My Travel Life: Peter King, renowned saxophonist and ex-Boney M music director
First holiday memory
In 1961 when I travelled to London. It was fantastic, coming from Nigeria to London and seeing how a country should be. It was a fantastic inspiration.
Almost the whole world. I had been to Hong Kong, not mainland China. I’d been to Japan. I have visited all the countries within that region, including India, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.
London. It is a city that haunts you. When you get there, you easily melt into the environment. I have been to other great cities, like New York, but they are not comparable to London. In London, you are never disappointed, because there is so much going on in that cosmopolitan city. My favouriteneighbourhood is the Hyde Park.
Favourite food abroad
Once I am out of Nigeria, I eat rice and stew. In London or Germany, it is rice and stew. If I am in Italy, I eat spaghetti, wonderful spaghetti, in the evening.
The pyramids of Egypt. They are wonderful. How did they build them without the modern building technology we have now? How did the builders assemble those rocks? I am sure many lives would have been sacrificed to build those monuments. How they manage to do that is unbelievable––and to think the same Egypt is still backward today.
Lessons from travel
Nobody can make you, only you can make yourself. Only Nigerians can make Nigeria great. Americans made themselves great. Europeans made themselves great––this is the lesson in your face when you go through their cities. I have lived my life based on this philosophy.
When I became Boney M’s music director. I had just finished with my band at Festac 77, when I got a phone call that I should come to Germany. The call was timely, because I needed money then very much. Festac was big, Boney M coming after it, was also something big. Franz Farian, the German producer, had been trying to break the group into the big time. They wanted to embark on a big tour of the whole of Germany. He got a house in the outskirts of Hamburg, where the band assembled. They had been at it for three months without success. Then people from London (where I’d already made a name) kept telling him, “If you bring Peter King here, in less than one month, he will make it work.” He gave me a call.
Most abrupt travel
One Christmas day, I was in London when someone called me from Rome to say: “Can you bring a band to Rome tomorrow?” The next day by 9 am, I was on the plane with my band.
I had several bad experiences that ended in a fantastic way. After Festac 77, a singer I used to know got us a contract to perform in Hong Kong for six months. It was a big thing, well hyped on TV and radio. But in Hong Kong, things didn’t exactly work out. The man offered to either reduce our wages or terminate the contract and we return to London. My band members were angry. Those days Hong Kong was British domain, so they said: “Let’s go to court, he must pay the money. We can get a British lawyer.” I told them: “Let’s take what he can give to us and return to London.” He offered to pay our transport home and we packed out bags. A day before our flight, we went to play at a Jazz Day gig, which usually held on Sunday in Hong Kong. A promoter from Tokyo, who was impressed by our performance said: “Can’t you postpone your travel for three weeks? I have got a show in Tokyo. I want you as a supporting band.”
Our bad luck turned to good luck. We departed for Tokyo, spent one week for rehearsal, did the show in one week, and spent one week shopping. The man who brought us to Hong Kong paid us six months’ wages, even though we’d played for three months; the show in Tokyo fetched us ten times what we got for Hong Kong.
Most memorable city
It is Tokyo. Those people are crazy about music. Imagine a concert that had millions of people in attendance. Seeing such a huge crowd inspires you. They came with their children and their aged parents. That is why the likes of Miles Davis can go to Japan once or twice a year, make enough money and spend the rest of the year quietly in New York. The Japanese are crazy about music, especially black music.
I’d love to visit Berlin, though I had been there in the days of the Berlin Wall, when the city was divided into East and West Berlin and we were crossing from west to east in our luxurious bus during the Boney M period. I would like to visit the city now and see how things have changed. Those days, East Berliners were so paranoid that in a hotel, you had to lock your door and hold your key anytime you stepped outside, even if you are not going farther down the corridor. There was something secretive about the whole city, as if the whole world is crazy and you are the only sane person. That was East Berlin in those days.
King, better known in Europe and America for his albums Miliki Sound (1975) and A Soulful Peter King (1977), runs Peter King College of Music in Badagry.