She didn’t hesitate to debunk claims of her spiritual power, on account of her genre of music, and the beads she wears. In this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, Sherifat Aralola Apeke Olamuyiwa, popularly called ‘Ara’, the Royal Ambassador of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja 11, speaks about her life and talking drum
Tell us about yourself
My name is Sherifat Aralola Apeke Olamuyiwa. I am from Ondo town, in Ondo State, but my mom is partly from Oyo town, a direct descendant of the Alafin of Oyo, Oyo State. I was born in Lagos on January 23, 1975. And I attended International Nursery School, here in Lagos, before going to Methodist School, also here in Lagos. My father went on transfer to the then Bendel State, because he was a bank manager with UBA. He was with UBA for over 35 years. And I went to Nana Primary School, in Warri. Thereafter, I went to Our Lady High School, Effurun, also in Warri, now Delta state.
My father went on transfer again to Ondo State as a senior manager with UBA branch, then. I went to Fiwasaye Girls’ Grammar School, Akure, before I proceeded to University of Ilorin, between 1993 and 1994 Law course set. I studied Law for a year, but my passion was in Performing Arts and, without my parents’ consent, I crossed over to the Performing Arts. I had a lot of issues or to say, problems, with my HOD, and so I had to redirect my footsteps. I went fully into music, at that point in time; it was more like a rebellious act. And at the end of the day, I went to Kwara Polytechnic, Ilorin and I took the Interim Joint Matriculation Examination (IJMB), so that I would go directly to my second year in the University. You know, IJMB takes you to second year.
Unfortunately or fortunately, my result was not fully released. I took it a second time and I didn’t do well. And so, I went on with my music, until I took JAMB examination again in 1999. I got admission into Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife, and Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State, but I eventually went to Ekpoma, to study English. I was in my first semester, third year, when I was discovered by a record label, Atunda, owned by Wale Akinboboye, who forcefully took me out of the school at that time. Wale Akinboboye is also the promoter of Lacampagne Tropicana and he is also the CEO of Corporate Guards.
He advised that I should get my transcripts to the satellite campus, which was off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, Lagos, at that time. But, on getting there, he went through the transcript and he turned it upside down, and said he believed a career in music would be better for me. I was doing a lot of travelling at that time. I was the Vice President of the English department at that time, and I was actually being groomed for the Presidency of the Students’ Union Government (SUG). So, that is a brief introduction of my background.
How and where did you draw the inspiration for music?
For me, the love for music was cultivated by my late dad. My dad loved music. He played different kinds of music at home; from Ogunde to IK Dairo to Comfort Omoge to King Sunny Ade to James Brown to Barry White, name them. My father was a collector. He discovered my talent at a very tender age, and I wrote my first song in 1987. My dad bought me a keyboard and he would rehearse with me at home and at the end-of -year party for UBA staff and students, I would perform my songs. So, I always looked forward to performing at the end-of-year party. I also danced; I love dancing, and my father used to arrange dancing competition at home for my brothers and I, and I always won, and he would give me a gift. I was always the best dancer at every children’s party I went to, from the Indian dances to everything it could be, I would always win. So, my late father, Alhaji Ahmed Oluwemimo Olamuyiwa, actually discovered my talent.
Where did you learn to perform with ‘talking drum’?
The drumming, for me, started very early. I started playing local traditional drums when I was in school, right from my Primary School days and I started drumming very early. Everything in the house, I would drum, use my cutlery, use the table, and everything was drum, because I grew up in a house full of boys. They were about eight or nine guys at home and I was the only girl. At Nana Primary school, I was the head of the cultural group and I used to be the lead drummer and singer at the same time. So, my father, being a Muslim, during Ileya festivity, we would go to Ondo town and we would go to ‘Yidi’ (praying ground), and I would see the Babas with the drums.
I used to be fascinated with them, and my mom’s great grandfather in Ondo town has a palace they have drummers. There was this old man, then that I used to get very close to. One day, I told him I wanted to carry the talking drum. He gave me and that was ‘Iya Ilu’, and he gave it to me. I don’t know, but there was something about the drum that mesmerized me. So, I said to myself, there is something! And when the ‘Ara band’ was created and I was trying my hands on different instruments to play, and then I saw the talking drum that was used as a doorbell in the resort where I was that is owned by Mr Akinboboye. I now told him one day, that I would like to play this instrument and that I have always been fascinated by the instrument. But of course, before then, he had tried to make me play the xylophone, play the base guitar and other instruments, but I never dealt with those instruments.
Every instrument has got its own unique spirit and I was never bored with those instruments, until I said one day, you know what? Let me beat this talking drum and it was what I had wanted to beat. It was the same thing also with ‘Ara brand’. I saw the hair in a dream and, one day, I decided to do it, because we were talking about hairdo and I said nobody has done the ‘braids’, no one has ever done it. Even sow-to-sow didn’t have that kind of long braids. And I said, let me try this and I knew where to go and get it done. That was how that went.
