LATE CHIEF ALHAJI AYINLA WAIDI OMOWURA popularly called EGUNMOGAJI was born in Abeokuta Ogun state Nigeria in 1933. His musical career took root when he started with a brand of music called “Olalomi” in the early 50’s. This brand of music was so popular that he became the darling of the young people both in Nigeria and the the west coast of Africa. This brand faded with time.
He left for MECCA and MEDINAT to perfom the Muslim Holy Pilgrimage in 1975 and became Alhaji Ayinla Omowura.
On May 6, 1980, leader of a Yoruba genre of music called Apala, which had quite a sizeable number of cultic following, was stabbed to death on the head with a beer glass cup in a barroom brawl at Ago Oka, Abeokuta. Ayinla Waidi Omowura, son of Yusuff Gbogbolowo the blacksmith and Wuramontu Morenike, had finally been killed by the scary black club of Death which he had sang sarcastically about in two previous vinyls he did before his death. He died at the Ijaye General Hospital, Abeokuta. The Medical Consultant, Dr Akin Majekodunmi also an Egba man, tried his best to save Ayinla’s life.
On the day Ayinla Omowura released each of the 20 albums he did for EMI, the company recorded at least 50,000 copies sale.
It took a few weeks after before fans could come to terms with the departure of a man who to some was the enfant terrible of Apala music; who, with an admixture of a quartet musical instruments of Sekere maracas, akuba, Iya-ilu and agidigbo, attacked societal ills in his characteristic acidic tongue. Omowura, though illiterate, projected the image of an ombudsman to the oppressed.
EARLY LIFE AND JOURNEY TO FAME
Born in 1933 in Itoko, Abeokuta, Ayinla Omowura, as early as when he was in his teens, was said to have been apprenticed to his father’s blacksmithry trade. Unconfirmed sources said that while growing up, Ayinla Omowura interspersed this early childhood vocation with acting as political thug to some politicians of the time. He was also said to have once been a driver.
His musical career took a new dimension when he joined EMI NIGERIA in 1970 and recorded a single titled”AJAT OF’ OJU D’EJO” in June of that year. The tremendous success attained by the single was quickly folowed by three other extended play records. One was recorded in September 1970-HNEP 506 titled “EMA FOWO S’OYA SI WAMO” and the other two, HNEP 533 TITLED “DANFO O SI ERE”/”EMA TORI OWO PA’NIA and HNEP 534 titiled “ANJONU ELERE” were recorded on the 20th of July 1971.
By the early 70s, along with other Apala prodigies of the time like Haruna Ishola (who reportedly invented the genre), S. Aka, Ligali Mukaiba, Yusuff Olatunji, Kasumu Adio, S.K.B Ajao-Oru, Fatai Ayilara, Ojubanire Ajape Saka Tewogbade and others, he had successfully transformed not only Apala but his fortunes as well, into a genre of music that was not strictly the pastime of the Yoruba lower class as it was hitherto perceived. He recorded 22 albums. Omowura held society spellbound by his song, occasionally infusing his Egba dialect as a musical motif, delivered in a rich voice that was perhaps accentuated by his rumored passion for cannabis.
AYINLA OMOWURA AND WOMEN
Like every other musician, women made up the coatings of his world. Those who knew him while alive spoke of an Haji Costly (one of his aliases), decked in the latest lace material in town, with a hanging, dangling necklace doing a swing on his neck, and a member of his band permanently stationed beside him to invite over any lady in whom he had a philandering interest.
In his social critic garb, Ayinla Omowura was the scourge of the then emerging fad of women bleaching (Volume 15, Oro kan je mi logun) where he compared, sarcastically, the body of a woman who bleaches with that of the frog and wondered why the white man does not, comparatively, flee after the black skin. His songs were also the nemesis of ladies who changed husbands’ houses like a chameleon changes color (Pansaga ranti ojo ola) where he espoused the concept of the Onibambashi — most likely a barroom argot — classification of such women. Paradoxically, Ayinla Omowura was said to be the toast of married women beer salon operators in his Abeokuta and Mushin homes and on several occasions, had to engage their husbands in physical, as well as musical scuffles to assert his supremacy.
