Music legend, Alhaja Hawawu Alake Aminulahi, popularly known as Iya Aladuke Abolodefeloju, speaks to TUNDE OYEKOLA about her experience as a musician, her life and music genre, Senwele
You are popularly known as Iya Aladuke, how was the name derived?
My name is Alhaja Hawawu Alake Aminulahi. My husband is Alhaji Aminulahi Adisa. The name – Iya Aladuke – which people call me was derived from the name of one of my daughters. People call me Iya Aladuke (mother of Aladuke)
When did you become a musician?
I started singing about 75 years ago, but I didn’t go into commercial music then. It used to be done as a pastime. I sang at social functions like christenings or marriages and while doing chores like picking vegetables or pepper. At such times, I would sing so that the work would not be boring. That is how I started singing but at that time, there was no drumming. I started playing proper music when I was grown, and by that time, my children had grown and got married.
How did you learn to sing?
I didn’t learn it from anybody. It is a gift from God. I was selling food at the time and my friends encouraged me to go into music. I told my husband about it and he said I could do it.
Is your husband a musician?
No, he is neither a drummer nor a musician. He endorsed it wholeheartedly.
How did you come about the type of music that made you popular, Senwele?
I am the originator of Senwele music. When I started, anytime I went for christenings or marriages with other women from my husband’s family, and whenever I was chopping okra or things like that, I would be singing: ‘Olomo lo pe mi o, Senwele o.’ So, Senwele was the chorus of the song that I used to sing. Eventually, anytime someone had to do christening, they would send for me – Iya Senwele – to come and perform. Senwele music originated from there. Senwele was not known before then
How many records have you produced?
So far, I have 21 records in the market.
Which one is your first record?
My first record is, ‘Won lasewo ni wa’ (We’re called sex workers) and the marketer is Kade Aweda in Oshodi, Lagos. He is a native of Idofian in Kwara State. That record brought me fame. My second record is titled ‘Wonderful’ and it also did very well and was sponsored by Bomode Oku from Ijebu Ode. ‘Mo tun gbe tuntun de’ was sponsored by Igbalaye in Osogbo, Osun State. They all did very well commercially.
Many people criticised you when you recorded ‘Won lasewo niwa’, how did you handle the public criticism?
Yes, they questioned me for singing the song because I said, “Won lasewo niwa; ale mesan lawa ni” (They call us sex workers, we have nine lovers). But I justified it. Then they took my case to the Emir’s palace. The inspiration of the song came from what men used to say about women who dressed well; they would call such a woman a sex worker. I turned it into a song which people embraced well and it thrust me into the limelight.
When did you record your first song, ‘Won lasewo niwa’?
I recorded it about 41years ago.
How old were you then?
I’m over 80 years old now. I celebrated my 80th birthday few years ago. Taye Currency and Wasiu Alabi Pasuma entertained guests at the occasion.
Is ‘Won lasewo niwa’ your best record?
No, it is not my best record but it was the one that thrust me into the limelight.
Before you went into music, were your parents alive?
What was their position?
My father opposed it, but my mother supported me and convinced my father to allow me to go into music since all my children were already grown by then. They were already married. Later, my father succumbed and my husband supported me to go into music.
What other profession would you have gone into if you had not gone into music?
I was a food vendor and I had a shop. I had two apprentices before I delved into music so if I had not become a musician, I would have continued as a food vendor.
Do you sometimes get criticised by your fans?
No, they don’t criticise me. Although some of them used to complain that I didn’t praise them in my songs, I appealed to them that I would do that in subsequent ones.
Has any of your children gone into music?
No, none of my biological children is into music.
Did you prevent them from singing?
I started singing at an old age. So if they like, they may also go into music in their old age. And if they decide to go into music, I will encourage and support them.
Senwele music and Waka music (played by Salawa Abeni) are unique; did you ever have any collaboration or are you planning to do that?
Though, we are close, there is no plan yet to collaborate and do a record together. Anytime she comes to Ilorin, she visits or calls me to tell me where she will be staying and I go there to see her. Anytime I go to Lagos too, I usually visit her, but as for music collaboration, we have not planned it.
You said you did not want to go into commercial music until people pushed you into it…
Yes, they pushed me into it and when people push you, you have to take the plunge.
Music took you to so many places in Nigeria and outside, where are some of the places you have performed?
Yes, music took me to so many places. People would invite me to come and entertain them and I would go perform for them. I’ve lost count of the number of shows I have done in Ilorin. I have been to Kaduna; Kano; Sokoto; Yauri, Kebbi State; Jos, Plateau State; Ibadan, Oyo State; Lagos; Osogbo, Osun State; Iseyin and Shaki in Oyo; Abuja; Abeokuta, Ogun State, etc. Outside the country, I have been invited to perform in Cotonou and Ajase in Benin Republic; Togo; Accra, Ghana; and Abidjan in Cote D’Ivoire.
Which of the outings can you say fetched you the kind of money that you can never forget?
I went for an outing in Lagos; Asiwaju Bola Tinubu invited me to the installation of Iyaloja and Lai Mohammed’s (now Minister of Information and Culture) wife was also installed as Aseto Ilu. They invited Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and me. We were sprayed with naira notes and I was able to spend the money realised that day on something tangible. Another one happened in Togo, where 13 people jointly invited me to play for them. It was an all-expenses-paid trip to Togo. I didn’t know that 13 people could jointly invite a musician to come and play for them.
