By Oladeinde Olawoyin
On December 16 2017, friends and fans marked the seventh year anniversary of the death of Fuji icon, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister. As expected, there were variegated perceptions about his arts. The consensus, however, was that he was an enigmatic artiste whose works would continue to be subjected to different shades of interpretations.
It’s quite tempting to approach much of Sikiru Ayinde Barrister’s arts as by-products of introspection. In his immensely popular album, REALITY, he painted a rather pitiful picture of the fratricidal forces he had to contend with, far far away from the klieg lights. Decades earlier, in AIYE! we had an insight into his troubled, challenging beginnings and in FANTASIA FUJI, he expressed worries over the prolonged presence of military men in our administrative space. In QUESTIONNAIRE, he threw up an avalanche of posers, many of them rhetorical, striking at the heart of the dynamics around our socio-political concerns as a nation.
So whether the subject is biographical or otherwise, it becomes plausible to conceive his art as one permanently stuck in the past: if he wasn’t offering anecdotal exposé on his humble background as a Nigerian Breweries’ motor-boy in Obalende, or a melancholic take on how he literally binged on poverty while growing up with his beloved Odere Subuola Sifau, he would be dissecting Nigeria’s tortuous democratic journey from the 50’s through the 90’s and beyond.
Yet, this artiste who was overly reflective could sometime be clairvoyant, or more appropriately now, prophetic. And like many great artistes, whom, as clichés go, are prophets (the singular criterion for obtaining a space in the pantheon, it appears, is ownership of crystal ball), Barry was no less prognostic.
In essence, Barry was a socially conscious thinker through and through, capable of dissecting the future with insights of the past and variables of the present.
If we choose to embrace some mischief and stretch the imagination a little further, even, we could as well build some mysticism around his arts.
For instance at some point in his 2007 ouvre, ‘Image & Gratitude’, released three years before his eventual death in 2010, we could safely imagine Barry as one conducting his very own burial rites, eulogising those present at the Fidau prayers, singing their praises in tens and hundreds. And the rationale for this, too, although mischief-laden, could narrrowly pass the logic test: because no one could satisfactorily entertain and appreciate visitors like Barry, the master rancoteur himself, it follows that he would deliver his words of gratitude ahead of time, even while still alive.
Only that we would have to expunge the context, for effect. “Gbogbo yin pata eseun, gbogbo yin pata eseun… eyin to duro tiwa o… gbogbo yin pata eseun,” (thanks, everyone who stood by us) he sings, before reeling out a super-long list of names.
Barry wasn’t talking about death or funeral in those lines, to be sure, even though a few lines away, he offered some touching, melodious tributes to Lamidi Adedibu, Toto Abuga, Wahab Folawiyo, Sunny Okosun, Alade Aromire, among others, all deceased.
Yet, quite interestingly, footage would emerge shortly after his death, depicting these very words as his messages of gratitude to those who were at his funeral.
For an artiste who in his lifetime spoke fearlessly about death, with deep philosophical lines on how he was ready for the Grim reaper whenever it was time, this depiction, although mischievous and done largely for commercial intent, might not be overly inapt.
And what’s more, three years after, every of the characters who got a mention in those verses played prominent roles in his burial rites: Lati Alagbada, media owners, Buhari Oloto, Eko Remix, carpenters, vulcanisers, fashion designers. Talk about the artiste as, er, soothsayer!
So beyond the heavy percussion and the melodious saxophone tunes, Barry’s ‘Image & Gratitude’ was in many ways a tribute to self, an elegy written before transition, a picture of the artiste as, er, prophet.
The quest to dissect this enigma, this wonder among wonders, is never-ending; and as I type these lines, one of Sikiru’s most enduring oeuvres, ‘E sinmi Rascality’, is on auto-replay, situating me right in the heart of Ayeye, Ibadan—-literally almost.
And as I listen now to Sikiru’s, I choose to approximate Chris Abani (who on his part, too, appropriated Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanik): And I am listening to Ibadan with my eyes closed.
Featured image source: cdandlp.com
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