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An interview with the first Reputable female talking drummer in the world whose drumming career span over 4 decades in the course of which she performed for World notables like Queen Elizabeth of England, ex-American President Bill Clinton, ex-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Black Mayors Caucus in America, Evander Holyfield, Wesley Snipes and Broadway Executives to mention a few.
The Queen of Drums whose voyage into musical distinction began at tender age 5 is also the Cultural Ambassador of the Ooni of Ife.
She was talked-to by Albert Oluseyi Olukotun, Managing Editor, Royal Heritage Africa magazine. Excerpts:
You are a drummer, dancer and instrumentalist. What is your motivation for all these?
My motivation for being the drummer that can dance and sing is based on the fact that as a woman and an African woman for that matter, I want to prove a point that drumming is not just for men but also for women. Music is not solely for men but for all and sundry: Children, plant, animal and insects. And I set out to break that jinx, to break that barrier that places a taboo on women not to be able to do certain things. And I am very happy that I am the first reputable female talking drummer in the world today. So, my motivation made me to do all I have set out to do. Most of all to give joy, pleasure peace, love and sell the African culture to the entire world through my music, my dance, my drumming and everything I stand for as Ara.
The way up is usually stormy. What were the challenges you faced as you prepare yourself for what you are today?
The challenges I had to face were numerous but I saw and took them as stepping stones to greater heights. They are huddles that must be scaled because every good thing in life has gestation period and one must follow due process. There is no short cut to success. Among the few are that, I had to jettison school to be where I am today not because I could not forge ahead but for what was about to be created: something unusual and that has never being done before. As such, I was advised from every aspect of my career to let go. Education is always there but opportunity comes but once. Also, people refusing to teach me on how to play the talking drum for whatever reason. But now, I do know why and understand why. Again, the fears of being accepted out there, as a woman who just not play the talking drum, but do some acrobatic stuff with it. With due respect to most men who play the talking drum, Ara does wonder with the talking drum. So far, it has been a joyful ride and I really do thank God, my fans, the Press and everybody for supporting me.
What is your ultimate goal in life?
I always tell everyone that is close to me that music is not actually my first love. It is not my passion. My passion is actually helping children, the less privileged, motherless babies, orphans, children with special needs and of course the elderly. This is what gives me joy: My joy comes from giving and sharing. And I believe God has given me this talent as a platform for my NGO to sit on. I will be spending much time with these children and I believe I have been sent. It is not about the money but telling them to use me because it is my passion. It is all I ever wanted to do; to give them joy and love. Where they are rejected, I will accept them. For instance, I did a song in my local Ondo dialect about a crippled child on my second CD.
In those days, I was told that disabled children were taboo to the community. So this particular child was so beautiful that the parents refused to throw the child away. So, it became a taboo to the community and they were sent away to live in the evil forest. Unfortunately, the father, brothers and sisters ran away leaving the child and the mother. As a result, the child became so uncomfortable. One day, the mother called him and said, “My son, I know you are worried and so uncomfortable because you think one day, I will also leave you but I promise I will never leave you or forsake you. Remember I carried you in my womb for 9 months”. That particular night, the child slept so well. The following morning he woke up, the mother was gone.
I performed this song at a UNESCO programme in Abuja sometimes along with about 6 international artistes from China, Cuba, Croatia, India, Iran and Senegal and everybody loved it. It is a folk song like all my other songs presented in highly cosmopolitan manner. I sang with so much passion and cry when I do these songs.
Since when have you been singing?
I started singing at a very tender age. Between ages 5 to 7, I started writing songs and use to tell my dad that I want to be like Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. I fell in love with Stevie Wonder as a child. I come from a home where they love music and was exposed to different kinds of music very early in life; my grand-mother and my mother love dancing and my father loves music. I also have brothers who are music lovers. In fact, what attracted me to Indian movies was the music, mode of dressing and the beautiful ladies that act roles therein. All these spurred me up at a tender age that I started telling my parents that I want to be a star.
What prompted your interest in the talking drum?
During my primary school days, I was the head of the cultural group playing the traditional drum. While I was in Class 4, I travelled home (Ondo) with my parents during the ‘Ileya’ (Muslim Eid festival) and had the rare opportunity of meeting the best talking drummer in the land – Pa Olopade of blessed memory. It was through him that I first had contact with the talking drum. And when I got to secondary school, I was the Social Prefect in my set in an all-Girls Secondary School and the head drummer as well. Barely could any boy compete with me. I was very hot on the drums that when I got to Atunda Entertainments, the founder told me that he wanted to do something unusual. He picked the talking drum and said, “Have you ever seen this?” And I said yes. And he said, “Why don’t you take this and play it.” We argued back and front and finally I took the talking drum home.
Initially, I wanted people to teach me a lot of things about it but I was turned down. At home, I slept with it, ate and drank. So while I was away with it to the beach (it was just me and nature, my drum and God) from there the inspiration came to play the talking drum. Sometimes, the inspiration will come at odd hours. That is why I believe that I was predestined to do this. There are so many things that one cannot explain because it will amount to going to another level. All I can say is that I derived my inspiration from God.
What is your favourite colour?
I do love white and sky-blue, though every other colour is okay by me.
What is your philosophy of life?
To build a platform for tomorrow’s people to stand on. This is why I am passionate about my country, Nigeria. As such, I am seizing this opportunity to plead with Nigerians not to think of what we eat today but a Nigeria of tomorrow and not sell our birthright. We should all come together to build a platform for our children, children children and generations to come. Our tomorrow so to say is in our hands.
Your turn on
For me, it is honesty, meekness, discipline, hard work and the fear of God.
Your turn off
I detest dishonesty, cheating and deceit.
Who is your role model?
I have a lot of them including Prof. Wole Soyinka and Stevie Wonder.
Your favourite outfit
I wear anything African and I am very proud to be an African. My culture stands me out anywhere, anytime. If I lose my culture, I lose my identity. I love anything culture from any part of the world most importantly from Africa.
What is your favourite dish?
I don’t have any. I do travel a lot and like to eat foods from different part of the world. So it is very difficult for me to say which my favourite dish is.
Who is Ara?
Ara is the drummer that can dance and sing. That is who Ara is. Of course, the name Ara is my real name and not just a stage name as widely believed. It was given to me by my grand-father. My parents told me that they had a name for me when I was born here in Lagos but my grand-father sent words from Ondo and said this is the name you must give to the child. He told them that he has reasons.
A while ago, I met someone who has a Masters’ degree in Yoruba who was describing the first name by which ‘Gangan’ (talking drum) is known is ‘Nkan Ara’. So, I believe there is a spiritual connection to my name, to this drum and who I am today.
Briefly tell us about yourself.
Firstly, I am a Nigerian and my parents are from Ondo town in Ondo State. My mother is partly from Oyo and a descendant of late Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Abiodun Aderounmu. I am from a family of 9 and growing up for me was interesting. I grew up in Lagos where I was born and in Warri where my father was a Staff of United Bank for Africa (UBA) until his retirement as a top official in the Lagos Head Office. I lived a very sheltered and pampered life and had a lot of exposure in the course of which I travelled and met a lot of people in different parts of the world. I belong to different Clubs like Lion Club and all that.
I was born January 23, 1975. I attended International Nursery School, Lagos; Nana Primary School, Warri; Our Lady’s High School, Effunrun and Folashaye Girls Grammar School in Akure. I got into the University of Ilorin in 1993 to read Law but I changed my course to study Performing Arts because that was what I wanted to do. As fate would have it, I did not finish school before going into Music. In 1999, I went back to Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State to study English and was the Vice-President of my Department. I was in my second year going to my third year when I met Atunda Entertainments. I was advised to transfer my studies to the University of Lagos but the issue of the scrapping of Satellite Campuses came up and I had to let go. Later, I registered with a school abroad but it was not easy.
In the process of transforming me from Lolaola into Ara, I had to go into hibernation – I was away from everyone to discover who I am today because Ara was first Tracy, was first ‘Yemoja’, was Lolaola then Ara. I was looking for my identity all through these years.
On the long run, I just told myself, I convinced my family because they believe so much in me – my dad especially that this is what I want to do. Though, my Head of Department would not let me go because I was one of the best students, but I believe education is always there. It is forever but opportunity comes once in a lifetime.
At first, it was not easy. A lot of people said so many things but I am a focused person. I am very happy today for where I am and a blessing to a lot of people.
Finally what is your name, your real name?
I am Aralola Olamuyiwa but the name I want everybody to know me by is Ara and that is actually my name and I actually want to leave it at that – Ara, the enigma, the first reputable female talking drummer in the world.