Sunday, October 19, 2008

Before They Were Pop Stars: Felix Lebarty

In 1982, mere months after the release of Felix Lebarty's blockbuster debut, Lover Boy, a second Lebarty album hit the market. But rather than following the tried-and-true industry tack of designing the sophomore album to capitalize on the success of its predecessor by churning out a batch of similarly-styled hopeful hits, it offered a dramatic reversal in sonic direction.

And it confused the hell out of everybody.

The baffling thing about Girls For Sale was the fact it just plain didn't sound like the Lover Boy that the audience had quickly grown to know and love: Not only was Jake Sollo's slick discolypso pop nowhere in evidence--in its place a gritty, lo-fi rock sound--even the braying vocals sounded little like Lebarty's cooed come-ons. All in all, it bore more resemblance to an album by Ofege or The Apostles of Aba than to Lover Boy.

The reason for this incongruity was the fact that Girls For Sale was made up of tracks Lebarty had recorded earlier in his career, before he was discovered and groomed for pop stardom by Kris Okotie. The exact date of the recordings is not clear to me (though from their sound, I would guess sometime in the late 70s) and neither are the circumstances by which they came to light, but in a 1989 interview with Prime People magazine, Lebarty blamed it on singer, producer and then-chairman of the Professional Musicians Association of Nigeria, Tony Okoroji:
"That guy really wanted to mess me up, and I can never forgive him. We talk and all that but each time I see him he's like someone who doesn't like musicians.

"The day I learnt that Tony Okoroji was behind the re-issue of my first record--Don't Take My Girl--while my "Lover Boy" album was still on the charts was the saddest day of my life. It was like you've struggled for a long time and someone tried to turn the heat off your album.

"I regret knowing someone like him. People reacted to it as my follow-up album to Lover Boy. Can you see the damage?"

(Personally, I had assumed that Girls For Sale was a collection of demos--"Don't Take My Girls" is the title of one of the songs, by the way--but Lebarty here describes it as a reissue of an earlier album. I don't know anything about that, but of course, like I said before, music from the Edo-Delta region is often obscure to the rest of the country. Does anybody from that area know if Lebarty released an album locally before Lover Boy?)

In any case, the album provides an interesting glimpse into Lebarty's formative years. Note that "Mr. Big Brother" was refurbished on Lover Boy as "My Number One" and its lyrics seem directed toward Felix's older brother, highlife bandleader Aigbe Lebarty.

"Girls For Sale"
"Mr. Big Brother"


Somewhat related... but not really:

When I made my last Felix Lebarty post, an Anonymous commenter chided me for repeating the rumor that Felix was a cab driver in the US:
hello everyone,its a pity that mostpeople dont really know about felix personal life,he never stayed in the states to drive cabs,because he never stayed there for too long,he was always there for recording his songs,and that was all and about nameing his song after dateing someone is a big lie,coz all the names he used in all songs where all fake, no names in all his ever exited in true life.this things said about him are rumors,dont beleive evry thing you read.........

So it is with some degree of satisfaction that I point out this recent interview I came across yesterday. In it, Lebarty confirms the taxicab thing:
We learnt that things became very tough for you before you left the US.

(Laughs) Let me tell you, I think it is a very big secret. Any man that understands what living a good life is, you cannot find him going broke for too long, because he will always find a means of making ends meet. He will always look at what is happening and fits himself into it. The only people that go broke are those who are not willing to condescend to the level they should; people who are proud. Even in my negativity, I would come to you and ask you how you are making it.

Was that what you did when you went to the US?

On my first visit to the United States, I was received like a star by my community. But when things became tough I asked them, 'Oh boy, how una dey make money here?' They told me it is either you sell drugs or get involved in 419, or drive a taxi.

So, you decided to become a cab driver.

Yes. I put all these things together and I said that people who were driving taxis were not doing an illegitimate job. They could make $80 per day at that time. If you drove from morning till 11 p.m. or midnight, you could make $300. I bought a cab and they started saying 'oh, a star is driving taxi. These people are going to finish you.' But I told them to tell everybody who cared to listen that I was a taxi driver here. I was even the person that broke the news. I bought three more cabs and employed drivers. So, when they drove, I would take $50 from them. So, I earned like $180 a day. As the money was coming in, I was investing it. I came to discover that I was better than those that were selling drugs.

And now that I think about it, he also alluded to all this on his little-remembered (and for good reason!) 1992 LP, 419:

Felix Lebarty - "Missing You"
Felix Lebarty - "419"

> chuckle <

Anyway, it's a good thing Felix didn't get mixed up in that business because singer Chris Mba got busted last just week. Poor guy!


Anonymous said...

...Good read i must say and very informative too because i always did wonder whether Felix drove cabs while in the states...Good to know that he wasnt ashamed to let people know after all,man must survive and most important of all,there is dignity in labour...-sigh-if only Chris Mba had taken a leaf from Lebarty's book...

Leo adiele said...

Isn't it saddening that after all the triumphs and tribulations, all this Nigerian could cap his life with is being born again? The African’s addiction and abdication of creativity to religion is so pathological that its diabolical effects continue to keep that continent in the dark ages.

Thanks for this excellent update on Felix Lebarty. The interview, indeed, vindicated your prior piece, which an ignoramus tried to sully.

Tony Okoroji said...

My name is Tony Okoroji. I ran into this article by accident. I have always considered Felix Lebarty as a fantastic musician and I still do. In the past as a producer, I have engaged Felix to do recording sessions because of what I consider as his guitar wizardry. It appears that someone informed Felix that I was behind the re-issue of a past recording of his and he believed it without asking me. Why? I don't know. Obviously as a result, he has borne a big grudge against me for a long time without my knowing. The fact is that I have never issued a Felix Lebarty recording, neither have I at any time asked any one to do so. Those who know me know that I have no time for nonsense. I still wish Felix Lebarty well. I can be reached at

Comb & Razor said...

Mr. Okoroji -

it's definitely a great honor to have you visit this blog!

i shall email you shortly.


omozore lebarty said...

hi, my name is omozore lebarty as you can see i am one of the younger daugters, and the futurez best !!american actress!! of felix lebarty. 18 years old. i am actually in the united states, and i happened to google my dad, i found this website which tells me alot of stories.i mean, my dad started way b 4 i was born and it is great to see that lots of people still remember his great work. the name lebarty isn't over yet, because his kids are commin...eigther in nigeria, america, or in europe. we are the future stars, and the name will now continue to reign around the world. email me @

Anonymous said...

Hi, I met Felix at The Palms shopping mall handing out CDs of his latest gospel album, I took one and he mentionned a church somewhere in Ajah, Lekki Peninsula, so I presume that is what he is doing now.

U what do you think of Juliana, tony's LP.