Away from the Bala-blus, All Progressive Congress (APC’s) festival of incoherences – literal and figurative – the fatal celebration and justification of this impending fatality and the feeble, even if laughable attempts by the Festus Keyamos of this world to play the Ananias and Saphirra of this frightening reality, I was in the United States’ city of Philadelphia on Friday. I was there to deliver a paper entitled Between Ayinla Omowura and Ayinde Barrister: Conflicting Notions of Superstardom in Fuji and Apala Music at the African Studies Association (ASA) conference that ended yesterday.
You will recall that I began that discourse in my piece of December 20, 2020 which I entitled Ayinde Barrister: In memoriam of a musician who peaked by Ayinla Omowura’s graveside. Permit me to abstract my arguments and submissions at the conference, after defrosting the paper of its academic niceties, below:
The death of Ayinla Omowura, a popular Apala musician, in 1980, is a watershed in Yoruba popular culture. The vacuum left by his demise could not be filled by any other Apala artist. Rather, another artist, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, who played a different genre called Fuji, rose to limelight from the shadows of invisibility. This presentation places the careers of Ayinla and Barrister in perspective. It engages with major economic transformations in 1970s and 1980s Nigeria which aided the rise of these powerful artists and the musical genres they played. The creation of superstardom in art cannot be separated from contrasting notions of “good” and “bad” and “new” and “old” music. This problematic schematization of sound and art played a significant role in the rise of these two artists and the public politics built around their personalities.
Stars are creations of the media and their audiences called fans. Stardom or superstardom is worthy of study because it has a cross-cutting relevance and implication for society. Indeed, musicians are linked to the social health of society and have a sweeping hold on the public sphere, so much that they compete for attention with politicians and statesmen.
Ayinla Omowura and Ayinde Barrister (born Sikiru Ayinde Balogun) attained superstardom images in their respective genres among their Yoruba people. Their audiences constructed different and differing nature of the worth of their stardoms. While Omowura was arguably one of the foremost and most original musicians to sing the indigenous musical genre of Apala in Yorubaland, Barrister pioneered Fuji and both shared stardom about the same time.
In his creation of the Fuji music genre and taking it to the height it currently enjoys in popular culture music in Yorubaland, Ayinde Barrister made mastery blend of existing traditional musical genres that ranged from Apala, Sakara, Awurebe and others, making them into a fast-paced, danceable and modern genre. He projected the traditional African values of the Yoruba, their daily struggles against life’s forces and in the same vein captured the attention of a modernist world which looks out for racy, entertaining music, Ayinde Barrister is reputed for his unexampled creativity.
Ayinla Omowura was bohemian, profound and unarguably, one of the most original Yoruba musicians of post-colonial Nigeria. He was highly talented and between the period of his superstardom, 1970 to 1980, and the time he got killed in a barroom brawl, he straddled the musical scene of western Nigeria and the west coast like a colossus. Using dense imageries, literary allusions, proverbs and wise-sayings, Omowura constructed sceneries that loom large in the subconscious of his listeners. Imageries of animals, human engagements and the blacksmithry where he once worked with his father, Yusuff Gbogbolowo, were deplored with relative ease in his songs.
Ayinla was apparently aware of the talismanic hold of his superstardom and the awesome powers of his talent. He flaunted these in the face of his musical traducers and competitors. This mastery of the geography of music and his flaunting of this understanding verged on arrant arrogance which rebounded on many of his contemporaries. This probably got him a relentless combat against a string of enemies which even a combination of a thousand people would probably engage in their lifetimes. Yet, Ayinla was diffident and confident about conquering them all. His confidence was in his unique talent and in the talismanic powers of African traditional medicine.
While they were both reputed for their contributions to popular music and traditional culture in the southwestern region of Nigeria, scholarly arguments have ensued on the comparative weights of their individual stardom. The arguments began while they were both alive but it has outlived them at their passing. It was developed by their fans, out of engrossment with their talismanic and prodigious musical enchantments that still endure. More than four and one decades respectively after their departures, the most recent of the theses on their stardoms is that if Omowura, who pre-deceased Barrister, had not died, the stardom of Barrister would most probably not have had the sweeping hold it had on the dancehall for three decades before his own passing.
