Sunday, May 3, 2020 8:02 pm
By Omolade Bamigboye
The death, 40 years ago, of Alhaji Waheed Ayinla Gbogbolowo, the Apala singer and musician popularly known as Ayinla Omowura, marked the end of a remarkable life that displayed indelible evidences of musical genius, artistic propagation of ‘local’ intelligence. He created an incredible social awareness and citizen education, elaborate celebration of the Yoruba language and culture and a patriotic zeal that is now nearly absent in contemporary Nigerian music industry. He was a larger than life artist whose personality could be viewed from the many aliases he went by: Eegun Mogaji, Anigilaje, Alhaji Costly, Agbejapa Oba, Oba Orin, Alujonu Elere,Akogun Apoi, Omo Itoko. Omowura’s music remains relevant in today’s Nigeria as it was when the maestro himself was alive. The subject matters of his many recorded albums are issues that still dominate our personal, social and political lives today.
I first got to know about the depth of Omowura’s music through Festus Adedayo, an Ibadan based journalist in his Flickers column of Sunday Tribune. My father, Chief Omotunde Bamigboye used to buy at least three newspapers daily and encouraged my brother Seyi and me to read at least three articles per day. My interest in Omowura was aroused by Dr. Adedayo’s constant reference to the philosophical depth and sound logic embedded in his use of anecdotes,allegories, metaphor and deep Yoruba panegyrics. He celebrated Omowura’s natural disposition to rebuke, chastise, and lampoon human follies and foibles with a view to correcting him in this existential plane.
Anigilaje’s music encapsulated the Nigerian socio-political situation in all its essence. This was a musician who felt it was his duty, not only to enlighten Nigerians about happenings around them, but also to engage them and make them see reason why they must be responsive in their roles as citizens. Any Nigerian who was not yet born in the 60s and 70s only needs to acquaint himself with Omowura’s remarkablediscography to know about the major milestones in the historical trajectory of Nigeria in terms of political events(Murtala Mohammed’s Death, the 1973 National Census, Salary Increase by Gowon, Lagos Rent Schedule under Brig. Johnson, the 1979 general elections amongst others.)
You can accuse Omowura of being vain. I know he must have been a flamboyant man. There are many instances of where he sang about jewellery and the latest lace materials, often flaunting the possession of these to the bitterness of his perceived enemies. He also loved to gloat and display his accomplishments in a rather excessive manner. His celebrated visit to Mecca, for instance, is mentioned in at least three albums with the additional trait of rubbing it in the faces of detractors who did not have such a pleasant time in Meccalike him. He habitually railed at those who chose to belittle him in any way. To him, silence was never golden! Omowurawas a combative and combustible maestro who suffered no fools. Although, according to him, he never kept grudges (Ayìnla omo onì ìja kὸ mo ὰnά), he, however, will never hesitate to give it to any troublemaker, pound for pound.
Also, Omowura’s acerbic tongue was the nemesis of ‘wayward’ women and lazy housewives who gossip about and engage in the terrible act of bleaching their skin. He sings derogatorily of women who engage in excessive makeup and extreme partying to the detriment of their primary responsibility of supporting their husbands to make happy homes. He also praised polygamy and educated its (potential) practitioners in a long-winding track on how to successfully run a home with many wives. He loved to mention the names of his wives and proudly celebrated his masculinity. It was through bingeing on his many albums in the 2000s that I got to know he was married to Olukemi, Alice, Iyabo and Tawa, among others. To an admirer like me, I see through the obvious patriarchal sense of entitlement as I continually get mesmerised by the combinations of his deep-flowing voice and Alao Adewole’s dexterity on the Yoruba talking drum, Gangan.
Although, he died rather prematurely and in a most unexpected manner (since he had lampooned Death in a most demeaning manner, pouring invectives and caustic vituperations on the grim reaper in the penultimate album before his murder; and typically with his usual bravado had assured his large fan base that he would live to a ripe old age), his works will continue to outlive him and his place in the pantheon of heroes is forever sealed.
To properly situate Omowura’s place in the history of Nigerian artistry, one only needs to ascertain the relevance of his music forty years after his death. If there was ever a musician who churned out socially conscious tunes and tried to use his God given talents to rouse his countrymen to charitable and patriotic causes, that musician was AyinlaOmowura.
Special appreciation goes to the Ogun State government and all those who seek to keep Omowura’s legacy flourishing.
Dr. Omolade Bamigboye teaches English Stylistics at Ekiti State University.