His real name, mystery deadlocks and untold stories
From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The name, Ras Kimono definitely rings a bell across Nigeria and beyond. In fact, he was a pan-Africanist with his brand of reggae music. He took the nation by storm when his debut album was released in the eighties. And then, his popularity soared like the eagle across the shores of the African continent. So, when death came knocking on his door on Sunday June 10, the entire world was shocked.
As popular as Ras Kimono, not many people knew that the name is just his stage name while his name at birth was Ukeleke. Like every famous Nigerian, Kimono has a root, a community where he sprouted and later grew into a superstar in the nation’s entertainment industry.
Kimono emerged from Umuolo quarter of the agrarian and rustic town of Onicha-Olona in Aniocha North Local Government Area of present day oil rich Delta State. He had poor parents. In fact, his father, the late Onwubuya was said to be deaf and dumb.
His native land, Onicha-Olona with six quarters of Ogbe-Obi, Umuolo, Ogbekenu, Agba Isiekpe and Idumuje had its origin linked to the ancient Benin Kingdom in neighbouring Edo State. A landmark statue of a town crier at the centre of the town tells more about the level of civilization of the community.
Onicha-Olona has produced great men and women in the past including late Col. C.D Nwawo, the first military attache to the Queen of England; the first Miss Independence, Rosemary; former Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Engr. Victor Ochei, among others.
Ras Kimono has just been added to that hall of fame. And because of the poor background of his parents, growing up was not an easy task for the young Ukeleke Onwubuya, and his elder brother, Uzum.
But he was able to complete his primary education during which he demonstrated his raw talent in music. Some folks in the community said Kimono was an expert in rabbit hunting during his teenage years.
They said he combed the bushes in company of his contemporaries hunting rabbits, which they devoured, adding that after each meal of rabbit delicacy, Kimono would gather little children who drummed for him while he performed rap music.
His talents never blossomed while in the village obviously for lack of exposure, until his brother, Uzum who was a Disc Jockey (DJ) facilitated his movement to Lagos where he blew and took the music industry by storm.
Kimono’s uncle, Emmanuel Elumelu who also left the village in the seventies to pursue his career said nobody expected that Kimono would become a household name in Nigeria and even beyond, noting that the family was instead expecting something good out of Uzum who died in the 80s.
“I left the shores of this town in the early 70s, then Kimono and his siblings were at home here, very young. I have the same grand father with Kimono’s father, that makes me an uncle. He had an elder brother, Uzum, the person we thought will do this thing Kimono has done, but he broke out early and he died in far away America,” Elumelu said.
Ras Kimono’s foray into the music scene despite the challenges posed by the obscure Olona community where he was born and bred was ironically inspired by his father who was deaf and dumb, coupled with his determination to break even in his chosen career.
Elumelu told Saturday Sun that the late Mr. Onwubuya never allowed his condition to repress him, as he showcased his talent in dancing at every given opportunity
“The father was deaf and dumb, yet he was a great lover of music. My father told me, because he met their father aging, that when he was young, he loved music so much. He will dress like a woman, artificial woman because he will dance more than anybody on the dance floor. What makes them know that he was deaf and dumb is, if he backs the instrumentalists, when they stop music, unfortunately, he will still be dancing.
“He was a very strong man. The father had that gift of music, so that is where his children got it from. He passed it on to the children. If he had done a very hard job and wants to settle down and rest, he will be murmuring and humming sounds. He was an entertainer,” he said.
Elumelu added that the exposure that Kimono had was as a result of his elder brother, Uzum who apart from being a DJ, also featured in television entertainment programmes in the ’70s, but that Kimono’s success surpassed that of Uzum to the admiration of all who gave him no chance.
Rise to stardom
According to Elumelu, Kimono lost both parents very early in life, adding that he started grooming himself to face life’s challenges. “He lost his mother after the father. He started bringing himself up, and eventually we started hearing about him all the time in Lagos. Lagos actually facilitated his rise to stardom in the music industry.
