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Sometimes, musicians are lucky to create an all-time fan favourite, one that becomes the most notable work of their career – the soundtrack of a season.
Towards the Christmas season, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas heralds the Yuletide.
The record has proved to be so popular that it’s been performed by more than 15 singers, including Bing Cosby and Michael Bublé, since its first release by Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters in 1951.
However, the quintessential Christmas song is forever Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You.
Released in 1994, it has become a staple of Carey’s glittering career. Almost by automation, it re-enters global music charts around mid-November to early December and stays there until the holidays are over.
It’s estimated that this song has so far earnt Mariah Carey over $60m in royalties. Even she has come to look forward to this time of the year, posting simply on Instagram, “It’s time.”
In Nigeria, the only comparable music is Odun Nlo Sopin, which ordinarily might not have been as universally acclaimed as it is now, except that in its simplicity and theme, it fits the Nigerian story of hope and prayerfulness more than most.
Tellingly, it’s a characteristic that cuts across Nigeria’s ethnicities, status in life and various music genres.
Nigerians are a hopeful people and Odun Nlo Sopin speaks directly to that hope, wishing for a better year and life ahead.
Praying the troubles away
The 1970s were a strange time for Nigeria. Independence from British colonialism was only 10 years removed, but it could not have been longer.
At that time, the country had had a three-year civil war, and its young self-rule was now under military rule. Understandably, citizens were apprehensive about the future of their country and what it meant for themselves.
Several religious sects and denominations that previously were on the periphery experienced a rise as people chose to place their faith in God rather than in Nigeria’s volatile leadership.
It was in the period that the Christ Apostolic Church reached its peak, having been founded around 1941 in the Yoruba southwest of the country.
It was a fiery group that had come out of The Apostolic Church who believed in the efficacy of loud, passionate prayers and that the world was in existential danger, both from external crises and familiar African traditional beliefs that were antithetical to the Christian faith.
Although the CAC leadership consisted mainly of men, women played significant roles in its processes, such as lay-readers and choristers, and were encouraged to join the maternally Good Women’s Association.
It was against this backdrop that the Good Women’s Choir was founded in 1975. It was a mass choir of nearly 300 women, some of them wives of the clergy, but many more were regular members.
It never goes out of sound. I think every artist should strive towards creating a timeless body of work, something that people will forever refer to.
Their role was to accompany the sermons and prayer sessions, a task they took seriously. Soon, the choir became a huge draw to services, and in time, they began to record albums for mass release.
Odun Nlo Sopin was originally recorded in 1977 and released as their fifth album in 1979.
An annual music tradition
Christmas in Nigeria is a truly special time. Today, the youth culture and Afrobeats era have christened it “Detty December.”
For people like Nigerian singer-songwriter Aramide, who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, Odun Nlo Sopin was inescapable.
“I remember hearing the song on the radio. In school, we looked forward to singing carols and doing Christmas presentations,” she says.
It’s more poignant as she grew up in northern Nigeria. “Living in Jos made it more special because [each child who had listened to the song at home] would advocate for it to be part of the setlist in school.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Oyinda R. Olukanni, music marketer and Head of A&R at Soundhalla: “Whenever you listen to Odun Nlo Sopin by the CAC Good Women Choir, you will automatically be switched into a nostalgic realm.
“It is one of the greatest songs that have graced Nigerian airplay, and as it’s been carried along by listeners who have travelled beyond our borders, it is one of the greatest to do so.”
That is not to say that the song’s popularity has necessarily translated to commercial success like Mariah Carey.
Olukanni lists sync rights, collaborations and brand endorsement as some of the ways the group could have benefited over the years.
“The song is not even on the top streaming services that pay top dollar, and if it was licensed to any of the year Christmas movies produced in Nigeria, that would have earned it more revenue.”
But the leader of the group, Deborah Fasoyin, insists that commercial success wasn’t important to the Good Women’s Choir.
It is one of the greatest songs that have graced Nigerian airplay, and as it’s been carried along by listeners who have travelled beyond our borders, it is one of the greatest to do so.
At 82 years old, she hardly gives any interviews but said through an assistant, “Making money was never the goal. We aimed to spread the gospel as much as we could, and I am happy that Odun Nlo Sopin achieved that.”
As the women aged, the group slowly disbanded. First, a splinter group broke off, and then old age and death took away many of them.
Their last official release was in 1995 – nearly 30 years ago. But the music continues to be shared from one generation to another.
“Timeless is evergreen,” Aramide adds. “It never goes out of sound. I think every artist should strive towards creating a timeless body of work, something that people will forever refer to.”
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