Music, the art of making pleasant sounds in rhythm and harmony, they say, brings pleasure, relief and comfort to those sick at heart.
This notion is also corroborated in Ist Samuel Chapter 16, verse 23 of the Holy Bible; which states thus: “And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Samuel, David took the Iyre and played with his hands, so Saul was refreshed and was well and the evil spirit departed him.”
Rex Jim Lawson as a musician did not only fulfill these requirements of bringing happiness to millions of Nigerians but went further to utilize all the resources at his disposal to propagate the highlife brand of music beyond the bounds of his country and changed the course of highlife music by injecting new spirit into it.
The late highlife king also sang relentlessly with the name of the Kalabari goddess ‘Akaso’ and popularised the Kalabari dialects, thus carved a niche for the Rivers man in the multi-lingual entity called Nigeria.
He used his songs as a forum for preaching the gospel, unity and cultural understanding as he sang with languages and dialects of the Nembe, Izon, Igbo, Urhobo, Ibibio, Efik and those of Cameroon and Ghana.
No doubt then, talking about Cardinal Rex Lawson in his commentary of the 22nd November, 1997, Mr Opubo Daminabo wrote, “so far, with respect to projecting Ijaw and Rivers peoples culture through music, Rex Lawson is evidently the greatest we have produced”.
Born in Buguma in 1938 to the late Madam Awu Jim Lawson and late Chief Olu Kio Jim Lawson, Rex Lawson grew up under the tutelage of his in-law, Rev. D.S.H. Bob-Manuel (late). Added to his experience from renowned musicians like Bobby Benson and Eddy Okonta, Rex Lawson came up with his ever-popular song – ‘Tamuno Iboroma’, a chart-busting album that brought him to limelight and ultimate stardom.
The year 1965 saw this effervescent Rivers son composing more than one hundred songs leading to his being crowned as Nigeria’s king of highlife music. Between July and September 1970, the doyen of highlife music carried his music outside the shores of Africa to the United Kingdom where he made the album: ‘Rex Lawson in London’ in which he sang philosophical songs that left his fans and admirers with wild enthusiasm.
Some months after his return home, his life was cut short in a ghastly motor accident on his way to Warri on the 16th of January, 1971.
As we celebrate the 47th anniversary of his death, Rex Lawson deserves a befitting tribute, notwithstanding the fact that the highlife music scene today is being stampeded to death by the infiltration of foreign music and local upstarts.
The Guardian of September 2, 1984, described Rex Lawson, as one of the greatest, most famous band leaders Nigeria has ever produced! This fact could be found in the lyrics of most popular Nigerian musicians as they relentlessly borrow from the works of the late highlife maestro.
Rex Lawson’s songs like “So ala temem” and “Sawale” have been copied and recopied by other musicians.
In recognition of his achievements, the Rex Lawson’s Street at Borokiri, Port Harcourt was named after him by the Rivers State Government in conjunction with the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN). This was followed much later by a posthumous award from members of the Ijaw National Youth Congress.
However, it is necessary to ask that, while the Rivers State Government has continuously celebrated this highlife legend through its Ministry of Culture, what has the Kalabaris – especially Buguma – his primary constituency, done to perpetuate the name of this highlife legend?
I suggest, therefore, that there is need for the three local government areas of the Kalabaris in conjunction with the Rex Lawson Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution to decorate the squalid tomb of the highlife king for sight-seeing and as inspirational ground for upcoming musicians. A cultural edifice should also be named in his honour.
By this, the Rivers man and indeed, the Kalabaris, would have paid a befitting tribute to the mayor of highlife.
Bob-Manuel is a Port Harcourt -based journalist and author of Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson – The Legend.