Tuesday Special by Dami Ajayi

by Dami Ajayi

A Short History of my Ringtone

I am emotionally attached to my phone. In a short career of phone use spanning 14 years, I have used only seven phones. And no, I am yet to lose a phone. Usually, phones lose me. The only phone that broke this tradition was my Nokia 3310 that fell to its death in my undergraduate days. It bled its black ink into the dour green phone display and I had to use it in this fashion till I saved to buy a Nokia 3510i, better known for its flourish panel lights.

My Sony Ericcson 7510i inducted me into smart phones. Prior to this, phones were useful for text messages, late night calls and the occasional drop-calls. Suddenly, phones meant so much more. I could play songs and surf the internet. Then there was the Blackberry era that revolutionized text messaging, after which came the Android era.

Phones rouse attention by way of ringtones. Back then in the monophonic days of blinking Nokia phones, I preferred customized ringtones. My favourite ringtone, as a Hip Hop head, was Ludacris’s Move Bitch and I can’t deny there was a hard-pressed urgency with which it announced itself. I also admired older folks whose phones bleat Ebenezer Obey’s Edumare Soromidayo whenever there was a phone call because familiar songs breed nostalgia which often releases endogenous opiates. We all love to feel good.

I currently use the most unusual ringtone and it has been in use for more than 3 years. Let me explain: I have tried to change this ringtone many times but whenever I changed the ringtone, I often forget that my phone is ringing. Even when it vibrates against my thigh, I still do not feel a kinship to the sound I am hearing. I tried Hugh Masekela’s shrilly Grazing in the Grass, Fabolous’s Cant Let Go—same difference.

Not until I restored my All Fo’ You that I felt that kinship. The story is that this song by The Greenwood Singers, a Liberian band in the late 40s, carries the weight of influences on its shoulder. There is also something uncannily American and dark about this song.  There is also something about the lead vocalist, Ms Eupheme Cooper, who is now of blessed memory. She passed on in her 90th decade five months ago. Of course, she is not oft remembered for her short stint as a singer. She was better known as Mrs Euphemia Weeks, widow of Dr Rocheforte Weeks, a former president of the University of Liberia.

Back to the song, All Fo You is quite popular along the coastal cities of West Africa. Perhaps this popularity comes from the hugely popular version by Highlife maestro, ET Mensah whose version in the early 50s is perhaps the best known. My first encounter with this tune was probably at a Yoruba traditional wedding and indeed it seems this tune has been around us for quite a while. The song is however traced back to a Jamaican folk song called Sly Moongose recorded by Sam Manning in 1925.

The Greenwood Singers version enjoys the squeaky vocals and sardonic lyrics of Eupheme Cooper who describes an unusual if not sadistic kind of love. In her depiction of this love which defies the ethics of altruism, hammers and razors are used on the lover perhaps to expose the extent of this love. Over sparse acoustics—guitars and a hint of drums—the song paces to the realities of a sly love with a hierarchy of requests that presupposes insanity.

Once in the company of some Kenyan friends in different states of inebriation after a wild night of club-hopping in Port Harcourt, whilst being chauffeured to their hotel, I played All Fo’ You and they soon began to sing along perhaps because there is something hypnotic about that repetitious “All Fo You” and something silly about the fate of lovers.

The next time my phone jumps to the late Eupheme Cooper’s voice, I will be reminded of memories both personal and communal. I will let her story and song edge towards the 20 seconds mark before I say into the phone, ‘Onye ne kwu’.