There is an intersection between Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey’s 1972 number dedicated to ‘Board Members’ and QDot Alagbe’s 2018 mention of ‘Egbe Inumidun’ in Ijo Gelede. Same way there is a web that connects Sikiru Ayinde Barrister’s popular number dedicated to Offa-born Femi Adekanye with the passing mention former governor Babatunde Fashola enjoyed in Wizkid’s Pakurumo. At the heart of these meeting points is praise-singing. But while contemporary hip-hop buffs might find it quite alien, the old guards would only consider it a reinvention of culture.
In the wake of the 1983 general elections, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister got entangled in a perception problem shortly after the release of one of his works. The artiste’s drummer had a line that was widely received with variegated interpretations, the most controversial being that it was a validation of Shehu Shagari’s reelection victory. “Shagari wole ekeji, awa o se ti Baba mo,” (Shagari won his re-election, we no longer support ‘Baba’) goes one of the interpretations. Given Obafemi Awolowo’s cult-like following in the old west, it was widely held that Awo was the ‘Baba’ purportedly referenced in the beat. In the way of conspiracy theories, it didn’t help that Ayinde Barrister hailed from Ibadan, a city that purportedly stood vehemently against the reelection bid of Bola Ige, Awo-led UPN’s candidate in the guber contest in Oyo.
In the 1980s, apart from the business class, the political class, through patronage and support, played a major role in the success of any artiste. So the backlash was considered dangerous even though the affected party was out of power. Barrister’s fans tried to dilute the potency of that interpretation, by offering other variegated interpretations. Yet the artiste had to battle the backlash for quite a long period of time and that in a way showed the potency of artistes’ influence, in terms of endorsement and praise-singing.
Ayinde Barrister’s protégée, Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, was not left out.
Sometime in the first half of the 1990s, a certain Lagos-Island socialite had a ghastly accident in the city, precisely on the third mainland bridge according to some accounts. He died before he could get any serious medical attention. Details that may after all be apocryphal would later surface affirming that he died while driving home angrily, ostensibly to go pick some thick wads of naira notes and stage a comeback after he was elbowed out of Wasiu Ayinde Marshal’s praise-singing list by a rival socialite at a Lagos function.
Ironically not a few Fuji buffs got to know about the death through a praise-singing number dedicated to him by KWAM 1, who never denied the seemingly apocryphal tale surrounding the death. In the end, it all signaled how fundamental the praise-singing culture is to the evolution of Fuji.
But Fuji is no orphan in this context.
Haruna Ishola (Baba n Gani Agba), the late Apala maestro, recorded tons of memorable praise-singing numbers for many a Yoruba socialite across the region, including diaspora Yoruba folks in the far north. Haruna it was who notably shifted the klieg lights to members of the Oroki Social Club in Osogbo, Egbe Basiri in Sagamu-Remo, Egbe Parkers in Kaduna, among others. Ditto for other greats who played genres that are in the exended family of Haruna’s Apala: Anigilaje Ayinla Omo Wuramotu, S. Aka Baba Waidi, Yusufu Olatunji, Fatai Olowoyo, among other legends.
The artiste who perhaps elevated praise-singing to an enduring art was Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi, the musician-turned-evangelist whose sonorous, delicate voice was in itself a brain-bursting item. Where Sunny Ade was hyperbolic in the way he rendered his embellishments, sometime tilting toward the extreme, Obey’s was measured. Sunny Ade, it could be argued, relied heavily on the potency of his beats; Obey’s magic rested on his melody. And a few of the pebbles being thrown at the man’s enduring legacy would come from the rationalization that the artiste and his contemporaries encouraged graft through the praise-singing culture.
In any case, although Sunny is still performing wonders on the dance floor, the Biblical old has passed away for Obey: the artiste has since dropped his legendary Juju microphone––in the strict professional sense, at least––after picking up the holy book.
But in the way these things seem now in contemporary Nigerian pop, this meeting of cultures has made it quite difficult to identify that there is actually a gulf in the sound and times that produced the various generational hits produced by these artistes, living and dead. That intersection, if we throw in a little mischief, captures the paradigm shift in contemporary Nigerian pop as evident in the blurred line between these generational sounds. Like the one between, say, King Sunny Ade and his wailing guitar and Small Doctor and his humorous, if brainless, lines. Or the hits in the oeuvres of Kwam 1 and, say, Olamide Bad’oo; Haruna Ishola and QDot; Ayinde Gbogeraye and Destiny Boy; Yusufu Olatunji and Junior Boy; Iya Aladuke and Mukaila Senwele; Dauda Epo-Akara and 9ice; Reekado Banks and Ayinde Bakare; Korede Bello and, say, an Ayinde Barrister.
The lines, if any, have become blurred––if not totally invisible.
While Fuji seems to be the most coveted bride among contemporary pop artistes in terms of sound appropriation, all of the remaining older genres––Apala, Juju, Waka, Sakara––have not been spared in terms of style. Where there was the long, elaborate praise-singing of the ‘70s, we now have per second name-dropping, perhaps due to the short duration of pop tracks.
In QDot’s ‘Ijo Gelede’ for instance, nothing in the track’s theme elevates the (Yoruba) culture, as the optics of his carefully selected words and the ‘Ooni-of-Ife’ improvised cosmetics in the video dubiously seem to claim. It’s a decent track, nevertheless. And the closest connection the track has with ‘culture’ is in the faint praise-singing in its third 3, done in per-second name-dropping.
Before ‘Ijo Gelede’, 9ice, although without pretension to culture elevation, did something similar with his controversial Yahoo-yahoo anthem, “Living Things”, name-dropping internet scam artists from Hushpuppi to Opa 6. All of the rampaging Agege boys, from Junior Boy to Destiny Boy, have imprint of this style in their tracks: namedropping.
Yet given the shortness of pop tracks, and the insatiable appetite these latter day socialites have for staying in the limelight, I think there may be another (paradigm) shift soon. It is likely that they would withdraw their patronage or negotiate for a longer duration, as it was in the 80’s and still is in the traditional genres.
It is unlikely that any prudent socialite would prefer the Q-Dot short-lived 2-second recognition to, say, a Sunny Ade or a Kwam 1’s never-ending holler. Because in the end, with Q-Dot, irrespective of the amount involved, it’s just a bland, uninspiring 2-second name-dropping: “Sunday Igboho, I see you Baba.” That’s all.
But with Kwam 1, and perhaps for a lesser fee, it’s a 3-hour elaborate holler, with the assurance that the artiste would stuff his lines with head-bursting embellishments. However things go, it would likely be for the growth of the culture.
And again, as these things appear now even, do these publicity-craving socialites really care about prudence?
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