What He Told City People About His Life
It was really sad news last week when newsbroke that one of the veteran Juju icons, Emperor Wale Olateju died in Owode, near Ilaro, Ogun State where he lived for very many years.
Emperor in his lifetime was one of the pillars of Juju music. He was the contemporaries of King Sunny Ade and reigned in those good old days with the likes of Commander Ebenezer Obey. He was known as the Sabada exponent.
A few months back, City People Publisher SEYE KEHINDE went in search of him at his Owode base. We had lunch with this ever smiling veteran Juju musician. In this extensive interview, he spoke about his life, how his contemporaries shaped Juju music in those good old days.
You don’t look 70. But how do you feel at 70?
I give thanks to God, because he has been faithful all the way. Things were not smooth for me in the beginning, but I give thanks to God for where he has taken me. Where I come from people don’t see being 70 as a big deal. They believe it’s a christian age. So even if anything happens they believe he or she has lived to an old age.
At 70 I feel great, I feel on top of the world, looking back and remembering my challenges in life. So, many things have happened but I am grateful to God, though it looks like am starting all over. My father was 52 when he died, I was just five years plus, but I knew my dad very well, when he was very sick in the house I was always with him, but as a christian I always pray and wish not to die at the age my father died, I wish to die at 160, just like my uncle, he died at the age of 160, we confirmed his age by calculating when they did the resettlement of Egba, so when they wanted to do the 150th anniversary, that was when my uncle died . If one doesn’t have good health it’s hard for you to live till that age, that is why am begging God to give me a sound and good health, because I still want to sing and release albums, if people call me for shows, that was why I established this hotel, I will be doing my music here when am back from church.
How did your music career start?
Music is like something I inherited, back in the days Gelede, Egun and the likes are what my forefathers did in the past, I started singing at the age of six. I remember in 1951 when they brought church to our village, because there was no Christianity in my village, anytime they are doing carnival or anniversary, I will go there to sing, I remember in 1957 I was leading elders to sing, that was how I started singing.
When did you finally decide to go fully into music as a professional?
That opportunity came when one of my brothers, Mr D K Olateju. He was a Teacher and was transferred to Ilaro , so I used to follow him. There was a man in Ilaro then that plays music. He plays old school juju, just like I K Dairo, they call him Adio Adeniji, that was the person I can say I sang with then as my boss, but it was not on purpose, when I finished my primary education in 1960, I did an entrance to Baptist Modern School in Ilaro. But I could not further because of the admission money which was just 5 pounds, so my brother took me to learn printing press for 5 years, which I established afterwards, I named it Samad Press, I knew my music career will be better in future each time I go to the musician’s place in Ilaro, so I didn’t relent.
When I finished learning printing press, there is a friend of mine in Owode, he was a photographer, when he brings jobs to me, back then it was just black and white pictures, but he used to bring leaflets used to sell drugs abroad which has different color separations, and he will tell me he wants to apply it to the pictures. Most of my seniors can’t do it but I will do it and my boss is always hailing me because I will do the job perfectly and beautifully, I thank God on the printing job, because I established, most of the companies in Lagos when they call me to sing for them at functions, I do distribute my printing press complimentary cards and they will all be amazed and ask me to come and see them in the office, the purchasing manager will have my name down and call me anytime they have a job for me. So my singing career kicked of on the 30th of September 1966, that was when I established my band, most of them are dead now. Though, we started not long then the Biafra war started and there was so much trouble, so I decided to go to Lagos, because a lot of people who want to call us for job were not opportuned, if we set our instruments, the soldier will come and beat us and destroy everything. So I decided to go to Lagos and look for where there is an hotel and play,though the soldiers do come to the hotel to beat us too and molest the women. In 1969 there is this hotel called Enjoyment Palace in Yaba, that was where Segun Bucknor played before I took over the place, the space has been turned to a supermarket now, it was one Baba Ajayi that owns the place, I have a PRO then, Femi Ewetade, if you look at my records then, he is the one who did the write ups on it, he got a deal for me in Coca Cola and they did a bill board for me, I employed a lady back then too from London, she is into drama in London, so I employed her to come and start doing drama where I played, by that time the likes of Ariya, Miliki were not in existence then, I am always a pioneer of so many things, but the problem I have till date is that I don’t usually get support from people, by the time I chose my record label I was under Abioro TYC, I did my first record in 1967, Adura and Olugbala Moo Saa De oo, but when there were too many artiste under him, he ignored me and never took care of me like he use to.
