A birth and a death; both mark our points of entry and exit into and from this world—and every year, we are affected by the deaths of remarkable individuals whose lives have touched ours and changed it.
Let’s begin with the comic writer, Stan Lee whose recent passing hovered in our social media consciousness for weeks on end or the death of Moses Olaiya, popularly known as Baba Sala, whose passing needed a detailed obituary for young people to know who he really was.
Baba Sala was an iconic comedian from Ilesa. A consummate performing artiste in his own right, his band, Federal Rhythm Dandies, was where King Sunny Ade cut his teeth as a young guitarist. Baba Sala is best known for his clownish dress sense; he wore huge eye glasses before Falz was born, his bow tie was about the size of a picketing placard and what is most fantastic about his routine was the effortlessness in depicting the foolishness of his characters. This was way before the unscripted slapstick comedies of Baba Suwe and the likes.
Baba Sala enjoyed his fair share of vicissitudes, including a loss of his fortune when his feature film, Orun Mooru, was hijacked by film pirates and he was left with enormous debt. The last time I saw him was five years ago at the waiting area of the outpatient clinic at Wesley Guild Hospital where I was doing my housemanship. He looked at ease in his flowing red lace, his chin resting on his sleek walking stick, as he waited to be seen for his medical maladies.
Those who mourned the late poet Adebayo Faleti last year did not know that Akinwunmi Ishola would be the next iconic scion of Yoruba culture to pass. Re-introduced into popular Yoruba culture in the mid-90s by film adaption of his plays and novels by Tunde Kelani, Akinwunmi Ishola played interesting minor characters whose intellectual depth was always a fulcrum for understanding the essence of the feature film. He was the white-bearded professor interpreting Yoruba names in Oleku. He was the pioneer babalawo who yoked the bond binding the king, his drummer and the people of Jogbo in Saworoide. He lived to a ripe old age of 79 but his death is still a devastating blow to Yoruba culture.
The year 2018 began its slaying quite early by taking the 78-year-old jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela. But Masekela remains in our consciousness through his music and exemplary zeal for life as typified in Alf Khumalo’s iconic picture of the artist after he received a trumpet from Loius Armstrong in the 1950s.
Nigeria and the entire reggae community lost Ras Kimono in June, 2018. Kimono came into prominence with his rumba-styled reggae, best described as an amalgam between dance hall and conscious reggae, with his debut Under Pressure album. I remember rocking to his music at afternoon parties in the early nighties. He moved to the United States in search of greener pastures sometime later and his music moved out of popular consciousness, on account of the new wave Hip-Hop and afrobeats music, however, his evergreen songs remained permanent fixtures in the canon. His death, closely followed by his inamorata, has been a huge shock to those who loved their music.
The best way to end will be to pray for the repose of the dear departed and a sober reflection for those of us who still have the burden of life. It pays to live well for the benefit of your fellow man. And for the death that will still come to us all, in the word of Jamaican poet, Kei Miller, “may it find us unrattled and as unflummoxed as a beaver.”