By AMADI OGBONNA, Entertainment Editor
One of Africa’s leading female drummers and singers, Aralola Olumuyiwa popularly known as Ara, will certainly not live to forget her past in a hurry.
Few years ago,she got married to her ex-husband, Prince Nurudeen Olalekan Saliu, a marriage she described as her “greatest undoing.” In this interview with Showtime Celebrity, Ara explains the circumstances that led her to go into that marriage, her present predicaments as well as the plans she has for tomorrow.
Motherhood seems to have tamed you. You’re more relaxed than the last time we saw you before your marriage
Yes, it has.
So how has it affected you?
Before I had my son, I had always loved children and I used to visit orphanages to spend time with the kids. So, when I had my baby, it softened me and made me appreciate life and God the more.
So whenever I’m down and losing hope because I’m human, I look at my boy and realize I have a reason to go on in life because God has given me this gift for a reason. I asked God for a boy and I got everything I asked from Him.
So, you probably asked God for a husband too?
You didn’t ask God for a husband?
No, I didn’t ask God for my ex-husband. At that point in time, I didn’t see any need to ask and that was the greatest mistake of my life.
You walked into it with your eyes shut?
Yes, I did.
You were at the peak of your career and all of a sudden one heard that you were getting married and nothing was heard of the guy before. What did you see in him?
There’s so much I can’t talk about on the pages of newspapers. But at that time, some things were programmed and you can’t walk away from it. The major thing was that I was leaving things with my management for years and was shielded from the world.
It was that bad. At a point, I was told he was the best for me, that nobody loved me and wished me well, that the only person that wished me well was my management.
And of course, I bought the story. It got to a point that my mother fought her way backl into my life as she refused to go and I really appreciated her coming into my life at that point in time. I tried dating during that period but it didn’t click.
This guy was somebody I’d dated between 1994 and 1995 before he left the country. He messed up in the process, causing our break up. Later, he returned to me and I forgave him. But he messed up again and I forgave him again. After a while, he left Nigeria and I told myself that I was done with the relationship.
But it then came to a point, when I needed a shoulder to lean on and he was the only one who could stand the pressure from my management. So, I found in him a friend again, somebody I could naturally share my problems with.
But naturally, he would never have been my choice in terms of my kind of man. It happened that he was the only one around me at that time I could talk to because I realized a lot of things went wrong with my management deal and set up. So, naturally, I gravitated towards him.
So you married him out of sympathy?
Yes that was part of it but there’s more to it that I can’t talk about.
So finally, it ended. How did that feel?
It hurts for one reason because I never prayed for my child to come from a broken home. I regretted the marriage and everything but I don’t regret my son. My son came to me at a time I needed someone of mine. But now, he can’t see his dad the way I would have wanted him to because I’m separated from his dad.
But you’re still very good friends
I wouldn’t say we are good friends at the moment, but we tolerate each other because sometimes he needs to speak with his son and I wouldn’t deny him access to the boy. Recently, he had another baby from another woman and I cut off from him totally because this is Nigeria and I need to protect my son and myself.
I wouldn’t want a situation where his new woman would think her man is coming back to me. She ’ll see me as a threat to having her way in the man’s life. The moment he had another son, I warned him to stop calling my son the way he used to, not because I don’t want him to but because I don’t want to have problem s with any woman.
Does he take responsibility?
Not at all. I’ve been the sole provider for my son.
You talk like someone who isn’t interested in any relationship again?
I wouldn’t say I’m seeing anyone at the moment. I wish I could. I want to but I don’t know who to trust and I can’t allow anybody into my life because I’m answerable to my son. I can’t afford to allow him see many men in my life.
I want him to grow up knowing that I’m a responsible mum who did everything to give him the best in life. The father isn’t there so I’m both the father and the mother. I have so many men who are saying they love me but I don’t know them. I want to know them but I sense that they are not genuine.
They just want Ara but people would say how would I know them if I don’t give them a chance. But the thing is that I smell a rat. My heart was broken and I’m a very emotional person. I’m sensitive and naturally show so much love and I want it too. But I find it difficult to see love around me.
