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Lanrewaju Adepoju and the making of modern Yoruba poetry.


This essay presents Lanrewaju Adepoju, whose work and ideas have been very influential on contemporary Yoruba poetry, as a local intellectual. In estimating his contribution to modernising ewi, an open poetic form that inhabits the interface between the oral and the written, the essay draws on biographical information, an extensive personal interview and relevant textual illustration. It correlates Adepoju's vision of poetry with the development of his creative consciousness and draws attention to aspects of his poetics and politically implicated poetry that deserve closer engagement. The article also offers a translation of a sample poem by Adepoju, while the online version of the essay offers more of his poems as well as an interview.


Cet essai presente Lanrewaju Adepoju, dont les travaux et les idees en tant qu'intellectuel local ont considerablement influence la poesie yoruba contemporaine. S'appuyant sur des donnees biographiques, sur un long entretien individuel et sur des illustrations de texte pertinentes, il evalue sa contribution a la modernisation de l'ewi, une forme poetique ouverte a l'interface entre l'oral et l'ecrit. Il fait une correlation entre la vision qu'avait Adepoju de la poesie et le developpement de sa conscience creative, et attire l'attention sur certains aspects de sa poetique et de sa poesie politiquement engagee qui meriteraient un interet plus profond. L'article offre egalement la traduction d'un des poemes d'Adepgju a titre d'exemple, tandis que la version en ligne de l'essai propose d'autres de ses poemes, ainsi qu'un entretien.


My major contribution is that I modernized and professionalized ewi. In other words, I raised it from mere mendicancy to professionalism. Nobody can be identified in Yoruba history as having achieved that feat.

(Adepoju 2006: 14)

Ewi, a modern genre of Yoruba poetry that freely draws on the vast repertoire of traditional oral literary forms and inhabits the intersection between the written and the oral, is gaining ascendancy within the urban space. Ewi resulted from the impact of literacy and missionary education on Yoruba poetry and remains an enduring testimony to the capacity of the culture to renew itself. (1) Even though contemporary recognition of the genre dates from the 1960s, (2) the standard practice has been to create a link between it and the efforts of mission-educated poets among the Egba of the nineteenth century. (3) Ewi is expanding in form and value and continues to attract new practitioners. The fact that it survives in various media public performance, various print media including newspapers, (4) the audio disc and performance on radio and television accounts for the tendency in recent times to characterize it as media poetry (Barber 2007: 163). But for all its uniqueness and dynamism, the genre remains largely understudied. The first and only book-length study of an ewi practitioner to date is Olatunde Olatunji's Adebayo Faleti: a study of his poems (1982). (5) The driving force behind a resurgence of interest in ewi three decades after the publication of that book has been an interest in the poetics of the genre (Folorunso 1999; Nnodim 2002; Okunoye 2010).

A new direction that the renewal of interest in ewi may take is to estimate the various ways in which individual ewi practitioners have contributed to its making. This becomes necessary because, in spite of the tendency to go as far back as a century in tracking the development of modern Yoruba poetry, the most remarkable developments in its evolution actually occurred in the last half century. Prominent among these are the use of the mass media in western Nigeria in broadcasting poetry from around 1960, the publication of the pathbreaking Ewi Iwoyi anthology at the end of that decade (Akinjogbin 1969), and the mass dissemination of ewi through waxed records, audio tapes and compact discs from the 1970s. The early 1990s also saw the flowering of a form of politically motivated ewi. Particular figures have featured in many of these developments and no proper history or study of the form will be complete without duly acknowledging the unique ways in which their visions and practices have shaped the tradition. Adebayo Faleti, Lanrewaju Adepoju, Tubosun Oladapo, Alabi Ogundepo, Yemi Elebuibon, Adelakin Ladeebo, Ayo Opadotun and Kunle Ologundudu are the better known of these. Adepoju and Oladapo are, without doubt, the most active promoters of the genre (Barber 2004; Waterman 1990a). Their collections were among the first to appear in the early 1970s to mark the new awakening in ewi practice. They were also involved in promoting ewi in the media, (6) and later resigned from their jobs as broadcasters to start their individual companies in Ibadan.

This essay presents Lanrewaju Adepoju as a local intellectual within the Yoruba cultural environment whose poetic career sheds interesting light on Nigerian politics and related social issues. And because Adepoju's poems have not been available previously in English, the appendix to the essay offers a translation of Ilu Le as a sample poem. (7) The online version of this contribution includes two more of his poems as well as the text of an interview with the poet. Apart from being one of the most visible poets in the ewi tradition in the past four decades, Adepoju has also featured prominently in major efforts at renewing the tradition. He is the most articulate promoter of ewi, complementing his practice with an exposition of the principles that underlie it. He is at the same time conscious of the sense in which he has enriched Yoruba poetry. Drawing on biographical information, an interview with the poet, and Adepoju's work in various media, the essay draws attention to the dynamics at work in the formation of the knowledge that the poet generates about ewi. In turn, this yields insights into the invention of culture in his immediate social environment. (8)

Olatunde Olatunji's Adebayo Faleti: a study of his poems has had some influence on the critical reception of ewi. Olatunji's effort to relate Faleti to his predecessors and others that came alter him enables him to consider comparatively the works of many other poets, including Adepoju. He predicates his interest in Faleti's poetry on what he regards as 'its concern with the timeless and the universal' and the fact that 'his disposition is philosophical' (Olatunji 1982:116). He consequently adopts his work as the standard: 'Most of the poets after Faleti, especially those who read their poems on radio and television, or perform them on discs, are, however, nauseatingly moralistic or didactic. They see themselves as sages out to expose societal ills or teach lesser men' (Olatunji 1982: 122). This critical standpoint has been so influential on the reception of the works of other Yoruba poets that many studies conducted within the context of the formal study of Yoruba poetry tacitly amplify or restate it. (9) The consequence is that a view of Yoruba poetry that privileges the values and outlook of a particular poet and uncritically applies them to assessing the works of others has been dominant. This, in a sense, denies the fact that the making of ewi is the collective achievement of its various practitioners. The result has been a rather subjective outlook, which does not seek a broad-minded understanding of the genre. This is untenable, for no tradition accommodates stasis. The study of Adepoju's work has probably suffered most from this unproblematic transference of values, judging from the works that claim to engage it specifically. (10) An alternative outlook on Yoruba poetry becomes necessary if we seek to appreciate the sense in which the work of each poet is unique. Their individual experiences become relevant if it is the case that their works reflect their circumstances and outlooks on life. In appraising the significance of Lanrewaju Adepoju in the making of ewi, this study correlates Adepoju's outlook on the function of the poet with his practice, estimating the effect of his politically charged creative imagination on his social standing and the reception of his work.

Even though Lanrewaju Adepoju has not been an object of any sustained scholarly engagement, various broad studies of ewi (Nnodim 2002; 2005; Folorunso 2006; Olatunji 1982) acknowledge his significance. Adepoju deserves attention in the study of ewi because he is one of its most prolific and influential practitioners. He is closely associated with a sub-genre of ewi that aspires to social criticism. This has earned him considerable popularity and influence in the Yoruba-speaking part of Nigeria and the anger of successive Nigerian administrations. But for all his output, his work remains understudied and the few critical engagements with his poetry (Folorunso 1990; 1997; 2006) concentrate on his later work. This leaves room for a more wide-ranging engagement with his poetry, one that will not only identify phases in his development as a poet but also situate various trends in his work within an evolving poetic vision.


