Ebenezer Obey: Unstoppable Flight Of Destiny (2)
By Tunde Odesola
Out, out, brief candle! And the bard died. Darkness descended. The soul departed the body in a final shuttle, shuffling off this mortal coil, to be heard no more but his legacy lives on, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (MFR).
Unlike Fuji music, whose originator, Barrister, battled lifelong to assert his kingship, Jùjú music is a better-refined genre in terms of lyrical chastity, practitioners’ temperance and fan conduct. Barrister’s alter ego and abiding rival, General Kollington Ayinla aka Kébé Ńkwárà, said in an interview that enmity watered Fuji music to fruition.
Soon, the wheel of destiny caught up with a karmic past, turning full cycle in Alagbado, a Lagos suburb. While urging reigning Fuji stars to embrace peace and unity, Kollington, who fiercely challenged Barrister’s claim to Fuji kingship, admitted after Barrister died, that Agbájélolá was truly the founder of Fuji. If Kollington had died before Barrister and didn’t confess that Barrister founded Fuji, Baba Alátíká would have put a question mark on the crown of Bàrúsátì in the House of Agódo, from where Fuji originated. That wasn’t honourable, Kébé. That was a rivalry bitterly intentioned to rob Olóládé of his primacy.
However, what the Fuji genre lost to roughness, rawness and raunchiness, it gained in its simple vocal modulation, singable and danceable lyrics, making more practitioners embrace it much more than Jùjú, which pays detail to instrumentation and vocality.
In an interview with Àgbàletù TV a few months before he died, Obey’s master, Fatai Rolling Dollar, was asked about the meaning and evolution of Jùjú music. Born in Ede and christened Olayiwola Fatai Olagunju, in 1927, Rolling Dollar, who headlined music shows till he died in 2013, a few days before his 86th birthday, said: “Jùjú music doesn’t connote voodoo. The name Jùjú came from the way people threw the tambourine to one another while making music in those days. It was a fad to throw the tambourine to one another while playing music in those days, saying jú sí mi. Throw, in Yoruba language, means jú, and when you say jú repeatedly, it sounds like ‘jù-jú’.”
Rolling Dollar said Akanbi Ege was the first to play Jùjú music and also explained that Tunde King was the first to wax a Jùjú record. His words, “We had the Akanbi Ege (band), Atari Ajanaku (band) which included Ambrose Campbell before he went abroad. Atari Ajanaku (band) played the flute to their Jùjú. We also had Ayinde Bakare, Victor Olaiya, Ojoge Daniel and Rose Adetola separately played in the western region (Ibadan), Tunde Nightingale, S. F. Olowookere, IK Dairo started in Ibadan before moving to Lagos, Dele Ojo played in Ibadan before Sunday (King Sunny Ade) and Ebenezer (Obey) came on board.”
Rolling Dollar recalled how he got his nickname. “In 1935, whenever we wanted to play football in my primary school, St Patrick School located at Enu Owa-Ori Koriko on Lagos Island, I would be called upon to bring my dollar coin out and roll it, head or tail, so that we could choose 11 players each. That was where the name Rolling Dollar came from.”
Copyright issues didn’t result in bitter fights in those days as musicians showed more restraint and understanding than what obtains nowadays. The song, “Easy Motion Tourist”, which was composed by Rolling Dollar when he was in Julius Araba’s band, but remade by KSA, only attracted an apology to Rolling Dollar just as the song, ‘Ęní rí ǹkan he’, originally made by Ambrose Campbell but reworked by Obey didn’t end in acrimony.
By 1945, Rolling Dollar joined a band in Lagos. That was long before Obey apprenticed himself to Dollar in the early 50s before forming his own band, Royal Mambo Orchestra, at 15, in 1957. During their very first meeting, Obey’s prodigy shone through as he composed five songs when they walked to Dollar’s one-bedroom apartment, with the older musician strumming the guitar. The Ede prince affirmed Obey’s forebearance, hard work, managerial skills and creativity.
