SIKIRU ADEPOJU – THE FIRST NIGERIAN GRAMMY AWARD WINNER
THE FIRST NIGERIAN GRAMMY AWARD WINNER.
Sikiru Adepoju is a percussionist and recording artist from Nigeria, primarily in the genres of traditional African music and world music. He plays a variety of instruments and styles.
A master of the talking drum, Adepoju comes from a musical family from Eruwa in western Nigeria.
Born November 10, 1950(age 69), He and his brothers Saminu and Lasisi were taught drumming very early by their father, Chief Ayanleke Adepoju.
His great-great-grandfather down to his father all carried the name, ‘Ayan’ which is a Yoruba identifier for drummers by trade and heritage. He said, “I was born into a family of drummers. I am not an ‘Ayantojubo’ (a drummer by accident), I am Ayandoke (an original drummer).”
To him, it is heritage and providence, “When you’re born into a family of drummers, you don’t really need to learn it. It’s assumed that it’s a part of you. Anywhere the drum sounds, you can pick it up. I can’t remember my dad teaching me how to drum.”
Through the family’s history, their drum of choice is the ‘Talking drum.’ Yoruba people call it, ‘gangan.’ However, Adepoju corrected the use of ‘gangan’ as the Yorùbá word for talking drum. He says, “Older people used to play gangan because it’s longer than the normal talking drum. All gangan are talking drums, but not all talking drums are gangan. The smaller drum is called, kanango.”
Burna Boy is not the first or even the second Nigerian to be nominated in that category. Over the years, Sikiru Adepoju, Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Chimamanda Adichie-Ngozi and Babatunde Olatunji have been nominated for Grammy Awards. Sikiru Adepoju was part of Mickey Hart’s group Planet Drum, whose title album won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 1991, the first year there was a Grammy in that category. Sikiru Adepoju won it again for an album titled Global Drum Project at the 2009 Grammy Awards alongside Mickey Hart, Giovanni Hidalgo and Zakir Hussein.
When Sikiru Adepoju was growing up, he had the knowledge of drumming. However, he never wanted to be a drummer because he hated the struggles his father and grandfather went through because of drumming – especially the terrible treatment they got.
He said, “I had a gift, but for a long time, I ran away from it. However, I discovered that nothing I did succeeded and I always found myself back at drumming either for leisure or quick cash. It made me realize that in life, we’re all just messing with what we think we know. But destiny is a funny thing, isn’t it?”
Despite his earnest desires, Adepoju never really had a formal education because his mother died early. So in 1974 and as he was running away from drumming, he moved to Lagos and tried to be a shoemaker in Olateju, Mushin. Nonetheless, word somehow got out that he could drum and people would come to beg his boss for his services.
While in Lagos, he was also living with his brother, Rashidi who was also a drummer with Wale Olateju. “I used to go to Itire and there I met Mr. Saka AKA Ori Kan Body who played with Kollington Ayinla. There, I went out with them and I met a band that wanted me to play for them – this was before I started training to be a shoemaker.”
But in 1975, his boss from whom he was learning shoemaking took on a gig as a driver at the airport shortly after Murtala Muhammed died. Slowly, the man took more interest in that and it became his life.
Thus, young Sikiru had to find his own path – drumming beckoned. “Around Agege, I met Sunny Edan who doubted me at first, but eventually gave me a chance to start drumming in 1976.”
In 1976 and Adepoju’s shoemaker boss started making money as a cab driver at the Lagos airport and he began disappearing more. Young Sikiru then took the natural path of music that beckoned. However, he still wasn’t making money.
Around this time, he also started hanging out and pulling all-nighters with his fellow musicianships and instrumentalists at Mayflower, Mushin. There, he met Yomi Israel and Ade Olusayo – both bands.
But around this time, he also became a creative nomad – Ade Olusayo was the third band he joined in 1976. He would change band association as quickly as an MTV Award show host would change clothes. He was looking for a band that would be a home – a band that pays.
