'Corruption: Lack Of Justice Forced Me Out Of Nigeria’

It was like a beautiful homecoming for once famous Afro folk singer, composer, guitarist and band leader from 60’s to the ’80s , Akeeb Kareem popularly known as Blackman Kareem  as he made a surprise appearance at a concert put together by the Beautiful Nubia, where he performed alongside others to the admiration of his fans who trooped out to welcome him.

Blackman Akeeb Kareem, Beautiful Nubia and Chris Agilo on stage. Photo credit: Akeem Salau

The venue was the Eniobanke Art Centre in Ikeja, Lagos, and as expected fans who have longed to see him after over 30 years since he left the country, were not disappointed as  he performed some of his old hits to their delight.

Though, he is no longer playing the folk songs as he is now into gospel music, but his voice and the lyrics were enough to remind many of the great Ameboism fame.

But he was not alone at the show, as the likes of Chris Ajilo, Larry Williams, Obadika brass band and Segun Akinlolu, aka The Beautiful Nubia and his Roots Renaissance Band performed too, but in what looked like a collaboration between the ancient and the modern, Akeeb was able to release some of his famous songs in Yoruba and Twi languages.

It was a wonderful night as people especially lovers of good music stayed tuned in the night and enjoyed the melodies from the masters. The atmosphere was nice, while the moon provided the light, the cool breeze and with the special palm wine which kept many busy throughout the night.

Blackman Kareem one of the Afro pop singers that made considerable impact as a singer, had a brilliant musical career but his relocation to Europe sort of closed a chapter in the musical scope of Nigeria.

After the performance, Sunday Art had a chat with him and in the course of the discussion, Blackman who just clocked 69 revealed why he relocated to Europe at the height of his popularity, how things have  been since then and why he abandoned his root music for gospel music.

“Part of what made me leave the country is the same thing that is still happening to you and me. In this nation we don’t recognize people who are doing great work in their different departments.”

According to him, “t was a painful encounter I had with a certain Nigerian records company(names withheld)  that forced me to leave Nigeria.

When I started my music career in the 1960s,  I started recording with the defunct EMI, a company run by Europeans.

At that time, every time the company sold our records in any part of the world, we received cheques or statements confirming the sales and given details of where they were sold, as well as how many records were sold and every kobo earned. The same thing happened when I left EMI for Decca.

That was the story, until, a Nigerian businessman who owned a recording company approached me and asked why we were still recording our works with European companies instead of the ones belonging to fellow Nigerians.

So I joined and recorded one of my best album , titled Amebo, it did not only become an instant hit in Nigeria, it was also well received in other parts of Africa and that happens to be the biggest mistake of my musical career.

“The album was the first that I recorded with an indigenous records company in Nigeria. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a dime for my labour and creativity.

I didn’t get any message or letters from the company, even when my record  sold like hot cake in the market. It sold so well that, at a point, people started calling me ‘Amebo man’, instead of Blackman.

“When I went to the records company to find out why they had delayed in paying me my due royalty, I got the shock of my life. They told me that Amebo did not sell. After that experience, I learnt a lesson that if you want to progress, you have to look elsewhere, so when the opportunity came up I did not hesitate to leave the country.

“I was planning to leave the country to go to America, and then I got an invitation from France, Paris in 1984 they wanted my band to perform, when I got there, I only sang in the hotel where I was staying, I had not yet performed for what they called me for, they were screaming “what a wonderful voice” I got a recording company which recorded my song in ’84. It went straight to the top 10 in France 1984.

You know, music is an International language, whatever language you sing in, if the rhythm or melody is good, it will sell, so I just phoned my wife and told her to come and join me. I did not come back for 25years.

That marked the beginning of Blackman Kareem’s sojourn overseas. Looking at the past 31 years, the singer said he had no regrets for leaving Nigeria.

In Europe, he claimed, his music was well received – especially by predominantly white audiences – and he was opportune to work in an environment that was more enabling and conducive than what he left behind back home.”

Akeeb who only came home because his mother-in-law turned 80, also revealed how he became a Christian over there.

After being a devout Muslim for 51 years, a pastor friend of mine asked me to pray with him sometime in 1997. In the process, I had a vision without even closing my eyes.

I heard the voice of God telling me to leave what I was doing, stop singing in hotels or parties and to serve him and that he will give me three things. Peace of mind, Joy and happiness beyond human comprehension. “It was a physical experience.

I heard the voice as though I was listening to a visible human being. After that experience, I converted to Christianity and quit playing secular music. I became an evangelist. From that day, I have a full time ministry known as Abeeb Kareem Media Ministry and  I have been touring parts of the world, preaching the word of God.

On his performance with Beautiful Nubia in Canada.

I was invited to minister in Canada for two weeks, then by the grace of God, when I got there, I stayed for three months. In Nigeria, when you are talking about the musicians who are still seriously trying in African music, he is one, so I respect him.

When I got to Canada, I told him I was in Canada and during my ministration, we met and he told me about the show and we performed together in Canada last year. After that, he said we have to come home and sing together. I have not performed in Nigeria for 34 years, but Beautiful Nubia won’t leave me alone. (Vanguard)

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