Adepoju attaches much value to his personal history and is always eager to draw attention to it. It not only chronicles his rise to prominence from a humble background but also highlights the sense in which his literacy despite a lack of formal education has enhanced his influence as a local intellectual. Born into a family of twelve in Okepupa, an agrarian settlement near Ibadan, Adepoju underscores the fact that he 'did not go to school at all' (Adepoju 2006: 1). He attributes this to the poverty of his parents as well as their ignorance about the) value of Western education. His effort at self-education was initially stirred by the assistance of Muili Oyedele, his cousin, who took him through the first Yoruba primer. He attributes his literacy in spite of his 'zero level education' to his determination: 'I wove basket, I sold firewood and did odd jobs to save enough money with which I bought my first book, ABD Alaworan in those days' (Adepoju 2006: 1). He acquired literacy in Yoruba as a young adult and built on the foundation that this provided for his development. Adepoju was raised in a strict Muslim family. His father was a disciplinarian while his mother was 'soft and caring'. His acquaintance with basic Yoruba values and immersion in the Islamic faith provided the moral platform for his development, while his interest in Yoruba oral traditions stirred his creative imagination. He attributes his decision to move to Ibadan to his desire to 'continue my continuing education' (Adepoju 2006: 1). The city gave him opportunity to acquire various vocational skills and to make use of the Western Nigeria Library, which he considered his second home. Adepoju's quest for literacy in Yoruba and English is significant in the context of the high premium that the Nigerian society places on certificates and formal education. His testimony as a self-taught man thus constitutes a major component of his story as a local intellectual and enhances his sense of self-worth and leadership, all of which he brings into his vocation as a poet. Literacy in particular empowered him as a modernizing agent in the practice of Yoruba poetry.


Adepoju wrote his first poem entitled Ma sika mo [Desist from doing evil] in 1960 but only had the opportunity to read it on Tiwa-n-tiwa, a programme on Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service that Laoye Egunjobi was producing, in 1964. His most valued asset is a deep knowledge of Yoruba lore and facility with language. He makes no claim to inheriting the art of poetry because no member of his immediate family practised poetry in a formal sense. He first encountered poetry within his community and learnt early to appreciate such oral poetic forms as ijala, rara and esa that flourished around him. He cherishes values propagated by his immediate society such as honesty, incorruptibility and consideration for others--as standards with which he claims to be appraising reality, and the foundation on which his outlook on life and society rests.

Adepoju has spent most of his adult life in Ibadan, working at various times as a houseboy, newspaper vendor and petrol station attendant. He became a proofreader with Imole. Owuro [Dawn Light] and Sunday Sun newspapers before going into broadcasting. His association with WNBS-WNTV started first as a freelance artist in 1964. He later became a contract officer with the programmes department. In his words: 'Broadcasting and poetry overlap in a very complementary manner. Through broadcasting, my talent began to show. People discovered me. The Broadcasting House was a tough training ground' (Adepoju 2006: 6). As broadcaster, Adepoju produced and presented programmes like Kaaaro. o o jiire? [Good morning], Tiwa-n-tiwa [What is rightly ours], and Barika [Blessing/greetings]. But it was Ijinji Akewi [The poet at dawn], aired at 6.15 a.m., that offered him the best opportunity to exhibit his talent. It featured short ewi performances and attracted such poets as Adebayo Faleti, Olatubosun Oladapo and Alabi Ogundepo, who were all associated with the station. Adepoju links his decision to leave broadcasting for a career as a professional poet to a desire to be free from censorship on the part of his employers: 'They wanted to start publishing them [his poems] with the copyright reverted to the corporation. It was the copyright issue that we disagreed upon, and which led to my eventual disappearance from the broadcasting scene' (Adepoju 2006: 8). He subsequently established his own recording studio and record label. (11)

Apart from exposure to the world of books and broadcasting, religion has had a remarkable influence on Adepoju. Though raised in a Muslim environment, he veered for a while into mysticism, identifying with a group known as Servers of Cosmic Light (12) for about twelve years. His dramatic return to Islam in 1985 transformed his work by injecting into it a fundamentalist Islamic vision in the Sunni tradition. (13) The turning point in his religious orientation came after reading Muhammed Husayn Haykal's The Life of Mohammed (1976) while visiting London. The book stirred the quest for a more fulfilling experience of Islam, transformed his outlook, and accounts for the intense religious commitment be later expressed by founding the Ibadan-based Jam'iyyatul-Ukhuwwatil-Islamitil 'Aalamiyah [Universal Muslim Brotherhood], an organization which he serves as its Amir or President. (14) This religious experience has marked a radical departure in his work and Adepoju currently combines his calling as a poet with a senior role in the leadership of the umbrella organization of Sunni Muslims in Nigeria. (15)

Although Adepoju has emphasized the impact of his return to a conservative form of Islam on his poetic imagination, it is projected only superficially within the broader theistic vision that emerges in his work as a whole. With the obvious exception of poems in which he sets out to propagate particular Islamic doctrines, the vision that pervades his work constantly shifts between the Islamic and the ecumenical, blending Christian, Islamic and traditional Yoruba outlooks. This suggests either a split consciousness underlying Adepoju's work or a deliberate strategy aimed at popularity and relevance in a multi-religious society. His Oriki Olodumare, (16) a work that conceptually integrates Islamic, Christian and traditional Yoruba theistic visions, testifies to this.


While Lanrewaju Adepoju makes no claim that earlier Yoruba poets influenced his work, he conceives of his vocation largely in terms dictated by a received tradition of artistic responsibility within the traditional Yoruba society, as well as a moral vision that issues from his religious persuasion. He appreciates poetry as the product of intense contemplation, seeing the poet as both an artist and an influential figure. His vision of poetry emerges from the title of his only published collection of poetas, Ironu Akewi [The poet's reflection]. He sees his craft as so engaging that the act of creation can only be a product of sustained reflection:

Ojoojumo lakewi i ronu Tironu-tironu lakewi i rin Adan niyekan oobe Ma-ya-mi lalabaro ode ninu oko Ironu lore akewi ni yewu. (Adepoju 1972: 1)
   [No day passes without the poet engaging in serious thinking
   He is pregnant with thoughts as he moves about
   Just as the bat and the lesser bat are of the same family
   And a hunter has no companion in the wild apart from his ammunition
   Deep thoughts are companions of the poet in his inner chamber.]

This outlook on the vocation of the poet does not accommodate hasty and thoughtless utterance. In Adepoju's estimation, the business of creating poetry is so demanding that only a few people qualify as poets. As he states in Ironu Akewi: 'Ojulowo akewi ti mo mo,|Won ko pogun|Ayederu akewi ti mo mo,|Nwon po jeye oko lo' (Adepoju 1972: 1) [The genuine poets that I know are fewer than twenty/ The not-so-serious ones known to me/Exceed birds in the wild in number]. The rigour that he ascribes to the making of poetry suggests that he subscribes to a vision of poetic craft that recognizes a great deal of artistic discipline fused with social sensitivity. It is no surprise that he also attaches importance to originality. He sets an incredibly high standard for poets in a way that rules out obvious borrowings from other artists:
   Ojulowo akewi kan ki i korin olorin
   Ojogbon akewi kan ki i jegbe re lole oro.

   [No genuine poet appropriates the songs of others
   No knowledgeable poet robs others of their lines.] (17)

This standpoint in a way poses a question as to what constitutes Adepoju's idea of tradition and the shared heritage of poets. He devotes little attention to theorizing a common tradition on which Yoruba poets draw, but instead clarifies his outlook on poetry and, in the process, expounds his vision of socially situated poetry. The poet who emerges in his theory and practice of poetry is intensely sensitive to the affairs of the immediate society and feels a considerable sense of responsibility to propagate justice, truth and responsible governance: 'The role of the poet is to educate and create public awareness, to monitor political promises and their implementation. It is also to remind the public office holders to be alive to their responsibilities .... Whenever one looks at the political situation in Nigeria today, what is happening calls for the intervention of the poet most of the time' (Adepoju 2006: 10). He does not see any potential conflict between religion and culture so long as religion provides the ethical basis for the poetic imagination:

I have never believed that religion and culture are antithetical; rather they are complementary to each other. In Islam, for instance, there is a culture of justice, equity and humility as well as honesty in relation to others and total submission to the authority of Almighty Allah. What is objectionable to Islam is idol worship which some ignorant people think is part of their culture .... That is why I have waged relentless war against it and I have expressed my religious beliefs about all these. (Adepoju 2006: 5)

In works that are critical of public office holders, Adepoju thrives on the assumption that he is close enough to the populace from whom he thinks the politicians are alienated--to know their expectations. The poet in his opinion is thus an activist: 'An akewi is a poet who mirrors the society, using events around him to create imagery for entertainment, information, education and admonition as well as counselling, as the case may be .... He must not sit down and watch complacently when things are not normal in the society' (Adepoju 2006: 10). This is probably the most distinctive aspect of Adepoju's poetics. The poet should be an advocate of the violated, boldly propagate the best of values, and confront whatever constitutes a barrier to realizing the shared desires that flow from these. But the poet constantly creates the impression that his outlook represents the perspective of most members of the society. This underestimates the complicated nature of contemporary society His way of assigning the poet a special role emerges from the way he accords the poet the power to speak for all and serve as the moral conscience of his society. Adepoju's commitment to the social uses of poetry only partly accounts for his engagement. So long as the chaotic state of affairs that prompts his responses persists, his type of poetry will remain both necessary and popular.

