TRIBUTE:Emperor Pick Peters: Remembering Ipokia Wizard  On Strings

By Wole Olujobi

When he stormed the Nigerian music scene in 1973/1974, not a few were jolted that a new master guitarist in the Yoruba juju music genre had emerged to challenge King Sunny Ade’s dominance in the mastery of guitar; the plugged stringed musical instrument that added taste and rhythm to the African heavy percussions that hallmarked the beauty of the emerging music stars of that epoch.

The early 70s, when Emperor Akorede Akanni Pick Peters emerged on the music scene, was the period that Commander Ebenezer Obey and King Sunday were simply the icons in Yoruba music world, particularly in the Juju genre of the highlife music that was the rave of the moment among the elite and  the rural populations of music lovers who relied on gramophone and local radio stations, such as Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS), Ibadan, and Radio Nigeria, Lagos, for evening entertainment after their hard, daily work routine.

For both the rural and uptown folks, including the upscale and well-heeled dandies, Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade, who led the charts in the music scene, were the first choice in parties and entertainment circles before the likes of Admiral Dele Abiodun, Idowu Animashaun, Handsome Wale Abiodun, the Lijadu Sisters, Orlando Owoh, Orlando Julius, Oladunni Odugunwa aka Queen Oladunni Decency, Emperor Pick Peters, Tony Adex, and Shina Adewale (later Sina Peters and Segun Adewale), among others, joined the club of music moguls to give the Yoruba people the music that soothed their souls.

In 1973, in particular, Emperor Pick Peters stormed the Yoruba music world with a bang with his first album titled “Kango kango lagogo nke” released on Marijosh Records label. By 1974, “Kango kango lagogo nke” had become a huge success, taking the entire Yoruba music scene by storm. It was particularly threatening to King Sunny Ade’s dominance in the mastery of guitar. Expectedly, it also threatened some of us that saw Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade as the undisputed Yoruba kings of music of all time.

As a fanatical music lover who saw Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey as idols, I had a sleepless night the first day I listened to Emperor Pick Peters’ “Kango kango lagogo nke” because I perceived it as a discomforting threat to Sunny Ade’s dominance in guitar mastery, leaving me, though, to be comforted with Ebenezer Obey still dominating the singing component of musical rendition.

Still smarting from the discomforting night of the reality of a threat to my idol, second day, I launched a blackmail spree against Emperor Pick Peters, accusing him of copying Sunny Ade’s guitar works, but had nothing to say about Peters’ talking drummer, who almost dwarfed Sunny Ade’s Tunde Alade in his dexterity, before Alhaji Tiamiyu Ayan emerged to give Sunny Ade the edge in the deployment of talking drums to create frenzied dance steps among  a legion of party-goers and Yoruba music dancers led by King Sunny Ade himself.

Soon, King Sunny Ade had a contract dispute with African Songs label owned by the late Chief Bolarinwa Abioro, who was from the same Ipokia, Egbado, Ogun State, as Emperor Pick Peters. Abioro embraced his kinsman and cousin, Emperor Pick Peters, to his African Songs/Take Your Choice (TYC) record label after Sunny Ade left the recording company and after Igbosere Magistrates’ ban on Sunny Ade over contract default with African Songs, to release “Aroba sa kii sojo/Eda aye nreti pe ewe nla mi npada lo ru wewe”, the record that changed my perspective about Emperor Pick Peters, to see him as a talented musician.

I had other haters of Emperor Pick Peters in my friends, namely; Gbenga Adewuyi (Gbegume) and Samson Agbai for nothing except that he constituted a threat to our idol, Sunny Ade, while those on the fence included Tolu Adeniyi, Banji Adeniyi aka Obele and others. But Johnson Ijamakinde aka Baja (now a prophet) remained unbent in his admiration for Emperor Pick Peters.

This was at the time I had taken music as my main ‘sport’ having grown ‘heavy legs’ that ailed my abilities in athletics and soccer, even though I was restlessly active and more tired than the actual footballers sweating it out on the field of play after running up and down the lines shouting myself hoarse, doing commentary and directing players on what to do in a game I knew nothing about.

As earlier hinted, “Aroba sa kii sojo” humbled me greatly, so much so that I approached my mates in anti-Emperor Pick Peters sentiment and said to them in my Ijan-Ekiti dialect: “Awe, ooto oro wi kan ma so un o, Emperor Pick Peters isire yiye. Gangan ati guitar ninu rekodu  ‘Aroba sa kii sojo’ ni remi ju. Mo ti feran Emperor Pick Peters latoni lo o”.(My friends, truth be told, Emperor Pick Peter is a great musician. His mastery of guitar and dexterity of his talking drummer is marvelous. From today, Emperor Pick Peters has joined the list of my music idols).

Besides my admiration for Pick Peters over mastery of guitar and scintillating talking drumbeat, my love for the wizard on the strings stemmed from and was reinforced by his ingenuity in the art of music and musicology in general with catchy songs laced with African idioms, chants, incantations and proverbs. Again, unlike most of the Juju music stars of his time, Emperor Pick Peters was never an apprentice under anybody in music profession before hitting the limelight.

