Foremost Waka music genre exponent, Alhaja Salawa Abeni seems a master of oddity. From her, rather too early marriage at a tender age to her record producer-cum-marketer, the late Alhaji Abdul Lateef Adepoju of Leaders Records Limited, to the wild-fire romance with the effant terrible of the Fuji music genre, Alhaji Kolawole Ayinla Ilori, popularly known as General Kollington Ayinla, her moves has always defied societal norms.
Indeed, controversy seems to be the second nature of the Waka Queen. She easily storms major headlines with weird news, most times.
Feferity can recalled that Salawa broke into the social scene rather fortuitously. Her epic vinyl, a dirge for the late assassinated Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed, pushed her straight into the consciousness of ever patronizing Yoruba social circle. Her producer/marketer, Alhaji Lateef Adepoju had carefully packaged her, to such an extent that the efforts easily pushed oldies like the late Alake Batile and others out of the scene. She was barely fifteen years old then.
The dirge for the late fallen Head of State, though her first effort in the recording studio, was the first recording by any female artist, locally here in Nigeria, to sell over a million copies. In 1976, Salawa with her baby-teeth voice, and innocent looks, started wowing her fans. And they started growing in legion. Soon, not long after, stories started flying around about her activities between the tender sheets. The raging societal talks soon died down when the official news confirmed that she was carrying Alhaji Adepoju, her producer/marketer’s baby. She was barely eighteen then.
But the relationship had hardly produced two offspring when another wild rumor broke out. This time in a most brutal manner. A fuji music genre star, Alhaji Kollington Ayinla started claiming in live performances that he was responsible for the second pregnancy the Waka music genre star was carrying. All denials were vain and fruitless. By 1986, she eventually dumped her husband to rejoin her childhood boyfriend, Alhaji Kollington. She left everything behind, including the rights to all her vinyl.
But in a 2016 interview with a Lagos Television channel, TVC, Salawa Abeni bitterly described her life story as ‘long and tough’. Well, she might be accurate. Rating everything altogether might not produce the most savory results. While her music career was generally a success, from all indices, her personal life has not been quite as merry. Her marriage to Kollington crashed unexpectedly in the early ’90s. This nearly coincides with the unfortunate death of her son, Olanrewaju. The only son she had for Alhaji Lateef Adepoju. The young man died in an auto accident at the Berger axis of the Lagos/Ibadan expressway while returning from Ilorin where he had gone to drop his sister in her school. These incidents devastated the music Amazon. She nearly got depressed but for the efforts of Alhaja Bisi Shaba, the late Dr. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, and a few others who rallied around her. Sadly, her man, General Kollington was said to have totally abandoned her.
The Waka Queen, as she preferred to be called had survived many tough times, including when a junior wife of Kollington died while trying to procure an abortion. She was alleged to have been the brain behind the failed attempt to abort the pregnancy. Also when the fuji star’s Alagbado mansion went up in flames early in 1990, she took some flanks. Salawa’s burst to stardom was most fortuitous. Nigerian contemporary music scene is majorly dominated by men. Even today, the Nigerian music scene is still fiercely dominated by men. You can count on one hand the number of female artists at par with their male counterparts.
Now cast your mind back to fifty years ago. A time when a woman is hardly heard or seen, and more so, and more so, amongst the Muslim community. It was hard, and almost an impossibility. But in the midst of the stranglehold of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s Afrobeat, King Sunny Ade’s Juju, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister’s Fuji, Ayinla Omowura’s Apala, a young teenage girl, with a velvet voice, suddenly emerged, breaking off the chokehold of these established stars hold on the music industry and carved a niche for herself. Thus emerged Salawa Abeni some fifty years back, and still on her feet till now.
Born in Igbogun, one of the mangrove villages that border Ogun and Lagos States, young Salawa Abeni‘s life started hard. She was one of the several children in a polygamous family. Her life became harder than her other siblings. This is because her mother was sickly and consequently, she was sent off to work as a housemaid in the closest town to her village, Epe.
