Tribute to Awurebe King, Epo Akara

By Benson Idonije

THREE years have passed slowly by since Awurebe King Dauda Kolawole Akanmu, known in show business as Dauda Epo Akara passed on, in 2005.

His exit marked the end of a musi-cultural era, the era of a generation of musicians whose roots are deep in the urban social fabric and heritage of the Yoruba speaking people of South Western Nigeria.

An indigenous music type whose hallmark is the syncopation of rhythms generated in patterns that are intricate, Awurebe is the fusion of apala, sakara, woro and even dadakuada from Kogi and Kwara States of Nigeria. It is the perfect blend of these various musical cultures that have given it a uniquely definitive sound identity.

While Haruna Isola and Ajao Oru pioneered apala and took it to a level where it became universally accepted, Yusuf Olatunji popularised sakara and established it as an acceptable social music type. And of course the likes of Batile Alake took on the female version of these music forms and handed it down to the likes of Salawa Abeni who is still carrying on the tradition.

Even though Epo Akara's Awurebe came much after the first generation of our traditional musicians, his fusion was blended to fall into the same era. As a matter of fact, like Fuji music, Awurebe is a product of the street music performed during Ramadan called Were. He was influenced in the same way that Alhaji Ayinde Barrister was, but this influence affected them differently.

While Barrister merely accompanied his social commentaries with the legion of drums and other percussion instruments in a direct fusion, Dauda, who, perhaps was operating from a point where he had been influenced by almost all the social music genres, decided to fuse elements of everything into one whole unit.

The music did not assume the commercial viability that fuji had because of its direct identification with the roots of our traditional forms.

For instance, Epo Akara's Awurebe did not have widespread acceptance in Lagos until the 1980s, even though it was popular in places like Mushin and Somolu, with danfo drivers and meat sellers as the bulk of its devotees. The music came into the forefront with the emergence of the Top 10, instituted in the early 1980s by Radio Nigeria 2.

The criteria for determining chartbusters lay in the hands of Research and Marketing Services (RMS) headed at the time by Mr. Tejumola. And with a thoroughly comprehensive and scientific research method, they put structures in place to monitor record shops in all parts of Lagos. They even divided the shops into small, medium and large. The 1980s was an era in which the Nigerian music industry still thrived, with some of its relevant appurtenances in place.

RMS placed researchers at the entrances of the record shops with questionnaires for those who went in to buy records to fill. Some of the details included age, sex, religion and education as the extent of enquiry.

The recorded details from all the shops were collated at the end of the exercise to determine the placing of records in a Top 10 chart that had a Nigerian social music as well as the pop music category.

And it was on one of these monthly hit parades that Dauda Epo Akara, who was based at Ibadan, topped the charts with the album, O Beautiful.

The name was quite strange to deejays and entertainment music writers, who were familiar with Haruna Isola, Ligali Mukaiba, Raufu Yellow, Ayinla Omowura and others - all because they were based in Lagos with their recording companies.

As the producer of the Top 10 at the time, I had to assemble all the records that reflected in the charts for discussion by journalists and airplay. It was in the course of performing this role that I was directed to Olorunsogo, Mushin, in Lagos where I found Epo Akara's hit album, O Beautiful at a shop owned at the time by Ogo Oluwa Kitan. And it was the frequent airplay of this record that gave it and its exponent awareness and recognition in Lagos and other parts of the country other than Ibadan and its environs.

It was the same Top 10 that put Omowura in the limelight. Like Epo Akara, his music was popular with the same clientele. But when, in 1981,Ebi Kii Pagun dale, entered the chart at number four, an occurrence which coincided with his death at the time, it began to enjoy unlimited airplay.

In an interview with The Guardian, Epo Akara's manager promised to keep the spirit of his master and band leader alive, saying that there are competent musicians among the band who can carry on with the tradition of the music. This was well said, but it has not work out exactly well in practical terms.

The experience of Omowura is a case in point. When Ayinla died, it was thought that his brother, Dauda, who was in the band could take over. But he fell by the way side upon the second album. And this is understandable because no one artiste can step into the shoes of the other. Every one needs to discover himself, in order to fashion out a style for individual self expression.

Epo Akara released over 80 albums and was also on the road performing at prestigious engagements. But it is sad that a musician of his stature did not enjoy international recognition and exposure.

Awurebe has a rythmic concept that lends itself freely and easily to world beat. A lot should have been done by his producer and recording company to update the music in terms of fusion so that it could reach out to the world the same way that Yossou N'dour and Salif Keita are doing from the Sahel region of Senegal and Mali. But how can our numerous musicians achieve this feat without enlightened producers and arrangers?