For my 78th birthday party on January 13th, 2022, it is going to be a joyous celebration of the abundant blessings and limitless mercies of the Almighty.
As has been the case on previous birthdays, the music of the deities – “Sakara” – will be live (and livestreamed in direct competition with Netflix).
It is not strictly correct to insist that “Sakara” music belongs to the Isale Eko area of Lagos. It was actually “imported” from Ilorin but was deftly ingrained into the psyche and lifestyle of Lagosians – in the 1950’s and thereafter. It is still waxing strong.
It was my father, Chief J.K. Randle, who introduced me to Sakara music. Maybe it was the other way round: he introduced Sakara music to me when I was only a kid. From then on, it became an enduring passion and a joyous adventure into a world where, late in the evenings (and sometimes into the early hours of the morning), Sakara music was available to be relished by the rich and poor, without distinction between the powerful and the powerless. Both Christians and Moslems (as well as other faiths) found common ground while savouring mellifluous Sakara music, regardless of its repetitive rhythm and improvised lyrics. The composition was a direct assault on classical music. It was free-flowing and totally unstructured, as well as disingenuously creative. The venue was nearly always improvised in the Isale Eko or Okepopo areas of Lagos. All it took was “Atibaba” (raffia mats and canopy) planted bang in the middle of Tokunbo Street or Isalegangan. Whenever it was the turn of Campos Square to host the aficionados of Sakara, the neighbouring houses made a carnival of it. Nobody complained about the music or the abundance of alcohol that accompanied it and served as the lubricant for merriment.
Quite often, my father would host parties in our house with Sakara as the main fare. The late Chief A.S.E. Agbabiaka, who was then the most senior Nigerian police officer and an old boy of King’s College, was undoubtedly a great fan and promoter of the music of his hometown, Ilorin.
What was fascinating about the pulsating tempo of Sakara music was that it seamlessly combined humour with satire, which stretched into sarcasm. It was mostly about the excesses of those in power and the extravagance of the affluent. Ironically, those who were being savaged were right there, lapping it all up!! They never took offence. On the contrary, they would offer the musicians sums of money (in those days it was mostly coins) not to reveal all they knew, while others would throw coins at the same musicians, imploring them to disclose escapades that bordered on scandal – usually involving shady business dealing or the acquisition of new wives, mistresses, or palatial mansions by the “nouveau rich.”
My dad and his friends would sit in a circle (or semi-circle) and the musicians would “yab” each of them in turn. They loved the self-deprecating humour and mockery of human foibles. It was never done with malicious intent. Rather, the likes of Dr. Flavius Akerele (an old boy of King’s College); Chief Emmanuel Okunowo; Chief S.L. Edu; Chief Bolaji Finnih; Chief Oladipo Moore; Prince M.A. Ogun; Chief I. S. Adewale (an old boy of King’s College); Dr. M.A. Majekodinmi (an old boy of St Gregory’s College); Alhaji “Igbalaiye” Balogun (his roots were in Offa); Chief M.S. Adewale (an old boy of King’s College); Alhaji Taju Thompson; Alhaji Ajadi Adelagun Faramobi; Alhaji T.S. Fujah; Chief S. B. Bakare; Mr. Mobolaji Odunewu; Alhaji Murtala Egbebi; and Alhaji Kekere-Ekun would compete with each other in their demonstration of generosity of spirit and humility.
Sakara music was (and remains) a leveller – regardless of your status in society, you were welcome. It was an elastic circle which was sufficiently flexible to accommodate whoever came along and would either sit or stand to enjoy the ambience. However, it was also a sanitizer – ever ready to unleash well-armed arrows at the oppressors, the self-centred, the greedy, and those who had deviated from the sterling attributes of prominent Lagos families.
My earliest memories reel back to Abibu Oluwa, followed by Ayinde Bakare and Yusuf Olatunji. They were masters (and maestros) of the art of extolling the uprightness and generosity of the families of Anibaba (“Ta lo ni awa oni baba?”) by demanding:
Who says we are fatherless or orphans when we have the Anibaba family around? They are always ready to assist the poor and homeless. “
In a similar vein, they would extol the philanthropy of the Agoro family by reminding all and sundry of the family motto: “Agoro abogun bolu” (they would ensure that nobody was hungry no matter how many asked for alms or sustenance).
