QUEEN SALAWA ABENIi: THE HOUSEMAID WHO MODERNIZED WAKA MUSIC
Born in Igbogun, one of the mangrove villages that borders Ogun and Lagos Sate, young Salawa Abenis life started out hard: as one of the several children in a polygamous family, hers took a sad turn that her other siblings her mother was sickly and she was sent off to work as a housemaid in the closest big town to her village, Epe. Although her father did not particularly care about education, the guardian saw to it that she at least got the basic primary education.
But she had a gift that was spotted early by her minders: her melodious voice was perfect for Waka, the indigenous traditional Yoruba music sung mostly by women.
The genre had become widely popular in the proceeding decades, pioneered by Alhaja Batile Alake. As matter of fact, Batile Alake was one of the musicians that entertained Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Nigeria in 1956.
In the 60s and 70s however, Waka was slightly overshadowed by the newer Fuji and Juju sounds. King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and so many others had broken out and were becoming stars while Waka was relegated to womens gatherings and such like.
Salawa knew she wanted to be like the stars she heard on radio but her childlike mind could not even fathom how that was going to happen. Nobody could have: she was a barely educated child, far from the city centre where things could happen.
But she found happiness whenever she could sing, either she was playing with her mates or attending the asalatu prayers at the local mosque. Soon she began singing at parties and social gatherings of the mosque women.
Around 1974, she was spotted by Lateef Adepoju, a businessman with interest in music. He was attracted to the raw talent in the young girl performing so freely and prodigiously at an event in Lagos.
After months of negotiation with her parents who felt (rightly so) that their daughter was too young to be exposed to the uneasy world of music entertainment, she eventually was signed to Adepojus Leader Records.
Her very first album on the label was her 1976 record, Late Murtala Muhammed, dedicated to the recently assassinated head of state. It sold over one million records, thrusting the teenager into instant stardom.
In later years, she disclosed that she saw very little of the proceeds of that record, along with 14 others she released under that label. But while her relationship with Lateef Adepoju and Leader Records lasted, she shone brightly despite competing with established male megastars that were making music at the time.