Book title: Ayinla Omowura: Life and times of an Apala Legend
Author: Festus Adedayo
Reviewer: Olayinka Oyegbile
Four decades after the death of the man who has been widely acknowledged as the numero uno of Apala music, Festus Adedayo (PhD) has in this book Ayinla Omowura: Life and times of an Apala Legend documented the contributions of one of Nigeria’s most profound musicians in a permanent form where those who have never read about him can now get to know him more.
The death of Ayinla Omowura at 47 and the monumental success he recorded despite the fact that he died that young is a thing that should not be allowed to go into oblivion. In a country where record keeping is at its lowest, it is good to see that the writer was able to piece together vignettes of information that could give him over five hundred pages of details about the enigma popularly called Egunmogaji or Anigilaje.
In seven broad chapters, the writer was able to piece together the loose ends of the musician’s life and times. It is a salute to the intellectual depth of the writer and the doggedness of his research team that he was able to do this. The several obstacles he must have encountered in doing this can be imagined in getting people to talk about a man who lived a life that was widely known as not too enviable. However, his rough lifestyle is forgiven because of his immense talent and the lifelong contribution he is believed to have made to the propagation of his type of music to the world. It is often believed, and rightly so, that if he had not died that young, he would have pushed the envelope of his genre of music beyond where he left it.
In Chapter one Apala: Roots and Beginning, the author, as the title suggests, traces the antecedents of the music that later became widely known as Apala. It is a very useful background to the story and the writer supports his claims with sources of books by musicologists and researchers who have written about music in Africa, Nigeria and the world in general. This chapter throws the needed light into how this genre of music came to be and what it is today.
In Chapter two Ayinla’s rough beginning: Sitting on the cusp of two hundred needles situates the life of the music maestro and gave a background to the kind of life he eventually grew up to lead. As it is usually said that the beginning of a day tells the kind of day it would be. In the life of Ayinla, the company he kept and the kind of crowd he moved with dictated the kind of life he was to grow up to live. In fact, from the title one could deduce that the musician was living on the fast lane. For instance, one of the respondents in talking about Ayinla had told the author, “Ayinla was everywhere. You could see him with the girls at Ake today and in the next hour, you could see him at his father’s smithy. He was a stubborn young man and there was nothing you could put past him. You could see him with butchers and it would be difficult to say that he was not part of them. There was never anyone you couldn’t say he was involved with…”
Chapter three Ayinla’s iconic years (1970-1980), is a full examination of the one decade that the musician took the Nigeria music scene by storm and dominated the scene with his melodious voice. It is a very rich background into how he lived and was able to dominate the scene. His recording years and mannerisms during recordings are all documented in this chapter.
Chapter four Ayinla the family man goes behind the scene to give the reader the complete picture of this controversial musician whose songs are mainly directed against women. It is to show his soft side that he was not a woman hater as many may have concluded, at least from his music. The author writes about meeting his family members and was able to piece together pieces of scattered information that had been bandied in the past. It is to his credit and his team that he was able to meet almost all members of the family and friends to be able to give a complete picture of the life of the musician.
Chapter five The day Oloburo was murdered is perhaps the most painstaking chapter in the book. In piecing together, the many of the versions of how Oloburo was killed, the author scored the streets of Abeokuta to get the details as accurate as possible. It is important to add that he made a huge success of this and many who have wondered how the musician breathed his last would find an answer in this book.
Chapter six Ayinla and his music is an album by album analysis of the late Apala king’s about twenty records that he waxed while alive and also a few of his live plays. The record of his live plays were not enough as the writer had earlier pointed out that the musician always made sure his performances went on recorded.
Chapter seven Apala after Oloburo takes a look at the fate of Apala music after Ayinla’s demise. It looks at how family rivalry and petty squabbles made sure the genre, at least the Ayinla variety, has today become history. The late musician’s younger brother Dauda who released one or two albums after his brother’s death and the bitter rivalry from Akeem, Omowura’s first son, who saw himself as the rightful heir to the throne and would not cooperate with his uncle; all led to the demise of the legacy of the Apala maestro.
Adedayo has with this book done a very good job for generations to come to know more about the Apala music legend. The worth of his effort may not be realized now but one is sure that with time this would be recognized. He has in a very elegant and robust way documented the feat of this master musician and social crusader. His life and that of his town folk Abami Eda Fela could perhaps be compared. Ayinla perhaps got less attention because of the limit of his language of communication. There is no doubt that his artistry is as elevated and sophisticated as that of his town folk.
The writer deserves praises for this good work, it a book with a deep nuance that even a non-speaker of Yoruba would find enriching to read, it is a mine gold of information. The pains of getting information from almost everyone who had anything to do with Ayinla is wonderful. No person was too minute not to be contacted for any information. This enriched the book.
However, there is a need to employ a good editor to help put the narration and editing in a more proper shape. There are repetitions of facts and stories which a keen editor would have cut off or grouped together rather than having them scattered across the pages and chapters. Besides that, there is a need for subsequent prints to take care of typographical errors and some malapropisms that found their ways into this rather interesting book.
Some of these are “their” page 38 for there, “thieve” page 56 for thief, “catefory” page 82 for category, and this one on page 240 “She said that she liked meat a lot and took her self-beautification seriously and liked leaking (instead of licking) the tobacco called aasa that the elderly leaked (licked). Aasa was placed on the tongue by its users who leaked (licked) it bit by bit. Abolore said that after each meal Wuramotu would put aasa on her tongue and begin to leak (lick) it.” These obviously would have been detected by a good editor or proofreader. The piece by frontline music critic, Ben Idonije on pages 345-348 is also muddled up. It should be corrected in a reprint. There a few others like that but it does not in any way diminish the book but could make puritans abandon reading it midway. The publisher (printer) also has to do more work on the print quality because some of the pages appear faint and not of equal quality throughout.
Finally, for such a big book published in Nigeria, the publisher did a good job with the packaging, stitching and bounding at over five hundred pages. In the pantheon of musical biographies or autobiographies of Nigerian musicians I have read, Adedayo’s stands tall. Not even Carlos Moore’s This Bitch of a Life about Fela Anikulapo can stand it in terms of nuance, coverage and depth.
*Mr. Oyegbile is a Lagos-based journalist and writer