There is no mention of female saxophonists in the country without the name Tosyn Phebean Oluwadare popping up. Known as Africa’s Sax Queen in some quarters, Tosyn has been showcasing her skill of the wind instrument at different social events with the masters; she plays both backup and lead roles.
The Creative Director of Arts XII, who also features in stage plays, has, for some years, been going to schools to teach young people how to play sax. She also uses proceeds from her events to cater for the less privileged. Known to be a popular instrument among the male folk, Tosyn mustered courage to play sax to prove that one can attain any great height one chooses if he/she is determined to go the extra mile.
While explaining her fascination for the wind instrument, Tosyn said: “It’s a mysterious thing; I can’t just explain how it started, but the truth is, I love the look of the instrument, the sound it brings and the wide range of horn I have been exposed to. Apart from this, the attention I get whenever I play the instrument and the fulfillment I derive from playing are just something else.”
While recalling some of her experiences in the male-dominated field, Tosyn stated that at times it seems quite odd to find herself among men. She noted that some times she has to dress like a man and behave like one to flow freely with the male folk in her band.
“I was the only lady among the 22-man ensemble of Steve Rhodes Orchestra. In fact, I had to dress like a man and even act like one,” said.
Graduating from Peter Kings College of Music and MUSON School of Music, both in Lagos, the saxophonist played with some bands before branching off to form the Girls’ Rule Band, an all-female band, known for its improvisation of jazz and highlife music.
With an eye on the global scene, where she hopes to stand shoulder to shoulder with jazz exponents and generously dishing out her Afro-centric music to the admiration of all, Tosyn stated that success in the entertainment industry is not based on gender, but genuine creativity and hard work.
As she put it, “I won’t really say the entertainment scene is friendly or not to the female artistes, but I do believe that both male and female do go through some challenges and they have to fight hard to overcome. The industry is not for lazy bones; one has to be creative, think out the box, be persistence and hard working. Though there are situations that require a woman to fight harder than men, one should not for that loose focus.”
One expects Tosyn to pay more attention to her music, produce CDs or traverse the country doing shows, but the lady saxophonist is not doing any of these; rather, she is extending her milk of human kindness to young people and the less privileged. Every year, she organises Gidi Xmas, a platform she uses to test new talents and raise money for charity.
According to her: “My charity work is aimed at giving free music education to orphans, less privileged children and young adults. I worked with Little Saints Orphanage during the first phase, where I created music education culture in the home. Also, I have inspired lots of young people to learn the saxophone and I am still doing more.”
Tosyn, who was among the artistes that featured in the just-concluded Satchmo Jazz Festival, held in Lagos, explained that music can be depended upon to pay the bills. According to her, it has been proven beyond all doubts that artistes make good money playing music and featuring in shows.
On why she has not made it big yet and made her songs popular, the queen of sax said: “It’s because my songs have not got to the right ears. I just need to press harder, be more creative and let my Afro-centric style get to the right audiences. In Nigeria, some genre of music are generally accepted than others, but that would not deter me from play jazz and Afro-centric music because some people still listen to me. I strongly believe every style has its own audience. I try to use my music to reflect the ills of our society.”
Not giving up on the Nigerian project, Tosyn looks forward to seeing a situation where children, both in the public and private schools, would be adequately equipped to appreciate and play music, apart from using it to canvass for social change, adding that she hopes to be the voice of the voiceless.
“I want to use music as a tool of social change. I sing about what I observe in the society. I sing about the good and the ills in society with the aim of bringing sanity to the society and awaking people’s consciousness to avoid evil. Aside this, I showcase African culture and style because I am Phebean and an African.”
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