Ayo Ajekigbe: The Joy of Moving My Music from 4-Piece Ensemble  to 36-Piece Band

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Humility, focus and discipline stand him out – so does his band’s signature attire and style with trend-setting sparkling white cloths matched with abeti aja caps. His innovation re-defined fashion for live musicians on stage. Going through that career path, however, came with stiff opposition and stern warning from his father who doubled as his mentor and cheerleader: he was warned to avoid ending up a womaniser and polygamist. Today, he’s fulfilled that. What started like a dream has become a reality.

S haring nostalgic experiences that have shaped his life and how he felt about his father and mother, he said, “Initially, I thought they were not my real parents. But I later realised they were training me in the right path. Attending rehearsals for the Fanti carnival in Lagos during Easter period helped me blend my secular and gospel music. My dad allowed us mix with others. During our days, we cherished ourselves and valued relationships. I could go to my friend’s house to play, eat and gist but things have changed. Parents have become protective of their wards. Besides, the economy was tough but better. The children of nowadays are digital children. Digital side of life has given children an edge over us.’’

How Lateef Jakande curtailed my dream to be a doctor
His dream to become a medical doctor, he claimed, was truncated by one government policy. Being a brilliant student who topped his class, he was his teacher’s delight as he clinched prizes and awards in school for outstanding performances. The heavy blow was dealt him and his father, who was heartbroken. In an emotion-laden voice, he said: “Growing up, I’ve been receiving gifts in the school. My sisters always wanted to go to our prize-giving day programme because they know I would make them shine. There was a year I collected eight prizes out of 12 subjects. As a child I was one of the best students. I also received several awards for the best tenor singer and overall chorister of the years. Since my school days, I’ve been an award recipient. So, I wanted to be a medical doctor because my dad was a nurse. I loved to see him treat patients, so I had nurtured the dream to be like my dad. But unfortunately, in my own period we were cheated. Even if you were the best in your primary school, for which I was, they would take you to the same secondary school. My period was during the Lateef Jakande era. So, if you had to go to school, you couldn’t go to a school more than 10 kilometres from your house. My dad was not comfortable because I was the best in my primary school. Unfortunately they didn’t allow us do any exams like they do today in all the unity schools. It was compulsory to move to the nearest secondary school from your primary school and that in a great deal truncated my ambition to become a medical doctor. Back then, the nearest secondary school didn’t have a laboratory, so we had to be taken to another school for our biology, physics and chemistry practical classes. In Form Four, we were advised to move to Art class due to lack of laboratories.’’

Unveiling the music minstrel
With a forced shift in career path, and growing interest in music, all his peers wanted to be like Michael Jackson, and so he practised the artiste’s ‘moonwalk’ steps in school. He also fell in love with King Sunny Ade, late Biggie Wright and Swing Paw-paw. Ayo Ajekigbe is the band leader and Chief Executive Officer of Faith Music Band. In his late forties, he is married to Olapeju with three children. He began his music career in 1996 as the choir master of First Baptist Church Choir on Lagos Island. His sojourn into the business of music is best told by him: “I and Sunday Omotosho, started our love for music at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. Along the line, he was contracted as one of the organists in the church, so I met him when I came back and we renewed our friendship. A few years after he called to tell me that we should start a musical group from the choir, this would perform classical and secular songs for those celebrating birthdays and other celebrations. We began a one-man-piece band. It grew to an eight-piece band. Today, the dream has blossomed into an 11-piece band on the stage performing. We’ve enjoyed God’s grace over the past years. It was like a dream when we started. It wasn’t easy because I was combining music with my regular job as an accountant.’’
In what would mark a watershed in his entry into full-time music, a member of the group opted out to form his band. So, he was left with Omotosho and the percussionist. He then brought in a new member, Oye. But at that point, the onus had fallen on him to lead the band which he declined, apprehensive of how his late father would react to his choice of singing secular songs as opposed to singing gospel songs. But destiny came and he couldn’t but heed the call to follow what he’s been destined to do. From a humble four-piece band, he’s grown into a 36-piece band which performs three functions simultaneously at the same time.
Meanwhile, his late father had no clue he had formed a band with his friends and had started playing gigs. Being a gold fish, he couldn’t hide for too long till his father found him performing live on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA’s) AM Express, a morning magazine television in the late 1990s.
On his return from the TV show, Ajekigbe narrated what ensued: “My father was a deacon in the church. As a deacon, there are some expectations from him and his children. I came back home and he called me. He called me to ask if I wanted to pursue singing as a career and I told him I just wanted to back it up with my job. He then told me of countless musicians who have ended up being polygamous, warning that I should be careful of women. He didn’t discourage me from performing instead he encouraged me by giving me tips on how to succeed. He knew music was my talent. But he wasn’t comfortable with me being a musician. He felt my life is different from every other person’s life. He feared that I would join the league of musicians who womanised and ended up being polygamous. I promised my father that I would not disappoint him. God has helped me keep that promise. I thank God I was able to hold on to his words of advice.”

