My new xperia state of the art mobile device rang exactly at 5a.m. A little early for my 5:25 alarm I thought, as I reached for it. It was a missed call from Ayantunji Amoo, the famous drummer and drum maintenance engineer. He had manufactured the Saworoide drum and her less famous cousin with no name.. He maintains both every four months or so. I added a new task on the toolbar 'Call Ayantunji Amoo with a reminder at 7a.m. But before 7, another call from an unknown number announced the death of Ayantunji Amoo which according to the caller, occurred earlier at 2a.m. I chose not to investigate the 5 o'clock call from the dead man's mobile phone because there were other things to worry about. Obviously, he had called me with Ayantunji Amoo’s phone after he had stopped breathing. How do we replace such a man who possessed decades of experience in traditional drums and a vast drum vocabulary? His death is a further depletion of the ever dwindling number of surviving traditional drummers left in Yorubaland.
Ayantunji Amoo, born on August 28 1942, was a native of Okinni, Osogbo in Osun State of Nigeria, to a family of Bata drummers. He worked at the Centre for Cultural Studies, now Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos from 1977 as a Bata drummer under the legendary musicologist Prof Akin Euba who came from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife to the University of Lagos (UNILAG). He was indeed a master drummer, who travelled far and wide with another legend, Duro Ladipo in 1963 and was awarded MBE (Member of the British Empire) by her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth 11 of England. His other memorable performances are, Ogedengbe, by late Prof Bode Osanyin, Ola Rotimi’s, The Gods Are Not To Blame, Shattered Bridge, Ayitale, Ogbanje Dance Drama, Lamb For Sacrifice by Femi Robinson and Election Fever.
His dexterity on the talking drum was never in doubt as he was indeed a master drummer who could play all kinds of traditional instruments. But his acting capability was unknown, that is, before the film Saworoide. The character of Ayangalu as crafted in the story by Prof Akinwumi Isola, demanded a drummer first and also a convincing actor. It was difficult, if not impossible to find the two attributes in one man. But Ayantunji Amoo accepted the challenges and invented his own method of tackling his limitations. He took the screenplay and methodically extracted only his dialogue scene by scene and reproduced them in a student exercise book which became his new bible. He simply memorized everything and kept the book next to him throughout the production. I had to get used to his needs and learnt to work around this method because a re-write, even a change of a line of dialogue was no longer possible as this would only leave him confused and disoriented. All in all, he did remarkably well in his popular role of Ayangalu in both films, Saworoide and Agogoeewo.
Personally, I feel the painful loss of my consultant talking drummer and engineer. He brought to life, drummed and managed the drums, Saworoide and her sibling. Now Ayan is gone, leaving only the irresistible sound from his drums in our memory. May his soul rest in peace.