Shata: 20 Years After, By Ibrahim Sheme

As another day crawled in by thirty minutes only in June, 1999, a great man lay sick in the bed of the university teaching hospital in Kano. The only family member in the room, his daughter Jamila, had been dozing uneasily on a chair beside him, not knowing that he was quietly bidding goodbye to an eventful life. The third person in the room, a nurse, Umar Ali Dodo, told her at that minute, “If you want to sleep, go to the room over there and have some nap.” As she stood up to go, she saw the nurse turn the sick man on his side. As soon as she stepped out, at 12:30 a.m., her father breathed his last. It was Friday, June 18, 1999.

Alhaji Mamman Shata Katsina, the greatest of all Hausa musicians, was – give and take – 76 years old. He was buried that day in Daura, the city of his main benefactor, the Emir, Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar, where Jamila took him for the last rites even though he left no instruction that he should be buried there instead of his hometown Funtua or his nascent village Musawa.

I will not bore you with the biography of Shata because that much is known to you. The summary of it was encapsulated, in my view, in the headline of a newspaper article which I wrote in the New Nigerian way back in 1996 in which I described him as the musician who “sang for Nature, Man and Machine”. For in the roughly sixty years that he spent as a folk singer, Shata had sung about human beings, non-human beings, as well as spiritual matters. That is not to strictly confine his music, for he actually did sing for other things outside that spectrum.

As a mark of appreciation for his contributions to national development, he was awarded several honours, such as the ones by the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), the U.S. Consulate in Kaduna, the Federal Government of Nigeria, and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, which gave him an honorary doctorate degree in 1988. The biggest honour of all, indeed, is the high esteem in which his listeners hold him till today. There is hardly any musician in Hausa land who has continued to enjoy the adoration and devotion of his people such as Shata, decades after his demise. Interestingly, there emerges a crop of devotees who yearn for his music in this age of cultural adulteration and assimilation imposed by globalisation. This is proof that Shata is going to live in the hearts and minds of a generation of listeners, many of whom may not have shared a life-time with him.

In the newest edition of the official biography of the singer, titled, “Shata Ikon Allah!” which I happened to write with contributions from three other researchers, there is a new section called “What Happened Afterwards?” That’s what this write-up is based on. In it, I give an overview of what transpired around Shata’s life in the years since his departure. I will tell you some of it now.

The first was the sharing of his estate among his inheritors in accordance to the Sharia law. This happened shortly after he died. The then Emir of Daura, Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar, set up a committee which collated the inheritance and shared it among the deserving family members. I point out in that section that Shata did not leave behind any millions of naira as many people thought. Reason: he was a heavy spender in philanthropy, giving freely to all who came along in search of assistance. Not everyone knew that Shata sponsored many people to travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage or paid for other people’s marriages or children’s naming ceremonies or housing rent. He also took a good care of his family. Consequently, he did not save much from the huge gifts he received from his benefactors or the wealth he had made from his own businesses and farming.

His biography, which he personally endorsed, was also launched in Kaduna in July, 2006. Late in coming (we had wanted it to be completed before he died), it was the pioneering, most serious attempt at documenting his life in book form and will remain the most authentic totem on his life. An updated, better edited and more aesthetically pleasant version was published late last year.

In June, 2013 yours sincerely and a group of other enthusiasts, as well as some children of the late Shata, met at Arewa House in Kaduna and formed the Mamman Shata Memorial Association. In a speech that I shared on the occasion, which coincided with the 14th anniversary of his demise, I presented the need for not only the establishment of the association but also that of the founding of a Mamman Shata Centre or Mamman Shata Music Centre whose job would, among others, be to collect every Hausa song that can be found so that history would not wipe out the thousands of songs that have been composed and or recorded in the Hausa language. I pointed out that our songs – either by the old generation of singers such as Narambada, Caji, Shata, Doka, Uwaliya, Barmani, Uji, Danmaraya, etc., or the new generation such as Sani Danja, Ala, Yakubu, Fati Nijar, Fantimoti, Zango, Sharifai, etc. – are in danger of disappearing in the centuries to come. Not all of them, of course, but a great number need to be archived today so that future generations can be able to access them. We shouldn’t sit idly by while the storms of life and history threaten their existence.

Another development since Shata’s demise was the availability of some of his songs as telephone ring tones. The songs were promoted on the MTN network, and many subscribers are still using them for a fee that is shared between the company and members of the Shata family in a deal that is obscured in secrecy. Most family members do not know how the deal was struck and their exact entitlement. However, the bottom-line as far as one is concerned is that Shata, more than any other traditional musician, is being heard in ring tones.

Shata was also honoured posthumously. The first and biggest honour came from the Federal Government which on February 28, 2014 conferred on him and some selected artistes the award of “Internationally Acclaimed Artists, Literary Icons and Journalists” during its Centenary Awards. At a ceremony held in the presidential villa in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan personally handed over a plaque for the award to the Shata family. The only other singer given a similar honour that night was the late Afrobeat king, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. It reminded us about the first big award conferred on Shata by the Federal Government, the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) given to him in 1976.

Another honour was conferred on Shata, this time by the Kaduna State Radio, which was celebrating the return of its AM channel to the airwaves. The station, through Governor Ramalan Yero, who was present at the ceremony, gave an award to only two musicians that night – Mamman Shata and Danmaraya Jos. It was shortly after that event Danmaraya died, following an illness.

