Sonny Okosuns. SJ Dodgson. MJoTA 2013.
From September 2006 through May 2008, until I was swept away by Kenya, I was a frequent congregant in a Nigerian pentecostal church just outside Washington DC, in Prince George's County in Maryland.
On my first visit to the church I sat next to, and was warmly greeted by, a tall woman and her tall husband, who were a head taller than just about everyone, as was I.
That first visit was memorable for its length, with 2 sermons, a full choir, the lead pastor leading the choir and the congregation in gospel songs, the rolling on the floor of a woman who was speaking in tongues. During the second sermon, when we were all started to fall asleep in the heat, the pastor told us to stand up! and praise the Lord! That woke us up.
I loved it all. The 10 male pastors at the front of the church wearing long lace gowns, praying loudly, the introduction of pastors as "men of God", and my sweetheart, one of the pastors, who was enthusiastically playing guitar, jumping up and repositioning video cameras, running back to adjust the sound system, running outside, introducing me to an enormous woman he told me was his wife in name only, who happily invited me back to their place. I did go, many times, but not that day.
By March 2008 my sweetheart had gone the way of the wind, and a more serious man, a scientist, had my affections. This man was a relative of one of the well-known musicians of the age of Biafra, Rex Lawson, and on our first meeting had given me a recording of songs by Sonny Okosuns. Rex Lawson died in an accident in 1971, but his songs live on in Nigeria.
And I heard Sonny Okosuns give a sermon at church, and beg forgiveness for a choir member who had disobeyed the senior pastor. A tiny man, looking frail from cancer, but so huge. I adored him immediately.
One morning, at my new flame's house, I called Tinuke and told her where I was, and she invited me over.
I walked into her house, I saw Sonny Okosuns poster in Tinuke's sitting
room. I was all excited, I had just been listening to his songs. Tinuke
laughed, and asked why I not know her husband was his brother and his
manager? She asked me if I would like to meet him, right away!
I drove Tinuke and her husband and baby about 2 miles, to be warmly greeted by Sonny, who recognized me from church. He was packing to return to Nigeria in a week, and needed Bibles, could we all drive together to the Bible shop?
Sonny and Florence piled into my little car with Robert, Tinuke and the baby, and we spent several hours in the Bible Store. Sonny stocked up on 10,20, 30 Bibles, and then had 4 inscribed in gold, which he told me were gifts to dignitaries, including the vice-president of Nigeria. Who became the President of Nigeria in 2009. I hope Sonny had time to give it to him.
The next week, I was back. I had told my flame that Sonny wanted to meet him, but my flame works for the Federal Government and for reasons I will never understand, is careful to paralysis about who he talks to and what he does. And the opportunity was lost.
My second excursion around Maryland's Prince George's County was to get Sonny's phone organized before he left for Nigeria. I loved him walking into a phone store, heard a salsa playing, grabbed hold of a sales associate and started dancing. Sonny was sunny: he was pure joy. He and his brother sang harmony in the car while we were driving around; Sonny was very interested in the malaria movie I was making, and promised to write and perform original songs in it. Amen I said.
The next day, Sonny and Florence went back to Nigeria. I returned also to Nigeria a few weeks later, discarded my flame for a Kenyan who claimed to be an expert on malaria and just about everything, and during a meeting in the World Bank 8 weeks later, my discarded flame sent me a text message. Sonny had died of cancer.
Sonny's memorial service was jammed with easily 1,000 people in Maryland. We heard that he had returned to Maryland and danced at his daughter's graduation the week he died. The spirit is the last to go. Or maybe never goes. I was so privileged to have met Sonny Okosuns.