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In Loving Memory of Sound Sultan

A tribute to one of the most endearing names in Nigerian pop history.

Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” - Ernest Hemingway

In my early years, I was never really big on music. I grew up in a small town where nothing ever happened. I lived what most people would refer to as a triangular life: home, school, and my moderately populated church – the only place where I really engaged with music. Memories of multiple rehearsal sessions, white lace gloves on, trying to perfect my choreography to Angel’s “Opomulero” still fill my head. While we had a TV set at home, it was only connected to a VHF Antenna, hence limiting the number of channels we could access. Radio was really no use either. I barely listened to it because my mum mostly colonized it to listen to her favourite shows. The dusty audio woofers only came on on weekends, blaring her stacked collection of gospel CDs – the same songs I heard in church.

My proper introduction to music wouldn’t come until my late pre-teen years when my dad, who lived far away at the time, sent a fully loaded third-generation iPod to my brother and I. It was filled with all the late 90s hits down to the early 2000s. Olu Maintain’s “I Catch Cold”, The Remedies’ “Shakomo”, Tony Tetuila’s “My Car”, Paul Play’s “Angel Of My Life”, KSA’s “Syncro System”. Think of the song, it was most likely on there. One of the songs that stood out to me on the device was Sound Sultan’s 2000 hit “Mathematics (Jagbajantis)”. While I didn't necessarily pick up all the socio-political references at the time, I loved it regardless. The children’s intermittent chorusing and Sultan’s clever BODMAS infusion intrigued me. The memorable hook “Everybody, oya o join jagbajantis, solve mathematics wey dey dabaru our continent so oh oh / Oyinbo say, na BODMAS we go use take solve mathematics, so follow jagbajantis, oya carry biro” wouldn’t leave my lips.

Born in Jos, a populated city located in the country’s middle belt, Sound Sultan (nee: Olanrewaju Fasasi) grew up somewhat an itinerant. A few years after being born, his family relocated to Lagos, where he had his primary school education. Shortly after completing his primary school education, he moved to Ogbomoso (a small town located in the heart of Oyo State) to enroll in one of the many Federal Unity schools, before moving back to Lagos again – this time to study Geography and Regional Planning in the University Of Lagos. During these various periods, Sultan was gradually growing a strong passion for the arts ー music in particular, which was cultivated and strengthened by his brother, Dare Fasasi aka Baba Dee.

His foray into music wouldn’t start until his time in Federal Government College Ogbomoso where he joined several drama societies and started writing his own music. When he gained admission into university, he joined his brother (who was studying Theater Arts) in his various performances, serving as his backup singer. As a group, they started performing at different notable events, Lekki Sunsplash in ‘95, Nigerian Song Festival the following year, and a host of other shows. After sharpening his musical tooth under his brother’s tutelage, he started to enter talent shows by himself, winning a couple between 1999 and 2000, the same period when he released his first single, “Mathematics (Jagbajantis)”.

Releasing a socio-politically charged debut single was a bold move from Sultan, one that massively paid off. The song earned him a record deal with Dove Entertainment, the same label that once housed the famous group Plantashun Boiz. He would go on to release more singles, feature on hit singles, before eventually penning a deal with one of the premier labels around at the time, Kennis Music. Years later and a fruitful stint in Kennis Music, one that spawned a handful of albums and hit singles, he reunited with Baba Dee, this time to establish their own label Naija Ninjas. Naija Ninjas would grow to become much more than just a label, branching out to production and fashion. Sultan’s sonic palette expanded, infusing newer sounds and styles into his music, highlighting his incredible dynamism. He eventually featured in several movies, including the self-produced comedy Head Gone and 2018’s The Washerman, building on his stellar performance in Tunde Kehlani’s 2004 classic Campus Queen. He fully morphed into a multi-hyphenate entertainer.

Earlier in the week, when news broke that Sound Sultan had passed – he lost his life to angioimmunoblastic t-cell lymphoma, an ailment he had been battling for some time – a wave of sadness immediately followed my initial shock. Images of me singing along to “Jagbajantis” flooded my memory. In truth, years after listening to his debut hit single, my love for him waned. In my teenage years, I was more preoccupied with much newer acts, P-square, Dbanj, Wande Coal and a host of others. However, I still had a special place for him in my heart. While I didn't necessarily engross myself in his albums, ubiquitous records like the 2face-assisted “Ole (Bushmeat)”, his 2013 smash hit “Kokose”, “Natural Something”, “Geshomo” found its way to my speakers. His dynamic artistry was timeless, edging him into a class of unfailing acts that maintained relevance across decades. He had it all: the penmanship, the charisma, the delivery, the melody and most of all, an astonishing personality and generosity.

Ernest Hemingway was right: the details of how one lived his life is what distinguishes one man from the next. The public reaction to Sultan’s passing speaks volumes. He was loved by most, if not all. He lived a distinguished life, one that impacted many. His music not only soundtracked different functions and seasons, it also served as a beacon of hope. About 10 years after his debut, he released Back From The Future, arguably his magnum opus. The album was filled with songs that share similar thematic similarities to “ Mathematics (Jagbajantis)”. Songs like “Light Up 2010” and “One” speak about societal ills while ultimately preaching unending love. Ironically, “Rewind Time”, an epitaphic cut from the album dedicated to Da Grin who passed in 2010, has lyrics that would serve as an appropriate eulogy, a doxology that encapsulates befitting words for Sound Sultan himself: “So God almighty guide us by the night time/ Cos in this game we make our money prime dime / I wish I could rewind time and see my boy Da Grin drop another rhyme.

I wish I could rewind time too, Sound Sultan. Just to hear your tender croons one more time.

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