One of the all time greats of country music, Don Williams, has died at age 78.
The ‘Gentle Giant’ whose career spanned through the best part of the past four decades, particularly in the 70s and 80s, passed away after a brief illness, as announced by his public relations agents, WebsterPR, on September 8, 2017.
Amanda, Till the Rivers Run Dry and Tulsa Time are three among a host of favorite tunes with which Don Williams delighted a worldwide fan base of country music spanning many generations. The unique blend of his baritone, guitar strings and listenable lyrics made him easy to identify and his music handy as an accompaniment.
Some accounts of his life have it that Don Williams was not so much for the limelight. He did eventually travel the world, even doing a tour in Zimbabwe, but the man was not as fuzzy with celebrity as the average musician in other genres are today. Yes, his were not really the days of the internet and Instagram, but in his days too were the Madonnas and other prima donnas.
Today is a different scene from the Don Williams days. As if by some coincidence, I read about his death late Friday night while ‘The Climb’ by Taylor Swift was playing from a neighbour’s. She is supposedly the new school and cool of country, and one of the best selling artists in the world at the moment. But you would hardly make a relation between her style and that of Don Williams.
In my head, though, the synthesis of the old and the new come together in one artist, not American, but Nigerian.
Simisola Ogunleye, simply called Simi, appears to be riding on a balance of talent, ease and hardwork that sets her up for nothing but great success. Her album, Simisola, was released on the same September 8, to favorable early reviews. Smile for Me and Joromi have been on repeat on many music players and radio stations for some time, but the album also features others like Angelina which has become a favorite of many.
Compared to her contemporaries on the Nigerians scene, Simi has something different. Her soft voice and tone, which is sometimes unfairly criticized as babyish, are unique and blend into her lyrics to produce serenades akin to a favorite town-crier who sings her nightly announcements. The 12-track album was entirely written by her, and they are not a bunch of dance along tracks, per what is usually obtainable in the music market. She swings from the contemplative, to the playful, through the melancholic, every number sufficiently and rationally romantic.
“Rational”? Yes, and maybe Simi consciously tries to make music that is not just necessarily sensual but mandatorily sensible. Maybe even educational; her first single was JAMB question, this album was released on World Literacy Day, and her every song is a lyrical journey in a style different from, but in a community of, other artists of the day like Adekunle Gold, Falz Folarin, Jidenna and Brymo.
There is really no need to compare her to Asa who is generally believed to be on a different level from every other Nigerian artists. Simi can own her style and codify it for herself for others to emulate. She is already doing this and may she continue.
A Don Williams tribute album released three months ago was his final act after already retiring two years ago. His jolly tunes and soothing lyrics will continue to thrill generations. May his soul rest in peace.
For Simi, who is only just getting started, who does hits principally “for the music”, may her pleasant-sounding days be filled with bliss.
By Alexander O. Onukwue