Meet Yinka Ayefele, The Tungba Creator
In the ever-expanding Owambe culture of Nigerian parties from Lagos to London, one name has remained on everyone’s lips in the past ten years or so: Yinka Ayefele. Paraplegic and wheel-chair bound, Ayefele began a radio journalist career after abandoning a diploma in political science due to financial constraints.
Then, broadcasting was his passion. He composed jingles and theme songs for radio. He had a sonorous voice and his inflections trapped in moments of brilliance which resonated with listeners. His masterful work with ace broadcaster late Kola Olawuyi — known for his bushy moustache and better known for his frightening report of metaphysical and extra-terrestrial happenings — stood out. The refrain of Olawuyi’s television show Nkan Be featured Ayefele’s sonorous exclamation, Ha! Nkan be.
Life was at least decent for the sneakers-wearing Yinka Ayefele with his hair-parted deep into his temporal scalp until one seemingly typical Friday when he had a ghastly lone accident en route Abeokuta for a regular production gig with Kola Olawuyi, his boss. His 1982 blue Volkswagen Beatles was a wreck and so was the lumbar region of his spinal cord. He would never walk again. He spent nine months bed-ridden, in recovery, at the University College Hospital, Ibadan.
It was during this dark period of his life that music insinuated itself to him through a friend’s counsel. The agenda behind his debut album was however different: to raise money for his Spine Stabilization Surgery in Israel. The album was called Bitter Experience, a purposely over-priced LP chronicling his experience while juxtaposing it with praise song and hymns. It was a reflective album done mostly in Yoruba with a melancholic presence but an overall gospel feel.
A thanksgiving album followed after his successful surgery and was aptly called Sweet Experience. This LP was also used to clear the air about several controversies, most especially the blame game about his accident between himself and his now estranged boss, Kola Olawuyi, on his debut. Sweet Experience appealed to its title, the music was fluid with a positive outlook. There was also an emphasis on percussion which will now typical of Ayefele’s music.
Ayefele calls his type of music Gospel Tungba music. The gospel part does not need any introduction however the Tungba part does. Tungba is the onomatopoeic report of a well-struck talking drum. Ayefele’s brand of gospel music is different; it brings the heavy percussion of Juju music in the Ariya (party) mode to the usually solemn gospel procession.
He is not the pioneer of this construct; Juju music has been the Christian domain since I.K Dairo modernized it. In the Eighties, gospel-inflected solemn songs ruled the Side A of the typical Juju music record whilst the Side B was for heavy percussion and prurient praise-singing. Ayefele revised this trend in the early 2000s by bringing the emphasis on heavy percussion (Side B) and integrating it with gospel music of Side A. Ayefele and his Merry Makers Band also introduced the hype-man into his variant of Juju music.
The role of the hype-man is a rather delightful one; he interjects humorous snippets into the songs. Ayefele, in more than a decade and half of his music career, has released over a dozen albums but his magnum opus remains the trilogy of Fulfillment, New Dawn and Next Level.
He seemed to have mastered his craft when he released Something Else. At that stage of his career, the characteristic feature of his albums was already established. The Side A is for upbeat gospel praise featuring popular Christian songs and hymns; he could bring in new languages like he did in Fulfillment with his variations of the Lord’s prayer or indulge in a Makossa-inflected praise song. Side B is for the party mode praise-singing which he perpetuates during his live shows.
Ayefele has often quoted the late Kennery innovator, Orlando Owoh, as one of his biggest influences but beyond pilfering some of his lyrics in his earlier LPs, Ayefele’s music is more styled after King Sunny Ade’s vibrant and upbeat music. Orlando Owoh’s music is a brash variant of Palmwine Highlife with double emphasis on percussion and strings. Ayefele has replaced this brashness, which he clearly cannot reproduce, with mellifluous singing that does not enjoy the uniqueness of KSA’s tessitura phonation; there lies Ayefele’s selling point.
Ayefele’s discography has not evolved beyond the formula that produced his masterpiece trilogy of albums; if anything he has only allowed for a slight variation not experimental enough to alter his result in terms of commercial reception and album sales. The disadvantage is that he perpetuates self-plagiarism but one must strike a balance between pushing one’s craft and pushing away one’s fans.
Yinka Ayefele is currently the sweetheart of new money Owambe and is resolute on keeping this status. And he should, for he has indeed come a long way: from an accidental pile to a stylish wheelchair; from radio jingles to superstar musician.