My first encounter with Sound Sultan occured in Ìsẹ́yìn. I was invited by my late friend to read a poem at an event organized by the students of Osun State Polytechnic, Iree. The venue of the event (a hall), situated at Asẹ́yìn palace, was filled to the brim. People listened as songs trooped out of a big stereo positioned somewhere in the hall. One of the songs had the singer repeating “Go Shorty, It is your Baiday.” It was a refrain, and a powerful one that cuddled my mouth each time it was repeated. When it was time to grace the stage, I read my poem. Afterwards, I watched how my friend and his team executed other tasks of the day. The day ended with laughter and the hope for another event.
It was in the year 2012.
My friend died in 2015. Sound Sultan, the man whose voice I heard through the stereo at the event, died yesterday.
In the process of grieving the departure of Sultan, I took a mental flight to Iseyin– the place of my birth and Sultan’s hometown. I returned, this time, with a curiosity propelled by my recollection of Sound Sultan’s voice blaring on the stereo that day in the hall, in Ìsẹ́yìn. I remembered how his voice gripped and dazzled me till I listened to his other songs. I later got to know the name of the song– “Natural Something”–from the album “The Rebirth”. I could imagine the bright face of my late friend among the faces of people that waited in the hall after the event. There, also, I met Famuad, a friend and a brother.
Years after my friend’s death, I have, keenly, reflected on the haunting images of life and how everything becomes blurry in the moment of departure. I have passed through stages of grief, and I have watched people mourn their dead ones. I have written essays about life and the fickleness of existence. It is unarguable that we are lone sojourners on a short trip. The world is a road and its end is death. When the day of death comes, nothing will accompany us to the grave. The houses that bear our names. Our wives and children. Our cars. Our multiple bank accounts. Our phones and the news that crowd them. Our Facebook friends. The ones whose posts we look forward to read. Nothing will enter the grave with us.
Today I returned to “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray. This gripping, elegiac piece resonates with the sad passing of every man. It is a poem written for the common men, for the ordinary ones who toiled and persevered and waited breathtakingly for death to come. It is a poem that enacts the performance of death through the heart wrenching images that built the walls of its verses.
Like Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and A.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young”, Thomas Gray’s tragically riveting poem is a potent reminder of death in its entirety. The ordinariness of life pictured through the swath of land occupied by beds of graves of our loved ones. Describing the eternal silence that reigns at the end of everyman’s life, Gray writes:
“The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
The swallow twitt’ring from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.”
Sultan’s songs remain timely, and its verses remain true to life. Since his departure, I have read glowing tributes written by his fans and those whose hearts are touched by his demise. He lived an inspiring life. He devoted his time to shaping humanity, to being with his family and friends, and to those whose paths crossed his path. In Sultan’s brief but unforgettable life, I learnt how to remain faithful to God and working to achieve the best out of one’s talent.
It is another day. I return to one of his songs about this homeland. Sultan was a great musician. He was a muscial legend, a gifted human who walked the earth and etched his name on this place of remembrance. He illuminated the world with his songs. He preached the gospel of change and proffered solutions to issues pertaining to this dying homeland. In one of his songs, he sings:
“I want to be like Moses.
Show my people them
to the promised land
But then I noticed
something. People wey try am
don dey underground.
I never met Sound Sultan. Physically. But his name spread like a gale across this earth. He came, he saw, and he conquered. Adieu, Sound. Sultan.
Guys, it is time to go buy candles. Light candles for Sultan. Light candles for your dead and my dead. Light candles for the weaver of fertile songs on this earth that will inherit our remains.