The smart, business savvy and conservative Akinloye Tofowomo having built an enviable entertainment empire. His life is a testament to success, hard work, and unwavering focus in spite of his physical disability. He has remained unperturbed by what others would have seen as a misfortune, especially at a tender age of five living with polio. With eyes fixed on his goals, he turned what seemed a stumbling block into a stepping stone. The many milestones, which constitute all the hurdles he has had to cross on his way up, will serve as a tonic to any hard-working person who encounters him. Twenty years ago, he came into the live music business with no capital and connections. Today, he caters to royalty and the name Shuga has become unarguably synonymous to live music in Nigeria and there are no off seasons. In spite of his success, he keeps working hard. Tofowomo, managing director, Shuga Entertainment, tells Adedayo Adejobi about his travails, music, philanthropy and his new lease of life
Formative Years Nearly Derailed by Polioâ€¦
Born into the prestigious family of the late Judge Tofowomo from Ile-Oluji, Ondo State of Nigeria, Akinloye Tofowomo was born to be great. But his life- changing encounter with polio is a further attestation to his lifeâ€™s pact with destiny. At age five, a dreaded life-changing condition reared its ugly head, but it didnâ€™t affect that stage of his childhood that much despite the fact that every child in the family had chores they were expected to perform including Akinloye.
His early childhood condition didnâ€™t hamper parental love he craved and deserved as a child, as he was treated nicely, normally and like the love child he was, by his family. With adequate show of love, childhood wasnâ€™t so difficult for him.
Three years after, the realisation dawned on him that he was indeed different from others, and that most crucially, there were physical limits to what he could do as a child. This marked a watershed in his life as a child.
Giving a peep into how his father helped boost his esteem, even as a child, the entertainment czar says:
â€œMy father always told me that whoever pitied me was actually my enemy. Regardless of my condition, I was made to do everything the other children in the house did. As a matter of fact, discipline was the watchword for us in the house. Whenever we were home for holidays, my father drew a timetable of activities that we would engage in, including chores. So there was no room for messing up. We always worked on the farm in the compound under the strict supervision of my father and our gardener. Whoever failed to impress him was made to clear grass as punishment. It was tough.â€
Children, in their ignorance, taunted and called him all sorts of humorous nicknames. In secondary school, they called him â€˜Recklessâ€™ because of his penchant for rap, while he was also monikered â€˜Dupompeâ€™ because of the way he used to walk. Some stuck, some didnâ€™t, but in all, these circumstances didnâ€™t define him. A particular experience he wouldnâ€™t forget in a hurry was one which happened in primary school. Recounting the ordeal, he said there was a person â€œwho forcefully collected the stick I was using to support myself. The child wanted to see how I would survive without it but what I did to him, he would never forget in his life.â€
With similar cases in point and in these experiences, spanning his school years in the city of Enugu, eastern Nigeria, because his late father was being transferred often from one place to another as a judge, he sure dealt decisively with the boys who tormented him thoroughly.
The Making of the Local Polyglot
Growing up under the tutelage of a father who traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria, having worked in places like Calabar, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan and Lagos to mention a few, those years and environments rubbed off on the musician. Although, he is from ancient town of Ile-Oluji in Ondo State, apart from English and his mother tongue, Yoruba, he speaks Igbo fluently.
â€œI was enthralled by the arts and watching videos like Ogboju Ode nâ€™Igbo Irunmole. That was how deep and culturally engaging I was. Listening to deep Yoruba and Igbo lyrics was part of my formative days. I am glad to have experienced life in all these different cities across Nigeria as a young boy because it contributed to how I was able to develop myself as an individual and expanded my world view.â€
Choosing the Path of Musicâ€¦Against Dadâ€™s Wishes
Tofowomo graduated from the University of Ibadan but later went to Lagos State University where he studied Political Science before proceeding to the University of Lagos to do Business and Industrial Law, which was his fatherâ€™s bidding. After finishing school, he and his father were at loggerheads over career his path.
