Dear reader, sequel to the kind notice sent to me by Musiliu Haruna-Ishola viz, the 39th remembrance anniversary of his late father, our dear Apala music icon, the late Alhaji Haruna Ishola, MON, I was motivated to update the talk I gave on 9th November 2013, the 30th remembrance of “Baba n’ Gani Agba” in Ikeja, Lagos State. I was invited to deliver the talk by the publisher of “City People” magazine, Dr. Seye Kehinde.
This tribute is what we Ibadan call “Tatalo” i.e a refreshened pot of gbegiri soup. Such soup is, oftentimes, more palatable than the original stew. Remember the nickname of Ibadan’s superstar ‘Dundun & Sekere’ musician? Atinsola Alamu of the Ajalaruru Family, Olorisa-Oko Area, Ayeye, Ibadan.
I wish to commend Musiliu for his kind invitation to me. He has been close to me since he volunteered to play at my investiture as the first external Distinguished Speaker/Honoree by the Law Department of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State in 2016. Below is my 2013 talk.
The king of Apala music genre in Nigeria, nay West Africa, Haruna Ishola Bello Eegunjobi, popularly known and called Haruna Ishola Baba n’ Gani Agba’ died on November 9, 1983 in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State, his hometown, aged 64.
His family, in conjunction with City People Magazine Management, headed by Dr. Seye Kehinde, the Publisher, held a Symposium in honour of the great artiste / 1 philosopher in Ikeja, Lagos State on Wednesday, 6th November, 2013. The ceremony was chaired by a former Chairman/Managing Director of Daily Times (Nigeria) Plc, Chief Tola Adeniyi; I was the Guest Speaker.
Below is an edited version of my talk which made references to my 29 December, 1974 column (it’s What’s Happening by ’Lekan Alabi) in the now defunct Sunday Sketch (page 7), my book, for Public Good, and Haruna Ishola – The Life and Times of Baba N’ Gani Agba, edited by Drs. Ajetunmobi, B. Osiyale, and D. Sogbesan, all of the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijegun, Ogun State. Incidentally, I chaired the book launch last year at the University. I lean on that book.
Haruna Ishola Adebayo Bello was born into the celebrated Yoruba race. He was born into the family of Bello Eegunjobi in Ijebu Igbo. Eegunjobi was his grandfather while Bello was his father. His mother was Mrs. Adefowoke Bello Eegunjobi. Family accounts indicate that Eegunjobi was a traditional physician, a trade which his son, Bello, also plied. The name Eegunjobi connotes someone connected with the cult of Egungun masquerade which partly explains the religious background and beliefs of Haruna Ishola’s parents. Family sources claim that Bello Eegunjobi inherited the art of singing from his father who loved singing. Singing was a common practice among Yoruba priests, physicians, diviners, and cultists, who chanted incantations, dirge, Ifa poetry, and historical phenomena as the case demanded in their operations. Yet singing did not circulate among a particular people alone. Apart from singers who sang songs associated with their calling, like the hunters who chant Ijala, singing comes to the African very naturally.
‘Eruna’ is an Ijebu word or concept for a child that had long been awaited before his eventual birth. Authenticated accounts say that Haruna’s mother waited a long time before the child’s conception. This pregnancy lasted for more than the normal nine months before the child was eventually born. The birth of Eruna was a blessing and a source of great joy to the family, because of the long period of waiting. According to this source, the child was born with fully-formed set of teeth, an unusual experience regarded in Yoruba parlance as Eenmo (mystery). He later adopted ‘Ishola’, the name of one of the contemporary musical group leaders with whom he performed. Occasionally, he represented Ishola successfully on stage performances. 2 As a result of the quality of his voice, people preferred his singing to the original Ishola’s. ‘Ishola’ thus became a trade name which Eruna adopted after the passage of his comrade.
It is evident that Haruna Ishola was not born with any silver spoon in his mouth. He could not be sent to school to receive western education when he was of school age. However, he attended the local Qur’anic school at Ijebu Igbo where he received Islamic education. This experience gave him the necessary spiritual and moral background that would be so prominent in his music in the years following. As a young man, he started a vocation as a bicycle repairer under the tutelage of a certain Yusuf at Ijebu Igbo. He also acquired training as a blacksmith, a renowned vocation among the Ijebu. He produced for sale several metal ear lobes locally called Ikoti. As a result of the low income generated from such crafts as bicycle repair and blacksmithing, most youths of Haruna Ishola’s time sought and seized opportunities to join their relatives in urban and sub-urban areas where their talents could better be explored and appreciated.
Following the trend and what was in vogue, he eventually opted for Lagos, the then British Colony, and later the capital city of Nigeria. This was a major milestone because Lagos was seen as the London of Nigeria. In Lagos, he lived with one of his uncles in line with Yoruba ‘ebi-kinshi’ traditions. While in Lagos, the music in him was fired by music competitions among ‘were’ groups. ‘Were’ was a type of singing which was principally to wake up Muslims to take the early meal of the day during the Ramadan fast.
For the period that ‘Were’ lasted, the whole of Lagos was always electrified by the performances. Youths and adults, Muslim and non-Muslims alike were always interested in the music performed by each group. The songs and general comments on the immediate past performances often held sway till the next season of ‘were’. If his training in bicycle repair killed his interest in music, his journey to Lagos revived it. For instance, his observation of ‘were’ music presentation and competition repositioned and inspired him. In an interview, Haruna Ishola reminisced on his musical renaissance in him. According to him, in the early 1940s, there were keen competitions among the rank 3 and file of ‘were’ entertainers. Around this time, the ‘Ajiwere’ from Itafaji, Italaagbe in Isale Eko used to hold competitions at Idumota in Lagos to choose the best ‘were’ group.