It was also after Shata’s death that internet usage reached an appreciable peak amongst the youth in Nigeria. This spawned a whole new range of devotion to his music as several Shata chat groups sprang up on Facebook and later WhatsApp. Shata’s songs can also be found on YouTube as well as a few other social media sites. The beauty of this development is that his music can be shared not only in audio but also in video formats as most of these sites carry video clips. Another advantage is that music clip reaches millions of people across the world through the social media within seconds, and it is all free of charge. I was the second person to establish a Shata chat group on Facebook, ‘Dandalin Mamman Shata’, which I renamed ‘Shata Ikon Allah!’ in order to rhyme with the book.

Linked to this were the get-togethers some of the Shata social media activists organised in order to meet each other face to face. Those events took place twice in 2017 – in September and December in Kano and Katsina respectively. Sanusi and Lawal Shata were the cynosure of all eyes there, but at the Kano outing there was an additional side-attraction: Dudu Shata, the daughter of Shata’s only sister, the late Yalwa, took the microphone and presented the song Shata sang in Zaria when he was awarded a doctorate degree in 1988. The title of the song is, “Mu Je Gidan Ilimi A.B.U.” Dudu received the loudest ovation and the video clip of her performance went viral in the social media.

During his life time, Shata had frowned at his own child becoming a musician. He would rather they go to school. This was in recognition of the potential of education to oneself and to the society at large, couched in the memory of some of the nasty experiences he personally encountered in some places where he was contemptuously regarded as a “mere singer”. When his eldest son, Lawal (Magaji), took to music, it was against that wish. Now after the death of Shata, another son of his, Sanusi, also began a career in music in 2014. Sanusi has tried to carve a niche for himself in that realm. I wish him good luck!

There has also been a renewed interest in Shata in the mainstream media. This is evident in the effort made by Aminiya, a vernacular weekly newspaper in the Trust stable, to publish exclusive interviews with many of the people Shata sang for who, in their own right, are celebrities. Many such people are still alive, and their stories are tantalising because they are the subject of some of the best praise compositions of the maestro. So Aminiya “ate from Shata’s garden” as it promoted those interviews on the front page. However, the paper has since stopped running the interviews, not because the interviewees have been exhausted but probably because of some other reasons. It is important to note that a few other newspapers and magazines have published stories or interviews that had something to do with Shata since 1999.

The universities also renewed their interest in him. This was led by a crop of young intellectuals in both Nigeria and Niger Republic. In 2015, the Centre of Nigerian Languages at Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University (UMYU), Katsina, attempted to hold a conference on Shata in honour of its outgoing vice-chancellor, Prof. Mu’uta Ibrahim, but the plan didn’t sail through. Then the university collaborated with the Universite de Tahoua in Niger Republic on a bigger conference, with the theme, “Philosophy in Hausa Musicology: A Case Study of Dr. Mamman Shata, Mahamadou Gao Filingue, Mu’azu Dan’alalo, Garban Bojo and Sogolo”. That, too, did not happen due to some intractable problems.

The one that succeeded was organised by the Centre of Nigerian Languages, Bayero University, Kano. It held from 2nd to 4th September, 2018 with the theme, “The Life and Philosophy of Mamman Shata.” Papers were presented at the conference, which was a resounding success with attendance by almost all that mattered, including Shata’s family members – wife, children, grandchildren and relatives.

Earlier in 2015 in Bayero University, a leading scholar on Hausa music, Prof. Sa’idu Muhammad Gusau, had organised a discussion on “the Shata inheritors” – some young men who have taken up singing in the mold of the late legend. The idea was to introduce Shata’s art to Hausa students in the university. As such, Sanusi Shata, Hamsabi Shatan Zamfara and Aminu Alan Waka were invited to perform live before the students. It was a rambunctious outing, and everyone simply lapped it up.

As I wrote this, another event was in the offing on Tuesday, June 18 in Katsina where a group of young men organised a “Mamman Shata Memorial Day”. The event was conceived to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the death of Shata, which fell on that day. Speeches were delivered, followed by awards to deserving individuals for keeping the flame of Shata’s memory alive.

However, not all these developments were cheerful ones. Death, like a thief, was a recurrent visitor at Shata’s house after his demise. It took three people. The first was his son Nura, who died in March, 2016 at the age of 41. Next was Hajiya Furera, Shata’s eldest wife who died a month later at the age of 58. When I went to Funtua for the condolence, I spent some time advising her eldest son Mamuda on the lessons of life and the importance of keeping the family united and focused. Little did I know that, even though we kept in touch through the telephone, it would be the last time I would see him. He died exactly fourteen months later, in 2017.

To sum up, I should say that this recap is a lesson in life. Shata had offered his service to humanity, which appreciates him. I am yet to meet or hear anybody portraying him in bad light. His voice and his videos are always welcome anywhere. In fact, the reverred Sheikh Dahiru Usman Bauchi described him last year as “dan Aljanna”, i.e. one who will enter paradise. I doubt if there is anybody in northern Nigeria who has as many enthusiastic devotees as Shata, especially as he rests in his grave for two decades. It is as he describes himself in his main song, Bakandamiya: “Mutum ne ya ke k’ara tsufa, / Zamani nai ya na k’ara k’aruwa kamar wani tsohon malami”, i.e. Here is someone who is aging fast, / Yet his prowess is increasing like that of an old scholar”.

May Shata continue to live long – in hearts and in minds – and may his soul rest in peace, amen.

Ibrahim Sheme, the official biographer of Alhaji Mamman Shata, is the Director of Media and Publicity, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN)

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