You are currently viewing How Bimbo Esho is sustaining Nigeria’s evergreen music
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vergreen Music Heritage Foundation -which has Dr. DK Olukoya as patron – is about to unleash Nigeria’s premier museum of contemporary music once completed. The museum which will hold archival materials including music records dating back to 1914, has been a dream for the late Femi Esho, a music collector and Chairman, Evergreen Musical Company Limited.  His daughter, Bimbo Esho who currently  serves as the Managing Director of the company opens up to  Yinka Olatunbosun on the prevailing

circumstances that necessitated  the establishment of this cultural institution.

First came a phone call. And then a conversation began with Bimbo Esho, a music archivist and promoter who sits atop a generational music empire Evergreen Musical Company Limited in Lagos. The company in itself is an offshoot of her late father, Femi Esho’s hobby of collecting music which began when he was only 12 years old. This pastime has since morphed into a music empire that is curating and promoting works of artists of past decades, many of whom would have gone into oblivion without their efforts.

Esho sounded excited. The dream of having a total music experience centre for Nigerian music is fast becoming a reality with the acquisition of a multi-split building in Anthony Village, Lagos. Christened ‘Evergreen Music Heritage Centre,’ the facility- still under construction- is domiciled in Anthony Village, Lagos. This dream edifice is conceived to be an unprecedented project in  Nigerian music culture. The day of its launch would be a perfect day for the sight.

“It is a part of the documentation of our history,” she began while describing the project. “If we don’t do it, the generation to come will not be able to tap into the music of yesteryears. Most of today’s musicians, even the Afrobeats musicians, are tapping into the music of the yesteryears.”

The building will parade original vinyls of music from 1914, musical relics, old musical instruments/equipment, busts of artists, books, documentaries,  cassettes, reel-to-reel, gramophones as old as 100 years, journals, and cassettes. Also, the edifice will have a music studio, a theatre, and an event hall for meetings and concerts.

A 25-year-old dream of music archiving is backed by Dr Olukoya, the General Overseer, MFM Worldwide who is also a music teacher and enthusiast. Esho maintained that the project was kept alive by the need to preserve the music legacies of artists, most of whom are aged or dead.

“I remember the complete works of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a lot of people never knew Fela had such a collection of about 186 songs. The same with Baba Obey; when we put together 660 songs that he had done. A lot of people will not believe that this sort of thing is in existence. The foundation is basically taking people back to time; letting them appreciate the efforts that these musicians have put into their works and have something to curate their works for posterity’s sake. That’s what we are trying to achieve with such an edifice,” she revealed.

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Expected to be completed before the end of 2024, the project requires funds to create that state-of-the-art facility that is sustainable.

“When the whole thing is finished, we will have a lot of professionals that will populate the building,” she continued. “We have IT people. There are people who have given us materials that they have kept for more than fifty years and they want to be sure that even when they are gone, nothing will happen to their materials. That’s where insurance comes in.  We are going to have digital and physical archiving.”

Before the project took off, Evergreen Music Heritage Foundation had organised events to celebrate artists and promote their works. But Esho argued that these artists deserve more than just occasional events.

“We want people to know about them and their music. Music is an intellectual property. Most of the record labels are dead. There is nothing anybody can do about it but the artist has left a legacy- a property. And that property is his music. And his family is deserving of that right. That’s why we advise artists to get an estate to protect the artist’s right,” Esho said.

When asked about Evergreen’s relationship with streaming platforms and how royalties of artists are protected, Esho revealed that before the digital service for music distribution started, Evergreen as a company had developed a system that makes it difficult for pirates to distribute their artists’ music.

“We started with proper packaging that is not cheap. We repackage music. Today, there are different ways of buying music. Some people still buy CDs. Some buy music through streaming platforms. We sell in mp3 formats as well; we have captured everything.

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“Some of the music streaming sites send funds to us quarterly for sold music. They show us the chart of what the music is doing. We need to be careful with the digital world because we found out that some artists put their works there and even pay for their songs to be downloaded for free. A lot of artists do that because they are naive. It’s especially the young ones who do it,” she said with a sigh.

Still, Esho is wary of some of the music streaming sites. For her, it is important for artists to understand the business side of their craft before giving out a licence to their music.

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“Even on the streaming sites, you cannot know what is being sold,” she argued. “It takes a tech-savvy person to understand the data analysis that they share with us. In terms of business, we always advise artists that beyond music, they should have an alternative source of livelihood. That’s what we used to tell indigenous artists. It is dangerous to lean on music for survival. What if the shows are not coming in? What if the music does not sell? But it has changed a little due to digital streaming. Most artists depend solely on the sales from these platforms right now. It is not through shows anymore. It is only the A-list artists who make money from concerts.

“But even when old artists die, their family members can collect their royalties. Evergreen songs can never fade. A new artist can remix it. We have experienced it with Seyi Shodimu and Shaffy’s ‘Love Me Jeje.’ Tems did a remake.

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How difficult could it be to acquire the catalogue of musicians whose record labels are no longer in existence? Esho didn’t see any obstacle to acquiring the rights to distribute such music as long as due process is followed.

“You can approach the artists or their family members.”

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There are cases where older artists, in spite of a very successful music career behind them, end up poor and unable to have a decent living in their later years. Esho revealed that the older generation was mostly not commercially driven.

“They didn’t have role models. Music was just a passion. They felt they were ripped off by the record labels and some of them are still owed some money. If you check their contract, you’d find out that indeed some of them had sold their birthright to the record companies. They are not able to make money. Those of them who were smart made good money.

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“Ebenezer was smart. He even bought a record label- Decca. Who does that? He bought it over and bought all the music on the label. So the question is ‘How do you sign a contract that gives away your rights?’ They can’t even use or perform their hit songs because they belong to their record label. Don’t just sign. Let a lawyer see the contract before you sign.”

Esho disclosed that the Evergreen Music Heritage Foundation would educate more young people about the business side of music to ensure that the sad history of exploitation does not repeat itself.

“One of the greatest things that we can do for humanity is to develop a young mind to become who he or she wants to be,” she continued. “That’s the greatest thing we can do for humanity. Some of them are not supposed to do music. They may not have the talent. If you don’t have a good voice, you can get trained. Shina Peters didn’t have a good voice but he got trained. When he was with Prince Adekunle, he was playing guitar. Segun Adewale was the one doing the vocals. But when he broke out, he made hits. Sometimes, your voice won’t work.

“Lifestyle also matters. The womanisers don’t save for the future. When the money comes, they don’t manage resources.”

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To make this music empire a reality, Esho believes that the government and more visionary people should be on board.

“We need people who have ears into what we are doing. Every artist has a state. So, whether they like it or not, all states have to be involved. The museum we have will have vinyls of the artists in alphabetical order; curating music from every part of the country. “Have you heard of Tera Kota, Nigeria’s first reggae artist? His name is Gboyega Femi. He came before the likes of Ras Kimono and Majek Fashek. He did about four albums but then he died.

“If there is no foundation to preserve such music culture in Nigeria, their music may be lost in the stream of time,” she remarked.

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