BY KOLA IBRAHIM
In spite the huge contribution of Aare (Dr.) Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, MFR to popular music and traditional culture, he is less appreciated in the public space, unlike his contemporaries.
Yet, his music continues to occupy bigger space in the music industry, no thanks to the genuineness of the talent and the tenacity of the exponent himself. Barrister traversed the music world like a colossus.
This piece is a contribution to the appreciation of the music ingenuity of the late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister. Barrister is gone, but his voice still roars any time his music is played.
“The late Oba Oyekan had nominated me for national honour since 1987, but some people blocked it. I didn’t know about it, until the late Oba told me himself…” – Ayinde Barrister, in an interview in 2007
Yes, he was worth the honour in 1987. He had bagged at least four chieftaincy titles within 8 years, up to 1984. The peak of his traditional recognition was in 1984, at the age of 36 years, when he bagged two chieftaincy titles in two historic cities – the Otunbaala of Lagos and Agbaakin Bobagunwa of Ibadan. The Otunbaala title was upgraded to Baala in 1991.
By the time he died, he had bagged, according to him, 35 chieftaincy titles. Obviously, these titles were in recognition of his musical prowess and achievements.
In 1985, at the age of 37, he bagged a honorary doctorate degree from City University Los Angeles (CULA), consequent upon a chart busting album, ‘Aiye’ he did on Disney World in 1980.
His description of the wonders of Disney World located in Orlando, USA, upon his visit to the tourist centre, and the lessons for Africa, not only raised the profile of Disney World, but also raised awareness about economic and technological development in Nigeria. The album was translated into English language and presented to CULA.
In 1986, during his first American musical tour, he was presented with the honorary citizenship and Key to the City of Providence, USA. In 1988, he was honored by the Kano Emirate as the Sarkin Waka (King of Music).
The same year, his professional association, Performing Musician Association of Nigeria (PMAN), then led by Tony Okoroji, proclaimed him the Best Traditional Musician in Nigeria, upon the success of the evergreen, record-breaking and pacesetting album series, Fuji Garbage Series.
In 1989, he was honoured as the Musical Legend of the Commonwealth, during his European Summer Tour, By Britain-based Nigerian National Union. The award was presented to him by Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the then secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations.
In 2006, he was honored with the title of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). It is worth stating that by this time, national honour and indeed traditional title had become useless as they had become commodities to be bought by every tom, dick and harry, especially treasury looters, criminals, etc. Yet, this does not discredit the worthwhile honour of Ayinde Barrister.
Sikiru Ayinde Barrister traversed the music world like a colossus. The genre he started in 1966 became the most popular traditional music in Nigeria today. The real contemporaries of Barrister are:
1. King Sunny Ade, who released his first album in 1965, a year before Barrister’s first album; both from African Songs/Take Your Choice (TYC). Aside being friends, KSA and Barrister also shared many things together, one of which is their membership of the same social club. According to Barrister, KSA referred to him as Ayinde, while he called KSA, Ishola.
2. Chief Ebenezer Obey, who released his first album in 1963/64. Though Barrister regarded Obey as his mentor and senior, the reality is that, on the basis of the period they started music, the period they reigned and the efforts put in by both, they should be grouped in the same generation
3. Late Ayinla Omowura, who released his first album around 1968 and 1970. Omowura, aside being much older than Barrister (by about 16 years), had been plying his music trade several years before he released his first album. But on the basis of period of album release and period of popularity, they can be grouped in the same category. Ayinla Omowura and Ayinde Barrister used to be close pals until rivalry and fight over patrons separated them in 1978/79. Ayinde Barrister used to be the captain of Omowura’s Fans Club.
4. Late Dauda Akanmu Epo Akara, who was older than Barrister in ‘Were’ music (forerunner of Fuji music) and in age, but belong to the same category with Barrister. If Epo Akara had been in Fuji, he would have been the main rival of Barrister.
5. Monsuru Akande, who incidentally was Barrister’s cousin, and lived with him for years, released his first album on AS/TYC label in 1965, a week before Barrister’s album
6. Ayinla Kollington, who though released his first album in 1973/74, became Barrister’s main contemporary and rival since the mid-1970s. Interestingly, both, in spite of bitter rivalry and 4-year age difference, are bosom friends from childhood. According to their accounts, Ayinde Barrister christened Kollington’s first son.
