Jajah Onilu’s sons rely on his organic art form

Baba Ayinde Onilu with organic instruments –– a rain stick, a bowlie drum and a talking drum. – SUREASH CHOLAI

Natural movement is a way of life promoted by the late famous master percussionist and luthier Jajah Oga Onilu, and continued by his sons Baba Ayinde Onilu and Modupe Onilu.

Sunday Newsday spoke to Baba Ayinde Onilu, 42, who explained that Baba is a name of Yoruba origin given to him by his father. It means “father” and he is the father of a 14-year-old daughter.

Onilu is an organic percussionist, but also a teacher, farmer, artist and designer, along with Modupe, in their clothing and jewelry company, Vyombo Designs.

He makes and plays instruments and makes jewelry and handicrafts using natural materials such as coconut, bamboo and calabash.

“Organic instruments are what my father would call ‘early music’. Nature is the first musician. It has produced all of these natural raw materials, sounds, tones and vibrations that we as human beings, when we immerse ourselves in it, feel the energy that it gives us.

Baba Ayinde Onilu with a bowlie drum made from a calabash. – SUREASH CHOLAI

“Now we live in a time where we are disconnected from nature, even from the respect and reverence we should give to nature as our sustainer.

“So organic percussion is about mimicking a lot of those sounds and bringing them into these modern times where man has disconnected from that vibrational tone of music.”

So not only does he make instruments with mostly organic materials, but many of them produce the sounds of nature. For example, the rain stick, made from bamboo, sounds like falling rain or running water, while the icaba bird, a whistle made from gourd, can make bird calls.

Other aspects of organic music are the promotion of healthy eating, self-care, and cultural transformation, as well as environmental preservation. Onilu said hopefully, hearing the music brings that awareness back into people’s minds.

He lamented the lack of patriotism and respect for nature as people recycle waste or not when they visit another country. But in TT, they don’t care about their carbon footprint and “prepare” the future generations of the country.

He said his father withdrew from the limelight, immersed himself in nature, and nature revealed music and instruments to him. He initiated the “natural movement” and contributed a lot from a cultural point of view and Onilu and his brother carry on this legacy.

He said they were born into the natural movement and had the chance to experience the arts, including the performing arts, from an early age, so they both appreciate them, and the legacy doesn’t is not a burden.

Baba Ayinde Onilu with a rain stick. – SUREASH CHOLAI

“My father played a vital role in my personality and taught me a lot about the things that I should appreciate, keep, cherish and pass on to future generations.”

Although his daughter does not like instruments, he is proud that she enjoys literature, songwriting, poetry and drama.

“I think it’s probably a genetic thing. She doesn’t like instruments very much, but she’s naturally inclined to rhythm, which I think happened with me and my brother too.

“We inherited a vibe from our dad and it permeates our lifestyle and the things we do and promote. It is about self-awareness. And the more you know yourself, the more connected you are to your destiny and purpose.

Onilu said he lives in modern times, so he wouldn’t go to live in the bush but he finds himself wanting to spend time in nature, find solace and recharge.

He pointed out that some people work so hard that they don’t have time to connect with nature, and unless they have plants in or around their house, everything around them is dead.

Also, he said, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other “natural frequency corrupting frequencies”, it can be difficult to connect to higher senses like intuition, telepathy and clairvoyance.

Baba Ayinde Onilu plays the talking drum. – SUREASH CHOLAI

With his organic instruments, Onilu plays the option rhythm, which is based on the concept of the breath as the first drum.

The sound is very similar to beatboxing.

“We at TT have a rich history based on the slave trade and banning the drum. With the innovation of the Africans, they moved the drums to the mouth. From there they moved it to the bamboo – bamboo tamboo, which manifested in the biscuit tin, then in the steel drum.

Because he uses organic instruments to produce this optional rhythm, he creates a different “tonal vibration and energy” with his band Dayo Bejide.

He explained that Dayo Bejide came from Jewels of Nature, his original group with his father and brother. When their father died in 2011, the brothers created the new band, combining organic music with conventional instruments, producing a combination of tribal, jazz, islander and kaiso music.

The name, he says, means “happiness came in the rainy season”. The concept of the name comes from their belief that in an age when popular music is on a “low vibrational frequency”, especially in the lyrics, the band’s music is refreshing and rejuvenating, like rain.

They hope that positive music will help people deal with adversities in the world.

Onilu added that he and his brother are in the process of registering an NGO called Jajah Onilu Legacy Project, honoring and protecting their father’s legacy. Based in the Caura Valley, they are planning several farming projects and a cultural space where people could learn to make and play biological instruments.

Additionally, he has a children’s project called Make and Play where he immerses children, between the ages of five and 17, in nature. He shows them where and how plants grow, as well as how to harvest and prepare them for making instruments.

He said he wanted to bring Make and Play to schools, as well as expand it as part of the Legacy Project.

“It’s a medium that I use in most of my workshops. It’s not just about playing music. It also has to do with invoking creativity. The creative spirit is something that we need to improve and promote, especially in our younger generation.

“Creativity is not only manifested in the realization of an art or a craft. You could learn to think creatively so that whatever endeavor the child decides to undertake, they can invoke creativity whenever needed to be innovative and different.

He works with private organizations that run summer camps and does community development work. It also works with the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST); and Export Centers Co Ltd as a facilitator in its module on natural resources and raw materials.

To those who would like to get into the arts in TT, Onilu said it might be hard to support themselves doing what they love because many people in TT don’t worship the art.

“It’s a bit difficult to reach a certain level, but now that’s changing because of technology and social media.

“It’s all about how you market yourself, how good your product is and things like that. Now it’s up to you to make your craft profitable.”

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