So many instrumentalist and percussionist were relatively unknown to the outside world except for the people and industry that looks for them when they are needed. The lead vocalist all over the world is the person that is naturally known and most of the time the leader of the musical band. The famous Kool and the Gang was led by J.T. Taylor while the Kool brothers played instruments in the band. J.T. Taylor became the stars, little was known of the Kool brothers and this has been the lots of most instrumentalist and percussionist all over the world, thus making nonsense of the adage that, “a tree does not make a forest”.
The meeting with the first percussionist of Fela Anikulapokuti who incidentally was a pioneer member of Orlando Julius was an exciting one. Indeed, Abayomi Isiaka Adio is a living legend who has played with virtually all the great highlife musician in the 60’s from Orlando Julius, to Bobby Benson, Zeal Onyia, Agu Norris among others. As old as he is, he has a very sharp and retentive memory. All through the interview, his voice reflected his happiness at the memory of yesteryears, while he uses his mouth to mime the rhythm of music and the conga beat in those days. Let me bring back the memory of the 60’s through the eyes of the great percussionist Isiaka Abayomi Adio who spoke with Tayo Adelaja on his sojourn as an artiste.
Isiaka Abayomi Adio born in Jan 3rd, 1943 started his music career while in primary school. He was so popular while in Ade-Oshodi Primary School, Lagos Island that he was nicknamed ” Isiaka gongo” due to the rhythm of the drum set he played while in primary. He played for the “agere”, a Yoruba masquerade that stand on long stick (stilt walker), while living on Lagos Island with his parents in the 50’s. According to him, he is happy when he is playing either “sakara”, “conga” or other drums as a young boy. His skill in percussion was further horned by joining the Cherubim and Seraphim Church, Lagos Island, but he had to relocate with his father to Mushin due to the natural disaster that was threatening Lagos Island,” we were told that Lagos Island will soon be submerged by water and my family had to relocate to a safer place that is Mushin in 1958”.
After relocation, Isiaka Adio said,”When we got to Mushin, I played for Elijah Mambo, which was my first band. Where there is Awolowo Market now in Mushin Olosha, then, it was a saw-mill, I trained as a boxer in that place and was nicknamed-A.B. Jackson.”
In 1960, when the first Television Station was brought to Nigeria, the doyen in music then had to recruit young talents for various musical bands that will feature in the television programmes. The talent hunt show was held in a hotel in Sabo, Yaba where Hubert Ogunde, Steve Rhodes, Billy Friday and some others were judges who came to look for young talent. He said of the show, “When I learnt of the talent hunt, I went for the show and was glad to see the likes of Hubert Ogunde, Steve Rhodes, Billy Friday and so many of them who were the judges. The talent hunt was organized basically to bring together talented young artistes from various locations to form band that will be playing for the band formed at that time. The band so formed will be playing at different shows on the new television station, the very first in Africa. Then, there was no monetary reward for anybody, but we were selected by the judges. and put into band to perform for shows. Our joy then, is that we are recognized and our talent stands us out. It is a great pride for us that we are talented musician. Later majority of us were included in the All Stars Band under the able leadership of Steve Rhodes”.
After the talents hunt, he became the toast of many band at that time, and as such, he became a “professional percussionist prostitute” as he moved from one band to another, he said, “I became a ‘join-man’ playing with any band that needed my services. Oh! It was fun and I was paid two to three shillings. In 1961, i played conga for Bobby Benson.” He was a pioneer member of Orlando Julius band that was formed in 1961,”I was a pioneer member of Orlando Julius Band. Then, I.K. Dairo who was Orlando Julius’s first cousin had too many engagements and he bought instruments for his cousin who was a good Alto Sax player. When the instruments were purchased, Orlando Julius went round gathering us to form the IK Globe Trotters. The band was established with good instrumentalist, vocalist and percussionist. Jimi Solanke is one of us at that time. He was with my band that played music when I was in the Army. I.K. Dairo had so much engagement and he couldn’t meet up with the booking by people and government to perform year round. He introduced Orlando and gave us the leverage as at that time. We performed from one town to another, thoroughly enjoying ourselves.”
Speaking further, he said,” I fondly remembered the Globe Trotter Band-Brother Moses that played with Fela, now deceased also played for Orlando Julius. The band was superb as we overthrow the likes of Eddie Okonta. We played in Independence Hotel, Oke Bola and because we were good copy cat, people trooped to the hotel to see us play. We were so good at copying other people music that we even play other musicians record better than them. Frank O was our base guitarist, he’s deceased too. Then, we rent a room where we all sleep, and at night when we started playing you won’t believe that we’re all resident of a room. Then, we go don shark and fully charged to play to our beloved audience.”