It was in Epe she was exposed to some basic primary education and also some qur’anic education by her guardians.
While growing up, her neighborhood in Epe easily noticed a peculiar talent in her. The trait she hardly could hide. The sonorous velvet voice. Her melodious voice was perfect for Waka, the indigenous traditional Yoruba music sung mostly by women after Jamaat on Fridays and at social events. Those who came visiting from mainland Lagos had heard Alhaja Batile Alake songs. They had the vinyl. Waka as a music genre had become widely popular in Lagos and Ogun States due mainly to the pioneering efforts of the late Alhaja Batile Alake. Indeed, Alake was one of the musicians who entertained Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Nigeria in 1956. Therefore, picking the young Salawa’s sonorous voice was not difficult for listeners.
They started encouraging her to sing. And sing she wanted to at all times. Now she has all the opportunities. It was during one of the outings in her local Epe community that Alhaji Lateef Adepoju, a music enthusiast and businessman, spotted her. He was hugely impressed by her talents.
Alhaji Adepoju got her details and then contacted her parents. At the end of a long discussion, she birthed in the Shomolu area in Lagos where the Leaders Records office was. Thus began her journey with Alhaji Adepoju, both music-wise, business, and marital-wise. She had everything with the businessman. She had joy. She had success, exponentially. Also, she had a good quantum of her usual dose, controversy. And suddenly in 1986, jumped the fence to relocate and rejoin Alhaji Ayinla Kollington.
The marriage to Kollington was tempestuous. Full of fury and wild claims. However, the relationship started nosediving around 1988/89 when the Alagbado’s home of the Fuji General went up in flames. By the time Alhaji Kollington lost a younger wife, who wanted to procure an abortion, Salawa’s love flame had been totally extinguished in the house. She was subsequently abandoned and remained unloved. She had packed it up in late 1993.
Now just last weekend, the veteran songster, Salawa, now a grandmother at sixty-two, decided to shock her fans once again. When they had all started watching out for the old grandma lifestyle, she took all by surprise, when she unveiled one Rasheed Adahunse, a retired comptroller and commandant of the Customs Training College, as her new husband. The third in the series.
Adahunse had thrown a lavish party in Lagos to celebrate his retirement from service and his sixty-fifth birthday over the weekend. She later took to her Instagram page to share a video of herself performing at the event, where wrote, “Congratulations on your retirement and birthday celebration, comptroller Rasheed Agbolade Adahunse.”
The Waka exponent had described the former Customs Officer as “my dearest husband of four years”. The 62-year-old singer claimed she has not “chosen wrongly” and that “love conquers all”. “I don’t have much to say to utter, let me thank God. I will just say a bit about Alhaji Abdulrasheed Agbolade, my dearest husband,” she said.
“You are retired but not tired, I pray that as God joined us together as husband and wife four years ago, you will live long and have abundance. “I saw you then as a complete ‘English’ man, you saw me as a musician. But love conquered all. I have not chosen wrongly. From today, call me Abeni Idunu Ishola.” It is said that the couple had secretly tied the knot some four years ago.
Many might have thought the woman had done with marriage when in an interview sometime ago, she lamented her ordeal in the hands of men. She had revealed that she felt used and dumped by the men she had loved and trusted.
She particularly lamented her inability to secure the release of all the master tapes of her early works from the Adepoju children. The children had also claimed that all the materials are registered in the name of Olanrewaju Adepoju, sadly now late, and without offspring.
Therefore, the masters of her early records are still in possession of the Adepoju family and have never been released to her. Also, she had little or no regard for Alhaji Kollington despite the fact that they seemed to maintain some sort of civil relationship at a point.
She had revealed in several interviews that she raised the children all by herself, without the fuji General’s influence whatsoever. She even complained bitterly that when she was down with sickness, the man never cared a hoot.
But who knows, she might be third time lucky.
Alagba Afolayan ADEBIYI writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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