In the late 1970s Kollington refined his sound by adding bata drums, changed the band’s name to Fuji 78, and with his politically sharper lyrics he soon was challenging Barrister as top fuji musician in Lagos. Since then fuji has become so popular in Nigeria that there is no longer a rivalry between the two.
Kollington Ayinla speaks extensively about his life, Ayinde Barrister, women and many others issues of importance.
How does it feel to have spent 50 years on stage as a musician?
I thank my God, I feel very happy, delighted. In fact that day was my happiest day. When I recall how it all started…like a joke.., I feel happy and very pleasantly surprised that it became a reality. My music started during the Ramadan festival. It was originally music for the Ramadan period. I didn’t know that it would become a reality. I continue to thank God for what he has done for me everyday. When I wake up in the morning, I give Him gratitude; and at all times too.
Aside from world recognition, God has done so much that I can’t forget. My family, my children, my wealth… God has given me levelheaded children. No one has called me since I gave birth to my children to come and bail them from the custody of the police for being unruly in the universities or elsewhere. I am richly blessed with plenty children. If I knew you would want me to count them, I would have kept my calculator or daily reckoner with me before you came.
Again, the other reason I thank God and give Him all my gratitude is that I am 62 years and feeling very young and can dance better than several youngsters. I still feel very energetic. So, I thank God. I play actively and never get tired when I am on stage.
I also thank God that He gave me a gift of music because I do not know what would have happened to me during or after the training as a soldier in the Nigeria Army during the Civil war. I may have been posted to the warfront like they did to those died there. I have several reasons to thank God my dear.
There was a big show to mark your 50th anniversary on stage. Who organized it?
It was a grand show in all ramifications. We had an organising committee made up some loyal friends of mine in conjunction with Ajia Dangaji of A Plus Global Entertainment. We all gathered at the Lagos Television compound on April 28, 2013. I was shocked to see all the people, including my colleagues and elders in the business like King Sunny Ade who is my musical adviser, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, YK Ajao, Adewale Ayuba, Pasuma Wonder and several other people who gathered to celebrate with me. The Governor of Kwara State, my home state was represented just like his counterpart from Lagos State was represented. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu also sent a representative in person of Dr Muiz Banire. It was not all as Oba of Lagos sent one of his top white cap chiefs. I have never been humbled the way I was on that day to see the guests present. We all sang in collaboration and fans are already calling for the video and CD.
Fifty years means you started in 1963, what fond memories do you recollect?
I recall very interestingly that it started like a joke until I played at Evan Square at Ebute Meta. It was in a competition organized by the late President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe where I won the first position. The competition was held in 1965, I can remember. I went to Onikan State House Marina to receive my trophy and certificate of merit. Incidentally, my late bosom friend, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister also won a Coca Cola competition at about same time. I recall then that the West Africa Pilot or was it the Africa Morning Post was writing about me as 10-year-old. I even doubt if I was yet ten by then. I was usually carried on the shoulder when I went for performances. I believe music for me is a gift from God. It was like a joke.
What about your years in the military?
Aah, I have very interesting memories. The years are for me very unforgettable. My joining the Nigeria Army was by accident. I think it was about I967 that I went to the Nigeria Army. I had gone to visit some of my friends who were on training then at Lafenwa, Abeokuta Army Training Depot. When I got there, I saw some of them dressed in blue shorts and white vests. Their heads were already well shaved. I laughed at them but enjoyed the way they were filing past in marching; left, right, left, right. I told them I would love to join.
I knew I was just saying it but I didn’t quite mean it because I was afraid of being hurt. And by then, the Army was looking for recruits to take to the warfront, as Nigerian civil war was raging. But some of the people said I was too small to be taken. However, when I went to the recruiting field, they didn’t mind if I was small or young. They just took me to the barber and shaved my head and marshaled me off to the quartermaster who gave us uniforms, boots and equipped us for the training and off to the dormitory where we were assigned to a bed each. At times mad thoughts would take over me that my end had come.
