But for the pandemic Covid-19 ravaging the whole planet earth and leaving behind its trail, death and at most ill-health and forecloses human gathering, lovers of good music especially that of the legendary Apala musician, Ayinla Omowura would have converged on the rocky city of Abeokuta in Western Nigeria on May 6, 2020 to celebrate the life, times and accomplishment of the icon, forty years after his demise.
This is at the instance of the ace journalist and prolific writer, Dr. Festus Adedayo and ably supported by Tunde Kilani organization, Omowura families and friends. However, making it to Abeokuta by fans and lovers for the celebration is forlorn. If it holds the celebration will witness the public presentation of Omowura’s biography, authored by Adedayo, among other events.
However, the present endeavour is an x-ray of the life, times and contribution of departed icon to music development and nation building project in Nigeria. Ayinla Omowura was murdered by his estranged manager, Bayewu during a fisticuff at a beer parlour at Itoko, Abeokuta on May 6, 1980. Ayinla was a mere 47 years old at the time of his untimely death. However, looking at his achievement in music and his larger than life personality, one will conclude that he had accomplished his assignment on earth. Though murdered, his works have refused to die rather, like a prophet he was, his musical composition and messages are as relevant as at the time he produced them. His records are evergreen and continue to enjoy patronages and gaining fans among the younger generations.
From his historical background, his father, Yusuf Gbogbolowo, a blacksmith at Itoko in Abeokuta, wanted his son to follow him in his vocation. However, Ayinla had different motive from that of his father as far as his career was concerned, he had his eyes on music. Research has not revealed whether he was inspired by someone or maybe he had a musician in his family who could have been a role model. Nonetheless, before taking up music as his career, he had worked as a motor boy. As a matter of fact, he was reported to live in Ogbomoso in early 60’s where he worked as a loader of a timber lorry owned by Alhaji Ibrahim Inaolaji, Ikire Osun State born business mogul who departed recently. Besides, he was said to have acted as a political thug for some politicians. Another thing that has not been revealed is how he dabbled into music, under whose tutelage and position of his parent.
However, what is cleared is that like the majority of his contemporary in music, he must have gone into music out of waywardness and in deviant of dictate of his parents but with inbuilt talents for music. As a matter of fact, few of the musicians of old had the blessings of their parents. Musicians were then regarded as beggars and never do well people. No parents wanted his ward to become a musician. Highlife legend, Ambrose Campbell corroborates this point better; “I had trouble with my parents because they did not love the idea. As a matter of fact, my dad called me and said, you who come from a good background and you have every chance, now you want to sing for your supper, you want to become a beggar”.
Irrespective of the means through which Omowura became a musician, he sang a genre of African music known as ‘Apala’ and made his marks through it. Apala according to Wikipedia/internet definitions is an Islamic inspired music. On the surface, one would agree with that position because almost all the Apala musicians were Muslims. However, other genres of Africa music such as Highlife and Juju, that were influenced by foreign musical components are indigenous to Africa.
Apala must be a form of local or indigenous music peculiar to Egba, Ijebu and Remo axis of Yorubaland but influenced by Islamic tradition and tenets. This can be said of Dadakuada sang by Ilorin musicians, Sakara possibly peculiar to Iseyin, sang by Yesufu Olatunji. Also, like Highlife music, there are different types of indigenous Apala. For example, the type sang by Omowura was called Olalomi and its beat and modes of singing and tempos were faster than that of Haruna Ishola and Yesufu Olatunji. Omowura sang Olalomi genre of Apala to the chagrin of the old musicians he met on ground and became a darling of the members of Transport Union, Artisans, businessmen and general public with ears for good music. The trademark of his drivers fan was the handkerchief that was waved while dancing to his music in the 70’s. He assumed or given many aliases which showed him as an enfant terrible in the home of music. These included Hadji Costly, Egunmogaji, Anigilaje and Alujannu Elere. By the time of his death at age 47, he produced about 22 albums, two of which were released posthumously. All of them under EMI records were hits.
