That experimentation paid off. Bubble, the album released by Ayuba in 1990 became a monumental hit that immediately catapulted the singer into national prominence. And since then, there has been no drab moment for Ayuba and his exciting career. “You know a lot of people now think I started my career with Bubble. Now I have to remind people that there were five albums before Bubble. They hardly remember that. After Bubble, I started getting invitations for concerts on university campuses. In fact, when Bubble came out, I was being invited to play in the universities virtually on daily basis. And because it’s very convenient for me to sing in English as well as in Yoruba, my music appeals to everybody irrespective of language.”
With the new Ayuba also came a nickname, Mr Johnson. And he tells you that the story behind the sobriquet is very real. “In 1989, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. While I was participating in a musical concert at the beach, I met a very pretty Brazilian girl. We got talking and I lied to her that my name was Mr Johnson, a university student from New York. Of course, I couldn’t tell her that my name was Adewale because she might not even be able to pronounce the name. I couldn’t also tell her that I am a musician because she might not like musicians. So I lied. One day she came visiting and unfortunately for me, an old video of my band’s live performance was on. She was angry that I had told her lies, and that led to the end of the brief relationship. When I returned to Nigeria, I wrote a song around that event. That was how “Mr Johnson” was born.”
Fuji is said to have originated from Mushin, a sprawling slum in Lagos. That might explain why many still regard the genre as music reserved only for the hoi-polloi. In truth, at paraga joints, inside molue and danfo buses as well as in every motor park in Lagos and other cities and towns in Nigeria’s South-West, your ears are relentlessly traumatized by an endless drone of fuji din emanating from everywhere. And at many a fuji concert, all the singers spew forth is a motley mix of lewd lyrics, self-praise, outright expletives and a copious dose of street innuendoes eulogizing thugs and their trade. Here, chaos is one commodity that is never in short supply, consistently dispensed by a thriving throng of bottle-breaking, dagger-dangling, pot-puffing mobsters swarming around fuji artistes like flies atop a festering filth.
But for Ayuba, the situation is remarkably different. His concerts are largely peaceful, shunned by such violence-prone miscreants. Is that a conscious attempt at defining his fan base?
“Not really,’ he says, emitting a slight cough. “As I said, in this life, orientation matters a lot. Your background and your image also matter a lot. So when people say my concerts are always peaceful, they should consider my background. If you consider my lyrics, my music can’t really appeal to such people. My songs are evenly spread between English and Yoruba. I don’t sing saje. My songs have intense meaning and it’s for both adults and children. So that might explain why such people don’t make trouble at my concerts even though they enjoy the rhythm like other people.” He pauses for a second.
“But having said that, let me make one thing clear. When we talk of these social miscreants, one thing I believe is that if our economy is good, they will not be as many as they are right now. There will still be people like that, because even here in America, you know they have people like that. But if things are OK, their number will go down drastically. So the government has a duty in this regard.”
Among most fuji singers, there is an insatiable appetite for titles. Right from the founding figures of the fuji genre to today’s youthful practitioners, accumulation of titles is a goal pursued with remarkable fervour. In the past, ‘Alhaji Chief (Dr)’ was the most preferred phrase. These days, however, new dimensions have been added to the title craze.
Acclaimed fuji creator, Dr Sikiru Ayinde Barrister is Mr Fuji, former “Professor Master,” Kollington Ayinla, is now Fuji Generalissimo, Wasiu Ayinde, formerly King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall (KWAM 1) has transformed to K1 The Ultimate, Obesere is Oodua of Fuji, Alabi Pasuma, Otunba of Fuji, Sunny T Adesokan is Actor Jordan, several crown princes wait in line, and a youthful Muri Thunder holds a rather curious title: Fuji Professor Emeritus! So where does Ayuba stand in this aggressive title chase? He breaks into a prolonged laughter.
“When it comes to titles, I am simply Ayuba,” he says finally. “You know, Tope, I’m yet to understand how adding titles to my name will boost my career. About four years ago, I removed Adewale from my stage name. So now, I’m simply Ayuba. Actually, I have more than 16 different chieftaincy titles as well as many awards. But I don’t have to wear them like a tag just because I want to be respected. Can you imagine me adding 16 different titles before and after my name?”
According to Ayuba, titles are good. But they stick better when they are earned. “When you wake up and begin to give yourself different titles, then people will start asking, what is the basis of those titles? You begin to call yourself king of this and queen of that, people will say, who made you king or queen? I think you should just allow your accomplishments to speak for you. That is when people will call you and honour you. Then you will know that you have really earned the title. After I released Bubble and some people started calling me rave of the moment, I told them no. If I was rave of that moment, then somebody else would have now become the new rave of the moment. For instance, why should I call myself Bonsue Fuji king when I’m the only one singing Bonsue? Who are my subjects? No, I don’t want to be king of anything. I am just Ayuba and I’m happy being just that.”