The poetry of Mr. Fuji, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister – A tribute by Lagbaja

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Being bombarded with incredulous stories of dizzying billions and the unbelievable wickedness in high places, it is difficult to think or talk about much else. Poorly equipped soldiers being massacred while their superiors were busy lining their pockets with funds meant for essential weapons? Extreme!

However, I was determined to will myself up from this knockdown before I’m counted out again. Five years have flown by since Sikiru Ayinde Barrister left us. About this time each year since his death, some major incident always compelled me to procrastinate with the thought that ‘I will write the tribute next year’. Five years, and here we go again with another potential postponement. Aah… Billions! Dazed by the combination of hooks and jabs, it is easy to remain on the canvas as another year flows by. Can we please, take a brief break to remember and celebrate Mr. Fuji? Please…

It took a while before I fell in love with the music of Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Fuji in general. Probably 1983…thereabouts. For a long while I was too enthralled by highlife and its new brothers being birthed by Fela, Oyelana, Bucknor, Haastrup, O.J. etc.. I had no care for much else… well, apart from popular Black music from the USA. My delay was likely due to a mix of several factors. A major one, probably, was that it was difficult for me to follow the lyrics because of their colouration by Middle Eastern inflections. Somehow, it was easier for me to flow with the words in Haruna Ishola’s Apala than the younger sibling, Fuji. I was already a long-term fan of Haruna. But when I eventually latched on to Barrister’s Fuji, I discovered a wealth of great music. At that time, driven by traditional drums and percussion, Fuji was mostly devoid of Western instruments. Its biggest exponent was Sikiru Ayinde.

His rich voice had a wide range. His stressed falsetto was moving. He had an engaging way with words. To best appreciate the spontaneity of his poetry, one had to see him live on stage. In the studio, the artist has more leeway as one can make corrections and record several takes until satisfied. The stage is less forgiving, especially at a party where the singer has to improvise on the fly when praise singing, as is typical of a Fuji gig. This is where one feels the compositional spontaneity of Barrister.

His skill must have been honed from many years of numerous performances. It would be pleasing to have more potential fans surmount the language barrier and discover the depth of Barrister’s art like I did. I am thus translating one of his last classics as an example of what many have been missing. Really, a translation cannot fully capture the nuances of the lyrics, especially with a rich language such as Yoruba, and in the hands of the adept artist that Ayinde was.

However, this should facilitate a better appreciation of his art, especially for those who are as challenged by the language as I was back then. Not that one needs to understand the lyrics of a song in order to enjoy it, but it sure adds an extra dimension to its appreciation. Welcome to the fans club of Mr. Fuji.

 

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