Lockdown Diary: The Musician Who Can No Longer Do Music

May 17, 2020

Lockdown Diary is a limited Zikoko series that highlights the lives and experiences of Nigerians (and Africans) currently self-isolating due to the coronavirus pandemic.


The subject of today’s lockdown diary is a musician and a father of two whose source of income has been hampered by the shutdown of churches and event centres. He worries about his children, and what might happen if the lockdown continues indefinitely.

Sunday, 26th of April, 2020

The flash of the light bulb wakes me. It is 6:05AM. My wife is still asleep beside me, and my two children are asleep on their own space on the floor. I take care not to wake them as I head to the living room. In the living room, I plug in my keyboard, balance myself on a seat, and begin to play “My Faith Looks Up To Thee.”

We haven’t gone to church in about three Sundays now. Every morning we wake up, we do our family prayer, bathe the children, eat, and simply carry on with life. The children go out to play with the neighbours’ children, and my wife gets busy with other things. But I sit and wonder what I will do about money.

I am a musician and an instrumentalist. My source of income comes from music. It is what I know how to do, what I have been doing since I was old enough. My father was a very popular musician in Abeokuta, and I learned from him. I was more or less born into music. Right from secondary school, I used to go out to perform for people. After secondary school, I read music double major at Federal Government College, Osiele because it was hard securing admission. I eventually studied Economics at Tai Solarin University of Education, and even while I was in school, I did music. I played for prominent people, I played at events, and everywhere music was needed. Whatever money I made was used to pay for my education. That was how I funded my education.

Here in Ibadan, I have played for Evangelist (Dr.) Bola Are, I have played for the Army Band, Dele Bravo. Once, I was asked to come audition to be a member of Yinka Ayefele’s band, but between playing for the Army Band and other engagements, I could not make time to attend.

Before Coronavirus happened, I always thought that there was nothing that could affect music and church, because both of them are very important parts of human life. But then, the order came that no churches should open and we should all stay at home and worship God there. This is where the problem is. 

I play instruments at a church in Felele. I play at other churches too, if the opportunity comes, but this church at Felele is a constant one. I am paid N25,000 monthly. This money comes from the tithes and offering the church receives. Now that we have been asked to stay at home, it means that there can be no tithes and offering, which means that at the end of the month, there is no salary for me. 

After I am done playing “My Faith Looks Up To Thee”, I move on to a series of other hymns. Soon, my wife wakes up. She wakes the children too. “Good morning, Daddy,” they say. I answer them with a smile on my face. I am afraid, but I do not show it. I do not know what will happen if this virus continues. I do not know what will happen with money. But I cannot afford to show that I am afraid.

Tuesday, 28th of April, 2020.

I am alone at home. My wife has gone to her shop and the children are outside, playing. It is what I dread most in my life, but here I am, alone without something to do. When I moved here about 7 years ago, I worried that people might think low of me. A man who sits at home all day, they might think I am a criminal. And so every time I get the opportunity to attend shows and perform, I am always happy.

Since I moved here, I have performed at clubs, burials, birthday parties, and any other events where music is needed. I have a band. There are about 13 people in the band, including me and my wife. . Together, we have played in Abuja, in Ebonyi and a lot of other states. When Dele Odule, the actor, turned sixty years old, my band played for him. The payment ratio is 30 – 70. 30 to me, 70 to them. When we get events, we charge based on distance and the logistics needed to get to the venue. The least I have charged is N50,000.

As I sit at home, I think about what they might be doing to cope with this pandemic. I know that they are thinking the same about me, too. They will most likely want to know how I am coping as a band leader, what I am doing to keep body and soul together. But the truth is that I am doing nothing. I wake up, play the keyboard, and listen to the news, which day by day, keeps becoming unbearable. It is always news of the virus, how many people have become infected, and how the world is failing to produce a vaccine.

It is strange how this virus has taken centre stage. There is hardly any news of Boko Haram, or other things we used to hear of before now. It is just COVID. Right now, there are 1532 confirmed cases. It keeps spreading. 

Thursday, 30th of April, 2020.

