On Saturday, the Biblical “One will be taken, one will be left behind” became painfully true for Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu, talented songstresses that were popularly known by their Lijadu Sisters stage name.
Death, the Grim Reaper that had been actively culling from Nigeria’s arts community in 2019, decided it was time for the 71-year-old Kehinde to join the ancestors after battling complications from a fall from the staircase, leaving Taiwo all alone. The second half of the twins born on October 22, 1948, suffered severe spinal injuries following the 1996 fall, with recovery long and painful.
‘Ear’ delights with big numbers including ‘Orere Elejigbo’, ‘Iya Mi Jowo’, and ‘Reincarnation’ among others back in the day, the Lijadu Sisters were a staple of the late 60s to the 80s until they relocated to the US over three decades ago.
With inputs from legendary producer, Odion Iruoje, and the late Biddy Wright, the Lijadu Sisters drew heavily from their Yoruba roots to produce deep, soulful and entertaining music to pleasure generations of Nigerians. Singing in both English and Yoruba, the Sisters effortlessly blended Afrobeat, soul, and psychedelic rock in albums including ‘Danger (1976); ‘Mother Africa’ (1977), ‘Sunshine (1978) and ‘Horizon Unlimited’ (1979).
Another selling point was the unique voices that made them the toast of both young and old. The talented sisters, who discovered their love for music early, and started as backing vocalists for studio sessions, essentially put their gifts to the service of Nigerians and the world such that eminent music critics rated them highly.
The New York Times music critic, Jon Pareles described their music as “a West African parallel to the Pointer Sisters” with a mix of Nigerian Afro-beat, reggae, South African pop with elements of disco and “Memphis soul”. Critic Peter Watrous described the sisters sound as “riveting.”
Though immensely gifted, Taiwo and Kehinde appeared to be publicity-shy unlike their late second cousin, the inimitable Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Not much is known about their private lives, with the most information about their whereabouts, especially in the US, trickling out of their actor-brother, Ayo Lijadu. A search through the archives- both online and offline- showed they didn’t give much press interviews.
One of their trending online video interviews is at a rehearsal where they talked about gender politics in the Nigerian music business. “In the past, men believed that the wife should stick to the kitchen and bring kids into the world; that’s all,” said Kehinde. “Women have been playing important roles in the world of politics, in music, in hospitals…in every aspect of life, you find women….” Taiwo added. The duo agreed that female representation in the music industry at that time was limited, but that overall female representation in the professional sphere will continue to increase.
Once they relocated to the US, and especially after Kehinde’s accident and painful recovery, music appeared to take the backstage in the life of the sisters. They withdrew from the limelight and granted occasional interviews with film/stage producer, Biyi Bandele among the lucky few to be granted interviews.
They also featured in a few events. Still, their April 2014 participation in a live tribute to funk musician turned cleric, William Onyeabor at London’s Barbican was well documented by the music website, www.nme.com.
The sisters jammed alongside Damon Albarn, Kele Okereke from Bloc Party, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and Ghostpoet at the memorable concert.
“Once the band started its funk jam, Albarn danced by the side of the stage, joining them to play melodica on ‘Heaven And Hell’, sung by Okereke. He then sat at the back on the stage and listened as the backing singers for the night, The Lijadu Sisters, performed two of their late-’70s tracks, the punk-laced, politically conscious songs ‘Danger’ and ‘Life Gone Down Low'”, nme.com reported.
Not much was heard about them after that event until their cousin, David Olanrewaju Lijadu, confirmed Kehinde’s passage on Saturday. Sadly, her passing on Saturday further increases the number of creatives that have joined the celestial realms this year alone. Bisi Silva, Okwui Enwezor, Pius Adesanmi, Paul Emema, Eddie Ugbomah, Molara Ogundipe, Stella Oyedepo, David Dale, Jide Ogungbade, Frank Okonta, Idowu Nubi and Olakunle Olasope, departed earlier.
But though Kehinde Lijadu is gone, her vintage works, produced alongside her sister, remain imperishable. This affirms the Yoruba idiom: “bi Onirese ko ti ko fin igba mo, eyi to ti fin sile koni parun,” meaning if the master carver declines to produce more works, the exquisite ones he already created will remain indestructible.
For Kehinde Lijadu, her works will continue to speak/live after her.