The Musical Life Of Àyìnlá Ọmọwúrà

Who was Àyìnlá Ọmọwúrà?

The second half of the twentieth century in the Nigerian entertainment industry witnessed tremendous changes and a revelation of pleasurable musicians who sang for the entertainment of lovers, societal ills, the importance of education, governments, and any themes that pique the interest of that time ambience. However, it was amid this period, which could also be called the “Nigerian Music Age” that an Apala (a Nigerian musical genre described according to Festus Adedayo as songs circumscribed around the Islamic social stratum of the Yoruba society) musician emerged. The musicians who sang it engaged a mixture of traditional African music, accentuated with Islamic renditions, thus achieving a blend that was neither totally Islamic nor wholly traditional but nevertheless assumed to have achieved a successful "Islamisation of traditional music) crooner, in Abeokuta will rose to fame—one of its kind just a few years before his death.

Àyìnlá Waidi Yusuf was born in Itoko in 1933 to the family of gbogbolowo, a blacksmith in Abeokuta. However, the etymology of the tagline “Ọmọwúrà'' can be traced to his mother’s name—Wuramotu. In a conversation with Alhaji Adewole Alao (Oniluola), the founder and lead drummer of Àyìnlá Ọmọwúrà, he revealed that the appellation—Ọmọwúrà, came from Àyìnlá's incessant raucous and to identify the doer, witnesses will chorus “it is Àyìnlá Ọmọwúrà'' which can be translated to “Son of Wura.”

Photo of Ayinla Omowura - Wikipedia

Àyìnlá’s Music Life

What distinguishes Àyìnlá is not just the Egba tone with which he sings but the descriptive messages, danceable mellifluous incantations, metaphorical lyrics, adages, and feud lines. Adewole Alao described him as a multi-talented person whose electrifying dancing steps are as worthy of sight as listening to his voice.

Àyìnlá’s musical journey began in the 1950s; however, before the second phase of his offshoot into the limelight, he was a member of the Olalomi band which catapulted his musical dexterity right into the heart of Abeokuta. However in the 1970s, after a few performances, he had made with Adewole Alao Oniluola while he was still in the Olalomi Group, he decided to join Adewole band and that birthed the Alhaji Àyìnlá and His Apala Group under the EMI Record Label Nigeria and with him, being the lead singer.

It should be noted that before Àyìnlá's music expeditions, there were a series of Àpàlà singers, and most notable of them all was Haruna Oshola, whom Àyìnlá ascribed as his senior.

Àyìnlá explores various themes in his songs, including love, loss, death, struggles, etc. Alongside these themes, he sang musical feuds. It should be noted that even though there were a few notable musicians; yet, the fight for superiority was common. It was in this light that Àyìnlá and his contemporaries also engaged in diss tracks and out of the numerous diss tracks of the time was Fatai Olowonyo's Ẹléwúrẹ́ wọlé. Where he indirectly calls Àyìnlá a goat thief who uses the proceeds from his theft to buy Toyota.

Ẹléwúrẹ́ wọlé o

Ẹlágùntàn wọlé


Alákọrí gun Toyota, ewúrẹ ló fi kó

À ṣé ó tin jalè tẹ́lẹ̀, kó tó ra Toyo


Get the goats inside

Get the sheep inside

A proud man rides Toyota, and he pack goats inside

So he has been stealing before he rides Toyota

— Fatia Olowonyo, Elewure Wole.

Impact of Àyìnlá Ọmọwúrà's Music on various Themes in the society

Just like every other musician in this period, Àyìnlá's music also battled societal ills in Nigeria. Some of these impacts can be felt in the political and economic sphere, philosophy, education, and the common theme—women. These impacts will further be explained in subsequent paragraphs.

Impact on Education

Even though Àyìnlá did not have any form of western education, he exalted the importance of education and this he passed as a message in his discography 25 x 40 under Ọmọ afi ẹ̀kọ́ ṣ'ọ̀fọ̀:

Ìyà nbẹ fún ọmọ tí ò gbọ́ràn

ẹkùn nbẹ fún ọmọ tó n’ṣá kiri

afòwúrò ṣòfò rántí ọjọ́ ọ̀la o

ìyá lè r'odò kí bàbá r'oko

kóo rántí pé

yíò ku ẹ pẹ̀lú ìwà e…


There's suffering for a disobedient child

Tears are waiting for the child that wastes away his early days

One who wastes the early days remembers tomorrow

Your mother may go to the river

Your father may go to the farm

Remember that

You'll be alone with your behaviour

Àyìnlá in the song above enjoined children who refuse to go to school to desist from such habit, and also, he told them the likely outcome of their disobedient act.

Àyìnlá Song on Women

Àyìnlá was fond of incessant proverbs or jibes aimed at women. According to Fadipe Israel in his work, Understanding Standpoints on Women Through a Patriarchal Voice: a Study of Àyìnlá Ọmọwúrà’s Music, he noted that 'Àyìnlá is a chip of the old block himself who gave orchestration to his people‟s cultural practices…identified four distinct issues-polygamy, prostitution, skin bleaching, and women’s submission.'