7. Others are Dr. Orlando Owoh, Dele Abiodun (Adawa Super) and General Prince Adekunle.
The music of Ayinde Barrister can be grouped into four historical categories: the early period, the maturing period, the reigning era, and the retirement era.
The early period is the period between 1966 and 1975, when Barrister was still struggling for survival and recognition. In this period, juju, highlife, sakara and apala music were the reigning genres. Barrister could best be described as local artist. Despite releasing albums and playing at occasions and hotels, Barrister did not make music his main profession. He was still a soldier in the Nigerian Army.
The radical change, which signalled the beginning of the maturing period, came in 1975/76 when he released the popular ‘Orimi Ewo ni nse’, which chronicled his ordeal when he was falsely accused of murdering someone at a masquerade festival.
The emotion-laden song popularised Ayinde Barrister’s music trade. By the late 1970’s he was among renowned traditional music artists in Nigeria. He went on his first foreign (British) music tour in 1978. He was by this time also a toast of popular socialites and business men. By 1979, he had bagged two chieftaincy titles from Isolo and Idimu communities in Lagos. Same year, he released a popular song, Fuji Reggae Series 2, where he rejected the notion that Fuji music is a local song.
Since, 1978, he had joined the category of popular artists churning out more than two albums in a year. In 1980, his three albums: ‘Fuji Disco’, ‘Oke Agba’ (a.k.a Fine Bara) and ‘Aiye’ (a.ka. Disney World) sold widely, with Oke Agba and Aiye becoming national anthems. By early 1980s, Fuji music had become a household music, with several young artists joining the train. This was also a period of fierce rivalry among Fuji musicians, especially between Barrister and Kollington. This is a normal trend in Nigerian traditional music, as artists fight over patrons and patronage.
Two factors helped the growth of Fuji. Aside the yeoman effort, focus and talent of Barrister and Kollington, the virtual death of senior genres like Sakara, Apala and highlife (juju had pushed highlife to the background since the mid-1970s), consequent upon the demise of their major exponents, gave Fuji the space to expand, as many music enthusiasts and socialites, shifted their allegiance (especially of Sakara and Apala) to Fuji music.
Major Fuji artists, especially Barrister and Kollington, also incorporated the sounds and rhythm of older genres into their music, just as Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade added tunes from highlife to juju.
Secondly, the 1980s corresponded with the time technology and modern life were made available to more people, especially the downtrodden. Many artisans, low ranking workers, traders, etc. saw rise in their incomes which allowed them to purchase new technologies like record players, etc. It was also a period when new rich class was rising. It was a period of rise in technology and modern culture (including art).
The ingenuity of Barrister necessitated incorporation of modern tunes, instruments and rhythm to Fuji. While maintaining the main support base of Fuji, especially Muslims, through religious tunes, Barrister also incorporated elements of highlife, afrobeats, reggae and disco (forerunner of hiphop) into Fuji, to appeal to different segments of the society.
This meant incorporation of new musical instruments like drum set, trumpets, mouth organ, jazz, keyboard into Fuji. All this undermined the support base of rivaling juju music, which by mid to late 1980s had been pushed back by Fuji. Lack of generational succession in juju music also played a vital role in this scenario.
The reigning age of Barrister’s Fuji music started around 1987, after Barrister came back from second American tour. New instruments and approach could be seen in the 1987 albums ‘Maturity’ and ‘Barry Wonder’.
However, the release of Barry at 40, Fuji Garbage Series 1 and 2 in 1988, Current Affairs and Garbage Series 3 in 1989, changed the face and nature of not just Fuji music but music scene in Nigeria. It was like a revolution in the music scene. Even disco that was popular among the youth started struggling for space. Sir Shina Peter, with his Afrojuju (which according to Shina Peters himself, relied heavily on Fuji music, especially Fuji Garbage), was the saving grace for juju music. By this time, Chief Ebenezer Obey was close to retirement, while KSA with his focus on international exploit was losing the local base.
