Monday, 17 October 2016

The KSA Memoir: How I ran away from home to Baba Sala

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KSA....'I told mum I gained admission into UNILAG to douse family tension'

“Early in 1963, I got an offer from Idowu Owoeye’s band to go on a playing tour of Abeokuta.  The band was not invited to play, but Owoeye believed that there was a chance to make money because the trip coincided with the coronation of Oba Gbadebo as Alake of Egbaland.  His band members also believed it was an inspired decision, as they expected important guests to be in Abeokuta for the event. 
Patronage, we all thought, was assured. We believed we would secure a hotel with a sizeable number of guests who might want to be entertained.  Getting away from home was easy.  The school was on vacation and I told my mother that we were going on an excursion.

On arrival in Abeokuta, we discovered that most of the guests who came for the coronation left immediately after the event. We stayed in Kano Stores, then one of the most popular hotels in the town.  But we had neither accommodation nor the money to pay for it or even fares back to Osogbo.  Our chances of being booked were slim because there were many big bands invited for the coronation and they had not left.  They included Adeolu Akinsanya, Idowu Animashaun, I.K. Dairo and co.  Everything suggested that our dream was going bust.  The first two nights were spent idling away at the hotel, where we slept outside with our instruments. This infuriated the hotel management which viewed us tramps.
KSA sings, Ebenezer Obey sings, Fatai Rolling Dollars sings...all for KSA's mentor, Moses Olaiya aka Baba Salah
On the third day, however, the management of the hotel started warming up to us and took us as a resident band of sorts.  We remained there for about two weeks, during which we were unable to make enough money to take us back to Osogbo.  The crowd just did not respond well to our music.  I longed to return home because I had spent about two of the three weeks I told my mother that the excursion would last.

Confusion and desperation took over me and I approached older members to lend me money, which I was aware they did not have.  Another problem was that there was no replacement for me if I left the band.  I was in trouble and knew it.  All attempts to console me were futile.  I woke up one morning and remembered that one of our former members had gone to join Moses Olaiya, who was to become famous as Baba Sala, in Lagos.

From Abeokuta to Baba Sala—One shilling, nine pence!
Instantly, I decided that I was going to join him in Lagos within that week. My head throbbed with thoughts of how to raise the fare.  What I came up with was that if I got one shilling and six pence, I would get to Lagos. But where was the money going to come from?  Hope rather than expectation ruled my head.
“With my little bag and two shillings tucked in my inner pocket, I took a bus to Tinubu. Midway through the journey, I slept off because I had become jaded after the grueling lorry trip from Abeokuta.  But the time I woke up, the bus was in Keffi and I was the only passenger left”. 
Then luck smiled on me.  While playing one night, the crowd suddenly started appreciating our music.  About 50 people danced before us, pasting money on our foreheads.  That went to the common purse. My drumming got better and more revelers came to stick money in my breast pocket.  By the end of the show, I had one shilling and nine pence—all for me.  From the common purse, I was given about nine pence. I was ready for Lagos.

In order not be dissuaded, I told one member of the band, to whom I was closest, of my plan to leave for Lagos in the morning.  He warned me not to go, particularly because our band leader would be into trouble with my mother if he returned to Osogbo without me.  Though my mother still believed that I was on an excursion, I considered what my friend said and decided to write a note, through him, to her.
KSA....Love for music undiluted
The Lagos-Worry-Lorry-Journey…
At about 8a.m, I stole away from the group.  The lorry I boarded was tightly packed with passengers and luggage.  Each time the driver stepped on the break, there was a clash of heads.  I was forced to complain, albeit to the driver’s anger.  He yelled:  ‘Were wo ni yen?’ (Who is that lunatic shouting?).  The conductor replied: ‘Omo kan bayi ni o.  E ma da loun.  Boya oti mu igbo ni’. (It is one small boy.  Ignore him; he’s probably smoked marijuana).  I did not respond because I had a bigger worry:  I did not know where I was going in Lagos, but I thought I stood a good chance of being directed if I did not talk back at them.  Again, the man I was to meet was not expecting me.  I only knew that he played with Moses Olaiya, whose house I did not know either.
KSA....Love for music undiluted
Two years before then, I was in Lagos, with the band, for rehearsals at Badejo Records at Onola Street on Lagos Island.  The next day, we had a recording session at Phillips Studios in Apapa.  Unfortunately, we were thrown out because we played in discordant tunes.  We did not even have fares back to Badejo’s house or money for food.  To raise money, we took our instruments on our heads and headed for one hotel where we played.  I was given three pence, of which I spent one penny each on garri and fish.  I saved the remaining penny.  There was no need to spend more than that since I ate very little. Some of my colleagues ate, drank and smoked well.  It was then I realized that smokers would pick cigarette over food if they have to choose.  Even the garri I bought was divided into two because we were not sure if we would still get a chance to play and make extra money.  As it happened, we still did not have enough money to take us back.  Our leader decided that we should sell some of our instruments.  He asked me to follow him to Dr. Victor Olaiya’s place in Tinubu.  I accompanied him, carrying the conga drums on my head.  But Dr. Olaiya said he could not buy the type of conga we brought.  He later held a discussion with my leader and we left the drums with him.  Whether he paid or not, I would not know.  However, we were able to go back to Osogbo.  I began to remember what happened on that trip and prayed that it should not repeat itself.

I had met Dr. Victor Olaiya before then because he was always coming to play in Osogbo. But he did not know me so well.  Each time he came to town, I hung around where he stayed in Major Fakunle’s place.  Fakunle was our captain in the Boys’ Brigade, so I had easy access to him and met many musicians.  I was attracted to Dr. Olaiya and I ensured that I was always on hand to carry his trumpet when he stepped off the bus.  What I liked most about him was his white handkerchief he held.  The handkerchief suggested to me that he cared so much for his trumpet.
KSA...Baba Salah advised him to see mum after leaving home for years
The Search for Brother Ayo…
As we got close to Lagos, I started worrying about where to find my former band member, whom we called Brother Ayo.  My worries receded when I realized that I could trace Moses Olaiya through Dr. Victor Olaiya.  My mind suddenly became chaotic as we approached Oshodi and I thought of not getting off the lorry.  Immediately I stepped out, I approached one man for direction to Moses Olaiya’s place.  He told me to take a bus to Tinubu.  I was happy because I thought my problems were close to being solved.

With my little bag and two shillings tucked in my inner pocket, I took a bus to Tinubu. Midway through the journey, I slept off because I had become jaded after the grueling lorry trip from Abeokuta.  But the time I woke up, the bus was in Keffi and I was the only passenger left.  Again, I had to ask for directions to Moses Olaiya’s place.  And again, I was told to go to Tinubu.
KSA...Got mum to bless him for music
Unknown to me, I had been misled.  People knew Dr. Olaiya, not Moses Olaiya and it was the reason I was directed to Tinubu.  My confusion increased and in that state of mind, I took another bus to Oshodi.  I got off somewhere and knelt down to pray that God should help me find Brother Ayo, who was with Moses Olaiya. After the prayer, I got up and started feeling hungry. But I dared not eat because I was scared I could run out of money and I was yet to find Brother Ayo.  With this on my mind, I kept walking until I met a man who told me that Moses Olaiya lived in idi-Oro, near Mushin.  I felt a rush of excitement.  The man offered to give me a detailed direction, but in my excited state, I told him I knew the way.  I found myself on another bus which took me to Idi-Oro.  All through the trip, I was staring out of the widow and I saw Domino Stores, opposite Moses Olaiya’s house.  The building arrested my attention and again, I missed where I was going.

While thinking about going back, a man I had not met walked up to me and asked if I was looking for Moses Olaiya’s house. He also offered to take me there.  I did not know if I should be happy or sad.  I actually fretted because I thought he could be a kidnapper. But I had no choice and joined him on a bus to idi-Oro.  Through the bus window at Idi-Oro, the man pointed at a signpost, tapped on me on the shoulder and said: “Look at that signboard; that is the place”, I almost jumped off the bus before it could stop.  I kept yelling at the conductor to let me get off, but he insisted that we must get to idi-Oro.  I bawled until he let me.  Brother Ayo was on the balcony and I called out to him.  He was shocked to see me and shouted: ‘Sunday, how did you do it?’
KSA...Learnt how to play guitar secretly
The house is a very big one with many entrances.  Brother Ayo had to tell me which of the entrances to go through.  But, I missed my way by ending up at the wrong one. After a long wait, he came down looking for me and was still unable to find me.  As I was also unable to find him, I became worried, peeping into each of the rooms on my way. From one of those rooms came a voice asking what I wanted.  ‘I want to see Brother Ayo’, I replied.  ‘Who is Ayo?’  Another voice asked.

I was in a spin, wondering if I actually saw Brother Ayo.  I managed to answer.  ‘The man who plays with Moses Olaiya’; the voice redirected me, saying Brother Ayo was known as Ariya Father in the house.  I got upstairs to meet Brother Ayo.  I was giddy with excitement for coming across the first familiar face since leaving Abeokuta.  Tired as I was, I devoured the plate of rice he bought for me.

(Excerpts from the book; KSA: My Life, My Music by King Sunny Ade. Read ‘How Baba Sala raised and trained me’ tomorrow on this blog)

Gbenga Dan Asabe

Africa's Number One Celebrity Encounter Blog


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