On Sunday night, he went to bed shortly after eating supper but it would be the last time Nigeria’s king of comic-acting would close his eyes to the world. His 82 years of great highs, incredible stardom, acclaim and painful lows came to an end.
With his comical and oversized lensless spectacles, Baba Sala drew young and old into his world of comedy, music and drama, becoming an important piece in the childhood of millions of Nigerians. With his talent and network, he inspired a generation of performers, who grew to become legends like him. He must have been really proud!
Baba Sala, real name Moses Olaiya Adejumo, is from Ijesha in Osun state. He was an actor, musician, dramatist and comedian. He is regarded as the father of modern Nigerian comedy.
DITCHING MUSIC FOR ACTING
He was first a musician, kicking off his entertainment career with a highlife band called ‘Federal Rhythm Dandies’, which had music icons King Sunny Ade (KSA) and Ade Love as members.
Baba Sala discovered and mentored KSA who started out as the lead guitarist of the successful band which inspired the creation of many of its kind.
But along the line, the mentor drew further away from music and gravitated towards acting.
Sunny Ade credits Baba Sala as the inspiration for his career in music, acknowledging that he gave him the opportunity to develop his talent.
Recounting this in an interview, KSA said: “I was a little boy, playing percussion in his band. He was a musician, playing guitar, Iya Ilu (talking drum) and accordion. At that time, we were playing I.K. Dairo kind of music and I was the youngest. When he formed the drama side he asked me to go to the drama group in order to see to the music side of it. So, I was in charge of music for his drama sector. Along the line I started playing Konga, Shekere and other instruments. After a while, he transferred me back to the band. It was through Baba Sala and his friend, Chief Tunde Amuwo that I became a band leader.”
Baba Sala would also reveal that when he decided to pursue acting head-on, he gave KSA his drum and musical instruments.
Despite ditching music, Baba Sala always infused songs into his acting, an indication that it was an attachment he couldn’t easily shake off.
In the last years of his life, he expressed regrets over his decision to leave music but maintained that at the time when he chose to walk away, “drama was in my blood”.
THE MISFORTUNE OF ORUN MOORU
Losing his fifth wife may have been the saddest moment of his life but the misfortune of his foray into filmmaking was a shock the entertainer never recovered from.
It was always Sala’s wish to produce his own movie, and when it was time to embark on the venture, he took a loan from National Bank, owned by Obafemi Awolowo, to make his dream a reality.
But the movie, Orun Mooru, which he expended almost all he had into, was eventually pirated. He was rattled and devastated by the incident, resorting to selling his house in Mushin, Lagos, to climb out of the mountain of debt incurred.
“My whole world crashed. The film was dubbed by some wicked people and pirated as original. I had gone to borrow over N1.5m from a bank for the realisation of the movie but I automatically became indebted and I sold most of my properties to settle the debt,” he once said at a public forum about piracy.
Sala blamed the younger brother of one of his wives for orchestrating the piracy of the film.
“I could not make money from the film and the interest on the loan kept mounting. I could not repay the loan within the period stipulated in the agreement,” he said.
After the incident, he had no choice but to relocate to Ibadan.
RELATIONSHIP WITH AWOLOWO
Owing to his multi-faceted craft and incredible talent, Sala caught the eye of Obafemi Awolowo, late nationalist and statesman, who personally went in search of him at home. The pair struck a friendship that lasted until the latter’s demise in 1987.
Awolowo was known to invite the comedian and dramatist to his home in Ikenne, Ogun state, for private performances while he made his renowned Alawada comedy show an important weekly event in his calendar.
When Sala needed funding for his movie, it was Awolowo who urged him to open an account with National Bank and apply for a loan from the financial institution.
In the ensuing years, their bond got stronger as the politician took a serious interest in the welfare of his younger friend, the entertainer.
He said: “There was a time I went to Lagos and I saw Awolowo and he asked me if I had telephone. I told him that I did not have. He then said that it was bad that I did not have a telephone. He then bought a telephone for me and asked the NITEL people to go and instal it in my house. That ensured that the two of us spoke any time we wanted.”
Baba Sala on his 80th birthday
As far back as 2011, rumours and reports about Baba Sala’s death have been a regular fixture.
In August 2015, it was widely reported that he had died, but apparently, he was only admitted for treatment at the University College Hospital, Ibadan.
Every time he took ill and the rumours surfaced, a member of his family would address the press to explain that he was suffering from an age-related illness.
Apart from his health, one other thing age robbed him of was his lifelong desire to act. He said “time and technology” coupled with his inability to cope with new trends brought his acting career to an end.
Baba Sala at the launch of his biography
AARE AGBAYE DIED OF OLD AGE
The self-proclaimed ‘aare agbaye’ (president of the world), who married 18 women and gave birth to about 50 children, died of old age, says Emmanuel Adejumo, his son.
“My dad was strong till he died. He died of old age and nothing was wrong with him health-wise,” he said.
“My dad passed on out of old age and not sickness. He was a very active person, someone who loved his job so much and knew what he wanted.”
Before his death, a biography entitled ‘Triumph of Destiny’, was written about his life and accomplishments. Although frail and moving about with help, Sala was present at the launch of the book which chronicles his childhood and pioneering of comedy in Nigeria.
As the comedy great goes forth to join the departed in the afterlife, we bid him adieu.