Ilorin’s Olufunmilayo Records Stores: Nothing beats commitment

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If you don’t look closely enough, you probably might not even see the signpost. But, it has been there for decades now, at No 12 Murtala Muhammed Road, Ilorin.

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
[email protected]

If you don’t look closely enough, you probably might not even see the signpost. But, it has been there for decades now, at No 12 Murtala Muhammed Road, Ilorin. Olufunmilayo Record Stores, Producers & Distributors of Local, International Audio/Video, CD & DVD Cassettes. I have always wanted to check in on Mr. Olufunmilayo Agboola, but everytime that I’ve been back in Ilorin, it would skip my mind. But not this time.

Nurudeen Abdulrahim and I had been driving last Saturday evening on Murtala Muhammed Road and he had the presence of mind to inform me that he had recently purchased some CDs from the store. That got us talking about the man, and hence my resolve to ensure that I saw him before returning to Abuja. On Monday afternoon, we checked in but we were informed that he was out. We looked around the stores, and there was a method to everything. The left-side section contained the cassettes and as one looked or moved further, right wards, there were CDs and VCDs and DVDs. This was desite the fact that Mister Olufunmilayo himself wasn’t around. There were a few of his children on ground and a veritable matriarch. We purchased a few CDs: Odolaye Aremu, Haruna Ishola, the three versions of Sikiru Ayinde’s “Fuji Garbage”. We assured that that we would return later in the day.

National growth LS

The post-war years of the 1970s were very remarkable in practically every aspect of our national life. None more than in the music industry. The motif of that period was optimism, and a can-do spirit took hold of our country. The “No Victor, No Vanquished” slogan matched the spirit of daring that the return of our brothers and sisters from the East, liberated within the Nigerian people.

There was the so-called “oil-boom,” with Nigeria becoming awash with huge earnings from petroleum, and a very well-designed Second National Development Plan, which was dedicated to accelerated national development. If Badejo Ogunsanya (the PR impressario,Yomi’s father) owns the record of being the first Nigerian to own a record label, by the end of the Civil War, in the old East Central State as well as in Lagos, new recording companies were emerging to service a musical industry that had shaken off the tragedy of war, and many artists were beginning to explore new sounds.

There was also an expectant country waiting to dance to new sounds, at parties and in refurbished club houses as well as new discotheque. The art of the Deejay was also taking off in a big way, with radio stations providing the wings for these to fly and the clubs and discotheque offering platforms for residency. A very optimistic country was going to express itself in music and dance, and these have to be recorded. Recording companies coming on board knew there was money to make. A lot of money!

Some of the recording companies were international outfits like EMI, Decca, and Polygram, to be joined later, CBS, Polidor, and by Sony Music. Given the context of the times, and the commitment of the Nigerian State to indigenisation, Nigerian-owned outfits also began to enter the business. These included outfits like Chief Abioro’s TYC-African music which had at a point recorded and made good money through Sunny Ade, Roger’s All Stars based in the East and became synonymous with Prince Nico Mbarga and his Rocafil Jazz, and Tabansi Records, that also recorded several of the outfits that emerged in the East, after the Civil War.

One of the most important elements of the music industry was the distribution side. Yes, the artist is the one we all listen to, and s/he enters the recording studios to cut the songs we become so enamoured of. But in the long run, it is the distributors that get the music into the market. In the 1970s, one of the biggest distributors in Nigeria, was Shanu-Olu Trading Company. They were the sole distributors for the transnational recording outfit, Decca Records West Africa.

Just as I had promised, we returned to Olufunmilayo Records on Monday evening. The man had been informed that he had a visitor from Abuja who promised to return, so he was naturally, expectant. When we entered the shop and I greeted him, Mister Olufunmilayo Agboola answered; but when I asked if he remembered me, he squeezed his eyes, answered that there was something faintly familiar but… I mentioned my name and referenced the Radio Kwara years, and he got up from his chair, wore a very broad, friendly smile, gave me an embrace and made a sign that I had changed; from the very slender, young broadcaster that he knew in those days, to the more ample person that I have become today!

The years have rolled by, and if you waited long enough, then everything changes, as the saying goes. We began to talk about the old days of broadcasting at Radio Kwara, Ilorin. Mister Olufunmilayo started coming with records to the radio station over forty years ago. He was quite a close friend of my late boss, Kola Shomoye.

It was Shomoye that created the culture of broadcast presentation at what would become Radio Kwara. He had been transferred from Radio Nigeria, Ibadan to Radio Nigeria, Ilorin in 1977. It was the year that I had been recruited as a Studio Manager (Trainee) as 16 years and 4 months old by the defunct Nigerian BroadcastingCorporation(NBC); as one of the youngest in the history of broadcasting in Nigeria!

State stations of Radio Nigeria were being given a greater compliment of staff and unleashed to carry out full broadcasting. Mr. Uweni was the State Controller, Ilorin, while RK Yusuf was Controller of News and Kola Olota, was Head of Programmes. He had been transferred from Radio Nigeria, Kaduna.

I recall that the first day that Kola Shomoye was introduced at the monthly programmes’ meeting, Kola Olota had also introduced another individual, who was to play a pivotal role in English and Yoruba programming production, and incidentally, also a Kola, Kola Atolagbe. It wasn’t lost of the younger members of staff like me, that we had so many Kola in the broadcasting house: Kola Yusuf in the newsroom; Kola Olota, the head of programmes; Kola Atolagbe, the new Producer; and Kola Shomoye, the new head of presentation!

It was Kola Shomoye who eventually became convinced that my life was going to make a more meaningful professional sense if I became an Anmouncer, and that happened much later in 1977. But I had digressed. Kola Shomoye presented a weekly programme as a Deejay, just as I presented the weekly “Breakfast Fiesta”, every Friday morning.