Most of the bands he was playing with were doing it for the fun of it – no money was being made. “The idea was to make money from whatever we were ‘sprayed’ by attendees at the hotels we would play at, but Lagosians have always been crazy. They would enjoy our music throughout the ‘jump’ and won’t even spray us a dime (laughs),” he said.
He was with Yomi Israel and Ade Olusayo till 1977. Then, he joined Professor Adelowo. There, he learned how big human heart could be after what he’d seen at Mayflower, Mushin.
“Ashamu bought an entire set of instruments for Professor Adelowo because he believed in his talent – I’d never seen anything like it. There, I also spent one year,” he said.
At this time, he had left his brother, Rashidi’s place for another person’s place. He calls himself, ‘A child of joy,’ with whom a lot of people wanted to be associated.
Then, in 1978, he upped and joined Iya Caroline (A band) in Shomolu, Bariga. In 1979, he had his first child with his partner at the time. It made him hungrier to make more money.
While he was working with Iya Caroline and he was making some money, they had a recording session at a studio in Ikeja, Lagos. There, he met with Biodun, the lead guitarist for Sir Shina Peters in the early days. Biodun was also a close friend of Sir Shina Peters’.
“Around this time, Sir Shina had just split from Adewale – they used to be Shina Adewale as a band. Aboderin had also just bought Sir Shina instruments to work with. Biodun then told me that Shina was looking for a talking drum player. Thus, I became part of the maiden members of Shina Peters’ band. However, it wasn’t really a band for about a year – we were just practicing.
“But at the same time, I was also playing with Yemi Kuti – not a Fela affiliate. Yemi Kuti was a protégé to Commander (Ebenezer Obey) who played juju like Commander. If Commander had clashing shows, Yemi Kuti or YK Ajao would be tasked with playing at the other show. When Shina Peters was ready, I went back to Shina Peters. This went on between 1980 and 1982 – when I joined Commander Ebenezer Obey and Inter-Reformers,” he says.
He left Sir Shina Peters and his band because arguments had started creeping in over money-related issues.The final stroke in that drama was on the way back from a performance in Badagry. Band members wanted Biodun to vacate his position as Band captain.
“I was still young at the time, the issue of Biodun had been brewing before the performance in Badagry. When an argument ensued, Shina pushed my fellow talking drum player in the chest. I was behind Shina who was wearing an Agbada. I followed him and turned the agbada on his face before pushing him to the ground (laughs). That band ended after that,” he said.
After the Shina Peters debacle and considering that he never wanted to be a drummer, he decided to ‘hang his stick.’ With the hiatus, the frustration reached boiling point. In 1982, he became a tout as an independent contractor with the body that is now known as the National Union of Road Transport Workers. He was in charge of ticketing, identity and other permits.
There, he was making a lot of money – N150-a-day in 1982 Nigerian currency which was a lot of money. For context, his rent was just N20 per month at the time. That invigorated his appetite to never play drums again, but destiny had different plans for him.
Around this time, Sir Shina Peters was also trying to get his band back together – he called a meeting which Adepoju attended. It happened at a place called Ariya. But on getting back home, he got a letter from Simon – band captain for Commander Ebenezer Obey and the Inter-Reformers.
Simon had taken his brother to audition for the Inter-Reformers, but his brother failed.
“I was still a tout when I joined Inter-Reformers by pure fortuity. Simon was the band captain for Inter-Reformers and a certain Baba Akilapa was playing back-up drums for Simon. When Baba Akilapa was about to travel to Mecca, I lived on the same street with Simon in Ilasa. After Akilapa travelled, Simon sent me a letter and I joined Inter-Reformers,” he said.
Despite the good news, he was in a dilemma. Before he got home that day to Simon’s letter, he had agreed to join Shina Peters once again and a show was set for Ariya.
In the end, the offer from Commander Obey proved too big to turn down. On the same day that Shina Peters had a show slated for Ariya, Commander Obey and the Inter-Reformers were billed to headline a show in Abeokuta – their host was the Alake of Egbaland. Thus, Sikiru Adepoju chose the bigger gig.
