When the alluring beauty of Yoruba language powers the musical adventures of non-native singers

by feferity

By Segun Martins Fajemisin

Arguably one of the largest ethnolinguistic groups or ethnic nations in world history, the Yoruba culture is also one of the most vibrant and the people are renowned for their rich civilizing heritage and idiosyncratic ethos. Monarchies, deities, customs, dressing, food, religion, socialisation and artistry are all but a few of the distinctive elements of the Yoruba nation.

Over time, it has produced several renowned and successful individuals whose meteoric rise and existence are edifying and have thus livened up history. The Yoruba culture boasts of valiant progenitors such as Oduduwa and Oranmiyan while illustrious sons and daughters include Rev Samuel Johnson, Rev Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Herbert Macaulay, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Ladoke Akintola and Chief James Ajibola Ige, to mention but a few.

Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the legendary Ambrose Oladipupo Adekoya Campbell, Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju (aka Rolling Dollar)Hubert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo and Omo’ba Taiwo Olaniyi Oyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki (Twin Seven Seven) are some of the departed artistes who achieved fame that transcended the borders of Nigeria, nay Africa, while others including Chief Sunday Adeniyi (King Sunny Ade), Evangelist (Dr.) Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi and Chief Jimoh Adetunji Burahimoh are alive and bear testimony to the great artistic inclination of the Yorubas.

King Sunny Ade playing life at the royal festival hall, 2003

(Photo credit; Dolapo Sholu)

King Sunny Ade playing live at the Royal Festival Hall, London South Bank in 2003

In the Diasporas, the Yoruba influence spreads as far as Oyotunji Village in Beaufort South Carolina, the Descendants of the Yoruba in America (DOYA) Foundation in Cleveland OH, Ile Ori Ifa Temple in Atlanta GA and African Paradise in Griffin GA, all in the USA. Descendants are also to be found in Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago etc.

It is little wonder then that the Yoruba language has found fascination with musicians whose origin and base are just as diverse. Few examples readily come to mind.

In 1978, the Guyanese legend, Eddy Grant (born Edmond Montague Grant, 1943 – ) released the “Love” album featuring the dancehall hit, “Wipe Mo Nfe E“. The Yoruba version of his “Say I Love You” hit ruled the airwaves for a considerable length of time.

Slinger Francisco, the Calypso legend more renowned as The Mighty Sparrow, also sang “Du Du Yemi – Natasha” in 1978.

The late 70’s was ripped by Lamont Dozier’s “Going Back to My Roots”, a song recorded for the 1977 album, “Peddlin’ Music on the Side”. The chart-topper’s grooving was largely undercut by the Yoruba folkloric infusion – the drop-in starting at 5:34mins!

Closer home from Lokossa in the Benin Republic, Gnonas Sosso Pierre Kouassivi (stage name Gnonas Pedro (10 Jan 1943 – 12 Aug 2004) had a Yoruba highlife release, “Feso Jaiye” which became a household anthem. The song has been covered by various musicians.

And these are just a few examples. Yet the trend continues. Of late, the Internet and the social media fora have spawned impressive efforts by non-natives at speaking or singing in the Yoruba language. Yoruba, in its entirety, is, without doubt, a proud heritage and a valiant nation that could subdue the odds to retain its pride of place.

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