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Today, Imona is known in entertainment circles as one of the most gifted multi-instrumentalists Nigeria has ever produced.
Recounting how he arrived at this position, in an interview with our correspondent, he says, “I got hooked on to music by listening to big stars like Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Don Carlos, Peter Tosh and so on. But the musicians that actually influenced me were Steve Wonder and Sir Victor Uwaifo. I fell in love with their music.”
The artiste, whose pedigree includes several stints with the likes of Amos McRoy, Majek Fashek, Orits Williki, Ras Kimono and Victor Eshiet of the Mandators, admits that he was so obsessed with Uwaifo’s style of music that he adopted the flute as his favourite musical instrument.
“I learnt how to play the flute because I wanted to be like Uwaifo. Eventually I transferred my knowledge of this instrument to the piano” he says.
Imona’s musical journey began in the church – specifically the Church of the Lord (Aladura) on Forestry Road in Benin City – where he met Amos McRoy and Majek Fashek for the first time.
Later he moved to Lagos and teamed up with Black Rice, the erstwhile leader of the defunct JaStix (the same group that nurtured Majek Fashek and Ras Kimono to stardom), and formed a five-piece reggae band known as the Jah Crew in 1988.
But the band did not survive the same tensions that broke up its predecessor, the JaStix. When it broke up, Imona packed his bags and joined Orits Williki.
“When I left Williki, I moved on to play for The Mandators as a keyboardist. Also I played with Daniel Wilson. In fact, I produced his album titled Mr. Ragamuffin. I worked with Chris Hanen, Alex Zitto, Ras Kimono and finally settled with Majek Fashek,” he says.
However, lamenting the breakup of the Jah Crew, the he says it actually affected his music career. He adds, “I was the coordinator of the group while it lasted. The founder, Black Rice, was not living in Nigeria at the time. Before he returned to his base in Holland, he gave us a house in Anthony Village, Lagos. He also made sure we had all the musical instruments that we needed. But we had to feed and the onus of responsibility for the upkeep of the band fell on my shoulder. So I spent a lot of money trying to keep it going. I was practically funding the band from my own pocket. I was doing this to encourage the boys. I was doing shows with Orits Williki and the Mandators at the time. Whenever I went on playing tours with them, I made some money and spent it on the band.
Imona reunited with Majek Fashek after the latter returned from the United States in 1997. Recalling with nostalgia the period he spent working with the legendary reggae musician, he describes Majek as a “musical genius”.
“I don’t know any musician in Africa that is as gifted as Majek. He is one of the very best I have ever worked with. The other extraordinarily talented musician is Pastor Chris Okotie,” Imona says.
The artiste concedes that he feels bad about Majek Fashek’s present condition and wishes to see the reggae star regain his pride of place on the music scene. But he waves aside insinuations that Majek’s problem is caused by drug addiction.
“Majek’s problem is spiritual. It was not caused by drug addiction. I have worked and lived with him. Apart from the fact that we worked together, he is my brother. So I am in the position to know where his problem came from. But we have decided to leave everything in God’s hands. We are praying for divine intervention in his case,” he says.
Contrary to popular belief, Imona thinks that reggae music is not dead in Nigeria. “Reggae will be back before the end of this year. Some of us are working hard to bring it back with a loud bang. I know a couple of talented reggae artistes who are working very hard to take the music scene by storm. Personally I am trying to put a new album together. Just wait and see,” he says.