He came back to Lagos and learns the work of a sign-writer, while still playing for different band like Zeal Onyia, Agu Norris, and many others. In August, 1964 he was part of a new band launched in Olodi-Apapa, Lagos called “De Commissioner’s Band”. The Morning Post, Wednesday, 5th August, 1964 aptly describes the occasion,” Saturday, August 1 will linger in the memory of the residents of Apapa Olodi in Ajegunle…. The day climaxed the launching of a new dance band called “De Commissioner’s Band” at the Hotel Republic, Olodi which was the rallying point of many distinguished personalities from the Federal Capital as well as Western Nigerian who had converged there to grace the occasion….. Pictures show the man on the Bongo who seems lost in the rhythm of the music”.That man on the Bongo and in the picture is no other person but Isiaka Abayomi Adio.
According to him, Fela came back from London in 1963, as at that time, he was not permanently attached to a band. When the Koola Lobito was to be formed in 1965, he was invited. He said,”when Fela came back and wanted to formed the Koola Lobito, I was invited by Allen and Ojo Ekeji. We’ve played together for some bands and I enjoyed playing with them. I joined the band at inception. Koola Lobito was formed in Fela’s house at Moshalasi where his mother was thrown down during the crisis he had with the soldier in the 70’s. I, Isaac Olasugba, Eddie Fayehun, Allen, Roberto (Yemi Robert) and Baba Ani was the pioneer member. Baba Ani was working in the council as at that time. We practiced at that house. Fela will write note for every one in the band except me. When I asked why he didn’t write note for me, he will reply that Easy Baba, listen and play to the music, ‘Conga no get note’. As a musicologist, writing the notes for his music then was easy. In fact, he believes so much in notes for the band.”
On Fela’s lifestyle, Isiaka noted,”Fela was introduced to hemp by his girlfriend who is a Warri girl. Because of his stunning look, he has a lot of girls throwing themselves at him. He was nicknamed ‘Fela Handsome Kuti’. He was not only gentle, and easy going before the indoctrination, he was humane and extremely caring. In fact, he makes use of my room in Mushin for his various escapades.”
On the issue of the creator of Afrobeat, Isiaka Adio pointed out that, “When we started Koola Lobito, we play Jazz Highlife. The only semblance to African beat is my Conga, because the drum set played by Tony Allen, the Sax and the Trumpet are all foreign. As at that time, Orlando called his beat-Afrobeat.” He paused and started miming the beat of Fela and he looked at me straight in the eyes and asked, “Does that sound like Afrobeat? We played Jazz Highlife. If you look at the music we played then, go and listen to the records we waxed while in Koola Lobito, you will see that we don’t play Afrobeat at all. I can challenge anybody on that.” He speaks further, “Fela’s was able to make much impact due to the formal education he had in music and his exposure.”
In 1967, Rhodesoundvision, an entertainment company packaged Fela and his band- Koola Lobito with some other artistes for a successful show at Glover Memorial Hall. At that show, Art Alade, Ian Webster, Maud Meyer, Tony Benson and Bill Haigh were special guest at that event. Morning Post of April 10, 1967 with the article titled, “Jazz makes History at Glover Hall” commented on the show, “For the first time, the Nigerian audience has been privilege to listen to a Nigerian Band in concert. It was the recent presentation of the Koola Lobitos which ran for two nights at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos. The emphasis, as I analyzed it was Jazz-Jazz played by Nigerians, delivering an all time composition arranged by Nigerians. That was the romance of the concert….. The deliverance of that number by the All Star Orchestra 1967 was simply fab…… Adio, a regular on the Lobitos, opened with a Conga intro…..”
Eventually he left Koola Lobitos in 1968, he said, “I left Fela in 1968 when Fela asked Ojo Ekeji to leave the band because they had disagreement. I implored Fela to allow Ojo Ekeji to stay, but being the heady person he is, he did not agreed. I decided that it is better for me to leave him too. I told the rest of the band that I’m leaving if Ojo Ekeji leaves, but they thought I was joking. The Koola Lobitos had a show in Bar-Beach, instead of going for that show; I went to join the Nigerian Army because at that time, there was civil war in the country. Though, at a later date, we met again, then he has transformed a lot. I was with him the day the World Press came to interview him about his illness.”
He left the Nigerian Army in 1979 and worked with UACN where he was given meritorious award by the Chairman/Managing Director, Bassey Ndiokho. He boasted that, “Despite my age, I played Conga at my church. I can boast that no young person can favourably compete with me in playing Conga, though I play drum set, but my favourite is Conga. “When I commented on his stylish hairstyle, he said,” I’ve instructed my children to be sure that when I die, they should take me to a barber who should barb this style for me. I want to see God with my hairstyle.”
First Published In Nigeria Compass June 2011