The sounds came from beyond the bright multicoloured lights mounted on black lacquered tubing and trained on the small stage, a swelling murmur speckled with bellowing laughs and slaps to the thigh. He caressed his microphone and smiled for more his benefit than anyone else’s; he couldn’t see past the stage lights if anyone was smiling back. The lights dimmed on cue, as he tapped the microphone head to see if it was on.
“Nous sommes la Dame et son chant funebre.”
The sound didn’t come from his nose, his head or his belly, but from the soul beneath. It was a mellifluous whisper of words in Yoruba, the cooing of a mother to her child.
Ebun mi wa re o
Ebun mi ma re o
Ebun Olorun mi
The murmur calmed, replaced with shuffling of feet and scraping of stools underfoot. He ignored the distractions and kept his eyes closed as he sang into the microphone, the first and only song of his set list. The musical frisson crawled over his skin and tickled his gullet as sounds came out of him, mimicking the chords plucked gently with long fingers on the guitar cradled in his lap. The words flowed, switching between the fluent Yoruba and the broken English of the girl at whose feet he’d first learned to sing, Dolapo. His thoughts went to her now as he sang and his longing for her tinged the progression from his low whispery bass to a rich powerful mezzo soprano. He sang in her English of forbidden love and loss. His voice faltered as he repeated her pet name for him like a talisman,
‘Ebun, Ebun, Ebun mi...’
The drums provided a heart to his rhythm, a steady reliable thumping on which his guitar could moor itself as his voice travelled the tonic-solfa scale. He sang above the piano that provided dark heavy flesh to his scant guitar, of being torn away from his love and the days that had followed, waiting and wondering what parts of the things she had said to him and what parts she had said out of pity. A female patron clutched at her partner’s hand under the table and squeezed in solidarity. He didn’t see but He sang on.
“Ore mi, you left me with nothing but a lament.”
The saxophone burst into an alto wail, starting like and following through to a gravelly finish. He stood from the stool provided and swayed, pushing the guitar to his back. The microphone clutched in his hands like some secret sceptre. He let the melodies serenade the crowd, shielded his eyes and chanced a glance at the audience. They were all turned to the stage, to him. The pot bellied expatriates, sallow skin contrasting against the dark unveiled skin of their scantily clad companions. The smartly dressed couples in the tables close to the stage, looking like they fell out of American lifestyle magazines. They were all watching him, waiting for what he would sing next. He fought the nervousness and doubt that stood just out of the reach of the stage lights and taunted him.
No one is listening, they sang.
You brought yourself to this fancy French restaurant on the island, took the bus and wore a head wrap and a fancy buba pretending to be something you aren’t.
She lied; your songs are no good, they only amused her.
Your grief has turned into one of those men who become fools because they can’t let go.
He faltered from all the scrutiny. They saw but dismissed it as a singer’s quirk. He closed his eyes to the doubts and dove in again, whispering the scripted lines garnished with impulse adlibs into the microphone as though they were still in bed and it was her eager ear. He spoke of how his love still grew strong and he was gathering it and saving it to lavish on someone else, someone she would approve of.
“I will hold her as I held you, I write for her, her own songs, because this song will forever belong to you.”
The music died away too soon and all that was left was his voice, whispering his talisman in a soothing rhyme and the women swayed under the pall of the mysticism he had cast over the smoked filled room. He said it one more time for good luck and stepped away from the microphone, his work done. Silence held the room in ransom for a few seconds before it was overthrown by triumphant applause. The men were on their feet, and women clapped earnestly, stopping every other second to clean the tears that streaked their mascara. He turned to leave but he felt the hands of the compere wrap around his and spin him back around.
“Another round of applause please for 20 year old Tosin, the voice behind The Lady and Her Dirge. Isn’t he amazing? I almost can’t believe that this is the first time he is performing, EVER!!!
“Please clap! Clap!!!”
Tosin took another bow, his head high as he descended into the dark underbelly of the club’s backroom. Dolapo was right after all.