The Nigerian Guardian Editorial (Sunday Feb 8 2009)
Benjamin Aderounmu, better known as ‘Kokoro’, the unmistakable and widely- known tambourine-playing minstrel, died in a Lagos hospital on Sunday, January 25, a month to his 84th birthday.
Kokoro’s life is clear proof that disability is not synonymous with inability. Born into a polygamous royal family in Owo, Ondo state on February 25, 1925, he became blind at age 10 and while this halted his formal education, he refused to be beaten by life’s adversity and he developed his unique art of singing to the accompaniment of tambourine to support himself. A jealous step mother was said to have been responsible for his condition. He relocated to Lagos in 1947 and soon became active in church activities in addition to his exposure to such major musicians of the period as Ayinde Bakare, Bobby Benson, and Victor Olaiya.
Over the years, Pa Benjamin Aderounmu transformed his peculiar type of music into a one-man entertainment band that was widely received for the depth and wisdom in his lyrics and he was, in the 1960s and 70s, a regular feature on Federal and Western region radio stations. In later years, he featured as a performer at Tunde Kuboye’s Jazz 38 in Ikoyi.
Tributes to Kokoro have come from the high and the low as if he did more than play the tambourine to remarkable effect. He has been variously eulogized as ‘a national cultural treasure of inestimable value’ by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, an ‘uncommon talent’, by artiste and teacher Tunji Sotimirin, ‘and an encyclopedia of Nigerian music who knows music from the four corners of the country, according to UK-based producer and musician Lekan Babalola.
While he was never rich in monetary and material terms, he was nevertheless celebrated in life by an appreciative audience, including socialites at whose parties he was always welcome as an aside act. And in death he left a good and widely known name.
He influenced younger artistes too, as testified to by former member of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s Band, Duro Ikujenyo. Said he: ‘he was blind but he taught me how to arrange songs… he also taught me a new spiritual approach to writing song’. Sotimirin says that the blind minstrel ‘inspired many of us’ and female Jazz musician Ayinke Martins adds that ‘his songs and plays touched my soul greatly and inspired me’. It all goes to show that that the man can go far who discovers his talent and works hard at it. Kokoro was physically challenged but he was a man of great measure.
Kokoro performed for close to 60 years but never released an album in his lifetime. An early attempt reportedly failed due to the foot-dragging of the record companies. We commend the efforts of the Lagos state government to put Kokoro’s works in permanent audiovisual format for posterity. This collection is expected to be launched at Kokoro’s posthumous birthday next February. Besides, in life and in death, the Lagos government has also been generally supportive of the late minstrel and his family including giving him a two- bedroom house as well as paying part of his hospital bills. These are indeed how a responsive – and responsible – government should act toward its citizens and we especially commend Governor Fashola’s sense of duty in this respect.
It is said that adversity will either make a man, or break him, depending on how he responds to it. Pa Benjamin Aderounmu triumphed over life’s challenges, as evidenced by the celebration of his life, even in death, by many from various walks of life. The lesson he teaches us is that men and women can who are determined and are willing to apply themselves are bound to overcome adversity and life’s many challenges.
Benjamin ‘Kokoro’ Aderounmu (1925 – 2009).