highly personal style of Nigerian pop. He didn’t pattern his music after any artiste nor did it fit any existing style. A recording contract with EMI led to numerous hits such as “Lagos”, “Tell My Girl”, “You Can’t Hurry The Sunrise” and “Otachikpokpo” and best-selling albums. His song “Cock Crow At Dawn” became the theme song of a popular Nigerian TV soap opera that ran into the 90s.

“But where other Nigerian artistes such as Sunny Ade, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Sonny Okosun and OJ Ekemode saw their music released internationally and toured abroad, the only Bongos recording to be released internationally was his hit “Still Searching”, which appeared on Black Starliner, a compilation of African popular music released in the 70s.

“After three decades of performing he scaled back his musical activity and devoted more time to his entrepreneurial activities, which included owning and running a furniture factory. But in the new millennium, some of his vintage hits were included on such acclaimed compilations as Nigeria 70 and Nigeria Disco Funk Special which sparked a resurgence of interest in Afro-pop from Nigeria and other West African countries.

“Bongos’ song “Inale” was the theme to an award-winning film produced by his daughter Keke; the soundtrack, which Bongos composed, won an award for Best Soundtrack at the 2011 African Movie Academy Awards.”

Of course, words will not be enough to appreciate the influence Ikwue has had in the industry and many music stakeholders are still hoping that governments at both state and federal levels, should roll out the drums to celebrate this rare gem, now that he is with us.


Many music stakeholders are still hoping that governments at both state and federal levels would roll out the drums to celebrate this rare gem, now that he is with us.

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