A little less than two months ago, after I blogged about the funk-rock band Aktion, Ambrose Ehirim informed me that one the band's key members, Essien Akpabio, was based back in the Cross RIver/Akwa Ibom axis--my own occasional stomping grounds--and I looked forward to interviewing him the next time I was in the area.
So I was quite saddened to hear that Essien Akpabio passed away shortly after I posted that entry. Of course, there is no way to compare my disappointment to the enormous sense of loss felt by his family, his friends, and those who worked with him. By all accounts, he was a really warm and generous guy who was much beloved by all who had the privilege of knowing him.
I was in contact with his daughter for a bit over the past month or so, and while she is a bit too young to remember the days of Action 13 and Aktion, it turns out that Dr. Akpabio remained active in the music scene even after the band broke up. For instance, I had no idea that he was the man behind Terra Kota, a pioneering reggae artist who made some waves when I was a kid and played a big role in charting the direction Nigerian popular music would take in the 1980s.
I found this obit in The Independent. It could have done with some editing and proofing, but it still provides a nice overview of Essien Akpabio's life and achievements.
Musicians Bid Farewell To Akpabio
By Charles Okogene, Group Life Editor
Wed, 12 Mar 2008
For the people and residents of Ukana Ikot Ntuen town in Akwa Ibom State, commercial and social activities will stand still on Thursday and Friday, March 13 and 14, as musicians bid the remains of Essien Akpabio farewell with concert.
Akpabio, one of Nigeria’s foremost entertainment promoters and musicians, transited to higher glory last month in Ikot Ekpene after a protracted illness. He was aged 59.
A member of the defunct, The Aktion Funk Ensemble, Essien will be fondly remembered for his contribution to the growth and popularisation of popular (pop) music in Nigeria, a feat that spanned a period of three decades. He played a key role in the formation of Aktion, which at the height of its popularity had a huge fan base. He was at a time the group’s lead singer and later leader.
Aside his contribution to the development of pop culture in Nigeria, which took roots in Eastern Nigeria after the 30 months civil war, history has it that Essien, who was educated at Zixton Public School, Ozubulu, and Dennis Memorial, Onitsha in Anambra State, played a huge role in the development and nurturing of young talents in the entertainment industry when he bowed out of active musicianship in the early 1980s.
Among the young talents of the late 1970s and early 1980s that drank from Essien’s fountain of knowledge were Wictor Essiet (The Mandators), Ras Kimono, Ortis Williki, Tar Ukoh, Adu Deme, Rev. Kris Okotie (now of the Household of God Church), Jide Obi, Felix Leberty, Mercy Adichi, Alex O, Feladey, and Chris Mba. He also promoted Terra Kota’s Sodom and Gomorrah, which was the first indigenous reggae hit after Sonny Okosuns Papa’s Land and Fire In Soweto.
As a young man growing up in the Eastern part of the country, Essien was an ardent viewer of TV Review, an entertainment programme on the then Eastern Nigeria Television (ETV), Enugu, which had Mrs. Mary Umolu as presenter.
“Aside making it a point of duty to attend the programme, he was also a regular face, the same way he attended Ukonu Club. In Onitsha, which was the hub of entertainment after the war, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of the late Eddy Okwedi, Celestine Ukwu, and Osadebe. According to his younger brother, Isong Essien, “Sonny Okosuns’ Postmen, which was the first pop group in Nigeria, further fueled his interest in pop music.”
Essien, who started his music career as a road manger (roadie) shocked the entertainment industry in 1980 when he promoted Terra Kota of Sodom and Gomorrah fame (which was the first major indigenous reggae hit in Nigeria) and recorded a capacity crowd at the National Theatre. He followed up by promoting the Eastern leg of the famed Fela/Roy Ayers concert, and promoted Third World concert in Aba at the end of which the reggae group released an album entitled Lagos Jump in which they narrated how they met a friend called Ikechukwu in Aba.
According to Isong, the late Akpabio’s love for music was so strong that, when he venture into full time music, his father who was at a time in the 1960s the acting Premier of Eastern Region and minister of education, and later internal affairs minister in the same region and who was credited with partial free education in the region, did not raise any objection.
“ I don’t think he would have done anything else,” Isong, who was in Lagos in connection with the burial, told a select group of journalists.
At the dawn of the current democracy coupled with his immense experience, the government of Akwa Ibom State under the able leadership of Obong Victor Attah invited Akpabio home to midwife the state’s musical band, which was later known as The Millennium Band and in which he later served as director.
As part of activities lined up for the interment, a concert vigil tagged “Legend Concert: Essien Akpabio Lives On”, which will feature 25 musicians, will take place tomorrow.
Among the musicians expected are Feladey, Victor Essiet, Charly Boy, George Ema, Chris Mba, regrouped One World, regrouped Aktion, Saforo, Chief Zebrudaya, Etiene T. Boy, Effi Duke, Emmanuel Ntia, Sonak, Emma Ogosi, and Tony Grey.
Akpabio until his death was the head of the late Dr. Ibanga Udo Akpabio House of the great Akpabio family of Ukana Ikot Ntuen in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. He will be buried in his family house. He left behind a beautiful wife, Funmi, and a daughter who is a pharmacy student in a U.S. university.