By Banji Ayoola
The late legendary comedian, Chief Moses Olaiya Adejumo, MON, popularly called ‘Baba Sala’, and variously described as father or pillar of Nigerian comedy, has been conferred with a post humus Life Achievement Award for his monumental contributions to the development of theatre and comedy in Nigeria.
While presenting the plaque, Otunba Babatunde said the late comedian was a blessing to the Yoruba race and Nigeria as a whole. He added that it is to the honour of Baba Sala that he had a son representing him and carrying on the flag in the world of comedy in particular and entertainment in general.
Baba Sala’s son, Emmanuel Adejumo, received the award, which was conferred on him at the recent Faaji Agba Eko organised by Evergreen Musical Company Limited in partnership with Association of Friends (UP ASSO), a social club based at Maryland, Ikorodu Road, Lagos.
Also, Soko music whizkid, Wonder Dayo Kujore, was honoured and presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the growth and development of Juju Music.
The event held primarily to celebrate indigenous music and musicians who have contributed immensely to the promotion of indigenous music, especially in Lagos State. Venue was the reception Hall UP ASSO, Maryland, Ikeja Lagos.
According to The Nation, the hall was large enough and accommodating. So was its ambience. The location was much easier for many to access. Yet, the guests were moderate in size- a selected mix of young and old, no thanks to COVD-19 protocols. The gathering was unlike the regular ‘owambe’ party held in social clubs and event centres across the city most weekends.
It was a unique outing as guests were thrilled to special oldies of legends such as Victor Olaiya, Victor Uwaifo, Dr Orlando Owoh, Rex Jim Lawson, Mike Okri and Wura Fadaka, while the Harmony Blenders led Jide Ogbola, presented scintillating tunes to the delight of all.
The guests who observed the Covid-19 protocols were founder Evergreen Musical Company, Baba Femi Esho and wife, and other Lagos socialites, media personalities and celebrities. They included Deputy Director, Lagos State Ministry of Culture and Tourism Mrs Adamma Oni, former chairman, Ikoyi Club Chief Bolaji Adeniji, Publisher, City People Magazine Mr Seye Kehinde, President, Lagos Civil Service Club; Mr Femi Ajenifuja, Mr Olanrewaju Onigegewura, Olanrewaju Akinsola (Onigegewura), Chairman, Yoruba Tennis Club, Wunmi Agbaje, General Manager, Lagos Traffic Radio Mr Tayo Akanle, former Commissioner for Information, Lagos State Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, former Commissioner for Urban Development, Lagos State Mr Rotimi Ogunleye, Air Commodore Ademola Onitiju and Yinka Davies who anchored the evening.
Managing Director Evergreen Musical Company, Bimbo Esho, said the annual event was conceived as a platform to preserve indigenous music and revive its culture in order to save it from going into extinction. She disclosed that the event will in future move from one social club to another as an effective way of promoting indigenous music in the state.
“Unfortunately, Covid-19 affected this year’s edition. But we are resolute to sustain the spirit. Without music there will be no life. I thank my father for his pace setting initiatives. But for COVID-19, the event would have been greater in terms of participants and activities,” she said.
She recalled that in the past, music made Lagos State to be a force to reckon with in the world of music and its trappings, but which are no longer in existence.
According to her, ‘there is a need to have musicians of old to continue to have relevance in the Lagos musical circle. The likes of Ebenezer Obey, KSA and others have been supportive. This is not a day for speech, but to honour the old musicians and their great works.’
President UP ASSO Alhaji Oluropo Owolabi, who was represented by Otunba Bayo Babatunde (General Secretary), said the request by Bimbo to use the venue for the event made sense to him and other members because it was in line with the club’s view and direction.
“UP ASSO is a club that is about to relaunch and take over the space. It is not just a social club but also has other facilities. We believe in the efforts of Mr Femi Esho, borne out of interest and sense of self-responsibility to preserve our music. UP ASSO will continue to support the effort,” he said.
Juju music crooner, Wale Thompson of the La la le Friday fame also used the evening to thrill his old fans and the audience. Available at the entrance to the hall, were CDs of top Nigerian and Ghanaian musicians such as Fela Anikulapo, Ebenezer Obey, Rex Jim Lawson, I K Dairo, Eddy Okonta, ET Mensah and Ramblers Dance Band among others for guests to pick for a fee.
The late Adejumo earned the father of Nigerian comedy title over five decades in the entertainment industry.
His passage in September 2018 in his Ilesa, Osun State hometown at 81 signaled the end of a significant chapter in the history of the Nigerian film industry.
Adejumo alongside other dramatists like Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, Oyin Adejobi and Duro Ladipo popularised theater and television acting in Nigeria.
The late thespian also laid the foundation for theatre and comedy that has taken Nigeria’s creative industry by storm.
While his comic and drama series are viewed stereotyped in terms of delivery, it was widely accepted by fans including those that couldn’t communicate in Yoruba language.
Years after he dominated the theatre landscape, Baba Sala’s name remained synonymous with comedy even in death.
