Many people don’t know that Waka Queen, Alhaja Salawa Abeni started her musical career at the age of 13 and she grew to become the big artiste that she is today.
In this recent interview with City People duo of SEYE KEHINDE & SUNDAY ADIGUN Salawa who recently turned 60 revealed how she got her big break in music and how her popular song Gentle Lady Ni Mi, Mi Onse Fighter… Further Catapulted her career to greater heights. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Does that mean nobody taught you how to sing?
No! In fact, my own case is even different with God. The couple that brought me up are late now, Mr & Mrs Ganiyu Otun, they were the ones that brought me up in Ipogun under Epe, Lagos State. My mum is from Epe, my father is from Ogun Water Side. I came from a polygamous house. My mum was sick for a long time and I had no choice than to go and stay with this family. I was first staying with our big mummy before she got married. I do see those women that were singing then and I loved them but my daddy didn’t want me to sing. He was so scared because he believed that you have to be a fetish before you can succeed as a musician, a female one for that matter. I remember when my daddy was about to go to Mecca then, he called me, he said “Ibiwunmi, I want you to forgive me”. He said he has offended me, I said you did not offend me, then, he started explaining, that when he noticed that I wanted to be a musician, he went to meet his friend, that he needed something to make me forget that idea of going into music. And his friend actually stopped him from doing that, when he showed him the repercussion of someone that his parents did the same thing for. The boy developed an interest in singing but the parents stopped him, now he become a nonentity. So, the man encouraged my dad to leave me alone and let me be. That was what my father told me and asked for my forgiveness before he travelled to Mecca then. I told him I have forgiven him, after all, I am one of his children sending him to Mecca now. This our work then was very tough. It was a thug of war and I knew he was trying to protect me. Then, while we were young, they might pair you with elderly people for both of you to sing, at times I will hold mic and any engine and speakers, my equipment will explode. I have experienced a situation whereby we are two on the bandstand, different stages, and it was raining heavily on my side and there was no rain on the other side.
There was a day I mounted the stage and I couldn’t sing. It was a serious battle. I have met most of the older musicians. I met our father Yusuf Olatunji, he did not do any evil to me, I was only explaining how I jumped through all the stages. Myself and late Ayinla Omowura have played together in Mushin. Lots of people will come to my side because I was young then but I wasn’t able to sing. I played in one afternoon along Omu Ijebu one day and I wanted to come to Ibefun to sing and I had an accident that almost claimed my life.
Our work then was very tough, and that was what made my daddy insist that I will not sing. But all I know is that I am gifted, with the beautiful voice God gave me. I was 13 years when I started in 1974. I did my first album in 1976. I went to my first Hajj in 1978, then our economy was so nice, we usually release 3 albums in a year. Then, I was staying at Waterside along Epe.
Which of your songs brought you to the limelight?
When I did my Vol. 1, it actually brought me to the limelight. Why? Because I was young, some people were saying I was 9, some said I was 10 and all that, and they wanted to see that little girl, some even said it was my mother that always carried me to shows. Meanwhile, my mother never followed me to any show, you know I said she was sick for a very long time. But then, I had a woman who many believed is my mother, in fact, I call her my mother till date, Alhaja Mama Kudira, she was around on Sunday for my birthday party, though she is aged now.
But we always go to shows together then. My brother, I just thank God. I have passed through a lot. If I start talking about my journey in this career, we won’t stop today.
Which one was your first album?
The one I did for Murtala Muhammed, then followed by Vol. 2, “Iba Agba”. Then Vol. 3 is “Eni Ba Sun Koji”, after Eni Ba Sun, I did “Ibi Lere”. That is Alhaji Wasiu’s favourite song. He has called me before to sell the master tape to him because he loves that album so much. I did “Abo Mecca” I did 15 LP, at Leader Records. When I left Leader Records, I did for Lati Alagbada, I did for Sony Music, I did for Olumoko, Kollington Records before Sony. I just thank God for life.
What really inspired the “Gentle Lady” album?
It was when Alhaji Kollington Ayinla and I separated. I was living with my brother in Alimosho. One day I was taking my children to school and one bus driver hit my car. Instead of him to apologise, he started abusing me. When I came down from the car and he noticed I was the one, he started misbehaving, shouting at the top of his voice. Before we know it somebody had gone to inform my brother. I knew what was coming and I quickly spoke to the driver, that, if you like yourself just leave here now, if my brother should meet you here, you are in trouble. He left, I picked my bumper and at that moment I got the inspiration. “Gentle Lady Ni Mi, Emi Ki Se Fighter O Keni Keni Ma Sin Mi Lo Si Bi Ija” I started singing that until I dropped my children in school. It was when I got home I sang it into the midget, and I added other lyrics to it.
And that is just it, it was as if it’s my only record, up till date, it is still trending. And then, everything was okay for me until I lost my son, Lanre in 2001. I lost everything. To me, I thought that was my end but God said no, that I am still going to be somebody in life.
Lanre’s death caused me a lot of damages. My career nosedived. But in all, I thank God.
What is the difference between Waka, Apala and Fuji?
There is no difference. It’s all the same thing. Everybody just names their own type of music as they like. Some people call their own Apala, some call their own Sakara, some people call their own Juju, some even call their own Hip-Hop, but we are all singing songs. Everybody just names their music the way they like it. I am not the creator of Waka, I met Waka from the likes of Mama Batili Alake and the rest. All these women are old enough to be my mother, if not my grandmother. Maybe because I developed an interest in it as a small girl then, I chose to call my own music Waka. I am not the creator of Waka, I just modernised my own in a way that this present generation will grow up to know Salawa Abeni.
Is there a difference between Queen Salawa Abeni on stage and Queen Salawa Abeni at home?
Yes! There is a difference. As Queen Salawa Abeni on stage, the crowd is my inspiration. When I start jumping on stage, you will not believe I am the one. That is Salawa Abeni on stage, with my beautiful voice. Salawa Abeni out of the stage, I am very homely, very truthful, I am not an outgoing type. What I can’t do, I will not promise you. And I don’t look down on people. That is Salawa Abeni for you.
I will tell you who you are, who I am, if you like me, fine, if you don’t like me, no problem. That is the difference between Salawa Abeni on stage and out of the stage.
Anytime you look at your children, what always comes to your mind?
Big Sheff chose to be a musician. I remembered he called me one day, after secondary school, that he wants to be a musician, I said no problem, there is nothing wrong with it, but do me a favour, I want you to have your first degree, I don’t want you to be like me, I didn’t go beyond elementary primary six. But you must get your first degree and he agreed. I am blessed with the children God gave me and I thank God for their lives.