Ayanbirin: Men harass me a lot
For Olakanye Olayemi Oluwatosin, the laboratory is no go area. The artiste, who is popularly known as Ayanbirin, studied Chemical and Polymer Engineering at the Lagos State University but prefers to toe the line of a talking drummer, a feat very rare among women.
She opened up to TS Weekend on why she embraced the drums, her family and her experience in the hands of men among other issues.
Who is Ayanbirin?
Ayanbirin simply means female drummer but my real name is Olakanye Olayemi Oluwatosin.
Are you from a family of drummers?
No, I learnt the art of drumming. I am not from the 'Ayan' family.
What were you doing before you started drumming?
I went to school, I studied Chemical and Polymer Engineering at the Lagos State University (LASU) but I grew up singing and I started from the church. The drumming thing came up when I needed to create an identity for myself, and I decided to learn how to play the drum.
How many years did it take you to learn how to play the drums?
It took me about one month because drumming is not what you learn at a go. You have to continue learning it day-in-day-out and the more you practice the better for you.
Is there a myth surrounding the art of drumming?
There are none. It is not compulsory that you must come from a family of drummers.
I wasn't born into the family of Engineers; I learnt to be an Engineer like I learnt how to play the drums. A man called Alaroye taught me. Though, I also learnt from other people, Alaroye taught me the rudiments of talking drum.
Did you do some sacrifice according to tradition after you finished learning how to play the talking drum?
I learnt that people do things like worshiping the god of drums but as for me, I did not do such a thing because I am a Christian. I play my drums but that does not say that 'isese o si, isese wa' (there is tradition, it is what you believe in that matters).
How many years have you been playing the drums and how has it been?
I started in 1999, that is about 13 years and it's been fun, I am enjoying it.
What are the challenges you have encountered as a female talking drummer?
There are lots of challenges. We have financial challenges, some people also want to have you for themselves, they are of the opinion that as a female artiste you need somebody you have to lean on and they believe that the only way they have to get at you is to come as a friend and later have you to themselves.
You mean dating?
Yes, they want to take advantage of you being a female talking drummer and sleep with you. They will tell you all sorts of stories like 'you don't have problem getting there but let's get down first and other things will follow', and such other dirty tales.
So, there is sexual harassment in trying to be a talking drummer?
There is, very serious one. I have encountered a lot. It takes the glory of God to get to where I am today.
How do you cope in a male dominated music industry?
It's no more a male dominated industry because we have lots of female drummers now, it is really fulfilling that as a female drummer I'm making an impact in an industry where an average person will not venture into, the male drummers are now supporting us.
For example, I now belong to the Professional Drummers Association of Nigeria, we have few women there but the men have been very supportive.
Ara came to the limelight through drumming and there is a belief that others are either copying or competing with her, how true is this?
I'm not in competition or rivalry with anybody because I have my own style of music. I play tra-hiptional music, though we have lots of female drummers, the sky is wide enough for everybody to fly. Ara is a sister because we are both from Ondo and we are colleagues in the business.
So you don't have a boss?
Yes, I don't have a boss but that does not mean that I don't have those I respect in the industry.
I respect the likes of King Sunny Ade, Aunty Ayo Balogun, Asa, and Lagbaja. You have not recorded an album? I am more into stage performance but my first album was released in 2008 entitled, Unveiled, and I'm now working on another album dedicated to God, its suppose to be a double album which will be released this year. The first one is drum praise while the second is a pot pouri of different kind of music.
Why two albums at a time?
It's to show that Ayanbirin is not only about drums. Ayanbirin plays the drum as well as sings; she is a complete entertainer. My recording company would soon unveil the albums.
Are you talking about Nigerian or foreign recording company?
Foreign but I won't reveal the name yet. We are coming out with a project that will rebrand Ayanbirin, because I'm an embodiment of talent. I do paintings and I can draw among other things. Is there any health hazard associated with drumming especially for women?
There is none but when I started I used to have pains all over my body but now it has become part of me
Do you experience pains also in the b00bs?
No, drumming is a form of exercise for the breast. I discovered that whenever I am playing the drums it relaxes all my sensory organs.
What of performance on bed?
(Laughter) It makes me more fit for that, that is why I rehearse and whenever I rehearse, it makes feel like I'm coming from the gym.
Can you handle all the drums?
No, I have restricted myself to the social drums only, like the gangan (talking drum), I also play the bata and the dundun which comprises of iya ilu and omele.
As the wife of a prince can you play the traditional drums?
There are limitations; the drums in the palace, those used for rituals and other purposes can't be played anyhow. For instance, Gbedu is not meant for just anybody. Like when I wanted to start drumming, I went to the Aalafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi for tutorials and he told me that if not for civilization women were not allowed to play the drums.
He also educated me on the 'dos and don'ts' of drumming. It was a nice experience.
How did you meet the Alaafin?
We visited him as part of the activities towards the launching of my Mother Drum Art Foundation. Through the Foundation, we use the art to promote our cultural values.
How do you cope as a star, wife and mother?
When I am at home, I see myself as wife and mother and not as Ayanbirin because Ayanbirin is the woman on stage. But when I am in my costume, it's a total transformation from Tosin to Ayanbirin.
How does your husband cope?
It's God's doing, my husband is very understanding that was why I stayed off the stage for about three years to have my babies and consolidate the home front.
What are you planning to do now apart from the album launch?
I am planning for my festival, Mother Drum Art Festival and Mother Drum Awards. Last year's edition was very interesting and this year will not be an exception.