“If Ayinla had lived, Barrister and KWAM 1 would not have been such huge stars” -Exclusive Interview with Ayinla Omowura’s Biographer, Festus Adedayo – Dami Ajayi
Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend, written by Festus Adedayo, is one of the most authoritative texts on the life of the Apala crooner whose posthumous profile I recently published. In my research, I came across this important and timely book which is a necessary read for those interested in traditional Yoruba music and a snapshot of the post-colonial working class of Abeokuta. Read my review here. Dr Festus Adedayo, lawyer and veteran journalist, kindly responded to a few of my questions in the most exhaustive manner, in excess of what I needed for my piece. So here my full interview with him, a rare treat for lovers of Yoruba music.
Dami Ajayi: How do you feel about the sudden interest in Ayinla Omowura? What is responsible, in your opinion, for the ongoing resurgence of Ayinla Omowura more than 40 years after his unfortunate death?
Festus Adedayo: I wouldn’t describe the interest in Ayinla’s music as sudden. Ayinla has always had a cult following, even till now, many of his followers see his songs as evergreen. Till today, seldom would you find a musician who has his kind of lacerating lyrics. That lacuna cannot and has yet to be filled by any other musician. It is a veritable fallback for husbands in tango with their wives at home and who wanted a musical riposte against their women. Many analysts have conveniently labelled Ayinla a misogynist due to his whiplash against women. His songs were also very chauvinistic, always carving superiority for the men folk, as against the female gender. Men who still occupy that vanishing chair of chauvinism see his music as a golden bite. More importantly is the place of philosophy, language and culture in his songs. Because modernism has watered down the power of songs that are listened to today, there is a shuttle backwards into traditional African music. People no longer exact satisfaction from today’s songs as they lack grit. In shuttling backwards, Ayinla and a few others become the nugget that the people grasp. Such songs are also in high demand because they explain the lacuna between the past and today. Questions like, is traditional African society saintly are answered by, for instance, one of his songs where he sings: b’eyan o l’eni ni’gbimo, bo ro’jo are, ebi lo mi a je (if one does not have a representative in the council where decisions are made, one would be a recipient of a travesty of justice). What that says essentially is that even in traditional African society, there was miscarriage of justice. So, what you call the resurgence of interest in his songs is basically due to the inability of modern songs to fill that void of linkage to the past. The people who take that shuttle do not just pick any of the myriad of musicians at that time for mention. They pick the ones who sang with intelligence. Aside Ayinla’s, they also latch on to Haruna Ishola, Yusuff Olatunji, Kelani Yesuffu and a few others. How many times do you hear people sing the songs of Fatai Olowonyo? No and it is because it satisfied the thirst of that time and doesn’t satisfy the thirst of this time. Let me be forthright with you, when I took up the idea of writing Ayinla’s memoir, I was not sure that the book would sell. Two of my friends who knew about the book project even said I was journeying into Siberia. The second one specifically counselled me not to print more than 200 copies of the book, believing that not many people would buy it. To be clear, I didn’t write the book for the fame or money that would accrue. I volunteered to write it because that was my maiden voyage into book authorship. I had never written any book before and that memoir gave me the exhilaration of a young lady going into her maiden maternity experience. I invested my personal money of about N3 million into it, a blind investment, if you like. Yes, one encountered people who loved his Apala genre of music but I wasn’t sure that that approximated acceptance. The acceptance the memoir thus received pleasantly shocked me, though largely, the acceptance doesn’t equal purchase of the book.
DA: Apala music, unlike Fuji and Juju music, seems to have dwindled in popularity with fewer practitioners achieving the star status of the greats, what could be responsible for this decline?
FA: One reason Apala music seems to have disappeared from the music shelf is the rigor involved in its composition. It is also why there are no recent star musicians in the genre. Unlike in many traditional African music which you could just wake up and begin to compose, Apala demands rigor. Yes, talent is essential but this genre requires deep thinking, an analytical mind and ability to be atop the language, culture and philosophy of the people of Yorubaland. In a radio interview, Kemuye Ramoni, one of the surviving members of Ayinla Omowura group, told the story of his back and forth attempts at singing either Apala or Fuji, and how he initially settled for the latter, simply because he couldn’t keep pace with the huge mental involvement in singing Apala. Get me right, I am not saying that Fuji does not require depth but you can sing it without the depth of culture, language and philosophy. Fuji is basically about percussion. . .It is not strictly about its depth . . . That is why Ayinde Marshal, also known as KWAM 1, can sing his melodious songs and have the kind of cultic following he currently has. In terms of depth and rigor, you cannot rate his songs high. . .