Adepoju's understanding of the mandate of the modern Yoruba poet tolerates the commercialization of ewi to make the poet a publicist either for government or for individuals. This equates what the akewi does with the mandate of media organizations and advertising firms. He rationalizes this by maintaining that the vision of the artist as an implacable critic is unjustifiable: 'An akewi does not need to be an opposition party to all programmes and activities. As he is able to rebuke where people misbehave, he should also acknowledge good things and virtues in some decent politicians where such occur .... If one continues only to see the ugly side of people, everybody will lose respect for one' (2006: 14). Not many will agree with Adepoju on this. In fact, Adeyinka Folorunso establishes a link between the commercialization of ewi and what he regards as the waning popularity of Adepoju's poetry:

Adepoju's praise-singing tendencies are reminiscent of the oral mode of performance traced to Oyo where court bards performed ... mainly for entertainment .... Most of the praise-songs Adepoju composed during the political struggle in Nigeria in 1983 show his bias, and made him lose the confidence and respect of the people he was supposed to serve. (Folorunso 1990: 260)

Folorunso substantiates his argument by underscoring the inconsistency of Adepoju at this time, especially the ease with which he terminated his support for Bola Ige of the Unity Party of Nigeria and endorsed the candidature of Omololu Olunloyo of the National Party of Nigeria in Oyo State. Many of Adepoju's fans cite the effort of the poet to present the position of the Babangida government in Alaye Ijoba [Government's explanation], which came out as a sequel to Nibo la n lo? in 1987 as the very act that made him lose the confidence of many of his admirers because Nibo la n lo? appeals to many as presenting him at his best. (18)


There is a link between Adepoju's vision of poetry and his development as an artist. He is one of the few poets to have produced ewi in various media. If Ironu Akewi is to date his only book of poems, he also played a major role in pioneering the production of ewi on disc. Rita Nnodim acknowledges that 'Olatubosun Oladapo as well as Lanrewaju Adepoju appropriated the technology of waxed records and later cassettes to produce lengthy poems' (Nnodim 2006:155). Most of his work therefore circulates on audio tapes in the Ewi Hit Hot Series. This accounts for the broadening of his audience as the tapes penetrate widely in the Yoruba-speaking area. All the same, much of Adepoju's work thrives on the principles that sustain the tradition of ewi performance on radio, attaching importance to topicality and aspiring to mass appeal. This bears out the fact that ewi is not an ideologically neutral practice but instead articulates popular viewpoints within an imagined Yoruba community. Adepoju's audience constantly shifts between the Yoruba-speaking community in south-western Nigeria and the country at large, depending on the issues he engages. The shift from the fixed notion of his audience that emerges from Ironu Akewi--one constituted by literate Yoruba people--to the country-wide appeal of Eyin Omo Nigeria indicates a growing sense of relevance on the part of the poet and testifies to the possibilities of broad engagements in ewi.

Adepoju's early poetry, from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, projects Yoruba ethics, culture and religion. Ma mobun saya [Never marry a dirty woman], Eniyan laso mi [Humanity is my cloth/covering], Oro Obinrin [Concerning women] and Igba laye [Times change]--all of which are in his 1972 collection--propagate Yoruba values relating to womanhood, communality, and the transient nature of life respectively. But other poems in the same collection are critical of practices that the poet considers unreasonable. For instance, Awon Oninaakunaa [Wasteful spenders] decries the subtle manner in which aso ebi, the special uniform made for particular social functions among the Yoruba, promotes vanity, waste and flamboyance. Other poems in the collection make efforts to balance issues in a way that projects a liberal outlook. For instance, Iwa Okunrin [Antics of men] and Ma mobun saya present counter-arguments that critically appraise the antics of men and women respectively. This has given way to rigid subjectivity in Adepoju's later poetry. Die Ninu Oriki Sango [A short praise of Sango], which eulogizes Sango--the Yoruba god of thunder is not likely to find a space in his recent work, which is very discriminating in religious terms. His fundamentalist Islamic vision comes out strongly in Oro Oluwa [The word of God] (1990), Takute Olorun [The divine trap] (1992), Idajo Ododo [Righteous justice] (2000), Ironupiwada [Repentance] (1993), and Oriki Olodumare [Celebration of the Supreme Being] (2000).

A new phase in the development of Adepoju's work, starting from the 2000s, has seen him deploying his poetry in publicizing achievements of administrations and celebrating dignitaries. Works produced within this practice are normally commissioned and are intended to sell the patrons to the public. Adepoju does not see this as contradicting his professed commitment to objectivity and truth. With regard to his engagement with public office holders, be maintains that the business of government is important enough to attract the attention of poets. He prefaces Ijoba Gbenga Daniel with an apologia: ' Awon asaaju wa o se yo sile ninu ise orin ewi/Saasa leto ti won se ti o ni kan wa/Ohun ti won ba fawo wa se/Seria ni ko ye gbogbo wa/Oun la fi le mo yato ninu oloselu/Atojelu lasan/Kiro o salo ko kooto oro' [We cannot discountenance our leaders in ewi/There is hardly any policy that they promote that does not concern us/It is necessary to show concern/About how they manage public resources/That's the way we will know the difference between constructive politicians/And mere riders on the gravy train/So as to dispel lies and reveal the truth] (Ijoba Gbenga Daniel). In Ijoba Tinubu [Tinubu's Administration], Tinuhu Fomoyo [Tinubu Excelled] and Ijoba Gbenga Daniel [Gbenga Daniel's Administration], all recorded ewi within this sub-genre, the poet stresses that his impressions of the various administrations are a product of his personal investigations. But this does not stop him from constantly rating his patrons in superlative terms. In praising the accomplishments of Gbenga Daniel as governor of Ogun State, for instance, be says: 'Bo ba je ti bi won ti n sejoba/ Apeere gidi lOlugbenga' [As far as governance is concerned, the administration of Olugbenga is a model]. Equally, he celebrates Bola Tinubu as governor of Lagos State in Ijoba Tinubu, saying: "Tinubu tayo agba ofifo/Opolo to jiire lo fi n sise ire' [Tinubu is far from being an empty barrel/Because he excellently executes good jobs with a sound mind]. Tinubu Fomoyo (the full text of which is available in the online version of this article) exemplifies the work of the poet in this new phase in the diligent way it advertises and documents the achievement of the government. The value of this effort for the patrons consists in its ability to reach members of the public, most of whom do not have access to published documents on the track records of governments in their preferred medium.

In spite of the shifts in Adepoju's poetry in terms of concerns and consciousness, the desire to instruct, mobilize and inspire action continues to drive his work. His favourite formula for signing off in his recorded performances--'Emi ni Lanrewaju Adepojul Ti i forin ewi kilo iwalse kilo' [I am Lanrewaju Adepoju/The one who uses ewi to guide conduct/warn]--confirms this. Ma sika mo probably set the tone for the didactic in his work in the sense that the image of the poet created in the poem pervades his poetry. This has manifested in various forms. He probably uses poetry to propagate partisan political causes more than any other modern Yoruba poet. His work celebrating Obafemi Awolowo, whose political project inspired a pan-Yoruba political consciousness, illustrates this. Christopher Waterman (1990b) has also attributed this role to Yoruba musicians in the Juju tradition. Not content with merely endorsing Awolowo's policies, Adepoju went ahead to demonize Awolowo's opponents:
   0mo Yoruba.
   Nibo le tun n lo Iote yii?
   Iwaju le fe lo ni abero evin le fe maa se?
   Bee ba dibo fObafemi Awolowo lote yii
   Lailai lomo yin o wa ninu igbekun.

