Protest in the music of Sikiru Ayinde Barrister

A glorious era in Fuji music ended on Thursday, December 30, 2010, with the interment of Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Balogun, better known as Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, in the sitting room of his Fuji Chambers residence at Isolo, Lagos.

It was the end of a riveting musical odyssey that began some five decades before and which saw the supremely gifted vocalist release about 60 studio albums and innumerable ‘live records’. Though his fans disagree, and very vehemently too, Barrister, as one of his mentees, K1 (Wasiu Ayinde Marshall) pointed out at a forum on the genre held earlier this year at Airport Hotel, Lagos, didn’t exactly ‘originate’ Fuji music — though he is acknowledged as coining the name. There were others like Sikiru Omo Abiba, Ayinde Muniru Mayegun, Ajadi Bashiru and Jibowu Barrister, all of Isale Eko (Lagos Island) who played the genre that he eventually christened Fuji, before him. The incontrovertible fact, however, is that Barrister gave it direction from its humble Islamic roots (as Ajisari/Were) and modernised it such that it became hugely attractive to the public and has survived the onslaught of all other forms of Nigerian popular music.

But because we tend to romanticise the memory of the dead and arrogate qualities that they didn’t possess to them, fans of the late Fuji maestro who hailed from Ibadan, Oyo State, have been very strident in their criticisms of K1 while forgetting to acknowledge the contributions of the equally talented Ayinla Kollington, Barrister’s great ‘rival’. Unarguably, the ‘competition’ between the duo brought out the best in them with lovers of Fuji the better for it.

“Barrister was also very keen on good governance, accountability, development, and the overall well-being of all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion and creed.”

Barrister, particularly, left a rich and varied body of work that fans and admirers continue to savour and in which we find diverse elements. Given Fuji’s Islamic roots, you find religion aplenty in Barrister’s music. We also have the life lessons or advice (imoran), social commentary and satire (efe), but protest would seem an anomaly, even to those familiar with his oeuvre.

The truth, however, is that the Fuji legend also dabbled into protest music. Of course, you can hardly tar him with the same brush as Fela Anikulapo Kuti who lived, breathed and died protest. The Abami Eda was a maverick through and through but Barrister was not cut from that kind of cloth. In fact, one wouldn’t be off the mark by calling him a ‘bourgeoisie’ of sorts. In Akin Adesokan’s excellent tribute, ‘Ayinde Barrister: Tribute to a True Exponent’, he recalls how the musician held court before a show with friends and admirers, mostly women, who came to pay homage.

However, like Fela and to a large extent other protest musicians, Barrister was also very keen on good governance, accountability, development, and the overall well-being of all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion and creed. In his early music, you would find mostly a combination of the aforementioned advice, satire and commentary. Obviously still trying to build his brand and given that most of his patrons at the time were politicians, he tried to stay politically correct, hence his being labelled a reactionary by some critics.

Album cover of Ayinde Barrister’s Current Affairs

However, the political and socio-economic dislocations of the mid 80s, caused by the military and their politician lackeys, and from which Nigeria has yet to fully recover, appeared to have introduced an interesting dialectic into Barrister’s music.

“From around 1989 until his death, the musician became more and more vocal, and often spoke out about the paradoxes of the Nigerian nation.”

He tried to remain faithful to his rich patrons, a number of whom were politicians; and also took up the cause of the people. The result was music which consequently incorporated advice, social commentary and protest.

From around 1989 until his death, the musician became more and more vocal, and often spoke out about the paradoxes of the Nigerian nation. He had, earlier in his 1983 album, ‘Oro Ibo’ (National Elections), called for a social safety net for poor Nigerians. He took this a notch higher in ‘Current Affairs’ (1989) where he raised alarm about the country’s drifting, cautioning that government, then led by military dictator Ibrahim Babangida, needed to act fast to turn the nation’s fortunes around. He also touched on the inflation and hunger then ravaging Nigeria, both of which continue unabated till date.  The following lines, delivered in a mixture of Yoruba and English, remain relevant in light of the country’s present circumstances:

“Daddy pelu mummy

Brothers and sisters

 Ewo mi naa, ebi npa mi

Ewo mi naa, mi o yokun

No early morning tea

No lunch for afternoon

For dinner, it’s doubtful

 No rice, no beans

Just drink garri and water.”

