Saturday 18 June 2022

Anigilaje In A Nutshell: The Man, His Immortality Ring and Mr. Death

Ayinla "Ọmọ-Onídàkòmàna" Anigilaje Omowura Ibn Yusuf, a.k.a Egunmogaji, a.k.a Alhaji Costly, was from a special breed of traditional musicians. One can't succinctly categorize what it was about him that endeared him to his fans. Worse still were his unilateral ways- a damn non-conformist, rancorous and a heady personality who like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti recreationally indulged in Indian-Hemp, and mostly did things his own way. Eyewitness account related how he paraded himself around Abeokuta, with blood dripping from a nasty head wound- a fatal 'parting' gift from one Baiyewu, a friend-turned-foe, and a former band member on that fateful day of his death in 1980. Common-sense, to seek first-aid in order to self-preserve was entirely overruled-to willingly give room for monumental Ignorance coupled with a pervasive sense of Narcissism, thus resulting in a possibly avoidable fatality. The mercurial Star had wasted vital time needed to seek medical help, while busy making what amounted to an ill-advised streets spectacle of a life-threatening situation. He predictably died that evening from a massive blood loss- secondary to a probable Traumatic Brain Injury. He foolishly did everything- including laying his own final bed- his own way!

Opinions about certain unconventional lifestyles; especially for highly temperamental, but talented folks like the late Omowura are usually relegated to the background during public discussion. And If those blight spots were ever brought up for public laundry, they are hurriedly "washed-up" in the dry river of "hush-hush", and rinsed out in the meager drops of the discussants spittles. The convenience of fans and followers to speak without pausing of their Star's glorious moments is generally understandable- as going against that could be seen as a betrayal of some kind of "esprit de corps".

Super-fans somehow take it upon themselves to jealously protect the legend- truths or fallacies that makeup the charismatic essences of their favored stars. As it were for Bob Marley, Freddie Mercury, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and many others, so it was for Ayinla Anigilaje Omowura Ibn Yusuf. A particularly incredible legend, built around the late Star was that- it was a magical Juju-ring originally made for his spiritual fortification, that stood as the major culprit of his death, rather than the heavy blow to his weak cranium. The "ring", it was said "must NEVER be stained in human blood". A code of conduct entirely broken by the man- instinctively at the shock of a quick sting to the head, followed with an innocent reflexive/ reactive action which was to touch the point of impact- and the blood code was broken! His doom was sealed!

He boldly "snatched" the golden days of the Apala genre from the various middle aged men who played it before him, as if those ones were lackadaisically serenading geriatric residents at the "Old People's Home". Besides his major sidekick- his Talking Drummer, Adewole Alao-Oniluola, who being the main act controlling the direction of the sound anyway he wanted, his lamellaphonist or the Ogidigbo player, whose  sound served as a wired thumb-xylophone and the Sekere player- whose enthusiastic "swishes" complimented the rest of the sound. Anigilaje himself came out with a style that was no easy match for copycats. He had the best hook-lines in the genre, probably in all of Yoruba music. His Ijala chants, imbued in heavy incantations rendered multiples times within a track, and delivered mostly in the heavily Egba-inflected Yoruba weren't just sexy, they were as addictive at first play and after-play! Funny as well how a missing tooth in his bottom front row could have caused a slight speech impediment. The rush of errant air into his mouth during the preoccupation of vocalization could be a singular reason the "S" factor easily became the "Sh" factor in the wordings of Anigilaje. His "wall of sound" recording techniques equally gave his sound the "lush" totally absent in other recordings from the same genre.

In his relatively short professional life; he, it was of all the players that: made the Apala genre the most interesting. His album launch dates were like inspired carnivals in the thickest of his fan bases- at the various motor-garages, at the abattoirs, and amongst the core of the bustling artisans in the Southwest of the nation.

His acerbic musical wit, especially targeted at certain members of the opposite sex- those he considered to be running in the exclusive race- against the men folks; those attempting to augment their outlooks by applying skin-lightening lotions or "bleaching" creams or; those running seedy joints or illegal speakeasies in the inner cities were all given "good" tongue lashings on his many records, (interestingly enough a significant number of the female population counted as rabid fans).  Omowura, essentially fed the demons living rent-free in the souls of the many "Red-necked" Patriarchs in a largely patriarchal society.  His musical rivals too were never spared his highly "venomous" lyrics. Definitely Alhaji Fatai Olowonyo, for one I am certain wouldn't forget him in a hurry! Their well-catalogued beef records are still as potent now, as the day they were originally made. Anigilaje, a man who wasn't well known for his erudite delivery- also delivered "current affairs" of the time better than some TV or News anchors. Some of his songs- even now reminds constantly of historical moments from our immediate past.

Quite funny if he wanted to. Poetic always. His use of Yoruba imagery, idioms, and personifications and other figures of speech in his lyrics was unarguably unparalleled in all of the traditional genres. Hear him ridiculously described "Mr. Death" in a dirge to one of his patrons, Chief Amodemaja, The late Seriki Of Egbaland in one of his records:

"...Iku Oponu Olodi abara dudu ho-ho! Ko n'iwa kan l'ara ju ko m'aa ju won l'ogo kiri. Gbogbo oju pon koko, gbogbo ara re n'deru b'aniyan!"

"...the imbecilic Death, with a darkly, grotesque mass. He has no single good in him, but to be clubbing folks to death all wantonly. Eyes blazing red, his personality is nothing endearing but fearsome!".

That's Anigilaje in a nutshell. Wonder when it would be that Nollywood would engage Pa Adewole Alao-Oniluola, his longtime buddy and perhaps his longest-surviving musical partner to tell a full-length story of the man while he's still living, for an onward production of a biopic? An interesting figure alive as he is now in death. He's as interesting as Odolaye Aremu- the Original, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Fela, and many others. The irony of his juju fortification- it was said, "was to secure immortality". Quite instructive to note that the "Deathly Ring" perhaps wasn't procured for free...but the dude ultimately wasted his time and money, for the "immortality" he sought while alive, he ironically got freely in his ill-fated death.

Picture of Alhaji Ayinla Anigilaje Omowura courtesy of freedomspear.blogspot

Thanks to Sunny Olurotimi Oduntan for his many wonderful insights into the life and times of this charismatic enigma.


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