By Joe Agbro Jr

October 18, 2015

For The Nation on Sunday


Many drummers realize that they have drumming talents from tapping on wood. Such was the case of Oluwakemi Famugbode-Adetula. She started drumming at age ten when she was a student of the Lagos State Modele College, Badore, Ajah, Lagos State. As a border, the table tops and wardrobes were outlets that she used in horning her drumming skills.


“People liked it,” said Oluwakemi, who was also in the school’s chorale group and dance theatre. “It was just a hobby. I used to drum for my friends.”


However, the urge to pursue the hobby took another dimension after she finished secondary school. She joined the Boys’ Brigade of Nigeria at St. John’s Anglican Church, Satellite Town Lagos where she and her family worshipped. This time, she played the snare and tenor drums. It was then that her parents knew that she played the drums. Her dad was even pulled in to become one of the patrons of the Boys’ Brigade.


“My members always wanted me to play with them because anytime I am with them they make more money because our audiences are always thrilled to see a female drummer,” Oluwakemi recollects of her time with the Boys’ Brigade. “I play the snare drum and stand at the front of the band.”


In fact, the latter part of her name, Irawo Drumline, came from that stint. “The tenor drum, snare drum, bass drum, hi-hats and triangle make up the drumline.”


All this while, she had not yet gotten admission to a higher institution. She later studied accounting at Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos but continued rehearsing with the Boys’ Brigade. After that, she got admission to study accounting at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun Stat.


She met her husband in 1995 while still playing in the Boys Brigade and they got married in 2002. She became Mrs Adetula.


From Accountancy to Playing Drums

Having trained as an accountant, Oluwakemi worked intermittently between 1997 and 2012 in the corporate world but she wasn’t fulfilled. “I hated Mondays. I do not like traffic and usually most of the jobs that I got were on the Island and I lived on the Mainland.”


It was time to become an entrepreneur. The mother of three boys started her own accounting firm, Axiom Corporate, in 2013, after giving birth to her last child. “It was to help SMEs,” she said. Later, she relaxed on it. 

Earlier on, she had started Drumline Entertainment in 2007 while at the music school but did not have the business registered until 2010.


According to her, “People were not taking the accounting business serious because she was combining accounting and music.” 

She decided to merge the accounting side of the business with Drumline Entertainment. 

“Under Drumline now, I have the accounting aspect where I consult for music and creative industry people,” she said. “I do accounting service for people in that area because they now take me serious. I stopped Axiom Corporate but I cannot stop music for 



While the school has started with teaching drumming, it will kick off fully in January 2016 and dovetail into teaching other aspects of the music as well as the business side of it. 

“We’ll teach how creative people should account for their business and all those things that are not really taken seriously by creative alongside music.”


It has been a winding journey for Oluwakemi. After graduating from the university, she participated in the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps in Lagos. During that period, she took part in music and drumming. 

“I was in the Lagos State Cultural Troupe. I played the talking drum as well. We represented Lagos State at the annual NYSC cultural competition in Abuja in 2006.”

Though her troupe didn’t win the competition, the experience was a baptisimal  of sorts for Oluwakemi. “That was the first time that I would perform with the talking drum,” she said. “I wasn’t an expert then because I was still learning.”


It would take seeing Ara and Ayanbirin, two contemporary female drummers, to set Oluwakemi back to her love. “I said to myself, ‘This is what I want to do!’” she recalled.


An opportunity presented itself when she saw an advert for scholarship to study music at the Pencil Film and Television Institute (PEFTI) in 2007. She applied for it and got the scholarship. One student was to be chosen for each department available. She got the scholarship for music.


She said that before getting the scholarship, she had always been curious about how the talking drum made music. Her mother taught her the rudiments of playing it and then she went further to learn it professionally from Mr Taiye Alujo, a talking drum expert, who she says is still her mentor.


“It took me six months to learn the rudiments,” said Oluwakemi. “It took me three years to become perfect. The learning process continues. I always learn something new every day. I still learn idioms, proverbs, panegyrics (oriki) of a particular town. For example, if I want to praise someone from Ijebu or someone from Ilesa, it is a technical process.”


While the Gangan is seen as Yoruba musical instrument, Oluwakemi has deployed it to jazz which has led to a misconception about her style of music.


“People believe that because I play the talking drum, it is a cultural instrument and must be played in the traditional way but to me, it is not a cultural instrument. It is just like any other musical instrument but because they are older than I am, I do not argue with them.”


At PEFTI, Oluwakemi learnt the theory of music, drums set and song composition. However, she discovered that playing the drums set will put her in the background as she would have to play for other musicians. It was not a position that she cherished because she also wanted to write songs and sing. With the talking drum, a player stayed in the front of a band.

“I wanted to stay where people would see me and where I could also dance with the drum. This is why I chose the talking drum as my major musical instrument. Apart from this, I wanted an instrument that could give me a melody like the violin.”


Though Oluwakemi learnt how to play the violin afterwards, in 2009, she adopted the talking drum as her choice instrument to play jazz music.


Becoming Irawo

She had wanted to use her name but at music school during her graduating performance at PEFTI, that changed. When asked her name, she simply said, “Oluwakemi Adetula.” The manager thought that her name was boring considering her sterling performance. She thought of how people came out to see her when she plays her drum. “It is like coming out to check a shooting star. This is how I feel when I play my drum. The talking drum is a star that brings people out to come and watch me.” Irawo means ‘star’ in the English language. Hence, she became Irawo Drumline, a name that she has adopted for her brand.


Recently, she held a talking drum workshop where she played some classical pieces from Beethoveen, Victor Uwaifo (Joromi), Osita Osadebe (Osondi Owendi) with the talking drum. “I cut across all languages,” she said. “We cannot go far if we keep on saying that the talking drum is only for the Yoruba. It has to be contemporary and that is what I use it for; as a jazz musical instrument.”


Finance as the Challenge

Though enmeshed in full time drumming and a music training outfit, Drumline Entertainment, Oluwakemi says, “It has not been easy. It is more of an advocacy job that I am doing now. It is not lucrative for now. People are still trying to see, ‘Okay, what is she doing?’ I believe that by the time I release my album and shoot some music videos and promote them, people will understand exactly what I do.”


Like many small ventures, Oluwakemi says finance has been the greatest hurdle that she has to deal with so far. “When I go for events, people would not want to pay. They would say that they are promoting me.”


After being in the industry for a while and attending professional meetings like the recently concluded Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) conference on digital marketing in in Lagos, Oluwakemi knows better.


“At a point in time, we should draw a line between when we get paid and when we are being promoted,” she quips.


“People don’t want to pay for intellectual property but we need to get paid because without money, we would not be able to create more music and without music, other things will not flow in this world.”