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From Wéré To Fújì … How Ilorin Got Its Groove

By jeleel Ojuade
26 September 2015   |   11:47 pm
History, development and cultural issues in relation to changes and continuities in the performances of Were and Fuji genres of music in Yorubaland has always been an interesting topic of academic engagement. And with the aim to unravel the transformation of ‘Were’ to ‘Fuji’ in performance, this exploration on ‘Were’/’Fuji’ has enabled identification of aspects…
Prof. Debra Klein with Alhaji Saka Danfo at the PMAN secretariat in 2012… in Ilorin

Prof. Debra Klein with Alhaji Saka Danfo at the PMAN secretariat in 2012… in Ilorin

History, development and cultural issues in relation to changes and continuities in the performances of Were and Fuji genres of music in Yorubaland has always been an interesting topic of academic engagement. And with the aim to unravel the transformation of ‘Were’ to ‘Fuji’ in performance, this exploration on ‘Were’/’Fuji’ has enabled identification of aspects within the performance arena that bother on language instructions, manipulations of musical instruments and human voice, as well as bodily instructions.

However, such performances in application, it is discovered, have occasionally contributed to peaceful co-existence through cultural continuity and morality embedded in the culture. The conclusion that ‘Were’ in performance locally transformed into ‘Fuji’ in modern society ‘Fuji’ is therefore an extension of ‘Were’, while the combination of both makes ‘Fuji’ “globally” acceptable in performance.

My early childhood development in a town considered as the base of the great literary writer, D.O. Fagunwa, who explored his ability to project cultural issues probably informed my interest in the arts. However, my closeness to my late grandfather, who was the Chief Imam of my town further exposed and informed my interest in Islam. Despite my age then, I often wondered why he was always singing while writing on the slate or occasionally reciting the Holy Qur’an?.

The sessions we had together, culminated into stories, histories, philosophical explanations and references to the cities of Ilorin and Iwo. The perception we garnered was that the city of Ilorin comes after the city of ‘Makkah’ religious-wise. All these raised my hope that made me looked forward to coming to Ilorin.

My coming to Ilorin in that context is ordained, not to read Religions but to study the arts of performance. How do we reconcile these two positions? In an effort to resolve such positions, the historical school of theatre gave an exposition that the origins of the theatre go back far into the past, to the religious rites of the earliest communities (Hartnoll, 2012:7). The activities involved in the theatre historically gave us an understanding today that three things are of necessity: actors speaking or singing independently of the original unison chorus; an element of conflict conveyed in dialogue; and an audience emotionally involved in the action but not taking part in it. The above stated three essential elements created a platform which without them, there may be religious or social ceremonies, but not theatre. It has been argued that the earliest extant Egyptian texts for funerals and coronations, some dating as far back as 3000BC, are really plays. Aristotle (a Greek philosopher) simply submits that a play is ‘an imitation of an action, and not the action itself’. Such assertion confirms that theatre is life, and life is theatre.

Theatrical studies further inform that the first great theatrical age in the history of western civilization is that of Greece in the fifth century BC. It was there that tragedies and comedies, some of which still exist, were first performed by actors and not by priests, in special buildings or precincts which, though hallowed, were not temples. The ruins of some of these still stand, and provide us with archaeological evidence. Documentation of both performances and buildings, and the influence of both can be traced in the European and American theatre up to the present day. The origin of the modern theatre can be found in the dithyramb (or unison hymn) sung round the altar of Dionysus, the wine-god whose cult had spread to Greece from the Near East, by a chorus of fifty men, five from each of the ten tribes of Attica (Hartnoll, 2012:8). The process of evolution from this simple act of worship to the full-scale Greek tragedy as we find it in classical Athens must have been a slow one, and it is not possible to pinpoint exactly the various stages.

Historiography places Ilorin in the same shape, being larger than its frame and archaeologically placed to be all inclusive. Religion being the rallying point, and at the centre, Ilorin is endowed with cultural activities which makes it ranks among the famous cities in the world. Research evidences of notable scholars within and outside the city of Ilorin attests to this fact and espouses the huge tradition in Ilorin. This paper at this point relies on a short brief on Ilorin.

Ilorin: In Retrospect
Sheikh Ahmad Tijani Adisa-Onikoko (1992) aptly put that ‘Ilorin was a miniature Nigeria. The city’s history is considered as the history of her Emirate, which dates back to 16th century even before Ojo Adeyemi who was believed to have founded Ilorin. Sheikh Ahmad’s narration states that Ojo Isekuse hailed from Oyo Ile, a brave hunter who used to sharpen his tool (Iron) at a stone in Bamdele’s compound. The act of sharpening his tool (the Iron), Ìlo Irin was constricted into the famous Ilorin. He further narrated that after a while, another brave hunter, Eminla, arrived. Both of them lived together. Ojo had no issues, but, Emila’s son was disrespectful to Òjó. This act of disrespect to Ojo brewed annoyance and Ojo fled to Shao where he reportedly died.