Born on May 17, 1937, Baba Sala started out as a civil servant and a sanitary inspector.
He also worked as a part-time teacher and in the late evenings, he would transform into a highlife musician.
By 1964 he was the head of a group known as Federal Rhythm Dandies. The band was the toast of Nigerian elites.
The comedian discovered, tutored and mentored the lead guitarist who would later become known as King Sunny Ade, KSA. By 1969, Moses Olaiya had become a full-time professional theatre comedian after he disbanded his Moses Olaiya Concert Party. He founded the Moses Olaiya International Alawada Theatre Limited shortly after and together they travelled extensively round Nigerian towns and cities.
“Drama was in my blood. I was a drummer. Sunny Ade liked playing guitar. I taught him how to play guitar and he was very good at it. I am proud of him. Sunny Ade’s ambition was to play drums. He said that it was not in him to act. I felt that I should concentrate on acting and leave Sunny Ade to drumming and playing guitar. That was why I gave him my drum and musical instruments,” he said in an interview with PM News in 2011.
KSA also acknowledged the late comic actor as his mentor during his 70th birthday party in 2016.
“Baba Sala is my boss and he would continue to be my boss for life. I owe him that gratitude for life. I was playing percussion in his band and he was playing guitar and a couple of instruments. I was in charge of the music in the drama section, playing Conga. He actually prompted me to go into music with a proviso that I should go and if after nine months, I found it tough, I should come back. He told me, go and try and that if does not work, come back.”
On the instruction of the then Premier of the Western Region, the sage and Yoruba leader, the revered Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the comedian got a one-year contract of drama sketches at the Western Nigeria Television, WNTV. He berthed with Alawada Series on WNTV and later on NTA Ibadan every Wednesday between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. In a short time, his fame knew no bounds.
The legendary actor wrote all episodes of his drama series and also took on lead character regularly.
Baba Sala’s relationship with Awolowo was enviable; the sage ensured he got him his first telephone among other privileges.
“My first telephone was a gift from Awolowo. There was a time I went to Lagos and I saw Awolowo and he asked me if I had telephone. I told him that I did not have. He then said that it was bad that I did not have a telephone. He then bought a telephone for me and asked the NITEL people to go and install it in my house. That ensured that the two of us spoke any time we wanted,” Baba Sala told PM News in an interview in 2011.
The legendary actor had several drama series on NTA Ibadan. They include ‘Orun Mooru,’ ‘Aare Agbaye,’ and ‘Mosebolatan,’ which starred late magician, Professor Peller.
During one of his most famous interviews, published in PM News in 2011, he revealed that he had 18 wives and 50 children. But nonetheless, he was a family man to the core and a doting dad.
His son, Emmanuel, also told Premium Times that his father was a ‘selfless dad.’
“My dad was a very nice man who loved all his children equally. He always wanted the best for all of us (his children), he was always ready to give up anything for his children. His name also opened doors for us and we are thankful for that.”
The comedian sank into the background after enjoying patronage and limelight for decades owing to ill health and dwindling fortunes.
His health condition came to the fore in November 2017 during a press briefing organised in Lagos to shed light on his biography.
The book, ‘The Triumph of Destiny,’ which was co-authored by Babatunde Akinola, Collins Oyedokun, and Kunle Ajani, was launched at the Eko Hotels in Lagos December 2017. The turnout was unimpressive.
Baba Sala was also one of the first Nigerian filmmakers to be affected negatively by the activities of movie pirates.
Premium Times had reported how his first movie, Orun Mooru released in 1982, was pirated and how it affected him adversely.
He said then, “Initially, we did it on 36mm and later reduced it to 16mm. This film, unknown to us, was dubbed by some wicked people and pirated as original. I had never experienced such a disappointment in my life. I was shocked to the marrow and only God knew how I survived paralysis at this period. I was cheated and left shattered. For the realisation of this dream, I had gone to borrow over N1.5 million from a bank to see me through the business. You can imagine how much that translates to in the present day, I automatically became indebted, and I sold most of my properties to settle the debt.”
His oldest son, Deji Adejumo, listed the Awada Spot in Ibadan; Alawada Standard Hotel, Ilesa; Alawada Records, Ibadan; and Ibukun Alawada Photo magazine as some of his father’s investments which had to be sold off.
Baba Sala picked the first award for his film Mosebolatan, at the Performing Art Awards Night (1986 edition). The Nigerian Television Authority and the then Concord Press of Nigeria organised it. His other blockbuster movies include: Aare Agbaye, Agba Man, Obe ‘Gbona, Return Match, Diamond and Ana Gomina.
In 1978, Nigeria’s then military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, conferred him with the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) title.
Like most Nigerian legends, the late Baba Sala did not earn the much-deserved recognition during his lifetime.
“The Osun state government last paid him attention about 10 years ago,” his son revealed.
“But, recently the government has not done much for him despite repeated calls. Piracy really dealt him a heavy blow and set him back. My father moved on with life and brought happiness into many homes. I want people to remember my father for his good works and comedy. That’s all.”
With additional reports from Premium Times