DA: Is it a progressive way of thinking to imagine that Apala is a progenitor or a source genre, to Fuji? If so, in what ways has Fuji modernised Apala for its own gain and to Apala’s detriment?
FA: Recently, I provoked a dialectics about Fuji and Apala music, using their most-known prodigies, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Ayinla as signifiers. I wanted to jog people’s minds about them and their contributions to traditional African music. Barrister, you will recall, is the progenitor of Fuji, having transited from the Islamic liturgical song of Were which he began with. Were was used to wake Islamic faithful from their sleep during Ramadan festivals. He achieved this transition to Fuji, a more complex and social genre. I remember participating in Were too those days when I was growing up in Iwo, current Osun State. While Were didn’t have the eclectic features of Fuji, the latter wasn’t all about Islam, Fuji musicians infuse traditional African concepts and elements like incantations, swear words and even curses into the music. They also generously sprinkle it with praise-singing of clients who invite them to musical gigs. In answering your question directly, of course, Apala and Sakara predate Fuji. Apala had been in existence way back in the 1950s and probably earlier. Were, which predates Barrister, had also been in existence probably around same time or ever earlier than Sakara and Apala. But Fuji, as a creation of Barrister, was a 1970s phenomenon and as such, a latter-day concept, predated by Apala . It will thus be a very convenient reasoning to submit that Apala is a source genre to Fuji. Also, the traditional African music scene of the 1950s, 60s and 70s was a wide world that made no basic distinction of its elements. Peer rivalry and jealousies, however, existed but they were more in intra-genre associations. Thus, while S. Aka Baba Wahidi beefed with Yusuff Olatunji because they sang the same type of song – Sakara; there was the same level of spats between others like Kasumu Adio and Haruna whose songs you can hardly distinguish from each other. Between Apala musicians too, there were rivalries: like between Muraina Alao, Ajao Oru, Sefiu Ayan, Ligali Mukaiba, Ajadi Ilorin, Adisa Aniyameta, Raimi Dogo, Lasisi Layemi, Aminu Olaribigbe, Lasisi Onipede, Nosiru Atunwon and Raji Owonikoko. The one between Haruna Ishola and Ayinla Omowura was resolved when the latter openly acknowledged Haruna’s musical/spiritual superiority in “emi o ni ti’ju f’enikankan mo o, eyan to ba ti’ju fun mi ni ma ti’ju fun, yato yato si Baba Gani Agba ti’jolori elere nla” – (henceforth, I will have no regard for anyone in the Apala world, except anyone who accords me same; except, of course, Baba Gani Agba (Haruna) who is the master of us all.) In the dialectic I provoked, I stated that but for the death of Ayinla, Barrister or Fuji could not have attained the highly captivating, or if you like, sweeping hold both currently have among Southwest Nigeria. And I meant what I said. Fuji had its audience before Ayinla’s death, no doubt but it shared a preponderance of that audience with Omowura’s, many of whom had been Apala fans before Fuji rudely barged into them. So it is correct to state that Fuji began to be on the ascendancy with Barrister’s rise but with the cultic following that Omowura had and the unsurpassable depth of his music, there was the probability that he could not be upstaged by Barrister. In 1980 when Omowura was killed in a barroom brawl, Fuji had Barrister and Kollington Ayinla as its icons but Apala still had Owonikoko, Ayinla Adegeto, Haruna and the like and it was still a very popular genre. So it will be logical to state that Apala would still have been on the ascendancy if Ayinla hadn’t been killed. Also, because Omowura died young, he couldn’t nurture successors. His early death, followed by that of Haruna about three years after, put paid to the growth of the genre. With the death of Omowura in 1980 and Haruna’s in 1983, a floodgate and a room seemed to have been opened for Fuji to flourish. Not only did Barrister, with his modern education and relative depth in composition, begin to head for the top of society’s embrace, he began to nurture musical progenies like Iyanda Sawaba and KWAM 1. The growth of Fuji, the death of Apala matadors and the gradual creep of modernity into the musical world gradually spelt the death of Apala and today, the song is almost extinct. The same thing happened to Sakara which is as good as extinct today too.