Another narration as reported by Jawondo and Salihu (2010), holds that Ilorin was derived from Ìlú Erin, which translates to town of Elephants. The explanations inform that the founder of Ilorin was a certain Ayinla from Òyó-Ilé, and that he sojourned in Ilorin to hunt elephants. This narration reportedly became popular when in 1824, an elephant was killed on the outskirts of Ilorin at a place called Oko-Erin(1). Jimoh (1994) re-emphasized earlier narration that Ilorin was derived from Ìlo-Irin.

The narrative surrounding the killing of the elephants arouses interest among scholars, which raises questions regarding the authenticity and adequacy such placement in history. The scholars resolved that to adequately reconstruct the history surrounding Ilorin, archaeologists, linguists, researchers, anthropologists and other enthusiasts need to assist in the pursuit of unravelling the mysteries in order to avoid inadequate or unclarified sources of information.

Afonja, the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, died tragically in 1828. While in Ilorin with his children and Laderin family were Magaji Agbadamu, Aare Ago of Ilorin, the Otun Ago from Alase’s compound, Magaji Ikolaba of Ilorin, Lapini from Ile Magaji Lapini and Magaji Afuku who were Aare Ona Kankanfo’s principal chieftains. The personality of Afonja brought about peace and harmonious co-existence which probably have been sustained till the present time.

An Analysis of ‘Wéré’, a Rendezvous!
‘Wéré’ as a concept looks whimsical, but with a difference. The stories surrounding ‘Wéré’ re-echo Siegel’s (1979) assertion that:
Continuity in dance must be worked at the minute you relax your efforts at preserving something you start to lose it. There is no such thing as setting aside an idea or a style or a work for a while and then expecting it to be intact when you come back to it later (xiii).
The above statement captures a work of art that is near extinction.

‘Wéré’, which is a devised wake-up call for sahur, started in Ilorin as an indigenous music pioneered by non-professionals for mere night entertainment during the month of Ramadhan. The group of people involved composed their songs on current affairs, which is flavoured with satirical statements, innuendoes, throwing of banters, praises, abusive remarks and of course prayers.

‘Wéré’ project became a necessity when an Anthropologist, Yoruba culture lover, Professor Debra Lynn Klein, who has been a friend for many years, won the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Grant in the United States of America. Debbie, as fondly called, proposed that we collaborate to research on ‘Wéré’ during the months of July and August, 2012, which coincided with the Ramadhan period. She was our guest at the Performing Arts Department, University of Ilorin, Nigeria.

The interactions espouse the hidden truths about ‘were’ in terms of history and performances. We were taking through the progressions and importantly captured how ‘Wéré’ metamorphosed into ‘Fuji’ and other genres. For instance, different ‘voices’ under different umbrellas, Fuji Musician Association of Nigeria (FUMAN); Association of Juju Musician (AJUM); Gospel Musicians Association of Nigeria (GOMAN) and Islamic Musician Association of Nigeria (ISMAN).

Historically, ‘Wéré’ music became institutionalized by Mallam Ibrahim Ayinde Kadir of Agbarere, who was sponsored by Dodo Oniwaka and Shehu Durosinlorun of Pakata who was supported by Alfa Ghali, when both competed for Emir’s shield in 1953 (Sheikh Adisa-Onikoko, 1992: 30). Unanimously, the group placed ‘Wéré’ as a play thing at the beginning, with the basic aim of putting others at alert during Ramadhan. This serves as an unpaid advert or call to duty. It drifted to a rendezvous; spot, where opposing groups or friendly ones agrees to meet in order to exhibit their prowess or expertise in ‘Wéré’. That is a miniature of a larger competition often organized by the Ilorin Descendant Progressive Union (IDPU) usually on the 29th of Ramadhan.

Alhaji Abubakare Sodeeq Baba Olobi alias Baba Muniru in an interview (2012) says:
“Wéré is the song that we use in waking people up at night during Ramadhan.”
He said some examples of the songs and the appropriate ‘voice’ needed for ‘Wéré’ are:
Èyin, ará àdúgbò e dìde/E mú sààrì je/Sààrì ti tó meaning: ‘the people on this street wake up/
It is time for sahur/ Sahur’s time is up.’
Salam alaykun onile (2ce)
Onile mo salamo
Salam alakun onile o

Meaning: May the peace of Allah be upon this household; the owner of this house I greet you; May the peace of Allah be upon this household.
Baba Olobi traced the beginning of ‘Wéré’ to the period of Adolf Hitler (1930:5) in Germany. He listed some of ‘Wéré’ pioneers which include Shehu from Alore who arrived Ilorin from Lagos in mid 1940s from Lagos. Equally was Lasisi Agbako who came from Ibadan. ‘Wéré’ in the 1960s featured Anure Ìdùgbá, Eboboh and Adisa Ita Ajia with Baba Olobi of Pakata as Group leaders, who became star singers. Baba Olobi said after winning the prize for consecutive years, he opted out of competitions and prefer to be there as part of the audience but not as contestants. He was of the belief that he should give the younger folks the opportunity to rise too.

