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The Cavemen – A New Kind Of National Treasure

The Cavemen are about 90 minutes into headlining their first “legal” show in Lagos when the lights go down. A single spotlight shines on the usually sitting and drumming Benjamin – This time, the younger of the two brothers take centre stage. He stands there, eyes intense, back straight, tall, buff, very buff, clad in an Enye two-piece serenading the astonished crowd with a surprising cover of Marvin Gaye’s sexual healing. Mid performance, he steps down from the stage and makes his way into the welcoming crowd.

Suddenly, the cave went off with raised fists in honour of the Legend Fela as one of his legacies comes on stage to manifest why he’s Made (of) Kuti. It was at that exact moment I could tell the Cavemen are definitely “a new kind of National treasure

Sitting on the edge of the bed at their private Airbnb in Lekki, is Kingsley. Getting ready for the show, he has a headset on over the famous headgear he’s now known for. “Do you always listen to music before your shows?”; I ask while I try to get comfortable on the seat an assistant just brought in. “Yeah! It’s almost like a ritual – it helps me visualize and stay calm.” “I try to listen to music from the people I call my ancestors – Celestine Ukwu, Patty Obasi, Rex Lawson, Fela.”
No doubt, these are some of the names that have served as the bedrock of the bands “Highlife fusion” Genre.

“If you listen to our music, we call it Highlife fusion a lot,” Benjamin affirms. “That’s because, I went to a music school my brother went somewhere else, so we kind of drifted. We came back learning different things – I mean, I studied jazz for two years. So, if you listen to the way we make our music there is a lot of fusion in it. Back then it was just raw Highlife. Now, it’s Highlife as the foundation but there are steroids.”

“Fusion in that compound name are our experiences embedded in culture”; Kingsley backs his brother up. As he does, my mind travels to an article where they talk fondly of their bond. “Making music with Benjamin is special. It’s surreal. We were teammates before we were bandmates – Our connection is so natural.” If you’ve listened to anything from the band, you can probably attest to that connection – The music just hits different.

“I knew it was going to go somewhere, I just didn’t know how and how far”

Its been a steep climb from 2018 to release the critically acclaimed “Roots” album, to bagging the 2020 Headies for Best Alternative Album and the latest feat – a sold-out concert. Benjamin attributes the bands’ recent successes to their unfeigned love for music. “We don’t make music for popularity or purpose of fame, We make music because we love it. There was really no idea of this happening – Till now when we make music, we’re just making it! We love what we do and we’re not doing it to please anybody”

Over the years, The Cavemen has refined their sound by playing with established artists like Asa, Bez, Onyeka Onwenu and a personal favourite of the guys – Lady Donli. I dare say the love the brothers have for her is reciprocal. “Yo, I’m on stage with the best band in Nigeria, Tell me something!”; Lady Donli screams into the mic as the heartfelt sound of fans chorusing “Never Ending” fills the cave.

What is “the cave”, I ask very curiously? “The name reminds me of purity, primitiveness and creativity. You’re in a place different from what you’re normally used to. You know, the early cavemen used very little to create so much”, Kingsley gesticulates with his hands as he tries to drive home his point.

The team is putting final touches to the looks for the night and Benjamin spots my cowrie ring. “That’s so cool!”, he says. I could see why – With the matching cowries in his hair, that’s a match made in heaven. “It won’t fit my fingers though”; he says joking about his huge hands as he notices me trying to take them off. “How important is fashion to you when prepping for a show?”, I ask. “I’m a mad man!” he replies briskly. “The way I dress, the way I play has to be that, he adds.

“Most people that know me, know that fashion and playing… like what I wear, just has to blend. I’m very concerned about how I look.” However, Kingsley tells a different story; “No, That’s the last thing”; he answers laughing as I turn my attention to him. “For me, once the music is sorted, everything else is secondary.” And sorted was the music!

“Anita eh, you go kill somebody” resounds over and over again as fans dance and sing along to the bands energetic display. Being one of their most accepted singles and my wealth of concert experience, I get the sad feeling this was about to be the end of a truly unimaginable experience. I wasn’t wrong – Not long after, the band gathers together for a slower rendition of “Who No Know Go Know”. The cavemen take their bows and bring the unforgettable night to a close. One thing is for sure though, “Highlife is back, and it is back on steroids!”

Words: Ayo Lawal
Photography: Stanley Ndu

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