He recalled he got the inspiration for the hit, “Easy Motion Tourist,” when he and his truanting musical colleagues returned to the house of a friend, Olaseeni Tejuosho aka Téjè, from a gig late into the night. “The father of Téjè was a successful and rich lawyer who didn’t want his son to play music. We returned to their house after midnight, his father opened the window of his bedroom upstairs and asked where we were coming from. Téjè said we were coming from a gig. His father said we should return to where we were coming from. It was his mother that came to open the door for us later. That was where I got the inspiration from, we were coming from faaji (easy motion), and the son of the landlord was locked outside.”
For 20 years, Obey’s mother, Abigail Oyindamola, was in the pit of sorrow because she was barren. Her family, fearing she could hurt herself with depression, felt a change of environment would do her some good. So, they advised her to go and stay with some family members in Ìdògò. In Ìdògò, a carpenter saw the beautiful lady, and told his friends, who were her elder brothers, “I will marry this your younger sister and she will give birth to male and female children for me.” The carpenter had three wives and many children already.
The prediction came through as the carpenter, Nathaniel Olaseewo Fabiyi, married Oyindamola, and their union was blessed with a baby girl they named Ooreofe Grace Olasunbo Amoke Fabiyi. Oyindamola, a cloth seller, was overjoyed.
Three years after the birth of their firstborn, the couple was blessed with a baby boy, Ebenezer Olasupo Remilekun Aremu Fabiyi. The carpenter-father wanted Ebenezer to become a carpenter like him, teaching him carpentry but Ebenezer had sold his soul to music from heaven.
To actualise his destiny, Obey left Ìdògò for Lagos, working as a newspaper vendor, bricklayer and well digger. But he remained focused on his goal – to become a ‘future star’. In fact, this was what he told the female secretary, who attempted to prevent him from seeing the Managing Director of Decca Studios, Yaba. Obey begged the secretary at the top of his voice, “I’m a future star! Don’t give me money, my music will sell.” It was the noise the Managing Director of Decca (West Africa) Limited, a white man, heard that prompted him to ask on the intercom what was happening. “Sir, there’s a young man who says he’s a future star. I told him the artist manager is on leave but he won’t listen,” the secretary said. “Send him to my office,” the MD replied. Obey later rose to become the Chairman of Decca after the death of Chief MKO Abiola.
If Obey didn’t understand his mother tongue proficiently, he could never reach his destiny. This is a lesson to parents who denigrate Nigerian languages, placing a premium on foreign languages. On the leadership rung of the country’s ladder, hardly can you find a successful Nigerian who cannot speak their mother tongue.
For families who have been forced to relocate abroad because of misgovernment, it’s still important to teach your children their mother tongue, for no matter how long they stay abroad, there’s no place like home.
To our mediocre and corrupt governments, who deserve heaps of curses daily, the sense of displacement and identity loss suffered by Nigerians who relocate abroad cannot be overemphasised. ‘Tis disgraceful that public officers ceaselessly engage in trifling when starvation stalked Nigerians.
Obey, whose oeuvre consists of countless gospel songs, in the 1990s, finally quit recording secular music and became an evangelist. He formed DeCross Gospel Mission, a massive church located along Oyewole Road, Orile Agege, near Omotoye Estate, where his elder sister, Mama Olasunbo Keyede, lived with her husband, Baba Keyede, and their beautiful children – Seyi, Funke, Olumide, Tosin and Tolu. Olumide is my childhood friend. We bonded in the early 80s on Omotoye Estate where I also lived with my parents. Baba Keyede would stop you, no matter how young you are, and have a chatty discussion with you about your education. May his soul and that of his wife rest in peace.
Destiny and Fate are curious co-travellers. As a youngster, my family once lived at No 2 Lawanson Crescent, off Kayode Street, Mushin. One afternoon, I was sitting with my little sister on a table, near the balcony balustrade. Something caught my attention and I looked away. When my gaze returned to the table, I didn’t see my kid sister. I looked under the table, but she was not there. I looked down at the ground floor, there she was on the concrete floor! People rushed towards her, I fled downstairs.
Florence lived. She had no scratch on her body. Florence Ariyike Adewusi nee Odesola lived for 47 years before death came calling through cancer. She long gave her life to God and lived in his worship. She was a diligent worker at DeCross Church. Little wonder Baba Obey backrolled her funeral, saying ‘Florence was my daughter’.
Written by Tunde Odesola and first published in The PUNCH, on Friday, December 22, 2023)
Facebook: @Tunde Odesola