Being a Yoruba, isn’t it a taboo for a lady to play the talking drum, because there is a belief that ladies that play the drum will not have children?
Well, as of the time I picked the talking drum, there was no female, publicly, beating it. Maybe, they were doing so in hiding, but none was known or popular or famous or recognised. As at the time I picked the talking drum, it was more of a spiritual thing, really. Because I could remember, when I picked the talking drum, there were so many things I used to see in my sleep, yes, until a day I told my mom about this; of an old woman I used to see. I described her to my mom, and my mom said, oh, that was the person, that was the direct daughter of a late Alafin of Oyo, Oba Abiodun, whom we came from.
So, she gave me her blessings and that is why when people ask me why I chose the talking drum, I tell them the talking drum chose me. I think it was just a time for a female to be recognised, because one, nobody knew that the talking drum was a means of communication, before it became a musical instrument. And the whole world knows that a woman is a powerful force, and I am sure that a message was supposed to be passed on through my being chosen to play the talking drum. And I think that message had been rightly passed, and it is still being passed.
Specifically, tell us about your first album and when was it released?
It may interest you to know that Ara has never released any album. Ara has been a performer for years, travelling far and wide. And I could remember my first song that I recorded was in 1987, and my first time on television was in 1988. The first song I wrote was shot on video; and the video was shot for me by the ‘Even Ezra studio’, owned by Mr Obafemi Lasode. That, I think, was in 1988/89 on NTA. It was Afro beat programme, ‘which one you dey’? Then I shot another one, ‘mukulu mukeke’; it was also on the ‘Even Ezra’ collections, then with Yinka Davies and a lot of other artists. I have never released an album. I have released a couple of singles, but not a full album.
How much do you charge to perform at an event?
It depends on the person who is speaking with my management. And it depends on the agreement between them. Ara is affordable.
Not quite long ago, you signed a contract with Osun State Government. What was it all about? And has it seen the light of the day?
It was not a contract. I was commissioned for the Osun-Osogbo festival, which we put together- a fantastic concert. We featured Olamide, 9ce and a host of other people. And part of what I was asked to do was just to put together a documentary for a movie, showcasing the culture and tourism potentials of the state. That movie is titled, ‘Osun Funke’. We have done that and we have packaged it properly. We are just waiting for a go-ahead and round up of what we have done, and the movie is ready.
Are you married?
No, I am not married.
Are you considering marrying an artiste?
Well, I can’t say, but you see, it is whom God has chosen. If God says it is going to be a singer like myself, why not. If God says somebody, who is outside my field, why not. Everything is in the hands of God. My destiny is what God has chosen for me.
With your genre of music, don’t you think people may have been regarding you as a traditionalist?
Well, as a matter of fact, I have got that reaction a whole lot, especially because I do wear beads. Most times I wear beads on my legs. And I have seen people’s reactions, and they consider it fetish, as people consider our culture fetish and barbaric, which is very painful. It is high time we started looking at our culture from a different point of view. We are who we are, because of our culture, and nobody on earth can run away from their DNA. Our culture is our DNA, and we are our DNA. We can’t run away from our culture.
It is not barbaric. Yes, there are some aspects of worship, which is not compulsory for everybody, but we can’t do without identifying with our culture. Yes, a lot of people say a lot of things that that make me to laugh. Some people consider Ara a spiritual and powerful woman. Well, you might not be too far from the truth, but when it comes to Aralola, you are speaking about a different person. When you talk about the act Ara, you might not be far from the truth, because you must be spiritually strong like legends such as Michael Jackson, the likes of James Brown, Steve Wonder, King Sunny Ade.
You must be powerful, before you can attain that height. And in no negative form, you are born that way. You are born to fulfill a destiny. You are equipped from the creator with powers to carry out that assignment. Just like pastors, prophets and people with different callings, like Luther King of this world, like the Malcom X of this world, the Hitlers; in fact, you will be shocked that everybody has an assignment and they are equipped to carry out that assignment. The same way Ara is equipped spiritually, physically to carry out her assignment.
What religion do you parctise?
I am a practising Christian.
I now attend Daystar of Pastor Sam Adeyemi.
With your concept, in the next five years where do you think Ara band would be?
In the next five years, yes, I would look beyond the next five years, because our culture and, what I do is culturally inclined. Culture will never go out of fashion. What I play, the instrument that I carry is a cultural instrument. So, till thy Kingdom come, even long after I am gone, it would go on. So, it is beyond and even when I can no longer dance the kind of dance I dance and as long as our culture exists the name, and the brand Ara, would not cease to exist. In history, when I am long gone, it will be on record that Ara was the first female talking drummer. People would come all over the world to study the brand, Ara; to study her kind of music. So, the brand, Ara, is a very strong brand, extremely powerful. So, culture never goes out of fashion, culture never dies and Ara would never go out of fashion and Ara, the brand would never go down.