Shina Peters found out that Sikiru had joined Inter-Reformers when both acts were billed to perform at a show. A surprised Shina Peters saw Adepoju playing with Commander Obey.
The Inter-Reformers band and their leader, Commander Ebenezer Obey were a huge deal in Nigeria at the time. In fact, word has it that even though Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade were cream of the crop to western observers in the 80s, Commander Obey and Inter-Reformers were a cheaper option. Thus, they got a lot of gigs.
With Commander Obey, every Monday morning, members of the band used to get paid at a place called Miliki. Despite those plans, payment was never certain. Whenever payment was disbursed, you would have to make do with whatever you found in your envelope. Nonetheless, the love for drumming kept Sikiru going – that love even made him quit the street life.
With Commander Obey, he traveled to the USA and different parts of Europe in 1983 and 1984. Despite issues with payment and lack of recognition, his gratitude to Commander Obey is recognizable in his tone. He appreciates Commander Obey for giving him a chance in his band from the first day.
In 1985, Adepoju left the Inter-Reformers. The problem had started after they returned from their European Tour in late 1984. Commander Obey set another tour for 1985, but Adepoju had made up his mind that he was not going. A month after leaving Inter-Reformers in 1985, he joined America-based Orlando Julius Ekemode.
Narrating how it happened, Adepoju said, “It was very funny. Rasaki who plays for King Sunny Ade played drums on Orlando Julius’ album in 1985. But as they were about to go shoot a video in Osogbo, Osun State, Rasaki who was moonlighting refused to go for the video shoot because he didn’t want King Sunny Ade to see him.
“Thus, I was called for the video shoot. After the shoot, Orlando Julius asked if I would follow him to the US. I told him that if he would pay me, I would have no problems. I got a contract some weeks later. My fee was $250-a-week for three months. However, I never planned to stay in America.”
For the first time in his career, Sikiru Adepoju had a long-term commitment to a band – but that was for an important reason. He took the job majorly because he wanted to buy a machine that could cut aluminum – at the time, there were very few of those in Nigeria; three in Lagos.
Despite his well-planned itinerary, things didn’t go as planned. Instead of working for three months, Orlando Julius and his band only played three shows before issues arose over personnel and organization.
“Orlando Julius wanted to help Legion De Sisters by bringing them to the US. Channel P Records was distributing for Legion De Sisters at the time in America, but Legion De Sisters had never traveled. Julius knew that Legion De Sisters were gaining some fame in the states and he wanted to help them capitalize on it.
“He also planned to use them as opening acts on his tour dates while they gain notoriety on their own. But then, Legion De Sisters thought Julius was going to use them and they asked for down payment before they leave Nigeria. Julius, who couldn’t pay them was left frustrated and Legion De Sisters was already on show promotion materials. Somehow, they fought and cursed each other,” Adepoju said.
When Sikiru Adepoju, Orlando Julius Ekemode got to New York on October 2, 1985, they were stranded. They were billed to take a road trip to Toronto, Canada for their first show on the tour.
However, show promoters were not picking calls and the bus driver had to be paid. “Things went sour till someone rescued and borrowed money for us to perform two other shows in California,” Adepoju said.
After then, they were idle for about a month until someone rallied round and got them an apartment in California. Their good samaritan whom Adepoju cannot remember then assumed a role as their manager. After then, this manager sought to extend their initial three month visa to one year. Then, the shows began rushing in.
For the rest of the 80’s, he played with Orlando Julius before predominantly white crowds. The genre of music was afrobeat and according to Adepoju, “The genre of music aided love from white crowds. It was afrobeat that didn’t involve the homage and complications of juju.”
Interestingly, there was also subtle rivalry between Orlando Julius and Fela. However, because they were playing on different continents – Julius in America and Fela in Africa and Europe – the rivalry was never really pronounced.