I would regret why I took the decision. I looked for ways to escape, however, when I look around, everywhere was walled with barbed wire, and there was no escape route. I was then so young and smarter than the older people in training. I started enjoying the training but these thoughts would never let me be. I jumped over the beams as if I was flying and it seemed so easy while older people couldn’t do so. I became popular in the training ground. This went on until one day when one man came to my company, that is B Company, Platoon 22. The man was Sgt Major Azani Goff who is now late.
He must have hailed from the North, a Hausa, Igbira or Igarra. He called about eight of us out of the line and told us to follow him. We went with him to the drum section to go for an interview. We entered into the office and I found all musical instruments lying on the floor and wondered what I could play when they said we should make our choices. I then saw a flute, which I was already familiar with. I had been playing flutes with the boys on the streets of Ebute Meta but this flute was different from the one I knew. A man just brought it for me and positioned it differently and I quickly played “do re mi fa so la ti do.” He asked for my name and wrote it down. I later found out that one of the soldiers had gone to tell them that there was a little boy in the platoon who knew how to play the flute.
We were later returned to our platoon. I didn’t know that we wouldn’t go to the warfront like others whenever the training ended. One day, they called us out and the remainder of the recruits was led into lorries and off they went to the warfront. We started crying that we were tired of the training in the Depot and that we wished to go to the warfront like others. We didn’t know we were being taken out of danger.
Was it at the Army that you learnt the rudiments of music?
It was when the training had ended and we were not taken to the warfront that we started learning the rudiments of music like primary school pupils on the black board. It was not long before some of our colleagues started returning from war with injuries. One of them returned with one hand. He hung a 2nd Lieutenant Rank on the armless shoulder and I have never been shocked like I was on that day when I saw him. That was when we started thanking our God for his mercies for not going to war. If I had gone to war, I doubt if I would still be alive today.
Then I was sent to Ibadan Garrison Organisation, IGO, under the leadership of the late Major Ibikunle Armstrong for musical course. When I finished, I was sent back to the Barracks having learnt the saxophone because I knew the flute already. I had learnt flute all by myself while playing with other group boys in Ebute Meta. When the Depot was disbanded at Abeokuta about 1974/75, I was posted to Pay and Records, Apapa, Lagos where I then devoted all my life to the study and playing of music. In 1975, I went to Mecca with my late friend Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister.
It was at Mecca that we were discussing how to leave the Army, as we were tired of the bad belle and bureaucracy. We could not go out to play our numerous engagements easily without bribing people to get permission and it was becoming a source of worry. We agreed to leave the army as soon as we returned from Mecca. It is hard for me not to continue to thank God for what He has made me today. Glory be to Almighty Allah.
What was your relationship with Alhaji Agba, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister? How did it start because you have him on your lips forever?
You could see that there is nothing I do without calling Ayinde Barrister’s name. We met many years ago. One of my band members made it possible for us to meet in those early days. He brought him to Apapa Road, Ebute Meta where we played. We were practising on that day when he arrived and he was introduced to me. He introduced him to me as the man they called Ayinde Barrister. On his part, Barrister had also been hearing my name even before the time we won competitions at different shows on same day. He went for a Coca Cola show competition while I went for the one organized by Zik. We embraced each other. He spent about three days with us at our base before going back to Mushin where he was based.
I can’t stop talking about Barrister for life. Till I die I cannot forget him. He was more like a brother and a friend and we were very close. I took him into the Nigeria Army because he could not do without coming to see me all the time. In those days, when he visited me, he would test my cap and dress up in my uniforms in the room and check if it fitted him and we would all laugh at the situation. So, I recommended him to some of my bosses and arranged for him to also get recruited.
People still ask me if I miss him and I always say I miss him very much. I used to go to see him in the hospital while he was ill. He would ask me to pray for him and I continued to do so. His illness took him to as far as India, England and Germany before he eventually died. May Allah preserve his soul.
Was there real rivalry between the two of you as your fans always say?
There was no rivalry in the real sense of the word like people say. We were indeed very close like brothers. Sometimes, we would be eating in my house here and imagining how people think we were cursing each other in our music and people take it serious. We laughed it off. I sing about current affairs. We were only making jests of ourselves in our songs. It is business gimmick that people did not know.
