Feb 13, 2014 – Baba Sala Turns C And S, White Garment Pastor: Nigerian Comedy King, Moses Olaiya Adejumo Broke
On his demand to “dash” him “something,” we let out a throaty laughter, taking that as his comical way of welcoming us. What else do you expect from a veteran comedian like Moses Olaoluwa Adejumo’s (a.k.a Baba Sala)?
But there was steel in his voice and expression that told us he was very serious when repeated the demand: “you must drop something if you want to interview me”.
Momentarily tongue-tied, Dada Osasona, The Sun photographer and I exchanged awkward glances, wondering if our prospective interview subject was the same Adejumo, accomplished entertainer, theatre artiste, film maker and ingenuous creator of the popular comic character, Baba Sala, who made waves on stage, radio, television and cinema, particularly among Yoruba audience for close to three decades (mid 60s to early 90s).
At last, we managed to find our voice. We had no money to give, we said.
However, what we could offered, we tried to explain carefully, was an opportunity for him to connect with his numerous fans, who, obviously might have been wondering what could have happened to their idol – to think that he slipped out of the public glare unceremoniously. Certainly, we coaxed, he would not want to disappoint them.
Besides, there are millions of the younger generations who have only heard of his exploits and thus, would be delighted to read an interview with him. We pursued further, encouraged by a slight positive wavering we thought we noticed in his disposition.
Then, I added the clincher, reminding him of the mutually beneficial relationship between celebrities and the media and the role the one play in the other’s career. “You may not exactly remember now, sir, but, as a young entertainment reporter way back in 1988, I once interviewed you at your Mushin residence in Lagos, and I can’t recollect you making this kind of request,” I finished.
To this, the old entertainer’s face lit up. And after a prolonged scrutiny of my face, he smiled repentantly and said: “Alright, let’s have the interview”.
As a phenomenon in those days, Baba Sala’s productions were always box office successes because of their creative plots, enthralling humour and clowning of the central dramatic character around who the stories were woven.
Referred to as the Father of Nigerian Comedy, Adejumo was also a shrewd and successful businessman who maintained a full-time theatre company, paying competitive wages to artistes in his troupe, with personal cars as incentives to senior ones.
What would he need money from poor newspapermen for? And how much can we offer that would be deemed adequate? These questions raced through my mind as I shot quizzing looks at the septuagenarian actor. The answers were to unfold later. But, part of them had actually been starring us in the face in our search for Baba Sala, which took us from Ibadan, his former base, to Ilesa, his hometown in Osun State, where he has retired a few years back.
On the trail of a fading legend
“Baba doesn’t live here anymore. You will have to go to Ilesa to see him…”, the manager of Alawada Spot (Lodging and Bar), had told this reporter when he went to inquire after the film star at his old address at 27, Yemetu Alawada, Adeoyo area in Ibadan a week earlier.
The joint, one of a chain of hotels owned by Baba Sala across the South West region of the country, has become a shadow of its past. A two-storey building with an extension by the right wing that served as a night club, had evidently seen better days. Save for a struggling provision shop occupying the ground floor and a GSM recharge card seller and some youths playing at the frontage, it was virtually desolate, with no sign of guests.
The youths gestured towards the entrance of the nightclub for me to direct my enquiries. Inside, I met a vacant spacious hall, with tables and chairs, you can say, tossed about the whole place. On the walls were artistic drawings of Baba Sala, King Sunny Ade and girls with erotic curves and bums ostensibly aimed at titillating and provoking the passions of the male patrons of the club.
There was only one burly fellow drinking beer at a table in a corner of the hall, whom I was to learn, was Baba Sala’s son. He asked me to wait for the manager, who arrived shortly to give me the earlier disappointing news, but gracious enough to oblige the star’s phone number.
“This joint must have been a happening place at a time,” I remarked, as I made to take my leave. The two gentlemen’s reply suggested that my remark was an understatement of the year, saying there used to be an in-house live band. But, they regretted, that business has turned awry lately.
Four days later, when we arrived Ilesa to keep an appointment with the famous actor, locating him was not difficult at all. Eager town folk and traffic wardens took the trouble to give directions to Abiola Avenue, off Jebu-jesha Road, where the artiste has his residence. Close by, however, was another relic of the chain of hotels belonging to the old comedian, the Alawada Standard Hotel, located behind a mechanic workshop off Jebu-Jesa Road. A youth had pointed it out to us, thinking that was our destination. Derelict and deserted, the two-storey edifice hinted at a once- great and prosperous past.
