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Chief of Steelband in Nigeria - Bowie Sonnie Bowei receives Chieftain Titles


Nigeria -  In a celebration that lasted four hours at the palace of the Alagbara of Agbara, Agbara town in Ogun State, south west Nigeria, two chieftaincy titles were conferred upon panman Bowie Sonnie Bowei, and one upon his wife, Ndudi Bowei.  The couple was honored in traditional fashion and in recognition for their integral and ongoing roles in the development of the steelband artform in Nigeria overall, especially within the community where Panland, the parent organization is set up.

Sonnie Bowei’s first title is The Amuludun of Agbara Land meaning “the one who makes that land sweet” (signifying his making the land ‘sweet’ with steelpan music).   The second, The Majeobaje of Oto-Awori Kingdom is more philosophical and means “the good deeds which Sonnie Bowei has done should not be allowed to get spoilt.”  The title bestowed on Ndudi Bowei, his wife - who does not play pan but is indispensable in her role as managing director of their company, Panland - is that given to the wife of a Chief - The Yeye Amuludun of Agbara Land.

The journey to this point in the life of Bowie Sonnie Bowei (which now revolves almost solely around the steelpan), is one that was influenced more than twenty-five years ago when he performed with the Nigerian Army Steelband.  The instruments used by the band were those left behind by Trinidad and Tobago’s Starlift Steel Orchestra who performed in 1977 at FESTAC (Festival of Arts and Culture) in Nigeria.  The bulkier pans that Starlift would use were manufactured on-site at the facilities of the Nigerian Army Band Corps Headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria, by a Trinidadian sent ahead specifically to complete this task.  At the end of the festival, those instruments remained behind with the Nigerian Army, which would eventually send about nine of their soldiers to Trinidad to become steelpan musicians.  Upon returning they became the core of what would be called the Nigerian Army Steelband, which Sonnie Bowei would join during his stint in the military.  That band was the only steelband in Nigeria until 2001 when the Xcel Steelband, the brainchild of Sonnie Bowei, came into being.

But the enterprising Nigerian would not settle for merely being the founder of a small steelband playing around Nigeria.  He wanted to see steelbands become the norm, not remain the exception or a novelty.  So in addition to Xcel Steelband  (pictured left) performing around the country, Sonnie Bowei began fostering and promoting interest in founding other steelbands.  In response to the need for instruments for Xcel themselves, and others setting up their own fledgling steelbands, Panland - the umbrella organization for Xcel Steelband, and then the Xcel Steelpan Co., Ltd. - was officially commissioned.  Located at km33 Badagry Express Way, Agbara, Lagos, on about one acre of land, Panland houses several pan-related facilities including a steelpan training school, a steeldrum factory and an electroplating plant for chroming steeldrums.  It sports an on-site performance area for Xcel, and boasts both a recording and production studio for the purposes of recording the steelband and producing steelband-related television programs.  Panland now also has accommodation for students coming for training as panists or pan builders/tuners.

November of 2006 saw the first really major initiative (in addition to Panland) of Sonnie Bowei come to fruition.  It was Nigeria’s first secondary school national panorama where the Nigerian Navy Secondary school (pictured right) emerged victorious.  Another school panorama is planned for November 2008 with the expected participation of eight schools.  Today in Nigeria there are steelbands in several secondary schools and a few churches - all utilizing instruments manufactured at Panland, and with initial instruction by Sonnie Bowei. 

The illustrious pan entrepreneur remains quite busy and dedicated to introducing the steelband even further afield in Nigeria.  In addition to the 2008 school panorama, Sonnie Bowei, through Panland (pictured left), is currently focusing on organizing a 2009 steelband competition dubbed the “Forces Panorama” featuring the Nigerian military and paramilitary.  Slated for August 2009, it will be undertaken in partnership with the Federal Ministries of Defence and Internal affairs in Nigeria.  The panman’s promotion of the steelband artform does not stop there.  A panorama involving 36 states and the federal capital in Nigeria is also being planned for 2010 during the Abuja national carnival.  It will be a joint initiative of Panland and the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, as well as the Abuja carnival committee.

Earlier this year in January, the Boweis were informed by the Alagbara’s palace in Agbara Town of Ogun State, south west Nigeria that they were going to be honored.  Among the many guests present for the occasion were the representative of the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo (who, back in 1977 was the military head of state responsible for bringing Starlift Steel Orchestra to Nigeria to perform at FESTAC), the deputy governor, along with the Commissioner of Chieftaincy Affairs - both of Ogun State, numerous kings - all traditional rulers of Igbesa, Ilogbo, Ijanikin, and a host of other notables.  All were members of the Rotary club of Agbara.  Also on hand for the auspicious occasion were many pan lovers in Nigeria, relatives, friends and members of the community.  His Royal Majesty, Oba Isaac Gbadebo Agunbiekun, The Alagbara of Agbaraland crowned both Bowie Sonnie Bowei and his wife Ndudi Bowei.


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