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By Simeon Mpamugoh
Yekini Kolawole Ajao, who is known as Professor Y.K Ajao in the music circle, certainly has every reason to be grateful. The Makosa King who began his music career in 1962 at the age of nine in his hometown Iseyin, Oyo State, went professional in 1973. But then, immediately he went professional, he experienced a decline in patronage.
“Immediately I went professional, I experienced a decline in the number of people that hired me to play at their functions. This happened between 1974 and 1975. But in 1976, I started blossoming and my fame grew exponentially,” he said in a chat with TS Weekend at his Ikorodu, Lagos home.
However, as the recession was abating, another one bad time hit the musician between 1981 and 1982. For him, it was a sad experience because everything he had crumbled. “There was no invitation, no patronage and no single show for me to perform. Everything I had crumbled. It was indeed a sad experience. This lasted for a while and I prayed and sought advise from my elders and brother in music, the late Alhaji Ayinde Barrister. He counseled me, gave me financial support as well as musical equipment. Today, he remains my mentor while Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey is my godfather.”
TS Weekend brings you more on Professor YK Ajao. Enjoy it.
How exactly did you start music?
I started my musical career from my hometown, Iseyin, Oyo state. Later, I moved to Ibadan to acquire more knowledge in music. From Ibadan, I moved back to Lagos. Lagos used to be musically vibrant. There were more social activities and nightlife was quivering in Lagos than Ibadan. Even in hiring musicians to perform at events, Lagos was more forthcoming. I started as an amateur musician in 1962 at nine years old. And I went professional in 1973 at the age of 23.
In 1973 when you turned professional till date, how would you score development in juju music?
We discovered the genre of music in 1990. We were playing juju music in the class of Chief Ebenezer Obey. We later discovered that we were opening the market further for him even though he was a leading juju musician. Owing to that, we were not known in the industry. And each time we performed, most people mistook us for Ebenezer Obey. This was not helping us because they couldn’t differentiate us from Ebenezer Obey. Later, Obey invited me to his place and like a father and good mentor, he said: ‘Y.K, you are my son. I want you to blend your music so that anytime someone hears you on radio, television or stage, he could easily say this is Y. K playing and not Ebenezer Obey’. I heeded his advice and began to experiment on different styles of music before settling for Juju Makosa.
If you were not a musician what else could you have done?
I listen to different categories of music, starting from apala, highlife to hip hop so that I could innovate and be more creative. I also listen to my past recordings to uncover areas of mistake, with a view to correcting and improving on them next time on stage. So, music is with me, I’m with music.
How would you compare your era of analogue to the present generation of computerized beat?
It is easier for an artiste to cut a single or an album nowadays. Today, it could take a minimum of two persons to produce a work. In the past, it could take about 36 people to produce an album because an artiste needed to hire session men who were paid on every rehearsal day. Today, digitization has given fresh fillip to the industry. It was analogue during our time.
To some artistes, piracy has helped their popularity. What is the case with you?
Frankly speaking, I don’t worry myself about piracy. Since I started my musical career 43 years ago, I have built my fan base such that anytime I produced a work; my fans lapped it up, even if it were 40,000 copies. So, there is no room for anybody to pirate my work because I know my capacity and I cannot produce works that are more than my fan base. I have fans in Lagos, America and London. And when I travel to America, I take a quantity of work that would be needed, sell to my fans there and collect my money in lump sum. It is like that everywhere I travel to in the world hence none of my works can be found with street hawkers. We don’t give room for anyone to pirate our work because we have a distribution system that doesn’t allow it. Today, people are requesting for my old works and any moment from now, four of my works would be in the market. It is going to be Makosa series and my fans should watch out for them.
What were the most embarrassing experiences you’ve had with women on stage?
I always enjoy the company of women because they help my career a lot. Most times when someone wanted to engage my band for any occasion, it was always women that recommended me to the celebrant. They are like ‘why not call Y.K? Try him and you wouldn’t regret it’. So, women had been the pillars of my success in music. Nonetheless, it’s usual for them to hug, kiss and romantically gesture to me on stage. Yes, I have had lots of these from women.
How would you rate your genre of music, Juju Makosa, in the country?
Juju music has been around before I was born, and at 64, it still remains strong and pulsating. Any other genre of music in Yoruba is an offshoot of juju including, fuji, apala and sakara. I have no regrets about my decision to stick to Makosa because on stage, I always know ahead of time what I am going to dish out to the fans. I also try and assess the audience while on stage. I used to tell my manager, Taju Abiola, to also check out on our fans’ reaction off the stage, to see whether or not they are enjoying what we are offering them. I feel happy seeing how people dance and wriggle their waists to my brand of music. My joy is complete when fans are applauding my performance.
Musicians are not known to be monogamous. What is the case with you?
I’m a polygamist. I have wives. But I cannot live with two women in the same house. If I live with one and she later says she is not okay with me and she wants to leave, I will allow her to go, and then I’ll marry another one. That was how I ended up a polygamist. I cannot disown the first and second wives. I see myself as a father to all of them. And the one that lives with me, I’m both a father and husband to her. I don’t condemn anyone of them. They can come and visit me anytime. To leave them completely is not an ideal thing to do. I do make arrangements for them to live on their own. We are still united in hearts but living with them in the same house is like putting the house on fire and it is dangerous.
What are you doing about raising more Makosa exponents?
One of my sons Abdulateef Owolabi Ajao, otherwise called Makosa 2, is taking after me. He has his own band. He has been playing since 2002 and he is doing well. Sometimes when he plays at a party and I ask people about his performance, the response has been encouraging. When he accompanies me to a show, and I am tired, I invite him to stand in for me. And when he starts playing, the audience wouldn’t want me to go back on stage anymore, they would prefer he continues to entertain while I rest. I always feel happy to see such things happen.
How did you become a Professor in music?
It was a miracle. Between 1973 and 74, I used to play at the bar beach in Lagos. The show was called ‘Weekend Bar Beach Show’ and organised by Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). The late music maestro, Art Alade coordinated it. We were four musicians invited to play at the show. Some other musicians had taken their turn. When it got to my turn, I mounted the stage. And as I began to entertain, someone whispered that they would not want any other musician to mount the stage after me. They started chanting ‘Y.K! Y.K! Y.K!’ I was just 23 years old then. Then Art Alade said: ‘Y.K, you this small boy, you are going to become a Professor. As from today, you are a Professor in music. I crown you Professor because you outperformed other musicians’.
What are some of your awards and recognitions locally and internationally?
I have won several awards and recognitions. But the one that put me on the map was the National Juju King award. It was organized by Poatson Promotions and had me competing with the likes of King Sunny Ade and Commander Ebenezer Obey. The organisers advertised the award on radio and television stations, saying they were looking for the third national juju king, apart from King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. They called on Nigerians to send in their nominations in writing, which was the method at that time, as there was no mobile phone to do SMS.
Entries came from different parts of the country, and at the end of the day, I won the contest, having pulled the highest number of votes.