‘The Genie’ An Undying Love for Broadcasting and Surulere

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You probably would have run into him somewhere in Surulere without noticing him. It is also possible that you’ve seen him at one musical event or another – especially those relating to Jazz – and walked past him in blissful ignorance. This is hardly surprising.  Bola Sonola (aka The Genie) loves to keep a low profile. Yet this would seem to be at odds with the lifestyle of a man who is immersed in the world of glamour. An on-air personality and director of music at Smooth 98.1 FM, where he has spent more than five years, his love for both his job and Surulere is immeasurable!

Recalling with fondness his childhood in Surulere, ‘The Genie’ paints a picture of a past he treasures: ‘My parents and the entire family moved to Surulere in 1972 after our return from the UK. I had the opportunity of watching the first match played at the National Stadium. I remember clearly that Nigerians did not take the result of that match too well because the Ghana Black Stars drubbed our own Green Eagles 1-0. I have very good memories about Super Cinema, where we went to watch ‘The Sound of Music’. There was also Surulere Nite Club. I remember that my Dad once took me there. I think growing up in Surulere at that time spoke of sheer innocence and untainted peace. Now, however, we appear to have developed as a people but, we have also regressed in terms of infrastructure ”.

Bola was heart-broken when his mother relocated to Ikoyi in 1978. But he still kept in touch with his Surulere friends; as he put it: ‘I could not help visiting Surulere frequently. I had made a lot of friends here: The Erinles, the Ojuris, the Meadows, the Oshiyemis and the Jajas. These were my neighbours on Calabar Street back then.’

‘I could not help visiting Surulere frequently. I had made a lot of friends here: The Erinles, the Ojuris, the Meadows, the Oshiyemis and the Jajas. These were my neighbours on Calabar Street back then.’

Bola travelled to the UK after graduating from the University of Jos in 1989. Following a stint in broadcasting in Jos, hr later joining his friend, Tunde Ajijedidun, to set up DIGITRACK, an audio-visual studio, where he worked for one year. His appetite for caressing the microphone got a boost and he sought to hone his skills abroad. But his experience in London was ‘bitter-sweet’: ‘I first left for the UK when I was seven and went back 20 years after. I spent more or less half my life there. I recall the subtle racism, which is still prevalent today. I had hoped to expand my frontiers but, the closest I got to fulfilling my dream was working as an unsung OAP on KLYMAXX 92.9 FM, a little community radio in East London. It is difficult for a black person to get into mainstream radio in the UK. Since I could not earn enough from that, I had to get a job at London Underground, where I worked for all of 12 years!’

Yet, Bola was not deterred. Instead, he made the most of the little experience he garnered: ‘I think my experience of working on radio and being able to meet people from various walks made me look at life from differently. In my view, you have to work twice as hard to cross those invisible barriers rigged against black people.’

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On why and when he felt a final pull from his Motherland, he said: ‘I had always been coming and going. But I finally, came back in 2007 and said to myself that it would be a good thing to come back to radio. I went from one station to another in search of openings. I was at COOL FM, Radio Continental and RHYTHM. They all turned me down. I later met Chris Ubosi, who was then working with COOL FM. Somebody called me to say that he had heard that the gentleman was planning to start a radio station, which later turned out to be CLASSIC FM. There I met a brilliant guy, TinTin, the director of programmes. He said that I was the missing link on CLASSIC FM. That was how I became one of the pioneers before crossing over to SMOOTH FM.

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It hardly needs to be said that ‘The Genie’ is living his dream. With an intimidating fan base, he fronts a number of SMOOTH FM’s flagship programmes, including SMOOTH DRIVE (4pm to 9pm, Monday to Friday); CLUB CLASSICS, a selection of old school music as requested by his teeming listeners (8pm to 9pm every Friday), LUXURY SOUL (5pm to 9 pm on Saturdays); and SUNDAY BRUNCH a session of riveting Jazz music from 12 noon to 4pm. Bola refers to the highpoints of his career as those times he found himself interviewing musical greats like George Benson, Angelique Kidjo, Angie Stone, George Albright, along with the famous American producer, Teddy Riley.

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And what do you know? Bola ‘The Genie’ Sonola is back in Surulere!  According to him: ‘It’s like the prodigal son coming back home. I had left Surulere but when it was time for me to seek my own shelter Surulere was the natural choice. I am glad to be back. Every day of my life memories of such sweet places as Peak Nite Club and Surulere Shopping Complex just wouldn’t leave me alone.’

So what is it about Surulere? ‘Certainly the magic of Surulere cannot be found in Lekki or V.I. Those who love good music or old school are mainly in Surulere. A lot of the callers on all my shows are from Surulere. I think Surulere has a unique character all its own!’

By: Olawale Obadeyi

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