Alhaji Ayinla Kollington needs no introduction in the Nigerian music industry.
Born in 1953 in Ibadan, Oyo State, Kollington started music alongside the late Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister in 1965. In the late 1970s, General, as he is also known, refined his sound by adding bata drums and changed his band’s name to Fuji 78.
Starting off was very early for Kollington. “I started with weere music in 1965 at 10”, he says.
Group of amateurs who had talent in music usually moved from house to house to perform especially during Ramadan. They were the Weere musicians. Some of them eventually became stars. It was a distinguished performance that saw him winning an award even as a Weere musician.
And that meant a visit to the State House Marina to receive the award. It was a big achievement to visit the State House in those days. It meant you were special. His was clearly a case of talent not fully harnessed in the beginning. But that award marked the beginning of the good things that were to follow.
“I was at the State House in Marina, Lagos to receive a trophy and a certificate of merit and it felt great,” he says. But even at then playing music was not on full time basis until inspiration came when he enrolled in the Nigerian Army and met Barrister. “My late friend, Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister encouraged me to take my musical career to the next level. We were soldiers and Barrister would come all the way to Abeokuta, Ogun State to pressure me. He convinced me. He believed we needed to quit and go back to music.
He used to say ‘for how long shall we be earning 18 pounds Sterling?’ I was a bit reluctant because I didn’t know what might happen to us if we were caught rehearsing. Army was very tough back then, I mean in the ’70s. Barrister started rehearsing and would often say to me: ‘Kola, I have started rehearsing; when will you start yours?’ I later gave in and the rest is history.”
He acknowledged that late Bashiru Abinuwaye, Zaka Olayigbade and some others actually started Fuji music. “Fuji music started on the Island. Myself and Barrister came up to sing Fuji after the pioneers.” He also acknowledged that he pioneered dance hall music, and added, “I give that credit to God Almighty. I can dance non-stop for hours at this age.”
On the rivalry between him and his friend, he said, “That was purely business and that perceived rivalry was over even before his death. We came back and did everything together. We were not the only ones who had issues at one time. Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade had theirs and later settled. Recently, some musicians who had issues between themselves came to me and I settled the rift.”
Many people still wonder how the best of friends became enemies, asking if the fights were gimmicks to make sales. But the man popularly known as Baba Alatika calmly put to rest such insinuations. “It was real and not a strategy to make sales. Our fans and some journalists also contributed to our problems.”
Alhaji Kollington feels very fulfilled at 62. “I made money from all my records”, he said with pride. “Ijo yoyo seems remarkable but I was sick at that time. I also got an award as the Best Fuji Artiste of the Year.” On how he got the name Baba Alatika, he attributed it to his mode of dressing, “especially my cap”, he said with a broad smile. “There is a particular way I arrange my cap that portrays a socialite. A socialite is also known as Alatika.”
He looked fit and attributed this to God and daily exercise. These are the secrets of his youthful look. Kollington played saxophone to the admiration of many but has since stopped because he wants to concentrate on singing.
All his children are doing well, but he would not reveal the number of his wives and especially of his children as “it is a taboo in Yoruba land”, he explained, laughing. Still in a light mood, he said, “I didn’t know you would ask me that question. I would have done the calculation before your arrival. Well, it is a taboo in the part of the world I come from to count one’s children. I can only say I am married and blessed with children.”
Baba Alatika has not produced an album for some years and many seem to wonder why. “It is deliberate” was his explanation. He added in sad a voice: “Piracy is killing my morale. I spend quality time composing, spend huge amount to produce and after stressing myself, I lose most of the profits to piracy. So, I have decided to stop for sometime and only continue when we have reduced piracy to the minimum level in this country.
Collectively, we have taken measures. We have been to Alaba International Market at different times, and on some occasions, some of my colleagues were even attacked. We have reported to the police and all seem fruitless.’’
Still on the pains of not reaping satisfactorily from his efforts, the Fuji icon went further: “I did a song 32 years ago for President Muhammadu Buhari and the song was everywhere during his campaign. Many people called me to congratulate me, thinking I was smiling to the bank, not knowing I didn’t get much from it. I am fed up”, he lamented, but added that he hopes to come up with something soon. Commenting on how he composes his songs and sounds, he revealed:
“I compose when I am inspired to do so but piracy has killed my morale.”
The Fuji maestro also did not have kind words for the media. “Just of recent, I went for the burial of Salawa’s mother as expected of a Yoruba man and also for the sake of my children. The press came up with something else. They cannot spoil the good thing God has done between myself and Salawa but I leave them to God.
Many journalists have built and destroyed many homes.
I think they should strive to be home builders, so they will end up good. Bad journalism is not good for our society. Salawa Abeni is still my wife; she gave birth to three of my children. She is not married to another man, nor does she have other children.’’
To him, the most embarrassing moment still remains when a lady almost went naked on his show. He however remarked that the fear of women seems to be the beginning of stardom. “Musicians can’t do without women. This is not peculiar to Fuji musicians but the entertainment industry at large. A large percentage of our fans are women and this can be tempting because we have blood running in our veins.’’
Many youths who have the opportunity to acquire university education but are taking it for granted, completely opting for music or sports, thinking fame and fortune is all there is to life only need to hear Alhaji Kollington on his only regret in life. “I have no regret being a musician but
I regret that I didn’t have university education.” He ensured that all his children are educated. “My children are all educated and some have even ventured into music; but into hip-hop.” He appeared to have given up any hope of getting a university degree when he added: “I may be privileged in another lifetime.”
With the high acceptance of hip-hop songs, many fans of Fuji seem to fear what the future holds. “Fuji can never die in and outside Nigeria” is the belief of Baba Alatika. “The so-called hip pop artistes all tapped from Fuji music to make what we have today. Just of recent, Pasuma played hip-pop in an album and he has also collaborated with many hip-hop artists. Our flag is flying. Fuji started during Ramadan period and has come to stay.”
So, who would Baba want to collaborate with? He responded with a wry smile: ‘’My son, Big Sheff is first on the list.” He however added, “all are welcome.”
The General has a word for upcoming artistes: “Many young artistes should understand that being focused and dedicated are the only key to success. They should also be careful with women.”