â€œMy father wanted me to become a lawyer or a doctor, so he would always compare me to his colleaguesâ€™ children who were also judges. But I wasnâ€™t thinking about all of those professions as I had my mind fixed on music. Music has always been a passion for me, but never encouraged in the family. Although my father used to play and listen to Ayinla Omowura, Ayinde Bakare, Frank Sinatra, Hubert Ogunde amongst others, but you dared not sing at home, if you didnâ€™t want trouble from my father. At that time, anyone who was in music was looked down upon so it was a big challenge telling my father that it was what I really wanted to do. As a result of this, I saw music only as fun and not something that could put food on the table.â€
With his late uncle who operated a hang-out on Allen Roundabout in Ikeja, Lagos, his escape into real music found expression. Akin narrates how his genuine interest in professional music began, â€œWe were living in Ikoyi then. So in order to have access, I would tell my father I was going to Ibadan whereas I was going to meet my uncle at Ogudu from where we would head to Allen. I used to visit him there on some occasions to watch artistes perform. One night when the band that was supposed to perform failed to turn up, I pleaded with my uncle to allow me to perform. After much persuasion from the people around, he grudgingly allowed me to perform. That was my first performance and from there the journey into music proper started for me. At the time I started music, I didnâ€™t know that people got paid for singing. In fact, I would perform at shows at the time without knowing or even minding if I was going to get something or not. It was much later I realised that there was actually money to be made in the business.â€
At a rather young age, eking out a living was such a Herculean task for young Tofowomo in a rather fledging music industry. But sheer vision, strength of soul, love for home and enterprise led him on. Upon the realisation of the fact that his life was destined the direction of music and the need to do music differently, he went back to school in 2010 to study music in Massachusetts, United States of America. There, he understood the nitty-gritty of music business and how to become successful. Armed with this knowledge the Shuga Band was formed and all other businesses related to it.
Taking the â€˜Businessâ€™ Further
The training helped him in organising music as a business. With 20 years on the grind, redefining the business of live band music in Nigeria, the Shuga brand has a record label, sound rental business and a Foundation.
â€œMusic has afforded me the opportunity to go to places I never would have imagined. It has also allowed me meet important people who ordinarily would be difficult to meet.â€
The story of Akinloye Tofowomoâ€™s valiant rise to public shine when he took the plunge to go into music, at a time the trade and the society at large gave the profession no attention, is one of foresight. He is ably armed with the professional expertise to turn any event into a sublime experience. His band is not only rated as one of Nigeriaâ€™s number one live band, but also as a brand committed to the highest standard of excellence and professionalism.
â€˜I Can Walkâ€™, a Dedication to Polio Victims
Having delighted a varied audience for the last 20 years and counting, the compassionate vein in Akin, who is married to Maria Tofowomo with kids, has found expression. He is presently giving hope to people with disabilities, thus helping them transform their shortcomings to the greater good of society.
Tofowomoâ€™s own polio helped humanise him and give him the common touch. What he is doing should, hopefully, bring more attention to leaders and empathy. Even though he has other leanings, the highlight is the work for the least appreciated among the society.
Commemorating his 20th year anniversary, he is set to release an inspirational single track song with the theme, â€˜I can Walkâ€™, dedicated to polio survivors. He tells of the impulse behind the song: â€œLife is about challenges, challenges will always come and no challenges are insurmountable. My new song, I can walk, gives the strength that is required at that challenging time; a song of hope dedicated to polio survivors and everyone who has been scarred, marred or shaken by the travails of life. The song was produced and co-written by the legendary Cobhams Asuquo. The impulse behind the song is simply rededicating my life as a polio survivor in the war of life. Iâ€™m a general, not because Iâ€™ve been to any war, but because I bear the scars of the wars of life.â€
Never say die, as they say, until the bones are rotten. That is the story of Tofowomo. He beat the odds. He overcame limitations. And now, he tells a story of triumph.