Their fans were the first to decipher the geography of consent and dissent from darts thrown at live musical gigs and then smelled a mutating tiff between the two musicians. Omowura, however, burst the bubble in an album entitled Omi Titun (Vol.17) and laid bare the supremacy battle between him and Ayinde Barrister.
In a track of the album, he first began by cloaking who the subject of his harangue was. A man known for his cantankerous musical darts on his musical adversaries, He sang: Ayinde, ma je ki n gbo/ pe mo ji e l’orin lo/Ko je je be, oro apara ni…/E ma de ma gbe’ra san’le ni’waju iru wa/To ba se pe e gbe’raga ni iba san/A nroju je’ko obun lowo/Obun lohun nse fuji ni’gboro/O nf’owo y’okun, okuta nbo/Eyin ko mo pe, ka to p’elede, ese a pe/Ka to p’aja, ese a p’egbeta ndan?/Eni ba fe wo’le odu, a se’tutu…
Translated, it read, Ayinde, perish the thought that I stole a line of your song/This allegation cannot be so; it smacks more of a huge joke…/Don’t pump up a non-existing ego before a musician like me/If you really want to articulate your supremacy over me, say so for the world to hear/I merely honoured you by taking a sip of what belongs to you/Just like sharing a bite from a meal in the hand of someone sworn to a life of filth/This filthy Fuji musician now announces his worth and supremacy to the world by reason of my condescension/Don’t you know that music is like a coven and anyone who desires to share the dais with us will make sacrificial offerings?
In the same track, the next stanza saw Omowura going rather frontal, with effusion of acidic diatribes against the said Ayinde. He sang: O fe je soda ni’le orin/Ayinde, o fe je soda ni’le orin/Ohun t’enikokan ki je laye/Eni to yo, to npanu e nile orin/Eni ti o yo lohun o ran’kun/N’isoju ojogbon, se lo mi a be…
Translated: He really wants to commit suicide on the bandstand/Ayinde wants to swallow a soap/A deadly poison that no human being who values their existence will ever contemplate/That move is comparable to someone going beyond their reach/The end result will be cataclysmic.
Barrister’s reply to Omowura in a track entitled Awa o ja was more mature than that of Omowura. He said that his own “Ayinde” could not have been the referent in the song by one Alapala – an Apala singer – attacking “one Ayinde” in an album. He said there were many Ayindes in the musical community and wondered why the said musician must choose him for attack since they didn’t engage in any duel over the snatching of each other’s wife. Even if he was the one that the said musician was attacking, said Ayinde, it was a reflection of his rising stardom. I gathered that the reason for Ayinla’s diatribe was that someone mentioned to him that Barrister claimed that a musician plagiarised his song and that description fitted Ayinla.
Based on secondary information gathered in the course of interviews with surviving family members, band members and close associates of the late Apala maestro, I had narrated elsewhere in a biography on Omowura (Adedayo: 2020) how there existed mutual friendship and veneration of individual talents between the duo, prior to this public spat. The relationship was really very cordial until 1974 when Ayinla invited Barrister to sing at the naming ceremony of one of his children which held in Mushin. Barrister’s singing talent was unfolded here, to the admiration of Ayinla Omowura’s core financiers and backers present. He won the hearts of many of Omowura’s fans, one of whom was Alhaji Bejidande who was President of Omowura’s Fans Club. This apparently angered Ayinla Omowura.
There is no doubt that mutual reverence of stardom existed between the two artistes, even though they both operated from different genres of traditional African music. To reinforce the notion of this mutual reverence, Ayinde Barrister competed in a keenly contested election for the Captaincy of Ayinla Omowura’s Fans Club. Wasiu Bejindade, famous Lagos auto dealer, emerged chairman of the Club in the election. While Barrister’s essentialization of Omowura must have made this possible, the decision by Omowura to invite Barrister to sing at his child naming ceremony, twice, must also have resulted from his underscore of Barrister’s superstardom too.