After he left Pfizer in 1968 when the late MKO Abiola was the accountant of the company, Emperor Pick Peters bought a palm guitar called ‘box guitar’ and a flute and started picking the scales on his own until he achieved mastery. He derived his name “Pick” from picking the scales of his musical  instruments until he became a professional musician. I therefore fell in love with Emperor Pick Peters for his genius, ingenuity and unbending spirit to swim against the tides to achieve success.

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Shortly afterwards, I won new converts for Emperor Pick Peters among my friends. They included Remi Alonge aka Hockey and Femi Ogunleye aka Disco, among others.

In rapid succession, Emperor Pick Peters released at the African Songs/TYC label songs titled ‘Eda Aye Nreti Pe Ewe Nla Mi Nlo Ru Wewe in 1976 and Volume Three “Igbehin Lalayo Nta”, and Volume Four  “Omo Ode” all in 1976 soon after which he released “Aja Ode”.

In subsequent years,”Seidor System” and “Opolo wo bi to tutu basi”, among others, were released on African Songs, Olumo Record and EMI before he established his own record label called Identity Records to wax more records.

As a music moderator among my friends in several of our night parties, I demonstrated bias for Emperor Pick Peters in my music choices, so much so that I became a fanatical supporter  of a musician that I had never set my eyes on.

The fanaticism drew me to a near madness in l978 when I got desperate to attend Emperor Pick Peters’ life show at Arigidi-Akoko when unconfirmed report indicated that he was going to the town to perform, even though I never knew where Arigidi-Akoko was located at the time. I did everything that madness and youthful exuberance could permit, including attempting to pilfer the wallet of my mother, to make it to Arigidi-Akoko, but all my efforts failed.

Desperate to establish contact with Emperor Pick Peters after the purported Arigidi show, I wrote a letter on behalf of the football sector of my club, the White Eagles, expressing our delight for him as a genius who could assist young people to discover their talents.

In my senior class at Ado Grammar School, Ado-Ekiti,  I was made a Social Prefect, combining it with my other positions as the President of the Literary and Debating Society and President of Ado Grammar School Dramatic Society, the new positions that tilted me away from Yoruba music to embrace English “sound” when Rice and Beans, Delegation, Michael Jackson, Sister Sledge, Quincy Jones, Stacy Lattisaw, Sharon Redd, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Anita Ward, Eddy Grant, Bob Marley, U-Roy, I-Roy and Peter Tosh, among others, ruled the airwaves and dance floors in disco parties, from which I emerged to become a disc jockey (DJ) in English music but still with deep roots in Yoruba juju music and Emperor Pick Peters a star among my favourites.

Not given to deep-seated animosity, years later in the autumn of Emperor Pick Peters’ career in music, the experiences of old times never died in the living memories of the Juju maestro and music legend. He refused to be slave to the historical animosity between him and other senior members of his profession. For instance, while Admiral Dele Abiodun was returning from his London trip in 1977, Emperor Pick Peters sent his boys to assemble his musical instruments at the airport, Ikeja, to welcome his rival back in Nigeria.

Shockingly, few weeks later, Admiral Dele Abiodun released  “O jebi o jebi Omo Ode” album, the development that marked the beginning of a full-blown war between Peters and the Sobe-born Adawa Super king, yet recently, Emperor Pick Peters did a lively duet with Admiral Dele Abiodun with vibes and banters. The show was organised by some young music promoters that drew memories of the past when both were sworn enemies.

The video of the lively performance went viral on social media, thus closing the page of a career and personal  animosities between the two Juju music giants after Emperor Peters had earlier appeared on stage with King Sunny Ade in live performances.

Born on April 2, 1952, Emperor Pick Peters, who died on November 3, 2023 in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, enjoyed a remarkable and prolific career that spanned several decades.  He introduced fresh elements and influences into the Juju music genre that expanded the frontiers of his music to blend with the changing times.

Eventhough contract dispute in his Identity Records label caused him a temporary setback, Emperor Pick Peters trudged on to post a remarkable identity of a man who lived his dreams without blemish.

The story of the life and times of Emperor Pick Peters demonstrates the will power to turn dreams to realities. His genius can be located in his abiding faith in his ability to turn difficult circumstances and challenges into thrilling opportunities. It is a lesson for the Nigerian youths to shun crimes and embrace positive attitudes to life to build a prosperous future.

Emperor Akorede Akanni Pick Peters, my music idol, good night. In the great beyond, continue romancing your guitars with your magic fingers to let out flakes of musical notes for the budding musicians to build their careers and futures. Let your spirit inspire Nigerian youths to the realisation of their latent talents to build promising future for themselves and the society at large. That is the greatest legacy that can assuage the hard feelings fuelled by your painful exit.
Adieu the people’s musician!

Olujobi, a journalist, politician, music enthusiast and Old Skool DJ, writes from Ado-Ekiti

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