Thursday, 20 October 2016

The KSA Memoir: How I became a band leader @ age 20


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KSA served Bolarinwa Abioro but

With Moses Olaiya’s blessings, I began my transformation from a band member to a leader in 1966.  It was everything but smooth shift. The instruments from Chief Amuwo were in my possession alright, but there were many loose ends to be tied up.   

I did not pay for the instruments, which were handed over to me in December 1966, meaning that Amuwo still owned them.  There was an agreement between us, granting him two-thirds of the money the band made at any gig.  The agreement also stipulated that if the band got invited to play through Amuwo, he was entitled to half of the money paid to the band.

The agreement was not a problem, as we would have gladly played for nothing. Just getting a chance to play was more than enough.  One of the challenges I faced was what name to give to the band.  Chief Amuwo wanted me to continue with the name of his old band—High Society band.  I had no problem with this because I also realized if I had named the band after myself, members of my family would have discovered that I had been playing music – something known only to my mother.  The thought of what they could do to my mother scared me.  I suggested High Society band, led by Sunny Adex to Chief Amuwo.  But I quickly realized that there was a musician named Tony Adex.  For obvious reasons, Adex seemed off-limits as part of the band name.  Again, I suggested High Society band led by Sunny.  That was also rejected when a band member reminded me that there were already many ‘Sunnys’.  There were Sunny Agaga and Sunny Oguns, to name just two.
KSA with Band Boys at Trafalgar Square, London in 1971
‘Sunny who will yours be?’, asked the band member.  Arriving at a name took much of my time because, even as the leader, I felt I had to consult widely and not impose my views.  With no other option coming up, we settled for High Society Band, led by Sunny Adex.  My biggest challenge, however, was how to raise a band.  For weeks, my mind was filled with names and faces of possible band members.  At some point, my mind conjured images of a fully-fledged band with me as the leader.  But these images were quickly wiped off by the reality that I was going to encounter difficulties in getting band members.  But I had to do something.
“Some of the members felt it was a wise decision, given that it was a common thing among musicians seeking independence.  However, a few felt otherwise.  Those opposed to the idea argued that the money the band was making was too little; hence there was no need to set anything aside for the purchase of equipment”.
KSA...The Enigma
The Making of my first band…
The first person I approached was one of the guys I shared a room with in Olaiya’s house.  His name is Micheal Babalola and he remains with me till today.  When I explained the situation to him, he showed interest but raised the question of where we would live after forming the band because it would not seem healthy to continue living in Olaiya’s place.  ‘A hotel’, I replied.  Babalola was shocked; he had good reasons to be.  We had no money for accommodation, meaning that we would not have a place to sleep until the guests who came for gigs had gone home.

Reluctantly, he bought the idea.  With Babalola in the bag, I continued shopping for more members.  I would approach bands, call a few members aside and tell them about the instruments I had and that I was setting up a band.  ‘Would you join me?’  I asked.  Most times, the response was a standard ‘me? With you?’  It also did not help that those I wanted to poach were already playing for established groups and were considerably older than I was.  A few, however, decided to go with me and the band started with six members.  In addition to myself and Babalola were Tajudeen Fadeyi, Jimoh Ashapaye, Ademola Balogun and Folorunsho Oni.

KSA with late boss, Chief Bolarinwa Abioro at Buckingham Palace, London in 1971
Two weeks after, we were joined by Tafa Alabi and Bello Ajileye. These were the people with whom I started out.  The same year, I also got Tunde Alade and Cidona Akinyele.

Even with the band in place, I was still unsure of the brand of music to play.  With Moses Olaiya, we played something similar to I.K. Dairo’s music.  But I realized that if I had stuck to that, I would have provoked allegations of wanting to challenge I.K. Dairo’s pre-eminence.  In those days, this was a big social and cultural crime, particular for an upstart, as I would have been regarded.  Yet, my band members were more familiar with I.K. Dairo’s brand because it was the rave at the time.  Without a clear-cut musical direction, I decided to adopt a medley of styles created by reigning masters like I.K. Dairo, Dele Ojo and Ambrose Campbell.

However, the styles were inter-cut by a few things I had managed to develop on my own.  I told my band that we would continue with this approach until we were able to create our own identity.  If I played the guitar, some of my band members would say:  ‘That sounds like Ambrose Campbell’.  I would say yes, but let’s just play music.  So we played whatever hit us on any particular day – I.K. Dairo, Ayinde Bakare, Dele Ojo or J.O. Araba.  But anytime we had young people, particularly the educated ones, we played all.  Simply, what we did was play music that would ensure we did not starve.  It worked because I.K. Dairo was in Ilesha; Campbell was out of the country.  So we were not accused of competing with either of them and were able to build our own fan base.

Our lucky gigs …
However, it was not as though gigs kept falling on our laps.  To a large extent, I would say we were lucky.  But I am not sure we were exactly qualified for the luck.  Pa Ayinde Bakare and his band used to play at that Western Coliseum, owned by Amuwo, every Tuesday and Friday night.  Those nights were normally packed with people.  About one month after we started rehearsals, we were booked to start playing after Ayinde Bakare.  I must confess it was a tough one because Bakare’s band was a big one and the only way we could attract any kind of following was to play in another venue, to avoid comparisons with Bakare.
KSA...'Chief Abioro's suspect of our waving success in the USA made him abandon us in the cold'
The thought of playing before or after Bakare petrified us, but Chief Amuwo said it was an opportunity for us to prove that we were serious musicians.  He actually told us that it was for this reason he gave out his instruments to us.  I could not argue with him because he owned the Western Coliseum and the band I was leading.