Yet, Ayinla Omowura was acutely jealous and abhorred rivalry and as such, the rise of a junior musical colleague like Barrister would naturally rebound with him. During my field work penultimate writing his biography, virtually all respondents who interfaced with him testified to this. He fought musicians who tried to spar with him and he was dreaded for his spirituality. In one of his songs, he declared that any musician who dared duel with him had invariably received a visa to journey out of this world – Olorin to ba f’oju di mi lode, jije mimu e tan n’le aye. Omowura was feared like the cult world dreaded the Capon.
Barrister had shown huge telltale signs of superstardom as at 1980 when Ayinla died. Far more educated than Omowura who didn’t go to school, Barrister had even embarked on musical tours out of the country, a feat that Omowura couldn’t attain till death came calling. Though quantification of stardom is subjective, appreciation of the duo’s songs by their individual and most times, interwoven sprawling clientele of fans at the time, which spread across the Yoruba-speaking western region, was dispassionately in favour of Omowura.
In his posthumous tribute to Omowura in his album, Aiye (1980) while he struggled to deflect arrows shot at him by allegations that he had a hand in the murder of the Apala musician, Barrister acknowledged Omowura as Baba wa – our father.
Many schools of thought say that there was no need for a comparative analysis of the duo’s superstardom-ness because they sang different genres of traditional African music. In Ayinla Omowura: Life and times of an Apala legend (2020) I attempted to state that in the history of Yoruba traditional music, there had always been seemingly fratricidal wars between musical counterpoises, their different musical domiciles notwithstanding. While there are no recorded tiff between Abibu Oluwa, forerunner of Sakara genre of music and Lefty Salami Balogun, S. Aka Baba Wahidi dueled with fellow Egba kinsman, Yusuff Olatunji because they sang same Sakara. Kasumu Adio, born 1928, who died very young, dueled with Haruna Ishola as well as Raji Owonikoko, leader of self-styled Kwara System Originator Band. However, Ibadan-based musical anecdotist, Epo Akara, who, genre-wise, was in a world of his own, engaged in musical supremacy and occupation of the stardom world with fellow musicians who sang variants other than his Awurebe genre. As such, genres may be different, the topmost echelon of stardom is coveted by these African musicians and the race to the top necessitates rivalry, backbiting and musical brick-bats against one another.
The problematic schematization of sound and art played a significant role in the rise of Ayinla Omowura and Ayinde Barrister, as well as the public politics built around their personalities. My submission is thus that, though Ayinde Barrister appropriated and approximated the absence of Omowura in an awesome way to flourish musically, even dying greater than Omowura, the death of the former gave fillip to this massive superstardom among the Yoruba audience of his Fuji music. I thus submit that, if both musicians had existed side by side into 2010 when Barrister died, the latter could not have been able to unbuckle the musical shoes of Omowura who bestrode the Yoruba traditional musical scene of the 1970s like a colossus.
I must thank Professor Saheed Aderinto of the Western Carolina University who invited me to the ASA conference and for the delicious amala he treated me to inside the Marriot hotel venue of the conference. I also thank panel discussant, Jesse Weaver Shipley, John D. Willard Professor of African and African American Studies and Oratory, an ethnographer, filmmaker and artist, as well as Panel Chair, Dr. Rosemary Popoola of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was also an opportunity to meet young Nigerian scholar mentees of Aderinto who hovered round him like bees do nectar. I was excited meeting Mojeeb Akanji Jimoh, a graduate student of Duke University and my classmate in the UI Law class who flew in from Durham, North Carolina solely to listen to my presentation. After the event, I fled in search of my rascally friends – Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare, who were part of the several scholars from across the world who attended the ASA conference. It was an opportunity to prattle about yesteryears.
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