Many Fuji artists lost the mojo and direction with the release of Garbage Series, while new artists rose. Ayinla Kollington, another versatile Fuji artist also came with Ijo Yoyo, which was another chartbuster. Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, formerly Wasiu Ayinde Barrister, who was a protégé of Ayinde Barrister, and had been rising gradually, albeit in the shadow of Ayinde Barrister, also became the face of young Fuji musicians.
Aside following the exact footsteps of Ayinde Barrister, he also incorporated some styles from Kollington, KSA and others. By the 1990s, new Fuji artists, representing the hiphop culture of the era had emerged. Fuji became the means of music expression for a large layer of youth. Consequently, Fuji took a new form popularly referred to as period of ‘Saje’ – depicting street culture in Fuji.
Ayinde Barrister, as the father of the genre and the one who unleashed the modern Fuji dragon to the world, had dual responsibilities: to ensure that the foundation of the original Fuji is not eroded by the hip-hop generation and sustain the tempo of the modern Fuji. Barrister lived up to the expectation.
Aside further taking Fuji to international stage, especially among Africans in diaspora, Barrister also deepened Fuji’s support base among the elites. Canadian Fuji, released in 1995/96 signaled the peak of Barrister’s career with his popular shows and concerts in 11 cities in North American continent, US and Canada.
He had undertaken a tour of nine European cities, including show at the prestigious Berlin World Music Festival, in 1993. In the album, Barrister also contributed to debate on the post-June 12 political logjam. He joined the campaign for the immediate release of the winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Canadian Fuji also set in motion the partial retirement of Barrister. Unlike before when he released two or more albums in a year, album releases after this time was irregular.
Also, Barrister’s career had made him tri-continental artist, spending months in Nigeria, US and Britain within a year, with barrage of private and open shows and concerts. With this, Barrister had strong foothold on local and international frontiers of not just Fuji but music in Nigeria. While Barrister released fewer albums after Canadian Fuji, his live plays sold more than many albums of many artists, and somehow compensated for albums. Even after his death, his fan base, rather than reducing has expanded.
Many artists have expressed regret over loss of Ayinde Barrister. Aside Fuji artists, who had not found an authority to guide the trade, other artists have also expressed their regrets.
Afrobeat maestro, Lagbaja, in an interview, expressed regret over inability to have a duet with Barrister, describing Barrister high-pitch voice as a great asset. Sir Shina Peters was reported to have said that Barrister’s demise was one of the most painful events in his life. Popular film maker, Tunde Kelani of the Mainframe fame, bemoaned the death of Barrister, around whom he had woven the chartbusting film, Maami. Barrister was to feature prominently in the film, but his health conditions could not allow this. He could only have a duet with Yinka Davies in a single tagged Owo (Money).
As a major music act, whose career spanned generations, Barrister was the subject of many controversies. Some of them he highlighted in his various albums.
Interestingly, Barrister usually came out more popular and victorious. The first popular one was the murder case in 1974, when he was falsely accused of murdering a participant at a masquerade festival. In ‘Ori mi ewo ni nse’, where he chronicled his travail, he asked why he would join masquerade festivals after his holy pilgrimage, when he did not join them when he had not visited the holy city of Mecca. The controversy actually helped sell his album, and catapaulted him to higher realm.
Also, between 1979 and 1982, three events almost castrated his career.
The first was the open rebuke of Barrister by a onetime ally, Ayinla Omowura in the album, ‘Omi tuntun tiru’. The latter, known for his acerbic lyrics, especially against known or perceived rivals, had lambasted Barrister in the album, claiming that Barrister alleged him of being a copycat.
This open rebuke, which was strange in music industry was a surprise to many, who though knew that the duo were the closest in ranking, did not think the situation could have degenerated. As early as 1979, Barrister, in an album tagged London Special, released after his first British Tour in 1978, had referred to himself as the new leader among musicians.
This obviously was a central affront to the hegemony of Omowura who still enjoyed wide support among wide layer of music enthusiasts especially the downtrodden, and was much older than Barrister, more so that the duo shared similar patrons. Barrister, in a deft diplomacy, avoided the fight in his subsequent album, ‘Awa o ja’ (we are not fighting), released in late 1979 claiming that Omowura was not referring to him, as there were many Ayindes in Fuji.
