•ARA The Drummer Tells City People
•Talks About Her New Single
Congratulations on your new single, tell us a bit about it?
Omo Yoruba was written shortly before Covid-19. I performed it for the first time in UNILAG during one of my project concerts (I Love My Culture), I wrote Omo Yoruba because I saw the need to remind our people, our race of how special we are, of what makes us unique, of our cultural heritage and pride of how unique the Yoruba race is in the entire world. I felt the need to do this, because as a cultural brand I realised that yes, our people are beginning to re-align if I will put it that way with our culture, especially ever since his Imperial Majesty, the Ooni of Ife became King and a lot of youth, fell in love with him and he made it his paramount assignment to speak, to project, to encourage people to appreciate and embrace the Yoruba culture. The sons and daughters of Oodua, all over the world and all Obas of the Yoruba culture, so I was inspired by seeing all of that and making our countries like Jamaica, Brazil, Argentina etc even here in Africa, Benin Republic and all over the place, it gives me so much joy and pride that there are people numbering over a hundred and 5 million all over the world who are decendants of the Yoruba race. So, I felt the need that those of us here should be reminded of this special and unique race, Yoruba (Omo Oodua).
You did some songs in the video, tell us the making of the video?
The making of the video took place during the last Ayangalu festival place in Ile-Ife. I seized the opportunity to move my technical team down during the festival and took some very beautiful unusual shots and we also took some shots in some remote parts of the grand resort in Ile-Ife, particularly the Adire Hall, Adire Oodua, still celebrating our culture. I am putting on fabric from Adire Oodua, still celebrating our culture, so the video was done in Ile-Ife.
Is the Ayangalu festival about drums also?
Yes, Ayan is Ilu (drum) Ayangalu and it’s being brought to the forefront because I also got to know about this recently, that Ayangalu was a female. I shed tears of joy or relief because, I had been making some calls on the fact that the foremost female drummers before I came into existence, I feel the need to celebrate them. To honour them, because apparently, they were never celebrated, which is a reason why when I am introduced as the first female talking drummer. I said no, I am the first celebrated female talking drummer on world stage, it was during this festival. Thanks to our father, His Royal Majesty, the Ooni of Ife, I got to know that Ayangalu was a female, through Ooni of Ife. So I made some calls, some school of thoughts feel that you could not really discern the sex of Ayangalu, it could be male, it could be female, which is actually the case in the spiritual world. But it was more or less confirmed that she was a female, which also explains the woman of old that I used to see in my dreams when I picked up my drum because I called my mummy (may her soul rest in peace) a lot of times, when I started playing the talking drum and I was getting this visitation from this woman of old. Because the setting was definitely not in this century, so I told my mum that I was seeing somebody. I explained what she was showing me in the dream and my mum said, that is your great, great grandma of your root or lineage to the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Abiodun Atiba, now, it surprised me so much that the very place that Ayangalu staged last in Ile-Ife (Atiba) who took her to Oyo, so more or less I was actually being referred to as Ayangalu reincarnate and that is why I was able to pick the drum and make a success of it. Even without knowing this historical background. I always felt the need and the push, in my sub-consciousness that the drum I carry is not just for entertainment, it is a platform to send a message to the world. It is not just about music of course, it was once a means of communication before it became a musical instrument. During this last Ayangalu festival, it was confirmed to me that definitely God and my ancestors prepared me and chose me for this role that I play today.
At the time you started, what was your mum’s reaction?
My mum was not surprised.
What age was it?
I started drumming around age 5. My mum was not surprised that I took up the drum, because I was a very unusual child, very unusual. A lot of things happened during my pregnancy as she told me and after she gave birth to me, and picking up the traditional drum was not new to my mum. The Talking drum came, I think in Primary 5, I went to my great grandfather’s palace in Ondo and there is this old man in the palace that plays the Iyaalu, he was known in Ondo then. So, I summoned courage to meet the old man. One day and I told him I want to play his drum. Then we had gone home, we lived in Warri then, so, I picked the drum and I hit it. That sound never left me till today, the sound from the Iyaalu never left me, so when their brand is being created and I was told to play different instruments, one day like a Dejavu, I said to my then manager it’s as if this has happened from somewhere, but I just could not pick it, so , I said to my management, that the drum, that looks like a doll bell is what I want to play, so, my mum was not surprised.
Does it run in your mum or Dad’s side?
My mum’s side, Yes I have cousins who play the talking drum. Taiwo is a drummer, Ibitoye and he is left handed, my nephew, my younger brother Otunba Olakunle, Hassan Olamuyiwa also plays, my nephews in the U.K., U.S. and here in Nigeria are interested in the drums and other drums as well.
So how did you start from age 5 as you grew up?
From age 5, I grew up in Warri. I was in Nana Primary School and the Head of Cultural Group, so over time, my dad was transferred from Warri to Akure. My dad was the first senior manager of UBA branch in Warri, then Bendel State. He was transferred to head UBA Akure branch, I attended Elush Aighegbe Grammar School, I had a school mother, Iyabo Ajikobi, she passed on when I was in school, she was the head of Lapasco family (a musical group). One day, I followed her to her rehearsals and their drummer was not present, I told her I can drum and I did, I went to an all girls school, every one knew me in Akure then, I was a tomboy. I attended so many competitions and more, I took ill in 1987 and I almost died. My dad could not go to work, nobody knew what was happening to me, I was taken to different places, in fact, the doctors told my parents to seek the help of the traditional doctors, so one day, I don’t know where my parents went as they already said I am Ogbanje, mermaid, etc.
So, my dad came to my room and said you have always wanted to be a star, promise me you will not go. They have bathed me with so many things before then. The next day, I stood up from my bed because, my father said, he promised to make me star. 1988 my dad took me to OSRC, where I was interviewed in a talent hunt. My late cousin who was a Catholic and a choir, brought their choir to back me up and I remembered the 2 songs I sang on state then was Odo Re, Ki A Sure, the second one was Ore Bi Jesu Ko Si Laiye Yi. Meanwhile, I was in school debate competition already, my first release which I recorded was from Mandela, it was played everywhere then, on the radio, in the 80’s and I used the second track of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the Umquoboti sound. By the time I left secondary school, I had met a friend of mine, who happened to be my first love who was very close to the person who later became the head of my management team. I said I want to sing, they said no we are not ready now, I took myself to Mr Chris Nwado of Sunny Music, it was there I met Lagbaja on Adeniyi Jones, I recorded my demo then in 1992, it was there I met the Eedris of The Remedies. But I had a huge crush on Eedris then, my elder brother came home from the UK, he took me to Uncle Majekodunmi’s place in Yaba, where we used to manage then. It was there I met Tunde & Wunmi Obe, D1, Baba Keke, Daddy Showkey, Daddy Fresh, I still have the autographs in my small book till today. I also went to Fela’s Shrine, but I could not go in because of the smoke. I don’t know why I did not go in and I never saw him live, which was one of my regrets, but today Egbon Femi Kuti is my Egbon. Over the years, I did my best, I got my own record label, I worked with them, they saw the best in me and brought out the best in me, took me around the world, my contract expired in 2007 and I left, I have never looked back, and here we are today.
For how long?