By Akeem Lasisi
When Pelumi Lawal first launched into Yoruba rap some 15 years ago, many people around him felt he was romancing a tribal sentiment that could hardly fly.
He remembers that someone particularly told him that he was wasting his time and talent. The critic had felt the artiste would not be able to make any impact beyond the Yoruba environment.
But events have proved the critics wrong. The emergence of Yoruba rappers, such as Lord of Ajasa, Dagrin and, now, Olamide, has further convinced Lawal, whose stage name is Pelumi Baba, that he is not on any suicidal mission.
“When I consider the wave that someone like Olamide is making now and how people appreciate me when I rap in Yoruba, I thank God that I did not listen to the voices of discouragement then,” the Agbowa Ikosi, Epe, Lagos State-born says. “It is now very clear that you can do music in any language and people will still show you love once you do it right.”
Lawal notes that he did not initially go into rap to become a musician, but to complement his act in the theatre. The theatre group he started out with, which is the Community Theatre Playhouse, used rap to pass messages across to the audience whenever it staged a play, especially at the Artistes’ Village, in the National Theatre Complex, Lagos, where it used to perform regularly.
He adds that his rap is very sensitive to happenings in society. On the one hand, he wants to assure people that Yorubas, and Africans in general, had always had their pride (which he equates with yanga) before the West and its acolytes brought their ‘swagger’. The artiste, who also works with the Steve James-led Ivory Ambassadors Troupe, says he further sees rap as a vehicle for commenting on ills in the society.
Watching the guy with an elastic voice rapping, only a few people would be able to deny him attention. Apart from the fact that he does the job effortlessly, his choice and combination of words get the listener, no matter his or her linguistic background, excited. One other thing that many people, who have watched him perform, marvel at is the depth of his memory, from where he endlessly vomits verses whose sounds radiate pun and other similar devices that literary scholars worship in poetry.
On how he is able to do this, Lawal says he is only operating in the tradition of his mentor – fuji icon, the late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister.
“I never met Barrister when he was alive, but I follow his music with a lot of interest. He had a memory that was difficult to fathom. He also had power to take up a subject and explore it for up to 30 minutes or more. I took time to study him. I have also discovered the power and shapes of words. When you know the true character and value of a language, and the shape and weight of words, you will be able to use them in such a way that rhymes can be achieved anytime you want it,” he explains.