If he was the one being referred to, Barrister retorted, then he has become famous because Omowura would not abuse a nonentity. He however tactically rebuked Omowura, claiming that leadership is not by age. Less than a year after the album, Omowura was killed by his stage manager. Some of Omowura fans claimed that Barrister played a diabolical role in the death of Omowura, an allegation roundly and effectively refuted by Barrister.
This period also coincided with fierce rivalry with Ayinla Koliington, a protégé of Omowura, who used all known foul languages on Barrister. Barrister’s response in an album, Esimi Rascality (Stop being rascally), released sequel to his second British Tour, was a hit. Interestingly, the feud between the duo was settled after this album by a prominent music enthusiast, Chief Kolawole Idowu, and a former Lagos deputy governor, Chief Rafiu Jafojo.
Another major controversy was Barrister’s fight with his image maker and promoter, Olabisi Ajala of Ajala Travel fame. The latter, a prominent socialite and popular figure, had helped Barrister organise media promotion but also played major role in securing shows for Barrister.
However, his bill was becoming too unbearable for Barrister, who already had a large band. Moreover, the emergence of new newspaper media like Punch, Concord, etc., with younger and friendly journalists and editors, coupled with Barrister personal friendship with many business people and politicians, meant that Ajala could be disengaged. This enraged the music promoter, who used privilege information as image maker to run Barrister down in the media.
One of the issues generated was Ajala’s exposure of Barrister’s pro-NPN, anti-Awolowo stance. Barrister had performed at Chief Awolowo’s 70th birthday party in 1979. With Awolowo’s larger than life image, Ajala expose could have truncated Barrister’s career. Barrister responded in equal measures by calling Ajala names in his popular album, ‘Oke Agba’. Ajala also responded by suing Barrister for defamation. The intervention of Ebenezer Obey, MKO Abiola and M Ola Kazeem, a record producer, helped mitigate the crisis from degenerating.
In 1985, Barrister also had to live with allegation bothering on the death of the ace drummer, Kamoru Ayansola, who was Barrister’s former lead drummer before leaving the band to join Easy Sawaba’s band. Sawaba was Barrister’s former ally and apprentice, and even struck some semblance in looks and voice with Barrister.
This development led to an open fight between Barrister and Sawaba. In the ensuing issue, Ayansola died suddenly in November 1985, while Sawaba’s career crumbled subsequently. Barrister wished away the allegation of knowing about Ayansola’s death, claiming that only God can create and kill.
Another controversy was on the identity of Barrister’s mother. A woman had claimed that she begot Barrister. Only physical semblance was enough to dispel the falsehood.
The widely popular album, ‘Okiki’ (Popularity), where Barrister chronicled the issue in an emotion-laden manner, gave Barrister another musical edge. The health issue of Barrister, which was addressed in his 2003 album, ‘Reality’ was another event in Barrister’s live, while his endorsement of one of the up and coming artists, Saheed Osupa as the next face of Fuji, and subsequent contention with Kollington, was other controversies in Barrister’s career. In all of these controversies, Barrister came out more popular.
Influence and legacy
As said earlier, Barrister is a pioneer of Fuji music. His yeoman efforts and subsequent competitions in the Fuji music played a central role in not only popularising the music but also modernising it.
At every junction in the history of Fuji, Barrister was there to play the central and leadership role. Aside playing the path-finding role in the 1980s to modernize Fuji, Barrister was the first to take the genre to the international scene. His widespread acceptance and recognition including local and international awards were blessings to other Fuji musicians.
His battle for space with other, mostly senior musicians helped other Fuji musicians to find space. In spite of his strong and powerful stature, he did not prevent younger music acts from reaching their peak, even when some of them took him up. Despite Kollington’s constant bashing and the fact that Barrister is older in age and more successful in career, Barrister accepted Kollington as not just a colleague and friend, but a co-pioneer of the genre.
