By Ahaoma Kanu

November 23-29, 2009

For National Daily


Lagbaja can do wonders with his saxophone and D’Banj thrills with his harmonica but you need to hear Irawo get her talking drum to sing out melodies with dexterity and a sense of fufillment that only passion can give. Little wonder Oluwakemi Adetula dropped her job as an accountant to pick up her drum and pursue a career in music. In this chat with Ahaoma Kanu, she explains why she took that decision and her plans to take drumming to the younger generation.

You always move around with your talking drum inside your handbag. Is that how precious the drum is to you?

Yes, it is very precious to me and I like to be identified with it. Also there might be moments when I need to get it out to exhibit what I am known for. So, I carry it everywhere. It is portable and I can put it in my bag.

How do people react to it when you bring the drum out of your bag?

People are surprised. They wonder what a woman is doing with a talking drum and they ask me if I can play it. I kill their curiosity by playing it.

Take us back into your early days to your involvement in music.

I am Oluwakemi Bamidele Famugbode. I am married to Adewale Adetula. We have two lovely boys together. My musical career started while I was in the nursery school. I took part in all music activities like the Christmas carols, Easter Fiesta and so on. I continued to exhibit my talents in the primary school where I participated in cultural dances. I was involved in the Yoruba, Hausa, Efik and Edo cultural dances. The Igbo cultural dancers did not allow me to join in their dances. That was my first experience with tribalism. I was six years old.

When did the attraction to drumming come?

It came when I was in Junior Secondary School One at Lagos State Model College, Badore. However, our temporary school site was at Government College, Ketu, Epe. It was a mixed boarding school. While we were about to attend our first social night, power went off and we were in darkness. We improvised by lighting candles and lanterns. The seniors started beating melodies on the tables and singing songs. When they got tired, there was a need for someone to continue. I felt that I could do it better. So, I took over the drumming from the senior student, Senior Chioma, from Lagos State Model College, Igbonla. My performance was so cool that I got the nickname, ‘Kemi the Drummer Girl’. From there, I was contracted anytime there was a birthday celebration by a mate or senior. For my service, I was paid a plate of jollof rice asides from the party goodies.  I drummed on classroom desks, dining hall tables and hostel wardrobe doors. I was also a member of the school chorale and performing arts group. I also directed choreographies for social nights and operated as a music curator by calling on my classmates to come and listen to their favourite songs on my radio which I sneaked into the hostel on resumption days. After secondary school, I joined the Boys’ Brigade of Nigeria in my Anglican Church in order to have a chance to beat the drums with boys instead of joining the Girls’ Brigade. I started playing the talking drum in 2006 and I represented my community development group as a member of the Lagos State Dance Troupe in the National Youth Service Commission competition that was held in Abuja in 2006 during my service year. Before playing the talking drum, I used to play the akuba and conga drums.

Did you undergo any training or you taught yourself?

My mother was my first talking drum teacher. When I decided to go professional, I hired two talking drum teachers. Mr Taiye Alujo taught me how to play the Gangan talking drum while Mr Tajudeen, Sunny Nneji’s talking drummer, taught me how to play the iya ilu.

When did you purchase your first talking drum?

I purchased my first talking drum in 2006 for N7,000.

I was made to understand that you studied accounting. Why did you leave a white collar job for drumming and how did your parents feel about it?

I studied accounting and graduated with a second class upper. I also wrote professional examinations in accounting and almost completed the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) before I decided to give it up for music which is my first love. I worked with Access Bank PLC as a youth corps member as a marketer and transaction officer. Then I worked with Hazanwao Microfinance Bank Limited as the head of internal audit. Then I worked with Cashlink PLC as the head of internal audit. I left the job for audit and my parents were not pleased with me especially my father who felt that he had invested so much in training me but I have always wanted to be in the arts. I have more passion for the arts. He thought that I should still hold on to my job but I was not able to combine my 9 to 5 job with the home front. So, I decided to quit my job and face my music career. I was chocked up and needed to focus.

How far did your husband feel about it?

He was uncomfortable with me being on stage and people when he saw the commendation that I got from my audience, he relaxed about it and let me be.

Your stage name is Irawo. How did that name come about?

Irawo means ‘star’. I liken to Jesus who is referred to as the bright morning star. I got the inspiration for that name from the biblical story of the visit of the three wise men who were led by the star to Jesus’ manger where he was born. I liken the star to myself. The music that I make leads people to my drum when they come to watch a woman perform the talking drum with dexterity.

Some of the females that took into drumming went so far in recognition and acceptance but simply could not cope with being on top of their game. Are you scared that this might happen to you?

I am not scared of going into oblivion because drumming is what I have been doing since I was a child. I can play the drum without anyone backing me up. I am confident and I believe that I will still be drumming even when I am sixty years old and above.

There is this other fear that discourages ladies from drumming which is the fear of developing biceps as a result of the constant movement of the arms. Have you heard about that?

Yes, I have heard about that but that does not bother me. I am aware that drumming involves a lot of energy. I am also aware that drumming can keep me fit. If the biceps will keep me fit, I do not mind it at all.

What reactions do you get from fellow drummers of the opposite sex?

I get encouragement from them. Some of them marvel at what I can do with the talking drum. Being a member of the Association of Percussionists of Nigeria helps me a lot in this regard. The association is dominated by men but they are happy to associate with me and provide me with the necessary support at all times.

Which shows have you performed at?

Before I decided to go professional with drumming, I used to perform in church, weddings and family celebrations. Watch out for me as the sky is my take off point.

Let’s hear about your two debut singles.

The two debut singles that are on air right now are Ijo Ope and Believe in Yourself. Ijo Ope is thanking God for everything. It is my thanksgiving song for everything that he has done for me. I have been able to finish my education with flying colours. I am married with two children. God has been blessing me and I need to specially thank him with that song. Believe in Yourself is the first song that I composed after I stopped composing rap songs. It is an inspirational song that encourages us to stop procrastinating and go on to achieve whatever one sets one’s mind to do.

Is music the only thing that you are involved in?

Yes, music is the only thing that I do but in different areas. Apart from performing music, I partner with the Down Syndrome Association of Nigeria where I teach children how to play hand drums. I have always wanted to help children with special needs after I read in the newspaper that many of them are gifted in the arts. I went there, had a discussion with the director, Mrs Mordi and I started teaching them. Also, I have a teaching programme for pupils and students in the primary and secondary schools where I teach those who have an interest in drumming on how to drum.  For any school that is interested, I will send a proposal and we will take it from there.

What are your prospects for the music industry?

I will like to teach drumming even as I soar in my career as a musician. I love children a lot. I have been a Sunday teacher for a long time. The project that I have right now is the teaching of talking drum and dance and storytelling of folktales. This project will come into forms; the cultural and contemporary songs, drums and dance projects.

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