Aside Natural traits, he exhibited like daringness, belligerency, good command of Yoruba and Egba dialects, he was blessed with the good use of figures of speech like pon, metaphor, hyperbole, innuendoes and witticism and he was good in playing upon words. These featured in his music. For example, ka fi oro we oro, enu Ayinla lo pin si, Eku to fe pa ologini, nje ole duro gbe aye”. The above is an example of pon. An example of apostrophe/hyperbole in his music is “iku oponu olodi abara dudu hoho, oju pon koko, gbogbo ara re nderu ba’yan”. He displayed his talent in playing upon words while paying a tribute to late Egbe Chief; Seriki Amodemaja “Eku idele afobaje, Seriki Egba deru nu, o jade laye…” In addition, he explored proverbs and incantations, that is, ‘Ofo’ and ‘Ogede’, and curse that is ‘epe’ and abusive words which were actually directed at his perceived and real opponents – “Eni robi simi ibi a ba o, iya yin ni won mi a jigbe…” He equally had his idiosyncrasies which made him distinct. Omowura by birth was a moslem. He practiced the religion and performed Hajj in 1975. However, he was at home with traditional practices. For instance, he partook in the veneration of Ogun, the god of iron, he probably belonged to either the indigenous or reformed Ogboni fraternity and there is no doubt that he should be in possession of charms and believed in efficacy of magic. Evidence of the above abounds in his music. Ayinla Omowura was a chain smoker and his tinted front line teeth and dark/burnt lips gave him out as one. Orlando Owoh, a campaigner for liberalization of hemp smoking sang the praises of Omowura in one of his albums for being an unrepentant smoker.
Although an illiterate in the context of the Western definition, Omowura was a music prodigy, he was informed, enlightened and current on events around him. These were evident in his works and made his music topical and comport with societal demands. He was an entertainer, social mobiliser, enlightenment campaigner, commentator, social critics, teacher of moral and prophet. He actually acted as a mouth piece of government in his lifetime, this he did probably unconsciously but to make his music topical. In actual fact, it was through him that some government policies were passed to his numerous fans which included but not limited to drivers, artisans, traders, etc. As if he was sent back by the masses to the government, he always informed the government on the need of the society. For example, he sang on Udoji salary increment in 1976 where he praised the government but went on to demand same for private sectors to make the largesse go round.
His government mouth piece function could be appreciated better through his album entitled Orin Owo Ile Eko (NEMI004 Vol. 4), which he dedicated to the exposition of the restructuring of the rent edict in Lagos State during the era of Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson as Lagos State governor in 1973; he explained the edict to Lagosians through that album. He praised Brigadier General Mobolaji Johnson and Mumuni Adio, the then Commissioner for Information, for the masses oriented programme embarked upon by the Lagos State government. He then called on Lagosians – landlords and tenants to give Mobolaji Johnson the necessary support – “Aye e ma tapa si joba, e fara mo Omo Bolaji”.
His analysis of the rent edict goes thus:
Eko/Obalende/Ilado, Maroko section of Lagos
Category A: (Houses made with bricks/blocks) are flat – the rent due was N16.00
Category B: (Ile Ajogbe) face me, I face you: rent was N11.00
Category C: (Mud/wooden houses) rent was N7.00
Category A – N15.00
Category B – N10.00
Category C – N5.00
Category A – N10.00
Category B – N8.00
Category C – N5.00
Category A – N9.00
Category B – N6.00
Category C – N3.00
He concluded that 5% of the rent due should be deducted by tenants on houses that lack basic amenities (government directives). This is significant because it influenced to a great extent the response of the people to that policy. The above made the musicians role in nation building to complement that of mass media or the fourth estate of the realm. Other government policies that were explained by Ayinla Omowura to the populace include the National Census of 1973 in his Album National Census 1973 (NEMILP 002). Others are keep right (which was used to explain the change in driving from the left side to the right in 1973 in the album Challenge Cup ’73 (UNLX6111 Vol. 3, 1973) and change of the National Currency from the colonial pounds sterling to Naira and kobo by General Yakubu Gowon’s regime in 1973 and in the same album. It also included the hosting of Festac in 1977 and the introduction of N20.00 to immortalize General Muritala Muhammed by the Obasanjo regime in the album Owo Tuntun (NEMILP 02540). Beside current affairs, he equally used his albums on Sporting activities particularly football to extol the importance of sport as well as national service to one’s nation. These albums included Challenge Cup ’72 (HNLS 6111, Vol. 3), Challenge Cup ’74 (NEMILP 0024), He also sang about Mighty Jet – Bendel Insurance historical Challenge Cup final as well as Rangers – Mighty Jet duel in the mid 1970s.