It was securely locked. We called out, but, there was no sign of life in the building, making us to retrace our way back to the main road and Abiola Avenue where we finally found our target. The state of the hotels should have warned us of the present condition we met their owner, who, since the monumental loss, arising from the piracy of his first movie, Orun Mooru in 1983, has suffered one economic reverse after another.
Driven to despair, he had sold off his estate, including a three-storey block of flats in Lagos to offset the bank loan he took to shoot the film and moved to Ibadan with his family. Although a comeback bid he staged in late 80s resulted in the release of two blockbusters – Mosebolatan and Aare Agbaye, Adejumo never fully recovered from the setback.
As if these misfortunes were not enough, his hotel business nosedived, while his famous picture house, Cinema De Baba Sala at Agbowo, Ibadan folded up owing to insolvency.
These business woes resulted in increased personal and professional frustration that affected the health of the old comedian and ultimately forced him to withdraw from limelight.
He then took solace in spirituality, returning to his native Ilesa to shepherd the flock at his local church, the Sacred Cherubim and Seraphim Idasa No 1 Model Parish. His fame nevertheless persisted, although the millions were gone.
His insistence on being paid before granting the interview was, therefore, perhaps, a measure of this great artiste’s predicament.
In the beginning was Adejumo, the musician
Moses Olaoluwa was born at Ilesa on May 7, 1937 to Pa Oyewole Adejumo and his wife, Celina. Left to his father, he would not have been born, as the old man had foreclosed the idea of having another child, after Moses’ sister, Olabisi (now late). But, he was persuaded against this resolve by his mother. Hence on being born, Moses was Christened Olaiya (meaning for the sake of mother), a name by which he was known for most part of his career, but which he lately changed to Olaoluwa (Grace of God) with his deeper involvement in the ecclesiastics. “I changed it, because when I was in the secular world, people thought my success and fortunes must have been because of the grace of one ‘iya’ somewhere; but I prefer Olaoluwa, because it’s to God that I owe everything. How I came about Olaiya I already told you”, he explained.
Moses lived with his paternal grandmother at Oke Iyin in his native town and after three years of primary school education at Oke Ese Methodist Primary School, joined his parents in 1950 in Jos, where his dad was an account clerk with Arab Transport Services, and his mother a trader. Here, he finished his primary education at St. Luke School, Jos in 1953.
He returned to Ilesa the following year as one of the pioneer students of the Obokun High School, where he developed his interest in the arts, especially music. He left the school in 1959 in Form V for Lagos where he took a job as Health officer with the Lagos City Council, while playing maracas for the Empire Hotel Orchestra, at Idi-Oro at nights for a salary of One pound, 10 shillings, which he used to augment his official income.
At the same time, he took tutorials from a Ghanaian guitarist in the band, one Samuel Kwashie.
Moses spent only one year with the orchestra after which he joined Ade Ade and his Federal Dandies, a juju band led by his uncle in 1960. He left to form his own band that same year, with Moses Omole, John Bull, and two other friends whose names he gave as Gabriel and Adeniran.
The band rehearsed and played regularly at Palace Hotel, on the spot later occupied by defunct Abacus Merchant Bank on Broad Street. It became popular with patrons of the hotel and Lagos socialites, including Chief Johnson Modupe Johnson (a.k.a JMJ) the colourful National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) politician and former Minister, who developed a personal liking for the leader, Adejumo.
The group also played at social events. Adeniyi Adegeye, later to be known as King Sunny Ade, the Juju music maestro, joined the group in 1962, understudying Adejumo play the guitar. “Like me, he was very interested in guitar. He spent six years with us. In fact, we started the theatre together. He’s an actor and a great dancer- that’s why he’s able to act in Fopomoyo”, Baba Sala said of his former protégé, who was to revolutionize the Juju music and hit international stardom himself few years later.
Shift into theatre
Adejumo had to abandon music and go into full-scale theatre practice following pressures from fans, who noticed his dramatic talents. He told ICON: “What happened was that we normally had intervals during our performances, during which we staged drama sketches to break the tedium of music and dance. Now, people increasingly expressed interest in that more and so in 1965, we rested the band and went into full scale drama”.
