By Tope Olukole
Ayanbinrin, a renowned female talking drummer weaves her heartfelt vocals into a unique genre of TradHiptional Gbedu, a fusion of traditional arts and the combined groove of rhythmic drum ensemble, creatively grafted together to eradicate the extent at which the European colonization, trade, migration, religion and music has influenced our cultural heritage. She revealed her journey into the traditional ‘territory’ of men, by being a female talking drummer and other sundry issues in this encounter.
Playing a talking drum is her unique identity. Ayanbinrin is called the Mother-drum of Africa due to her love towards preserving African traditional culture.
Her love to propagate Africa’s rich culture led her to sing, chant, dance and play the talking drum which is known in the Yoruba language as Gangan.
Tosin Olakanye popularly known as Ayanbinrin sings in Yoruba, English and also in Ondo, her native dialect. Her chants and dance steps resonate African traditional values.
Drumming runs in Ayanbirin’s family. Her paternal grandmother’s family were professional drummers. Her grandmother’s immediate younger brother was once the leader of the Association of Talking Drummers of their time in Ondo State. Also, her father’s love for good music helped Ayanbinrin to develop an interest in folk music.
She came to the music scene when hip hop, rhythm and blues were dominating the scene but she chose to do cultural music. “I grew up watching my father listening and enjoying music by Orlando Owo, King Sunny Ade and so on, that is why my musical thought geared towards culture and tradition. There was no cassette by Anita Baker or Shakira in our home.”
Her flair for dancing and the search for unique identity attracted her to playing talking drum. She grew up and discovered that she could dance very well, especially when Sir Shina Peter’s Afro-juju songs were reigning. Basically, her music career began in 1999 after she joined a traditional group called Landmark Folk voices at Lagos State University when she registered for a pre-degree Programme.
She explained the meaning of her stage name, Ayanbinrin simply as a female drummer.
In 2003, she decided to go into full time to play talking drum and dance. One of her friends called Aluko introduced her to a drummer who nurtured her. “Funny enough, I was playing in my mother’s shop, then, I told Aluko that I wanted to go into traditional music and he jokingly asked me to go and learn how to play keyboard and guitar. He later introduced me to his friend who actually taught me the rudiment of drumming but the more you rehearse the better you become. Inspiration comes each day I pick up my drum. It is a continued process. My friends, well-wishers and Association of Professional Drummers of Nigeria contributed immensely to my success. I was the first lady that joined the association and they were encouraging,” she added.
She has a band known as “Tiwa n Tiwa Band,’ which consists of ten members. It is a versatile group with a mandate to communicate and transfer the displaced African values and heritage to every home through drums, songs, dance and dexterity playing African percussion like dundun drum family.
Just like an American hip-hop star, Shakira, sang “Hips don’t lie,” Ayanbinrin believes that hips can serve as a means of communication. “Some may think that shaking one’s hips is a way of enticing men but I am only doing my job. I love dancing to anything traditional. I love indigenous things. That was what led me to it. The percussion is traditional. If you hear any music from me, you would know that it is Ayanbinrin’s music. Though it may be funky and hippie. The percussion and my dance step help me to stand out,” she said.
Making sure that her TradHiptional music outlives her is a task she vowed to accomplish. She said a lot of young artists under her tutelage will continue with her band till eternity.
The robust and ever smiling lady shone like a star during Felabration 2012 celebration at Africa Shrine despite the fact that she did not have enough time to prepare.”I did not do enough rehearsal. Somebody pissed me off at the backstage and I entered into the stage without knowing what next to do. But I regained my confidence immediately I stepped on the stage.”
Is it not a taboo in Yorubaland for a lady to play a talking drum? She was asked. “I won’t say it is a taboo. The fact remains that there are limits to which a lady plays talking drum and we have different kinds of the drum. There are some drums women cannot play. We have social and spiritual/cultural drums. Cultural or spiritual drums are found in Oba’s palace. I play a social talking drum. There are limits to which women can play the drum,” she explained.
Asked whether Aralola, another popular female talking drummer influenced her to play talking drum, she cuts in: “Aralola did not influence me in any way. She is my colleague.”
In 2010, Ayanbinin released her 11-track maiden album titled “Ayanbinrin Unveil,” which is being celebrated. My second album featured Ego Ogbaru, former Lagbaja’s back-up singer in one of the tracks called ‘Dance with me’. I am a cultural activist. I am not a feminist but I love promoting female gender. The choice of Ego was because she is female and ambitious.”
Revealing further, Ayanbinrin said, “I took a break in 2010 to have babies because I could not cope combining making babies with doing music that is why I have not produced another album. Moreover, my work takes me out of Nigeria a lot of time. Thank God I have a caring mother who has been helpful in nurturing my children. I have a video I made for her, titled: ‘Dear mother’. I also dedicated it to all mothers in Africa,” she said.