I keep saying that my sister-in-laws are lucky to have my brothers because I see the way my brothers treat their wives but I don’t see most of it out there. And because I look younger than my age, I get more of younger toasters and I can’t do that.
Talking about love, is it that while growing up, you lack love?
There was love in my family. I’m my father’s ‘last wife’ because I’m very close to him. Like I said, my sister-in-laws are lucky to have my brothers because they saw a love-filled environment My brothers understand what it means to take care of a woman.
So what it means is that, let me just say that I find it difficult to trust. I’m not trusting and anyone shouldn’t blame me. There’s so much pressure on me from men but I’m just not seeing it now.
You’re not available for now?
I am but I’m not trusting.
Of all instruments, why did you pick the love for percussion?
I don’t know where I picked that up from.
Does anyone play that in your family?
Except in my extended family, my mother’s side. I grew up in Warri and from my primary school, I’ve been the head of the cultural group. In Akura where I schooled, I was the social prefect, the head drummer. I won a lot of competitions, beating all the boys hands down.
How did it feel being the school drummer while the boys queued up behind you?
It was fun and I had those stars. It was a lot crazy in secondary school because all the boys wanted to know me but I was a tom-boy who didn’t give a damn about boys. Besides, I grew up in a house full of guys. But guys would think because I relate with them freely then, I liked them and wanted to date them. But it was so because I grew up in a home with all-guys. So I relate more freely with guys. I found myself doing those things that got me into a lot of trouble in school. I used to sneak out of school to eat and it wasn’t because I was from a low class home. I was from a well-to-do home.
I was in a boarding school where we had rodents in the beans and I couldn’t eat their food sometimes. So I used to go to the hostel mistress to ask for permission to go outside and eat but she wouldn’t allow me to go.
So what I do is to wait for her to go inside and make sure that the gateman is also away from his post and I’d sneak outside to eat, buy bread, sardine and other things to eat. But whenever the school authority found out, they’d bring me out in front of the assembly and embarrass me but the next day, I’d be gone again.
Way back then, they actually thought I was going out for boys, they didn’t know that I didn’t even care about boys. I didn’t know what it was to date a boy until way after my secondary school and people were shocked about it. I was just having fun.
Being the head drummer, my first performance on stage was at Adegbemile Cultural Center in Akure. I went back to Akure recently and I stood on that stage and had a nostalgia of where it all started from.
So when was the transition from drums to talking drum?
I had always loved the talking drum but what kept me away from playing it was because I saw that it was played by only men. I was very inquisitive and would ask my uncles and aunts why it was played by just men and if I could touch it.
Then, I was close to an old man called Olopade but we called him Bami Lopa Come. He’s from Ondo State but he’s late now. So I’d go to him, carry his drum and my great grandfather had a place in Ondo town where drummers were . So I had access to all these drums. And from my maternal side too, I’m a descendant of Alaafin Of Oyo.
So naturally, when the brand Ara was being formed, I tried my hands on the saxophone, acoustic, drums and those days at the big resort owned by my manager, they had talking drums as the door bell. So one of those days, instead of just picking the stick and hitting it to indicate that I wanted to come inside, I just picked it up and start playing it. Although it was the souvenir type of drum , I started making sounds with it.
Someone then noticed how I made sounds with it and asked if I wanted to play it. I told him I’d always wanted to. So my manager asked me if I was sure and I said yes.
But he drew my attention to the fact that women don’t play it but that if it was something I wanted to do then, I should go ahead and give it a try. So I got the real one. He wanted to get the band members to teach me but they said they didn’t know how to teach me. So I bought the CDs of the musicians I’d known over the years because my father loves music till date and we used to listen to Fela, Ogunde, King Sunny Ade, Obey and others. So I started learning and that’s how I started playing the talking drum.
How has being a female talking drummer affected you?
When people see me, they just make their hands into the talking drum and I just laugh. People go crazy about me especially women. You know men pretend a lot. It has opened doors for me and that’s the instrument God used to bring me out. It has brought about positive returns in my life and I thank God.
So what was it like the first time you played the talking drum?
