Barry-Wonder at 72: Reminiscing About The Music Genius

Posted on February 12 2020 , at 11:05 am
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Having early part of my formative years in Mushin-Olorunsogo axis of Lagos in the early 1980s came with its attendant exposure to different genres of contemporary and traditional music, which would later form the basis for my broad spectrum of music taste. Fuji Music according to Late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (SAB), for me, has always stood out. Reminiscent of how I came about Country Music through Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours being played somewhere on Palm-Avenue Street while coming back from school, my discovery of Fuji Music was equally accidental and it happened one evening on Silver Street, Olorunsogo, Mushin. This particular day, I had been sent to go grind pepper on Buhari Street (a stone-throw from our house on Silver Street). Somewhere in-between this less than 100-metre distance was a record store whose owner was a confirmed Barrister’s man as he had his store decorated with his posters. 

I was fortunate to be passing by at a time one of Barrister’s evergreen albums, Aiye, in which he graphically narrated the wonders of Disney World, was being played. I got gripped immediately. A seat taken in a corner by the road side, the bowl of pepper stationed by my side, head bowed down to hide my face from passers-by who could recognise me, I took my first exploratory excursion to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, through the album that created vivid mental images of how Barrister himself and Buhari Omo Oloto were transported to Magic Kingdom. I could hear SAB scream “Odere Shifau” and Oloto, “Tawajuda” when ‘eerie ghosts’ appeared from nowhere threatening them for encroaching on their aquatic territory. In my mind’s eye, I beheld in graphic details how “Mammy Water” moved close to these uninvited invaders in ‘Magic Kingdom’…how those gargantuan whales were hovering around the submarine waiting to pounce on them; I saw sunk ship that had been for ages and massive mountains around which the submarine had to manoeuvre to avoid accidents of calamitous proportion. 

‘Fai! Fai! Fai!’ Mama Jide found me in the corner and aborted my imaginary trip to Disney World with some lashes of cane. “Ki o to ya ipata, emi naa a ti da seria fun e!” Warefa! It was too late; BARRISTER had already won my heart. He had just given me my first international exposure without leaving Mushin. 

I had a standing instruction from my dad to always dash out and get dailies from a certain vendor anytime I heard the sound of the his horn on Saturdays. Quickly glancing through the inside pages of dailies one morning, I saw a report that Sikiru Ayinde Barrister had bagged a honorary doctorate degree from City University Los Angeles (CULA). I did not make much of this piece of news until a day later when my dad was hosting his friends. The award became a topic; it was then it dawned on me that the honour came because of the chart-busting album, Aiye. The album was said to have been translated into English language and presented to CULA, which was highly impressed.

I learnt that the vivid capture of his tourist experience in Orlando in the album had not only raised the profile of Disney World but also aroused curiosity in some high net-worth Nigerians who had to visit the tourist site to see things with their own eyes. Agbaakin Bobagunwa was a confirmed prolific master story teller.

Alhaji Agba’s story-telling prowess is transcendental. SAB creates images and events with words. He transports the listener to climes and times using melodies. Listening to him feels surreal.

In ‘American Special’, Barrister again took me on a virtual journey to Atlanta & Chicago where I joined the search team comprising of Ajose, Mufu and Danmola who were instrumental to finding the missing duo of Tunde Balinga and Tajudeen Pele. Yes, ‘Aiye’ was Alhaji Agba’s album that pricked my interest in the genius who released over one hundred albums, half of which I know inside out. You doubt me? Organise a contest!

Another memorable experience I had listening to Baala of Lagos was with my dad when he was watching the video of Fantasia Fuji one Saturday evening. I was singing along and aloud till when he got to a point he called himself “Music Ambassador Plenipotentiary”. In the album, he recites this line twice. When he recited it at first, I paused; second time, I said “Music Ambassador f’eni to fe ki a ni” (Music Ambassador ‘for him who wants us to have’). My dad paused the video and asked me to repeat what I said. I repeated it, hesitantly. He had a long, hearty laugh of scorn at me. He then spelt it out and corrected me. I began to doubt him (my dad) when I looked up PLENIPOTENTIARY in the dictionary I had then and could not find it. The following day, he bought a Webster dictionary for the family and that marked the beginning of my journey towards learning etymology of words. Barrister was an intellectual!

About three years ago, I boarded a cab. Holding a CD, the cabman looked back where I was sitting and uttered “Alhaji Agba?” to which I gave a nod of approval. He made it a two-hour jolly ride from Aja to Ogba after blasting #BarryAt40, another evergreen into my head. My favourite part of the album is the interlude where Alhaji Agba introduces band members, as each of them cues in their respective skill to make a whole sound. The cab man took me back to my Eko Boys’ High School days when, after school, I would ‘park for one corner’ around Ogo Oluwa Kiitan Records on Agege Motor Road, Olorunsogo, with anticipatory keenness that ‘Barry at 40’ would  soon be played. And I was always right.

You may not take me seriously on this one: the latest of my SAB reminiscences happened sometime ago as I was combing the cyber-space researching a write-up on climate change and global trends. Opening one webpage after the other, I stumbled on a headline that reads, ‘Mount Fuji being buried in garbage’. It was an epiphany-like moment for me. I attempted to connect the dots between the origin of Fuji Music and the best album (unarguably) to have come from that genre (Fuji Garbage); then, the demise of its originator and what is left of the genre today. What is left of Fuji today is buried in garbage. Alhaji Agba created Fuji; ignore the latter day revisionist attempts at re-writing the history of Fuji Music. “History can never be re-written” Omo Adakeja l’Ayeye sets the record straight in Image. Ajiwere yato si Fuji. 

SAB had provided a response to some latter day revisionists claiming Fuji music had been before Barrister. In ‘Fertilizer’ album released in 1985, Alhaji Agba pays homage to the early group of artistes to whom he conceded seniority in Were-Ajisari music, a brand heavily slanted towards Islam before he transformed it to a much more sociably acceptable genre. The controversies nonetheless, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister is Mr. Fuji, as attested to by true history.

That SAB lived up to 62 was an added advantage for him. He had told ‘Iku’ in ‘Fantasia Fuji’ that he was ready for him anytime, but on one condition that his mother, Odere would go before him. After all, same ‘Iku’ had taken his father when SAB was a kid. Truly, no sooner had Madam Shifau been committed to the mother earth than ‘Iku’ started making attempts on Ayinde’s life. In one instance, he had miraculously escaped from the Inferno that razed his house and properties to ashes. But SAB was a phoenix; he rose again. Sequel to that unfortunate incidence, he released the ‘Inferno’ album detailing how he was trapped in a burning house and thought to have been burnt to death, only to find himself in the midst of people wailing outside. Father-Before-Father narrated how a recitation of an Islamic verse (La hawla) turned him to the ‘Invisible Man’ and landed him among the sympathisers outside.  

In Nigeria, few deaths of gifted creatives (like Gbenga Adeboye, Fela Kuti, etc) have jolted me like the demise of Sikiru Ololade Adeyimika Balogun (MFR). BarryAt70 would have been another masterpiece if death had tarried. Isn’t it high time Artificial Intelligence found a way of preserving such exceptional brains by transferring them to living beings for continuity? 

Sun re o, Omo Adakeja l’Ayeye. Happy posthumous 72nd birthday to the African International Music Ambassador and Music Legend of the Commonwealth.

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