   [Yoruba people,
   Where are you heading this rime around?
   Are you heading forward or have you opted to be left behind?
   If you fail to vote for Obafemi Awolowo this time around
   Your children may forever be in bondage.]

      (Obafemi Awolowo 1979)

Adepoju's work continues to construct a pan-Yoruba political vision, and the fact that he openly identified with Awolowo's politica1 aspiration may be seen as a way of promoting the Yoruba cause. This in turn has helped him to recommend himself as a mouthpiece of the people. But whatever gain such a project of strategic self-positioning can earn any poet will be lost if he identifies with unpopular candidates. The question that arises is whether a poet should take the risk of participating in partisan politics, considering the damage that this can do to his reputation. Related to this is the question whether professionalizing the practice of ewi is consistent with the aspiration of the poet to fairness and objectivity. Further proof of the didactic quality of Adepoju's work is that it propagates ideals that are based on his religious convictions without considering the implication of this for sustaining his audience. For instance, the Islamic vision in his recent poetry does not tolerate traditional Yoruba assumptions about ancestors. He labels those practising traditional Yoruba religions as asebo [idol worshippers] in Oriki Olodumare.

Adepoju was at his best as an advocate of the Nigerian masses in the days of the military. This is why Ilu Le, which is appended with a translation to this essay, gives some insight into the passion with which he did this. His bold engagement with the military was a way of defending the interest of the common people. This explains why studies of resistance to the military in Nigerian popular culture (Bodunde 2001; Olukotun 2002; 2004; Williams 1999) accord his work considerable attention. The annulment of the 12 June 1993 presidential election in particular provoked the rage of Adepoju and many other Yoruba creative artists, inspiring bold and rousing ewi. (19) Adebayo Williams remarks that 'Lanrewaju Adepoju and Gbenga Adewuyi (sic), much lionized as ewi poets, were so daring in their personal attacks, so liberal with savage excoriations, that between them they probably cost the Babangida government its remaining authority and legitimacy in Yoruba-land' (Williams 1999: 358). Such other Yoruba poets as Faleti, Qladapo, Adewusi and Ologundudu also responded to the aftermath of the 1993 election. What many of them only engaged under the pressure of the moment is what regularly provokes Adepoju's, poetic response. The most remarkable of his works during the military era are Ipinnu [Resolve], Nibo la n lo? [Where are we heading?], Etomoniyan [Human Rights] and Ilu Le [Hard Times]. (20)

Nothing illustrates the shifts in Adepoju's consciousness more than the strategies of self-definition that he adopts, a feature that probably originated in the context of ewi performance in the mass media. He signs off his performances at various times as 'Lanrewaju Adepoju ti i fohun didun' [Lanrewaju Adepoju whose voice is melodious] (Obafemi Awolowo), 'Lanrewaju, Oba Akorin/Ajagunla Musulumi, Alaasa-Ibadan/To maa n forin ewi se 'kilo.' [Lanrewaju, the king of singers/Crusader of Islam, holder of the Alaasa title in Ibadan/The one who instructs with ewi] (Kadara), and 'Borokini akewi ti i korin/Ewi ni tojo teerun' [The prominent poet who chants/At all seasons] (Iku Awolowo). Signing off has to do with the occasion, and the strategy helps in no small way to authorize the diverse tendencies in his work. This then creates a link between the subject and the form of identity he asserts. Drawing on a multiplicity of identities enables the poet to exhibit the diverse identities that he constructs for himself and to assert his prominence within the circle of Yoruba poets. (21)



It is necessary to situate Adepoju's work in the wider context of the making of ewi in the last hall a century. While Faleti, who started producing ewi earlier, acknowledges his debt to both Yoruba and English traditions of poetry in terms of the ideas and conventions that inspired his work (Faleti 2006), Tubosun Oladapo, with whom critics naturally compare Adepoju, draws attention to the immersion of his work in social events. Adepoju, on the other hand, constantly strives to assign social value to both poet and poetry. Thus, while the extension of the possibilities of ewi in the works of Faleti and Oladapo is mainly formal, it is largely functional in Adepoju's. Adepoju's work enjoys visibility due to its political posture and the poet's assertive nature. These combine constantly to link him with his output and publicize his political and religious concerns. He gave practical expression to the primacy of function in his work by eliminating musical accompaniment from his ewi right from Tani n binu [Who is angry?], produced in 1997, on the basis that it impedes the discursive import of his poetry:
   Fifetisi, fifarabale lewi asiko yii n fe
   O koja a n lulu si
   N o tie lulu sewi mo rara
   O to ko ye wa peti o gbeji
   Eni to fe maa gbolu
   Ko rebi ilu....
   Ilu maa gbele, n o nijo jo
   Ka reti fi gbo nasia

   (Tani n binu?)

   [The ewi of the moment
   Demands attentiveness and patience
   And does not invite dance
   I will henceforth stop drumming
   Because nobody can enjoy the two at once
   Those bent on dancing
   Should seek where it is done....
   Away with drumming; I am not keen on dancing
   So we can attentively listen to an important message]

Estimating the imprint of Lanrewaju Adepoju on modern Yoruba poetry necessitates looking into and beyond his work to discover the ways in which his unique concepts and practice of poetry have influenced the tradition. Apart from the fact that he has produced ewi in all the media so far adopted for it, Adepoju is one of its most visible contemporary practitioners. (22) But his claim to professionalizing ewi carries a lot of implications, not least of which is the corrupting influence of commercialization. Adepoju will justify producing Ijoba Tinubu [Tinubu's administration] and Awon Alagbari [The smart ones], which publicize the activities and achievements of Bola Tinubu and Gbenga Daniels as governors of Lagos and Ogun States respectively, on the basis that they document verifiable achievements of their administrations. (23)

Adepoju must take credit for popularizing a vision of ewi that assigns it definite social value, especially in that it is capable of correcting, instructing and influencing conduct. Thus, his work consistently adopts relevant images in representing it. For example, ewi is 'pasan' [whip], 'iwaasu' [sermon/admonition], and 'oro ogbon' [word of wisdom] in Tani n binu? [Who is angry?]. It is also 'orin ogbon' [song of wisdom] in Asayan Oro (2009). This outlook on ewi implies that Adepoju assigns the poet considerable social significance. The poet in Awon Alagbari is 'agbenuso fun gbogbo araye' [advocate of humanity]. He places the poet on an elevated moral platform that enables him to inform, correct and educate others, the very element that Olatunji finds objectionable in the works of many practitioners of ewi and the basis on which he places Faleti's work in a special category. The fact that Adepoju maintains this vision largely accounts for the passion with which he decries opposition to his work and the antics of his critics. Thus, he dismisses those alleged to be peddling rumours about him as 'asiwere' [mad people] in Asayan Oro.

Adepoju pioneered the use of daring and direct verbal assaults in ewi, even though Kunle Ologundudu, a younger practitioner, has since made this the defining feature of his poetry. While the inspiration for this derives from the immunity that Yoruba poets enjoy in correcting erring members of the community, it is also possible to argue that the passion with which he executes it in part derives impetus from the style of sermonizing that his form of Islam sustains. For instance, he dismisses Prophet Temitope Joshua, founder of the Lagos-based Synagogue Church of All Nations as 'oniwayo igbalode' [modern day fraudster] and calls Olowoporoku, a self-styled Islamic cleric in Ibadan, 'alagbari iro, asiwere' [dubious one, madman] in Tani n binu?

