A TALENT HUNT TO PRESERVE YORUBA MUSICAL HERITAGE

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports that contestants at the recent Ariya Repete talent contest were given to larger-than-life embellishments owing to the lure of the N2.5 million cash prize and other benefits that were at stake

A section of the excited crowd at the concert

Agborako group…the winning troupe of drummers

She enters the challenge with two drawbacks. One, is the perception from the conservative Nigerian society that women are bugged down by several hindrances and cannot compete against their male counterpart. But she is determined to make a difference in a music genre that is supposedly under firm masculine grip. She is succeeding, so far, as one of two women in the Fuji category (her compatriot is Bukola Omoyajowo) who brave the odds to reach the finals of the Ariya Repete talent contest in Ibadan. This is the night she hopes to distinguish herself. The second hitch comes from an accident that leaves her walking with a limp.

If she has come all the way from last April when she joined the race from her base in Ilorin, Kwara State, as one of 400 hopefuls, to the valley of decision, she is ready to crawl if needs be to reach the mountain top of victory. There is no peak high enough to stop her ambition.

From her first appearance, Onimama Fausiya belts attention grabbing lyrics into the microphone. The response of the crowd is encouraging. She seizes the moment and moves from one side of the stage to the other throwing her free hand in the air and towards the audience members to ensure all eyes are on her. When she sings in praise of the Ibadan monarch, Oba Saliu Akanmu Olasupo Adetunji, it is a perfect demonstration of the sensibility of the crowd. The feedback is good for her as her face lightens up in a smile while concentrating on the work at hand, nodding her head in time to her own songs.

She endears herself to the judges – Adebayo Faleke, Clement Ige and Agboola Sensation – with her ability to exhibit all the things she learnt in the Ariya Repete Academy from the likes of Puffy Tee, Sir Shina Peters and K1 D’Ultimate. The veteran artistes’ lecture to the budding musicians centres on fundamentals relating to appearance, composure, creativity, vocalization and stage craft. The mentoring programme is delivered under the theme ‘Understanding Traditional Music’. It is an opportunity for the participants to enhance their skills for the competition and future endeavours.

It has been a long journey for the 10 contestants who are showcasing their talent tonight. The fight for acclamation which is now in the finale has continued for a long time going through different cities like Akure, Ilorin, Ijebu Ode, Oshogbo, Sango-Ota, Abeokuta, Ado Ekiti and Ile Ife in the audition stages. The quarter finals takes place in Akure, Ondo State. Abeokuta hosts the semi-finals. In the quarter finals, the 32 artistes selected from the auditions are reduced to 10. This is further pruned to five for the grand finale in Ibadan.

The night starts on an auspicious note with past winners of the ‘Fuji to Bam’ contests – Ajani and Antena – thrilling the crowd to invigorating Fuji songs. This session is a fantastic beginning and set the pattern to what turned out to be a very rewarding night of entertainment to both the entertainers and members of the audience. By the time they finish their session, the audience members are in a happy mood and every other activity from then on is ignited on autopilot.

For their sheer fervor, perhaps more concert organisers should hold their events in Ibadan so that performing artistes can enjoy rousing warmth and welcome. This kind of enthusiasm greets every celebrity performer on the Ariya Repete bill, except Adekunle Gold, who does not quite hit it off with the crowd. They are clearly not taken in by his romantic ballad. It is a long, cold night in the open air at Trans Amusement Park and standing on their feet demands a steady string of upbeat tempo songs that can keep them dancing and sustain the fever.

Ariya Repete is a talent hunt competition that seeks to discover and promote talents in indigenous Yoruba music – Fuji and Juju, thereby helping to preserve the Yourba musical heritage. The contest is sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc, using one of its lager brands, Goldberg. So much of the brew is everywhere on the concert grounds and the MC, popular Yoruba actor, Odunlade Adekola, makes a point of drumming home the slogan of the brand, at every turn. Each time he comes on stage, he calls out to the audience, ‘Goldberg!’ They have a ready response: ‘Your Excellency!’ It is a call and response pattern that is repeated through the night.

The contestants are equally matched in number. There are five of them in each genre. Gladiators for the Fuji trophy are Abiodun Oloto, Ajani Azeez, Bukola Omojajowo and Onimama Fausiya. Going head-to-head for the crown in Juju are Adekanbi Oketayo, Adeniyi Temitope, Leye Williams, Yomi Bright Oshidare and Yomi Johnson. It is not clear if performing a composition that centres on Goldberg is an unwritten condition for the contest, as all contestants try to outdo themselves in a bid to demonstrate their most unalloyed devotion to the brand, while beckoning on all who are listening to buy into the somewhat exaggerated good qualities of Goldberg. Sometimes their promo for the brand sounds outright ridiculous, but who will not be given to larger-than-life embellishments when N2.5 million cash prize and other benefits are at stake!

Ariya Repete is an expanded contest which previously assumed a limited format known as ‘Fuji to Bam’. As the word spread and the prize becomes more attractive, Juju artistes are trying to present themselves as Fuji performers to take a shot at the prize. That gives rise to the need to create a separate tournament for Juju musicians. Thus, ‘Juju to Gbayi’ was born. This year, however, the organisers combine the two races on one platform called ‘Ariya Repete’. These two Yoruba words are loosely interpreted as ‘total enjoyment’.

