Adewale Ayuba: Fuji Music was going no where …I took it to the universities
Where do Fuji musicians go to learn their act? This place and that place. But how do you rate one who started singing from three years. At 44 years, Adewale Ayuba Saliu Okeola, better known as Adewale Ayuba is celebrating his 21st anniversary in music this year. How does that calculation work out? That is because he is only counting his musical years from the issue of his first album. Ayuba is arguably the first graduate of fuji music (read graduate to play fuji). His fascination with the ivory tower tallied with an early an ambition to reach the pinnacle of his act. Convinced that his acceptance by the university community would bring about a good turning point for fuji music, Ayuba made up his mind to break into that circle with his music. Having found the recipe for a new bubbly kind of fuji that settled in well with the youths, Ayuba began his climb to the top. Now, he is eager to be properly remembered as the one who opened the door of acceptance for fuji musicians in the universities and among the educated. Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports...
At the age of three, many children are just beginning to learn ABC and counting 123 in their first formal lesson of life. Adewale Ayuba did more. He was also singing Do-Re-Mi. And at the age of seven, he was a professional musician, putting together other children to form a band. This was way back in the land of his birth-Ikenne in Remo Division of Ogun state. He was in Primary Two. Actually, he could be described as the band leader, holding the top spot for one Sunday who discovered the musical endowment in the young Adewale and sought to encourage his talent by investing in him. Mr. Sunday bought the equipment with which Ayuba started his trade in music.
Naturally, the band took the first names of the two frontliners, becoming known as the Sunny Ayuba Band. His parents, particularly his father would have none of this. It became a hard battle. However, Pa Ayuba was reasonable enough to allow his son a cautious entry into world of showbiz. All he wanted was a promise to faith with his studies, which the Youngman readily agreed to. So, between Mondays and Fridays, he obeyed his father by remaining in school. Weekends was time to honour whatever engagement Mr. Sunday had arranged. His education was not affected. His father was happy. Sunday made good returns on his investment; and to Ayuba, matter didn't matter. He was satisfied with whatever he was given. The additional peck of fame and recognition that followed put his head in the cloud. It was alright to be the most pupil and the kid who got talked about every where he went about town.
That was 35 years ago. It would take another six years before his first album surfaced. So, when Ayuba talks about his years in music. He situates it around the issue of his first album 21 years ago.
One of the landmarks that year was the death of Dele Giwa through a parcel bomb. Ayuba's song may not have captured that momentous happening, but it was earth shaking enough to make him remember; so this year, he is talking about 21 years of making good music. The album was released on Success Records owned by Tijani Akinlaja. Ayuba has since moved to many labels, including a memorable stay at Ivory Music, but through the years, he has not forgotten his mentor. He keeps in touch with him. He has recorded 15 albums in Nigeria and four albums internationally. Some of the companies he has worked with include Premier Music, Corporate Records, Joat Records and Lateef Alagbada Records.
At 44 years, Ayuba can look back on those heady days of his humble beginning and give thanks to God for giving him a talent that has taken him from grass to the height of the world stage. It has been a long, eventful road from Ikenne. His first stop on the way to stardom was in Lagos, which he arrived at for the first time in 1980. “Before I finally moved to Lagos, I normally come to Lagos every Sunday to I moved finally to Lagos in 1983. I am talking about when I had an accommodation and made my final move from Ikenne with my 20 band boys. It was difficult. My boys had no where to live in Lagos. I slept in friends shop in Lagos Island. He was a fashion designer. My boys went around in the day, at night we slept in that my friend's shop”.
The business of music that they came into Lagos for didn't exactly start happening the next day. For a long while, all they to survive was play at child naming ceremonies, house warming-you know the orientation of Fuji music. At one of those events, Akinlaja, owner of Success Records hit it off with Ayuba and there began a relationship that saw the birth of five albums, between 1985and 89.
In 1990, the tide of his life changed for good, when he joined CBS. It was also time for him to take a studious look at the music scene. He refused to be rushed into the studio to record any album. He was worried that fuji, his genre was not patronised by the university community and the elite.