One of such was his justification of women running beer salons in his “Oro mi dori o dori” track which became almost a national anthem for fans of this bohemian Yoruba musician. In a very scurrilous attack which made him and his song almost like leprosy to feminists for his perceived anti-women biases, Ayinla Omowura attacked societal malaise and projected a high moral universe. He sang with an authority of being in possession of a musical inspiration and mastery of his trade that verged on blatant arrogance. He tells his competitors, for example, that until the weaverbird gains easy access to the liquid inside the coconut pod could any one of them attempt to outshine his genius and that he is the alujonnu elere (musical gnome), having surpassed them all.
Incidentally, however, his songs come across as anti-feminist as he hardly perceived anything of good in the womenfolk, except seeing them as commodities. For example, in his popular track entitled Enirobi simi, ibi a ba (Vol 15), a song which he used to dispel rumours making the round that he had been kidnapped by his enemies, in gutter-like acidic outrage against those he termed the peddlers of the rumour, Ayinla Omowura easily took a shuttle to the maternal homes of the ‘rumour peddlers’ and categorically asserted that such people’s mothers were the ones who were suffering from a fit of malady.
A COMMENTATOR ON SOCIAL AND PRESSING ISSUES IN THE SOCIETY
As a commentator on issues of the contemporary society, Ayinla Omowura reeled out innumerable tracks either commending government policies, excoriating bad ones or warning society on ills strung round certain governmental and individual acts. In E fara m’Omobolaji, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson’s tenement rate policy in Lagos state received his dissection and applause. He enjoined Lagosians not to kick against this laudable government policy but give support to Johnson and didactically, detail by detail, tutored his listeners on the process of the payment of the tenement rate.
In another breath, Ayinla Omowura sang about the 1976 Udoji salary increment (Vol 7) and like an informed commentator that he was, urged that the largesse be extended to the private sector (e je ka san’wo Udoji na fawon private companies).
His view of a musician was one who fully participated in the cumbersome process of dialogue and interrogation of the complex situational issues of society.
When General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated, Omowura delved into a soul-inspiring, tear-jerking elegy (Dimka, eni o pa o!…) wherein he outlined the fallen soldier’s sparkling qualities while excoriating General and Colonel Iliya Bisala and Buka Sukar Dimka for plotting the fine soldier’s elimination. When the Obasanjo military government thereafter decided to have Murtala’s picture and name embossed on the Twenty Naira note and named the Lagos international airport after him, these again formed the subjects of his musical engagements.
He was one of the few musicians who paid tribute to a fallen colleague of theirs, Ayinde Bakare, who was found murdered after some days of frenetic search for him (Vol. 3).
Perhaps if he had not been a musician, Ayinla Omowura would have been a footballer. His love for the round leather game was reflected in his commentaries on some football matches played in the country that he obviously watched. The 1972 and 1974 Challenge Cup matches (which later became the titles of an album and a track in Vols. 3 and 6 respectively) between Mighty Jet and Bendel Insurance, as well as one between Enugu Rangers and Mighty Jet engaged his attention where he recaptured the events on the turf by doing a re-rendition of Eyimba eyi!, Rangers’ Supporters’ Club song, to cheer their clubside.
Among others, FESTAC ’77, a cultural event that attracted participants from all over the world, also attracted the musical commentary of Ayinla Omowura, also known by his fans as the Eegunmongaji or Anigilaje. As a prominent worshipper of the Yoruba god of iron, Ogun, wherein his notoriety and that of his musical ensemble got its renown, the Egba-born musician saw the cultural event as another avenue of pouring libation to the gods, this time by government.