Tayo Adelaja, Public Affairs Manager, West/Mid-West, Nigerian Breweries Plc, promised that Goldberg will continue to promote the culture of the people of South Western Nigeria, in line with the brand’s three-point agenda of culture, respect and enjoyment.

To give deeper perspective to the contest, the organisers create another challenge for groups of indigenous drummers. The thinking behind this is perfect. The two types of music are majorly driven on fast-paced, but stylised syncopation of different types of drums. In Fuji and Juju music, the drums may drive the direction of the music and often dictates to the lead singer what he should sing.
Weaved into the fabric of Ariya Repete is a drumming contest which is judged by two university teachers, Prof. Wole Fadipe and Prof. Muyiwa Oshinike. Again, there are five contenders. The drummers from Ado Ekiti who compete under the group name, ‘Ayangbayi’ finish third. They are dressed in Aso Oke. The lead drummer has jingling bells round his drum. The ‘Otapo’ drummers from Abeokuta who come second have an ensemble of six persons that is essentially made up of Bata drummers. Perhaps, it is the dance formation that gives the trophy to the ‘Agborako’ group from Oyo. On the surface, dance well and exit the stage when the ovation is loudest in a unique formation that creates a fresh longing to see more from them. They still manage to come first even when they did not present their trademark giant ‘Shekere’ that is usually thrown into the air by a skillful player.

It may not be entirely right to conclude that the crowd is comfortable with performers from their homestead. But this hint is discernible in the manner they receive Ibadan Fuji music folk hero, Taye Currency.
They haul back his playful jibe. “Omo’badan, kini so?”

“So suo ni!” They thunder back.
They are familiar with all his songs and sing it along with him. Undoubtedly, the most appreciated artiste of the night is Wasiu Alabi Pasuma. While they had only seen his image on the screen or at the mention of his name, the crowd roar in acknowledgement. One of the highpoints of the night is when Pasuma joins Currency on stage. For the energy they create on stage, the crowd goes wild with excitement. An overwhelmed Pasuma announces that the winner in the Fuji music category will be taken under his wings with a recording contract on his label.

Onimama, a Diploma in Catering and Hotel Management holder from the Kwara State Polytechnic, who now wear the crown as the new Queen of Fuji music, reveals that belief in herself due to the inspiration she gets from her dad who is also a Fuji musician led her to choose music as both her passion and career. “I always watch my dad during rehearsals with his band while I was growing up, and it instilled the level of confidence and inspiration that has helped me in my own musical sojourn,” she says.
“Words cannot express my feelings at the moment but I know that Ariya Repete has changed my life for the better. I will never forget this day,” she further says.

Leye Williams, who is crowned that same night also makes history by being the first Juju artiste to win the cultural music talent hunt. He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to Goldberg and Nigerian Breweries for making the cultural contest an expanded music platform that also identifies with aspiring Juju artistes in Nigeria.
“I have not seen any other cultural music contest like Ariya Repete in the Southwest. My story and victory is a testimony that Juju music is alive again and will be revived fully amongst the youths who aspire to promote our Juju musical heritage, courtesy of Goldberg,” he says.

Azeez Ajani and Wasiu Onilewura emerge first and second runners up in the Fuji category and cart away Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira and Five Hundred Thousand Naira respectively, while Adeniyi Temitope and Yomi Bright emerge first and second runners-up in the Juju category and also go home with Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira and Five Hundred Thousand Naira each.
Other contestants in both Fuji and Juju category who reach the final this year receive consolation prizes of One Hundred Thousand Naira each.
The Ibadan crowd is very happy at the sight of watching the 71 year-old King Sunny Ade matching the dexterity of his dancers, step-by-step. It is instructive that the organisers of Ariya Repete are alert to bring KSA on the bill. For so many years, KSA has been associated with the ‘Ariya’ slogan. He has a series of recordings related with that title including; ‘Ariya is Unlimited’, ‘Sunny Ti De Ariya’, ‘Ariya’ and ‘Ariya Special’. To crown it all, he named his defunct performance theatre, ‘Ariya Spot’.

The MC, Odunlade, makes a good job of his assignment, keeping contestants and celebrity performers within their allotted time. Even when he calls out to members of the audience to come on stage for a dance competition, he goes straight to the point and halts the gyration at the point where it creates a bigger longing in the audience. His professional handling of the show allows one activity to float smoothly into the next one in a seamless blend.

Not quite unexpected in an excited and restless crowd, who pay no heed to Pasuma’s earlier timely caution that they should drink responsibly, there are a few skirmishes but these are swiftly contained by the Nigeria Police working in concert with different private security firms.

Franco Maria Maggi, Marketing Director, Nigerian Breweries Plc congratulates the winners and implores them to be good ambassadors of the platform, Ariya Repete, which has brought them to the limelight. “Congratulating you will not be enough, but I must enjoin you to be good ambassadors of this platform that seeks to discover and promote indigenous Yoruba music genres that has made you the newest Fuji and Juju superstars in Nigeria,” he says.
He challenges the other contestants to keep alive their dreams saying that they are all winners and must remain good ambassadors that should represent their musical passions in a positive light.

Fuji legend, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (KWAM1), uses the occasion to acknowledge the success of Ariya Repete in its maiden edition saying that Nigerian Breweries has proven her capability of growing an entire music industry in Nigeria.
“Thanks to those who have brought Fuji and Juju music back to reckoning,” he affirms.