Ambrose Campbell lifted the lid on his life and music in this memorable discussion with five devotees of his music and personae. An enigma up to his death, this as well might have been his last known interview.
On Sunday 24th October 2004, five men who are as diverse in background as professional orientation travelled to Plymouth on the south coast of England, bound by a theme: their consummate love of music. Especially, music of a rare gem as in Ambrose Oladipupo Adekoya Campbell. Armed with a mini-disk recorder, a digi-cam and an unbounded enthusiasm to share the elder’s knowledge, little did they realize that it would be the last formal chitchat that Papa would share with kindred from his musical family. They all met with the trademark Campbell conviviality and shared in an evening of fun, taken on a trip back in time. The ensuing encounter of that blustery day in 2004 would remain more than just an interview; it is an insight into the life and times of the man described as part of the story of Soho in the 1950s. Beloved by London’s jazz community, including saxophonists Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, his acknowledgment as a cultural figure traverses an astounding assortment of fans including the playwright George Bernard Shaw.
Shaw, despite being famously vegetarian, reportedly had chicken cooked for ‘Les Ballets Negres’, Britain’s first black ballet company formed in 1946 and in which Campbell prominently featured. Back home, many musicians also tapped into Campbell’s musical inventiveness.
And despite that scores of Nigerian musicians are proud beneficiaries of his rare gift, it is astonishing that none of these artistes gave Ambrose Campbell credits for his works copied in either the lyrical or inspirational form. This much was acknowledged by the genial man of music himself.
Ambrose Campbell, the octogenarian musician who bestrode the 50’s musical terrain in the United Kingdom like a colossus was born in Lagos on August 19 1919 and passed away in the UK on 22 June 2006. He was survived by two daughters and three sons.
What you are about to read is a condensed extract from the over two hours of interview conducted with Ambrose Campbell in Plymouth. It bears largely the mark of philosophical reflections of a soft-spoken man of great dignity.
Q: Tell us about your music and the underlying philosophy
A:There is not much one can say than to thank God, that me at 86, I still have music that a young man like you appreciates. That shows you that somehow, good things last. Music is a universal language and it’s a thing which is very close to man. The heartbeat of a child right from his mother’s womb is his first connection to beats, and to music. I hope that one day, in the nearest future I’ll be able to tell my story in full because, if anybody had told me that I will become what I became, I would not have believed it, it was pure determination.
I was born into a very prominent family but I was warned not to disclose my background to the public because, mine was a family of judges, and one of them may have passed judgments that were unfavourable to some people, and if they could not get at you, they might want to go after the children. So I was warned to guide my background. I was also warned not to go after money as if it was the end to life. That’s why I’ve lived this long because if I was after money, I’d have long destroyed myself. I’d have been so pompous and big headed. But then, I love women. Always give your best to whatever you do and whatever you sincerely believe in. Don’t give up, you’ll surely get there.
I made a decision in life to play the kind of music I’m playing today, not for anybody but because it was what I felt deep inside that I wanted to do. Every instrument I play is what I feel, and it comes from the inside but, the only thing I haven’t got the chance to do is to really put together the kind of band of musicians I would have loved to assemble, to express what I feel. If I could do this then, I would have been fulfilled.
Music is a thing that tells you to speak as you see it and, as you feel it. Children are just like that. They talk as they feel but, we should be able to control what we feel.