Meet Benson Idonije, Fela Kuti’s Manager And Burna Boy’s Grandfather

Benson Idonije teaching his grandson, Burna Boy, Fela's Black power sign
Benson Idonije teaching his grandson, Burna Boy, Fela’s Black power sign

Benson Idonije, popularly regarded as Nigeria’s most revered music critic, is a renowned Nigerian broadcaster, writer and critic. He was born on the 13th of June, 1936 in Otua, a town in Owan East local government area of Edo State, Nigeria.

The ace broadcaster and music critic is known as the first band manager of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and a pioneering team member of Radio Nigeria 2 (now Metro FM) which was founded in 1977. He is also a grandfather and director to the Nigerian reggae-dancehall artist, Damini Ogulu popularly known as Burna Boy. One might want to link this to the presence of Fela’s musical styles in Burna Boy’s songs. One might!

Idonije manned several jazz-related columns for many newspapers in 1953 till he started his career as an Engineering Assistant at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) in 1957. Later in 1960, Benson Idonije elevated into mainstream broadcasting, presenting and anchoring popular on-air programmes such as The Big Beat and Stereo Jazz Club.

In 1963, Benson Idonije met the legendary Afrobeats pioneer, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and this became one of the most cherished moments in his career and life. In an interview with Yinka Olatubosun of This Day Live, Benson spoke on how he met Fela Kuti and the time they spent together.

“I was presenting a jazz programme called ‘NBC Jazz Club’,” he disclosed. “Fela had listened to my programme on radio for a month. Then, one Thursday night, he drove down to the broadcasting house in Ikoyi to see who was behind the show. He came to the studio and introduced himself. That was how we became friends. He admired my knowledge of jazz and I admired his musicianship. He was a fine trumpeter. From that night, we bonded.

“We nurtured the idea of a quintet. I helped to assemble his new band until 1965 when his mother advised us to go back to highlife. In London, Fela was playing highlife before he began playing jazz. We went back to highlife. It is a very long story and we called the band ‘Koola Lobitos’. I was more familiar with the Nigerian music scene then so I helped him to manage the band.

“I managed the band till 1969 when he travelled on international tours. I still managed his band till the early 70s. My management work with him was on the basis of friendship and not exactly a business deal. I had to advise him, show him the rope and generally guide him because he was easily provoked. I worked with him from 1963 till 1974. But I didn’t quit. He just didn’t need a manager of my type anymore. He needed managers abroad that would link him into big shows. We were still friends till he died.”

Benson Idonije, Fela's manager and Burna Boy's grandfather
Benson Idonije, Fela’s manager and Burna Boy’s grandfather

Benson Idonije attended Holy Trinity Grammar School, Sabongida Ora for his secondary school education and then Yaba College of Technology where he studied communications engineering. In 2012, he was awarded the Life Time Award for Journalism Excellence by the Wole Soyinka Centre For Investigative Journalism.

Thanks for reading, highlifextra.com

References:
  1. Olatubosun, Yinka. Benson Idonije: A Music Critic Par Excellence. This Day Live.
  2. Omipidan, Teslim. Felabration – Remembering Fela Kuti; All You Should Know. highlifextra.
  3. Iremeka, Chijioke. “I’m Burna Boy’s Director of Music – Benson Idonije”. New Telegraph.

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