I have often heard about the nuance of people’s legs not fitting well in shoes of outstanding predecessors. The story of late Moses Olaiya Adejumo, aka Baba Sala, in physical and professional scope, has given credence to this assertion.
Since the man passed on Sunday, October 7, 2018, those who are familiar with his act since he started in 1964 believe that only one word qualifies among several verbs that have been used to describe the person and creative skills of the showbiz icon – a legend.
In synonyms, Baba Sala is a myth, an epic, and a folk story – a story-teller who himself is a fable, even in death. Yes, he was notorious for creativity. He was a wizard of the art.
Therefore, many have expressed the fact that several adjectives – veteran celebrity, superstar, comic icon, creative genius, luminary, etcetera – may describe Baba Sala, he was above all, a legend.
Considering the space he occupied in the showbiz history of Nigeria, I am beginning to wonder if some of his signature elements were a subtle statement about his uncommon space in the creative community. If you were a comic entertainer, everything about Baba Sala was bigger than yours. His humungous lens-free eye-glass frame, outsized metal neck tie, clock-size wrist watch, flowing garb and tobacco smoking pipe. Those were his slapstick trademark that opened the door to several buffoonery simulations that were to follow.
Everything jumbo was associated to the creative giant in those days. Thus, when you got to the market and asked to buy bread or nylon, you were asked, ‘is it Baba Sala-size?’ Same was for other big items, and most times it was not expressed as a joke but to depict something large and worthy.
Nigerians all over the world have been celebrating the life and times of legendary entertainer since his demise. A feeling of nostalgic celebrations rent the air as fans engaged in tributary comments on the social media, reliving fond memories of the heydays of the versatile entertainer as Baba Sala with dramatic characters such as Iya Sala, Sala, Adisa (Addis Ababa), Arikuyeri, Emily, Kariile and Okondo among others.
The ‘Awada’ soap on the then Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) was relished by young and old. Fans recall the signature tune: ‘Baba Sala, gbendu gbendu ikun bi oya’, a soundtrack that usually got many to rush back home for the must-watch comic drama.
Until the unfortunate incident that caused him financial setback when his 1982 classic, ‘Orun Mooru’ was pirated, Baba Sala’s contribution played a great role in the creative economy of Nigeria as a huge employer of labour.
Among his investments are the Awada Spot in Ibadan; Alawada Standard Hotel, Ilesha; Alawada Records, Ibadan; and Ibukun Alawada Photo magazine. He was also said to own a three-storey building in Mushin, Lagos, which he had to sell to offset debt incurred when ‘Orun Mooru’ was pirated.
A man of many parts, Baba Sala’s passion for entertainment is said to have begun in his secondary school days where he performed magic and toured other schools with his art. He, alongside other dramatists like Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, Oyin Adejobi and Duro Ladipo popularised theater and television acting in Nigeria. He started his career in show business as a Highlife musician, fronting in 1964 a group known as the Federal Rhythm Dandies where he tutored and guided the Juju music maestro King Sunny Ade (KSA) who was his lead guitar player before the group embraced theatre.
As a filmmaker, his credits include, Orun Mooru (1982); Aare Agbaye (1983); Mosebolatan (1985); Obee Gbona (1989); Diamond (1990 Home video ); Agba Man (1992, Home Video); Return Match (1993, Home Video); Ana Gomina (1996, home video, ) and Tokunbo (1985, TV).
As was the tradition of desiring a large family for business by theatre practitioners in those days, Baba Sala is believed to have married over 15 wives, and well over 40 children.
In 1974, he was honoured by the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo with the national title of MON.