Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

25 Sep Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Celebrity Sightings in Abuja

It is in Abuja I physically accessed the forgotten glories of early Nigerian hip-hop.

I had walked past a skinny man within a building along Julius Nyerere Crescent in Asokoro when I realised I knew the face. I couldn’t place it, but I was sure I knew the man. Everyone has had chancy encounters as this one. You know the face, but you let it be. Your life continues in spite of the detour not taken, the girl not winked at, the panhandler not tolerated. This wasn’t one of such days.

I suppose there was a temptation to keep walking— a temptation curiosity easily overrode.

I wheeled back and got the rest of this familiar face into a conversation. It went a little like this:

“I know this face.”

He smiled and didn’t speak.

“Primary school in Lagos?”

‘No, Calabar.” (I don’t quite remember, he may have said Uyo, or Kafanchan or Orlu.)

“University, in Benin?”

“No. Calabar.” (Or Uyo or Kafanchan or Orlu.)

And so it went. While I named places I had been, he responded with a ‘no,’ giving his corresponding school or residence. Still, I was sure I knew the face, the person. Although I was encouraged by his easy manner, one can go only so far into forcing a stranger, not merely into a new friendship but, here, into acquiescence of an ancient acquaintance. Close to giving up, I asked what courtesy might have obligated I had asked initially— that is, if the thrill of instant recognition hadn’t displaced common sense. I asked his name.

He smiled and said, ‘Mfon Essien.’

And it fell into place. He had said his real name, either out of modesty, or maybe because that was what he is called outside of the spotlight. The reason was immaterial as years of reading Hip Hop World as a teenager had furnished me with several pseudonyms and birth names. I memorised, with an acumen better students reserved for the periodic table, the real names of popular artistes.

‘Freestyle,’ I blurted.

He laughed, said he had figured what was happening but just played along. And we laughed like old friends. But we weren’t. He was a star, I was a fan; he was no longer that much a star, I was still a fan.

Along with wondering why I didn’t spontaneously rap a few verses at him, I am curious as to why I took him for a friend or a classmate. Perhaps he said things I could relate with and so it seemed he spoke to me directly. I am reminded of fans that besieged the novelist JD Salinger seeking answers to questions of their lives, because they felt a connection to the man after reading 'The Catcher in the Rye.' They laid a claim to the man just as I had inserted 'Freestyle,' physically, into my youth until it became clear that whatever connection I felt was really just the remote relationship a person has with television images.

Although it was a one-way exchange— he rapped and I listened— I had elevated it to dialogue. I couldn’t edify him as he did me, but it didn’t matter. I claimed him. We claim our heroes.

This was different from seeing D’Banj whom I met as D’Banj, not Dapo Oyebanjo— although I am not sure there is a wide distinction between the two. It was a weekend, in Maitama, a few friends and I had been watching football, shouting as high as a posh semi-outdoor pub would permit in Abuja. Someone saw him first, then the rest of us turned, saw him. And as we made to leave, he stood talking to a man in the parking lot.

There was a lot of hesitation and some I-don’t-care attitude as is common with most Nigerians, but the allure of fame won us over, including even one of us who didn’t care for D’Banj’s music. Someone finally stepped to him, asked for a photo and this gave us permission to congregate around. A funny picture: D’Banj as priest. He obliged.

And then one of the guys demanded a personal one, to which he again obliged. It may have continued, this claim to his time, but then he said firmly he had to leave and he did. What remains of the encounter, the photo, has a male friend with arms around the man and a girl smiling excitedly. They both look like personal friends of the man; like he was one of us, like we had all gone out together.

Later we saw him driving away in a red convertible, the top drawn back. For one brief moment, he had seemed like one of us, with better perfume. As he drove away and we got into a sedan, his stardom, his material success was reasserted. He wasn’t one of us.

But then, we got a photo.