We all laughed from Togo back home. From Togo, we went to Abidjan and then went to Cotonou. When we went to Kaduna, we were given a great welcome and in Jos, they welcomed us very well. For someone who is appreciative, those occasions are things to remember with joy.
Sometimes, thugs threaten to disrupt performances if they are not paid, how do you handle such issues?
They come to every function but we always pay them so that they will not constitute a nuisance. There is no place where we go to perform and we won’t make provision for them. Any musician that does not make provision for them is doing so at their own peril. It is compulsory for us to give them money before we are allowed to perform. They send messages to high profile musicians that they need to ‘settle’ (pay) them first.
Do you play at night parties?
Well, we play at night parties if it is allowed by the government of the state. In Kwara here, night parties are not allowed; it has been banned by the government. You cannot perform any time after 7pm or when they are observing the Muslim prayer because at that time, drumming or music is not allowed. You will have to stop the music until after the prayer session.
Has there been any experience that really embarrassed you?
In 1992, I went to perform for somebody and he gifted me a car. On the third day, the car was involved in an accident and one of my granddaughters died in that accident. The vehicle was a complete write-off. The death of that girl was very painful and it affected me. Anytime I see her peers, I remember her but I believe the accident was an act of God.
But the person that gave me the car is a nice person. The accident happened in Ilorin Township. When he learnt about the accident, he was sad. He pitied me and came to sympathise with me.
We often hear about musicians using juju to try to prevent rivals from performing, do you believe in it?
That type of situation is happens a lot. We were invited to a place to perform and our instruments did not work. We were at another place and people did not allow us to pass. We were at another place where our vehicle had a breakdown and we were at another place where we could not perform because of a heavy rainfall. We have various experiences.
These problems affected my band members but they were not caused by any musician. Sometimes, I was the only musician invited to the functions.
Do you believe in the existence of juju?
Yes, it exists. In those days, rival artistes used to do such things. If you wanted to sing, they could make you to start vomiting blood or lose your voice. But civilisation has changed that; musicians don’t do that anymore. The world has passed that stage. Even in those days, a musician might bury juju at a site where their rival was expected to perform or tell your admirer not to invite you to perform at their event, but those things don’t happen again.
How did the parents of your granddaughter who died in an accident in your new car take the loss?
The father took it as the will of God. The girl that died was not my only granddaughter in the car; they were about three. When the father got to the police station, the police wanted to prosecute the case but he said he was not interested. He said he believed that the accident was the will of God.
What about the rest of the children?
Yes, they are all alive. They have been married. It was the saddest day of my life because that day, we lost a soul. The car was badly damaged and we also lost a child. It was a period of trial from God.
You spoke about your saddest day, what day would you describe as your happiest day?
That would be the day I went to Mecca on holy pilgrimage. We landed in Saudi Arabia, climbed Mount Arafat and performed all Hajj rights. After that, we arrived in Ilorin safely and my children brought a car to bring me home. I was very happy that I went to the house of God to worship him. I became an Alhaja and got a car. That has been my happiest day; my mother was alive then. She was also very happy.
How would you describe your life as a spinster?
I was a beautiful lady and I behaved like one. Many boys ran after me as they saw me as a pretty lady. They all wanted to marry me. Many guys fought over me as they all wanted to marry me. Later, my mother and father called me and advised that I should choose one of them so that they would stop fighting over me. So, I chose one of them and started my life. It was after I got married that the guys stopped fighting over me because they knew I was married.
When do you plan to retire from music?
Retirement! No, I’m not retiring. Even in some weeks time, I have a show in Ilorin. A musician can retire if they like, but musicians don’t really retire unless people don’t like them again and don’t invite them to perform for them at events. That is when a musician can retire. I have no plan to retire. Anytime we are invited for a show, I get my band together and we play. My band is always ready to play at any event.
When are you likely to release another record?
I have a record currently in the market titled ‘Package’. It was a video recording that featured Mukaila Senwele and Saheed Osupa. I also have a record that will soon be released but I can’t say whether it will be in video or audio as it depends on the producer. I have collaborated with Dauda Epo-Akara in the past.
Has any record producer refused to pay your entitlements?
Yes, that was over 30 years ago when a producer in Osogbo did that to me. The matter was taken to court. He said he gave me money for two records and I said he paid for one. He later accused me of breaching the contract by recording an album instead of two albums that he paid me for.
He took the matter to court and I told the court that I was illiterate and didn’t know how to read and write. I said he deceived me by telling me to put my thumbprint on a document that I did not know its content.
What advice do you have for upcoming musicians?
They should love one another so that the music industry can continue to grow. What they should strive for is to succeed in their music career. They should love one another and respect their leaders.
Many musicians have adopted my style of music. We have Mukaila Senwele and many other musicians who play Senwele music. Among my band members, some of them sing Senwele. Many musicians also borrow from my style of music but they acknowledge me by announcing that they are copying Iya Aladuke’s Senwele music.
Musicians in the past sang about current affairs, why are you not singing about current affairs?
I don’t compose music about current affairs so as not to run afoul of the law or get into trouble with the government of the day. Some politicians invite me to their campaigns but I won’t abuse the opposition in my songs. I don’t abuse politicians.
What is the title of the song that you said would soon be released?
I can’t tell you the title because it is the producer who determines the title of the record because a woman cannot be pregnant and the unborn child will be given a name when it has not been delivered. You cannot put a price on a fish that is still in the river.
Source: Sunday PUNCH