Living Apala music legend, Alhaji Mohammed Ahmed Raji Alabi Owonikoko popularly called Raji Owonikoko, in this interview with PM Entertainment speaks about his career, challenges, relationship with the late Apala music sages, Haruna Ishola and Ayinla Omowura, and the music industry among other issues:
Where have you been all this while and what is happening to Raji Owonikoko and his band?
Let me make one clarification first because a lot of people believe I reside in Kwara, my home state. I have resided here in Lagos for more than 40 years. I once lived at Odunfa, Orogiri on Lagos Island before I moved to my house at Okunola, Egbeda. Lagos, southwest Nigeria. About my band, we just returned from a playing tour of Texas, United States of America. Plans are in top gear for my new album to be christened America Experience.
Where are you from?
I hail from Kwara State. My father is a native of Buhari while my mother hails from Ijomu, Oro both in Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State. I was born in Oro that is why many people believe I am from Oro.
How was your growing up?
I grew up with elderly friends and contemporaries. I became more popular among them because I always sang during Ramadan fasting period, waking Islamic faithful in the community at dawn to observe Shaur (Saari)
Was that how you started music?
As a result of my talent, I became the leader of our musical group. Thereafter, I moved to Lagos with some members of the group where I recruited others to join my group. Along the line, I met King Sunny Ade, and Jide Smith, who was into music instrument rentals. I eventually changed to Apala music genre because of the love I had for the late Apala music sage, Alhaji Haruna Ishola, in spite of other types of music around then.
Years back, you were a frontline Apala musician alongside the late Haruna Ishola, Ayinla Omowura and Kasumu Adio. What was your relationship with them?
I was not close to Kasumu Adio but Ayinla Omowura was my friend while Haruna Ishola was my mentor and role model, though most of our fans believed I learnt the trade from him because I was always at his shows and functions. However, I hosted him when he came to perform in my town, Oro.
Now, what is your relationship with their singing children?
I’m still in touch with some of them such as Alhaji Gani, Musiliu Haruna, Alhaja Risikat and Mistura. Akeem Omowura is also my son and he regards me as his father.
It is being insinuated among music enthusiasts and critics that Fuji music has practically killed Apala music, what is your take on this?
There is nothing like that. It is just an insinuation, how can a child kill his or her father? Apala music is the father to Fuji music. Whatever happens, Apala music cannot die and I make bold to say that efforts are being made by my colleagues and I towards reviving it and taking it to the next level like other music genres.
Compare the Apala music of yesteryears with that of today, any difference?
From the beginning, Apala music has been a rigorous type of music because, as an Apala musician, you have to spend sleepless nights going through the rigour of good composition, message, arrangement and production among others. Now, most of them are very lazy and that is why the industry is suffocated with “noise”.
Apart from music, what else could you have done?
I used to be a professional wrist watch repairer, wrist watches and spare parts dealer alongside music. In fact, I used to be called Alabi Ala’go.
What was the title of your first album and on whose label?
My first album was titled Oloro, a special dedication to the Oloro of Oro, Oba Michael Ajiboye, in 1970 on the label of Owoyemi Records. Consequently, I moved to Olumo Records in 1973 where I released several albums including Omo Yoruba, my debut on the label, Atewe At’agba, Iromi To Njo, Irawo Mi and Abode Mecca in 1977 among others.
In your career, was there any time you wanted to quit?
Yes. It is part of living but with determination and prayer, I survived the turbulence. However, my approach to any crisis has always been no retreat, no surrender and that is what has kept me strong till today.
Your happiest moment?
I thank God for what I have achieved through music. I am happily married with fantastic children, I have travelled to the United States of America, I drive a good car, so, I am always happy.
Alhamudu Lillah, no regrets whatsoever.