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If Music be the Food of Love

…Then I am glutton and I want it all. I look at my little nephew loving music and it melts my heart. Where it not for music, I would not be where I am today. Music of all kinds. Music that is live or recorded. Current or retro. Played through headphones or on speakers. Walkman, discman to iPod. Music punctuates the story of my life.

I have 2 cousins in the US of A. The older of the two, the girl who shares my grandmother’s name with me, plays the violin to a good standard. She probably isn’t Vanessa Mae standard but the effect her music had on me was electric. She played a piece of music I wasn’t familiar with in my room in London and it changed that room for me forever. As she coaxed the strings into song, the tune struck a chord deep within me. It was as if everything came alive. My senses turbo-charged. I wanted to lie down and close my eyes and for it never to end. I must have had a very foolish smile on my face by the time she played the last note. It was the first time I had seen her in over a decade and I didn’t know her all that well. All it took for me to love her was a piece of music that she insisted wasn’t very good. All the shyness, the reserve, the uncertainty of my relationship with her was wiped away and in its place, I felt love, kinship and trust.

I will never forget the first time I heard the flute being played live. I was in JSS2 (equivalent of year 8) in QC Lagos when one of the senior girls was called on stage to play some music. There must have been nearly 4000 girls crammed into the Hall and despite all effort throughout the rest of the special assembly, there was steady background chatter. She came on stage and as she assembled her flute, the silence began to wash across the room. She played the theme song to Disney’s Pocahontas. Have you ever listened to the score on that song? It is so beautiful. And the words amazing in their simplicity. As she played, I could feel the tears gather in the back of my throat. All the other girls must have felt the same because the silence was absolute halfway through and at the end of it all, there was a stunned silence before we all erupted into applause and hooting. From then on every time I saw her, it felt like there was a magical halo around her for me. She glowed blue to me. And although I have forgotten the names of some of the girls I sat with for years, I remember her name as clear as daylight. Talking about Disney music – I get a similar awe when I listen to ‘When you believe’ from Prince of Egypt and ‘The cycle of life’ from Lion King. Spell binding.

I had a friend in QC who used to be just a classmate. Then one day, she opened her mouth and sang in class and we were all in awe. I guess you could call me the original fan. Although I have since forgotten what the first song Esther sang in public was, I will never forget how I felt about her from that day forward. Of course it helped that she was a lovely girl anyway but in my appreciation for her talent, we became fast friends. The song I will associate with Esther for the rest of my days is ‘I love you Mummy’ which was a hit in Nigeria in the 1990s. Every time she sang that song, all the hairs on my body would stand up and all my worries and stress and unhappiness and negative thoughts would simply disappear. There was once a special assembly only a select few attended and Esther sang that song there. Apparently, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even our Principal had tears in her eyes. I saw her as an angel. She had a golden yellow halo. She was quiet, unassuming and her smile could light up a stadium full of people. Little did I know that when I left QC in 2000, it would be the last time I would see her. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I left and she died a couple of years later. Like they say, the best of us die young. R.I.P Esther. What a loss to the world and especially to those who never got to experience the magical voice Esther had.

I love musicals and I have the utmost respect for the incredible talent of theatre actors and actresses who sing their hearts out night after night. My favourite musical is Catz but my absolute ever performance was back in 2001 when I went to see ‘Notre dame de Paris’ in London. The narrator man with his long blond hair and colourful blue coat looked just like all the other stars but he overshadowed them all so that by the end of the show, I was more focused on his bits than on the lead actor and actress. What made it more amazing was that his voice outshone all the female vocalists on stage and I think that is a rare quality. The tone in his voice was pure. It was like crystal in its clarity and every word resonated in my soul. The power was like no other I have seen in theatre and I literally cannot comprehend how he could work his vocal cords so hard for so long and retain its beauty. When the show was over, I did not want to leave. I felt like if I didn’t move, I could remain wrapped up in the magic of his voice forever.

Last year, my then fiancé and I went to the Stephen Lawrence memorial concert at the O2 arena and the line-up was epic. I was mostly looking forward to Emile Sande but there were numerous others I was excited about. The revelation of the night for me was the lovely Beverly Knight from Wolverhampton (which is down the road from me). I have always liked her songs and loved her personality but when she sang ‘Fallen Soldier’ on stage, I fell in love with her. It is by far the best live performance I have ever heard. I have heard the song before and thought it was ok but when dear old Bev sang it, she elevated it to new heights. Every word struck chord in my soul and I felt the tears come as I remembered all my fallen soldiers. The pitch was perfect. The sentiment suited so well to the theme of the evening. She sang her heart out and she won a fan for life. I now realise that she is probably one of the most underrated British stars. It must be because she is so understated in her manner, so personable and so approachable. She is the ultimate girl-next-door except she is more than that. She has been blessed with the most gorgeous voice. What a star!