I later had my own label Adebowale Records, where I released more than ten albums, but the problem I had again was when I finished my records, the distributors won’t pay back, it’s killing for an artiste to have a label, because distributors won’t pay back. Artistes who were fortunate then and went to Delta records are lucky, but we under Africa label were just struggling. I am always inquisitive then, I want to know everything, I was later placed on EMI label, but TYC was selling for them, I went to EMI one day, there is this white man there, they told us they gave them just one record as samples, but when I go to Osogbo, Ibadan my records are been played, when I entered I saw them parking over 200 copies of my records and they were panicking when they saw me, they told me the records are distributed all over the world, they play it at cinemas and abroad too, back then in 1973 I was a member of Performing Right Society London, I was the one who used to meet the white man when he comes to Nigeria.
I later created a sound and call my music Saabada Sound, so people started naming their music too like Miliki, Synchro, Adawa and the rest, I just wanted a difference in my style of music, had it been Saabada music had a huge promotion and branding, it would have gone places, I left Saabada Central then because of the mad people who were being taking care of in the asylum, we don’t know how they found their way, they will jump into the premises and start chasing people so I left. There is this man I went to meet, his name is Skipo, his place is very close to Fela’s place, Fela took the front side then, I took the back side, Gilo Bar and I started playing there, that was where I did Festac 77, it was easy for the white people to come straight from Festac 77 to watch Fela perform, so when there is full house at Fela’s place they will come to my place.
In 77 when we finished Festac, I came back to Owode to establish the hotel we are right now. It was opened in Febuary 2nd 1980, I built it for three years, late Y S Sule was on band stand that day and people do patronized this place massively, after that, all the musicians always come here to play, the likes of Segun Adewale, Olando Owoh, Prince Adekunle and the rest are always coming here to play. When the first economic crunch came, things were worst, people stopped coming to the hotel, so I left for Lagos, I played in May Flower, Toyin Hotel, Western to mention a few, I later went to Shadow in Isolo way, I was there till 1994, when some fuji musicians came to perform and someone died during a fight in the show, I packed my things and came back home, that was 1994, for a while.
I was back in lagos in 1995 and I started looking for hotels to play, because I know that is where musicians can make it, when people go for their daily runs, they will come to the hotel to relax, I went to an hotel in Abule Egun, Ipaja area, the hotel was owned by a soilder, but things were not rosy for me, so I went to Car Wash, Majenta Hotel, I was passing by one day I just branched there and I saw that they had a big floor but there was not stage, not knowing the owner Chief Kaju knows me well, he was the marketing manager in breweries, where I use to go for printing jobs then.
I was talking about breweries with Kadi who owns Majenta, he just called me Saabada, that was when I knew he knows me well, not knowing he was Dolly;s brother, Dolly works with NTA then and he has taken most of my records home for his brother Majenta and I don’t know him. He asked what he can do for me and I told him am looking for a place to play and he said I have seen one already, that I should start immediately. My instruments were still at Abule Egun, and I told him where it was, that same night he gave me a canter to go pack my instruments, that was November 1996. When I started playing there, fuji musician has taking over everywhere, taking over the streets and bars, by the time I started Juju musicians started coming, I took Friday for my play day, I gave Opio Wednesday, I gave Segun Thursday that was how we were rolling and I was there for a while before I decided to come back home, I came back home on the 20th 2006, this hotel has been destroyed so I started doing the renovations, the money I spent was even more than what I used to build the place. My fans were complaining then that they can’t come to this long distance and sometimes when they come I would have been engaged, that was how I lost my fans and customers, I became a village musician. Then we started AJUMN, and we thank God for the process, if we had to wait for some people before the association was formed, there will be nothing like AJUMN at all, some leaders were just ready to share what is on ground, they don’t care how it got there but they want to share, we faced many challenges but we broke through, many never knew we will be able to pull it off, we used to chase some of the members all about to come, people worked for the success of the association still. I give thanks to God, AJUMN, and the woman like a man, Queen Ayo Balogun, God ordained her as a leader, she has really tried.
How were you able to manage with all the ace musicians you started with and there was no fight or crises between the juju musician then?
What I know is that, personally in my life, I believe knowing someone characters makes good friends, but this days if two drummers are friends, it’s not a real and true friendship, because everyone wants to be successful, but if one is liberal, there are lots of fight then, but out of more tha twenty records I have done, there is none with abusive words or idioms to abuse someone else, when God created someone specially, probably if I see someone to sponsor me back then, I might have died, those who had sponsors then, are not privilege to have what I have been blessed with by God today, I am thankful always, because I have seen a lot. During the life of MKO Abiola, anyone who can go to see him will be greatly blessed, he helped a lot of people but I was not fortunate.