Alhaji Zakariyau Ayinde Olayeri (alis Saka Danfo) – Lord Marshall, who is the Governor of the Performing Musician Association of Nigeria (PMAN), chronologically explained how himself and his budding ‘Wéré’ singers joined other musicians through inter-street competitions at designated points (rendezvous). He noted that the shift started with ‘voices’ and through imitations of the master-singers, they formulated their own songs. He explained that through generations, ‘Wéré’ then transformed into ‘Fuji’ with Alhaji Ayinde Barrister being the first to introduce that genre (‘Fuji’). Alhaji Saka Danfo listed his budding ‘Wéré’ musicians including Salihu Adisa Kuntu, Alhaji Isiaka Ayinla (Easy Kabaka), Aremu Alade Owo, Shehu Itamerin, Alhaji Saka Jagun (Alias Òsùpá Ìmólè).

The performance praxis in Ilorin ‘Wéré’ competition during the month of Ramadhan enjoyed the patronage of the famous Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union (IDPU). The association used to scout for sponsors, especially those who were financially buoyant to grace the grand finale of ‘Wéré’ competition on the 29th day of the month of Ramadhan each year. Opportunities abound in such events, ranging from community development projects (Road rehabilitations, construction works etc.) through promises or on the spot donations. ‘Wéré’ became a colourful event, until the tail end of the former Emir, Alhaji (Dr.) Zulukanain Gambari that the Emirate announced through the IDPU that “they felt what people of Ilorin need now is prayers and not ‘Wéré’ competition”. It actually marked the cancellation of that year’s competition.

Alhaji Isiaka Ayinla (Easy Kabaka) explained that it actually sent a considerable number of musicians out of Ilorin in order to further their music tradition. He said some of them went to Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode, Lagos, Oyo and other notable places.

However, storytelling in Africa has for some time now been recognized as an art form in its own right (Spenser, 2002:189). Through the work of scholars such as Ruth Finnegan (1967), Donald Cosentino (1980), and Francis Ngaboh-Smart (1986), storytelling in Sierra Leone has been brought to the attention to anthropologists and literary scholars. It has generally being acknowledged that such storytelling is basically a performance art, the emphasis in all the work rests on the narrative structure of the art form. Voices in ‘Wéré’/‘Fújì’ performances takes the form of physical voice change; musical instruments manipulations; movement (dance) choreography and individual creative ability.

The ‘Wéré’ project exposed us to different artiste using ‘dialects’ suitable in songs. In fact, particular artistes, Usman Okiki (Alausa) prefer singing ‘Wéré’/ ‘Fújì’ in Hausa language dialect.

Alhaji Saka Danfo exemplifies voice articulation as follows:
Bisimillahi re o
Bisimillahi ere ya
Fatiha Rabana
Fatiha Rabana ere ya
Mo gbó, mo yà wá ere ya

[Bisimillahi is what I start with
It signifies the beginning of our outing
It’s Fatiha Rabana
Those who heard and
branched, it’s time to play]

The tuned above as used is a developed version of ‘Wéré’s’ ‘Salam alaykun’ etc, which is a slower form of language delivery and articulation.
The fast tempoed version is in vogue now especially among ‘Fuji’ musicians and ‘Dadakuada’ such example is as follows:
Bisimillahi eeyan wa
A ranka dede o (2ce)
Sanu de suwa o
E bami k’alakowe (2ce)
Eebo alakowe (2ce)
E ba mi ki Yellow wa (2ce)
E ba mi ko mole o
Oko alakowe (2ce)
Oko eebo nun ni
A l’eebo l’obinrin
Owo owo re l’awa n wa o (2ce)
E ba mi ki yellow wa…
[Basimillahi my fellow being
I salute you (2ce)
I greet you (in Hausa language)
Please greet the learned for me (2ce)
The learned white woman (2ce)
Help me greet the yellow woman (2ce)
Please dance low
The learned woman’s husband
The husband of the white woman
It is your money that we are looking for (2ce)
Help me greet the Yellow woman)
À sé wéré nisé Olúwa/ Oba ti mo pe, t’o n je/ Iwo nikan l’oba (2ce)
(God is wonderful/ It is Him that I call on/ and He answers
It is only you that is the king).

E ba mi raba raba fun Olorun mi/ Oba a te rere kari aye (Let us give glory to God
Whose wonders are without boundaries).

• Excerpt from Dr. Ojuade’s A Teleological Analysis of the Transformation of ‘Wéré’ to ‘Fújì’ in Ilorin, Nigeria presented at the 2015 African Theatre Association (AfTA) Annual International Conference at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., between 21-28 July, 2015.