Mister Olufunmilayo Agboola would bring records to Shomoye to play on his programme. But he didn’t just bring records to Shomoye, he also serviced other presenters within the system and that worked both ways. The presenters got access to the latest songs by different Nigerian artists, while the presenters generally acknowledged Olufunmilayo Records as their source for the songs. In a strictly professional sense, such a relationship was frowned at, but the station wasn’t buying as many records as entered the market. And for presenters, it was important to get access to the most current songs because their programmes become popular with the listeners who wanted to listen to the most recent hit songs in the market.

Kola Shomoye tragically died in a road accident, on the Ilorin-Oyo highway in 1985. It was a tragic week in Radio Kwara, because exactly a week later, during the National Sports Festival, Kwara ’85, another senior member of staff, Aderemi Adeyemo, also died! I think after Kola Shomoye’s passing, the relationship that Mister Olufunmilayo had with Radio Kwara changed. But he was still the go-to person for music. When I returned to Ilorin in February, 1997, to resume as pioneer GM of KWTV, I visited Olufunmilayo Records a few times and I finally left town by 2002, to take up the appointment as Editor of Daily Trust.

I have been living out of Ilorin for 22 years now, so it wasn’t a surprise that Mister Olufunmilayo didn’t immediately recall who I was. After the exchange of pleasantries and a stroll on the shores of hindsight, about the old days, I informed him that I was very fascinated about the fact that he’s been in the same business for at least four decades. And it was the reason I came to see him.

An elated Olufunmilayo Agboola told me that he set out in 1969, when he joined Shanu Olu trading company, which was the sole distributors to one of the largest recording companies in Nigeria, Decca Records West Africa Limited. This was in Lagos. He added that the Chairman of the business opened up the nuts and bolts of the business to him, and he took to it like a duckling to water. He learned very fast and became a most resourceful member of staff.

His resourcefulness became known to his boss and the artists whose music the company distributed. Whenever anyone needed information or any other resources to assist the business, people naturally turned to him, Olufunmilayo.

He grew very fast in the business and in 1971, he was transferred to Ilorin as the manager of the business in the Kwara State capital. He helped to grow the business over the next five years, but by 1976, he decided that the time had come to set up on his own. He resigned from Shanu-Olu Trading Company and in the same year, started Olufunmilayo Records Store. That business is still surviving, 48 years down the line!

Working with Shanu-Olu Trading Company had offered very good insights into the business of records and music distribution. Olufunmilayo understood how the various companies worked, was already distributing products from Decca, EMI, TYC, and others, by starting his own outfit, he could continue to market their products. The operatives of these companies also knew his competencies and so were comfortable with working with him.

I asked Olufunmilayo to describe the nature of the business, especially as it was in the 1970s. He said those were the great years of the music, recording, and distribution businesses. Olufunmilayo remembered that: “the market boomed and when artistes released records, the fans were waiting. It was indeed a lucrative market, and on the day of the release of expected records, these might even be completely sold out. “

The evolution of the vinyl record was one that he also recalled. “At the beginning, there were four types of records. The single played for 3 minutes; the extended play (EP) played for 6 minutes; then there was the Long Play (LP) which went on for minutes, while the Full Long Play would reach 40 minutes of playing time”, according to Olufunmilayo.
In the decares that he has served and serviced the industry, he has also had to deal with the relentless march of technology. “After the records, there came cartridges, inserted into a play format that would eventually give way to the cassette. The cartridge gave way to the VHS tape and the next format was the compact disc (CD), which was on the scene along with the VHS format, for a long time”, Olufunmilayo Agboola recalled.

When I pressed him to compare the situation today with the older times of the business, he said there was a consistent pattern of growth and an equally visible stream of lucrative takings in the previous period. However, the records distributor has been challenged by piracy today, and he felt that the growth of piracy must be located at the beginning of the 2000s.

He said even though the beginnings of piracy had been noted from the age of the cassette, but it was much easier to discern what was piracy at that earlier stage than the manner it really flourished in the early 2000s. On a general note, he believes that while technology cannot be avoided, it has a disruptive effect on business. Olufunmilayo added that the state of the recording industry and the distribution system cannot be isolated from the general economic decline in the country.

But after a cumulative total of 55 years in the business, starting from when he joined Shanu-Olu Trading Company in 1969, and the start of his own business, in 1976, 48 years ago, why has he persisted in the same business? Olufunmilayo answered that he has stayed in there because it is the business that he knew very intimately. His boss at Shanu-Olu assisted him to learn the ropes, and, “I believe in consistency; I think it is proper to be dedicated and committed. It is commitment and consistency that kept me going”.

Olufunmilayo Agboola has done well. He built a life and a family around his business and there were some of his children ̈ working with him at the store. Some other children include a medical doctor, a political scientist, a matron in a hospital, a senior banker, abroad and a total of four children living outside of Nigeria.

But Olufunmilayo Agboola is not thinking of retiring anytime soon. From the point where he sits in his Store, ask for any record, CD, DVD, or a cassette, he knows exactly where it is located, and he would command: “look at that point, bring me the CD”! And it would be exactly where the material is located. It’s a most admirable spectacle to behold. Olufunmilayo Agboola was born in Ibadan, Oyo State on the 21st of April, 1951. He attended the ICC Primary School, Oke Bola, Ibadan and the Lagelu Grammar School, Agugu, Ibadan. It was after his secondary school education, that he would go on to join the Shanu-Olu Trading Company, in Lagos. That was 55 years ago. This unsung hero is truly an example of the fact that in life, nothing beats commitment!

Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, PhD, FNGE; is a Broadcaster, Journalist, and a Political Scientist .

Abuja, Thursday, July 4th, 2024.

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