It is significant that consciousness of his audience in Adepoju's work has evolved with the broadening of his focus from an initial concern with his ethnic formation to an engagement with broader national issues. The consequence is that his audience now shifts constantly between his ethnic base and the entire Nigerian nation. He addresses the Oro Isaaju [Foreword] to his 1972 collection to 'Eyin Omo Yoruba', a category that evokes the totality of Yoruba people, and thereby invents an audience which coincides with a cultural group. This is probably the earliest pointer to the intense political orientation of his poetry on disc and audio tapes. The strategy of addressing an audience is an index of the public orientation of Adepoju's work. His concern at every point dictates those he makes his primary audience. While Nibo la n lo? [Where are we heading?], which blames the Babangida junta for the inflationary trend that trailed the Structural Adjustment Programme in the late 1980s, is addressed to the same administration, Iku Awolowo. [The Death of Awolowo] identifies the Yoruba as his main audience. The ease with which he invokes a pan-Yoruba consciousness in order to draw attention to issues bearing on the political fortunes of his immediate cultural community reveals his capacity for inspiring ethnic solidarity. But if the Yoruba constitute a cultural unit in Ironu Akewi, much of his later work that also addresses developments to do with their political fortunes such as the aspiration of Obafemi Awolowo and Moshood Abiola, two Yoruba politicians, to the Nigerian presidency--envisions the same people as a political formation. It is no surprise that Eyin Omo Nigeria [Dear Nigerians], which promotes the political project of Atiku Abubakar in the face of perceived political persecution from Olusegun Obasanjo, (24) indicates a considerable widening of his audience consciousness.

Ideological shifts do not seem to have had any significant influence on the genres that Adepoju employs. The two major forms on which his early poetry (25) drew--oriki and satirical songs remain his favourites. Thus, Oriki Ojo [The attributes of Ojo], Die Ninu Oriki Sango, and Kiniun Olola Iju [Lion--surgeon of the wild] fall back on the oriki tradition while Awon Oninaakunaa, Oro Obinrin, Iwa Okunrin, Ma mobun saya and Awon Alaheso are didactically critical. His later poetry seems to thrive on the laudatory and the critical--the main passions that sustain his poetry. The oriki convention experiences remarkable extension in Oriki Olodumare, which expounds his theistic vision. The two genres that dominate Adepoju's practice, in spite of their superficial divergences, ultimately rely on hyperbole, imbuing his work with an uncommon persuasive force. For instance, in a bid to draw attention to the legacy of the Tinubu administration in Lagos State, he says: 'Ijoba TinubulTi seto itoju oju fun aimoye eda' [Tinubu's administration/Has provided eye-care service to countless people] in Ijoba Tinubu. And in graphically depicting the hardship that people faced under the Babangida regime in Nibo la n lo? [Where are we heading?] he says: 'Eyin to n ti jeran lojo sil Won ti n jeegun eran' [Those that could afford meat for meal in the past/Are now only able to afford meatless bones].

It is no surprise that Adepoju sums up his significance as a poet by making a claim to modernizing and professionalizing ewi. A way to appreciate this is to compare it with how contemporary Yoruba cultural producers, while competing for the attention of their audience, draw attention to what they consider unique about their work to demonstrate their inventiveness. This is particularly the case with musicians in the genres of Juju, Fuji and Waka, who make claims to inventing variants of the genres. While Adepoju's oeuvre testifies to his significance, the project of modernizing ewi is still in progress--and so other poets, too, can draw attention to the ways in which they have extended the tradition. Adepoju's more controversial claim has to do with professionalizing ewi. While not many will contest this, knowing that he founded Egbe Akewi Yoruba [Association of Yoruba Poets], the implications that professionalizing the practice hold for the integrity of ewi may make this a liability and not an asset--because the idea of professionalizing ewi is likely to imply commercialization.


All told, Adepoju remains an influential figure in the making of modern Yoruba poetry, and his ideas about ewi are as important as his work. His poetry reveals an initial liberal and secular orientation, since overshadowed by an increasing appropriation of issues of public importance as legitimate subjects for poetic engagement. To explore his work over the past few decades is to gain insight into the vicissitudes of Nigerian public life that it has been exploring. Adepoju's talent is not in doubt, neither is his courage to challenge repressive regimes and ridicule erring leaders. He has suffered more harassment, interrogation and intimidation at the hands of different administrations in Nigeria than any other Yoruba poet. Adepoju's growing association with public office holders, while testifying to ewi's popularity, may also portend danger for his objectivity. The work of Kunle Ologundudu, (26) the ewi practitioner most indebted to Adepoju's politically charged poetry, exemplifies the damage that submitting the poetic imagination to the transient dictates of political expediency (27) can do to the social standing of a poet and the integrity of his art. The best of Adepoju's work (28) is devoid of partisan agitation, has enduring value, and articulates the shared expectations of his audience. Though mediated by his discursive affiliations and subjectivity, his ewi remain an indispensable source of information for many people in the Yoruba-speaking part of Nigeria. The eagerness with which this category of his audience awaits his responses to major events testifies to the power of his ewi and accounts for the influence he continues to have on younger poets.



Lanrewaju Adepoju performed and recorded Ilu Le [Hard times], the text of which follows, in 1980, even though it reacted to experiences in Nigeria in the dying days of the military administration of Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo handed over to the elected government of Shehu Shagari in 1979, but the nation felt the impact of the economic policies of his administration beyond his tenure. This explains why it could still provoke an angry response from Adepoju many months after another government had assumed office. Obasanjo emerged as military head of state after the death of Murtala Muhammed in a coup on 13 February 1976. He was until then the deputy of the assassinated leader. Though his administration endeavoured to build infrastructure, the economic prosperity of the period also ushered in inflation. In spite of the prosperity brought by the oil boom, there was a brief period of recession from 1978 to 1979, although the economy recovered in 1981. Restrictions that the Obasanjo regime placed on imports, mentioned in the poem, directly affected economic activities and the lives of ordinary people--and Adepoju's concern here is to articulate the plight of the masses.

Ilu Le represents Adepoju's work in many ways. For him, the poet's ability to respond promptly and boldly to the plight of the masses is an index of his worth and ability. Apart from being topical, the poem also relies on caustic verbal assault, exaggeration and repetition. Contrary to the trend in his later works, the poet avoids direct reference to the political actors behind the events that he is reflecting on in Ilu Le. Overt references such as we encounter in Nibo la n lo?, a reaction to the inflationary trends under the Babangida regime in 1987, are absent here. But Ilu Le nevertheless creates the impression that the Obasanjo regime was not acting in the best interests of the populace. This readiness to demonize Nigerian public office holders has endeared Adepoju's work to his audience.

As in every case of translation from 'deep Yoruba', the English translation of the poem, even though it is the work of the poet, is at best a shadow of the original. Apart from the sense that the lines convey, tonality, which plays an important role in Yoruba and injects a great deal of poetic value into most genres of Yoruba poetry, is lost in the process of translation. Yoruba is a tonal language and many genres of Yoruba poetry consequently strive to achieve the harmony of sense and sound. This disappears in the process of translating Yoruba poetry into English. As Niyi Osundare (2000: 15), a poet of Yoruba extraction using the medium of English, notes,
   while English is a stress-timed language, Yoruba is a
   syllable-timed one operating through a complex system of tones and
   glides. In this language, prosody mellows into melody. Sounding is
   meaning, meaning is sounding. The music, which emanates from the
   soul of words is an inalienable part of the beauty of the tongue.
   Tone is the power-point, the enabling element in any Yoruba
   communicative event.

What the English rendering of the poem retains is the raw anger of the poet and the passion with which he articulates the suffering of the masses. Even though Adepoju originally transcribed and translated the poem, I had to intervene each time it became necessary to make certain expressions reasonably intelligible to people who cannot access the texts in Yoruba. To this extent, some measure of collaboration between the poet and the present researcher facilitated the presentation of the texts of Adepoju's poetry in translation in the print and online versions of the article. The fact that most of the lines of the translated version of Tinubu Fomoyo, in particular, are cast in passive sentences is testimony to his effort at approximating the syntactic structure of the poem in the original version.
ILu LE (1)                       HARD TIMES!

