‘Stolen’: My journey into music from journalism

By Jibril Musa

On June 7, ‘Stolen’ was released across digital distribution platforms. Apple. Spotify. Audiomack. Boomplay. Amazon. YouTube.

 

The reception accorded the single release was one of surprise.

‘Wow! You sing?’

‘Wao. That’s awesome.’

‘I never knew you had musical talent and a knack for writing songs.’

It took many by surprise. Including my colleagues, with whom I shared newsroom communion for years, and even my boss, Mr. Mike Awoyinfa, a guitarist and a great jazz fan. Those days when we used to drive through the length and breadth of Lagos while working on a book project: ‘50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategies,’ he’d play his favourite musician, Miles Davis, and other esoteric jazz collections. We never talked about my musical inclination. So, I can understand the incredulity from him and everyone. After all, I was known for something else. The craft of writing. A journalist.

So, I owe him and everyone an explanation. Music isn’t an overnight talent sprung upon me by a genie; I have always been a musical person from childhood. My father’s love for music, his omnivorous taste in music, transformed our home into a sort of gramophone store with vinyl records, turntables and those old fashion cassettes. To paraphrase Dorothy Nolte’s poem ‘Children Learn What they Live’, when a house is full of music, children who dwell therein grow musical ears, have a heart for songs and develop talents that are musical. So it was for me.

At the age of six, I developed a fondness for Indian music and the sound of the East. To date, I am still a big fan of Hindi music, and I am especially enamoured of the voices of LataMangeshkar, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar. I have to confess that I did not get into the rap and hip-hop thing. But I love R&B. I adore Toni Braxton. I collect anything Backstreet Boys.

But my musical odyssey started from the church at the age of 16. Without much talent, I joined the choir. And there, I learnt the basics of music. As a chorister, I started out playing the bell. One talent well used begets another. I became a songwriter, with a little gift of ‘voice’ but I wasn’t much of a vocalist.

Services in Cherubim and Seraphim Church are predominantly conducted in Yoruba. Composing songs in Yoruba, drawing the words and wisdom from the Scripture was my training ground. In that fashion, I put together some 120 songs in four years.

Then university came calling. It was 1998 and the world of music was a melting pot of R&B, hip-hop and rap. The campus of Ahmadu Bello University was a bubbling cauldron of talented individuals and a farrago of musical groups. I started exploring writing in English and flirted with poetry, but I was never good at poetry. However, the Creative Writer’s Club in the English Department was a watering hole for my muse. There, creative writings—poems, short stories and songs—were presented and critiqued once a week. And there, I had my first public audition. The first song I ever wrote in English got good reviews:

‘The voice is good.’

‘I love the melody.’

‘It’s the lyrics for me.’

I gradually mastered song writing in English. And we had a group of four, where I easily became the lead vocalist.

A few years later, ‘Stolen’ was written in 2004, inside a car travelling from Ilorin to Ibadan, en route to Ago Iwoye, where I was a serving NYSC member and a graduate assistant at Olabisi Onabanjo University.

It came from a brainwave. Hey, why not write a Yoruba version of WestLife’s’Queen of My Heart’?

Luckily for me, it was a day my muse was in his element and he gifted me the song as a full package.

Lyrics. Melody. Progression.

‘Stolen’ is a ballad, a profession of true love forged in the furnace of the vicissitudes of life, not the infatuation that rides on the high tides of emotion and ebbs over time.

It’s vintage love, the type that gets you into that moment of clarity, when, having gone through thick and thin together, you look into a soul mate’s eye and say: Hey, it’s you now, forever and thereafter.

The essence of the song is summed up in the chorus:

Bi mobat’aiyewa

Bi motunba o pade

Laisi ‘yemeji

Iwo nimatunbalo

(If we do meet in another lifetime, you will still be the one for me)

Your love has stolen my heart…

I borrowed a famous line from the Songs of Solomon: “Like a lily among thorns, so is my darling among the young women” (NIV).

For 20 years, ‘Stolen’ was stillborn. But because it is simple, short and sweet, it easily found its way into my subconscious. And love songs don’t run out of currency.

Eventually, in 2020, a group of young people gave me a reason to revisit the song―It’s good to be among young people from time to time, to draw from their boundless energy and catch some sparks from their creative aura.

In the multimedia studio of Eko College of Management, a group of Performing Arts students drew the song out of me, and they were gobsmacked. Wow. One of them even cried. She later did the backup and the duet. A very young producer, Moses ‘Laima,’ did a brilliant job and turned out a Luther Vandross-like R&B recording. 

The young ones were so sentimental about it, they wanted it recorded and released. Alas, it was to sit on my phone for another three years. And what was worse, we lost the data. 

But another opportunity came calling. Another producer, OliverTheRain; another genre, Afro-Pop; but still the same song, delightful to hear.

Eventually, ‘Stolen’ was released this month.

I know journalist colleagues will be wondering: ‘So, what now? Will you jettison journalism for a music career?’ Not really.  Writing is not a vocation to be ditched at your convenience. Like Pablo Neruda wrote in his poem, ‘You Start Dying Slowly’ the day you stop writing. Journalist, editor, author, essayist or columnist? You don’t turn your back on that craft. It is a lifelong vocation that ends the day you breathe your last. However, writing and singing are complementary crafts that draw from the same creative fountain, albeit in differential forms and frequencies. For me, the two can coexist: Writing as the main preoccupation and music as a pastime, both pursued with equal zeal.

Another likely question: ‘Are you going to be a one–song musician?’ Certainly not. I have a quiver full of songs. ‘Stolen’ was an effort to test the waters. Now, there is an open vista, and I will well travel down the road.

If you ask me, what direction will you travel in your music career? I don’t know. But I do know that the songs will be eclectic and will be difficult to categorise into one genre.

I will leave J-briel to chart the musical course while Jibril continues on his course of writing.

‘Stolen’ is available across major music distribution platforms: Boomplay, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

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