Retro Review: The Timeless Song “Easy Motion Tourist”
If a song stays relevant and influential enough, it creates its own myth. This much can be said about Easy Motion Tourist, a guitar-based soulful song that has continued to linger around dance floors since the ‘50s. This catchy title, Easy Motion Tourist— part-instructional, part-complimentary— already lends itself as book title for a crime Lagos novel by Leye Adenle, a music aficionado in his own right.
Easy Motion Tourist is a popular tune. People hum it on a regular basis. Local bands cover it relentlessly. If you frequent Freedom Park on Broad Street you may have heard the sensational Afrobeats singer, Edaoto offering his own rendition. A closet lover of juju music, not given to raucous fever of ariya, may have listened to King Sunny Ade’s Grammy nominated 1998 album, Odu. His version of Easy Motion Tourist seats comfortably on that LP track list.
King Sunny Ade, who seldom covers songs by other musicians, does justice to the song. By the mid-80s, the pacemaker of juju rhythm had changed. The guitar had relinquished that lofty role to the talking drum, but for a song like Easy Motion Tourist, a compromise was reached. In KSA’s cover both the guitar and talking drum are in an artful conversation. The resultant music is a symphony of sorts which KSA lends his mellow voice to. Easy Motion Tourist is one of the most important songs on the Odu album and here is why: it is delightful and anachronistic tourism; it is modern juju music playing palmwine highlife oldies in a manner that it was not conceived to be played. Little wonder, some music lovers opine that King Sunny Ade wrote the song.
King Sunny Ade did not write Easy Motion Tourist. Fatai Rolling Dollar, Chief Ebenezer Obey’s one-time boss, did not write Easy Motion Tourist. It is exciting that Fatai Rolling Dollar, while enjoying a resurgence of his music in old age revisited this song. As an agidigbo-exponent, and highlife crossover musician, Rolling Dollar re-imagines Easy Motion Tourist as a highlife tune with wailing guitars and a tempo slightly quicker than the typical juju rhythm. His synthesis is no doubt funky perhaps this is why it is the novelist Leye Adenle’s preferred version.
Rolling Dollar has an organic relationship with Easy Motion Tourist for obvious reasons. He, J.O Araba and Seni Tejuosho formed a band called Rhythm Blues in 1953. They scored a number of hits together till they broke up in 1957. Amongst their evergreen hits was ‘Ranka Dede’, ‘Kele gbe Megbe’ and ‘Easy Motion Tourist’. The inspiration to write Easy Motion Tourist was gotten from Seni Tejuosho’s experience. He was said to have been locked out of his parent’s house after returning from a night-party presumably drunk.
The song is a humorous account of being locked out on the one hand but it reflects on deeper issues in a seemingly playful and prayerful mode. Expectedly, this composition is not evergreen or influential for its lyrical depth; rather, it is peculiarly loved for its lyrical departure and disjointedness. One moment, it is a praise song. The next moment, it is laying a complaint. Yet in the next moment, it is an intoned prayer.
Seni Tejuosho is credited to have written this evergreen song. His version is little known and frankly unpopular. Although the swing of his rhythm tilts towards calypso, his sound is quite bare and hardly sophisticated. The poor mastering also did not help matters, giving his rendition the improvisation feel of an unrehearsed set.
Film-maker Remi Vaughan Richards recently released a film called Faaji Agba. This documentary closely follows a geriatric collective of musicians as they prepare to re-launch their music career with an international tour. These musicians include Alaba Pedro, Eji Oyewole, Sina Ayinde-Bakare, Fatai Rolling Dollar, S. F. Olowookere, Samson Adegbite, Taiye Anyowale, Nureini Sunmola, Kunle Adeniran and Niyi Ajileye. Through the six year span of the film, the ensemble cast bow out one after the other, succumbing to death, leaving just two alive. Seni Tejuoso had a cameo in this film, cut shot by his death.
The story of beautiful melodies from the Golden Age of Nigerian music is a double dose of nostalgia and tragedy: about men and women who dedicated themselves to their craft and made evergreen tunes. Their songs live on robustly in communal memory whilst they (the artistes) fade away.
But let us return to the lyrical composition of the song. What if the tourist referred to is every man and tourism experience is life itself. Then the song moves from a place of praise to a place of plea: Easy motion, Tourist.