Ilu le!                          Hard times!
O waa dabi oro dida              As if by a deluge of evil
Gbogbo araye wo gude             Everyone is in trouble
Eda mo nain!                     And everyone now cherishes
                                   common ninepence! (2)
Ogun owo maraye, aye figbe ta!   Humanity groans under
                                   financial crisis!
Elubo Naira kan ijosi wa di      The yam flour measure once
  Naira mefa!                      sold for one Naira now sells
                                   for six! (3)
Nnkan ma de o!                   This is real crisis!
Oro ta a sebi yoo bagbo lo       The problem intended for the
  bewure                           ram now affects the goat
Aye kan gogo                     Life has indeed turned sour
Gbogbo 'lu gbekan!               The whole land is in
O ru wa loju, e wobi taye dori   We are confused. See which        10
  ko                               way the world has turned
Asogbon ti won n da nigba kan    So this is the trick being
  re e                             hatched sometime ago
Ti gbogbo ara ilu o tete mo.     Which the people never took
                                 notice of.
Eke e won, won tilekun maje      The deceivers locked up money
Ara ilu o rowo na                And the populace is cash-
Ibii won fee gbe e gba,          We shall at last discover
                                   their intent;
Yoo soju u wa;
Awon eni-ibi to kowoo wa je      Evil men who embezzled our
Ti won mule aye le               And made life unbearable
Awon eni abuku h kowee si,       Are preparing the ground for      20
                                   their shame
Ti won o si rabuku.              And would end up
Awon jaguda oga ni won gbimo     The rogues conspired
Won pinwo mowo                   And shared money
Won se Naira 1ofo de gongo       Doing incalculable harm to the
Won ko kaluku da sinu isa        And cast everyone into a pit
Awon ebora, jegudu jera gbogbo   Those monsters, parasites all
A ni won dori apo kodi tan       Upturned state coffers (4)
Ki won o to kuro nibe!           Before leaving! (5)
Bamu-bamu ni won yo              Fully fed
Awon ko bikita pebi n            They are not bothered that you    30
  pemi-ire;                        and I are starving;
Agunla ni gbogbo won n da,       They do not care
Baraye ti n loogun;              Even as the masses groan in
Awon wonbiliki, onibaje eda      The gluttonous, evil creatures
                                   in power
Won kowo je tan                  Emptied the treasury
Ilu kanjangbon!                  And the whole land is in
Ilu le!                          Hard times!
Gbogbo eeyan lo h saroye         Everyone is complaining
Ara i1u ko lowo lowo             The people are starved of
Eni lelubo ko le reran           Those who have yam flour lack
                                   meat (6)
Olowo ni n jeja                  Only the rich can afford to       40
                                   buy fish
Eeyan pataki lo n je timooti!    Only VIPs can have access to
Nhkan ma n kan o!                Terrible things are happening!
Opolgpo i sowo lo ti kogba       Many traders have gone out of
  arobo sile                       petty business
Eni laso meji n takan jeun!      Those with two dresses are
                                   selling one for food!
Aye wa nira to je pe             And life has become so
                                   difficult that
Ka maa daale ni                  It is hard to describe
Gbogbo gja lo gbowo leri         Prices of all goods have
Owo o pile si lowo bi e tile     And there is even no money to
  roja opo.                        buy whatever is available.
Won ti sa eyi to pon je laarin   The ripe bananas have been
  ogede                            eaten
Papandudu ni won seku sile       Only unripe ones are left for     50
  faraye!                          the people!
Won kowo je tan                  Having embezzled all the
Won sofin inira                  They then passed unbearable
Kaye o le maa le!                So as to make life very hard!
Awon eeyan to ye ko rijaa        Those who should have been
  Sango                            struck dead by Sango's
Ti a jo tun n gbenu ilu po!      Still live with us in cities!
Awon eeyan to ye ka ta ka        Those who should be auctioned
  ratupa                           to purchase a lamp