As I am like this I have a lot of songs, but who is ready to sponsor me, my old records can still fetch me money till death because they are good tunes that can still make sales on the stand. Ebenezer Obey started before me with one year difference, he started in 1966, I started in 1967, and Sunny stared started after me. A lot of fight among musicians is caused by jealousy, but I don’t fight with anyone, people like Idowu Animashaun, was in the same bandry with Ebenezer Obey, I don’t think I played in Bandry more than twice, if I book one hotel to play today, I will book another tomorrow, before Dele came in, a hotel was built in Alawode then, Hotel Social, I met Dele there, it was in 1973 that I sat down and talked to Dele, I asked why I have not been seeing him at Kinihun Ifa, and he said he wanted to start his own band, all musicians are my friends, the last time we went for a meeting in Obey’s place, he was calling me Emperor and people were wondering, I am proud to say that I was the only person who did a record for the late Ewe Ologbeje when he died.
You see the leaders who are gone and few who are left are too selfish, if you have a child and he is bound to be successful, he will be successful, many of us today our children have stepped into our shoes, are we going to be jealous of them? But I have tutored myself on something, I can fast for one week straight without water or anything, I use to pray to God not to depend on any children before I eat. I am still looking for helpers and supporters to help me actualize my dreams because I still want to produce more songs, that is the main reason I collected city people’s contact because I know the media can help me a lot.
What will you say went wrong when Fuji took over from Juju and a lot of people were embracing fuji while juju was going down?
I can say categorically that lack of vigilance of the juju musician contributed to the downfall of juju, for instance, I am not saying I was a saint them, but I was not a womaniser, most of the juju musicians then, as soon as they dropped the guitar, they will be in an hotel with women, all the money they made at the show since morning will be spent lavishly on women, but I never did that, Mayflower that was the biggest hotel in Mushin then, I do play there, I was playing one day and I saw that one of my friend that was around was attempting to come and spray me money but he didn’t, so when I went to meet him after the break, he asked what I did for the prostitute in the hotel that he was keeping him on his sit and asked him not to come spray me money, so I went to meet the director of the hotel, Chief Folashade, so she called her and the lady said she should not mind me, that every time I come to play I will just leave without patronising them, I said am in trouble, the director bust into laughter, she even said am always angry anytime I see my boys with them too. I was so suprised, whereas I notice some of my colleagues engaged with them after the show. My brother I lived with in Owode was very disciplined and I also grew up in the mission house, I don’t have the grace to do all that, I established my printing press before sleeping with any woman, so that was how my life was.
So how were you able to keep women away from you back then?
Women who wants to have me were many then, but I applied wisdom, even when I was in Majenta women come from Ago Iwoye because of me, three of them might come, but I am always careful, am not saying am a saint, that was what took the guitar away from most of the juju musician, they know themselves, that was why fuji music became popular, you know it was just us and Barrister back in the days, but fuji took over, they will even set on the street to play, where a juju musician is sitting in the office waiting for customers to bring show, the fuji musician on sighting that something is going on like a party, next thing they just set up their instrument and start playing that was the method they used to penetrate into the market.
Who among the ace juju musicians do you still have a good relationship with till date?
All of then, Ebenezer Obey, Sunny, Dele, and the rest, we are still friends, we are all in the board of trustee of AJUMN, we made Sunny and Obey patrons, even of recent when obey did 23rd I told him that I want him to do something about my old records, since he has a studio and he promised to call me as soon as he his back from abroad.
What do you think can be done to rejuvenate juju music to what it was before?
What I know is that where fuji is playing and juju is also playing, juju will always make wave than fuji, even if the artiste is not a popular musician. What we call juju is similar to juju, the herbalist juju I mean, juju’s gathering is known to be calm, if you see a gentleman dancing fuji, class them, their dance won’t match the fuji they are dancing to, but if it’s juju, it is danced in a calm and unique way. The day me and Barrister played in Tom Jones many years ago, it was not up to an hour when he started that they started shedding blood, and I played till 5a.m in the morning and I or my fans were not attacked, when I go to play and am sitting down some hoodlums will come and ask for money for the land, I will tell them to be calm till we finish counting money, and when we are done, I will asked where they are from in Lagos and their family, how can I come to sing as old as I am and you will come and collect my money, I will curse them and they will leave, but you can’t do that now, because the person coming to ask you for money has a gun in his pocket so you will just surrender.
Looking at the likes of Wasiu Ayinde and the rest, they added something new to their music to keep them relevant in the market, is there anything you will like to add to your kind of music to keep you in the market as well?
