Musiliu Ishola, Haruna's son performing Apala music
Musiliu Ishola, Haruna’s son performing Apala song at Afropolitan Vibes.  Photo: musicinafrica.net Audio within is Q Dot’s Apala New School.

Apala; Yoruba music genre descended, like Fuji, from Were, which has its root in the traditions of the Yoruba Muslim sect.  Were, which started from the 1930s, has Quranic undertone with the tonic often based on submidiant tones that makes one enjoy the root percussion that is introduced into them. Apala is differentiated artificially from Were by playing all percussion with emphasis on the Talking Drum or Gangan called Apala. Apala evolved in the early 1940s from the pioneer differentiation from Were- Dundun & Sekere, a purely African music with no western instruments but based on percussion, and philosophical, prayerful lyrics. Its singers, called Ajisaara or Ajiwere go about during the months of Ramadan from home to home waking Muslims up so they can break their fast and pray. These Ajisaara were in turn rewarded with gifts and money from people who saw them as uplifting Islam by their effort. Pioneers of Apala started as Ajisaara in Lagos, with Haruna Ishola Bello, the man from Ijebu Igbo, shooting it into limelight. Haruna’s contemporary Apala singers includes Kasunmu Adio, Sefiu Ayan, Folorunsho Aribia, Saka Olaigbade, and Oyinbo Liasu.

Haruna Ishola reformed Apala and sold it to the world. Where necessary, he incorporated disco, and with his several hits, he succeeded in surmounting early competition with other Apala singers, who gave him a tough fight in his hay days. Haruna took his music so seriously that he owned, when no one else dared; a full recording and pressing company named Phonodisk industry. His death in 1983 was preceded three years before by Egunmogaji’s, full name Ayinla Oworuwa, another Apala singer whose fast tempo and plenty chants contained vulgar and abusive words which gained the attention of many downtown artisans.

Apala, as a music, has a lot of philosophical composition. The lead singer is followed by chorus. The genre, according to music historian, Paul Wale Ademowo, maintains its down-to-earth originality, philosophical rendition and the emphasis on Gangan in spite of its heavy percussion.  An attempt to bring it back to popular culture among the youths in the year 2000 was very successful, though a much due follow up to this achievement by Haruna Ishola’s son, Musiliu, was not forthcoming until Qdot’s Apala New School.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer