Ara, the Goddess of Drum and her passion for culture
For the female talking drummer, Aralola Olamuyiwa, popularly called Ara, Nigerians, and indeed, Africans, must not see their culture as inferior. She said they should instead hold it in high esteem.
The lady, who spoke to The Guardian after her performance at the second edition of I Love My Culture, which held at the Alliance Francaise, Lagos, said, “I am passionate about my culture; it is my identity.”
While saying culture makes a people unique, promoting it in Africa has been difficult, because people have been made to believe that it is all about fetishism.
According to her, “I Love My Culture is a concert series that pays tribute to the drumming culture in Nigeria. The set objectives are to reinforce true cultural values and vision of traditional African society and the forging of a return path towards, honest lifestyle, decency, respect, good virtues as taught by our culture, through music and arts. We are taking it to campuses and all over the world.”
Reflecting on how she started drumming at age five, Ara said, “I fell in love with the talking drum when I visited my great grand father’s palace. I was courageous enough to ask the old man to allow me play the drum, so, when the Ara brand was created, I told my former manager and founder of Atunda Entertainment, Otunba Wanle Akinboboye, I could beat drums. He had made me to play the sax, bass guitar and set drums, so, I told him of my background in drum.”
Ara’s late father also influenced her love for music. “He had a huge collection. I was the head drummer in my secondary school and it was fun those days. All the boys wanted to know me but I was a tomboy who didn’t give a damn about boys. I also grew up in a house filled with guys,” she said.
She added, “my first performance on stage was at Adegbemile Cultural Centre, Akure. I went to Akure recently and stood on that stage and had nostalgia of where it all started. I had always loved the talking drum but what has kept me away from playing it was because I saw that only men played it. I was very inquisitive and would ask my uncles and aunts why it was just men who beat drums and if I could touch it. Those days at a big resort owned by my manager, they had talking drums as the doorbell. On, one occasion, instead of just picking the stick and hitting it to indicate that I wanted to come inside, I just picked it up and started playing. Although it was the souvenir type of drum, I started making sounds with it. My manager, thereafter, asked me if I wanted to play it and I said yes.
“He, however, drew my attention to the fact that women don’t play, it but that if it was something I wanted to do then, I should go ahead and give it a try. He wanted to get the band members to teach me but they said they didn’t know how to do so. Later, I bought the CDs of musicians and I started learning. That was how I started playing the talking drum.
“Whenever people see me, they just make their hands into the talking drum and I just laugh. It has opened doors for me and that’s the instrument God used to bring me out. It has brought about positive returns in my life and I thank God.”
Speaking on her first performance on stage as a drummer, Ara said, “I was jittery, because I knew I was breaking a major tradition. And I wasn’t sure of what would happen, but I was sure I wanted to do it. The audience was initially skeptical. But when they saw my performance, they went wild. They didn’t believe it. They gave me a standing ovation. I did a full split. I noticed later that people who played talking drums were back up instrumentalists. Then I said to myself that I must do something different. So, I sang, danced and learnt how to play the talking drum with my hand under my leg, with a split from the back and in different ways.”
Some of the songs rendered at the show include, Kuluso, Ajo and Omo Yoruba.
So to conclude her performance on that day, she did a full split with the talking drum with her head back and hair flowing. “I’ll never forget that day. In fact, when people were shouting, I thought my trouser had torn and they were laughing at me because the ovation that greeted the performance was loud.”
On her upcoming projects, she said there is World Female Drummers Festival, which is the gathering of female drummers from different parts of the world, it is themed; One Drum, One Voice One World.
Another project is Inspire Me, which is a reality show with a corporate social responsibility twist. “Nigerians will love this,” she said, adding: ‘Healing Drums’ is another project, which is intended to create mental health awareness with drums and music.
On challenges she has faced since she started 15 years ago, Ara said they are absolutely necessary for growth.
“It’s like a promotion examination you need to write to go to the next level.”