Commentaries that also engaged the attention of Omowura were the 1973 census, wave of robberies, change of driving path from left to right, the rumoured banning of wearing of lace materials for the rumoured belief that it courted armed robbery and several others. When, for example, Nigeria changed her currency, the musical crusader and commentator thought it fit to educate his long list of fans on the worth and look of the Naira denominations.
AYINLA OMOWURA’S LOVE FOR EDUCATION
Ayinla Omowura lamented his illiteracy and tried to rise above its limitations. In 25 X 40 for example, he tried to impress it on his listeners that his unlettered disposition could not vitiate his intelligence. The desire to one day travel abroad (abi London ti e wi ti ya?, bo s’America a jo n lo ni, etc) featured prominently in his songs, so also a fervent wish to be around to witness the good of his children which he expressed in very deep Yoruba (isu omo a jinna fun wa je). Unfortunately, he never lived to witness both.
Frustrated by the truancy of his first son (now late, Akeem Omowura), in Omo afekosofo, he sang about a child who rubbishes the joy of education offered him by a father who is ever ready to foot his education which is his joy of tomorrow. Education, he said, is more enduring than a wait on parents’ wealth. He reminded the prodigal son that his parents could abruptly go on a troubadour of no return for which the parents would give no prior notice and that truancy does not pay.
Like a prophet, Omowura went on his journey without giving notice.
He spoke about Death’s morbidly dark complexion, dilating eyes and the prolific strikes with his club (iku oponu olodi ab’ara dudu hoho!) as well as the certainty of everyone’s death.
INVOLVEMENTS IN CULTISM AND FETISH LIFESTYLE
Omowura was very fetish like many musicians of his time. Incantations and curses lace virtually all his songs and husbands cross with their wives are recorded to see his LPs as temporary ego victories over such wives at home. He told any competing musician who had the gumption to belittle him on the bandstand to prepare to take his hands off life’s menu as such a defiant musician was done with the meals of this world and should prepare to start eating with the dead at the cemetery(Olorin to ba f’oju dimi lode, jije, mimu e tan nile aye).
He sang so masterly about death in an existentialist manner that reminds one of existential philosophers’ treatments of death, especially the void of Martin Heidegger’s Sorge.
His dirge at the death of Seriki Amodemaja, an Egba chief and prominent Ogboni fraternity chieftain, was a masterpiece in its own right. So also is the elegy to Akanni Fatai, also known as Bolodeoku. Both songs are spiced with his characteristic eulogy of the dead and philosophical interrogation of the concept, process and inscrutable essence of death. In the elegy to Amodemaja, Omowura mocks as well as dramatizes the inactivity and solemnity that follow death and the pain of the departure of a loved one.
Coupled with another masterpiece celebration of life of another Ogboni chieftain in a track entitled Shifu Lawal Omopupa Oluwo,(Vol 6) with the cadence of his celebration of the edan, an insignia of Ogboni people and the masterly infusion he made of the music and dance of the Ogboni into this particular track, critics come to the conclusion that Omowura was himself a member of the cult.
INCESSANT ENMITY WITH OTHER MUSICIANS
Omowura picked quarrels easily with fellow musicians of the time as ferns are picked in a plantation. He was known to have at one time or the other feuded with Dauda Epo Akara, Ayinde Barrister, Haruna Ishola (whom he later did a track to pay tribute to as the numero unoamong musicians all over (ninu elere gbogbo agbaye pata o, Ishola mo fear e ju), among several others others. It was indeed the feud with Barrister that later served as the foundation of the prolonged musical enmity between Barrister and Kollington Ayinla, a known musical surrogate of Omowura’s. Kollington was so committed to the Omowura enigma that his first known album was used to take a swipe at Fatai Olowonyo, Omowura’s Egba kinsman who also engaged in a bitterly violent musical war of supremacy with the late Apala exponent. They were both reported to have also engaged in physical battles on several occasions. Thus, when Omowura was assassinated, Kollington not only took on the form, tenor and pattern of Omowura’s music, but inherited his adversaries too, one of whom was Barrister.
