Baba Sala: The story of Nigeria’s first king of comedy

Posted on November 23 2015 , at 10:41 pm
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(Baba Sala is fine and responding to treatment at UCH, Ibadan. Photo: Filed)
Years after he dominated the theatre landscape with his stereotyped comic characterization, Baba Sala’s name still remains synonymous with comedy. Photo: Filed

Moses Olaiya, better known by his stage name Baba Sala, is a Nigerian comedian, dramatist, musician and actor. A Yoruba from Ilesha in Osun state, Baba Sala is regarded as the father of Nigerian comedy.

Years after he dominated the theatre landscape with his stereotyped comic characterization, Baba Sala’s name still remains synonymous with comedy. The veteran actor, whose comic acts earned the national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) in 1978 during the then General Olusegun Obasanjo‘s regime, started when there was no certainty or likelihood of gaining national prominence with just doing comedy.

 Also read: Photos from 80th birthday of iconic actor, Baba Sala

As Nigerian Film Industry, with all its glitz and glamour today, took its root from the Yoruba travelling theatre movement of the 60s, 70s and the early 80s, Baba Sala was one of the early starters of that era. And others included Hubert Ogunde, Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love), Duro LadipoKola Ogunmola, Ishola Ogunshola (Isho Pepe) and Oyin Adejobi, to mention a few.

Moses Adejumo

 Out of the lot, it was only Baba Sala and his Awada Kerikeri group who picked comedy as their genre of theatre. Incidentally, not many know that Baba Sala started out in life as a civil servant, a sanitary inspector. This he combined with a part-time teaching work and the daily thrift collection popularly called ‘Ajo’ among the Yorubas. In the late evenings, he would transform from a thrift collector into a highlife musician. And in 1964, he led a group known as the Federal Rhythm Dandies, which was the band through which Baba Sala launched himself into stardom. The band was known for its quality Juju music which was always on hand at different social gatherings.

Interestingly, among his band’s men was Sunday Adegeye, better known as King Sunny Ade, who was his lead guitarist. Sunny Ade later left to become a music maestro and king of Juju music in Nigeria. Moses Olaiya became a full-time professional theatre comedian in 1969 after he disbanded his Moses Olaiya Concert Party and came up with the more lasting Moses Olaiya International Alawada Theatre Limited, which travelled extensively round Nigerian towns and cities.

Sunny prostrates for Baba Sala

He had played a vital role in uplifting the image of indigenous Nigerian cinema in and outside the African continent. For example, he has produced films that had been shown in countries like Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Germany, Belgium and the United States. He has also gone on foreign tours such as the one to Britain in 1981. These, together with many brilliantly produced performances, had contributed immensely to his popularity as a first-rate artiste.

The advent of the first television station in Nigeria, The Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) equally impacted on the career of this maestro of hilarious comedy, for he was given a one-year contract of drama sketches at the station based on the directive of the then legendary Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who had at some occasions witnessed the enriching performances of Baba Sala. In those good old days, at 7pm every Wednesday  night on NTA Ibadan, many people in Ibadan and all its surrounding towns and villages in the South West usually would rush home to watch his Alawada Comedy Show. It is on record that he virtually wrote all his plays in which more often than not he was the lead character.

Agba Man

However, life has not been all bed of roses for the talented artiste who is now 80 years old. At some points in the past, he was reported to have come down with a stroke which he survived and at another point, there were reports that he went into coma which he also came out of. Call him a cat with nine lives and that would not be wrong. Also earlier in the year, reports emerged that the comedian was admitted and later discharged for old age related ailment at University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State.

Baba Sala hospitalised

Also read: Multiple Sources: Baba Sala in critical condition at UCH, Ibadan.

Meanwhile, it is instructive to also add at this point that ‘Orun Mooru,’ a film by Baba Sala which contributed richly to his fame also turned out, ironically, to wreak havoc on his profession at a point he was getting to the peak of it. Orun Moru was wickedly pirated and sadly cost him huge financial and property loss. The film, according to Baba Sala, was stolen from him by someone who pirated it and made it into a home video. It was when it was being sold that one of Baba Sala’s brothers saw it and when he told Baba Sala about it, it was too late to do anything about. It was a terrible down time in the comedian’s career as he was yet to recoup the huge financial investment on the movie at that point in time not to talk of making any profit.

No doubt, Baba Sala, who picked the first award for his film Mosebolatan,  at the Performing Art Awards Night (1986 edition) organized by the Nigerian Television Authority and the Concord Press of Nigeria, remains a leading light in the comic role playing in movies which gained much more ground today. His other blockbuster movies include: Aare Agbaye, Agba Man, Obe ‘Gbona, Return Match, Diamond and Ana Gomina.

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