The classic John Donne poem, “for whom the bell tolls” is perhaps, the most comprehensive piece of literature to capture the definition of humanity as an organic whole. This poem has a resonant effect on me whenever I heard that someone had died. It is like the ageless Yoruba saying about the dead weeping for the dead, or the more common one.”Once death starts killing your peers, it is sending you a message”.
Two years ago today, we lost to the cold hands of death one of the icons of Nigerian music and culture, Alhaji Sikiru Ololade Ayinde Balogun, MFR, aka Barrister. The creator and main exponent of Fuji music, the musical genre that encapsulates all other forms of music in the south west, and the dominant traditional musical genre in the last thirty years.
When the news broke of his death, we were in the final stages for the rebirth of National Mirror on December 17th, 2010. The entire Mirror team was ready, and someone had joked that nothing would make our entry more memorable than a major newsbreak
To me, no newsbreak would be more devastating than the news of the death of Alhaji Barrister. I had spoken to him on the phone from his London home a few days earlier, and was with him all day long at the hospital on the eve of his departure to Germany, where he was to undergo another series of treatment after the successful surgery in India, which incidentally was his last day in Nigeria before his death.
For two years, we had gone through the five stages of grief; when calls started coming in as early as 5a.m from friends in the media and fans trying to confirm the news, the first reaction was to dismiss it. I was sure it was one of the numerous death hoaxes that we had faced about Alhaji Agba a dozen times before. The denial was total and unequivocal, it simply cannot be true.
Then denial gave way to anger, why? why Barrister?, why now?. He did not die as a teenager. He did not die when he went to war. He did not die when he was trapped in his burning house . He did not die when he was operated upon three times in two days. Why did he have to die when he was back to full fitness?
Then the bargaining began. Why now? He was on the verge of releasing a seven in one album. Why can’t God allow him to finish these albums before taking him away?. He had just finished his palatial home in Ibadan, the furniture were on the way, why must God deny him the pleasure of retiring to his country home? Why did he have to undergo multiple surgery? Why not seek treatment in the States instead of India?
When his remains were finally brought home and the reality that he was truly gone hit us, we went into depression. He was truly gone! Food lost its taste, no music sounds as sweet, no singer sings as sonorously, we were looking for clues in his songs, had he been preparing us for this? Had he been sending codes that we cannot understand, or break?
Now, two years later, we have finally accepted that Barrister is gone. He was of course, a prophet of his clime. An original, a pathfinder, an ancestor…
Since his demise, a lot of Fuji musicians have tried to step into his shoes. Unfortunately, those shoes cannot be filled. Not just because there can only be one Barrister in a generation, the forces that threw up the little fatherless boy from Mushin to bestrode his world like a colossus probably does not exist today. Fuji is so dominant that you can only add a variation, but can never duplicate the formula.
The Fuji creator may no longer be with us physically, but he left behind a body of work that would probably be unsurpassed in the genre, as well as a musical legacy that had spawned thousands of people who earn a livelihood from his patent, and millions who are addicted to his musical genius. The tributes from across the social spectrum and the albums released by other musicians to eulogise him aptly captured the essence that a star has truly gone, and mankind is diminished by his loss.
Just like with late Chief Gani Fawehimi, just like with the late Abami eda, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, I always wonder what he would have said or done were he to be alive today on state of our country, because at every juncture of our national defining moments as a nation, Barry was always putting it on vinyl for posterity.
He was never shy to sing on controversial issues. His album on the annulment of the June 12 election was believed to be responsible for the arson on his house, and his Idimu house was once marked for demolition for his perceived romance with the opposition in the second republic, and on more than one occasion, he had been discreetly warned to tone down his criticisms of certain government policies, but his take on it was that whether he spoke the truth or not he would die, why not say the truth and die honourably?
It is true that he who makes a difference makes the world, Barry Wonder made a difference, and for that he would never die. Adieu. Mr. Fuji.
• Balogun Jr. is the Senior Manager, Business Development of Global Media Mirror Limited, publishers of National Mirror.