How do you rate your albums? Do you have a best as far as you are concerned?
I feel great about all the albums I made. I don’t have any particular best However, every one kept saying Ijo yoyo. I made so many albums including Fuji mega star, Kasabubu, Lakukulala, Ropopo the one I sang for the teachers that they were not getting their due compared with the service they render and true importance to life. I have continued to get honours from teachers for that music all year round.
How were you able to make albums while still in the army known for all the regimented life of bureaucracy?
The Army did not know me as Kollington Ayinla. They knew me as Kolawole Ayinla Ilori, the name I was enrolled with. That was why I made several albums while I was there; about three. I won’t tell them I was going to studio to record any music. Again, how many soldiers saw the albums anyway except the people outside the barracks? It was later that they knew. My commander later found out and was very happy because he saw me as an ambassador. But when the envy became too much to bear, there was nothing they could do about it and for Barrister and I, we had to leave the Army for them.
You have so many fans and promoters; to the best of your knowledge, where are your best fans based across the world?
I feel my best fans are here in Nigeria even though I have played all over the world. When I go to London, United state or Italy, it is like a carnival. I have a promoter in Texas who is one of my best promoters. He hails from Owo and I gave him praises in my last album I did for the late Barrister called “5 & 6”
A lot has been said about how you got the title; General, please tell the real story.
The name General came in 1990 when I got Best Artiste of the Year award at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. President Ibrahim Babangida was to be there but he was represented by the late General Sani Abacha. When I was given the award, I gave a speech dedicating the award to Babaginda. So, I carried the award to Abacha and gave it to him. He told me he learnt I was a soldier. I said yes. He asked me on which rank I was discharged, I said Corporal. He said I was a big pride to the Nigeria Army. He said from that night, I have become a General in music. He repeated it that I am from then on a General in music and all the guests present screamed and cheered. It was from then that the name General started being ascribed to me.
As a very dashing handsome man, you must have been a toast of several women; how do you cope with them?
Women are the main attraction to every musician, not only me. There is nothing we can do about them. They are our unpaid PRO and we can never do without them. They could build and destroy at the same time. They can elevate you to where you do not expect and if you misbehave to them they can demolish you. That is what I can say.
How did your own women build or demolish you in your own case?
Asking me how they built or demolished me will not get any answer. Let us forget that please and talk about other things.
How do you feel about the activities of the new Fuji music artistes across board?
The young men of Fuji music are doing excellently well and keeping the flag flying. Just like my friend, Barrister and I met the so-called Were music and retouched it, these boys are playing same Fuji music but have given the sound new dimension. They have kept the flag flying and I am happy with them. All I wish is that they stop playing rash songs that have no morals in it.
A lot of people who come across you marvel at your command of the English language even though you sing in vernacular, how did you learn it since you never talked about going to any schools?
The training I had that makes me communicate very well like you say came from the Army. No one is a Corporal in the Nigeria Army without speaking and communicating well. It is like when you send your small child off to the boarding house, he mixes up with all and there is no education greater than that. Of course, while studying music, we were not taught in Yoruba or any form of vernacular.
A lot still think that you hail from Lagos while others believe that since you have a big time edifice at Alagbado, you must be from there. Please let us into your origin and background
I hail from a small community in Ilorin South Local Government. It is called Ilota. I came to Lagos at the age of four. It was at that age I was circumcised at Ebute Elefu in Lagos and I have lived here ever since. I am more or less a Lagosian, but I want everyone to know that I come from that little community in Kwara State called Ilota even if it is a bush with only four houses in it. I will continue to be the musical ambassador of that community forever till I die.
Has it been music and shows all the way? No time for rest and leisure…what are your hobbies?
The only sport I know is table tennis. I play it often. I also rest well. As you can see, I have an expansive compound where I could keep a camp bed and rest very well with trees and free air flowing everywhere. I walk in exercise around the compound. I eat Semolina and beans. I must have learnt the beans aspect in the military. I do not eat eba. I have stopped eating rice. I eat Indomie. I won’t say it is health matters that caused the feeding habit. Every morning I take pap and moi moi or pap and akara.
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