Celebrated singer, Adewale Ayuba, would scarcely strike you as the quintessential fuji crooner. Indeed, you will be pardoned if you mistake the multiple award-winning star for a youthful corporate executive. Devoid of the sleaze, street slang and arrogant swagger often flaunted by many practitioners of his chosen genre, Ayuba bears himself with an urbane air, charming you with a personality that exudes confidence, poise and panache. As you chat with him this Wednesday morning , you cannot but wonder how the Ikenne-born artiste, acclaimed by all as the corporate face of fuji music, has been able to veer from the mainstream, creating a brand acceptable to both the elite and the lowly far beyond Nigeria’s shores.
“Honestly, I can’t explain it,” he tells this reporter, a smug little smile on his face. “I would just say that my orientation is a little different. These things have a lot to do with one’s background, you know.”
Ayuba, who took two trophies at the last KORA awards in South Africa last December, breezed into New York in June this year. And since his arrival in the United States, he’s been traversing many American cities to celebrate the awards with his numerous fans. That however isn’t the only reason for this trip. “I’m also here to promote a personal project, but I’m still keeping that to my chest for now,” he says. “I did the same thing in Germany in 2003. When it materializes, you will definitely know.” He insists that the project which has taken him to a number of schools and colleges as well as many radio and television stations across the United States was made possible by his KORA awards. And the awards were made possible by the song, Fuji Satisfaction, a duet with Germany-based Nigerian artiste, Ade Bantu. This American trip, Ayuba says, is also a continuation of his self-imposed mission to internationalize fuji music and bring it at par with other notable forms of music enjoyed worldwide.
“My dream is to achieve with fuji music what Bob Marley was able to achieve with Reggae. Bob Marley took Reggae from the streets of Kingston in Jamaica and turned it into a global form of music recognized and enjoyed by everyone all over the world. I will become a fulfilled person the day fuji music attains such a height.”
And Ayuba is, in truth, not without some measure of success in his pursuit of a global niche for fuji music. At the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in New York a decade ago, Ayuba had thrilled the audience, dishing sumptuous songs to an array of notable world figures that included Dr Nelson Mandela and outgoing UN secretary-General, Kofi Annan. He was also the first fuji artiste ever to win a KORA.
Did he expect that award? “No,” he replies. “In fact, when we received the nomination, I thought that was the best we could get, a nomination. I never expected to win. The song that won the award was done with Ade Bantu, a Nigerian artiste in Germany. When the nomination came, I felt that was enough for me. So I took it to several media houses in Nigeria. Because winning the nomination was a great achievement for me. It had never happened before for a fuji artiste to be nominated for such an international award. When we got to South Africa, I was surprised when they announced my name as winner. I was excited. I can’t even explain the feeling. I was so excited that I quickly went to a bathroom and called my wife, telling her that I had won. I called my mum, called some of my fans and friends. Unknown to me, while I was in the bathroom making calls, my name had been announced as winner of another award and everybody was looking for me. So when I came out of the bathroom, I didn’t even know what was going on. I was walking to my seat when Kenny Ogungbe of Kennis Music saw me and said, “Wale, where have you been? We’ve been looking for you. You’ve won another award”. I was dumfounded. It was an emotional thing for me.”
And has anything changed since he took the prize? “Of course, a lot of things have changed. You can’t even imagine how much things have changed. That award has opened doors for me.”
Yet, many years ago when he indicated a desire to pursue a career as a fuji artiste, Ayuba’s parents had been momentarily discomfited by the idea of their son becoming a musician. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want me to pursue my dreams”, explains the artiste. “The problem they had was that musicians of those days were seen as never-do wells in the society. And as soon as I assured them that music was not going to pose a threat to my education, they embraced the idea, offered their blessings and gave me 100 per cent support”.
So did he fulfill that sacred promise to his parents? “Oh yes. As a matter of fact, I’m still studying. Naturally, I’m a person that loves to read. Already, I have a diploma from the Ogun State Polytechnic, an advanced diploma from the University of Lagos and an associate degree from the Queens Borough Community College in New York. And I’m not done yet. My goal actually is to obtain a Ph.D in any discipline. Maybe by then I will be satisfied.”
You wonder why such an ambitious young man opted for fuji of all the available music genres. And he has an answer. “I took to fuji because it was the most cost effective form of music”, he says. “It was the least expensive. Highlife, juju and other ones would have required sophisticated and expensive instruments, like guitar, piano and drums. And again, I would need to be knowledgeable in a couple of those instruments. But with fuji, all that was needed was one or two cheap local drums and that even need to learn any.”
Success, however, tarried in coming. For a guy who started singing at the tender age of seven, it took a while for this unassuming star to distinguish himself from the fuji crowd. After five albums, Ayuba still remained just another mere name on the musical landscape, dwarfed by the larger image of already established stars like Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Kollington Ayinla and Wasiu Ayinde. Like those other fuji singers, he sang purely in Yoruba with a smattering of Arabic. Then in 1989, almost frustrated by his seeming stagnancy, Ayuba went back to the drawing board and decided to inject a little pep into his act.
“I thought of how to distinguish myself. I did some research and I discovered that fuji music appealed to a certain kind of people. I started thinking of how I could attract other people like business executives, students and people in the corporate world to fuji music in a way that traditional fuji lovers wouldn’t feel alienated. The first thing I did was to start injecting English into fuji. I then created my own unique beat and dancing style, making the tempo a little faster than before. My outlook also changed. I told my mum my plans and she encouraged me.”