There is nothing like I too know, even the worst of musician adds to his music, they are just entertainers, I have not seen a fuji musician doing the extra ordinary, it is what we have released that they are fine tunning, I have listened to some of my songs by another musician with a lot of beats in it that I almost didn’t know it was my song anymore, there is nothing new they are adding. Look at Wasiu he used to be Barrister’s parker, when he decided to do music there was one man in Idi Oro, Mushin area Rasheed, that was where I met wasiu, then he had no high tone, if he released his first records it was nothing to write home about, so he told Rasheed to do his own microphone seperatly. We went to play for one Mrs Sodeke in Abule oke then and Wasiu came to play too, people left his stand for mine then.
How do you see the criticism of the new generation musician, that their music has no content?
Those whose music had content and had support back in the days, where are they now, when fuji started and Obesere released an album then when Sani Abacha was the president, Obesere said the work loads on Sani Abacha is more than what he was singing so he can ban him, some papers did stories on it then, that is what you will look at. Back in the days when we want to do a record, we will go for audition, you can take as many as five songs and just two will be approved and you will have to come back, our records is supposed to be in the archives but who will take it there. Maybe you have heard a record I did in 1972, Ogun Gbomogbomo, about child kidnappers, the song done did many years ago and now kidnappers don’t kidnap kids alone, they now kidnap even father and mother. Sprituality was guiding the songs we sing then, it all depends on which one you want, some people are singing for singing sake, we do research on our songs, I was not the only one singing songs with good content, when I released my own song on operation feed the nation in 1977, I took a boy with me, he recorded a song on my label, I used his lyrics for my songs, there was nothing like piracy, it was his records that was trashed in NBC when they changed it to NTA during the renovations. It was the record I took to do my own songs on operation feed the nation. I do that to distict my songs, sometimes I use foreign records and we do reharsals, go and look at Commander’s record too and Ambrose Campbel, he changes the songs to yoruba.
Some of the new generation don’t even use the guiter like you were doing back then, they go for digital, what is your take on this?
What I see in that is laziness, these people don’t have time like before, if you meet the then musician in practice you will think it was more than the music, people were serious and creative, but this days no one is concerned about creativity as long as there is a ready made sound they can sing on. I was called on radio Ibadan not long ago, that was part of what I discussed, that was what caused the set back.
When you started your music many years ago, apart from the lack of funds, what do you think might help your music if you add it to you style?
Majority of the musician at the top today, I am saying it that they were helped by women, I told you earlier that I grew up in a mission house, all those things I did not add, anyone who has seen me with that should challenge me, how can you have a fans and you are dating the wife, when the husband is not home you will go and sleep with her, if you see me when I was young, I was very handsome, even men get jealous of me, if I want to go with the looks, I would have gone far, when we go to perform in ijebu, we will all meet at Ikorodu, the women would have cooked fresh fish for them, some of them spend three days in Ikorodu with women without going home, what I saw in juju, some of my colleagues saw times ten of it but today they have nothing, what am saying is that no matter the profession, if you ride to the top through women and there is problem with them, then set back will come in, they would have been cursed by women. What juju needs it’s simply publicity, both print and broadcast, to showcase us to the world. But some are successful and still successful, some of those who go down were cursed by women.
Which of your album was your best?
When I did operation feed the nation, it was the first record that sold 1000 copies, out of all my record, one man collected it from me in Ebute Metta and he bought everything, what am trying to say is that piracy has been destroying musician for a long time now, will I say it was that 1000 copies that was sold all over the world, why is it that we see records that the claim did not sell well in Onitsha and the rest?
How did you came about building a church and becoming a pastor?
Evangelism, I was not born in the church, my families used to be a non believers before we found Jesus and joined the church, I picked celestial after I have tasted Apostolic and the rest, I had a lot of people giving me messages, even people I don’t know or ever met in my life, for example I just go to somewhere and someone is telling me when and how I was born, but I do belive them, until I joined the celestial in 1977, some people who we use to talk, I told them what I was expecting. To me the celestial was different from what am seeing today, I taught it was straight to heaven, but I was not a smoth journey, at the end of the world many things will be revealed, there are some so called pastors that if you meet them and help them with their bags, that will be the beggining of problems in ones life, but spiritually and the grace I had for knowledge to stay peacefully in celestial. When they use to give me prophecy to build a church, it took me nine years before I made up my mind, I had more than eight cars in my compound, when I was left with one, and the only one was not even serviceable, that was when I decided to build a celestial church, I have had the prophecy to build a church in 1984 before I build the church in 1993 when I had nothing, I sold the engine of the lister generator in my hotel to start the foundation of my church, and I saw it at some point that if I don’t do celestial some people will not leave me alone.
Is there any of your children who is ready to take after you as a musician?
Of course, do you know Oludare, the popular musician, he is my son, when he was young I knew he sings, but he hides it from me, because I wanted him to go to school, I wanted him to be a doctor, his mark then deprived him from reading medicine, one of my children can also drum and one is very good in drama.