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1 Dec 2016
The 1st ever Nigerian artiste to release an album [Photos]
Singing has always been a core tradition of Nigeria, before the British came through. From the folk songs of the Eastern kingdoms to the Caliphates of the North, singing which is as old as humanity, has always existed in Nigeria.
But we can point to the first man to bring together his original composition of songs, to create the first Nigerian album. That man is Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti, Fela’s grandfather, and Prof. Wole Soyinka’s Great Grandfather.
The Ransome-Kuti family is a Nigerian Yoruba family noted for its contributions to Nigerian art, religion, education, medicine and politics. Josiah Jesse Ransome-Kuti (June 1, 1855 – September 4, 1930) was a clergyman and music composer. He was known for setting Christian hymns to indigenous music, and for writing Christian hymns in Yoruba.
The history of the Ransome-Kuti family started from him. No one knows how he got the name Ransome, but educated suggestions reveal that he adopted the name of the white missionaries he stayed with.
Born on June 1, 1855 in Igbein, Abeokuta, Ogun State to an Egba family, Josiah was baptized in 1859. He enrolled as a student into the Church Missionary Society Training Institution, Abeokuta before proceeding to the Church Missionary Society Training Institute, Lagos in 1871.
Shortly after completing his education at the Church Missionary Society Training Institute, Lagos, Josiah was employed as a teacher at St. Peter's School, Ake, Abeokuta and then left to teach music at the CMS Girls School, Lagos in 1879 where he met his wife Bertha Anny Erinade Olubi. In 1891, he was made catechist at the Gbagura Church Parsonage, Abeokuta before he founded Gbagura Church, a local church where he converted people to the Christian faith through his versatility in rendering English gospel hymns into indigenous gospel songs.
He became a deacon in 1895, ordained a priest in 1897 and was appointed district judge from 1902 to 1906. In 1911, Josiah was appointed pastor of St. Peter's Cathedral Church, Ake after previously serving as superintendent of the Abeokuta Church Mission. In 1922, he was made canon of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos.
Staying with the white men, he was also one of the early people in Abeokuta to convert to Christianity. He probably saw it all when the first Church in Nigeria, St Peter Anglican Church was built in Ake, Abeokuta and he was the Church organist.
When he visited England In 1921, he chose the organ, still in use in the Church, and caused its purchase by Mrs Emily L. Wood. The pipe organ bought by Mrs E. L. Wood for St Peter’s Church, Ake in 1921 was received on behalf of the Church by Rev. Canon J. J. Ransome-Kuti. It is worthy of note to state that Mr. Authur Popoola, a driver to Chief James Bernard Majekodunmi the Otun of Egbas was the first organist to play on the pipe organ.
He distinguished himself from the early pack of Christians with his gift of music. As an organist, he was said to be a great composer. Great was his musical dexterity that so many local traditional religious worshippers turned to Christ. He became the first Nigerian to release a record album after he recorded several Yoruba language hymns in gramophone through Zonophone Records.
Many of these hymns are being used in so many Yoruba speaking Anglican CChurches today. Not only this, his children, like Israel Ransome-Kuti, Fela’s Father was also a great song writer. The popular Egba anthem, Abeokuta Ilu Egba, was composed by him. Another folk song, Ise Agbe, Ise Ile wa, was also composed by Israel. The muse also bit Israel’s Children.
It was not surprising that his singing talent reflected in his children, grand children, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Frances Kuboye (daughter of Oludolupo) and great-children, Femi, Yeni and Seun.
Speaking on his grandfather, Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti, Nigeria’s former Health Minister and elder brother to Fela, (both now late) told this reporter at an interview in 1999 at his Lekki home that while visiting the British Museum in the early 1990s, one of the curators who heard his name as Ransome-Kuti became curious and asked him if he knew one JJ Ransome-Kuti.
“I responded that he was my grand father. He then went away and brought an old tape which he played. I was shocked to hear the voice of my grand father, singing so many Church hymns he composed, accompanied with organ.”
Prof. Olikoye said “I sought the permission of the man to record the tape to which he declined but I’m sure that tape is still in the British Museum. How those songs got there is still a mystery to me.”