The late Apala musician, Ayinla Waheed Yusuf, widely known as Ayinla Omowura, is considered to be one of the most original Yoruba musicians of post-colonial Nigeria. Born in 1933, Omowura’s music was popular in South-West Nigeria in the 70s, and this gave him a cult followership. Sadly, at the peak of his career, he was killed by one of his band members during a brawl in Abeokuta, Ogun State in 1980.
Forty years after the tragic death of this music legend, the band’s lead drummer, Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Adewole Alao, popularly called Adewole Onilu-Ola, aged 92, tells DAUD OLATUNJI about the late singer, their singing days, how he met Ayinla Omowura, among others. Before you proceed, you can download Ayinla Omowura’s songs here.
Ayinla Omowura could be described as an enigma (someone difficult to understand), who was he really? What can you say about his personality?
Ayinla was a nice and talented musician. I discovered him then and asked him to work with me, to sing while I beat the drum. When I discovered him, I tested his skills and discovered that his voice was perfect for what I wanted. It suited my type of Apala beat. I was the founder of the band, so I searched for him to be a musician in my band.
Before he joined me, he was working as a backup singer for some people who were his masters in music. I usually went to where he performed and that was how I got him to be singing in my band.
I was a popular Apala drummer then. I was already popular, even before Ayinla Omowura joined the band. I needed a lead vocalist in the band at the time. I went through a lot before I discovered him and he agreed to join me. We tried our best and God crowned our efforts because his voice was good for my Apala beat.
Who was he working for as a backup singer before you met him?
The person was popularly called Osho at Igboore in Ago-Oba.
People have described Omowura as a lyrical genius; you had the opportunity to know him closely, how creative was he?
He was talented; God gave him a good voice.
He was also known for his love for women, alcohol and fights, what do you remember about this part of his life?
Look at the Fuji musicians we have now, can we count the number of female fans that flock around them? Why is it that there are always many female fans around musicians? Does it mean that ladies love musicians more than drummers? It is not everybody that understands drumbeats but they connect with the sweet voice of a musician.
I remember God gave him a gift that always made ladies like him; he was always surrounded by his female fans. But he was not sleeping with all of them; that is all I can say about that because I was not with them every time being an elderly person. But we were very close and inseparable in those days. The situation then was: if there is no Ayinla, there is no Adewole and if there is no Adewole, there is no Ayinla.
Did you have disagreements despite your closeness?
It got to a stage when we almost went our separate ways. We separated for some time, but because we were a source of blessing to some stakeholders in Abeokuta, they intervened and settled the matter between us.
What led to the dispute?
It was a leadership crisis. Some white people came and said they wanted to be producing our songs, but that only one person could be the leader of the group. They said the person they would accept as the leader was the musician and we accepted that since we all wanted something great. You know, money is powerful; it intoxicates. That was what led to the breakup.
But because some people knew how important we were, they called us together and settled the issue. If I had stood my ground and said I would not reconcile with him, maybe I would have been killed by now because his fans would have thought I was involved in his premature death. After we reconciled, there was no musician in Nigeria that had the kind of fame we had. Musicians like Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and Sikiru Ayinde Barrister were behind us. None of them started music before us. Obey and KSA came after us.
Omowura’s 40th remembrance anniversary was recently celebrated; did you ever think he could die so early, and at the peak of his career?
(Sighs) There was never a sign that he would die so early. There is nobody that can change how we are destined to leave this world. There are different accounts of how he died but the common one is that he was killed during a brawl in a bar. How did he die?
I heard that after eating at a rented apartment belonging to one of his wives, he went out and had a fight with his manager. I was not there, so I don’t know much about it except for what I was told. The next thing I heard was that he was dead. I was surprised at what happened. I went to the bar to confirm it, but by the time I got there, I was told he had been taken somewhere else.
You can see where I live; many people think I am a rich man because of my popularity. When I had problem with Ayinla, some people rallied round me. They bought a car and some musical instruments for me. I stopped using the vehicle after his death because there was no money to maintain it (sobbing). Anytime I remember his death, I feel very depressed and sad.
What is the genesis of Apala music?
It is the beat that is called Apala; Apala is not the music. When any of our brothers in those days had a child, people would come together, use old matchboxes to produce beats and sing to the rhythm. It was from there they thought about beating drums alongside; that was how the name – Apala – came up.
Which musicians played Apala before you and Ayinla Omowura joined?
Many musicians had been using Apala beat in their songs before Ayinla Omowura began his music and I don’t even know the number of musicians doing that. In fact, someone who used to be my boss, Lasisi Baba Ibeji, later came to work for me. I had become famous and was one of the best Apala drummers in the country. I was about 30 years old at the time. I became Apala beat drummer when I was 20 years old.
How would you describe his rivalry with Haruna Ishola, Fatai Olowonyo and later Ayinde Barrister?
What I can say is that Haruna Ishola agreed that Ayinla Omowura was his boss because Ayinla started producing records before him. As regard Fatai Olowonyo, they had a disagreement with each other then. In those days, everybody was looking for a means of survival.
It was said that Ayinde Barrister used to be the captain of his fans’ club before becoming one of his antagonists, what happened between them? I can’t say much about them, but I heard that when Ayinla Omowura went to Barrister’s house, he was asked to fill a form before he could see him. I was not there, but that was what they told me. I heard Ayinla Omowura left angrily, saying he could not fill any form before seeing Barrister.
Did he truly predict that his band manager, Fatai Bayewumi, would kill him?