As for Chief A.S.E. Agbabiaka, who was in charge of the police in Lagos, they challenged him to go after the big rogues such as Anikura instead of the minor thieves.
“Anikura bembe won le mu.”
The Akerele family would be affectionately reminded that their roots were in Oyo, along with their long-established connection with the Alafin of Oyo:
“Omo Akerele, sekere (the spokesman) of the Alafin.”
Without missing a beat, they would switch to castigating those who they considered extravagant and reckless, with a dose of sarcasm.
“Ogunbanke, eyi mapo. Ma ra moto kan
Unlike Ogunbanke (who bought two new cars at the same time), even if I had the money, I would buy only one car.
Never two cars.
Perhaps their best known song is “Kini Edun gbe?”, which translates as “what did Edun, who was a trusted official in Egbaland, steal and why?” He stole money just to buy western-style clothes (a workman’s attire). A case of vanity combined with greed.
I do not intend to raise issues with the connoisseurs of Sakara music who insist that the number one classic is undoubtedly:
“Olofofo yera” (let the traitors amongst us leave so that we can discuss confidential matters meant strictly for Lagosians).
This would glide smoothly into a declaration of fealty and enduring loyalty to the King (Oba) of Lagos as the guardian of law and order.
“Tiobasi toba, mba fa ilu e ya.”
But for fear of offending the King, I would have dealt with the intruder who was beating a drum and disturbing the peace while we were discussing crucial matters close to the hearts of Lagosians.
The song that truly captures the essence of Lagos is: “Eyo O. Olori, Eyo O. Eyo baban ta wa tofi golu sere.” It is actually a celebration of the unique majesty and unrivalled elegance of the Eyo masquerade, which would be decked in gold as a symbol of its direct link not only with the King of Lagos but with the dieties. Eyo Agogoro!!
The problem is that the Ijebus are adamant that the Eyo masquerade and the song owe their origin to Idowa in the Ijebu kingdom.
One of Abibu Oluwa’s vintage performances was at the Palace Hotel, Broad Street, where he surveyed the assembly of the elites of Lagos and urged them to reflect on the sincerity (quality/genuineness) of friendship amongst them and the ramparts of duplicitousness in society in general.
“Ki a diju. Kasebi eni toku. ” Let us pretend to be dead. He waxed philosophical. His recommendation was deep reflection combined with introspection in order to determine what would happen in the event of death and who (and how many) would genuinely mourn us rather than grab whatever we have left behind – our wife; our property; our chieftaincy title, etc.
It would be remiss of me not to mention (indeed emphasise) that Sakara music provides an oral chronicle of the epochal events in our history – wars; political turmoil; treachery and betrayals; injustice; landmark court cases, marriages and deaths etc.
What I have written about in my book “The Godfather Never Sleeps” bears repetition. Right there in the presence of my Dad, the Sakara ace musician, Ayinde Bakare, “shafted” him.
Esin Baba Bandele je lodan, won gbe amusement.Awon J.K. Randle, won pa kadarad. Oro po nibe. “
What had happened was that at the race course (horse racing), a horse belonging to a non-Lagosian had tied with a horse belonging to Sir Adeyemo Alakija (a Lagosian). It was actually a photo-finish. The judges could not determine the winner until my father stepped in and, with his casting vote, Sir Adeyemo Alakija’s horse was declared the winner. It caused considerable uproar and resentment, especially amongst those who had backed the other horse. What was truly amazing was that my dad actually took it all on the chin. He laughed uproariously and handed over a huge sum of money to the musicians as a parting gift. It did not in any way disrupt the fantastic relationship that had been firmly established between him and the Sakara maestro.
My only disagreement with the Sakara musicians revolves around the song:
“Ole asi ma rise, Ibiti alagbara tin sise.”
Which translates as: “While the hardworking man is striving to succeed, the chronically indolent will somehow prosper.”
