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Life and time of legendary music promoter, Femi Esho


Late Femi Esho

A profile by the Esho Family

The music world was thrown into mourning on June 17, 2024, when Chief Femi Esho, a legendary music promoter and the Chairman of Evergreen Musical Company died at the age of 77 after a brief illness.

However, his life, works, and dedication have greatly influenced the music world, with the establishment of the Evergreen Musical Company which played a pivotal role in reviving and preserving the works of legendary African musicians.

When the history of popular West African music, especially about the Highlife music genre, is to be truly and authoritatively written, one name that will continually resound and have global
acclaims and respect will be Samuel Babafemi Esho, the indefatigable patron and promoter of Evergreen music, both at home and abroad.

Femi Esho is a purveyor of Nigerian and Ghanaian music of yesteryears who has made it his life’s mission to preserve the posterity and longevity of an era threatened with oblivion. Being a key player in the industry himself, Femi has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of evergreen music masterpieces that enshrine the best of African culture and tradition.

As the iconic founder of the Evergreen Musical Company, Femi holds an esteemed position of trust and stewardship with the vintage music community causing him to be appointed as sole custodian and distributor of the complete works of many African music legends, for whom he campaigns tirelessly in a bid to immortalize their achievements as a symbol of cultural continuity through sound.

His company Evergreen Musical Company owns the copyright to the complete works of different African musicians like Fela Kuti, Dr Victor Olaiya, Rex Lawson, Roy Chicago, Adeolu Akisanya, Tunde Nightingale, Ayinde Bakare, J. O. Araba, I. K. Dairo, Eddy Okonta, King Kenny Tone, Agidigbo, Crosdale Juba, E. T. Mensah, Ramblers Dance Band, Black Beats, Uhuru Dance Band, Stargazers, C. K. Man, etc

Born precisely on 29th October 1946 ni Ilesa, Osun State of Nigeria, before Nigeria’s independence and at a period when highlife music was the signature tune for the growing West African entertainment scene, Femi Esho has since his birth metamorphosed into Africa’s foremost indigenous music revivalist, especially the highlife music genre.

As a young boy growing up amidst the emergence of a great music phenomenon referred to as Highlife, Femi Esho had a somewhat oddly hot passion for various genres of indigenous music of his time and felt the power and effect of music in any society. Thus, he realized early in life that music is a universal language, that cuts across all frontiers of human life, be it political, religious, tribal, or social.

At that time, Highlife had its origin in the major urban centres of Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone and was a shared legacy enjoyed simultaneously by the educated and semi-educated classes across the entire sub-region during the colonial days when these countries were all under imperial Great Britain.

As young as he was, Femi Esho refused to be left out of this legacy experience and joined the bandwagon on a one-man adventure of everything that music had to offer. So began a musical sojourn that would take Femi Esho to many lands in Nigeria and Abroad.

Fortunate to have been born into the humble family of Rev, J. O. Esho, one of the founding fathers of Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), Femi ESho, at age 12, had the rare opportunity of a first-hand experience of playing with various musical instruments of the church under his father’s custody, particularly the church organ.

As a student in one of the villages in the present Ekiti State, Femi Esho who was in primary six at that time, assembled 6 of his schoolmates and bought the flutes for them to play some of the early popular highlife tunes particularly those from the then Gold Coast (now Ghana). Famous tunes such as those of the legendary E. T. Mensah, Black Beats, Broadway, E.K’s Band, and others too numerous to mention were rendered by the boys to the listening pleasure of their friends and elders.

In 1959, when he was in year one of his secondary school education, he assembled five of his classmates and formed a group called “The 5 Soulers”. They specialized in playing and performing songs of various European pop groups such as the Dave Clark 5, the Animals, the Roling Stones, the Who’s, Searchers, Wilson Picket, Elvis Presley, Ottis Redding, and particularly the Beatles.

Femi Esho’s passion for the Beatles was so strong that he became a devoted and fanatic member of the Beatles fans’ club up to the extent of adopting the appellation “Paul McCartney” as his nickname. Those days were the era in which the Grundig and Pye valve radios were quite popular and were a must-have in most homes in Nigeria. The various highlife tunes from the Gold Coast and Soukous music from Congo-Zaire, dished out every morning from these radios would later fire and influence his passion and fanaticism for performing, listening, playing and collecting music of different genres, local and international.

Another great influencer was the “Bush Valve Radio” which was quite popular then and could be found lying at the corners of most houses. From these radios, at that time, Radio Nigeria would transmit serious live plays of great bands from Lagos and at times Ibadan such as Bobby Benson, Dr. Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago, Eddy Okonta, E. C.Arinze and so many other iconic bands, every Saturday night from midnight. These tunes were a delight to hear and a remedy for sad times.
In the mid-fifties, from age 12, Femi Esho would abscond from llesha, his hometown, to frequent various night clubs in Lagos and Ibadan where he would live performances by popular bands of the time.

These feats he achieved with the aid of the cover-less cocoa Lorries of the Lawrence Omole Cocoa company, at a transport fare of 5 shillings, all under the guise of educational excursions. Femi Esho once revealed, in a lighter mood, that he had no problem getting his transport fare and extra money for his various trips since he was the “Cashier” to his wealthy stepmother who was a successful trader.

These escapades were totally unbeknown to his parents who had no cause to doubt him since he always maintained a 1st position in class throughout his secondary school days.

At the tender age of 12, Esho did not leave any club, both in Ibadan and Lagos, untouched. Some of the hot spots he frequented on his musical expedition to unravel the mystery and magic that music held for him as a growing up teenager were the Paradise Club, Independence Hotel, Central Hotel, and others in Ibadan.

In Lagos, he was a popular patron of the Kakadu Hotel, Cool-Cats Inn, Lido, Abalabi, Central Hotel, Western Hotel, Ambassador, and West End Coliseum, and of course, the last bus stop which was the most popular, the Caban Bamboo owned and operated by the late Bobby Benson who was, until his demise, the greatest Nigerian Doyen of Highlife music.

As a result of this self-chosen musical adventure, it was easy for Femi Esho to collect the works of most of these iconic musicians, especially their live recordings because, during that period, many Ghanaian bands such as the E. T. Mensah Band, the Broadway band, which later metamorphosed into the Uhuru, Black Beats Band and the Star Gazers Band would all come to Lagos and Ibadan to perform at high brow clubs and special events such as the Havanah Music Carnival organized by the Sigma Club of the University of Ibadan and other events worthy of note. At that time, next to football, the greatest unifying factor between Nigeria and Ghana was Highlife music.

E.T. Mensah (i.e. the Ghanaian doyen of highlife music) was the first to pave the way for the Nigerian/Ghanaian highlife collaboration. He visited Nigeria in 1951 and performed at the great Bobby Benson’s Caban Bamboo Club where Bobby Benson and his wife, Cassandra, frequently played great Calypso, Jazz, and some other popular European tunes of the day.
This visit by E. T. Mensah indeed paved the way for the first-ever highlife release by a Nigerian musician (i.e. Taxi Driver by Bobby Benson) in 1951 on the Badejo Record label.

At that time, Bobby had the best musicians who later became great masters under him such as Dr. Victor Olaiya who led Bobby’s second band, Eddy Okonta, Zeal Onyia, Roy Chicago, Chief Bily Friday, Babyface Paul and so many others.
As a result of his fanatic and frequent patronage of these clubs, Femi Esho developed and sustained a very passionate and tightly knitted relationship with virtually all of the greatest highlifers at that time.

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He was also close to iconic musicians of other genres that performed in the late ’50s and ’60s such as Tunde Nightingale, J O. Araba, Ayinde Bakare, Haruna Ishola, Yusuf Olatunji, and other notable musicians in their category.

