DJ Irawo

By Ebere Ameh

March 28, 2014

For New Telegraph


When at a young age, Oluwakemi Famugbode-Adetula started beating on tables and other surfaces producing various sound and familiar beats, she had no inkling that she would be a professional drummer that she is today. A graduate of accountancy, she is not only an expert in beating all kinds of drums, she wants to take the talking drumming to a whole new level.


Singer, dancer, songwriter and drummer, Famugbode-Adetula, indeed a multi-talented artiste who is in tune with and enjoys what she is doing. Popularly called ‘Irawo’ from her stage name ‘Irawo Drumline’.


Explaining the meaning of her stage name, she says “‘Irawo’ means ‘star’. It means somebody that is different. When the three wise men needed to see Jesus, they were led by a star to where he was. What happens now is that people say, “Obirin n lu ilu!” (A woman is drumming!) and they all come out to watch me. My drum is the Irawo because that is what is bringing the people to see me. I also call myself Irawo because I am different. I decided to add Drumline to make for a better identification.”


A graduate of accountancy from the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Irawo was doing well as the head of audit in a financial institution before she decided to find her way back to music, her first love.


“I studied accountancy for my parents, especially my dad. He is a quantity surveyor and one of those who insist that their children must be doctors and lawyers. We did his bidding but none of us practices what we studied in school. I have no regrets though because I have my own accounting firm and I remain an accountant even though I have decided to go professional with my music.”


Call hers a family of talents and you won’t be far from the truth. While she is into music, her sisters, Tolulope, who studied business administration and Ibilola, who studied law, are now big time jewellery and embroidery designers.


Her sons are not left out. Oluwademilade plays the piano, conga and guitar and Oluwaferanmi is a drummer and recorder player. The youngest of them all, Olasubomi loves to sing.

 “However, in the midst of all these talents, my husband loves to sing off-key most of the time.”Irawo says humorously.


Wondering where all that rich talent came from, Kemi explained that her mother, despite being a nurse, was also a fashion and jewellery designer and musician too.


Talking about her husband who is a public relations practitioner, she said that he is yet to fully support her foray into the music industry.

“He is still on the fence because he feels that all married musicians are promiscuous and they end up with marital crises but I want to prove him wrong that it is not all married musicians that have marital crises. I have promised him that I will be scandal free. I have told him that I want to eat my cake and have it. I want to keep my marriage and also be successful in my music career,” she said enthusiastically.


From beating on the tables and surfaces, Irawo progressed to learning how to play other musical instruments. Now, she is the founder of the Drumline Band, an eight-man band that boasts of playing other musical instruments in addition to the talking drums.


“It was an adventure for me to pick the drum and learn it. It started with the table, then the conga drums, then other percussion instruments. After my secondary school, I joined the Drumline of the Boys’ Brigade where I played the snare drum. I could play all of the drums but I chose the snare drum because of its versatility. From there, I moved on to playing other kinds of percussions like ekwe and djembe and then the talking drum.


From a historical perspective, the talking drum, also known as the Dundun, in the Yoruba language was beaten by griots who were usually men. It is one of the most ancient musical instruments used by the Yoruba and a few tribes in West Africa. It mimics the sound of the human voice and can be used to converse and reproduce songs. With globalization and civilization coupled with the realization that whatever a man can do, a woman can do it better, a couple of women have dared the tradition to venture into playing the talking drum. The talking drum is no longer played by men alone or for deities and at traditional ceremonies. These ladies are revolutionizing the talking drum.

“The talking drum is a cultural musical instrument which signifies the rich culture of the Yoruba people and I want to promote it. That is why I am incorporating it into the kind of music that I do. I call my kind of music contemporary jazz. The jazz fusion that I do is a combination of different kinds of music like reggae, pop and the rest but the main thing about my music is that it is done with the accompaniment of the talking drum. I also use the talking drum to play classical music. My aim is to promote it beyond the African setting. I want it to be a universal musical instrument just as we have the guitar, the violin, the djembe and other musical instruments,” she said.


Irawo got so fascinated with the talking drum when she listened to juju and fuji music but according to her, she got captured with the sound of the talking drum after she listened to songs by Majek Fashek who has a way of infusing the sound of the talking drum into his reggae genre of music. Irawo believes that if he could do it successfully, then the talking drum could be used to accompany and enrich any genre of music.


“Initially, the reception was very poor for me because people did not understand what I was up to. I got rejections from a couple of managers who wondered how I could create and perform soul, pop and even reggae genres of music and infuse the talking drum into them. They felt that I should play a guitar or piano instead. They also suggested that I left song writing and drumming for folklores, chanting and Yoruba poetry (ewi) but that is not what I want. One of them told me that the talking drum is too local. Now, people are beginning to appreciate my kind of music. When I do jazz and pop and other genres of music with my talking drum, the youths get excited and are encouraged to learn how to play it.”


Irawo has used her multiple talents to raise money for charities. She is involved in a program called Touching Lives with Aunty Wunmi. She dances, sings and raises money for charity. Now, she has gone professional and gets requests from individuals and organizations to play or compose songs to capture the theme of their events and also perform for them.


“I just finished a project with Mr Larri Williams. I played the percussions on his poems; Eko Lagos and Barrack Obama. I am partnering with some corporate organizations with corporate retreats via our corporate drumming services.


Different individuals and organizations invite me to perform for them and I can say that people are beginning to accept my kind of music.


Irawo, who studied music at the Pencils Film and Television Institute (PEFTI) of the Wale Adenuga fame between 2007 and 2008 on scholarship and graduated with a distinction said she knew that she was doing the right thing when she started receiving awards and acclaims.


“I won the Magic Contest organized by ArtColony International at MUSON Centre in December 2012. I competed with four other instrumentalists; a pianist, a tenor singer, a violinist and a quartet of clarinettists. We performed classical and jazz pieces. When I won the competition, I knew that I was doing the right thing."


Talking about her plans for the future, Irawo says, “I plan to travel wide propagating and teaching the talking drum. It is a unique musical instrument which can only be played live to get the best sound. People have tried to put the sound in applications but it is not as good as the live sound which gives a variation of sound.


‘Some time ago, full-fledged Americans came to Nigeria to study the Yoruba language. Fascinated by the talking drums, they said they would come back to learn it. All these show the uniqueness of the talking drum and I am set to promote it.


‘I am a go getter. I set out to achieve results and I do not get discouraged by obstacles in my way. I believe that with God, all things are possible.”