Absolute rubbish. It’s revolting.That is how Lagos and Lagosians became totally brainwashed (and thoroughly messed up).
Regardless, I am on their side in their consistent denunciation of those who are in office but not in power and vice versa. The same goes for their repugnance of the arrogance of power displayed by the pompous and the obnoxious. It is most gratifying that they remain eternally grateful to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo for his free education programme, which was launched in 1955 in the Western Region and subsequently spilled over to parts of Lagos—Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu, and Ikeja.
I never cease to be amazed by the dexterity of Sakara musicians in recalling flawlessly the royal lineage and tenure of the Kings (Obas) of Lagos from the first… to the current Kabiyesi, Oba Akiolu II.
As for the military and civilian governors of Lagos State from 1967 to date, the Sakara musicians have done their research into their antecedents and pedigree with uncommon diligence – regardless of whether their original roots were in the North, South, East, or West. They would never allow anyone to pull the wool over their eyes. They remain a veritable encyclopaedia, going back several generations.
Where the musicians truly excel is when they pay fulsome and well-deserved homage to the Abibu Oki; Coker; Shitta-Bey; Ajose-Adeogun; Gbajumo; Dabiri; Durosimi-Etti; Okunnu; Jubril Martins; Smith; Mabinuori; Doherty; Emanuel; Ogunbiyi; Augusto; Olanrewaju; Oshodi-Glover; Oyekan; Leigh; Euba; Daranijo; Lawson; Abisogun; Pedro; Cardoso and Sho-Silva, and Williams families. They have mastered the “oriki” (cognomen) of each family and committed it to memory. Absolutely phenomenal.
When it comes to paying tribute to royalty of various categories (especially those who own large tracts of land), you cannot beat the Sakara musicians, who never fail to remind the present Obas and princes of the exploits of their ancestors in terms of business acumen, piety, and humility, as well as their doggedness in protecting their property from invaders, including the British Colonial Government.
We owe the Sakara musicians a huge debt of gratitude for the vigour with which they have captured, through oral history, the amazing courage of the “Agbekoya” (farmers) in fighting oppression and high-handedness by government officials to a standstill. In a similar vein, the musicians slagged off the masters of corruption and the puppeteers behind rigged elections as well as the beneficiaries of abandoned projects.
What is most remarkable is that in the performance of these monumental feats, Sakara musicians rely on their voices, accompanied by rustic musical instruments such as “Molo” (also known as “Agidigbo”) and native violin.
Incidentally, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, who was a Chartered Accountant and winner of the 1993 Presidential election, started off by playing in a Sakara bank in his youth.
Perhaps I should add that Sakara musicians came to the rescue when two Lagos families were hit by disaster. The first was the Akerele family. About eighty years ago, one of the Akerele twins drowned in the Lagos lagoon. About a decade later, the family of Chief H.O. Davies (an old boy of King’s College, Lagos) suffered a similar fate. A son drowned at the Bar Beach. It was the musicians who went to town with the warning to all children: “Ma lo we lokun mo.” “Do not go swimming at the bar beach.”
It is most surprising that the government has not thought it fit to engage the services of Sakara musicians in the COVID-19 campaign to persuade Lagosians to vaccinate.
Sakara music has earned its place as a “hidden treasure” by regaling us with tales of long-forgotten epic battles for power and kingship between Oba Adeniji Adele and his rival and successor, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan. Where the music gets even more exotic is when it delves into religious themes: “Alhaji re Mecca, barika e.”
“The Alhaji who has just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, you are most welcome.”
This would almost invariably be followed by an appeal for gifts: “Efi Alasalatu ran se”—to encourage the musicians to confine themselves to religious music.
However, on one occasion, a pilgrim who was alleged to have committed an offence in Mecca and had consequently been punished by the amputation of his right hand became the target of the musicians when he returned.
The music promptly changed to:
Alhaji Tore Mecca, gbe owo e soke ki aiye le ri, which translates as: “The pilgrim that has just returned from Mecca, please raise your two hands so that we can verify the allegation regarding amputation.”