(Sighs) It was true he said that. I was there when he said it. We went for a concert in Ijebu and were about to perform when Ayinla said he had the opportunity of watching a movie about Jesus Christ for the first time during Easter that year. He told us that in the movie, it was one of the closest disciples of Jesus that betrayed him. He however concluded that it came to his mind that one of his closest associates among us would kill him. Everybody there was shocked and surprised.
He initially said it indirectly and when I asked him if I was the one he was referring to, he said no. Some others asked him the same question and he said no. But when it got to Bayewumi’s turn, he said he was the one. The band manager rejected it and almost fought with Ayinla that day. He said his name should not be tagged with something negative. He sometimes talked like someone making prophecies. This is the little I can say because if he were alive, I would have been living in wealth and comfort.
It was said that he was killed with a glass cup, how did it happen?
I also heard the same thing; I heard his killer smashed him in the head with a glass cup and the shards of glass penetrated his skull. I learnt pieces of broken glass were removed from his head at a General Hospital.
What caused the fight that led to his death? Was it truly about motorcycle and a woman?
Like I said, I didn’t go out with them except when we had shows. I heard they had a misunderstanding, but I don’t know what it was about.
His killer was hanged; can you recall the events of that period?
After the judge sentenced his killer to death, he was first kept in a prison facility. Lt. Gen. Oladipupo Diya (retd.) was the Military Governor of Ogun State then. I think he went to the prison and started asking about the offences committed by the inmates there. When he got to the turn of Bayewumi, he was told he was sentenced to death for killing Ayinla. Diya then ordered that he should be executed immediately.
What do you know about his claim that some witches made him sit on 200 needles and assured him none would pinch him?
He was not the one that said that; I was the one that used my drum to praise myself that way. I was actually talking about myself; it was just a way to hype myself up and that is how music is.
How would you describe the kind of childhood you both had? Was it rough?
When we were young, we learnt more on the job. We worked hard and were committed to whatever we did. I cannot talk about Ayinla Omowura because we grew up in different households.
Why do you think he still engaged in fights even after becoming famous and rich?
He didn’t fight anyhow, but he detested indiscipline and cheating. He fought anybody that took him for granted or cheated him. He was not a troublesome person like he was being portrayed.
There have also been stories that he loved marijuana until his death…
He didn’t smoke; all he did was take some gin whenever we had to perform. He did not even like beer and he was not a heavy drinker.
What can you say about the story that he was jailed for raping someone?
God is great! You know, there are always different stories to an issue. I was not there but I heard he took one of his lovers to someone’s house and deflowered her. I heard that when the owner of the house saw that the lady was bleeding and weak, it led to the issue. That is all I can say about that.
Why did he build his house on his grandmother’s shrine?
I don’t know anything about that. I was not living in his house, so I can’t say anything about it. It was only when we had outings that we got to see each other.
His father was said to have sung Sakara, was that how he started or did he start with Apala?
We heard his father once sang Sakara, but like I told you, he started as a backup singer.
Though he was a Muslim, he was also said to have practised Ogboni, Ogun worship and such. He seemed like a mysterious person, what can you say about his religious belief?
We participated in so many things when we were looking for fame and God blessed us. We went to Lagos and other places to worship Ogun. It was not that we went there purposely because of that; they invited us as a band and we didn’t have a choice but to participate in what they were doing.
Why do you think he sang, ‘Olorin ti o bá fi oju di mi lode, jije, mimu e tan ni Ile aye’ (Any musician who disregards us will go hungry in life)?
That was more or less like a warning to musicians that did not want to accept that he was their master in music. It was just a way of boosting his ego as a musician; there was nothing extraordinary about that.
What do you know about the story that he gave his children tribal marks so that another man would not claim them?
He gave them tribal marks because he also had tribal marks. He always had it in mind that he would give all his children tribal marks but eventually, not all his children had tribal marks.
Why didn’t he get all his children educated early in his life which according to reports, he was desperate to do later on?
He sent them to school, but sending a child to school does not mean the child will be educated. He tried his best by sending them to school.
Where did the name ‘Omowura’ come from as it was not his real name?
His real name was Waheed Ayinla; I was the one that gave him ‘Omowura’, using my drumbeat. Wura was his mother’s name and I emphasized that by giving him ‘Omo Wura’ (son of Wura).
After his death, why didn’t one of the band members just slot in since you all already knew how the band was run?
We continued after his death and asked his younger brother, Dauda, to lead the band so that it would not appear like we killed Omowura to take over the band. His younger brother said he would try and we allowed him to try till he also died.
What was the genesis of the fight between Dauda and his son, Akeem? Was it all about taking over his band and succeeding him or was there more to it?
You know, they were related and whatever happened between them was personal to them. I did not interfere in that and I was not disturbed by it.
Dauda died in 2006 and Akeem died in 2016, what do you think about allegations that their deaths were connected to their fight?
I can’t say anything about that.
Ayinla Omowura died 40 years ago; what comes to your mind when you remember him now?
We did a song to remember him, but because of what is on the ground, we have not launched it. The remaining members of his band, his daughter and one other person did the song to remember him 40 years after he left us. The coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from launching it.
How much do you miss him?
When I remember him, I cry because if he were alive, I would have gone beyond where I am today. I am always sad when I remember he is gone.
How do you think he should be remembered?
His children and family members have been organising special prayers for him every year. Though Ayinla Omowura is long gone, the government should do something for us – his band members who are alive. We want basic things that can make our lives comfortable.