Segun Fajemisin's Chronicle

Fatai Rolling Dollar is the ultimate comeback king. His is one story of a meteoric rise to fame and an ill-fated fallback on the turf. His story smacks of a familiar sub-plot to avowed fans of world music, especially music of the Afro-Cuban genre.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Segun Fajemisin


Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju, aka 'Fatai Rolling Dollar' takes devotees down memory lane with the release of a compilation CD oozing of nostalgia. Garnished with dexterous palm wine guitar accompaniments, raw percussive manipulations of Sakara and Agidigbo combined with certain ageless dance tunes are reminiscent of his legendary musical odyssey.

Fatai Rolling Dollar
- Photo credit QUEEN OYEDELE


n Saturday 12th May 2007, the Alliance Francaise at 4c Ruxton Road, Ikoyi Lagos will play host to a musical show also billed to mark the presentation of a CD compilation. It is first in the series of concerts being packaged by Ekostar Entertainment, the UK based recording label and management outfit, to celebrate a timeless piece of artistry and decades of exhilarating entertainment as encapsulated in the survivalist story of the central figure who will be performing at this event. The show train is also set to move through the Akoka suburb of the University of Lagos before heading hinterland to Ibadan, Abeokuta, Oshogbo and Abuja.

This music album is an assemblage from the repertoire of legendary singer, songwriter, palm wine guitarist and Agidigbo/percussion player, Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju - the septuagenarian Nigerian musician popularly known as Fatai Rolling Dollar.

The event, moreso the release of the album aptly titled "PAPA RISE AGAIN", is bound to assume a greater significance to lovers of vintage music. A touching script that combines deep emotive affectation with a probing sense of nostalgia is the 'Rolling Dollar story' which has held keen followers at home spellbound and for which an increasing number of non-Nigerians are beginning to be bowled over.

Fatai Rolling Dollar is the ultimate comeback king. His is one story of a meteoric rise to fame and an ill-fated fallback on the turf. His story smacks of a familiar sub-plot to avowed fans of world music, especially music of the Afro-Cuban genre.

One astonishing comeback story as witnessed few years ago relates to the Cuban musical superstars, the Buena Vista Social Club. This ensemble no doubt parades a cluster of stars many of whom have now gone into transition. But the arrowhead of the musical experiment and subsequent prominence attained is none other than the popular Afro-Cuban singer and musician, Ibrahim Ferrer (Feb 20 1927 - Aug 6 2005).

Referred to by World Circuit Records (producers of the Grammy Award-winning album of the group title) as "the voice of the Buena Vista Social Club", Ferrer is one vintage Cuban musician who did not achieve monetary success in his career and would later depend on small state pension supplemented by income earned from shining shoes. It is now history that the cross-cultural musical experimentation that gave birth to the collaboration album 'unearthed' the bolero genius and catapulted him alongside his compadres to immense fame until he passed away. The genial old man of Cuban music who was practically prised away from his shoe shining duties would later emerge a musical tour de force entertaining packed concert halls in major cities of the world until his death in 2005.

The Fatai Rolling Dollar legend sounds a genuine semblance to the Ibrahim Ferrer story. Born on the 22nd July, 1928 in Lagos, prince of a royal family, Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju is originally from Ede, a Yoruba town of south western Nigeria lying on the Osun, the river famously linked to Yemoja, the river goddess. He attended schools in Lagos and was later to move to Ede at the age of sixteen, on the death of his father. Showing a rebellious streak at an early age, he allowed himself to be drawn towards music.

In 1957 he formed an eight-piece band called Fatai Rolling Dollar and his African Rhythm Band, and they recorded numerous seven-inch singles for Phillips West Africa Records. In this line-up was a young budding star, Ebenezer Obey, who played Maracas in the band. They had some hits with Phillips, then decamped to Jofabro/EMI where they recorded over one hundred and fifty singles and had many hits for the company including "Sisi Jaiye Jaiye" and "Won Bumi".

Fatai Rolling Dollar
- Photo credit QUEEN OYEDELE
Eventually Ebenezer left with six members of the band to form his own group with its own fresh style, adding more instruments including talking drums and slide guitar. Fatai thereafter reformed and renamed the band Fatai Rolling Dollar and his New Millennium Band.