For him, it was always a delight to watch and enjoy their performances at the West End Coliseum anytime the opportunity presented itself thereby building a bond with these musicians. His zeal as a collector is inborn. Since the age of 12, he has been going to all the nooks and crannies of this world collecting musical works of note, be it local or international.

With over 150,000 vinyl plates made up of 78pm breakable plates, 45rpm and 33pm, hundreds of reel-to-reel tapes (i.e. both live and normal recordings), thousands of cassette tapes of various music along with archival materials such as His Master’s Voice (HMV), various reel-to-reel playing machines, various types of turn-tables and others, there is no dispute that Femi Esho, over the years, has risen to become the greatest collector of vintage music in African. His authority as the greatest collector in Africa was further confirmed with his visit to Ghana in 2008.

During this visit, he met with the late Jerry Hansen of the Ramblers Dance Band, Ebo Taylor of Stargazers, the estate of both E. T. Mensah and King Bruce of Black Beats, and used the opportunity to humbly present to them their complete jobs for subsequent rights permission to release those works in Nigeria. After graciously giving the right permission to Femi Esho, Jerry Hansen, who was then 86 before he died, could not hold back his tears as he exclaimed that it was a great shame that Femi Esho came from Nigeria to Ghana to present to him all his lost works.

Birth and Early Life:

Chief Femi Esho was born on October 29, 1946, in Ilesa, Osun State, Nigeria. His passion for music began early, as he started collecting music at the tender age of 12.


His hot passion for music never dissuaded nor obviated Femi Esho from seeking a worthy and sound education. He attended various institutions of note and his brilliance was so overwhelming that he achieved the greatest peak required for his professional career in the various schools he attended.

In all of these schools, he graduated with scores of excellence and acquired various relevant certificates that have helped him in the various quests he has ever embarked on in life.

Career &Work Experience:

At the age of 22, Femi Esho joined the Lagos State Government in 1968, working for His Excellency, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson (i.e. the first military governor of Lagos State).

He later rose to the honourable and enviable position of a first-class secretary to the governor and till death, he had a very close relationship with the elder statesman and revered sage.

After his seven years of service with the Lagos State Government, Femi had a five-year stint with the biggest Nigerian architectural company at that time (i.e. Niger Consultant Architects with over 35 architects) as the administrative head.

He, thereafter, set up an advertising agency which later metamorphosed into a first-class printing consultancy till the early ’90s when he now gave his entire life to music.

Still, with a fiery passion for music and with the various requests from many of his friends and top elders in society, Femi Esho was propelled to form the Evergreen Musical Company Limited.

The major rationale for the company formation was to, among other things; ease the yearnings and tension of the various senior age- groups, and connoisseurs of good heritage music who have been greatly saddened by the direction and tone of the present generation music which is totally devoid of serious content and philosophy.

He also formed an Evergreen 21-piece band in 1993 and the band has performed in high-brow places like the Metropolitan Club, Ikoyi Club, Muson Centre, Island Club, Yoruba Tennis Club, and for various corporate companies and conglomerates.

Alongside all of these and still for the love of music, Femi Esho, over the years presented various television and radio programs in virtually all the high-class TV and Radio stations across the country.

The longest was his famous “Highlife Renaissance” programme on Ray Power which he presented on Sundays between 4 pm – 5 pm for about five years. While his last major television programme was his 1hour insight into Nigeria’s music from 1914 to 2014.

The TV programme was a centenary celebration programme which he delivered on the network service of Nigerian Television during which he discussed various artistes of the period 1914 up to the present time 2014.

Death and Legacy:

Chief Femi Esho passed away on June 17, 2024, at the age of 77. Known affectionately as “Baba Esho,” he was a mentor and an ‘encyclopedia’ to many Highlife music enthusiasts. His legacy is marked by his tireless efforts to ensure the immortality of Nigerian Highlife, Juju, Sakara, Apala, Afrobeat, and other indigenous music genres.

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