My music, innovation, the stage and craftsmanship
Sharing his trade secret and the inspiration behind his one-of-a-kind white attire and the abeti-aja cap, he said: “The bands’ attire is an inspiration from God. We just decided to be unique because we noticed many bands didn’t really dress up in a unique way. Some wore different kinds of clothes on stage and even when they wore same clothes, you’ll notice they’re not uniform and lack colour, style and panache. In that regards, we decided to be unique on the stage. As you know, white represents purity, divinity and cleanliness. Initially, we started with a special Yoruba-styled cap called gobi, and then noticed people copied it. We then changed our cap to abeti aja. That was how it became our trademark. It has stood us out and we’ve received loads of compliments from people. Because of our uniqueness, most bands now dress well. It’s one thing to have built ourselves to such a level but I know it could only have been God who has done it. Anyone coming into faith music band must be able to sing and, or play musical instruments. I have been lucky and blessed to have skillful, diligent and dedicated band members.”

And they inspired me
Watching Ayo Ajekigbe perform, it’s hard to pigeonhole him as he wafts through various genres of music, cutting across age and social standing. Where does he get his inspiration from? “Owing to my being raised on the Island, I emulated Biggie Wright -Wura Fadaka. I listened to and enjoyed his music growing up. He’s one of my music role models. Unfortunately, he died some years ago. I also like Sunny Ade. My dad bought his records and I loved to watch him perform. The other person who inspired me was Mr Bode Ogunde popularly known as Swing Pawpaw. He was like a brother to me. He started out in the First Baptist Church. He sang with us and I like his style of music. I also love Pa Ebenezer Obey’s music.”

When education meets music
On talents, education and persistence, he said: “I know that I’m talented and thank God my father gave me education. When education meets talent and intelligence, a great music business thrives. All these work hand in hand for me.”

Escaping landmines of the music industry
Just like anyone in the business of entertainment, money, women, drugs, and immorality are some challenges he faces. Ajekigbe talks about how he’s been able to keep his head up. “There have been loads of temptations. There was a day I was performing, instead of this lady to ‘spray’ money on my head, she seductively ‘sprayed’ the cash below my belt. I was so embarrassed! After the performance, she invited me but I declined. This is just a few of the temptations we face. I get loads of suggestive and seductive gestures on stage. It’s been by God’s grace and contentment for me to remain standing. I’ve been able to hold on strong through God –my dad’s advice and my wife’s support.  Besides, I’m a Christian in the real sense of the word because I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and Saviour.”

How I thrive on my wife’s support
When quizzed how his wife copes with his job, he was quick to say: “If I had started performing on stage fully before I met her maybe she wouldn’t have decided to marry me. She knew me as a chorister not a stage performer. I had to sit her down and convince her that I wouldn’t let her down as she was afraid. But I promised her. And to date, she gives her full support and prays for me. Aside from God, she’s my pillar. For the fact that she also sings; she so understands. She stepped down for me and has had to focus on her career, education and the children. To date, she composes songs for me. She’s so supportive.”

From choir festival with romance
Sharing the romantic meeting which started with a spark at the Baptist Church choir festival and what makes his spouse special and unique, Ajekigbe said: “We’ve been in the Baptist Church choir for a while but in different branches. We celebrate the choir festival yearly. So that year, we were invited to perform in her church. I was awestruck by her pristine beauty while she was collecting the offering. After the programme, I approached her. We soon became friends. It took me years to convince her as we courted for seven years. We got married eventually and it has been a fruitful marriage. My wife is my confidant. She’s so special. During our courtship we quarrelled but I was strongly convinced she’s my wife. She’s a complete woman. She adds value to life of people around her. I married her when I was nobody but today I’m somebody. She changed lots of things about me and made me a responsible man. I don’t regret marrying her.”

Raising children
And this is how he feels about raising children: “One needs a load of commitment and dedication to raise children these days. It hasn’t been easy but I thank God for his favour. Raising children is not about money alone. My dad wasn’t so rich but we were comfortable. Discipline starts from home. Whatever one does, the children are watching and emulating. I think the hardest part of raising children is when they transcend to teenagers. They are exposed to so much evil at this stage of life. But with good moral and spiritual upbringing, they will be guided. The joy of any parent is to see their children do well and excel in life.”

All work and play
When he’s not working he rests on Mondays and rehearses with the band on Tuesdays. Wednesdays, he keeps tab on happenings in the office and his recording studio and record label. For him, work starts in full throttle from Thursday to Sunday. “I hardly have free time. But I create a two-week holiday for myself twice a year to vacation outside the country.”
Admiring men of history
“I admire my dad – he was everything to me. He wanted to see the best in me. He ensured I lacked nothing. When I did well in school, he rewarded me accordingly. My dad worked hard so that his children could succeed. Unfortunately, he didn’t reap the fruit of his labour. I look back and want to be like the giver my dad was. He taught us to give without expecting a reward. At times I get emotional when talking business with some clients who can’t afford to pay my band’s fee but require my services. I feel their pulse. My dad is my number one role model because he was a very good father. The second person I admire is the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I was young then, but I like his vision. When I read his history, I liked him. As a child, my father compelled us to read newspapers. The third person I admire is Gen. Murtala Muhammed. Of all the three, I can’t compare anyone to my dad. If he were alive today, he’d be so proud of me. One thing I’m looking to do is to immortalise him.”
Where does Ajekigbe see himself in a couple of years to come and what does he think about how he’s rated in the music industry? He noted: “I always assess myself every quarter and every year. I can tell you faith music band has been moving from glory to glory by God’s grace. In the next five years, I see an outstanding band with footprints on the international stage. Last year, we were awarded the best live band by the Events Planners Association and also rated by ThisDay newspaper as one of the top five bands in Nigeria. The awards are just stepping stones because we are not relenting on our laurels.”