Oral sources indicate that Haruna married nine wives. He is believed to have had thirty-two children. These children, male and female alike, are found in different walks of life and are known to be successful. One of them is named Musiliu, who is emerging in the mould of his father in Apala music.
Ishola’s musical genre was Apala and he was known to be one of its founders and originators. 1948, he produced his first record titled Orimolusi Adeboye. The record did not sell as much as he had expected. In 955, he made another record of the late Orimolusi Adeboye on Decca (West Africa) label. This was the record that brought him recognition and fame as a talented musician; since then, he became a household name. He travelled the world propagating and establishing his music, By 1960, his music had become strong enough to complete favourably with high-life, juju, and sakara, both in stage performance and in the production of records. By 1965, he had firmly established himself and carved a niche for his genre and himself. The major turning point in his life was the release of his first LP titled Oroki Social Club which sold over 5 million copies between 1971 and 1983. In 1981, in recognition of his contribution to the cultural, social, and economic awareness of the country, the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, presented him with the Member of the Order of Niger (MON) award. He practiced the things he preached in his records, paying tribute to imaginary superiors, his contemporaries, and those coming behind. He taught that’ punctuality is the soul of business…’ He was always punctual and very hardworking, a combination of factors necessary for success.
Haruna Ishola was noted for being a disciplinarian not only as a father, husband, and head of family but also as a band leader. Even with many wives, he understood the psychology of women and intra family intrigues. He was able to effectively control his household. Prince Adewuyi, now in his mid 70s was the official driver of Haruna Ishola in the 1960s. Today, the prince is my temporary driver. He attests to all the virtues of his former boss. 4 He had zero tolerance for laziness and other forms of delinquency. He demonstrated fortitude and hard work which members of his band acquired, No member of his band would misbehave and get away with it. This explains in part the factors that encouraged the success of his band. Insider accounts reveal that he would wake up either in the middle of the night or early in the morning to practice his songs or to edit some of the compositions made for him by his composer.
Like every other human being, Haruna Ishola had his dark days, for most musician, their dark days are periods of low patronage, when waxed records are not selling as expected, when moral and economic gains become low, and during domestic crises or prolonged illness. A major painful experience for Haruna Ishola, among other’s was the death of one of his most beloved wives Alhaja Sidikatu, popularly known as ‘Iya Segun’. Her death was a weighty blow to Haruna because they were in Yoruba terminologies,’ kori kosun’, ‘oloro ara won’, that is, close associates of each other. One other knotty issue was the failure of his Phonodisk Record Studio, the first multi-track recording studio in West Africa at Awa Ijebu.
Early members of his band were, Raufu Ojubanire (lead drummer), Adisa Aniyameta, Shittu Bello, Wahabi Olori, Olaide Ojoge, Adaran Gabriel, Kabiru Olorunsebi, Mosuidi Adeniran, Fowosire Bakare, Alabi Labaeka and Ambali Daropale.
The year 1974 was described in many circles as Nigeria’s grooviest year ever, socially that is. The number of records (LPs) released by Nigerian artistes that year was said to have outstripped that of any other year.
It was an exceptional period of glory for the music-conscious people of this country. A number of our artistes like Twins Seven Seven, Fela Ransome-Kuti Victor Uwaifo, and Joni Haastrup bagged honours for the country abroad.
So also did the year give birth to a lot of budding stars like Yomi Akins and Pick Peter. These two young musicians then contributed their own little quota to the upliftment of the social scene.
I, in my capacity as the social page editor of the Sunday Sketch interviewed a cross section of people in 1974 who had been following the scene with keen interest. Below are their different and independent opinions on who and who had contributed 5 more to the social scene, the best singer/composer, the most popular band etc in 1974. An expatriate lady who claimed she was married to a Nigerian went a long way by preferring the very local sounds of Yusufu Olatunji, Haruna Ishola, and Ayinla Omowura, “The local sound of Nigeria is perhaps the best original piece of music in Africa. The rhythm is good and lyrics very superb” she adds.
Alhaja Bose Sadiq who was a trader said “Personally both Haruna Ishola and Yusufu Olatunji have been the most hardworking musicians judging by the rate at which they release LP albums”.
Tracks played at the 2013 talk were: (1.) Ka s’eba f’Oluwa, (2.) Aiye O Maa Fe Wa, (3.) Puntuality, (4.) Kpalongo, (5.) Awolowo Kaabo, (6.) Oun to Mu Baale Ile, (7.) Enu Dun Ro’fo, (8.) Kolawole Mechanic
(9.) Suletapa, (10.) Ishola See, (11.) Orin to Mo’gbon Wa, (12.) Oroki Social Club .
Conclusion I thanked City People Magazine for the invitation and the attention of the audience. Not all modern day artistes are empty and bad; some show talent, maturity, and dedication. However, majority of our artistes need to promote moral and religious values. Acceptable public norms should always be considered, respected, and promoted. May the soul of Alhaji Haruna Ishola continue to rest in Aljannah. Amin.
8 th November,
2022. Celebrating the late Haruna Ishola, 39 Years After. By Senior Chief ’Lekan Alabi, D. Litt (h.c). Maye Olubadan of Ibadanland and the first Culture Ambassador of the National Museum and Monument, Ile-Ife.