Àyìnlá on prostitution

The idea of prostitution is not a contemporary topic. It has been a major thematic area of discussion in the 1970s as much as it is now. Àyìnlá's music cut across this discussion in his discography titled Panṣágà rántí ọjọ́ ọ̀la, he noted:

Panṣágà rántí ọjọ́ ọ̀la

Panṣágà rántí ọjọ́ ọ̀la

Kí o ronú ẹwò

Kóo tún bọ́

Àwọn tó ngùn ẹ́ bí ẹṣin

Tí o bá pè wọ́n

Wọn á mó e lójú


Adulteress remember tomorrow

Adulteress remember tomorrow

You had better have a rethink

And change.

Those who ride you like Horse

When you call them

They derogate you.

In this song, He classified the sexual adventures of the adulteress to that of a woman with no thought of the future and derisively reduces her to the Horse they ride. However, he ended the note with a warning towards such women.

Polemics on women that bleach their skin

It should be noted that one of the post-colonialism sociological effects in Nigeria was skin bleaching. According to Franklin I. in his research titled Living in a Barbie World: Skin Bleaching and the Preference for Fair Skin in India, Nigeria, and Thailand, he noted that: 'colonisation was attributed for this behaviour in Nigeria, and that association of whiteness with materialism and social privilege led people to skin bleaching in developing countries.'

However, in addressing this ill, Àyìnlá sang that:

Ọmọge ìwòyí,

O fẹ́ bayé jẹ́

Dúró bí Ọlọ́run bá ṣe dá e

Má ba àwọ̀ jẹ́ fún ẹni bíẹ

Kán má bàá ṣì ẹ́ mà torí afẹ́ ayé

O b'óra tán o di òyìnbó


Young ladies of these days

You want to corrupt the world

Stay put on how God created your

Don't spoil your skin for your parents

So that you won't be mistaken for someone else

You bleached and now you have turned into a white person.

Àyìnlá on Political Topics

It is important to note that the history of Nigeria in the 1970s cannot be mentioned without its sociological impacts, especially in the context of music. Various musicians treated the subject of civilian and military government in their music. Àyìnlá on Ẹ̀yin Òṣèlú Wa, he noted that:

K’okùnrin rí ejò, kí Obìnrin pá

Kí ni àwa n'fẹ́?

Kí ejò má ṣe lọ là wá n’fẹ́

K’álágbádá kó k’agbádá

Ká jo má ṣe Ìjọba kò l'èèwọ̀

Ki Nàìjíríà ṣà ti r’ójú


If a man sees a snake and a woman kills it

What do we want?

The snake must not go, that's what we want

Whether civilian or not

Let us rule together

In as much Nigeria is at peace.

Àyìnlá infuses a metaphorical analysis by comparing the government tussle between civilians and the military to citing a snake and noting safety first as the only thing that matters and not who kills the snake.

In Ẹ fara mọ́'mobọ́lájí, Àyìnlá beseeches the people to accommodate Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson’s tenement rate policy in Lagos state. He enjoined Lagosians not to kick against his government policy but they should give support to Johnson and he lectured his listeners on the process of the payment of the tenement rate.

Àyìnlá's Death

Various sources have written about Àyìnlá's sudden death. However, on May 6, 1980, Àyìnlá who had been at loggerhead with his manager and friend, Bayewu went to a bar where Bayewu was and their discussion escalated into a brawl which ended with Bayewu stabbing Àyìnlá in the head with a beer mug.


Àyìnlá did not only serve entertainment purposes, it also discussed major themes in Nigerian society. He recorded 22 albums in total and his record label, EMI, recorded at least 50,000 sales on the album. Àyìnlá's costly appearances earned him the alias, Alhaji Costly. He lived a flamboyant life yet values moral ethics in society.


“☕️.” 2022. YouTube.

Adedayo, Festus. 2017. “Ayinla Omowura: 37 years after the sybarite.” TheCable.

Adedayo, Festus. 2020. Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend. N.p.: Noirledge Publishing.

Adedayo, Festus. 2020. “Egbaland, May 6 and Ayinla Omowura - The NEWS.” The NEWS Nigeria.

“Ayinla Ọmọwura kò kàwé, àmọ́ ó kópa sí àgbéga orin àti èdè Yorùbá.” 2019. BBC.

“Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend on #BooksSplash #Part1.” 2020. YouTube.

Fadipe, Isreal. n.d. “Understanding Standpoints on Women Through a Patriarchal Voice: a Study of Ayinla Omowura's music.”

Labisi, Sekinat A. 2012. “Traditional Music in Nigeria: Example of Ayinla Omowura's Music.” Developing Countries Studies 2 (10): 108-118.

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