Memorialising Wale Olomu (1964 – 1994)

Memorialising Wale Olomu (1964 – 1994)

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

From Saturday next week, on TopRadio 90.9 FM, aboard the ‘The Vintage Talkshow’, we shall be hosting the first in a three-part series of the Wale Olomu Memorial Awards and Roundtable (WOMA-R). The awards are set up in the memory of a young Nigerian journalist who, until his death at the age of 30 in 1994, embraced with a crusading tenacity the reportorial philosophy that was uncommon and remarkable amongst his peers. His philosophy was driven by a fervent desire to unearth, appreciate and promote the talented works and great efforts of people least recognised nor appreciated by the vast majority of the Nigerian entertainment reportorial corps of his day.

  You may ask, what is all this fuss about a dead entertainment journalist almost 30 years ago? Perhaps, a rehash of a chapter devoted to our professional relationship in my latest book, “FAME: Untold Stories…” will explain with more clarity the peculiar and admirable traits of this man whom several of his contemporaries, colleagues and objects of his preoccupation still fondly remember…even after three decades. 

  Here are excerpts from the chapter titled ‘Entertainment Reporting Capital’: “I believe I met Adewale Benjamin Olomu in late 1988 through Azuka Jebose Molokwu. He was working with The Republic newspapers. It didn’t take long to like and move around with him. He was just two years younger than me, but was quite respectful, and eager to excel as an entertainment reporter. He was living around Agege, and by mid 1989, I had moved to the fringes of Agege, in an area called Gengeto, Oko-Oba – from Mafoluku, Oshodi. We had sorties in my two-bedroom apartment, discussing ideas and concepts for FAME, which was still a foetus. It was given that my popular multi-columned pages, ‘FAJ’s Fantasia’ would take the usual four pages or so, but I recognized the tenacity, determination and flair of Wale in surmounting reportorial odds and barriers with a dash of warm smiles, likable humour and remarkable honesty. He had to get a page, or two, to actualise his own dreams too. We developed a lot of ‘technical’ reporting of areas of entertainment less glamorous, and hardly mentioned: studio engineers, cover designers, backup singers and bands men, studio editors, record companies, marketers and distributors, and many other ordinary but vital sub-frames of the Nigerian showbiz. 

  I found out early that Wale derived some sort of energy and satisfaction in exposing and recognizing talents in these unglamorous aspects of entertainment, and I was determined to make FAME become synonymous with the Nigerian entertainment so intricately and deeply that anyone interested in understanding the true and full nature of our entertainment industries would simply just pick volumes of the magazine, and be fulfilled…

It was during one of our weekly FAME ‘conferences’ that he introduced his lovely bespectacled girlfriend to me: Taibat Adebisi Yussuf. She was quite supportive, and fond of Wale; she later became close to my then girlfriend, Iretunde Willoughby. We often ‘tripped’ around the weekend club circuit with the two ladies providing great companionship. While I got married about two years afterwards, Wale was still planning to settle down with Bisi… until his demise on 22 December, 1994. But I digress… 

  With about 30% of the new magazine devoted to entertainment, it was a pure hand-rubbing spectacle for Wale to literally dig his teeth in. We created little columns for activities and profiles of men and women buried deep at work in different recording studios, both well-known and nondescript: EMI, Polygram/Premier Records, Afrodisia/Decca Studios, Olumo Records, Decross, Tabansi, Sony Music, CBS Records, Mut-Mokson, etc. We dug them out – some were reluctant collaborators, wondering what was our benefit in showcasing their activities; others lapped it heavily, providing us with regular materials and insider details.

  One peculiar ‘technical’ column was the monthly rundown of best selling music called ‘FAME Monthly Awards’. We agreed that Wale was best positioned to do the ‘dirty work’ of going every week to major record dealers and retailers in Mushin, Oshodi, Ebute Metta, Somolu, Agege, etc, and getting sales performance of albums and cassettes on display. This was a thanklessly hazardous and time-consuming task. To Wale, it was a joyful engagement that would truly identify the actual performance strengths of so-called popular acts whom their record companies’ A&R (artistes and repertoire) managers had hyped to high heavens with specially programmed press releases. It didn’t matter to Wale that his own younger brother, Dayo, worked for one of the more prominent companies!

  We had been complaining about one of the selection criteria in the biggest award ceremony in town, the Nigerian Music Awards, NMA – namely ‘Popularity/Sales Performance’. How did the adjudicators of the awards come about which artistes were more popular than the others beyond the media penetration and savviness of record companies and labels? And how did they know who sold more than the others, in an environment where there was complaint galore amongst artistes of not knowing how their works were doing? Everyone knew that most record companies were being dodgy about opening their sales records to public scrutiny. 

  We chose to delve into the murky mirage of actual records from the streets, at least using Lagos, and possibly Onitsha, as our field of investigation. And it worked like a charm. Every week, we collated Wale’s wealth of accessed data to make the best selling works as revealed by actual sales, without any ‘mago-mago’ – and published at the end of the month the summary in different awards categories with fanfare. One week was for announcing the nominees by the two-man “FMA committee”; and the next week for the winners, sometimes including a brief explanation.  The following month, the inflow of collated data would make some artistes drop off or stay up; and new ones might come in. 

  The first monthly Fame Music Awards was published on August 2, 1991, and it became very popular amongst music enthusiasts, and our readers. By the end of 1991, we decided to review all the editions since the beginning in July, and produce an elaborate edition in the year’s last magazine edition – a Fame Music Annual Awards. Even at that time, we were still thinking of a ‘paper tiger’ kind of intervention. While this was going on, I had grown weary of what I considered as the failings of NMA, as earlier indicated, principally because of the levity they handled the criterion of sales performance of works that they had little or no knowledge of the true reality on ground – the pains and frustrations of the Nigerian artistes. And then the other matter of identifying an artiste’s national popularity when most of the judges, if not all, were domiciled in Lagos….” End of quote.

 The special three-weekend WOMA-R event also includes a Roundtable discussion of diverse showbiz personalities focusing on issues of serious concerns to the Nigerian creatives: artistes vs labels relations, equitable royalties, accountability, etc. Expected discussants and schedules include: Tony Okoroji, Kenny Ogungbe and Paul ‘Play’ Dairo (9 Dec.); Obi Asika, Daddy Fresh, Kayode Samuel (UK) & Kenny St Brown (16 Dec.); and Laolu Akins, Orits Wiliki & Dayo Olomu (UK) (23 Dec.). The events will equally be live on Zoom, Facebook and YouTube platforms.

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