Moses Olaiya Adejumo popularly known by his stage name, Baba Sala, will forever be remembered in the history on theatre arts in Nigeria. He died on Sunday, October 7, at the age of 81. Late Baba Sala can be referred to as one of the foremost comedians in Nigeria.
He was also a pioneer of the Nigerian movie industry and was one of the first producers of indigenous-language films. Just like Charlie Chaplin, the deceased was a natural comedian who could make anyone laugh without saying a word. His trademarks were his enormous bow tie, gigantic spectacles, over-size shoes, alarm clock and pipe.
All these were combined with his hilarious performance to create an unforgettable character.
His nearly five decades in the entertainment industry were untainted by any scandal or unfitting behaviour. This good act got him to be given the national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) by the Obasanjo administration in 1978. During an interview with PM News in 2011, late Baba Sala revealed that he had 18 wives and 50 children.
But nonetheless, he was a family man to the core and a doting dad.
Baba Sala, a thoroughbred Nigerian comedian, dramatist, musician and actor, the entertainer, hailed from Ilesha in Osun state.
His renowned activities in the world of entertainment saw many regarding him as the father of Nigerian comedy.
Born on May 18, 1936, Baba Sala began his journey into stardom as a civil servant, a sanitary inspector.
He combined his job as a sanitary inspector with a part-time teaching work and the daily thrift collection.
Baba Sala was one of the early starters of the Nigerian Film Industry, when he toured Nigeria and other parts of Africa with his theatre group.
Activities of Baba Sala’s theatre group had seen him making his mark in the 60s, 70s and the early 80s alongside Hubert Ogunde, Adeyemi Afolayan, Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola, Ishola Ogunshola and Oyin Adejobi.
While his comic and drama series are viewed stereotyped in terms of delivery, it was widely accepted by fans who couldn’t communicate in Yoruba language.
These achievements and contribution towards the Nigerian entertainment industry, earned Baba Sala a national honour.
In 1978, Nigeria’s military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo conferred the Member of the Order of the Niger, MON, on Baba Sala.
Trained King Sunny Ade in mastering Juju music
Legendary Juju act, King Sunny Ade’s history is solely incomplete without his years under the tutelage of Baba Sala.
In 1964, Baba Sala, who had honed his skills in highlife and Juju music, led a group known as the Federal Rhythm Dandies.
Federal Rhythm Dandies launched the Moses Adejumo’s musical career – and ultimately a career in entertainment – himself into stardom.
Known for its quality Juju music which was always fancied by many, Adejumo and his Federal Rhythm Dandies became the choice of event planners at different social gatherings.
Unknown to many, Adejumo’s band had Sunday Adegeye – now known as King Sunny Ade – as his lead guitarist.
“Drama was in my blood. I was a drummer. Sunny Ade likes playing guitar. I taught him how to play guitar and he is very good at it. I am proud of him. Sunny Ade’s ambition was to play drums. He said that it was not in him to act. I felt that I should concentrate on acting and leave Sunny Ade to drumming and playing guitar. That was why I gave him my drum and musical instruments,” Baba Sala had said in an interview with PM News in 2011.
King Sunny Ade had said he owes Baba Sala gratitude for venturing to stand on his own as a solo artist.
“Baba Sala is my boss and he would continue to be my boss for life. I owe him that gratitude for life. I was playing percussion in his band and he was playing guitar and a couple of instruments. I was in charge of the music in the drama section, playing conga. He actually prompted me to go into music with a proviso that I should go and if after nine months, I found it tough, I should come back. He told me, go and try and that if does not work, come back,” King Sunny Ade told Pulse when he turned 70 in 2016.
How Awolowo gave Baba Sala his big break
Following the creation of the first television station in Nigeria, Western Nigeria Television, WNTV, Baba Sala’s career witnessed a major leap.
On the instruction of the Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who had at some occasions seen the performances of Baba Sala, the comedian got a one-year contract of drama sketches at the WNTV.
He berthed with Alawada Series on WNTV and later NTA Ibadan every Wednesday between 7:00 PM and 7:30 PM and his fame knew no bound.
From the drumbeats which preludes the drama series, families and fans gathered round TV sets to see another episode of Baba Sala’s hilarious drama was laced with native wisdom and comic relief.
The talented Baba Sala wrote all episodes of his drama series in which more often than not he was the lead character.
Baba Sala’s relationship with Awolowo didn’t end there, the sage ensured he helped the comedian get his first telephone set amongst other things.
“My first telephone was a gift from Awolowo. There was a time I went to Lagos and I saw Awolowo and he asked me if I had telephone. I told him that I did not have. He then said that it was bad that I did not have a telephone. He then bought a telephone for me and asked the NITEL people to go and install it in my house. That ensured that the two of us spoke any time we wanted,” Baba Sala told PM News in an interview in 2011.
His drama series
Baba Sala had several drama series on NTA Ibadan and they include ‘Orun Mooru,’ ‘Aare Agbaye,’ and ‘Mosebolatan,’ which starred late magician, Professor Peller.
- Orun Mooru
The movie was produced and shown in 1982. ‘Orun Mooru’ was directed by Dr Ola Balogun with Baba Sala playing the lead role of Karounwi.
The big budget movie was recorded on celluloid but found its way into VHS after it was pirated.
The production and release of ‘Orun Mooru’ remains one of the historic and defining moments in Baba Sala’s life and career.
- Aare Agbaye
‘Aare Agbaye,’ is a 1983 TV production and one of the movies in the rich catalogue of Baba Sala. The production had Baba Sala bringing out humour in political landscape while teaching morals. The movie joins a list of Baba Sala’s TV productions.
‘Mosebolatan’ was Baba Sala’s second attempt at shooting a movie to be shown at cinemas after he suffered a bad fate in the hands of pirates with ‘Orun Mooru.’
Baba Sala staged a comeback with the movie in 1985 which highlighted the talents of late magician, Professor Peller.
‘Tokunbo’ is another TV production which Baba Sala launched in 1985.
The production delved into the issue of foreign used items sold and its effect on Nigerians.
Baba Sala also went further in the movie to hint on Nigerians born and raised outside the shores of the country.
The production sealed the belief that Baba Sala is indeed a talented filmmaker and storyteller.
- Obee Gbona
In 1989, Baba Sala worked on another production, ‘Obee Gbona.’
The production, which starred three of his recurring faces – Sala, Iya Sala and Adisa – also added to the growing fame of the comedian.
As usual, Baba Sala didn’t complete the production without soundtracks and special songs dedicated to the plot of the production.
- Agba Man
In 1992, Baba Sala was older but not tired. And despite all his travails and trials, he released a home video titled ‘Agba Man.’
The production starred members of his drama troupe and other rising acts.
- Ana Gomina
In 1996, Baba Sala released another movie, ‘Ana Gomina.’
The movie gave Baba Sala much prominence though he was gradually whining down on movie productions.
Baba Sala would be remembered for his contribution towards the growth of the Nigerian entertainment industry with music, movies and comedy championing the cause.
His brand of comedy was peculiar to him and his unique fez caps, incredibly big glasses are some of the attributes of Baba Sala that will be missed by fans in Nigeria and across the world.