“I was so tired of that kind of style. I believed I could do a project that will take me to another level. Fuji was sluggish. It was sung 100percent in Yoruba or Arabic. I thought of taking it hi-tech. He translated his thoughts with the a line in the song going”….Bonsue fuji has gone hi-tech, traditional music played with modern touch….More than that, he purposed to teach people to dance. The album was titled 'Bubble'. “It was a project. It was not an album. I wanted to produce something that will be a crossover; something everybody from any part of the country could listen and enjoy. I very much wanted to launch myself to another level. The video was something else. It was serious dance video. With the release of 'Bubbles', we started invites to perform in the universities. Over 80 percent of our shows were done in the university campuses. I had achieved what I wanted to fuji. Today, when people talk about their contribution to the genre called fuji, I know where I stand. I can not be denied my place. I am the one who gained acceptance for fuji among university community. That was when I started getting lots of awards. That is what brought me to the limelight. Before that time people in the academic environment believed fuji was for butchers, drivers and the like. University students preferred foreign music. I believed once students accept my music we would get to the level we want to be. The truth is that a lot of shows were being organised then at the university campsues.It was 'Bubble' that opened the door for all other fuji acts in the universities. I funkified it. I changed the beat, I added some lines in English. Since then I have taken up the task of preaching fuji to world. The experiment was so successful that I emerged 'Artiste of the Year 1992'. I have never looked backed. I want Nigerians to believe fuji music is their own. I want fuji to be accepted as Nigerian musician. Through out my stay in the US, I was privileged to play in some of the best known concerts. The best concert in New York is Summer Stage. I played there it in 95 and 96. In 96 at the 50 years anniversary of the UN, I performed there too. I was at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 93. I was also part of an internet cast in 97 when the British Council celebrated two years anniversary of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa. I a holder of the key of the city of Providence, Rhodes Island since 96. The most memorable day in my life was when NMA in 1992 Artiste of the Year that was the last NMA they did in Abuja I didn't believe a fuji musician can get Artiste of the Year. The second one was on December 12, 1998 at the Benson and Hedges Concert. I had returned back to Nigeria, I was so scared because Nigerians had not seen me live for three years, they were saying all kinds of things. I was scheduled to bring down the curtain at the show. People refused to go home and they wanted to see me. It was a concert. I did well to the satisfaction of the crowd. That is what brought me back. If I had done otherwise It would have been the end of my career in Nigeria.
“I am happy I give glory to God for I have gotten the African Grammy-Kora Award. Fuji is doing well. If you see what these hip-hop artistes are doing now, you know it is fuji music. That is why these hip-hop reign and die in Nigeria we should try to support our own music and culture. I am so happy with what I have done for fuji music and I still pray to do more. I am happy also that my dad saw the fame that came with 'Bubble'. I am so happy for the collaboration I have done with Jazzman Olofin, Ade Bantu-KORA 2005-Fuji Satisfaction
Honour has come my way from home town. This is very unusual. First Saturday in the month of November, it is time to celebrate 'Ikenne day', they don't use another artiste than Ayuba' and that is to let you know the kind of love they have for me.
Between 1995 and 1998, Ayuba lived in New York. It wasn't something he planned for. His extended stay in the US was not unconnected with the reign of terror unleashed on Nigeria by the late Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha. He returned to Nigeria the very next day Abacha expired. “It is not something I would like to discuss. I used to travel abroad to perform for thee months and more. We left Nigeria then and something happened and we couldn't come back”.
But it was a period that he would never regret. Many good things happened to him during that period. “I was able to get my Green Card in America. I also took time out to go to school. I was in Queensborough Community College. I was there for two years, studying Banking and Finance. I have an Associate Degree in that discipline. It is a two-year course. One more thing that Abacha did for me that I will never forget is that I met my wife in school in the US. My wife is Igbo. She is from Onitsha. I met her in New York. Her name is Azukaego Kwentoh. I did not set out to marry a non-Yoruba, I just prayed to have my wife. During this period also I was able to promote my music to the Western world”.
One thing that Ayuba is so very proud about is that he has been able to keep faith with many of the injunctions that his father persuaded him about. “From day one, my father made it clear to me that he would only be happy with my musical career if I go to school, do not drink and smoke. He said I must not marry two wives. I have one wife. I have never seen it in the Quoran where it says that you must have more than one wife. I haven't seen it in the Bible too. How come that it is not in the Quoran that a woman should marry two husbands. The Quoranic injunction about two wives concerns widows. It is not to take them to bed or let them have children for you, no”. To celebrate his 21st year in music, Ayuba has a new album out. It is titled 'Ariya'. It perpetuates his tradition of releasing one album per year. “In the new album. I am talking about Yoruba unity and how the race started in Ile-Ife. It is danceable music. It is recorded for people who want to enjoy themselves”.
Ayuba is putting his Finance and Banking studies to good use. Apart from the business of music, he has put together one of the best business teams, along with his wife. There are 25 band members in the Bonsue Fuji Organisation. However, the arrowhead of his enterprise is BFB Limited, which offers employment to over 35 Nigerians. Among other things, the company sells automobiles and has a few houses for rent. Ayuba has one o f the most thriving monthly show for fans. For now, it holds at Town House in the GRA-Ikeja and the place is usually filled to capacity. So far, everything is going well for the unassuming kid who was born Adewale Ayuba Saliu Okeola.
“I live in my own house. I drive my own cars. I am happy with my wife and children. Are these not some of the things people pray for in this life”.
One of the remarkable things that is coming with Ayuba's 21st anniversary in music is a re-engineering of his label-Ayuba Music. From now on, it is not just his own music that would be issued on that label. A new artiste has been signed on. But Ayuba is not saying if the new act is on to fuji or some other genre.
Even music buffs who are not into fuji know Ayuba as a consummate dancer and a sharp dresser. His fashion sense is made all the more dramatic and attractive by the skills of popular designers like Cecil G and Ideal Tailors.