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The World of the Challenged but Talented

By: Ngozi Ukachukwu & Charles Ojugbana

KODI LEEKODI LEE

When the 14th Season of “America’s Got Talent got underway a few weeks ago , the crowd got stunned by the electric performance of a blind, autistic contestant named Kodi Lee. The 22-yeau old pianist stepped unto the glitzy stage and rendered Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You”. When he was done, judges and the audience alike teared up while honouring him with an appreciative standing ovation. It was clear to all present that a new prodigy had been born.

According to Kodi’s mum, “Through music and performing he was able to withstand living in this world because when you are autistic it is really hard to do what everybody else does. It actually has saved his life, playing music “. One of the judges that night was the famous actress, Gabrielle Union and she gushed “You just changed the world”!
Kodi represents the new generation of people born with disabilities who have defied public expectations and challenged to become the very best of superstars.

Not too long ago, it was Ray Charles and more recently Stevie Wonder. Through music especially, challenged people have continually arrested global attention and acclaim. It is about time that they are celebrated. The fact that Kodi Lee is autistic may be lost to those unfamiliar with the world of the challenged. Conditions that account for various disabilities are varied. Autistic children like Kodi are usually born with repetitive body movements like rocking, pacing or hand flapping features. Down syndrome children conversely are born with an extra chromosome. This extra partial or full chromosome becomes responsible for characteristic physical features such as flat facial profiles, upward slant to the eyes, small ears and a protruding tongue.

In all cases, challenged children are usually slower in their motor movements and ability to catch up with their peers in schools. But thanks to inclusive education, it is now possible for a challenged child to successfully climb through school grades, although at a slower pace. Remember the slogan, “Slow and steady wins the race”?

One major characteristics of challenged people is that they love to love and truly enjoy to be loved in return. Their playful mien usually belies the slight physical deformities and possible speech slur. Additionally, the world of the challenged is replete with inherent talents that shine, inevitably shine through and manifest in sporting and musical feats. Sometimes they display uncommon dexterity in singing and playing musical instruments.

 RAY CHARLES

Known as one of America’s most talented singer, songwriter, musician and composer, Ray Charles was born in 1930 in Albany, Georgia. He, it was who eventually pioneered the soul
music genre in the 1950s.

Ray Charles and wives
Ray Charles and wives

Strange things happened to him long before then. The young Ray started losing his sight to glaucoma at age 5 and two years later he had gone completely blind. It was while he was attending The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind that he honed his musical skills. Before then, he had ventured into music on a piano owned by a neighbourhood cafe. So good was Ray Charles that he successfully broke the American racial barrier despite being black. He extensively tour the United States and in the process won several Grammy Awards. Ray Charles also ventured into the movie industry and starred in “Blues Brothers”.

Before his demise at age 73 in 2004, Ray Charles had married four wives and established his musical legacy with several hit songs such as “Let it Be”, “Unchain my Heart”, “Georgia”, “Drown in My Tears” and ” America The Beautiful”.

COBHAMS ASUQUO
Asuquo with his son

Cobhams was born on the 6th of January, 1981 to Mr and Mrs Asuquo. He hails from Akwa Ibom and is one of six (6) children his parents have. Born visually impaired; his mother noticed at the age of three months that something was off with him and that was when he was formally diagnosed him with a congenital birth defect. No medical explanation was given and he is the only one disabled in his family. His mother, Gladys Asuquo who was a clerical staff in the Army at the time resigned from her job to look after her son.

Growing up in the barracks in lkeja, he remembers sharing their two bedroom flat with his ‘siblings and whatever stray pets that comes into the house’. Life in the barrack was typical as one would expect. The mornings were filled with stories of theft of one food item or another and car part. This led his father, Mr Asuquo, having to put his Honda 180 Roadmaster motorbike in the livingroom every night. As a young boy, Cobhams played hard and in his own words ‘fought harder’. If anyone said something was impossible, that is what he would do.

