When the talking drum loses its tongue

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In keeping with the established policy of this column of according honour and respect to only those who deserve it, snooper this morning mourns the passing of the wizard of the talking drum, master percussionist and the man who gave Ebenezer “Obey” Oluremilekun Fabiyi’s excellent music its memorable traditional flavouring, Mutiu Jimoh, the Ayantoyinbo of all the ayans. The pint-sized maestro passed on last month as quietly and as unobtrusively as he lived.

But he had already drummed his way into musical immortality. It will be impossible to recall the Ebenezer Obey musical phenomenon without mentioning those who made it possible. Mutiu’s talking drum was a key component of the melodious and mellifluous medley.

Judging by his diminutive stature and boyish looks, no one would have been able to guess his real age. But the ace drummer was in his mid-seventies when he received his final marching order last January. It would appear that long before his number came up, the self-effacing genius had quietly retired to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

He was certainly missing in the Obey line up at Biodun Shobanjo’s one year commemoration of his mother at Aiyepe, Ijebu last December. But as we would later discover, the ace drummer had been battling with a mortal affliction for years. He succumbed on the 26th of January to the grim reaper. Focused, diligent and devoted, he remained loyal to his boss till the end.

Whenever Obey mentioned him in his songs, one can feel the affection and gratitude of the master for a beloved accomplice and creative collaborator.  In one exceptional instance, Obey eulogized the great drummer for his stirring and sterling role when the band’s entire musical equipment caught fire on a musical tour of Britain in the early seventies.  Mutiu Kekere gbiyanju o se bi okunrin, sugbon epa o boro mo. (Mutiu tried his bravest best but all to no avail)

When Mutiu fell last month, the master-musician, ever courteous and considerate, rose to the occasion once again. In a moving tribute to his friend and fallen colleague, Ebenezer Obey praised the Oke-Ogun born instrumentalist as a loyal and dependable ally who would be sorely missed by the surviving members of the band.

One great thing about a great cultural era is that you never realise how great it is until it is about to pass into antiquity. No one can choose where and when they will be born. As Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade finally approach the twilight of their illustrious careers, one is happy to be alive at the time when two Yoruba musical geniuses, from different, almost opposing, spheres of the expansive and dynamic Yoruba culture, pushed Juju music to the zenith of its possibility through sheer originality, hard work and relentless improvising.

Mutiu Jimoh would be smiling in his grave. He was the last of the musical Mohicans. His was classy drumming from old empire and it gave Obey’s music its leisurely aristocratic cadence. This was royal music-making fit only for the unhurried consumption of nobility, in sharp contrast to the pulsating counterhegemonic beats of Ayinla Omo-Wura and its violence-prone artisans swinging and swivelling from the hips in orgiastic permutations.

One can always imagine members of the ancient Yoruba master class cantering backward and capering forward in synchronized elegance, recalling the flamboyance handed down by their aristocratic forefathers. To be dismissed as drum-deaf is the worst insult that can be handed to a Yoruba person.  It was a refined culture at its most opulent and mesmerising.