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Veteran of Nigerian Highlife Music, Fatai Rolling Dollar Is Dead

Fatai Rolling Dollars: Dies

Veteran of Nigerian Highlife Music, Fatai Rolling Dollar Is Dead

Fashola, Others Mourn

Highlife music veteran, Pa Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju, popularly known as Fatai Rolling Dollar, is dead aged 85 years. The octogenarian passed on early Wednesday morning at the Ahmadiyya Hospital in Abule Egba, Lagos, southwest Nigeria. He was rushed to the hospital by his wife about a week ago.

The singer reportedly died from respiratory failure after spending over three weeks in the hospital.  Days before he died, he had rubbished reports claiming he was in coma as a result of a protracted illness, saying he was never in coma.


According to family members, the ‘Won Kere Si Number Wa’, crooner took ill in the United States while on performance tour in the country. He left the U. S. on March 17 and returned ill after two months.  The multi-instrumentalist who is best known for his popular comeback to mainstream recognition after years of obscurity during his over 60 years musical career, is survived by two wives and many children and grand children.


The Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola has expressed sadness on the passage of the highlife icon, saying the loss of the musical innovator would reverberate around the musical world and beyond.


In a condolence letter to Funmilayo Olagunju, the widow of the late musician, Governor Fashola said he was a first rate guitarist under whose tutelage several other musical legends learnt to play the instrument. ‘’Your husband was a musical innovator who made a great contribution to the profile of Nigerian Highlife music on the global stage,’’ he said.


According to the Governor, Rolling Dollar is assured of his place amongst the pantheon of Nigerian musical greats with hits like ‘Won Kere si Number Wa’ and ‘Saworo’ enduring in the memory of generations to come.


‘’Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s it was impossible to escape the presence of this iconic genius across Lagos. I am pleased and gratified that in the latter part of his life Lagos State was able to reacquaint itself once again with his singular talents,’’ he said.


While praying for the peaceful repose of the soul of the departed musician, Governor Fashola urged the family to find succour and comfort in the love of the legion of fans that admired the late Fatai Rolling Dollar’s work.


Kunle Tejuosho, whose label, Jazzhole Records, brought out ‘Won Kere Si Number Wa’ among other albums, confirmed his death. He said the deceased came back from America some weeks ago where he had gone for shows for about three weeks. Tejuosho in his tribute, said: “Baba was a great Musician. He lived a life of a musician. He was always happy to perform. May be he took too much on.


“He was a good guy. He enjoyed his life. He had a second chance which he used very well.  He would be missed because he brought the past alive to the present. He re-lived the music of the 50s. He was a great music historian and a great music custodian.”


Yomi Opakunle, his former manager, also confirmed the death. He however said the deceased may be buried Thursday. Rolling Dollar was known for his verve and dexterity on the guitar. His zest for life and energy, even in old age, was also a marvel to all who beheld him while performing.


He later got a higher lift through Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, while as Lagos State governor. The late musician was given a house in one of the low cost housing estates in New Oko Oba, Lagos.


Juju music legend, Ebenezer Obey was among those trained by the late musician.  As a pioneer Juju music player, Rolling Dollar clarified in an interview how juju music derived its name.


“It was derived from the tambourine which is one of the key instruments used to play it. When they play it on the street they would shout ‘Ju so ke’. They would then throw the tambourine up and shake it. … shukushuku. That was how juju got its name and not from bad medicine and all that. Even though in Saro land (Sierra Leone) the word was taken to mean bad medicine. But here in Lagos our juju meant music. In juju then, we had the guitar, agidigbo, samba, sekere and at times we used the bottle to give us that clave sound. In fact, white people invented the clave from our bottle sound. That is where they got the idea for it,” he said.


A guitarist, singer and exponent of the native thumb piano (Agidigbo), the 86-year-old veteran of West African folk music was one of the greatest living influences on West African contemporary music.  The ex-seaman was a walking encyclopedia of neo-traditional African music. Olagunju traversed the crest and trough of West Africa’s musical landscape in an attempt to track the sub-continent’s rhythmic genealogy.


