By Odolaye Aremu
Baba Sala was one of the very few giants that laid the foundation for the present day Nollywood – literally with their own blood, sweat and tears. Yes he was! Sadly, few folks remember this because we are a conveniently forgetful nation. It happens. We forget. And then we wait for something else to happen. I remember Chief Hubert Ogunde, Oyin Adejobi, Kola Ogunmola, Dúró Ladipo, Ade Love, Akin Ogungbe, Ayoxx Arisekola, Lérè Paimo, Ishola Ogunsola, and a few others.
And if Ogunde was the Nigerian Bela Lugosi, Moses Adejumo Olaiya alias Baba Sala certainly was the Nigerian Benny Hill. Not only was he the hardest working man in Nigerian showbiz at that time. He had a musical band, a theater group, a string of other business and he still toured all year round.
Baba Sala for a long time was the standard bearer for Yoruba comedy in his appearance, props and in those rough, family-friendly sketches. The ubiquitous tobacco pipe that was never lit, the stained teeth to create the illusion of a missing tooth, the powdered hair to make him look the part of an older man, the outlandish bowties, the self-deprecating jokes and the full garb of buffoonery – all made him Nigeria’s first indigenous, professional clown. His supporting cast of Adisa, Kariile, Arikuyeri, Emily, Okondo, Baba Lẹgba added some unexplainable pizzazz to his productions.
Every other comedian that followed Baba Sala copied his routine even to the peculiar styling of his stage name. There was Dogo Baba Kafi, Ojo Ladipo Baba Mero, Jinadu Ewele baba Sakaworo and even now as a non-comedian Odolaye Aremu baba Waki. And there was Jagua that got it all down pat too!
He was one of the first millionaire actors with his well established Alawada conglomerates. Hotels, Cinemas, movies, recordings, TV, Radio shows and restaurants. A tireless performer. He even had his own distinct theme music when the ‘Awada Half hour’ was on in the early 70s. I vividly remember the opening montage- Baba Sala sitting on a heap of sand just behind a 6-wheeler or what we called a Tipper back then. The truck suddenly dumped its load quite unaware of a stowaway in the rear. Baba Sala came down violently with the load of sand. The tipper moved and Baba Sala in a slapstick routine dusted himself and ran after the speeding lorry.
Baba Sala was awesome at the height of his career making movies and shows for TV. It was only the ruinous ‘Nigerian factor’ that eventually did him in. However his ingenuity, and pioneering spirit can never be taken from him. Therefore it is of utmost importance for every comedian in Nigeria today making a livelihood out of humor to give due props to Chief Moses Adejumo Olaiya. For his vision, entertainment and business template, inarguably are partly what’s Nollywood today!
Baba Sala is definitely a first ballot lock for the Ìjẹ̀sà Descendant Hall Of Fame behind Ogedengbe Agbógungbórò, Fabunmi Okemẹsi, Ọtọlorin, Lawrence Omole, IK Dairo, Àjànàkú, Haastrup, Aróhunràlọ́jàọba just to name a few. Moses Adejumo Olaiya unfortunately is no more. He has since passed on to eternal greatness, such that a venerable fool suffering dementia can never attempt to forget him!