He worked with Orlando Julius from 1985 till 1992. He only departed from Orlando Julius Ekemode because Orlando Julius moved from California to Tennessee. “Since then, I never left the US and I never lived in Nigeria again,” Adepoju says.
At the time, Pa Babatunde Michael Olatunji was a Morehouse-educated Nigerian drummer who left the shores of Nigeria at the age of 23 in 1950. He is known for Broadway shows and composing for Hollywood productions, Raisin The Sun and Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. As a close friend to John Coltrane, a song on Coltrane’s eponymous 1962 album, ‘Tunji’ is dedicated to Babatunde Olatunji. He also notably worked with Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones.
By the 80s, Pa Olatunji was a mainstay of American niche music of the African brand. Intermittently, Adepoju worked with him during his long stint with Ekemode. Adepoju has credits on Pa Olatunji’s 1986 album, Dance To The Beat of My Drum.
He became an integral part of Olatunji’s Drums of Passion, and through Olatunji met Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Since then he has frequently been a guest percussionist during Hart and Bill Kreutzmann’s “Rhythm Devils” segments of Grateful Dead concerts, and played talking drum with Mickey Hart’s group Bembe Orisha, which toured in 2001.
He has been a part of most of Mickey Hart’s projects since they first met, including the albums (and associated tours) Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, At the Edge, and Supralingua, and was a Grammy Award contributor to Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum and Global Drum Project albums.
“I was determined to make it after I saw the immense opportunity before me. For some reason, God had plans for me and I wanted to make it work. I also knew was versatility could for me in a market that was continually opening up to African percussion and melodies. That was my mission then and now. I just want to be part of history and I have not done badly (laughs),” he said.
While with Hart, Adepoju has learned to play konga, djembe and shakers. In 1993, Adepoju also financed The Honeymakers who were a result of Commander Obey’s depleted Inter-reformers band.
Mickey Hart was the only one named as owner of Planet Drum in 1994. Instead of getting nine gongs, they got one gong and eight certificates. On it, Adepoju says, “It was what it was and we sought to correct that when were were recording Global Drum Project in 2006 and we did.”
Sikiru is a member of the Mickey Hart Band, has recorded on their CD Mysterium Tremendum, and is featured on vocals on the song “Who Stole the Show?”.
He has collaborated with Muruga Booker and Olatunji on the CD Cosmic Rhythm Vibrations (recently remastered and re-issued by Chesky Records as Circle of Drums).
He plays with Muruga Booker and Badal Roy as part of the Global Village Ceremonial Band, and appeared with them at the Starwood Festival in 2003, which led to the creation of the SpiritDrum Festival (a tribute to [Babatunde Olatunji, which also featured Jim Donovan of Rusted Root, Perry Robinson, Richie “Shakin'” Nagan, Jeff Rosenbaum and Halim El-Dabh).
He has recorded albums with artists as varied as Carlos Santana, Airto Moreira, Bola Abimbola, The String Cheese Incident, Stevie Wonder, Zakir Hussain, Chief Ebenezer Obey, the Inter-Reformers Band, and the Nigerian All-Stars.
In 2003, Adepoju formed his own band, Afrika Heartbeat with his father and brothers . Together, they released the album, Ijinle Ilu – Yoruba for ‘genuine drumbeats.’ Then in 2009, he formed Sikiru Adepoju and Heart beat with Douglas Serrant, Peter Fujii, Deen Badarou, Deszon Claiborne and DJ Deegan Mack Adams.
On making his own music at different time, he said, “It was just fun and taking advantage of the moment. It was never really about making money, but to mark the moment and I did it. But there was a conundrum, I flew my dad and brothers to the US to record our album, but I still couldn’t abandon my primary work for other people because I had to make money.”
At the same event he and Serrant joined a re-launch of the Rainforest Band as a tribute to Merl Saunders, the site of their last performance, featuring his son Tony Saunders, Michael Hinton, and other members of the Rainforest Band and other Saunders’ projects.
