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OBITUARIES / Passings / Sonny Okosun

Pioneer of Nigerian pop

June 28, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sonny Okosun, 61, a key figure in Nigerian pop music who mixed traditional African forms with Western rock elements, died May 24 of colon cancer at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., according to news reports.

Born in Benin, Nigeria, in 1947 to musician parents, Okosun taught himself to play the guitar. He began his music career by covering British and American rock 'n' roll tunes.

Singing and playing guitar, Okosun led a string of bands that showcased his evolving musical sense.

He created a new fusion that he called Ozzidizm, named for an African river god and translated as "there is a message." It blended the West African musical genre of highlife with rock and soul.

He played with musical combinations by adding reggae, funk and folk styles and found commercial success with the 1977 album "Fire In Soweto."

Okosun's lyrics promoted Pan-African themes, and he was included in the Artists Against Apartheid album "Sun City" in 1985.

Reflecting on his music's social and political focus, Okosun once said, "All my mates were singing love songs. I was trying to talk about what was happening to black people."

He released more than 30 albums and usually sang in English. In recent years he had started calling himself Evangelist Okosuns.

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