BY ‘SEGUN ODEJIMI
In his tribute to King Sunny Ade in which he praised the greats in their chosen fields, Lanrewaju Adepoju sang:
Bi ere badi ere awada, Baba Sala l’ole derin pa oshonu,
Bi ere badi ere onijo, Hubert Ogunde ni ebami walo.
Adepoju also mentioned Epo Akara, Duro Ladipo, Fela Anikulapo, Haruna Ishola, and Ebenezer Obey. People who worked to become legends in their respective fields.
Moses Olaiya Adejumo (Baba Sala) will be remembered as a theatre, performance and comedy legend.
A professional journey that began in 1964 as the lead act of Federal Rhythm Dandies, a music band that at some point had Juju legend King Sunny Ade (KSA just wanted to beat drums but ended up becoming a lead guitarist), saw him move from being a major commercial highlife superstar to birthing performance comedy in Nigeria. Even when he led the Federal Rhythm Dandies, the band was not just about highlife music. It featured a drama section and it was there that a lot of the skills which would shape his stardom in years to come were fine-tuned.
When Olaiya took comedy a little more seriously, he quickly became irresistible to television stations and theatre-goers. The then-regional Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) featured his Alawada series while the National Theatre, Iganmu was his stomping ground. Almost weekly in several cities in Nigeria’s western and northern parts, thousands of people would gather to watch him in his hilarious costumes which almost always included an oversized pair of goggles. He was also a household name on radio stations and a lot of his comedies found their ways to audio cassettes.
Omoge kari ile, omidan, kari ile
Oro enu lo fi n wumi adumaradan, aladitu ede omidan
To mi wo
O loju ko loju
At the time GM Johnson nudged him to make a film because of the fame he had gained through amazing work in theatre and television, he did not see the financial, mental and health decline, lurking in the corner, waiting to ‘rush him’.
His decision to make Orun Mooru (1982) – arguably his most famous – led to him putting up his houses for sale so he could return a bank loan that piracy had ensured he would not be able to pay with just the proceeds of the film. Even though the work is a part of the childhood memories of millions of Nigerians, pirates were the ones smiling to the bank after a brother-in-law allegedly pilfered the master tape of the work originally made on celluloid.
The hit he suffered from piracy through Orun Mooru meant he would be affected not just financially, but psychologically. He began to lose his health, he reportedly lost two of his wives and he once confessed to not knowing how he escaped paralysis. Despite also having a hand in the rise of other theatre performers such as Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love) and Ojo Ladipo (Baba Mero), he said that “these people were not having much money then” to bail him out.
After the Ola Balogun-directed Orun Mooru, Baba Sala went on to produce Aare Agbaye (1983), Mosebolatan (1985), Tokunbo (1985), Obee Gbona (1989), Diamond (1990), Agba Man (1992), Return Match (1993) and Ana Gomina (1996). His Alawada series had given birth to three other iconic comedy characters – Sala, Iya Sala, and Adisa (who Baba Sala would hail as Addis Addis, Addis Ababa).
Baba Sala, gbendu gbendu ikun bi oya
Born in Ijesha on May 8, 1936, Baba Sala died in his house in Ilesa on October 7, 2018. But this would not be the first time he would be reported dead.
On several occasions over the past few years, (fake) news have claimed he had gone to rest. Perhaps the biggest of such goofs was about eleven months ago when comedian Gbenga Adeyinka wrote:
AN ICON IS GONE..
WE LOST HIM😭😭😭😭😭😭😭
What a Great Loss !!!
THE ACE COMEDIAN… https://t.co/VYhnlJRGos
— Gbenga Adeyinka 1st (@gbengaadeyinka) November 28, 2017
He would apologize less than two hours later but that would, by effect, mean that this morning’s reports of the legend’s death would not be immediately believed until his son who, perhaps fittingly, works with the National Troupe of Nigeria confirmed it.