Despite Amuwo’s efforts at shoring up my confidence, I remained scared.  While I wanted to be adored like Pa Bakare, I realized the adoration will not come easy as most people were already familiar with his brand of music.  On  Tuesday, 15 December, 1966, Chief Amuwo directed me to inform my band members to prepare for a battle that would prove whether we were well-equipped for serious business or not.  It was the day we were going to play alongside Ayinde Bakare.  ‘Can;’t Amuwo ge us to play in another place’, I thought angrily.  It was an impotent rage.  Amuwo was determined to test us that night; and against a giant – Bakare.  ‘Well, they would not kill us if we failed to live up to expectation’, I told the band.

The show kicked off and we were asked to open.  Fortunately, a sizeable crowd had gathered earlier than 10p.m that we were expecting them.  In fact, by 8p.m, the Western Coliseum was chock-full.  Bakare’s band men were setting their instruments when we started playing and, quite gracefully of them, they did not disturb us by testing their equipment.  I am sure they must have wondered where this rag-tag team dropped from.  However, judging by the crowd’s reaction, our music was appealing and a few people came out to give us money, a total of about one pound and two shillings.
KSA...A Greatness foretold
Our days of humble beginning…
Big money!  It indeed was, at least for a band whose members were more accustomed to trekking than commuting by bus.  In those days, we trekked from Apongbon to idi Oro, a distance of about 7 to 8 kilometers.  The fact that we were many and chatted all the way made such journeys less of torture.  We would leave Apongbon through Idumota down to Iddo Terminus, which was like a foreign land.  By the time we got to Oyingbo, we would window-shop at Bhojsons.  From there, we would move to Olopomerin where there were well lit and tree-lined streets.  Once we got to idi-Oro, we would decide when to meet the next day because we would have to sleep in the morning rather than rehearse and sleep at night.  We were used to rehearsing in the night and sleeping in the morning.  So, if we finished playing at about 2 or 3a.m, we would trek to places where bands played.  By 5 or 6a.m, we would head back home to sleep.  That was our routine.
KSA & his Band Boys in the early days 
When Authority blessed KSA…
The money we made left us giddy with excitement.  We sat down to watch Ayinde Bakare play, because we were also due to take over when he went on break.  During one of the breaks, Ayinde Bakare came to us and said we had done very well.  He also prayed for us.  It was if I did not hear him well.  Ayinde Bakare praising us?  It seemed too good to be true because he was a master; to play alongside his band had to be the ultimate experience.  Before he started playing at all, fans would throw money at him in adulation.  The fact that he rated me at all was almost the equivalent of a Papal blessing for a Catholic.
KSA & his Band Boys in the early days 
That night, I told my band that we would split the money into two, take one half and give the other half to Chief Amuwo.  The moment we told him that we made over one pound, I also told him that tradition demands that one’s first earning must be taken home to our parents.  He split what we brought into three and took one part.  He later gave it to us, calling us one after the other and giving us our share.  We were too excited to take a taxi from Apongbon to Idi-Oro, a ride that would have cost two shillings.  Sometimes, it cost one shilling, three pence.  On the way, I bought food, but could not eat.  I took the food to Idi-Oro, but also forgot to touch it until the next day.

Our experience with Ayinde Bakare convinced me that I was not in the wrong trade and I also started thinking how to improve the standard of our music.  I decided to take the band out of Moses Olaiya’s place in Idi-Oro, Moses Olaiya’s place, to Railway Line located between Alakara and Idi-Oro.  From there I moved on to another house on Labinjo Road, close to Eko Boys’ High School.

The shows kept coming and my confidence kept rising.  Yet, there was still a long way to go.  The first step on that way was to get our own equipment and stop depending on Amuwo’s.  This was explained to band members and I told them that there was a need for us to keep a certain percentage of the money we were making for the purchase of equipment.  The way to go, I reasoned, was not to declare everything we made to Chief Amuwo.  Some of the members felt it was a wise decision, given that it was a common thing among musicians seeking independence.  However, a few felt otherwise.  Those opposed to the idea argued that the money the band was making was too little; hence there was no need to set anything aside for the purchase of equipment.  They did not stop at that.  They also formed a habit of disclosing exactly how much we were making to Chief Amuwo.  At a point, they got angry and decided to quit the band.  I pleaded with them not to leave, explaining that once we got our own equipment, their remuneration would improve.  But it was dialogue with the deaf.  They carried out their threat.  The agreement with Amuwo also collapsed.  However, I had been investing money in musical instruments, in anticipation of a severance of ties with Amuwo.
One of KSA's albums for Chief Bolarinwa Abioro's African Songs Ltd
The investments in equipment were not as big as I would have wanted them before the friction with Amuwo and I risked having far less equipment than I required.

 (Excerpts from the book; KSA: My Life, My Music by King Sunny Ade. Read ‘Meet the man who dashed me my 1st set of musical equipments’ tomorrow on this blog)

Gbenga Dan Asabe

Africa's Number One Celebrity Encounter Blog

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