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I escaped being shot dead many times by US racists for attending school in white neighbourhood – Prof Ogunade

A former music teacher and athlete, Prof Taiwo Ogunade, 79, walks GODFREY GEORGE through the story of his life

You schooled and lived in the US before later returning to Nigeria. How will you describe your experiences in America at that time?

Oh yes, I studied music in America. I taught people music in America. I went to the Central State University, Ohio in the United States of America in 1965. When we got to Ohio, it was not as fine as it is now. To me, it was like a jungle.

When I was in America, I had to fight a lot of racism because I stayed in a white neighbourhood then. So, when I came out, people would be asking me what I was doing in the ‘white side of town’. I escaped being shot many times by these racists who didn’t like my black skin. All thanks to the good policing system they had in America, I would have lost my life. That does not mean they didn’t rob me; they did rob and bully me. One time, one of them summoned the courage to ask me why I was always in the white neighbourhood, and I told him that I had a scholarship to study music at a school there. I did athletics for my school for five years, and not for once did I come second place. That made me very popular around the school.

What kind of growing up did you have?

I was born in Lagos. I grew up in Lagos. I have been here since 1959. I was born in 1943. I am 79 years old. I will be 80 next year by the grace of the Almighty. I went to City College, Yaba, Lagos. My brothers and I moved to this place in 1962. We used to be very poor and we would be roaming the streets then. On one of those days when we were playing in the neighbourhood, a white man drove by and asked us where we lived. We told him we were poor and our family lived in a one-room apartment. He was so sad as he drove past us. We used to trek ervery day from Surulere to Obalende where our school was. Some boys would always accost us on our way and take our food away from us and we dared not protest. One day, when we were trekking back from school, those boys came after us again and we stood up to them and fought them. As we were approaching home, we saw that white man again. He said, “Do you all live in one room as you told me?” and we said yes. So, he said we should meet him at Rotimi Square, Surulere that evening. That was how he gave us this place that has now come to be our home. I was challenging Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu before he became governor that he couldn’t do what the white man did for anyone. When we came to Rotimi Square, this place was bushy, so we began to clear it and made it a place to stay. I have lived here since then.

When did you start your athletic career?

I have always been an athlete from childhood. I loved to do track events even at City College. I used to run from Surulere to Sagamu and back every Saturday. The road was safer than what we have now. It made me get rid of the many sounds in my head. Athletics made me concentrate more on music because while running I would be composing songs with the sounds  ringing in my head. As we are here now, I am still hearing those sounds. I got involved in national competitions and started winning medals for the country. Go and check my record; I never lost for one day.

What kind of people were your parents?

My parents were poor, as I told you. I knew how much my mother suffered to pay 10 shillings that we were paying at City College then for exams. I did not wear sneakers to school until I got to Class Four. I was raised by my mother alone.

 What jobs did you do?

After City College, Yaba, I was here in Nigeria for a while and worked at Lagos Television for a while. I knew when they started Lagos TV in 1974 and we were going to Bar Beach. We were being paid N4, not kobo. When I heard someone saying that we were being paid in kobo, I was shocked. The job was good! Then, I proceeded to the Central State University, Ohio in the United States of America in 1965. I was given a scholarship by the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to study in the University of Nigeria Nsukka in 1966 before the coup. That was after I won the All Nigeria Championships in 1965.

Despite your early stint in sports, you went on to be a musician and composer. What endeared you to music?

Growing up in Lagos, I had a mentor who was at NBC at that time. His name was Sam. Whenever we finished classes at City College, we would go to NBC House, Ikoyi. We closed from school at 1pm and at 2.30 pm, we were at NBC. We would be there to see all that they were doing and we would be learning. There a white man at NBC then; he would always give me one pound for always coming around to assist them. I used to write scripts for him as well and he would appreciate me so well for that. Later on, when the white man left and a Nigerian took over, it was hard for me, because he didn’t accept my scripts anymore. He would say I was writing nonsense and it would make me cry for days. So, I quit writing scripts and went into music. Sam was in charge of music then at NBC. I began to assist him. I love the xylophone and play it very well. Of course, in the 1950s, I worked in the Town Council for a while.

READ ALSO: “I Invested my school fees to make a profit but it didn’t happen” – Student Narrates

At what point did you begin lecturing; was it when you came back from the US?

I never lectured here in Nigeria. As soon as I came to Nigeria, I started a music institute, the Koto Music Institute at Herbert Macaulay. I was teaching there with my friend. After I left, I went back to the US to further my studies. I began to lecture at the City University of New York. I spent about three years with one Dr Jeffery, my boss, who was also interested in African music. After those years, I came back here and that was when I found my music school.

At what point were you made a professor?

When I went back to the US, I wanted to continue my study so I wrote a book and gave the manuscripts to an editor, who was later chased out of his home by his landlord. That was how I lost the manuscripts of my book. I didn’t know that people saw the scripts, and somehow, it got to the hands of a faculty member at another university, one Dr Rogers. So, Dr Rogers searched for me and found me where I was in the US. He invited me to work with him. When it was time for promotion my name was added to the list made by Dr Jeffery. The thing is, my book was being used by over 15 universities and I didn’t know. My book was used to teach African sound and heritage, and nobody knew me as the author of that book.  On learning later, they quickly gave me an appointment letter and I followed through with the process. Later on, my name was announced as a professor of music.

How were you able to stay in touch and true to your Yoruba roots despite living abroad for many years?

I am a Yoruba man deeply rooted in culture. I don’t go to church. I don’t go to the mosque. I have Ogun in front of my house here. There is Osun at the back. There is Sango beside the house. I call this house Orisa House.  I don’t wear a suit. I have never worn a suit for one day. I wear my native attire everywhere. Suit is not for me. It makes me so uncomfortable.

What kind of songs did you write or compose?

I began to put words into the sounds of the music I heard. Most of my songs had patriotic import. They were always about Nigeria. This shows you how much love I have for the country. I still ran track while doing music. That was what I had always wanted to do. I told God I wanted to do both and do them well. I was also friends with Sir Victor Uwaifo. I was part of the Royal School of Music. Luckily, I was in the studio when he composed ‘Joromi’. I was not interested in that kind of music. I wanted to be a ‘serious’ musician.

Would you like to talk about your family?

I have a lot of wives and many children all over the US.

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