Legend Series: Nigerian Music HIGHLIFE: CROSDALE JUBA

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Prince Crosdale Moboluwaji Juba was born in the early 40’s into a Royal Family of Oba Daniel Ikusika Juba and Queen Maria Juba in Ilutitun Osooro, Okitipupa, Ondo State.

He began his musical career as a Brigade at St. Louis Local Authority School and started out professionally as a trumpeter with the Agundiade Star Dandies, Ado Ekiti before he left for a bigger group Comina Mend and Dynamite Ten, which was a Ghanaian band which played at the Empire Hotel, in Mushin and then later at Club 21 in Apapa.

 He then played with Adeolu Akinsanya’s band and other great highlife musicians like Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago, Eddy Okonta and Rex Lawson.  He ended up doing a number of releases for EMI and Eroya records that documented the vitality of his Moribodo sound.

London-based former band member, vocalist and trombonist Abdul Raheem says he remembers how Juba “played all instruments, drums, bass guitar, guitar, and saxophones. But he was famous with the trumpet and his voice, he can blow the trumpet. This was the time when Zeal Onyia and Eddie Okonta were reigning, he use[d] to play their music and play the trumpet exactly how it was played by Zeal [Onyia] and Eddie [Okonta].”

Raheem was in Ghana playing with the Uhuru Dance Band in the mid-60s. When the band returned from a tour in Nigeria, they informed him that they had met a trumpeter called Crosdale and they thought he was a genius.

Music critic and Burna Boy’s grandfather, Benson Idonije, remembers fans flooding the dance floor when Crosdale Juba, trumpet in hand, took the microphone and performed music with “a voice like a nightingale”.

Unlike juju exponent Tunde Nightingale, whose voice was nasal and high-pitched, Juba’s voice was mellow and occasionally close to a rasp. Alongside other Ikale musicians like Theophilus Iwalokun, Comfort Omoge and Ilaje musician Remilekun Amos, Juba’s voice had a soothing and melodious quality that supports Idonije’s hypothesis that the most melodious singers in highlife were from the riverine areas.

Prince Crosdale Juba spent the greater part of his musical career playing with other bands. He spent only about three years of his life recording his own music.

As it is customary to christen one’s style of music as if it was a novel phenomenon, Juba called his band Moribodo System King, after his hometown. The band was later renamed ‘His Blue Echoes’, perhaps to underscore the bluesy style of his singing and as a tribute to his Yoruba forebear, IK Dairo, whose band was called Blue Spots.

He recorded several LPs with Eroya Sounds and his discography of about 22 songs, an assortment of tunes exploring several themes. Agbe ni mase celebrates farming as a vocation while Me Ra Sowo Yi Akeke Se – a tribute to Ghanaian highlife band ET Mensah’s Tempos’ sound – features a memorable vocal delivery in his native Ikale dialect, his preferred language for singing.

The consensus around his most memorable song is divided. His medley Anamokeren, a delightful mid-tempo tune reflecting on in-law politics and existential angst is a strong contender. Ditto for the soulful orchestra masterpiece Waiye Iya which also explores the essence of life with the optimism of prayers.

Perhaps Juba was prescient about the short span of his life: his music was a robust way of cataloguing his experiences and anxieties. One of his best known love songs was Olabisi Olomi, written for his eponymous partner at the time.

Crosdale Juba was not exempt from the fast life that lured many musicians down the rabbit hole of substance use. Abdul Raheem, who played with him in several bands in Lagos and Enugu, says he remembers that “he drinks and smokes cannabis a lot.”

The myth around Juba’s death on 9 December 1976 at 37 years is that he was poisoned.

More than two decades after his passing, Juba’s music continues to be a source of pride for the Ikale people and a regular fixture at their social events.

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