The group began by doing serious plays like some of the established dramatists of the time such as Chiefs Duro Ladipo, Hubert Ogunde, Akin Ogungbe and Ogunmola and made statements on the scene with some plays like Esan o gbogun and Angelina, which Adejumo wrote.
Comedy and the evolution of Baba Sala
But, the dramatist only came into serious public reckoning when he broke off and went into comedy. “I just thought of specializing, of doing something unique, that’s how I struck on comedy. You know, it makes people to laugh. So, we developed the character, Baba Sala. He had to be a retired PWD worker, fed and clothed by his wife, while he does the home chores-just to make things funny”, Adejumo said.
To Adejumo, humour has for long been second nature. He told ICON: “Ah, I’ve always been very funny. I remember when I was young, I used to imitate my sister. I put stones in my bras and foams on my buttocks and I would be wriggling the buttocks like women do about the streets and people would be laughing”.
Such queer dress sense informed the clownish costume and dress mode of Baba Sala, who, on sighting, immediately triggered off laughers with his over-sized poker-dot bow-tie worn on an European jacket and Soro, Yoruba bell-bottom pants.
The artiste as a businessman
But, the entrepreneurial streak of seeing art as business investment with profit motive had already taken root in the artiste. He established a recording label company, Adejumo Record Company, which produced several works from notable artistes such as Lere Paimo (Eda); Olatunbosun Odunsi (Padre Minkailu); Yemi Elebuibon; Alabi Ogundepo and Wale Hassan (Erisebe Kowe).
Other albums done by the company included: Aare Agbaye; Ode Aperin; Agbo igbotan Ede; Oorun Mooru; Mosebolatan; Omo Oloku; D-Director and Ana Gomina, which came from Adejumo’s prolific hands.
In 1980, Adejumo also went into film-making, following on the heels of Ogunde, who had released three movies- Aiye, Jaiyesimi and Aropin N’ Teniyan on celluloid, as well as his former artiste/ apprentice, Yemi Afolayan (a.k.a Ade Love) who had dropped Ija Ominira and Taxi Driver.
He explained his incursion into the industry: “Film paid better than stage productions, because you can show it at three, four or more venues at the same time and that fetched you a lot of money many times more than one stage production can give you”
The Oorun Mooru disaster
He began shooting his first movie, Oorun Mooru, which was directed by Ola Balogun, international award-wining film maker, who brought the professional crew in from Paris.
The movie, which had to be processed abroad cost Baba Sala N1.5million, an awfully prohibitive amount then, which he raised by taking a loan from the defunct National Bank of Nigeria (NBN).
To obtain the loan, he had staked his three-storey building in Lagos and three choice property offered by his old friend and patron, JMJ as collaterals.
Unfortunately, when the film debuted in 1983, it was pirated within one year, plunging Adejumo into debt and misery. Unable to repay the bank loan, which interests mounted to about three million Naira, the bank threatened to sell off the property to liquidate the debt.
In desperation, he sold his own building off to salvage JMJ’s.
Things got worse and Baba Sala had to move with his family to Ibadan.
The old artist’s eyes misted as he recalled the incident to ICON over two decades after the incident.
But, he managed to release two more films – Aare Agbaye and Mosebolatan in 1986 in a bid to disprove skeptics, who had written him and his career off.
Assistance arising from a chance meeting he had with Ibadan-based multi-millionaire and businessman, Alhaji AbdulAzeez Arisekola Alao as well as former President Olusegun Obasanjo on his return flight from London, where he had gone to process Mosebolatan temporarily put his business on an even keel.
Obasanjo, Adejumo said, was instrumental to his securing the dome-shaped hall he converted into a cinema house at the Agbowo Shopping Complex, run by the Oyo State Housing Corporation. The former Head of State, he said, also helped him in acquiring three foreign films including one on apartheid South Africa along with their posters with which he commenced business there.
“Business was alright, but they continued to increase rent. It was N30, 000 under (Col. Abdulkareem) Adisa until the Housing Corporation raised it to N200,000. So, debts piled up. It was (Governor Rashidi) Ladoja who eventually sent us packing from there. Again, some churches lobbied to take the place over. The coming of the videos also affected us, it destroyed the market, because people were not coming to watch shows again, whereas abroad, they still go to cinemas and theatres.
[Interview by Yinka Fabowale, Daily Sun]