Issue of women and men relationship also featured in Omowura’s music. However, this is not peculiar to him. Every musician does so to make their music appeal to women fans and admirers. In the views of many musicians, women are indispensable to any musicians who want to make it. Dele Abiodun emphasized the place of women in music industry better “women keep music industry alive, any musician that does not enjoy the support of female fans can as well pack up, because they are the ones that pull the crowd… women find their ways in own world (i.e. music world), women are a necessary part of music, one has to keep his head straight” – Sunday Tribune, July 27, 2003, p 14. As a result of the place of women in music, many musicians sang the praises of women fans, sang about their escapades with women and many equally served as patrons for many women social clubs.
However, Omowura was a total departure from the practice. Though he must have had escapades with some women, but his relationship with women mostly was adversarial. He did not engage in praise singing women or shown their good side in his works. Exception was his advice to some husbands whose wives were in ‘town’ to give them free hand to operate. “Iyawo ti a ba fi sipo aye jije, e je o jaye”. Apart from this, he was always criticizing women for one vice or the other. For example, he bemoaned some women who bleached their bodies in “Oro kan je mi logun mo fe so”. Then in Vol. 15, he lambasted women who go from one husband’s hand to the other in “Pansaga ranti ojo ola”.
Praise singing fans, friends, and band members were a pastime of Omowura as well as all musicians. This was done for fun as regards band members but for fans and friends, that was the source of income for a musician. He always encourage fans to spend for them, since that was where their breads were buttered “Laye n bi koni suwa se, gbogbo sanmori ti n dawa lola, asiri nawonawo koni tu loju ahun, eni mo owo lo ni owo nwole fun, nina lowo wa fun nile aye. Majority boys, ariya kii poju, kama nawo”.
Supremacy tussle was a notable feature of the relations among musicians in Nigeria especially those who sang the same genre. Many albums were waxed where mud were slugged at opponents. At times, it can be proverbial and at times, it can be direct. Although, musicians involved in such contest denied it but the contest was real. Such feud or competition had the tendencies to divide the musicians into hostile camps based on who is supporting who. Ayinla Omowura engaged Fatai Olowonyo in supremacy contest and had issues with Haruna Ishola, Yesufu Olatunji, Dauda Epo Akara and the youthful Sikiru Ayinde Barrister at one time or the other during his lifetime. In support of Ayinla Omowura against his opponents were Dr. Orlando Owoh and General Kollington Ayinla.
Besides, there is no doubt that his inability to acquire education did not go down well with him. Knowing full well that he lost the opportunity, he always through his work admonished children of school age, probably including his own children playing truancy or did not go to school at all to turn a new coat. This is the message passed in “Omo a fi eko sofo” – a child who made mess of education.
Last but not the least, Omowura used his music to eulogize or pay tributes to fallen heroes or his fans. For example, he released an album to pay tribute to Late General Muritala Muhammed, a former head of State of Nigeria who was felled by coup plotters on February 13, 1976. He equally produced a dirge for Seriki Amodemaja an Egba chief and Ogboni chieftain and Akanni Fatai a.k.a Bolodeoku where he eulogized them.
From the foregoing, there is no doubt that Omowura’s music was channeled towards the good of the society. Save his songs that were used to settle scores, others were beneficial to humanity. Forty years on, his legacies are enduring and his contribution to nation building process in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Posterity indeed will be generous with him. Ex-governor Ibikunle Amosun is reported to have given Omowura’s Itoko Abeokuta residence a facelift in anticipation of his 40th remembrance celebration, which he deserves kudos for. It is hoped that Ogun State government would immortalize him by including him in the Ogun State hall of fame or more, for bringing the State into the world map through his musical dexterity.