There was a time in Nigeria in the 90’s and 80’s when to add a Northern touch to any show, the only and obvious choice was Dan Maraya Jos. Till date, that tenet still holds to a reasonable extent.
Such was the popularity of the man that he easily became a reference point of sorts, for any mention of Nigerian musicians from the north, or even of Nigerian musicians that commanded national appeal
He became the yardstick for measuring public appeal in terms of what a national musician (traditional or contemporary) should be and how such should conduct his or her performances, on or off the stage.
In fact, between the 80’s and 90’s, in Nigeria, no national event or gathering was ever complete without the conspicuous stage presence of Dan Maraya Jos which was on the strength of the fact that his enthusiasm to affect his audience was unparalleled and became his greatest weapon.
As much as he acknowledge the hard fact that his language was to some extent a hindrance in expanding the scope of popularity of his brand of music, Dan Maraya Jos nevertheless was not dampened at all. Through his major performances he was upbeat and so far remained the most electrifying and enthusiastic performer in his class of music.
Born in 1946 in Bukuru, Jos, Plateau State of Nigeria, and named Adamu Wayya, Dan Maraya, he lost his father, Mallam Wayya, a court musician and his mother in quick successions as his father died almost immediately after his birth and his mother while he was still an infant.
However, with the death of the young Dan Maraya’s father, the Emir of Bukuru, in whose court Dan Maraya’s father played, took over responsibility of looking after young Adamu after his parents died, and first sent him to a Quranic school. But as fate would have it, the Emir also died a few years later, leaving Dan Maraya to fend for himself at that tender age.
After enquires about his father, Dan Maraya resolved to play music just like his father. For a start, he played Kotso (talking drum) like his father and later, tried his hands on Kalangu drums, Garaya (two-stringed guitar) Molo (three-stringed guitar) and Violin.
Eventually, he settled for Kuntigi, a locally made small gourd with stringed harp which he discovered during a musical trip to Bauchi.
Dan Maraya Jos, whose name means “The Little Orphan of Jos”, showed an early interest in music and came under the influence of local professional musicians. During a trip to Maiduguri, Borno State, while he was still a teenager, he was impressed by musicians there and made a kuntigi, with which he accompanied himself ever since.
The Kuntigi is a small, single-stringed lute. The body is usually a large, oval-shaped sardine can, covered with goatskin. Dan Maraya and other kuntigi players are solo performers who accompany themselves with a rapid ostinato on the kuntigi.
During instrumental interludes they repeated a fixed pattern for the song they were playing, but while singing, they would often change the notes of the pattern to parallel the melody they were singing.
Like most professional musicians, the mainstay of Dan Maraya’s repertoire is praise singing, but Dan Maraya singled out his personal heroes rather than the rich and famous. His first, and perhaps still his most famous song was “Wak’ar Karen Mota” (Song of the Driver’s Mate) in praise of the young men who get passengers in and out of mini-buses and do the dirty work of changing tyres, pushing broken down vans, and the like.
Noted for being a social critic and commentary figure who employed music as a tool of communication, Dan Maraya Jos, during the Nigerian Civil War, composed numerous songs in praise of soldiers of the federal army and incorporated vivid accounts of scenes from the war in his songs.
His work included the songs on marriage, which probably date from the early 1970’s. One might argue that they were really one large song, and in performance, Dan Maraya incorporated lines from each of them. However, the recordings that served as the basis for this study have three distinct musical settings, and the songs themselves have three different themes. “Jawabin Aure” (Discourse on Marriage) listed the problems attendant in divorce and admonished married couples to try to patch up their differences. “Auren Dole” (Forced Marriage) decried the practice of families arranging marriages for their daughters rather than letting them decide on their own mates. “Gulma-Wuya” (The Busybody) describes a neighbourhood gossip who works in collusion with a boka (a practitioner in casting spells, removing evil spirits, etc.) to disrupt marriages by sowing dissension between women and their husbands. The latter song is amusing in that Dan Maraya performs it as a drama, imitating the voices of the different characters as they speak, a technique that he used in other songs as well.
With over 1000 songs and 150 released singles and records, Dan Maraya Jos also has enlightened people on government programmes. He sang; Pereshan Fidoneshan when the Obasanjo regime launched the ‘Operation Feed The Nation’. Yara Manyan Gobe to stress the importance of the U.P.E (Universal Primary Education) Programme launched by the Gowon regime and Munafikin Yaki, among others, to depict war as a bad phenomenon.
Waxing stronger on the traditional music scene, Dan Maraya acquired the “reputation of a custodian of Hausa culture and tradition. In spite of modern technology, he preferred the use of local violin to a more sophisticated instrument and also refused to expand his one-man band.
His style has earned him both national and international acclaim. Dan Maraya has represented Nigeria at both local and international festivals like FESTAC ‘77. Commonwealth Games and the 1978 Horonzonte International Festival in Berlin, among others.
He has also performed in several countries like United States, Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Venezuela, The Netherlands, and prominent European cities like; Geneva, Bonn, Frankfurt and most African countries and cities.
Dan Maraya who is a well known soloist hugely credited with the invention and popularization of the Kuntigi musical instrument in contemporary Nigerian music, is also a composer, poet and a National Award Winner in Nigeria.
Dan Maraya has a long list of awards to his credit. They include; Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) and the United Nations Medal of Recognition in 1982 and 1984 respectively. He also won Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) award in 1990 and was conferred with a PhD (honorary doctorate degree in Law) by the University of Jos. He is also the recipient of the United Nations Peace Award.
A musician with several albums to his credit, Dan Maraya was the first African musician to perform live on BBC. He has also performed for some African heads of state like President Mohammed Usman of Niger Republic.
With a musical career spanning well over four decades, Dan Maraya Jos presently, has about 62 songs for the studio and has recently decided to limit his performance to special command performances only.
A worthy musician, who has represented Nigeria all over the world and indeed contributed greatly to the development and growth of the music industry in Nigeria, Dan Maraya is a living human treasure whose message of peace, unity and development has been invaluable to his several admirers.
Apart from the fact that he has lived on the street for more than four decades, his fame has served as a source of pride to his neighbours, who bask in the glory of living on the street which housed the popular musician. The house itself, a one-storey building, with compact living room with sparse furniture and a lush rug, is modest compared to the fame of Dan Maraya, whose talent has earned him an honorary doctorate degree and has taken him around the globe.
Dan Maraya has been a subject of focus for the literary-minded, due to the philosophy behind his works. He has been a case study for those in the humanities due to the socio-economic problems he addresses in his work and how he has used his life to depict the possibility of surmounting challenges by self-development. But as our correspondents would find out, it is much easier getting Dan Maraya to sing than getting him to grant an interview.
For somebody who does not need prior notice to perform in any function, he certainly needs ample time to prepare for an interview reinforcing the fact that he prefers to comment on happenings around him through a song than talking about it. Dan Maraya Jos, a living legend.