An indigene of Ondo State, Ayanbinrin was born into a family of four and she is the oldest child. She attended State Primary School, Dopemu where she had her primary school education. From there, she proceeded to Egbado College, Ilaro (now Yewa College) for her secondary education. Ayanbinrin obtained a degree in Chemical and Polymer Engineering from the Lagos State University. The talking drummer, having tasted Arts has fallen in love with it, so she intends to pursue her Master’s Degree in Arts related field. “My engineering background is a stepping stone to where I am today. I intend to become a professor of Arts.”
She is married with children. She revealed that she met her husband at Lagos State University where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He graduated when she was in her first year. “My husband never knew I was going to be a musician even though he saw that I was music inclined. He loves my career. My greatest achievement so far is setting up my family.”
She rates music in Nigeria and says: “Definitely for anything you are doing, you must look out for the monetary aspect but money is not everything. I believe that it will come at the right time. There are times I give free shows to sell myself out. Right now, I am comfortable. Nigerian music is improving. We now have music with a touch of proverbs or local poetry. We are now promoting our culture through music.
“Many parents have been coming to tell me to train their children about drumming but I always advise them to send their children to school to enable those children to have an educational background before going into music. Music is improving most of our music now have a lot of messages unlike in the past. There should be room for creativity.”
She has won many awards locally and internationally in the course of her career and they among others include Yoruba Solidarity Circle Award as the Best Performing Act in 2005, Outstanding Achievers Award as the Outstanding Creative Entertainer in 2011 and Oodua Royal Icon Award as Asoju Odobinrin Oodua of Yoruba land.
The brain behind the Mother Drum Arts Foundation launched her foundation on December 2, 2012, and sheds light on what her foundation is all about and says: “This foundation aims to use arts to promote African cultural values. We normally organise the annual event, a gathering of art lovers who participate or watch theatre, dance, choreography, cinematography and exhibition of artworks.
“Everything about me depicts arts including my hairstyle, costume and music so my foundation aims to unite arts practitioners in order to promote our cultural heritage. Arts run in my blood so I set up this foundation to reward both creative and musical arts practitioners. We give awards to people who have made a prominent impact in the world of arts like Joke Silva, Tunde Kelani and so on. I intend to set up an art village where people will come and learn the art of sculptor, painting, drumming and dancing. Ayanbinrin is also a sculptor and a presenter,” she revealed.
Finance is a very big challenge Ayanbinrin is facing. “I implore corporate bodies to come and invest in entertainment. The government should stop focussing on oil and gas alone, entertainment is a very lucrative industry lying fallow to be tapped. We need people to encourage us to do more. We need investors.”
She attributed her success to God who has been sustaining her but said her greatest regret is not having people or sponsors or backing her up when she needed assistance. Many organisations are scared of sponsoring jobs due to their past experiences.”
In the next five years, she aspires to be more successful. “I leave everything in the hands of God. I have plans and I know that God has His own plan for me so I will allow His will to be done.”
In the music industry, her role models include Lagbaja, King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Sir Shina Peters and Asa.
Music has brought fame and fortune to Ayanbinrin. “Nobody would have known me if I was practising engineering. I thank God that I discovered my talent and passion on time. If there is anything I will like to do over and over again, it is arts.”
She is not a fashion freak when it comes to style; she is simple, elegant and looks good in anything she wears. She wears anything African. Her hairstyle is part of her trademark. “I am Ayanbirin on stage but Tosin at home. I am a simple and humble person because I am not better than people on my street. I dress according to my mood. I combine formal and traditional wear.”
Her favourite colour is red because it is bright.
Mainly African in all its ramifications, Ayanbinrin makes her costume with fabrics like Ankara, Damask, Aso Oke, Kente and Kampala embellished with cowries.
The pursuit of excellence with respect and dignity are her philosophies of life. “My father taught me to respect other people.”
Her costume conveys a message: “It is purely African. I love to wear trousers because I dance with ease in it. As a drummer, I have to be flexible, dynamic and free. I also wear jeans and a top. But whenever you see me, you must see a touch of Africa, that is, cowries fitted in my hair, bangle, earring and cloth.”
She frowned at the rate ladies are almost going nude in our society in the name of fashion and urged ladies to emulate their mothers who did not go naked before their parents married them. “You have cheapened yourself and exposed all you have when a man sees everything you supposed to cover. It is what you keep that has value.”
She loves any kind of food as long as it is not poison.
In a nutshell, Ayanbinrin aspires to dominate the African music scene with her unique fusion of traditional rhythms and also to be recorded in the history as the most exciting female talking drummer of renowned capability from the continent of Africa who contributed to the promotion of African culture.
She advised her fans to be diligent and know what they want to do in life and also not allow people to discourage them.