Ayinla Omowura: Iconic Apala musician whose untimely death ended his rising career

More than 40 years after his famous “predictable disappearance”, iconic musician Ayinla Omowura has once again slipped into the memory of Nigerians— thanks to recent work of legendary filmmaker, Tunde Kelani.

Kelani’s self-titled film, Ayinla, hit theaters a few months ago, but it wasn’t until it hit the movie streaming platform, Netflix, that a conversation picked up on social media.

Apart from the commendable attempt to give insight into a fraction of her life, the star-studded production directed by comedian Adedimeji Lateef opened the eyes of many to the events leading up to Ayinla’s death.

Life and Times of Ayinla Omowura. Photo: Culture Custodian
Source: UGC

Early life

Born Waheed Ayinla Gbogbolowo in 1933 in Itoko, Abeokuta, Ogun State, the apala music maker was the son of a blacksmith father and a trader mother. There are reports that he followed his father’s path during his teenage years. Sources also claim he worked briefly as a commercial driver before finding his true calling and embracing music in the 1950s.

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Authentic recordings of his childhood memories remain fragmentary as he only began to gain attention – and ultimately to be documented – when he became a face for apala and began his career as a musician.

He became known as “Alhaji” after performing the holy Muslim pilgrimage in 1975. Some of his other popular names include Egun Mogaji, Hadji Costyle, Alujannu Elere, and Agbejapa Oba.


The musical journey began for Ayinla Omowura after being discovered by Adewole Alao Onilu-Ola and offered a job as a vocalist. Prior to that, he had tried his luck as a backup vocalist for other acts, including a famous artist known as Osho, as Oniluola revealed in a 2020 Punch interview.

Oniluola would eventually become Ayinla’s main drummer when his career resumed.

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In the same interview, the drummer told journalist Daud Olatunji how he crossed paths with Ayinla and they started working together.

“When I discovered him, I tested his skills and found that his voice was perfect for what I wanted. It suited my type of Apala rhythm. I was the founder of the band, so I liked it. “I looked for a musician in my group. Before joining me, he worked as a backing vocalist for some people who were his masters in music,” he reportedly said.

The collaboration with Onilu-Ola was rewarding for both parties as they started to attract attention, with many Egbalanders craving their numbers in bars and beer halls.

A socially responsible musician

Much like the Fela Anikulapo Kuti who produced socially conscious music that haunted bad rulers, Ayinla’s lyrics began to bite when he joined the EMI Nigeria label in 1970, as reported by Culture Custodian.

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Ayinla Omowura was not afraid to call musicians into his music and one of those tracks was titled Eyin Oselu Wa (Our Politicians). The song saw Ayinla calling on the leaders to work in unity and bring the nation forward instead of their pointless bickering.

“I saw raw talent and artistic motivation at its best as three 36-minute albums were effortlessly recorded in one fell swoop, the session flowing naturally and smoothly, unhindered by unnecessary pauses resulting from musical gaps.

“It was all written in the spirit; and as soon as the first percussive note was struck, the session took off with the call and response pattern in which Ayinla waited from chorus to chorus, establishing social commentary with thought-provoking proverbs and proverbs anecdotal lines,” wrote writer Benson Idonije who once saw Ayinla perform in the 70s in his article, Alhaji Ayinla Omowura, Colossus of African Music.

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Apart from politicians, Ayinla has also used her music as a vessel to preach against promiscuity, laundering and badly behaved housewives.


Kelani’s film has opened the eyes of previously uninformed young Nigerians to the rumored circumstances that led to Ayinla’s death.

In the film, the musician was in full preparation for his first London tour facilitated by a partnership between his manager (played by Mr Macaroni) and Bisi Ajala (played by Kunle Afolayan).

However, Ayinla’s insistence on having a lover (played by Omowunmi Dada) on the trip didn’t bode well with the manager who still harbored grudges about the lady who dumped him for the musician.

This led to a rift between the two, with both parties breaking off interactions with each other for the time being. A reflection on the part of the two individuals motivated them to meet at the bar where a physical fight ensued and ultimately led to Ayinla’s death.

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In his article Anigilaje In A Nutshell: The Man, His Immortality Ring and Mr. Death, writer Odolaye Baa Waki ​​Aremu presented an eyewitness account of what happened on the day Ayinla died.

Excerpt below:

“An eyewitness account told how he paraded around Abeokuta, with blood pouring from a nasty head wound – a deadly ‘farewell’ gift from a Baiyewu, a friend turned enemy and a former member of the group on the fateful day of his death in 1980.

“Common sense, asking for first aid to preserve oneself, has been canceled entirely – to willfully make room for monumental ignorance coupled with a pervasive sense of narcissism, resulting in possibly avoidable fatality. The Mercurial star had lost the vital time it took to seek medical help, while busy doing what amounted to an ill-advised street performance of a life-threatening situation.Predictably, he died that evening of massive blood loss, secondary to a probable traumatic brain injury.

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Ayinla’s childhood friend, Muhammadu Monsuru, was among those who witnessed his final moments before his burial according to Islamic scriptures.

Part of Kelani’s film saw Monsuru recount what he personally discovered while preparing the musician’s body for burial.

In his words:

“I bathed Ayinla myself. We Muslims have a glove that we use to wash our dead as one of our last rites.

“As I was washing his head, the glove got caught on something. I pulled the glove off because I didn’t know there was anything there. Blood was squirting out of his head…d ‘a dead man. And what did we see? A piece of broken glass from the cup.

Certainly the late Ayinla Omowura is gone but will not be forgotten by many. Until today, his music continues to enjoy moderate turns in traditional ‘owambe’ gatherings and it is a sure number that rocks Egbaland during the ileya festivities…

Source: Legit.ng