In ‘Fantasia Fuji’ (1991), he declaims military dictatorship while calling for a return to civilian rule. He sings in English:

Nigerians, which way are we going?

For military men to rule

Our nation at all times

Politicians, you better get together

To practise democracy

In the way it should be done

Let’s get together and do things in common

For the benefit of our nation

And the incoming generations

Let’s think twice, before we move (x2)

The artist toes a similar line in ‘Democracy’ (1999), the year Nigeria eventually returned to civilian rule after some 15 years under the military. He enthusiastically declares, “Democracy, welcome to Nigeria” in the intro before critically appraising Nigerian politics since independence in 1960. Not only did the maestro highlight the major events of each administration, he called out military dictators over scandals that occurred during their regime. He asks  General Muhammadu Buhari, now the country’s civilian president and  one of whose cardinal programmes is anti-corruption, what happened to the 53 suitcases cleared illegally at the Lagos Airport and the missing $2.8 billion oil money.

Album cover for Ayinde Barrister’s Fantasia Fuji

Like Fela who lambasted Chief MKO Abiola in ‘ITT’, Ayinde Barrister lampoons General Babangida’s regime as “Government of Chop Make I Chop” for the eight years it spent in power. He also references the many political assassinations – Kudirat Abiola and Pa Alfred Rewane – carried out by the goons of the late General Sani Abacha. Not only that, Barrister warned the civilians that took over to enthrone good governance through service, and leave lasting legacies.

He is especially pained by the devaluation of the naira, insecurity and impunity of the politicians, reminding that ultimate power rests with the electorate that voted them in.

Appearing to have at last found his voice hitherto silenced by materialism, the musician, in ‘Questionnaire’ (2004), becomes more strident in his calls for a turnaround in the country, while condemning the seeming cluelessness of the political class then led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.  The chorus, rendered in Yoruba, is poignant:

Omo Nigeria (X2)

Nibo la n lo o,

Oselu Nigeria, Olori Nigeria,

Ibi ti e ba n ko wa re, ewi fun wa naa

Rendered in English thus: Nigerians, where are we going /Nigerian politicians/ Nigerian leaders/Wherever you are taking us, do tell us.”

On this irresistible album with excellent instrumentation, the Fuji legend was at his acerbic best, condemning the increase in the pump price of fuel and the general impoverishment of citizens. He warned politicians of the consequences if they forgot the needs of the people, citing the ‘Ghana Treatment’ (a coup in which several political leaders were killed). He is especially pained by the devaluation of the naira, insecurity and impunity of the politicians, reminding that ultimate power rests with the electorate that voted them in. Singing in Yoruba, he warns the leaders not to equate themselves to God following their ascension to power. Those who misbehave, he says, should know they would be voted out in four years. Despite all his railings against the injustice, Barrister returns to one of the staples of his music: prayer. He ends the album with prayers for Nigeria, that all will be well.

‘Controversy’ (2005) was Barrister’s second to the last album, before his demise five years later. Here, he laments the dirty politics in the country and the secession threats by Nigeria’s federating units, especially the majority Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. He reiterates the need for a national conference of ethnic nationalities for all to air their grievances so that the country can move on. He doesn’t fail to highlight the continuing pauperisation of the people, why they need to rethink their sheepish obedience and how leaders become inured to the yearnings of Nigerians once they enter Aso Villa. Nigeria’s myriad of issues, he warns in Yoruba, should not be taken lightly.

Oro Naija o (X2)

E maa je’a f’oro Naija s’awada.

Sadly, seven years after his death, the leaders, and to a large extent, a submissive followership, remain intent on taking Nigeria’s matters with levity.


About the Author
Akintayo Abodunrin read sociology at the University of Ibadan and has been reporting the arts since 2003 when he joined the Nigerian Tribune. He worked at the rested NEXT Newspaper from 2008 to 2011 before returning to Sunday Tribune as an arts/culture columnist. He is currently Editor at CITY VOICE (a Lagos-centric publication).


This article is published as part of Music (That) Matters, an initiative of Goethe-Institut Lagos in commemoration of the 2017 World Music Day. The series is aimed at documenting personal memories and social histories relating to the power of music. All rights reserved by the author.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *