Adjekpagbon Blessed Mudiaga in this piece writes on the life of one of Nigeria’s finest maestros
There are some people who are not rich but are very popular and generally accepted wherever they go because of the good image they project, especially through the services they render to humanity. One of such great Nigerians is the late Dan Maraya Jos, who passed away recently on the 20th of June 2015.
Although many Nigerians do not personally know him, his name is very popular among cosmopolitan Nigerians who like listening to music from all parts of the country.
The first time this reporter listened to Dan’s music was on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria’s station many years ago, as a teenager, and later on the Nigerian Television Authority Channel 5 Newsline musical programme.
Even when you don’t understand Hausa language, the sound of his simple traditional guitar known as kontigi, in the northern origin, and his milky sweet appealing voice would hold you spellbound any day with mellifluous tenderness whilst the tunes enveloped your ears.
In a chat with The UNION, a musician, poet, novelist and former Vice Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mr. Victor Bruce, said “I don’t know him personally, but he has been a very popular and familiar name to me in the Nigerian music industry right from my childhood. I like his very caressing voice.He is no doubt one of the greatest and most popular musicians from the Northern part of the country. My late father, Don Bruce who was popularly called ‘The Nigerian James brown,’ usually talked about Dan Maraya as a very humble orphan who depended on music to live a good and honourable life, which many serious minded orphans and other music-loving teenagers can emulate to make a living in the northern part of the country and the nation at large.”
In a world where not all children who have parents find things easy to become successful in life, orphans have to struggle even over a hundred times to accomplish a goal which children with supportive parents would put only little efforts to succeed. In common usage, only a child who has lost both parents is called an orphan. When referring to animals, only the mother’s condition is usually relevant. If she has gone, the offspring is an orphan, regardless of the father’s condition.
Coming from a region where a lot of children are born by parents who allow them to make their way early in life, the rise of Dan Maraya to popularity in a country where musicians were formerly looked down upon as unserious minded people is not a flash in the pan.
Nonetheless, according to archival records compiled by Aliyu Badeggi, the late “Dan Maraya Jos was born as Adamu Wayya in 1946. He is a Nigerian Hausa Griot best known for playing the kontigi. Dan Maraya Jos, whose name means ‘The Little Orphan of Jos,’ died in B’ukur, near Jos in Plateau State, Nigeria. His Islamic name is Adamu, but his father died shortly after his birth and his mother died while he was still an infant, hence the name by which everyone knows him.
“Dan Maraya’s father was a court musician for the Emir of Bukur, who took Dan Maraya under his care when his parents died. Dan Maraya showed an early interest in music and came under the influence of local professional musicians. During a trip to Maiduguri while he was still a pre-teen, he was impressed by musicians there and made a kuntigi, with which he has accompanied himself ever since.
“The kuntigi is a small, single- stringed lute. The body is usually a large, oval-shaped sardine can that is covered with goatskin. Dan Maraya and other kuntigi players are solo performers who accompany themselves with a rapid ostinato on the kuntigi. During instrumental interludes they repeat a fixed pattern for the song they are playing, but while singing, they will often change the notes of the pattern to parallel the melody they are singing.
“Like most professional musicians, the mainstay of Dan Maraya’s repertoire is praise singing, but Dan Maraya singles out his personal heroes rather than the rich and famous. His first, and perhaps still his most famous song is “Wak’ar Karen Mota” (Song of the Driver’s Mate) in praise of the young men who get passengers in and out of minivan buses and do the dirty work of changing tires, pushing broken down vans, and the like. During the Nigerian Civil War, he composed numerous songs in praise of soldiers of the federal army and incorporated vivid accounts of scenes from the war in his songs.
“Many of his songs incorporate social commentary. These include the songs on marriage in the study here, which probably date from the early 1970’s. One might argue that they are really one large song, and in performance, Dan Maraya incorporates lines from each of them. However, the recordings that serve as the basis for this study have three distinct musical settings, and the songs themselves have three different themes. “Jawabin Aure” (Discourse on Marriage) lists the problems attendant in divorce and admonishes married couples to try to patch up their differences. “Auren Dole” (Forced Marriage) decries the practice of families arranging marriages for their daughters rather than letting them decide on their own mates. “Gulma-Wuya” (The Busybody) describes a neighbourhood gossip who works in collusion with a boka (a practitioner in casting spells, removing evil spirits, etc.) to disrupt marriages by sowing dissension between women and their husbands.The latter song is amusing in that Dan Maraya performs it as a drama, imitating the voices of the different characters as they speak, a technique that he has used in other songs as well.”. His indeed was an era and he would be missed by many for whom his songs were a repository for the good, moral life.