16 June 2013

Nigeria: His Dollar Rolls No More...

Photo: Vanguard
Fatai Rolling Dollar

Pa Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju's greatest legacy in music is his selfless spirit towards his country, his contemporaries and those who learnt music from him in his younger years. A real Lagosian, Fatai Rolling Dollar as he is popularly known celebrates Lagos in his songs such as "Eko Akete" and "To Ba Fe MoDollar". Leaning towards the folkloric, his lyrics reflect the deep emotion and cultural affinity of a true Lagosian in the pre-independence period in Nigerian history.

He perfected the lead and chorus pattern of music performance in Nigeria with an all-female back-up singers which was later synonymous with other highlife artistes including the Legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He blended ballad and highlife genres so beautifully that upon his death, he is being identified with different genres. He had described his genre of music as palm wine music given the history of how the music genre evolved through the experimentation with different indigenous musical instruments.

The Palm wine music became modified by new generation of artistes and genres such as Juju, Fuji, Waka and Apala emerged. The Palmwine music got its name from the culture of palm winning sipping Lagos elites who loved to relax with pleasurable music that are devoid of social criticisms.

As a very naïve and selfless beginner, Rolling Dollar began to play music for the Lagos elites that dominated the Ita Faaji, Sandgrouse, Ita Garawu and Tinubu Square around late 30s and early 40s. He began with three music tools namely box guitar, sekere and his yoruba lyrics. He became synonymous with the native thumb piano known as Agidigbo and remained as one of the greatest music influence of his time in the entire West Africa. He learnt to play his Agidigbo from watching the Ilajes. Out of the five strings of Agidigbo, Rolling Dollar played four strings brilliantly.

His music is greatly influenced by the likes of Ghanaian musicians such as E.T. Mensah. Economic reasons were not his initial reasons for music. He did it out of passion. In time, he realised that he could not continue to entertaining the elite without earning something in return. He began playing for people on the promise that he would get some beer and chicken. In time, he developed the art of praise-singing to impress those who patronise his art. Praise-singing later became known as a cultural trend in other genres like Juju and Fuji. But it failed to influence Fela Anikulapo -Kuti whose ideologies played pivotal role in his lyrical content.

Fatai Rolling Dollar's popularity soared when he performed "Ranka Dede" for Tafawa Balewa at Nigeria's independence. Later Chief Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade learnt through his style and developed their own interpretation of folk music. With the competitive nature of Nigerian music in the later years, Rolling Dollar's ballad genre became endangered specie in the Nigerian scene. Pop, Reggae, Makossa, Saje and later Hip-hop took the music stage.

At the start of the new millenium, Rolling Dollar's hit track, "Won Kere Si Nomba" rocked the airwaves and topped music charts. For many people, he was a phenomenal music breakthrough as the new generation of music fans warmly accepted his music and he became the toast of many who lived compulsive night lives. Still, the issue of royalties and music piracy took the shine off the veteran artiste as he did not have the same patronage as many fresh artistes enjoy through endorsements. Rolling Dollars however got his "dollars rolled" when he secured an endorsement with a long-standing blood tonic brand.

His last days were marked by illness and radio broadcasts announcing that he needed financial assistance to pay up his medical bills at a private hospital in Lagos shortly after his return from a trip to the United States. That public plea made by the artiste is a clear indication that if the laws protecting intellectual property in Nigeria are not enforced with stricter penalties for perpetrators, talented musicians who have paid their dues and made sacrifices for the new generation will continue to live and possibly die in poverty.

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