Alhaji Chief (Dr.) Sikiru Ayinde Ololade Olayinka Balogun Barrister, popularly known as Chief Sikiru Anyide Barrister (a.k.a. Barry Wonder), was laid to rest at his "Fuji Chambers' residence in Lagos yesterday December 30, 2010. The great Nigerian pop musician and inventor of the popular music genre--Fuji-passed away on December 16 in London after a brief illness. The Ibadan native who went on to global fame was one of the truly significant figures of African popular music in his lifetime. His passing diminishes us greatly and as someone born in the same city—Ibadan—where he was born, his death highlights the increasing loss of learned interlocutors of Ijinle Yoruba (the essence of Yoruba culture) in this context.
African popular music was the first truly global African art form, in the sense of its deep penetration into all spheres and the deep appreciation of audiences across the globe. Central figures of this musical renaissance (to name a few) range from megastars such as Fela, now a household name with a major New York-Broadway play in his honor; King Sunny Ade, the guitar wizard and bandleader; Sade, our very own Diva; the incomparable Ndlovu Miriam Makeba; the dean and doyen of Congolese (Zaire) pop music—Tabu Ley and Mbilia Bel, to the younger generation of African rap music stars in Nigeria, South Africa and other contexts. These artistes play to full houses all across the world and their music pushes against the generally negative image of Africa in the global arena.
I grew up listening to all these musicians and also to very deep genres of Yoruba music in Ibadan, the city of my childhood, in the rapidly changing neighborhood of Oke Ado. Shopkeepers kept up a din of popular music blasting out of loudspeakers facing the street and shops selling music albums (which mostly composed of pirated cassette tapes of important musical acts) advertised their suspect ware with great fanfare. You could hear the newer popular music genres competing with traditional Ewi (poetry) chants but more importantly, listen to the emerging combination of traditional Yoruba music with contemporary music that formed the basis of music by important singers such as Apalamaestro Haruna Ishola, Waka Queen Salawa Abeni, the Chief Commander of Cool Ebenezer Obey, highlife guru I. K. Dairo, and of course, the songmaster himself Sunny Ade.
Anyide Barrister came out of this mix as a young go-getter in the 1970s as an exponent of a form of popular music derived from Were, Sakara, Juju, Apala, Gudugudu and Yoruba praise poems. According to a biography of the artiste,
Chief Doctor Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (born: Sikiru Ayinde) has played an essential role in the evolution of the music of his homeland. The leader of a 25-piece band, the Supreme Fuji Commanders, and a smaller group, the Africa Musical International Ambassadors, Barrister has continued to be one of the leading purveyors of fuji, an exciting, amplified dance music combining juju, apala, and traditional Yoruba blues that he introduced in the late-'70s. Barrister has been singing most of his life. By the age of ten, he had mastered a complex, Yoruban vocal style that was traditionally performed during the holy month of Ramadan. Although he briefly attended a Muslim school, Yaba Polytechnic, in 1961, financial difficulties prevented him from continuing. Leaving school, he found employment as a stenographer. During the Civil War that swept through Nigeria between 1967 and 1970, he served in the Army. Signed by the Nigeria-based Africa Songs, Ltd. label, Barrister recorded many groundbreaking singles during the 1970s and '80s. With his heartfelt vocals set to a rhythmic mix of talking drums, claves, bells, shekere, drum set, and Hawaiian-style guitar, he laid the foundation for fuji, which he named after Mt. Fuji, the Japanese mountain of love. The style has been described as "juju without the guitars" and a "percussion conversation."
Like all families in the area, my parents collected many albums of music from these notable artistes and used these for the myriad social gatherings and parties that were and remain a staple of Yoruba life. You really haven’t partied until you attend a Yoruba social gathering, which are convened to celebrate important events such as birth, funerals and every milestone of life in-between. Quite often, these parties were organized on a large scale, the most popular format being to close off a street at both intersections, throw awnings over the enclosed space and have the party right there. These kinds of parties usually took place at night.
The prevalence of music everywhere in my youth meant I was very attracted to the burgeoning genre of Yoruba pop music. It was literally the soundtrack of my childhood and I have carried the songs inside me since then, playing the few albums I had over and over again until I had all the lyrics memorized. Discovering all these musicians and their songs on YouTube was like stumbling across a very old friend, and this makes YouTube one of the most important technologies of our time. I have since renewed my acquaintance with several of these musical genres and learned of many more musical acts that I remembered dimly.
Sikiru Anyide Barrister will forever be one of my favorite musicians. Although many younger acts have since mutated the Fuji genre he founded into much more scintillating styles of music (for example Shina Peters and Kollington Anyila), I consider Barrister to be peerless in every respect. He was a truly globally aware musician with a very complex cultural background. He worked as a stenographer in his youth and served in the Nigerian army. Barrister spoke flawless Hausa language, was extremely learned in Ewi and indigenous Yoruba panegyrics, and as a devout Muslim, quite learned in Arabic and Koranic verses. He sang sometimes in English (I didn’t much care for such songs: they were vastly inferior to the extraordinary flow of his high-speed Yoruba versemaking), and has performed all over the world to adoring audiences. It is hard not to dance when barrister launches into his fast-paced songs but to get the best sense of his depth as an artist, you need to listen to his slower paced early music when he was still very much channeling extremely cogent Yoruba philosophy.
All things come to an end. Barrister once produced an album-track titled “Agbara Iku” (the Power of Death). He was mourning the death of the great Nigerian soccer player Mudashiru Lawal, of the famed Ibadan Shooting Stars Football Club but you could hear him singing of the inevitability of death for all humans, himself included: “…Ki’se ba se pe to, ki’se ‘yen lo se koko, Oun t’agbe’le Aiye se iyen lo se pataki” (it is not how long we live that is of essence, but how well we do in the span of life we had that’s important). As he noted, there is no stopping death who speaks all languages and doesn’t care for human vanity. The great leveler finally came calling for Alhaji Chief Dr. Sikiru Anyide Barrister. We can take comfort in the versemaker's exemplary achievements and also in knowing that he has ascended to the great concert hall in the sky. Akanbi Opo, Omo Agbajelola Salami ni Ibadan, orun re o!
The attached videos showcases two styles of Sikiru Anyide Barrister's music: one from earlier in his career when he mostly adapted a pop music form derived from indigenous Yoruba musical genres, and the other from his later Fuji genre of music, a fast paced dancehall style invented for urban Lagos but which has since emerged in global space in tandem with the expanding Diaspora of Yoruba and Nigerian peoples.