Since the commencement of COVID-19 and the attendant lockdown of the economy, my colleagues and I have been working from home. My daily routine apart from working from home includes daily exercises to keep fit and reading books ranging from economy to history. On the 7th of May 2020, I got a surprise gift from my wife. It’s a book recently published by Festus Adedayo, Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of An Apala Legend. My wife knows that I take a keen interest in reading historical books apart from economics and accounting related literatures. She must have decided to distract my attention from my work as well. I must appreciate her for choosing this special book which I will call a well-researched account of how the legendary Ayinla Omowura lived his life.
I was introduced into Apala music by my younger brother, around 1993 during one of those strikes embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which kept students at home and what struck my attention was the use of words, idioms, proverbs and deep understanding of the Yoruba language by “Eegun Magaji” as some of his fans called him. I am still going through the book written by Festus Adedayo, but I will have to add my voice to tributes pouring in for Ayinla Omowura, 40 years after his unfortunate death on 6 May, 1980. Legends like him in the Arts and Music world don’t die, they live forever.
I won’t like to bore you with the details surrounding his birth, how he learnt his trade and the giant strides he made in Apala music, I will ask that we patronise Festus Adedayo by purchasing copies of his book to promote intellectual property protection and awareness such as this, as so much work has gone into the writing and publishing of the book in question.
Omowura was pro-masses and remains hugely popular among road transport workers up till today. His song track titled “Danfo o si were” that was later reproduced by Abass Akande Obesere promotes dignity of labour and discourages people from looking down on the owners and drivers of Danfo buses as we know them now.
Ayinla did not acquire western education but his advocacy on the 1973 census exercise was very prophetic. He implored everyone in Nigeria especially Abeokuta his home-town to participate in the exercise with a belief that the population in Abeokuta is big enough to attract a University to Abeokuta. The Federal University of Agriculture was established thereafter and Ogun State today has the highest concentration of universities (both public and private) in the Nigerian federation. His album titled “25 x 40” also promoted literacy as he attempted to sing in English language. What appealed to me is that he demonstrated the love for western education and encouraged our people to embrace it. As a nation going through COVID-19 crisis, we need more investment in healthcare and education as his advocacy during the 1973 census requested for huge investment in these sectors. “Alhaji Costly” was very attuned with current affairs and contemporary issues of the day and if he was alive today, I believe he will probably prepare to release an album on COVID-19 and the impact this pandemic has on the poor masses who were mostly affected by the physical and economic lockdown.
The contradiction I found in him though may be how feminists will assess him today, based on some caustic remarks about womenfolk. As a musician, he was loved by women and had a lot of wives and concubines but did not spare women in his advocacy as he preached against some exuberances among women of that era that he lived in. I was too young in 1980 to interrogate what was going through his mind when those caustic remarks were directed at our mothers. I hope I will be able to find answers after digesting the book that I received as a gift.
Alhaji Ayinla, the son of Yusuf Gbogbolowo, a blacksmith from Itoko, Abeokuta practiced Islam but his deep appreciation of Yoruba traditions and philosophies made some people conclude that he was fetish and may be devoted to African religion. He really demonstrated his mastery of Yoruba traditional philosophy with some rendition of incantations in his album titled “Ebi Kii pa’gun dale” released in 1980 a few months before his death. An answer to what led to the demonstration of this understanding of Yoruba traditional philosophy can only be left to conjecture as the Legend lives on. However, the point I will like to make is that our culture and identity as Africans and Nigerians remains important and defines who we are. Maybe he alerted us to the tendencies to forget about our culture and identity, in terms of clothing, food , music, dances and even medicine as we look for a cure for COVID-19.
As we celebrate the life and times of Ayinla Omowura, I will like to enjoin us by this saying of Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole (Fortitude, 1913) made popular in this part of the world by Chief Obafemi Awolowo that “It is not life that matters, but courage that one brings to it”. The legend lives on.