By Tajudeen Sowole
Octogenarian music critic, Benson Idonije who turned 80 on June 13, 2016 had a fresh experience outside his 'sound and screen' terrain when six artists mounted their easels before him at Freedom Park, Lagos Island.
Under the Olu Ajayi Studio initiative of Living Legends - a documentary in portraiture - of iconic personalities, the Idonije sitting event was strictly in drawing. Artists who rendered Idonije's portrait included Ajayi, Duke Asidere, Dr Emmanuel Irokanulo, Theo Lawson, Ademorin Aladegbongbe and Bolaji Ogunwo.
Started in 2008 with Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka as its first sitter, Living Legend has documented other personalities such as master painter, Yusuf Grillo: master printmaker, Bruce Onobrakpeya; literary icon, J.P. Clark; late Oba of Benin, Erediauwa; and General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) in that order.
For Idonije, the new sitter at Living Legends, his spot in the documentary appeared clear enough as a journalist whose works cover the print and electronic media for over five decades. Sitting on a red seat and adorning two-piece buba and sokoto in green ankara print, on a wet day with music of Victor Uwaifo playing in the background, Idonije was captured by the artists from an arc of a circle angle. The renditions, naturally, vary from full to close up views, depending on the choice of each artist. And quite of creative advantage, the daylight - despite low illumination from the rainy cloud - complements the composition in providing high key lighting.
The uniqueness of the Idonije portraiture as strictly drawing would no doubt place it as a resource outlet in Nigerian art history, given the caliber of artists involved. Among sitters in the creative profession that have been documented by Living Legends project, Idonije, comes into the documentary as the first personality from the music genre.
Music critic icon as a sitter before Fine artists appeared like a new experience, isn't it? "Yes," Idonije agreed. "It's a strange experience to me; interesting to see all these artists come together just for me."
Shortly before the artists started the drawing session, a member of Benson Idonije at 80 Committee, Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo noted that Living Legends has become a major effort in art history.
Anikulapo argued that no Nigerian newspaper columnist of Idonije's generation has as much energy as the music critic who, until few years ago, was writing three columns for The Guardian newspapers every week.
Anikulapo stressed that Idonije has given so much to the arts and "we have so much to give him." He disclosed that a re-issue of the book, which Idonije wrote on late Afro beat music legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti will be launched as part of event marking the critic's 80th birthday.
The Idonije sitter also brings into focus the challenge of Olu Ajayi Studio in articulating who fits into the documentary's definition of a legend. "That's partly legendary in his contributions in writings and this celebration further probes his career," Ajayi stated later during an exclusive chat with me.
Idonije holds the honour of Fellow of Adam Fiberesima School of Music and Conservatory, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State; and Life Time Award for Journalism Excellence, courtesy of Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism.
Born in 1936 in Otuo, Owan East Local Government, Edo State, Idonije, after his Cambridge School Certificate at Holy Trinity Grammar School, Sabongida Ora, studied Communications Engineering at Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech) Lagos.
Idonije became Engineering Assistant at the defunct Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC, now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN) in 1957.
In 1960, he became a producer and presenter of many popular programmes such as The Big Beat and Stereo Jazz Club, among others that gradually set his career on the path of excellence.
For eight years, he was Principal Lecturer and Chief Training Officer, Programme Production at FRCN Training School, when he made his exist from civil service.
In retirement, he extended his career into writing about music as a critic. From mid 1990s, Idonije joined The Guardian Newspaper writing, weekly, three columns: Evergreen, on Wednesday; Sound and Screen, Fridays; and All That Jazz, Sunday. His critiques are till date, reference points in African as well as African-American music.