The pattern and standard set by Barrister is still the order of the day in the Fuji music world. As Barrister said in Canadian Fuji: “Eniti o ni jijo Ayinde o, ko ni jijo Fuji kan. To ba tijo Fuji kan o tijo Barry Wonder” (anyone who does dance to any Fuji music has danced to Barrister).
Barrister’s music career and success has become the standard for Fuji musicians. One of the successes of Barrister is Wasiu Ayinde Marshal popular known as K1 De Ultimate. K1 is arguable the continuation of Barrister’s career. Most of his music pattern and in fact the trajectory of his music career followed Barrister’s footstep.
Moreover, K1, irrespective of whatever anybody says is the number one fan of Barrister. On many occasions, he had openly associated his career with Barrister’s, even after he had succeeded. No other artist had openly recognised and celebrated Barrister than K1. In at least five albums and several live plays, K1 had recognised Barrister as his mentor, patron and music father.
Irrespective of our different perspectives, one must recognise that K1 is one of the success stories of Barrister, and the former never for once denied this. Even when his Orin Dowo track in Flavour album, where he chronicled Fuji music lineage, became a subject of controversy with many seeing it as an affront on Barrister’s authority, K1 in live plays, corrected himself.
Barrister may be dead, but his music, legacy and talent will for many decades become a reference point many generations of artists and music enthusiasts.
For younger artists of all hues, one of the lessons is to be genuine and hardworking. The lust for immediate material wealth will only give you momentary success, but will not put you in reckoning. More than this, Barrister achieved most of his feat as a youth. This is a challenge to all youth to strife to make meaningful impact, even in the face of debilitating challenges of bad governance, corruption and mismanagement that are killing the future, career and initiative of youth.
It is also worth stating that the likes of Barrister could make it despite coming from poor and humble background because the period of their youth coincided with the best time in Nigeria economic and governance history.
For instance, the minimum wage of N120 in 1981 nominally equate to over N55, 000 today, while jobs and social services like free and quality education and healthcare were accessible to majority of the population. There is also relative job security then. Today, nominal minimum wage of N18, 000 could hardly meet basic needs while social services like education and healthcare, aside being costly are also of poor standards due to years of neglect and underfunding.
There is also mass unemployment while millions of youths are working in precarious conditions. Those with hitherto job security have seen their living and working conditions degenerating. Yet, Nigeria’s current national earnings are in multiples of what it was in the past. Unless popular mass opposition is mounted to force the ruling class to commit public resources to public need, the future for the youth is bleak.
Of course, Barrister was of conservative trend in the political scene, as most of his patrons are in the big business and politics. However, this did not stop him from challenging the ruling class on development.
Despite this writer’s socialist inclination that is averse to all capitalist logic, Barrister’s 1980 album, ‘Aiye’ popularised the need for nationalistic economic programme to hasten national productive capacity.
His 1983 album, Oro Ibo (national elections), also called for social safety net for the working and poor people; while his 1989, 1991 and 1995 albums, Current Affairs, Fantasia Fuji and Canadian Fuji called for civil rule, of course with some limitations especially as relating to compromise with the military rulers’ transition programme. He also threw his weight behind the release and validation of mandate of Chief MKO Abiola, his patron and winner of June 12, 1993 elections.
When one compares the conservatism of Barrister with the progressivism of current set of politicians, Barrister will rather be called a better progressive.
Most of these progressives have played one role or the other in the rottenness that has defined Nigeria. Barrister’s politics is basically flawed as it is premised on dual character of allegiance to business patrons who are in politics and big business, and maintaining popularity with the downtrodden who constitute the core of his supporters.
But tell me which musician aside Fela Anikulapo Kuti, whose politics did not follow such trajectory.
Sikiru Ayinde Barrister is clearly worth more than the public space he is getting. Rest well, Sikiru Ayinde, Adeyimika, Ololade, Olanbiwonninu, Balogun.
Omo ayawu aloogun, omo owu nigbeyin. Gunmo gunke, ajifeyin labo. O yan genderi bi eni yanko, o yan gambari bi eni yan eni akara. Ayinde to fomo sara. Ogun ijohun o pin daadaa. Omo adekeja bi esu l’Ayeye.
Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, The Unforgettable Pioneer Of Fuji
BY KOLA IBRAHIM