Asuquo and wife

He started his primary education at the age of 10 at Pacelli School for the Blind; this was a boarding facility designed for the visually impaired. He recalls almost dropping out of school in Primary two as the routine was a bit too much having gotten used to being woken up and ‘asked what he wanted for breakfast’. Irrespective of starting school late, being around his siblings and having a transistor radio which he listened to often had already given him a good foundation for learning. Cobhams recalls experiencing being bullied in school by older students but this did not deter him from loving school and giving his all to it. Cobhams learnt from an early age to be trusting.

Asuquo , son & wife

He recalled his teacher in the bid to prepare them for the tough life, gave the students of Pacelli Primary school the graduation speech of how cruel and unkind people would be to them just for the heck of it. This speech was the start of his decision to defer the odd and norms and make something good out of himself. He ditched his walking cane (to take away the power from anyone who would want to snatch it away from him…) and learned to trust his friends’ guidance and direction. His friends in turn would sometimes want to have a laugh at his expense by telling him he had a gutter to jump over just for laughs. He would always take that huge jump overtime they asked him to because “staying out of the dirty gutters were more important than being laughed at”

MUSIC CAREER

Cobhams had always had a passion for music, he finally followed that passion and went into music full time. He started his musical career as the Head of Audio at Questionmark Entertainment. In 2005, he signed with Sony/ATV London as a songwriter. In 2008, he founded his own production/record label called CAMP (Cobhams Asuquo Musical Production) which went on to manage artistes like himself, Bez and Stan lyke. Cobhams enthroned himself as one of the artistes to watch out for, when he produced Asa’s self named album in 2007.

Talented Cobhams Asuquo

In 2014, he released his first single ‘Ordinary People’ in January of the same and its video a year later. His second single titled ‘Star of Wonder’ was released in December of 2014 also. His third single was dropped in 2015 but was sang by Moraya –Stronger than Before and in April 2016, he featured Falz the bad guy on his fourth single, Boosit.

He founded Vintage Grey Media in 2016. His vision for Vintage Grey is an all-encompassing entertainment company set to discover, nurture and expose extraordinary talents in the music industry. The company was to produce all forms of audio contents for corporations and media. Vintage Grey currently runs a Top 12 countdown musical show which showcases top music videos for famous and upcoming artistes.

One cannot talk about Asa without mentioning Cobhams in the same line of discussion. This is because he was very instrumental in the production of the critically self named album ‘Asa’ in 2007. He not only produced but wrote and co-wrote some songs in the album, most popular of them ‘Fire on the Mountain’ and ‘Jailer’. He produced Darey Art’s ‘Not the girl’, Omawummi’s ‘In the music’, Time Dakolo’s “lyawo Mi” and “I Never Know Say”.

Cobhams married Ojulape Veronica Olukanni on the 2nd of December,2010 and they have two sons.

STEVIE WONDER

His is truly a wonder story.Steveland Hardaway Moris who was born on the 13th of May 1950 is today better known by his stage name-Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder actually came into this world six weeks premature! While in a hospital incubator, he developed retinapathy of prematurity, a condition that aborted eye growth and led to the detachment of his retina. Although Stevie never regained his sight, the disability rather than stop him became a rare source of inspiration upon which he built his musical empire. Today he is one of the most recognized faces in the global entertainment industry.

From the moment Motown’s Tamala label signed him up, Stevie became an instant hit amongst music followers the world over. Overcoming such adversity to climb up the fame ladder in a rapid fashion was indeed remarkable for a black singer whose trademark, braided dreadlock hairstyle and iconic dark sunglasses stands him apart from the rest.

Stevie Wonder and his iconic hairstyle and dark Sunglasses

He is one celebrity who has refused to forget his African roots and while on stage he regularly dorns native African attire. His choice to always wear dark sunglasses even on stage has led to many commentators concluding that he must have developed the habit to protect his eyes from possible physical damage from small objects blown by the wind, open cup-boards and low- hanging branches.

Stevie Wonder who has three daughters from three wives is famous for belting out many evergreen super hits such as “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, “Part-Time Lovers” and “Superstition”.

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