“He came up the way we all admired him. When we heard about Rhumba Stylee, there was one fat lady he featured in the video of the music, with very fat buttocks, that one died long ago. He started getting the admiration of all of us.
“He developed himself with little or no help. He was getting on, that was the advantage of living in Lagos. He didn’t disappoint us. He was going on and on till eventually he got married to an ex-Air Force personnel from Ndemili in Ndokwa Local Government Area.
“The lady supported him very well. They consummated the union. They were legally married and had legitimate children. They are now abroad. When they went there together, he operated there and decided to come back home leaving the family there because he wanted the children to have the best of education and up bringing.
“He did not abscond from the marriage because occasionally he went there to see them. He was even planning another tour in America to see his family before his death. We know him very well at home, we have never had any fear about his relationship, his communication and his social side.
“Each time he was coming home to perform, everybody will move down to the venue just to catch a glimpse of him, our great son who played himself to fame. It was a very great tragedy when we heard about his death.
“But I must mention that when he started increasing in size, blowing his weight. When I saw that terrific weight, I called him that the weight was becoming alarming and that I was afraid of the performance of his heart.
“The luck we had was that he did not smoke or drink, maybe he would not have lived up to 60. He lived a square life. Uzum, his immediate elder brother died about 30 years ago in America. Kimono witnessed the burial in America.”
Elumelu gave an instance of how he rescued Kimono from a crowd of fans and admirers in Benin City, Edo State to demonstrate that his kid brother celebrity was a crowd puller.
“I remember the day he visited me in Benin and we went to my wife’s business place. It was one person who spotted him, he passed the information and within minutes, the place was crowded. In fact, I smuggled him into my car that day to move out of that place,” he recalled.
The mystery dreadlocks
For most reggae artists, braiding hair or developing dreadlocks is a regular feature. Kimono was also known for his unique dreadlocks, which got down to the knee region. However, when he started developing dreads at the early stages in Olona, he was despised.
His relatives saw nothing good in him just because of the dreadlocks, and decided to play the part of role models by impressing it on the young Kimono on the need to give his hair a clean shave.
But Kimono never caved in to the pressure mounted by his uncles. He remained adamant until his uncles mobilized to have the hair shaved by force, yet they did not succeed.
Elumelu speaks further about the dreadlocks. “When Kimono started with his dreadlocks, our late uncle called me and said ‘this boy wants to be useless, look at his hair.’
“So we arranged to shave the hair but when we gathered and got hold of him and got a scissors, Kimono said we were his elders and that he will not disobey us but added that if we shaved the hair, he will die.
“So we threw the scissors away because we did not want to lose him. He was not looking haggard, he was looking very clean, corporate but just that hair. He was not dirty, he was not smoking, he was not an addict of anything, he was not a nuisance.
“So we supported him with our prayers. I have personally seen people who started in an unacceptable way to the society but God blessed them in their chosen career, eventually, Kimono became one of those.”
Elumelu stated that the name ‘Kimono’ started from the village adding that ‘Ras’ was added to it presumably in Lagos when he became more exposed to the world of Rastafarianism that is usually associated with reggae artists.
As a result of Kimono’s fame in the world of music, some folks in Olona dressed him in borrowed robes. They gave him a larger than life image, concluding that he was however a failure as they could hardly trace anything to him in the community.
Some youths particularly felt that Kimono did not do much for himself back home. They saw in him a famous prophet outside his home but remained anonymous among his kinsmen.
“Kimono did not do well. I don’t know, he may have property in Lagos or elsewhere but here in Olona, Kimono has no house of his own. He was always in Lagos and abroad, he was not coming home.
“Our brothers from the South-East cannot behave like that. Any Igbo who makes it in Lagos or elsewhere must come back home to build a house before thinking of building another one in his base. Kimono did not do that,” a youth volunteered.
Even one of the contenders to the throne of the Obi of Onicha-Olona, HRM Christopher Diji concurs with the view of some of the youths about the late reggae superstar.
“Kimono was not a chief, he was just an artist, he was all the time in Lagos. He was just moving everywhere with his music. What is wrong with these celebrities is that they don’t move close to their roots. They don’t even care to know about our activities.