That day, before I got on the stage, I was jittery because I knew I was breaking a major tradition. And I wasn’t sure of what would happen thereafter but I was sure I wanted to do it. Then I had a dream the day I had my first show, I had dressed up and was waiting for my bodyguards and just laid on the pillow for like five minutes. Then I saw a vision which I wouldn’t like to share because it’s personal. But that was what gave me the courage.
What was the reaction the crowd like?
Wow! They were at first skeptical about me and if I could play it. But when they heard me, they went gaga because they didn’t believe I could. Then they applauded and gave me a standing ovation because after I was through, I did a full split. I noticed that people who play talking drums are back up instrumentalists. Then I said to myself that I must do something different. So I sing, dance, and learnt how to play the talking drum with my hand under my leg, with a split from the back and in different ways.
So to round up my performance on that day, I did a full split with the talking drum with my head back and my hair flowing. I’ll never forget that day. In fact, when people were shouting, I thought my trouser had torn and they were laughing at me because it was so thunderous.
So when you look at the industry today, how does it make you feel when you seen that we have studio recording artistes and not musicians?
You see, there are very few of us who are musicians in this country. People ask me for my album but I don’t have a single album in the market. And I tell people that I’m not a recording artiste, I’m a performer. I freeze up when I’m in a cubicle and find it difficult to play my talking drum when I’m in the studio. I’m a free spirit, a performer who doesn’t like to be caged. Of course there are studios out there but I can’t afford to take my entire band to record my live music. There are studios all over Europe that do that but I can’t afford it. The day I find a studio in Nigeria that can record my live performances because whenever I’m performing, I get high on my audience but I don’t smoke or drink. My audience gives me the highness that I want and I want to see them while recording my songs. So for now, I have just singles.
How many singles do you have now?
From inception, I’ve done three. I remember I was privileged to be in the same bus with late Sunny Okosun and Victor Uwaifo in the UK where we went for the Nigerian Entertainment Awards where I won an award. I was sitting right behind them where they were discussing about how possible it is to compare artistes who use CDs with live performing musicians. We live performers are underpaid. You can’t see the best of Ara without my full band.
My full band is about twenty one. But these days, I’m made to play with less than fifteen because they can’t pay the price. Some organizers would prefer to invite an artiste who would perform with his CD than we live performers and there are a lot more a live performer has to get in place like rehearsing my beat, dance scripts, pay my band members, engineers, costume.
Can you imagine Fela coming on stage and is telling the DJ to play him track 2? It’s a disaster. But I’ve been made to do it because these days if I don’t do it someone else would take the money and they still want to pay me the same amount paid to a CD artiste. It doesn’t make sense and it’s what is killing the industry. If you want real music, go for people like Femi Kuti, Lagbaja, Ara, Yinka Davis, and we are the ones that aren’t being appreciated. But I’m not criticizing the CD artistes because that’s what they know how to do. I’m criticizing the organizers because they need to see the difference. I want to get on the stage and while the drum is rolling, I want to be able to conduct and control my band.
So how has that affected the music industry?
It has because that’s why you see that everyone is lazy. Nobody is thinking deep. I’m happy that the likes of Tuface is using a live band now because he’s a deep artiste, not because I collaborated with him but because I believe in him. I’m happy that some of these artistes are realizing the importance of originality. People are no longer writing good lyrics. One of my fans told me that he’s tired of paying money to watch artistes who use CDs to perform on stage.
In your time, female artistes aren’t so many. So how do you feel to see that female artistes are everywhere?
It’s a thing of joy and pride but if I say that all of them are still single ladies and are still paying their dues, I’m watching them and happy for them. But I’m praying that they won’t make the mistakes people like us have made. I was with the Ibru sisters last week and was telling them my personal experience. They were shocked that I went through all I went through and I’m still standing.
What were you telling them?
I was telling them what I experienced in my marriage. Even the men I opened up to couldn’t believe I went through all I did and I’m still able to do all I do on stage.
Was your experience that bad?
Yes it was bad.
Was he a wife beater?
I don’t want to talk about it. You’re recording so I can’t talk.