The eight-man band opened the floor with an aptly-titled song, Chameleon. Ire and Tomisin, the two dazzling vocalists of the band sang catchy tunes to the funky rhythms of Taiwo Hollist and Bayo Adepetun’s complimenting keyboards while band leader Peter Fisher slapped away on his bass guitar.
JinJin’s Groove, the second song performed by the band, was perhaps their sweetest of the night. The piece allowed lead guitarist Dapo Omololu and percussionist Wura Samba to take the crowd away on a Latin tour with their rhythm why Layi Ajayi on drums kept them anchored with sweet highlife flavours to the cheering of the multiracial crowd. This is Survival Band — playing jazz in Nigeria and beyond, since 1975.
Everyone has a dream. But not letting go of a good dream and fueling such with action, notwithstanding the obstacles, is what eventually brings success. The road is never smooth. In Nigeria where almost every genre of traditional music has been hip-hopized, it is difficult for those determined to keep other genres alive to create the desired effect.
That is why Survival Band’s performance at the 4th Lagos Jazz Series (LJS) was spectacular. It became more so with the story behind the band’s formation and its continued sticking together till now. Although it has released only one album, the group is one of the oldest musical bands in Nigeria.
Survival began as a secondary school band in 1975 at the International School Ibadan (ISI), within the campus of the University of Ibadan. The original members of the band at the time were Peter Fisher playing bass and flute, Bayo Adepetun on keyboards, Dapo Omololu on guitar, Dotun Kukoyi on drum, Ebi Okudu on percussion and Niyi Ajayi leading the vocals.
The genre they played at the time was a distinctive mix of Afro Rock and Funk that has never been repeated. A year after the band was formed, it recorded its only album till date, Simmer Down, in 1976 at the ARC studios in Ikeja, Lagos.
“Though now defunct, ARC was one leading recording studio then,” Dapo Omololu, the band guitarist explained. “ARC studio was owned by Ginger Baker, a cream-drummer-needs-no-introduction, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Orlando Julius, Paul McCartney (Band on The Run) all recorded at the ARC studios”.
After ISI, the band members split ways to further their education. While the group might have been physically disbanded, it survived in their individual hearts. Some of the members studied together, formed new bands and continued playing together for many more years after ISI.
Splintered Survival after ISI: Clinic Band
While studying medicine at the University of Lagos, Bayo joined up with Niyi Ajayi — who had started playing drums at the time — and Tony Omodare, a rhythm guitarist and vocalist also from ISI, to form The Clinic Band with Demola Bashorun (bass) and Anani Allen (lead guitar). The Clinic Band played around the university circuits for some time before it members graduated and disbanded again.
Dapo and Peter met again while at University of Cardiff, Wales. In their spare time, they continued to compose and perform new songs together, including a few staged gigs at the college’s Student Union and Arts Theatre. Peter’s first effort at song writing was The Good things in Life, which he eventually recorded on tape in the bedroom of a Jewish friend.
In 1983, Peter relocated from the UK to Nigeria. Dapo left Wales for England where he met Taiwo Hollist, a close friend and fellow original band member. Taiwo was a session keyboard player at the time. They would often meet up for jam sessions working on personal songs or on popular songs of the day.
Dapo’s work involved a lot of travel abroad and it eventually took him to Dublin, Ireland. There, he fell in love with Irish traditional music and learnt to play the flute. He started playing on and off with a bluegrass — blend of Irish traditional music and jazz — band known as Table 51.
Influenced by Dublin’s vibrant music scene, Dapo started concentrating more on his song writing and it wasn’t long before one of his songs, Keep Your Distance Young Girl, got to Number 19 on the Irish charts.
While working as a junior civil engineer on his return to Nigeria, Peter joined Femi Kuti’s Positive Force Band as a bassist for eight months. He subsequently gained membership of the band FRAZZ still with his bass with Ladi Williams on Guitar, Toma Mason (now late) on Drums, and Kolete Pecku on Keyboards.
FRAZZ’s line-up eventually changed completely, Bayo Adepetun from the original Survival Band coming to play the Keyboards, Soga Benson and Olubi Babalola on Guitars, and Wale Popoola on drums.
They continued to write and play their own repertoire at venues like the Museum Kitchen, Jazz38, Jazzville, Pinto’s, (Live music locations in Lagos) and Jazz Festivals around the country, such as the Port Harcourt Jazz Festival.
FRAZZ’s greatest claim to fame was playing as the support act to late American jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer Dizzy Gillespie performance at the National Arts Theatre in Lagos in the late 1980s. At last, FRAZZ stopped performing in the early 1990s when other life commitments got the better of the band members. In the years between the 1990s and 2013, the idea of playing together again as Survival Band was discussed at various times but somehow the platform to do this was never there.
ISI calls again
In 2013, there was a plea to all ex-ISI students from the ISI Alumni Association (ISIAA) for help fund and celebrate their 50th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, the members of the Survival band were asked to get together again and play for the events in October.
This led to the decisive re-forming of the band in September with the active involvement of three — Peter Fisher, Bayo Adepetun and Dapo Omololu — original members. Taiwo Hollist was an interesting addition that September. An ISI alumnus too, he would have made it into the original band in 1975 had he not left ISI just before the composition of the band was finalised.
Unfortunately, both Niyi Ajayi and Dotun Kukoyi lived abroad in the UK and US respectively, and could not make the celebrations due to work and family commitments. Sadly, Ebi Okudu had passed on by then.
Survival kept going after ISI’s 50th anniversary celebrations, playing a fusion of Jazz, Latin American, Afro Rock and contemporary popular music. Asides playing the Nigerian Jazz circuit, the band will soon commence work on its next album, which has the working title Better Late Than Never!