Thursday, August 23, 2012

How I cheated death

‘How I cheated death’ Renowned Afro-jazz musician and founder, Peter King College of Music, Lagos, Mr Peter King, 74, is bed-ridden, following a stroke. After seven months at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, he is back at his Ilogbo, off Badagry Expressway, Lagos home battling the sickness that has paralysed his left hand and leg. He speaks with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME on his narrow escape from death, his dream for his 30-year-old school, his relationship with his former students, such as Lagbaja and ASA, among others. But for his steady voice and perhaps the unkempt grey bears, Peter King’s identity has been ‘altered’. He appeared weak and tired, and a shadow of himself. However, he still has his memory intact. He took time to answer questions. At intervals, he battled to sit upright or massage his left fingers, demonstrating a strong will to live and to overcome his health challenge. The Trinity College, United Kingdom-trained musician described the seven months he spent at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba as a narrow escape from death. According to him, to have left the hospital alive was a miracle because its state of facilities “is a national embarrassment”. “Most teaching hospitals are highly rated all over the world. To find facilities, such as water and light at LUTH in that state, beats my imagination. I was even lucky to come out of the hospital alive because many people died while I was on admission there. Some of the medical workers did not even bother about me. It was all about what they can get. Everybody, from the nurses to the doctors, was very cunning,” he said. King blamed his illness on prolonged hours of work without break. He said he worked very hard at his school to ensure standard and quality. “At times, I teach in class and even overdo it to the extent that my wife would be complaining. Sometimes, she has to practically drag me out of class. I believe I overstressed myself because I was in a hurry to bring the school up to standard,” he said. King, who returned home shortly after performing along with his band, The African Messenger of Sango as a member of the British contingent at the Second World Black and African Festival of Art and Culture (FESTAC 77) said he never experienced any symptom of hypertension. He said he couldn’t remember if he ever took ill and, as such, felt his health was okay. For now, his school is being managed by his Jamaican wife. because of his inability to move around and use his hands effectively. Asked if he would consider allowing the school to go public, he said: “Yes, that’s what I will do in the future. Till date, I have worked so hard to sustain the school and it has been a one-man-show. At inception, I designed the structure myself to my taste. I then gave it to the construction company to execute. At the moment, we have started building a studio for recording. It is a storey building.” He added: “Unlike other subjects, the teaching of music demands a lot of sacrifice. I teach most of the students because I play almost all the instruments ranging from drums to string and wind. That is what helped me to sustain the school; if not, Nigerians can disappoint you. So, I was able to run it alone for almost three years before I started bringing in the old students to teach new intakes.” On the relationship between him and his former students, King said some of them like Bayo and Jerry still get in touch with him. He said though many are outside the country, they still write him about their career growth. “ASA always comes to see me, but she travels a lot and now she has settled a bit. When she doesn’t come herself, she sends somebody,” he said. For Lagbaja, he said the masked musician used to come, but he hasn’t seen him lately. There are many foreign cultural agencies in Lagos that will be interested in the school. Have you received any assistance from such agencies? he was asked. He said some foreign agencies that assisted the Peter King College of Music were the French Embassy and Canadian Embassy in Lagos. The embassies, he said, contributed immensely to the growth of the school, adding that they financed the construction of most of the halls. He recalled that the first five years of the school were hectic for him because he worked so hard so that it woould not fail. “When I came here, I bought four acres. One plot of land then costs about N500, and if you multiply it by six, that gives you N3,000 or N4,000 per acre at most. So, we started building the side we are sitting now first. I built a small house for the school, which served as a quarter where the school started. “Within the first four years, it was the Canadians who first came to my aid. They sent us instruments. A Canadian musician, Mr Oliver Jones, came to Nigeria. He used to come here from the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. He was in the country courtesy of the Canadian government. Then, we were already developing the school, but he saw the potential and the direction we were going. So, they did a lot,” he said. While King was studying in England, he had a band and was still practising.When he returned home, he thought about how to set up a music school. Before then, he was encouraged by a friend, Mr Abayomi Barbers, to join the University of Lagos. “But when I got there, they started the same old story that I should only teach maybe voice, singing, and all that trash. I did not want to do that. That was in 1987 or 1988. Fortunately, I brought my band, The African Messenger of Sango to Nigeria. I was at the FESTAC 77as a member of the British contingent. And that really encouraged me,” he said. Undaunted by his experience at the university, he opted to establish a music college. Location was a concern, as he was fed up with his Maza-Maza, adjacent FESTAC Town apartment, which he described as a ‘noisy zone’. He sought a virgin land in Ilogbo. “I was really fed up with Lagos because after all the hard work during the week days, you still cannot have some quiet moments because of weekend celebrations on the streets. I mean the Owambe party that disturbs creativity. It was a big challenge for me teaching and rehearsing with my band under such conditions. In fact, I was doing so much at a time because I resolved never to return to the United Kingdom (UK) because I brought my wife and child. Asked what kept him back in after FESTAC 77, he said he saw so many possibilities in the country, adding that Nigeria did wonders during the festival. “I have attended festivals across the world from Japan, to Switzerland, Italy for jazz concerts but FESTAC 77 was properly organised. I was surprised. In fact, they blew my mind. Imagine building a town for the festival and the town was booming with surplus good food and everything working fine. So, after the festival, I saw that with lots of dedication, you can do a lot rather than going to England or America,” King, who has 12 albums to his credit, said. His Jamaican wife is managing the college with the assistance of some old students. “I gave her all the rights to run the school and if she needs advice, she comes to me,” he said. He is not disturbed by the non-accreditation status of the college’s programmes, saying his primary aim is to make a student a musician as quickly as possible by training his ears for good music. He cautioned: ”If you want to be a musician, money is not the most important thing; it is what you want to do with the money that counts.” He said he is not fulfilled yet because the stroke denied him the opportunity of participating in the London Olympic Games. He said: “If not for this sickness, I would have been at the London Olympic Games. I was invited because they thought I should be there. But even in my sickness, they still wish to release most of my records at the Olympics. In fact, the organising committee is releasing my old records at the Olympics.” He said he has lots of compositions that have not been recorded, promising to work on them as soon as he recovers. One of the works is entitled: The Palm Wine Vendor, which he would have released if not for the illness.

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