Ti won tun n tanna wo loganjo;   Are still being admired in the
                                   thick of night; (8)
Omo araye e regbin to nipon      Have you ever seen such insult
Awon ti won jeran gidi tan       Those who having consumed
                                 the real meat
Ti won fun wa leegun eran!       Left only the bones for us to    60
Tarenije Oyinbo la ri la n wi    We once complained about
                                   European exploiters
Ti won tun ga 'Walai-talai!'     Walai-talai (9) theirs is
Awon a-gba-lowoo-meeri           Those who heartlessly extort
                                   the poor
Wobia to gbona                   Reckless gluttons
Alainitiju lasan                 Shameless and mean people
Won kowo je tan                  Their embezzlement has left
Ilu ko fara ro aye keran!        the land in agony!
Arun ailowo n saye bi aare!      Poverty like a sickness
                                   afflicts the people!
A a ti i seru eyii si o o o?     How do we manage this crisis?
Gbogbo eeyan lo h kigbe          All the people everywhere are    70
Pe nkan ko dan moran             That all is not well
Ileya de, enu obe sele lo        At Eid-el-Kabir (10) there
  su u!                            were no rams to slaughter!
Igbagbo se Keresi lairowo na     Christians celebrated
                                   Christmas in lack
A dodun tuntun ko si 'yato!      And the New Year dawned
                                   with no remarkable change!
Ilu le!                          Hard times!
Gbogbo oja to ti h wolu          All imports that once flowed
                                   in en masse
Won ni ki won o ma wolu mo       have since been banned
Kaye o le baa tubo le            So that life would be much
Aye waa le!                      And so life became very tough!
Won ko besu-begba                They rarely care                 80
Won gbegi dina ola faraye        Placing hurdles in people's
                                   economic paths
0lowo ko roja ra.                Even the rich could find no
                                   goods to buy.
Gbogbo oja ti won so pe won      All the banned imported goods
  fofin de wonyii
Dajudaju gbogbo won lo ti        Find their way in illegally
  beburu wolu
Aso ti won fofin de layaa won    Their wives go about flaunting
  n ro kiri                        the very clothes that are
                                   banned from importation
Gbogbo ilu lo doni-fayawo        Turning the masses into
                                   desperate smugglers
Won ko won lole jija!            They were taught robbery!
Won ti kilo fun gbogbo 'banki'   They warned all banks
Wi pe ki won o ma yaniyan        Not to grant loans anymore
  lowo mo
Kaye o le baa tubo le            To make life much tougher        90
Aye tun le!                      Life indeed became tougher!
Oba Oke lo ye ka tewo adua si    We can only plead with the king
                                   above (11)
Ko ba wa solu dero.              To help us ease the situation.
Opo ninu alagbase igbalode       Many contractors
  lo sise
Ti ko rowo ise gba lowo ijoba    Have not been paid for jobs
                                   done for government
Owo won gan-an ni                Money is really scarce
Eke araa won                     These deceivers
Won sopolopo eeyan to lowo       Have turned many who were
  di mekunnu.                      rich into paupers.
Ilu le!                          Hard times!
Won bona je fun gbogbo           They frustrated traders in 100
  onitita-rira pata                general
Won gbegi dina enu omo araye     And hindered all from
  poo!                             sustaining themselves!
Aaya ti be si'le o ti be are     The monkey has landed and
                                   immediately sped off (12)
E je ka gbadua!                  Let's all pray in earnest!
Won kowo je lorile ede yi o!     Indeed people have embezzled
                                   in this country!
A fi jaguda sile owo             We made a rogue our treasurer
A ni ko ni i kowo na;            And assumed he would not
                                   squander money; (13)
A ha a wi ni?                    What exactly are we saying?
Ilu ko ti se ni i le?            Why won't there be hardship in
                                   the land?
Awo ko mo poo jata               The cooking pot never dreamt
                                   of tasting pepper
Awo dori ina awo n saro sin!     Little wonder it emits hot       110
                                   sweats when on fire!
Owo tomo elomii o le ri lodun    What many do not earn in a
Un ni won n gba loojo           Is what they take on a single
Won n gbenule to dabi aafin     They live in palatial mansions
Ohun ti won ba pe ko se lo       Whatever they decree is law
  n se
Awon jeun ire                    They eat good food
Won poko iya faraye              But offer the masses meals of
                                   agony (14)
Won ni ka ma ba kadara ja.       Asking us to be content with
                                   our destiny.
Won wo sun-un sun-un nijosi     The best they could think of
                                   the other time
Won la titi ko nii pe e hu       Was to construct bad roads
Bi won sanwo falagbase           And as they paid contractors     120
                                   their legitimate due
Won a si pinwo logboogba         They would still share the
                                   money in equal proportions
Igba towo alagbase o ba to       And when the contractors are
                                   not paid in full
Won a la titi lajambaku.         They make substandard roads.
Bii ka wo sun-un sun-un          They often in their wickedness
Bii ka kole tenikan o nii gbe    Construct houses that are
                                   unfit for habitation
Kowo kikoje o le baa rogbo       So as to ease embezzlement
Won ti nawo epo gbe              They had squandered
Ko to o di pe a fura             Before we woke up from
Ase won o yato sole ti n fi      They are indeed not different    130
  moto dana!                       from highway robbers!
Awa ko tete mo pe won o yan      We least expected they would
  wa je ni                         cheat us (15)
Gbogbo mekunnu waa gbori kale    So all the poor offered their
                                   heads as anvils
Won n pagbon lorii wa            Upon which they then smashed
                                   coconuts (16)
Won n kowoo wa je                They were busy stealing our
Won n ki won pe: 'E seun'!       And people were thanking them
                                   for it!
Ase bo ba di nigbeyin-gbeyin     Not knowing that in the end
Omo talaka ni o jiya oro.        Children of the poor would
                                   suffer for it.
Ilu ti waa bere si i le          Things had started to get
Ka too mo 'yato ninu-un          Before we realized khaki's
  kijipa ati awo eran              difference from leather
Gbegede ti gbina tan             The inferno had already got
                                   out of hand
Ka to maa womi kiri              Before we started searching      140
                                   for water
Agutan si ti jogi tan            And the sheep had eaten the
                                   maize flour
Ka too maa ke kai magutan!       Before we started scaring the
                                   sheep! (17)
Igba ti mo fi kewi bi ikilo      What with my past poem,
  nijosi nko?                      depicting the situation?
E raye abe o raye?               Do you now see what has
Sohun to dele yii ko kan         Are we not all affected?
  gbogboo wa?
Won ja tako-tabo solopon         They betrayed the confidence
                                   of both male and female
Oju da poo!                      We are now helpless!
Ikamuda ku sinu ile oorun        The black ant having died,
                                   left behind a pungent odour
O wa dise adua!                  Prayer remains the only
Sugbon a moniyan die ninu-un     But we do know of some among     150
  won                              them
Ti ko ni madaru lowo             Who hate fraudulent practices
Won duro ti naira                 They were in charge of the
Won ko ko o je                   But refused to steal
Bi won pariwo o lewu fun won     It was risky for them to raise
                                   any alarm
Enu-un won ko gboro              They dared not speak at
Won kere niye pupo ninu          They were the minority in the
  igbimo.                          council.
Ohun oree mi ba kuku n je        'Whatever my friend is eating
Maa ba a je e                    I will eat with him'
Oroo gbese ko                    Does not apply in the case of
Ka foju sile ka woran lo dara    Our best bet is to silently      160
                                   watch events
Awon eeyan to saye bayii         Those responsible for this
                                   state of affairs
Won rugi oyin                    Will be in trouble (18)
Won daran moran!                 They have committed many
Ile o kuku ga ju won lo          Nemesis will at last catch up
  nigba to ba ya                   with them
O to ki won o jo bata esan       They're all due for a dance of
                                   vengeance (19)
Kaye o fi won sohun taye ba n    So people can deal with them
  firuu won se                     as with their likes
Bina jo loko,                    Whenever a bushfire does occur
Majala osofofo                   The grass-soot quite readily
                                   betrays it
E je ka mu suuru.                Let's just be patient.
Ojuu won o ja a                  They'll all live to regret it    170
Abuku to nipon ni o kan won      And suffer unmanageable
Won ti to sile Ana poo!          As they have messed up before
                                   their in-law! (20)
Won ti fori komi aja             They've smeared their heads
  lebe-lebe!                       with dog faeces!
Won ti toro abuku lowo ara       They've asked for insult from
  ilu                              the masses
Won fese komi Esu!               Soiling their feet with
                                   devil's dung!
A gbo pe won fi baluu kowo       We hear they airlifted money
  lo seyin-odi                     abroad
Asiri waa tu                     And the secret burst open
Won se bara ilu ko mohun ti      They thought the people were
  n lo ni                         ignorant of events
E maa da a ru                    You may continue to
                                   destabilize the land
Oba loke o faato to o            The Almighty would restore it    180
                                   at last
Ojo kuku n bo lona.              The rain of vengeance is
E ko mo pomo ile iwe to loyun    Don't you know that the secret
                                   of a pregnant school girl
To n gba belitii monu            Who conceals her state beneath
                                   the belt
Bo pe bo ya:                     Will soon be revealed:
Ikun gbodo taari aso             The stomach must protrude
Oro ti o gbakanju a gba suuru.   A matter not that urgent
                                   demands patience.
Eyin wobia to kowo na            You gluttons who siphoned our
E ma safira!                     Make haste!
E seyii tan                      You did this much
E se bowo ko ni i te yin?        Thinking you would not be 190
Bi e ba ji                       When you wake up in the
E le we ninu agbo                You may have a ritual bath
Boya osee yimiyimi se e foso     Perhaps it's possible to wash
                                   clothes with beetle's foam
Boya e moniyan to fodo akoko     Or perhaps you know of one
  gunyan                           that pounds yam in
                                   woodpecker's mortar
To tun tapo alakan sobe.         And uses crab-oil to cook his
A gbo na                         We do hear
A gbo na                         And hear properly
Oro ni koko o                    Every issue has its cause
Oro ti ri be nile yii ko se e    The issue on hand is not one
  dake si                          to be silent about
ArA gbe ilu ko rogbo             People have been financially     200
                                   stressed, and the country
                                   is not at peace
Araye n pariwo, o kA won lara   They are crying out, they feel
Otookulu e gboro yii yewo.       You elders and wise ones,
                                   deliberate over this issue.
Ijoba iwoyi ni ka ke gbajare     We call on the government
  si leti
Ki won o ma gbagbe ilu           Not to forget the citizenry at
Ki sise-sise o ye e ri bi ole;   So that diligent workers don't
                                   live like idlers;
Abi gbogbo osise ti won n da     Or what about those workers
  sile yii nko?                    now being retrenched?
Se 'ruu won ko ni i bokele?      Should they live in hunger?
Ijoba Apapo, o ya, e kowo        Federal Government, release
  sita!                            money! (21)
Ilu n ke, e ma joro o yiwo       People are crying, do not
                                   allow things to get out of
Bo ba fi n pe ju bee lo          Further delay may mean a         210
                                   worse situation
Ohun to lewu ni                  It portends grave danger.
Oja ti e kuku fofin de wonyi     The ban on imports may
  le koba Naijiria.                adversely affect Nigeria.
Ani e fagi leri ofin ika         Repeal inconsiderate decrees
Ki e je koja o wolu              That imports may flow into the
Nibii tita rira laye ti i jeun   People earn their living by
                                   buying and selling
Osika ni i gbegi dana ola        Only the callous debar people
  faraye                           from making wealth
E sina foja.                     So unban the importation of
Oba to je, tiluu roju oba ni;    We identify a king by the
                                   character of his reign;
Bomo eeyan kan tun joba, tiluu   Be it peace or anguish
  ko roju, oba naa ni
Itan-an won ni i yapa;           Only their respective            210
                                   histories would differ;
Gbogbo ara ti kaluku ba filu     Whatever one makes of one's
  e da                             country
Dandan ni pe ko wowe itan.       Cannot escape the attention of
Nibo la de duro, e wi fun wa?    Where exactly are we now? Let
                                   us know
E tete seto                      You had better make very
                                   urgent arrangements
Ki e je ki naira o wolu          And allow the Naira to flow
Baye ti wa yii o lo              Life at present is unbearable
Gbogbo omo araye lara kan        All the people are touchy
Eeyan to ba goke,                Whoever finds his way to the
Ko ranti mekunnu.                Should remember the poor.
Nijoo mekunnu ba fariga          The very day the poor decide     220
                                   to revolt
Olowo o gbadun mo;               The rich will cease to enjoy;
E ma je a daka won ko            We can't be aloof
E tojuu wqn kaye o le dara       Meet their needs so that life
                                   will be pleasant
E tete seto                      Make haste to
Kaye o maa dan fun mekunnu.      Work out a plan to make life
                                   bearable for the
                                   masses. (22)

