We would wake up to the disembodied voice of a man in a studio thousands of miles away, sometimes he’d be alone but at other times he’d be having a conversation with others. There were times when I’d try to escape from his voice, shutting my eyes with unnecessary force and try to steal a few more minutes of bliss.
The station was VOA Africa service and my father listened to it with a religiosity that bordered on fanaticism, every morning by 5am he’d tune the radio to the short wave dial that gave him his news programme. By the time I was six years old and began to be aware of the world, tension was rising in Rwanda and Somalia and there was a fierce war in Liberia. “Genocide”, “Ecomog” “Ethnic militia” were words I grew up with, I didn’t need a dictionary to tell me what they meant.
If our father came home before 5pm, we’d pout and frown. Not that it made any difference, just before five he’d go to the wall divider and touch a few buttons before going to sit on his chair. At that time our favourite television station showed cartoons between 5pm and 6pm and his radio speakers were beside the tiny television set.
You’d hear a little static at 4:59pm before hearing a male voice announce the English service of Radio France International.
“You’ve already listened to news in the morning” we’d accuse with wounded eyes.
“You’ll still watch news by 7 and 9, why do you still want this one when we want to watch cartoons”
Most times, he’d not say anything. He’d shake his head from side to side as we seethed in fury.
This continued until my youngest brother was about three years old, the little boy did not like interruptions when he watched cartoons.
“Daddy, your radio is disturbing my cartoons and I don’t like it” he said
“Put it off” he continued.
Our mouths fell open when our father walked to the radio and put it off without a word. We were even more surprised when he didn’t put on the radio the next day and the day after. Just like that, RFI died in our house.
In the late 1990s our father started tuning to Raypower fm in the morning, we woke up to the frenetic voices of the presenters of the Ultimate morning show. The term On Air Personality was not yet in the lexicon of the Nigerian youth, radio presenters weren’t the hotchpotch accented, instagram and twitter celebs that they are today. It wasn’t a hard hitting news show like the VOA program he abruptly abandoned, this one was a sequence of hit songs and light-hearted chirping of the presenters.
We learned the lyrics to the songs by heart and made our mother worry for a term about our grades until results came out and we maintained our grades and positions in class- this where I tell you I always came first in primary school 😉 From Raypower, he switched to Rhythm and Metro and flirted for a while with Wazobia FM. He stopped listening to his radio in the morning, preferring to listen to gospel songs before going to work.
When he came back from work today, he brought out his tiny radio and tuned to 92.9 on the FM dial. Every 4pm Bond FM starts its Igbo language program belt, “Oge ndi igbo” they call it. Daddy would put the radio on the dining table just before his lunch which usually consists of wheat and soup is served. As he eats he’d nod his head when the people on the radio say things that please him and he’d tap his feet in rhythm to the music that intersperses the program. When he’s done with the meal, he’d still sit on the chair with his elbows propped on the table and close his eyes. I do not know what passes through his mind in those moments even though I know that he longs for home.
He talks a lot about retirement and relocating to the village these days, he speaks of village meetings and gathering of Umunna with great excitement. He tells us about remodelling his house for his grandchildren, of having them spend all their holidays with him and crying when they had to go home.
When my grandfather was alive, he’d play old records on his record player and listen to the songs that the radio stations played.
“Adaaku, listen to the music” he’d tell me.
“It’s the sound of home, the music of our hearts, and the rhythm of our ancestors” he’d say this in Igbo as he put tobacco in his teeth to make them warm. How I miss that man and his gap toothed smiles that put mine in the shade.
I look at my father now as he listens to the music, his eyes are closed and his left foot seems to move in sync with the music. I know that like his father before him, he’s listening to the rhythm of his ancestors. He’s thinking of home.