After more than four decades as a performing artist, Queen of Waka music, Salawa Abeni, is not a pushover in the Nigerian entertainment scene.
Her debut album titled Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, released in 1976 on Leader Records, was a commercial success. It was the first recording by a Yoruba female musician to sell over a million copies in Nigeria.
With 42 albums in her kitty, the Nigerian music legend has said she is not slowing down just yet.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Queen of Waka Music speaks about her humble beginning, six-year hiatus and her future plans.
PT: It’s almost impossible to figure out the number of albums you have. I attempted to and lost count at some point.
Salawa: I get that a lot and it’s understandable because I have countless hit songs. I recorded my first two songs in 1976 and so I have I 42 albums to my credit. My debut album, Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, was released in 1976.
PT: Is singing and music all you have always wanted to do?
Salawa: As a teenager (13), it dawned on me that I was born to do music. While living with my guardian in Igbogun, I developed a liking for the music of the likes of Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and many others while listening to a radio programme.
It was called ‘E je ka lo sun’ and aired on Radio Lagos. I recall that I would leave my friends and go to listen to the programme.
One day it struck me that I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a star. I thank God because he chose the best career for me. Music has opened doors for me and my family.
PT : How did you handle the stigmatisation of female entertainers at the onset of your career?
Salawa: People who know me know that I don’t give a hoot about negative comments and I think this is one of the qualities that has helped shaped my career and mindset. Some people have labelled me a prostitute but I don’t pay attention to them.
I have my children, my career and God is proving Himself in my life. It’s my career and I have chosen my life’s path.
PT: You have had your own share of big scandals. Do you mean they never got to you?
Salawa: Not everyone will love you even if you are a star. My critics have said many things, I refused to be moved because there is nothing new to talk about.
Every woman is called a prostitute. If you want to succeed in life, you don’t have to listen to negative comments. God has blessed me with rare favour of having friends that are more educated and richer than me.
So I consider myself blessed and favoured to be who I am and where I am today.
PT: What was responsible for your hiatus from the entertainment scene?
Salawa: I fell ill for the first time around 2008 and it lasted for about five to six years. I can’t even explain how it began.
I just suddenly fell terribly ill and couldn’t go out. I could not perform or sing at events because I could not walk. I was paralysed. I kept praying to Allah to have mercy on me and help me recover the lost years.
PT: What was the nature of the illness?
Salawa: I wish I could explain what happened but it was paralysis and was really bad. I’m grateful to Almighty Allah because not everyone could go through what I went through and still survive.
Thank God for my siblings, my children, my band boys, former Governors of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwummi Ambode, who came to my aid during the recovery phase.
I was out of the scene for six years and you know what that means for any entertainer. My band boys never abandoned me for a day even while I was ill and you know that it’s rare among entertainers.
PT: What fears did you have at the time?
Salawa: I doubted I would ever be able to walk again and all I could remember was asking God if it was going to ever be a possibility. How and when would I recover? Would I ever walk again?
It was a trying time for me because I sold all: houses, cars, jewellery etc and I even started reaching out to my friends.
It was a challenging time for me. I was down. I was out. I was pauperised but God saw me through. But thank God, I’m fully back and restored now.
PT: Some people said your son’s death triggered your illness.
Salawa: I prayed to Almighty Allah that after the death of my son, Idris Olanrewaju, God should never allow me to see the death of any child again.
My late son, Lanre, was the only bond between his late father, Lati Adepoju, and I. I can say the problem started when I lost him.
Even the volumes 1- 15 of my LPs are still with his late father’s recording company and they are not ready to release them to me.
My son, Lanre, died October 2, 2000, but I pray the wound heals permanently. It’s not good for a child to die before the parents. May that evil be averted in all homes by God’s grace.
PT: What kept you going during such a trying time?
Salawa: God sent me helpers. The late Alhaji Ayinde Barrister was a pillar of support for me. The father-daughter love between us has extended to his children, who love me so much. He was a good father.
Also, (ex-governor) Bola Tinubu and his mum, Mama Abibatu Mogaji, were very concerned and helped me out.
I performed at mama’s 70, 75 and 80th birthday parties respectively. Mama would cook and send stews and soup to me. Mama would give me money. She treated me like a child. As old as Mama was when she saw that I could not walk again, she would send people to pray for me and always checked on me.
PT: Did your colleagues reach out to you?
Salawa: No they didn’t. Some ran away and others didn’t even pick my calls. After my recovery, some told me that they didn’t know where I was and could not locate me.
During my illness, I learnt that it’s foolish to wait for a fellow artiste to die before donating money for burial or to give to the family. But then, I never took offence in anyone.
PT: What is your relationship with Ayinla Kollington?
Salawa: No comment, please. I would rather not talk about this because our marriage produced children.
PT: Have you had any gigs since your recovery?
Salawa: Yes I have. I’m grateful to God that I can now dance and stand throughout any performance. Since I returned fully to entertainment, my weekends are always busy but I still take time to pray.
It’s been a great time and as a grandma, I have my hands full too. I welcomed twins from my children abroad last year and another grandson four months ago.
PT: Any plans to collaborate with younger contemporary musicians?
Salawa: Yes, that is in the works as soon as I am well settled. This is why I’m currently mentoring a lot of young musicians in my industry including women. Thankfully, my son, Big Sheff, took up music as a profession. My children are lucky because their father and I are into music.
PT: What is the next phase for Salawa?
Salawa: I pray to be a legend in this industry. I desire to be old and be a legend, whose music would outlive her. I am still a young woman, my children are still young but I want my career to soar and make an impact in the lives of younger generations.
I know Salawa Abeni is a talent that can’t be wasted.