The high point for Omowura, who sang on virtually every domestic dislocation of his household, was in the late 70’s when he bought a brand new Mercedes Benz car. For this, a track entitled Merzi tun de, heralding the arrival of the musical behemoth on the music scene graced one of his albums and, of course as usual, coated with a caustic diatribe against his enemies who thought he had reached the twilight of his musical inspiration.
In fact, most of the sharp-tongued tracks in Omowura’s albums a few years to his death, were references to Olowonyo who, as it were, seemed to be well out of the class of the late musician in the trade of gutter language. For example, in a track entitled E lewure wole, Olowonyo literally took Omowura to the cleaners, alleging that the Toyota car he had just bought was acquired from the proceeds of theft of neighbours’ sheep and goats, among other pungent punches that indeed visibly hurt Omowura. Alao Adewole, Omowura’s lead drummer, in the group’s next album, had to prologue the leading track with a talking drum symphonic reply to Olowonyo’s tirade, asking the world to, e wo man yi to so pe mo gbe’wure (look at this man who claimed I stole goats!). Omowura himself later came up to tell the world to cultivate a fighting arena for him and his challenger, so as to determine who was the champion in his E fa’won were sile (Volume 6). He said those poking fun at him for purchasing the Toyota did not even possess the bike of the palm wine-taper!
Olowonyo thereafter went personal in his attacks on Omowura, deriding eegunmongaji’s dark, tobacco-stained teeth and drooping lips. Stung by this jab, Omowura was said to have contacted a dentist who bleached his tobacco-stained teeth. As a follow-up, Olowonyo again did another LP where he acknowledged that indeed, Omowura had found an answer to his burnt teeth but demanded where he would find answers to his flabby lips. In a solemn, escapist reply, Omowura then told Olowonyo that he who had found favour in the sight of the world, the world would in turn overlook his inadequacies (eni aye n fe o larun kan lara). Rumours had it that, frustrated at this barrage of mud-slinging, Omowura had eventually gone talismanic against Olowonyo, culminating in his popular track, A ti fi’koko de won monle (I have shrouded his essence in a black pot), which fans saw as a spiritual binding of Olowonyo, who, thereafter, even after Omowura’s death, had hardly produced an album, almost forty years after. Such was the nature of the musical supremacy squabbles of the time. A few years before his death, Omowura had gone to observe the holy pilgrimage in Mecca. It was said that it was during this pilgrimage that he and Olowonyo decided to mend fences.
Omowura also, along the line, feuded with and sang to abuse his lead drummer, Adewole, in a track entitled Nibo lowa ta o ri lode? (Vol. 15) where he urged Adewole to send an application to him to become his cook rather than attempt to establish another musical outfit. He even claimed that the LP Adewole managed to produce was so inferior that it could not be marketed, necessitating him hiding the sleeves underneath his agbada in shame. Omowura, however, later celebrated the resolution of the rift in a track entitled Ipari ija Ayinla pelu Adewole (Vol 18) while blaming his enemies for the prolongation of the tiff and their desire to have it fester.
Omowura’s classic tribute to Yusuff Olatunji after the demise of the respected musician is considered today as, not only a strong philosophical composition unique only to Omowura, but equipped with all the trappings of a human quest to know the logic of death’s strike. Omowura wondered, for example, in the vinyl, how, with the famed resistance and melodious goje flute of Olatunji, death could be so callous, unfeeling and insulated from good rhythms that it could ever pull down a big mansion that the death of Olatunji represented to the music world.
AYINLA OMOWURA’S UNTIMELY DEATH
This version of his death by Onigegewura continues:
Baiyewunmi was Ayinla Omowura’s band manager for many years. He was Ayinla’s dependable Man Friday. He booked his shows, arranged his programmes and was also responsible for keeping the band’s money. In at least two albums, Ayinla sang his praises, even if fleetingly.
