This is Not a Review of The Cavemen.
Dayo walks up to me, makes sure the earphones are set snugly in my ears and then hits “play.” He walks away to the kitchen where he is preparing brunch like dealers who know very well the drugs they sell.
It’s a Saturday morning and we are back from the market, and I’m listening to Bolo Bolo by some new band called The Cavemen. I get high, hooked and addicted almost in the same breath.
Once, I wrote an article about how, in trying to make a playlist for the elections, I realised how boring sentiments about independence day had become; the same old music was recycled every four years to try to churn out an ounce of patriotism from massively disconnected young people who make up the majority of the population — they would most likely be caught listening to the latest Wizkid song, pulling off a “gbe body e” or looking for who to temporarily crown “the new Fela” than trying to muster feelings demanded by decade-old singers whom they don’t relate with.
I didn’t grow up listening to Fela; it took consistent listens and interactions to become accustomed to the acclaimed brilliance that lives on in his words and music.
With The Cavemen, however, even though I rarely listened to highlife music (I didn’t grow up with that either) I was immediately transported to a place unbound by space and time. I didn’t have to actively identify as a listener who buys highlife CDs stacked high on wooden piles and held together with rubber bands, I simply had to be part of a community that played the music from shoddy bukas and, loudly, under white canopies where you were sure to find the black mounted speaker responsible.
Listening to the band, I recalled a documentary I had watched of Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, and how highlife bands gathered a thriving community of young Nigerians in Southeastern Nigeria, in night clubs during the independence era, and added local ingenuity to their renditions.
But that wasn’t all that it was. As I found out later sitting on a mat in uptown Ikoyi, Lagos, The Cavemen had a way of fusing bits of jazz and the heavy strings and chords typically associated with rock music with highlife, resulting in a gyration where the cascading sounds of instruments glide over chests and hips dancing to the rhythm of music designed to flow through every fibre of being.
“Ama m ebe m ga ebido ebido”
I had been crawling through Instagram, waiting for a live show announcement since that Saturday. I had listened to Bolo Bolo for the umpteenth time. I started a tweet about how you could feel red sands beneath your feet and the scent of palm wine trailing laughter from hoarse voices in the backyard. I shared music on my Whatsapp stories looking for some other people to initiate and gush about it.
What I didn’t mention were the numerous nights I spent listening to Daughtry and Evanescence, and how Creed made a young student leave his visit to belt out track after track in a stranger’s room. How I had found Asking Alexandria after clinging onto the old but familiar for as long as I could and how all of these experiences were called back to witness this moment.
The things I didn’t mention stood out and whispered, this is for you. It was not something written years ago enjoyed by my mothers and grandmothers. It was not some genius that was dead, celebrated for his daring and heroic achievements after a lifetime of living and feeding.
As I and my new recruit whom I had pulled along walked to the venue, Kingsley “Knote” Okorie and Benjamin James, the patterned-shirt wearing brothers who make up half the band looked almost unrecognisable without the afro and dreadlocks I had come to know them with.
The space was intimate as promised, with the coloured raffia mats that we sat on reminiscent of the call and response stories of old. Four young men took the stage, thanked everyone for coming and handed the mic over to the opening act of the night.
Dance the Dance was the perfect start to the evening. Oge reminded us to have a good time, and it was so much pleasure watching Bolo Bolo being performed live. And I fell in love with Fall, the most romantic of the lot.
After a few covers of Trobul and Celebration, and a replay of Bolo Bolo and Fall, Obiageri, dedicated to “people who take and take but never give” was played next. As an avid listener of rock music, let me just say, this was an absolute highlight for me. As the chorus settled into chants of “Obiageri Bam Bam”, heads banged and rolled with every pick up from every lull.
Phil, who Kingsley noted they called “Obere”, was codedly brilliant on the keyboard while Segun was masterful on the guitar. Benjamin was a case. On the drums. Throughout the whole show. His energy and personality reminded me of what Kingsley said when the band did a proper introduction of themselves and their set: The Cavemen is for those who are not afraid to be themselves.
It was an emotional moment for both band and audience when Osondu finally came on after many requests. The band had come a long way, from figuring out life in law school in Kano to being featured by Lady Donli and Bez, on the TEDxLagos stage, and creating the best damn contemporary highlife music anyone has ever heard.
Luckily, we won’t have to wait too long for the release of another single. The Cavemen have another set in Lagos in November, but I can’t wait till their album comes out in March.
None of us at the show could wait either: the set ended and we stood, refusing to believe we were just supposed to go home. Best believe Bolo Bolo was played a third time.