“He was very nice anyway but he did not participate very well in activities of the town. I can’t understand these young men. This one in particular, if they asked him in Lagos where he was from, he would say he was an African, a Nigerian, he can never tell you that he was from Delta or Asaba, he can never tell you that he was from Onicha-Olona.
“I was even surprised when I read in the media that he was from Olona. They feel very big and they would not want anybody to know that they are from a small village like Olona. How can he give back to his community? He never accepted that he is from here. He is in the mortuary now and they will bring his remains here for burial,” Diji stated.
But Elumelu disagreed, saying that his nephew’s legacies and foot prints in the community were there for all to see, as he nurtured young talents in music some of whom also had their breakthroughs.
“All the younger ones he took to Lagos to bring them up in the music industry, the ladies among them attracted very successful suitors and got married, after developing and improving themselves around Kimono. The men also became resourceful in their chosen career. That is why I said that he affected us positively,” Elumelu explained.
Elumelu added that though Kimono does not have a house of his own in the village, he was never stranded whenever he visited, noting that he was planning to start a project before the sudden death.
“Outside there is his father’s house. The immediate elder brother could not achieve much in that direction. As a man once you are married and bearing children, you are going to focus on the family and the up bringing of the children while you will surely lack somewhere else.
“Incidentally I discussed with him and he said he was going to start a building back home, we discussed about his project, that was why I really wept when the news about his death came.
“However, Kimono cannot be stranded whenever he came back home, we have extravagant accommodation. My nephew was a successful international figure, and I have never had any regret having him as my younger brother because he was a good reference.”
Also, Sir Anselm Ikediashi said Kimono related well with his kinsmen particularly those based in Lagos, saying that he was humble despite his fame, and never allowed stardom or celebrity status to get over him.
“Kimono used to perform in the night clubs then in Lagos, and I met him at one of the night clubs in Ikeja. When he saw me, he came to me and said bros, Akwe (traditional greeting). Each time we had anything to do at home, he always supported even if he was not personally present.
“He associated with his people even in Lagos, the Jakande area where my brothers stay and where he stayed in Gbagada. He was somebody who will see you in Lagos and walk up to you and acknowledge you with the traditional greeting,” Ikediashi said.
Ikediashi added that it was through Kimono that another reggae artist, Candy Sea from the community developed and became a star in his own right.
“I knew Kimono right from his childhood days. He grew up in this village, and we were surprised when he became a star in the city. I could remember that he used to play local drums as a small boy in the primary school. He had love for music as a child,” Ikediashi recalled.
Shock, disbelief over Kimono’s death
Onicha-Olona is yet to recover from the shock of the sudden death of its illustrious son and reggae artist, Kimono. Vice President General of Onicha-Olona Development Union (ODU), E.C Owezim said the town has been moody since the news of Kimono’s death filtered in.
Owezim told Saturday Sun that it will take a long time to fill the vacuum created by the death of Ras Kimono, who he described as “a proud son of Onicha-Olona.”
“He was one of those who brought the name of the town into limelight with his style of music, everybody wants to associate with superstars but he was a home made superstar. He rose from grass to grace by the dint of his effort.”
Ikediashi, on his part, described the news of Kimono’s death as “very shocking”, saying that the last time he saw the late reggae artist precisely in March this year, he did not look sick but was very bulky
“It was a big shock. He was a humble man who knew his elders and respected them. His death is a big blow to the community. He was one of the exponents of the reggae music and brought so many young artists up,” Ikediashi added.
More tributes have continued to pour in from the political class in Aniocha North Local Government following the death of Kimono with the council chairman, Chuks Oseme and the member representing the constituency at the State House of Assembly, Emeka Nwobi expressing shock.
Nwobi in a statement said he lost a brother in Kimono, adding that it would be difficult to forget the music icon, and urged his fans to continue to pray for the repose of his soul. Oseme said the death of Kimono was a big blow to entire Aniocha North, describing the late reggae artist as a legend.