Adepoju’s current project is entitled “Limbo Rhythm Project”. It features Sikiru Adepoju, Giovanni Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Ian “Inx” Herman, Femi Ojetunde, Peter Fujii, Sola Babatola. and Douglas “Val” Serrant.
Sikiru Adepoju was part of Mickey Hart’s group Planet Drum, whose title album won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 1991, the first year there was a Grammy in that category.
He was also part of Mickey Hart’s latest group Global Drum Project, whose title album won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album at the 51st annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles 8 February 2009
“The Grammy is a platform for me and now, I want to use it for a project. The project will be titled Ajaja by Riddim Doctor – which consists of me, Saminu Adepoju, Giovanni Hidalgo, Peter Fujii, Ian Herman, Femi Ojetunde, Val Serrant and Richard Nagan,” he said.
The album will drop in March 2020 and its first single drops in January 2020. In finality, Sikiru Adepoju just hopes the guys behind bands get some form of recognition across the world. He feels members of a band don’t get celebrated enough.
Sikiru Adepoju seemed upbeat about everything. Of course he is, he came from nothing to win a Grammy.
OTHER NIGERIAN GRAMMY AWARD WINNERS
Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel (Seal)
Born Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel in 1963, he is better known by his professional name Seal. He is a British-Nigerian musician, singer and songwriter best known for his 1994 hit song, “Kiss from a Rose.” He has 14 Grammy nominations to his name and has won four. His song, “Kiss From A Rose” earned him three Grammy awards in 1996 and in 2011 he nabbed his fourth “Imagine”. He is one of the Nigerians who holds the highest numbers of Grammy awards.
Helen Folasade Adu (Sade Adu)
Born in Ibadan as Helen Folasade Adu in 1959 but professionally known as Sade Adu, the singer, songwriter cum actress grew up in Essex, England. She is known as the lead singer of her eponymous band. Her first Grammy was for “Best New Artist” then another followed in 1994 with “No Ordinary Love” for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. She earned her third Grammy in 2002 with “Lovers Rock” in the Best Pop Vocal Album and bagged her fourth in 2011 with “Soldier of Love” for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals.
Born in 1960, Lekan Babalola is a Nigerian jazz percussionist and musician who started playing the conga at an early age. He has seven albums to his name and two Grammy awards. He began his professional career after joining a band called Samba Samba Band and later New York City-based Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers band, where he perfected playing the Bongo drums and performing jazz music. In 2006, he became Nigeria’s Grammy Award winner for his work on Ali Farka Touré‘s In the Heart of the Moon which he was credited in three tracks. He also won a second Grammy in 2009 for his work on Cassandra Wilson‘s 2008 album titled Loverly.
Hakeem Seriki (Chamillionaire)
Born Hakeem Seriki but professionally known as Chamillionaire, he is a rapper, entrepreneur, and investor. Chamillionaire was born to a Muslim Nigerian father and an African-American Christian mother in Washington D.C. and moved to Houston, Texas at the age of four. He clinched a Grammy in 2007 for his song, “Riddin’ under the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group category. He received a total of four nominations that year.
Kevin Olusola (born October 5, 1988) is an American musician, beatboxer, cellist, rapper, record producer, singer, and songwriter. Olusola was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, to Nigerian-born Oluwole Olusola, a psychiatrist, and Grenadian-born Curline Paul, a nurse. Olusola is best known as the beatboxer of the vocal band Pentatonix.
He is a member of three-time Grammy award winner Pentatonix‘s band and got married to his heartthrob, Leigh Weissman recently.
For his wedding, Kelvin Olusola organized a Yorùbá styled wedding.
Honourable mentions of Nigerians artists who have received Grammy nods include King Sunny Ade who is the first to ever receive a nomination in 1983. Femi Kuti has four nominations to his name, Seun Kuti, Babatunde Olatunji and Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie-Ngozi also has a nomination thanks to her feature on Beyonce’s 2015 album
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