Then the bubbles burst. Ayinla accused Baiyewunmi of fraudulent accounting. Nuhu Ribadu must be in elementary school at the time. There was no EFCC to report him to. Baiyewunmi was summarily summoned to Itoko in Abeokuta by the Emperor of Music. Perhaps scared of Ayinla’s fiery tongue (or afraid of the famed Magic Ring), Baiyewunmi, the embattled band manager refused to appear in court to show cause.
Egunmogaji declared him a wanted man. Everyone in Abeokuta began looking for the estranged Baiyewunmi. Had he fled Egba to Lagos? Someone claimed to have seen him on his way to Cotonou. Another claimed he was in Ibadan arranging some boys to rival Ayinla as Apala Musician. And there were reported sightings in Kano, Enugu and Kafanchan. But no one reported seeing him in Abeokuta.
Where was Baiyewunmi! Of course, Baiyewunmi was in Egba Alake. He was not even in hiding. In Yoruba land, name – whether given or adopted – is usually instructive. Omowura was the golden child of Apala music. Baiyewunmi loved good life. And good life loved him. And that proved to be fatal!
Ayinla Omowura had just finished composing another blockbuster album in his head. He had a legendary reputation for not writing his songs down. Before he became a professional musician, he was a motorboy and later a driver. He plied Abeouta-Lagos Route. It was said that Ayinla would sing non-stop from Egba to Lagos on his trips.
He was humming his new songs whilst been driven in his King of Road, a brand new Mercedes Benz. It must have been the mental exercise, Ayinla’s throat began itching for something stronger than cold water. Alhaji Costly directed his driver to stop at a beer parlour for the much needed refreshment.
Like the King he was, Ayinla stepped out of his car majestically. He was followed by the driver and two of his bandboys who were with him in the car. Egunmogaji! People hailed the maestro. He waved at them. He was wearing his magic ring.
Apparently, Ayinla was not the only one who needed a drink. Seated comfortably in the bar and enjoying himself was no other person than Baiyewunmi himself! Baiyewunmi!
Ayinla saw Baiyewunmi! Baiyewunmi saw Ayinla! Two elephants met! “Lo pe Olopa fun mi ni Eleweran! Oju Ole re!” (Go and call me policemen from Eleweran, this is a thief) Ayinla ordered his driver to run to Eleweran to fetch police so that Baiywunmi, the ‘thief’ could be arrested.
Police ke! Baiyewunmi stood up immediately. The bar became tense. Everybody in the bar knew everybody. Baiyeunmi was not afraid. It could have been Dutch Courage. He took another sip at his beer. He placed the heavy mug back on the metal table. “Hadji Costly! Oro yi ko le to bayi.” He addressed his former boss with the endearing name he knew Ayinla loved.
Omowura was unmoved. “You are sleeping in Eleweran tonight! Ole!” Seeing that entreaties and pleas would be futile, Baiyewunmi weighed his options. He decided to bolt.
Ayinla was blocking the entrance, but not totally. His medium frame was not enough to stop a determined band manager. He took on Egunmogaji headlong. Ayinla was not a former driver for nothing. He swiftly stepped aside. He lunged at his attacker. He caught hold of his cloth. Baiyewunmi was caught like a spider. Anigilaje smile triumphantly.
What happened next was as surreal as a scripted movie. Baiyewunmi was locked in Ayinla’s tight grip. Though his hands were free, Ayinla held on to his cloth tightly. Police would soon be here! Ayinla beamed at his quarry. It must be the word ‘Police’ that Baiyewunmi heard.
He staggered back to where he was drinking, dragging Ayinla with him. His hand caught the handle of his beer jug. In a moment, he struck Ayinla on the head with the now empty but heavy mug.
Ayinla collapsed like a shot antelope. Baiyewunmi didn’t wait a moment longer. He fled. Omowura felt the wetness of his head. He raised his right hand to assess the damage. His hand was soaked in blood. (Anti Wura’s account was accurate in this regard.) Ayinla began to chant incantation from one of his albums. Bi iku ba n pa won leworo leworo, ki e ma ka temi mo won (If death was killing them by the dozens, my death will not be included).
