If you have read 'Drummer Boy' by Cyprian Ekwensi, you may not know that the writer based the character of Akin, the blind drummer on a real life blind drummer named 'Kokoro'. Well the story is based on a true life character and he is now a very old man.
Benjamin ‘Kokoro’ Aderounmu was a widely known blind minstrel from Lagos, Nigeria. He was born into a polygamous royal family in Owo, Ondo State, and became blind when he was aged ten. A jealous step mother was said to have been responsible for his condition.
While his blindness halted his formal education, he refused to be beaten by life’s adversity and he developed his unique art of singing to the accompaniment of tambourine to support himself.
He developed a unique style of singing accompanied first by a drum, later by a tambourine. He moved to Lagos in 1947, where he became exposed to major local musicians such as Ayinde Bakare, Bobby Benson and Victor Olaiya.
In the 1960s and 1970s he featured regularly on Federal and local radio stations, and was widely respected for the depth and wisdom of his lyrics.An early pioneer of Jùjú music, he sang in Yoruba about love, money, conflicts and urban decadence. He had wide influence on other musicians.
The author Cyprian Ekwensi wrote a fictionalized version of his life in his novel for adolescents, The Drummer Boy.
He performed in many cities in Nigeria and overseas, but was exploited by people who took advantage of his blindness. Often he was homeless, playing on the streets to make ends meet. Kokoro performed for close to 60 years but never released an album in his lifetime. An early attempt reportedly failed due to the foot-dragging of the record companies.
Benjamin Aderounmu, better known as ‘Kokoro’, the unmistakable and widely- known tambourine-playing minstrel, died in a Lagos hospital on Sunday, January 25, 2009 a month to his 84th birthday.
It is said that adversity will either make a man, or break him, depending on how he responds to it. Kokoro’s life is clear proof that disability is not synonymous with inability.While he was never rich in monetary and material terms, Pa Benjamin Aderounmu triumphed over life’s challenges, as evidenced by the celebration of his life, even in death, by many from various walks of life.
Not many of his performances were ever recorded, but one has managed to survive. This performance titled 'Ominira' was recorded at the NBC Lagos for the Nigeria Independence celebrations in 1960.
Click to listen.