By John Ikani
Music lovers, over the weekend, gathered at Port Harcourt, the Capital City of Rivers State in Nigeria to celebrate highlife music legend, Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson.
It has been 51 years since the remarkable trumpeter and vocalist left the company of the living. Despite being away for decades, his brand of highlife music which dominated the Nigerian music scene in the ’60s continues to elicit interest.
This is why some prominent Nigerians came together in partnership with the Seki Group to celebrate the highlife legend many decades after his demise.
“It is nostalgic for me and many who had the opportunity of seeing Lawson perform after the Nigerian Civil War,“ said Nigeria’s former Minister of Transportation, Dr. Abiye Sekibo while enjoying the live performances of Lawson’s hit songs by the Seki Group.
“He was like a god to us. Our Governor Nyesom Wike has helped create the enabling environment for this to happen,” he added.
Born on the 4th day of March 1938, Lawson, a native of Buguma in Rivers State grew up to become a popular singer, trumpeter and bandleader.
His band ‘The Mayor’ was an instant success and in high demand at the time. They received invitations to perform across the country, even extending to neighbouring Cameroun and Fort Lamy in Chad.
He was initially nicknamed Pastor Jim Rex Lawson, then Bishop, before finally taking on the title ‘Cardinal’ conferred on him by fans because of the way he performed religiously.
Speak of his panache, Lawson was an emotional and philosophical singer who displayed mastery in conveying deep meanings through the trumpet, the alto saxophone and his haunting voice, all of which made him an icon that many are proud to identify with.
“Lawson was my big uncle. I’m happy that we are celebrating him and hope we can celebrate him over and over again,“ said Politician/Businessman, Dumo Lulu-Briggs.
“Watching this live performance by Seki Group takes one many decades back to the time to Lawson tread the surface of the earth with electrifying hit songs and performances,” he added.
Did you know that at the time Lawson held sway, many were in awe at his ability to compose and sing in different dialects such as Efik, Kalabari, Izon, Igbo, some Ghanaian languages and Pidgin English, giving fans a sense of heritage and cultural identity?
“I’m so excited that we are part of the story, we are part of the energy that has brought this event together and we will continue to support it, and support all of the activities that relate to the preservation of our culture and heritage,” remarked businessman and former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Timi Alaibe.
It is worthwhile to note that Between 1960 and the troubled months leading to the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, Lawson’s records were released in quick succession and were played back to back on radio, the same way works of popular modern African musicians enjoy massive listenership.
Some of his exceptional hits that dominated the airwaves were Angelina pay my money, Baby Play Me Wayo, So Ala Teme, Bere Bote, Ibinabo and Jolly Papa.
Lawson died on the 16th of January, 1971 in a car accident at the Urhamigbe corner on the Asaba–Benin Road while on his way to Warri, Nigeria, for a performance.
Fast forward to 2022, the Seki group celebrates the memories of the Highlife maestro in the hearts of all who appreciate his genre of music while calling on Africans to appreciate their roots.
“We are losing our roots and truly need to encourage ourselves to get back to our roots,“ observed Austin Okpara.
The Former Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives commended the Seki Group and organizers of the event, adding that he hopes such celebrations are sustained.
“It is good for us as a people, it is good for our state and our nation. Nigerians would be coming to Rivers State to enjoy Lawson’s music,” he added