His two boys took him to the hospital. Ayinla must not die! Music must not die! Doctors battled to save the life of the musical genius. People stood outside the hospital praying ceaselessly. Muslims, Christians and Traditional worshippers cried to the heavens.
Cock has crowed. Eagle has flown away. Ayinla Omowura is gone!
Baiyewunmi was arrested and charged with the murder of Mr. Waidi Ayinla contrary to section 254(2) of the Criminal Code. The trial judge was Mr. Justice Owolabi Kolawole of the Ogun State High Court (later OFR and later, Justice of Court of Appeal).
Medical evidence was presented. The cause of death was certified to be cerebral shock resulting from a fracture of the skull associated with a contortion of the brain as well as well as large intracranial haemorrhage consistent with the deceased having been struck on the head with a heavy object. Big Grammar! In a layman’s basic English, Ayinla’s head was cracked with a jug. Simple!
In his defence, Baiyewunmi denied striking Ayinla. He claimed that after Ayinla grabbed his cloth, Ayinla began to tremble all over and then collapsed. His Counsel argued that the evidence of the prosecution witnesses contained such contradictions as to make it unreliable. Counsel also argued that if it all Ayinla was attacked, it was in self-defence. Case adjourned for judgment.
The whole of Nigeria waited with baited breath. Rumours began to circulate. Someone claimed that Ayinla had woken up miraculously! It was also claimed that Baiyewunmi had disappeared from prison. Someone said in far away Ile-Ife that Ayinla killed himself.
The Courtroom was filled to the brim on the day My Lord Justice Kolawole was to deliver the judgment. The judgment took the whole of one hour. His Lordship held that Baiyewunmi had to be taken as having intended the natural and probable consequence of his act, which was that Ayinla would suffer grievous harm as a result of the blow to the head.
At this point, Justice Kolawole looked up from his record. There was pin drop silence in the court room. Baiyewunmi stood in the dock with his head bowed. Counsel for prosecution and defence watched His Lordship intently.
The judge turned another page and continued: “In coming to my conclusion, I only need to say in the words of Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians at chapter 11 verse 29: ‘For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself…The accused eateth and drinketh unworthily; he eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.”
Baiyewunmi was therefore found guilty of the murder of Alhaji Ayinla Waidi aka Ayinla Omowura, Egunmogaji of Egbaland, Anigilaje, Alhaji Costly!
Baiyewunmi was sentenced to death accordingly.
Critics also locate the incident of his death in his perceived over-indulgence with violence and belief in the rescue potential of the talisman. An unconfirmed account of his death says that Ayinla Agbe’japa Oba – the Tortoise Priest of Oba, a section of Egbaland, whom he paid obeisance to in virtually all his albums; whom he, in one of his tracks, annoyingly equated with God by ascribing some omnipotent epithets to (Ogbagba ti n gba ara adugbo lowo ewu!) – who was also his spiritual consultant and advisor, his babalawo, had warned him of an impending bloodbath that week and forbade him going out for any musical show. Sure that danger only lurked at a musical engagement, Omowura had reportedly refrained from honoring any show that week but had gone out, this particular evening, with a friend to a beer parlor for relaxation.
Despite his talent and inspiration, Omowura was blessed with a crop of equally talented composers who made his job of singing a lot easier and he acknowledged their composition in his songs. Men like Bashir Igbore, Razaq Tuntun, Aremu Orifogo, Ateni Se Mess and others acted as guiding spirits to Omowura and he generously and liberally tapped from their compositions, with acknowledgements.
In spite of his limitations and foibles, Omowura remains a great musical beacon in Yorubaland and the eternality of his advocacies and evergreen texture of his songs are beginning to be seen by a Yoruba world that shut its mind off his melody, musical scholarship and social criticism, simply because of his low class, illiteracy and obsessive identification with the rejects of society.
By Johnson Okunade
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