In the late sixties, a sweeping change was going through the Nigerian music scene. A new corps of Nigerian musicians appeared on the scene, in particular Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade, who had both benefited from Fatai's musical inspiration. They took the country by storm as the fortune of musicians like Fatai Rolling Dollar dwindled.

In order to keep afloat in the music business, Fatai decided to start a musical equipment rental service. Obey, on his return from touring abroad, actually helped Fatai by giving him some musical equipment to add to his own stock. Fatai's house was a few doors down from the Kalakuta Republic (a compound) at Moshalashi, owned by the young, up and coming Nigerian superstar, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Fela's Kalakuta Republic was situated in the Moshalashi suburb and his celebrated nightclub, The Shrine, also situated in this area at the Empire Hotel. The infamous invasion of the surrounding area of Kalakuta Republic and the consequent inferno that ravaged the lot had devastating consequences for Fatai whose means of livelihood was largely destroyed. Whatever could be savaged of the equipment also ended up in the hands of looters who took advantage of the situation.

With his livelihood in ruins, Fatai moved a few miles away to Mushin, with his wife and five children.

The seven family members lived in a single room, derogatorily referred as "face-me-I-face-you". At this low point of his life, Fatai lost all five children to illness within three months and his wife worked herself to the bone, finally succumbing to exhaustion and death. For twenty years, he remained in abject poverty and depression, eventually finding a job as security man at the stadium.

Fatai Rolling Dollar
- Photo credit QUEEN OYEDELE
The astonishing story of his 'rediscovery' as told several times over is still fresh with us. And that he has since gone from strength to strength is no doubt a fact for all to see. An amazing singer and performer whose growing band of devotees is fast cutting across diverse strata both at home and abroad, Fatai Rolling Dollar, though a vintage musician is also a new phenomenon on the block.

For today's avowed trado-modern Nigerian music resurgent, the line may have somehow blurred between Highlife, Kokoma, Mambo and Agidigbo proper. This however has not in any way diminished the fervour and passionate liking for this kind of music and its forerunners in the Nigerian social circuitry, of which the iconic Rolling Dollar is now symbolic.

This 13-track compilation CD is drawn from the many recordings of Fatai throughout his musical career. The music comprises of palm wine Highlife e.g. "Orona" which is spiced with Creole-flavoured lyrics and calm, Latin American melody. "Eroya" the scintillating native blues is a tribute to legendary Nigerian band leader, vocalist and songwriter, Ambrose Campbell (1919 - 2006). There is also a whiff of 'Eko Akete' in the re-worked folksongs of Lagos e.g. "Baba wa".

A dynamism of his career is that Fatai's voice sometimes demonstrates a deep, throaty, rich quality and at other times a falsetto tone as in "Sisi Jaiye Jaiye" and "Saworo". An unmistakeable inventiveness in his guitar playing could also be detected in some of the tracks in this compilation.

The album features rich contrapuntal waves of guitar in "Won Kere Si Number", while the Agidigbo style, with the Agidigbo, Shekere, Agogo, Guitar (not in traditional Agidigbo) and the three different sizes of Sakara drums, can be heard on tracks such as "Awa Re Koja", "Wasa" and the title track, "Papa Rise Again", which has all the Sakara drums at the forefront.

In "Won Bumi", a simple muted trumpet solo which could be heard in the background is actually Easy Kabaka Brown's band. Fatai has been booked as a session percussionist. For what became the 'A' side of their single, they had run out of compositions and Fatai came up with "Won Bumi" on the spur of the moment, playing percussion, guitar and singing.

All the tracks in this CD are recorded between the sixties and the present, but all have retained a magical, timeless quality nonetheless.

Following on the heels of the Nigerian tour, Fatai Rolling Dollar would shift base to the United Kingdom to open up the Euro-tour concerts with a welcome party at Majestic Restaurant on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton in London before moving across other major cities of UK and Europe to entertain fans. A documentary DVD is also billed for release on the Euro-tour to be followed by a book publication on the life and times of the legend later in the year.

It would appear that it's a no holds barred exposť galore, now that the legend has resurfaced in our collective consciousness. And as he strides along, stronger than ever, it's surely deserving of Papa's contribution to the development of urbanised music, nay its history in Nigeria.

© Segun Fajemisin

London April 2007