My wife goes to her shop. She sells provisions: biscuits, sweets, soft drinks, and other things that she believes can move the market. I am glad she still has the shop. I often imagine what would happen if she  lost this shop. How would we feed? More importantly, how would we pay the bills? I don’t even want to think about school fees now. I hope that everything has cleared by the time the schools ask the children to resume.

By 10AM, I am bored, so I decide to call the owner of a studio I manage. This one fetches small change too. Managing doesn’t mean big work or big money. I do simple things. When people come in to do their advert jingles, I supply the tune needed, and the words too, sometimes. A studio session can pay up to N20,000. Sometimes less. It depends on the budget of the client.

The studio manager says that there is nothing for now. No business. Everywhere is on lockdown, nobody wants to advertise or pay for studio sessions. I tell him I understand and hang up. I understand that people are more focused on surviving and that there might be no need for other things yet. What I don’t understand is how one virus can come suddenly and put a pause on the whole world. It baffles me.

Friday, 1st of May, 2020.

Today is Friday. Before the virus, Friday meant playing at a nightclub. I miss it. It might be an odd thing to say, but the truth is this: in nightclubs, people are more appreciative of God’s blessings than they are in church. I was performing at this club one time and singing a well-known gospel song. When I opened my eyes, I saw this man weeping. When I was done, I asked him why he was crying. His answer was that sometimes in the previous year, his wife had an operation. He sold his car, sold a lot of things and he was still afraid that he might lose his wife. But she survived. Singing that song made him realise how much God did for him.

This is just one of the many encounters I have at nightclubs. If things were normal, I would be at Carlton Gate Hotel in Ibadan, doing what we refer to as “jump.” It is when musicians perform for the people drinking and chilling. It’s not so profitable, but it helps people know about the hotel and helps me get recognition too. And when people like what I am playing, they invite me to their events. It is almost a win-win situation for me and the hotel. Besides, any money the audience sprays belongs to me.

SOUNDS OF AFRICAN MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

The children are making a lot of noise. They are too happy and I am annoyed that they don’t know how things are going. I can’t blame them. In fact, I worry about them. I worry about what will happen should they become infected. God forbid, but I know it is one of the fastest ways to contract the disease.  I wonder what we’ll eat for dinner.

Saturday, 2nd of May, 2020.

There is a level of responsibility that comes with being a first child; everyone looks up to you. There is also the responsibility of being a husband; you have to provide. And then the responsibility of being a father; the whole family is on your shoulders. Right now, my shoulders are tired.

Because I upload most of my shows online, I know that some of my family members think I am doing fine. It is only a matter of time before they start calling for money. And because I try to look cheerful around the house, I know the neighbours think I have no worries. But what is a man supposed to do? 

Before Covid19, at the end of each week, I would drop N6,000 for foodstuff. I drop money for other things too, but foodstuff ranks high. Sometimes, I drop N2,000 for these miscellaneous expenses and sometimes more. Sometimes, nothing at all. In my line of business, nothing is constant in terms of money. I have gone to perform at a show where I came back home with N60. And I have gone to perform at a birthday party on the ship where I returned home with N175,000. If there’s anything I am grateful for, it is that God chose to bless me with a wife who understands.

I am thinking of new skills I can learn. Something to make money in this period. But my options are limited. I often think of how long I am going to spend mastering it, and how long before they start to fetch me money. For someone who has spent all his life in music, how well can I function at another skill? It is something I am worried about. 

Lightbulb in the Dark - Free Stock Photo by Lukas on Stockvault.net

Sunday, 3rd of May, 2020.

Today, the flash of light does not wake me. My worries do. Beside me, my wife turns slightly as I rise up. The children sleep on. I rearrange the cover cloth and pat their heads. I step into the living room and sit on the couch as I contemplate life. There is so much to think of, but I remember the Bible’s injunction that tells us not to worry.

“Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” is what Matthew 6:27 asks. I rise up and plug in my keyboard. And then I start to play the popular praise song, “Ah, ope lo ye” which loosely translates to, “Indeed, God deserves thanks for being alive.” 


Check back every Sunday by 1 pm for new stories in the Lockdown Diary column. If you have an experience to share and would like to appear on this series, kindly reach out to me: kunle@bigcabal.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

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