He started his musical career in 1953, and with over seven decades’ career, he directly spawned and mentored some of the most successful musicians in West Africa’s history such as Ebenezer Obey and who directly influenced others like King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, the late Dr. Orlando Owoh and  Bob Aladeniyi.


The son of an Ede chief, Olagunju grew up at Lagos Island, Isale- Eko, where he encountered the music of juju legend such as Tunde King and Irewole Denge.  One of the popular players of the music was Tunde King. He once had a problem and went back to Freetown, Sierra Leone, from where he picked up another idea for the music.


On getting back to Lagos, he modified the palm-wine music. But the originator of this music form was a band called the Jolly Orchestra, popularly known as Atari Ajanaku. A musician called Harbour Grant led it. In his band was another musician that left for London where he played in a hotel called Hotel Afrique - Ambrose Campbell.


Olagunju’s musical style was a fusion of native Agidigbo with broader highlife and Latin themes.  The Latin influence being as a result of his birth and background in Lagos, with a large immigrant Brazilian and Hispanic population in the mid-19th century, up to the early 20th century. More lately, he experimented with Afro-Funk and Afro-beat.


His music evolved from a sound called ‘palm wine’ music and it was played far back 1939. By then, it consisted of the palm wine guitar — a box guitar, Yoruba vocals and the sekere.  Olagunju was known for his verve and dexterity on the guitar. His zest for life and energy, even in old age, was also a marvel to all that beheld him performing.


Years back, it seemed Olagunju was in the nightfall of his career, but he took many by surprise and the Nigerian scene as he stormed back with his hit song.


He got a new lease of life after years in the doldrums, through Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who revived his career and fortunes, after his performance at the World Music Day on June 21, 2000 at the Maison de France, Alliance Francais, then on Aromire Street, off Kingsway Road, Victoria Island.


Between 2003 and 2004, he returned to Nigeria’s music scene with three landmark albums and was finally recognised as a virtuoso exponent of neo-traditional highlife rhythms and a precursor to juju music. Some of his hit tracks include Won kere si number wa, Iyawo Iyawo, Eko Akete (Agidigbo Blues), Morocco Special, Omolere Aiye, I’m Not A Banker, Saworo Maro, Feso Jaiye, Ori Wa Adara, Aduke and a whole lot of songs.


The late artiste, who married the actress of Yoruba home movies, Bunmi Akinbo Gold, last year, had been involved with two other women apart from his very first wife who died in 1999, one is a German and the other from Ibadan. He sired 16 children.

He was born on 22 July, 1926, in Ede, Osun State.


Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Edem Duke, lamented the death of the veteran musician. This is contained in a statement issued in Abuja, conveying his condolence.


While reacting to the death of the musician, Orits Williki said Olagunju lived well and had gone to rest, noting: “Papa lived well and nobody can complain that an icon has gone home to rest. The way he lived in the last decade has been remarkable. Although his passing highlife music has suffered a blow, but younger artists like P-Square and many others are happily doing a revival form of highlife in contemporary form.”


Chairman of O’jez Entertainment Limited, Joseph Odobeatu, owners of O’jez Music and chain of celebrity restaurants, said in a statement by his media company, Media Image Managers: “Well, it’s very sad to hear the news of the demise of the legend Pa Fatai Rolling Dollar. The O’jez family is still in shock because Rolling Dollar has been very much part of the family in the past 12 years.”


Others who paid tributes yesterday included Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola, Director-General, Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), Prof. Tunde Babawale; Sidney Esiri, popularly known as Dr Sid of the MAVIN; the Chief Executive Officer of Storm Record, Obi Asika; Chief Tony Okoroji, Chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) and Mr. Chinedu Chukwuji, General Manager, COSON.

Sources: PMNews, Channels TV, Guardian