Nigerian Reggae star, Ras Kimono died on Sunday, June 10th, at the age of 60. Having seen a doctor three weeks before who told him he was healthy, the musician died of a sudden and short illness at Lagoon Hospital in Lagos. His music was a big hit back in the late 80s and early 90s. He is known for the work he did for Nigeria, Africa as a whole, and reggae music, and is sorely missed.
Many Nigerians have since taken to social media to pay tribute to the music star. Senator Shehu Sani tweeted about his impact in taking on issues of injustice through his music, saying “Ras Kimono; He made an immeasurable contribution in the field of arts. He used music for political awakening. He was not a praise singer for the establishment. His songs were for the poor and for his country. Adieu.”
Ras Kimono;He made an immeasurable contribution in the field of arts.He used music for political awakening.He was not a praise singer for the establishment.His songs were for the poor and for his country.Adieu.
— Senator Shehu Sani (@ShehuSani) June 11, 2018
Born in Delta State, Nigeria, with the name, Ukeleke Elumelu Onwubuya, Ras Kimono began his music career as a member of the Jastix Reggae Ital, alongside another prominent Nigerian Reggae artist, Majek Fashek. His music was greatly influence by the poverty, inequality, and hardship he witnessed in his childhood. He has also said that he has never once drank or smoked in his three decades of recording and performing music.
He once explained the meaning of his stage name to an interviewer. “I am Ras Kimono. Ras, meaning king and Kimono,” he said. “What is wrong with the society. That is my name and that is what I want people to be calling me.”
He also spoke out against injustices all over Africa, such as Apartheid in South Africa. Many Nigerian musicians tend to avoid political commentary, partly due to a fear of persecution from the ruling class. Ras Kimono was unafraid, even going so far as to refer to people in power in his songs by name that he saw were synonymous to backdoor imperialism.
Some of his hits include, “We No Wan,” “Rub a Dub,” and “Kill Apartheid.” He released his first solo album, Under Pressure, in 1989, which has both Jamaican and Native African influences. The album is led by the single “Rum-Bar Stylée” and sold over 100,000 copies. This propelled him and his band, Massive Dread, into stardom.
He toured Africa, the USA and Europe. He performed at the 1994 Pan-African Historical Theatre Festival (Panafest) in Accra, which was opened by Stevie Wonder. Most of his albums were released under the Premier Music, one of Nigeria’s oldest record labels.
Reggae music became mainstream in Nigeria in the mid-80s, when FM Radio stations were becoming a viable medium for recording artists and record label executives. They saw an avenue to promote a different kind of music to the Nigerian population. Along with Ras Kimono, artists such as Majek Fashek, Jerri Jheto, Daddy Showkey, and De King emerged.
Unlike Majek Fashek whose fame took him to major venues in the United States, Ras Kimono was popular mainly with African audiences, although both were politically conscious in their music.
Nowadays, a new generation of Nigerian Reggae artists are coming forward, such as Timaya, P-Square, Esco Banton, Banky W, Ice Prince, Winning Jah, and Benny Paladinand. These artists are maintaining Reggae trends while also changing it up with influences from Hip-Hop, R&B, and Dance Hall Traditions.
Even as his popularity decreased over the last few years, Ras Kimono still left a significant mark in Nigerian music. He remains alive in contemporary songs as he loves to see the advancement of music. Recently he allowed Timaya to sample him in one of his songs.
“Timaya called the other time about using ‘Dem go like me, me no like them’ in his song,” he said. “I gave my permission. I always tell all of them to feel free to use my music. I just wish to see better lyrics and more conscious content.”
His birthday was celebrated last month and was feted by members of the performing arts community.
Featured Image via Pixabay.