I know some Muslims believe that modern music is on the scale of evil but I honestly could not disagree more. How could I not appreciate beauty that I believe is a gift from God? How could music which inspires me to be pure and to be kind be bad in any way? How can music which erases my sadness and stress be anything but good? How can music which promotes happiness and positivity be anything but encouraged? Life is hard enough I think so I simply cannot accept that something that makes it all better can be a bad thing. I love music and I celebrate its existence. And most of all, I thank God for music because it has been life’s saving grace more times than I can count.

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Girly Man

I listen to Ed & Rachel on Heart FM on my daily drive in to work (as I always do because it is the best programme on radio!). Yesterday’s morning’s phone-in was about celebrating the ‘girly’ things that our men do that we think are great. So that got me thinking and this blog was born. Before I do that, let me just say I do not actually think these things are girly. I think the things I will praise below are just nice, lovely, sensitive traits that are brilliant regardless of gender. It is just that because men have the wrong idea about what it is to be a man, these nice things are now feminised. So to the men in my life whose traits I will be praising, I want to reassure you that I am in no way questioning your manhood or masculinity. I am celebrating you in all you glory!

My granddad, he of the military ways, is the only man I know who always has lip balm with him and applies liberally. Also, he moisturises daily and I know this is still true because last time I went home, I decided not to take any moisturiser with me and the only place I could find some was in my granddad’s bathroom. He had several bottles of lovely stuff and my skin was happy throughout the holiday. More importantly, he has lovely moisturised skin, his diabetic feet are the most beautiful I have ever seen and he has none of the skin complications associated with diabetes and hypertension. Well done Baba!

My teenage cousin (Baby A if you have read my blog) is a very creative boy and one of his ‘hobbies’ is cooking. He can cook a 3 course meal and seems to enjoy it but what I was most impressed by is that he can cook the loveliest crepes (thin pancakes). Impressed not only that he can make them delicious, thin, round and unbroken but also that he uses reconstituted powdered milk and if I hadn’t know, I would never have guessed. He also gives lovely hugs and likes to sit and talk about the important things in his life. And when I am not in the same town as he is (which is most of the time these days), he will often say hi or good night or send me emoticon hugs randomly. Warms my heart I tell you.

My brother-in-law’s best ‘girly’ trait is that he celebrates his love for his family. When he and my sister moved into their home, he spent a considerable amount of time and money choosing and framing pictures of their close family members. And by their family, I mean his family and my family. Imagine my surprise when I found the loveliest framed photo of my mama’s in their bedroom and one of me with the pictures of his sisters in his study. Awwwh! The other thing is his ability to turn the volume up when his favourite music is on and dance around the kitchen without any inhibitions or when in the car, do a perfect imitation particularly when it’s a girl singer lol. Before he lived with my sister, I thought that was a girl thing. But apparently not, thank goodness!

There are lots of girl things that I have come across that I have loved and still love in the uncles and cousins, patients and friends too. I know a man who loves black nail polish and getting his nails done who has to hide his love for fear of people’s acid tongues. I know of a younger brother who buys the best hand bags for his sister who is my friend. I know of a cousin who when he was younger loved nothing better than to brush his mum’s gorgeous hair. I know several who love to be hugged just like I do.

Special mention to my dear husband though. I love so much about him but foremost are the girly traits that were like girl-magnet when it came to me. I think the seed of love was planted when he was honest about his feelings and that he let me see how vulnerable falling head over heels had made him. He loves my pink fluffy socks which even I find too girly to wear out and he is not shy to admit it either…he took them all the way to Nigeria when he went to ask for my hand in marriage. My poor sister got a shock when she spotted my socks peeking out beneath his trouser leg. George also has a onesie (I am not sure how to spell it but you know what it is when I say it is like a large baby grow/jumpsuit/overall). He insists that it absolutely is not girly but I beg to differ. On babies is where it should be. On girls, it is cute and could even be a sexy slouchy playsuit-type affair on a young lady. On a boy up to primary school level I could persuaded to see its merits but on a man old enough to shave and father children, I am in the ‘please no’ group. Dearest old George pretended that I could have the onesie when I shared my concerns but did I ever get to wear it? You know the answer to that. The onesie is a bit of a uniform these days and I have to actively order him not to wear it to restaurants or the cinema. He even turned up at the hospital I am currently working in wearing the onesie and asking for me. Oh the embarrassment! If I had known, I would not have owned up to being his wife.

So to my granddad (Baba), Baby A, George and all the unmentioned cousins/friends/little ones that have made my days with their ‘girly’ ways, I love you all and please embrace the girl in you. One love.