(1) This literally translates as 'the land/town is hard/tough'. It is a standard way of expressing all kinds of difficulty, ranging from hardship that individuals experience to shared discomfort, as expressed in this instance. The poem is topical and this is the case with most of Adepoju's recorded performances. Titles of Adepoju's poems always stir the curiosity of his fans, who always look forward to his reactions to major developments in the country. The title of each audio production normally hints at the discursive bias of the poet.

(2) This suggests a period of extreme hardship.

(3) The Naira is the Nigerian currency. Yoruba use the cost of essential food items as index of abundance or hardship within any dispensation.

(4) This is a euphemism for looting, the emptying of the public treasury.

(5) Vacating office.

(6) Yam flour is used to make amala, a thick paste that is the staple of the Yoruba, especially in the Oyo area. Eating amala without stew suggests an extreme state of desperation. Eating a normal meal without meat in this context suggests poverty.

(7) Sango, originally a king in the Old Oyo Empire, is the Yoruba god of thunder. He is believed to have the power to afflict the unjust with thunder in executing vengeance.

(8) This Yoruba expression refers to worthless people who overestimate their significance. Its use here indicates indignation at the quality of Nigerian leaders.

(9) This is an exclamation derived from Arabic affirming that what is about to be said is true.

(10) The feast at which Muslims re-enact the sacrifice of a ram by Abraham. In the world of the poem, it represents a major Islamic obligation that the state of the nation did not allow Muslims to discharge.

(11) Yoruba traditional rulers are called Oba. 'Oba oke, that is, 'the king that is above', is a reference to God who is spatially located above earthly kings and dominions and is also superior to them. He can overrule on any matter on which earthly rulers have given their judgement. The appeal to God in this case is a way of ridiculing the erring Nigerian leaders. (12) This is a Yoruba saying that indicates that something was done with despatch.

(13) The military did not need the consent of the people to come to power and retained power by force.

(14) This is at best a rough rendering of the original--e ko iya. Eko is a staple meal made from maize. "Eko iya (literally, meal of agony) simply suggests cruel punishment. The basis for the expression is probably the fact that the verb that goes with consuming a meal (je, eat) is also what goes with taking a punishment in Yoruba (je iya--'eat' punishment). The poet seems to suggest that the military regime at this rime was deliberately dispensing hardship to the people.

(15) The poet does not separate his voice from the collective voice of the violated masses. This is one reason why his work is popular.

(16) This is often taken as an expression of folly and lack of discernment.

(17) This metaphorical rendering of the experience is apt and is a form of collective self-indictment.

(18) This does not carry the graphic value of the Yoruba rendering which suggests carrying a tree covered by bees on the head.

(19) This is not a voluntary act but a way of paying for their wrongs.

(20) The Yoruba believe that this is one of the worst experiences one can have because people naturally tend to want to impress their in-laws.

(21) The poet adopts the language of the common people who constitute his audience. The insinuation here is that government can cause money to circulate to ease problems.

(22) This sums up the poet's concern.


The research on which this study is based was conducted with a British Academy Visiting Fellowship at the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham between October 2006 and January 2007. An earlier version of the article was presented at the Afrikanistisches Forschungskolloquium of the University of Bayreuth, Germany, on 9 June 2009. The author gratefully appreciates the helpful comments of the anonymous Africa reviewers and the assistance of Soji Bisade-Phillips, Babatunde Ekundayg, Daniel Abiodun, Sola Ajibade and Steve Ogundipe at various stages of preparing the article.


Supplementary material accompanies this paper on the Journal's website (


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Adepoju, Lanrewaju (2006). Interview conducted by Oyeniyi Okunoye on 1 September at the residence of Chief Lanrewaju Adepoju in the New Adeoyo area, Ibadan.


Adepoju, L. Alaye Ijoba (Side B) in Isokan Nigeria. LALPS 137. Ewi Hit Hot Series 32. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1987).

-- Asayan Oro. LALPS 172. Ewi Hit Hot Series 67. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (2009).

-- Awon Ajunilo.. LALPS 167. Ewi Hit Hot Series 62. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (2004).

Etomoniyan. LALPS 134. Ewi Hit Hot Series 29. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1986).

-- Idajo. Ododo. LALPS 159. Ewi Hit Hot Series 57. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (2000).

-- Ijoba Gbenga Daniel in Awon Alagbari. LALPS 169. Ewi Hit Hot Series 63. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (2006).

-- Ijoba Tinubu, in Gbajare (Side 2). LALPS 163. Ewi Hit Hot Series 61. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (2003).

-- Ilu Le. LALPS 63. Ewi Hit Hot Series 12. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1980).

-- Ipinnu. LALPS 149. Ewi Hit Hot Series 48. Ibadan: Lanrad Records. (1993).

-- Ironupiwada. Ewi Hit Hot Series 49. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1993).

-- Kadara. LALPS 145. Ewi Hit Hot Series 45. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1991).

-- Nibo la n lo? LALPS 136. Ewi Hit Hot Series 31. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1987).

Obafemi Awolowo. LALPS 54. Ewi Hit Hot Series. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1979).

Oriki Olodumare. LALPS 160. Ewi Hit Hot Series 55. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (2000).

-- Oru Oluwa. LALPS 142. Ewi Hit Hot Series 42. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1990).

-- Takute Olorun. LALPS 146. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1992).

-- Tani n binu? LALPS 154. Ewi Hit Hot Series 52. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (1997).

-- Tinubu Fomoyo. in "Eyin Qmo Nigeria (Side B). LALPS 169. Ewi Hit Hot Series 64. Ibadan: Lanrad Records (2007).

Ologundudu, K. Iku alagbara. VCD. Brooklyn, New York NY: PKO Studio (n.d.).

-- Irinkerindo oselu. VCD. Brooklyn, New York NY: PKO Studio (n.d).

-- Se e dawon mo? VCD. Brooklyn, New York NY: PKO Studio. (n.d.).

(1) As an open poetic form, ewi also reflects the dynamic nature of Yoruba culture.

(2) The name was conferred in the introduction to Ewi Iwoyi (Akinjogbin 1969), the first anthology of modern Yoruba poetry, which brought poems written by members of a group known as Egbe Ikewi Yoruba [Yoruba Poetry Society] to the attention of a wider public.

(3) One of the best known of these poets was Josiah Sobowale .Sowande (ca 1839-1936). Among his published works are Iwe Keji Ti Sobo A-ro-bi-odu, edited by E. M. Lijadu; Awon Arofo Orin Ti Sobo. A-ro-bi-odu (Abeokuta: Egba Government Printer, 1910); and Awon Arofo Orin Ti Sobo A-ro-bi-odu (Abeokuta: Egba Government Printer, 1917).

(4) Ewi have been published in books, booklets, pamphlets and magazines. The poems of Olatubosun Oladapo, for example, appeared in his own magazine Okin Oloja (now defunct). Yoruba newspapers such as Isokan and Yoruba Ronu have published ewi in recent years.

(5) Faleti has been a major promoter and a privileged practitioner of ewi. Apart from pioneering the use of the mass media for and encouraging others to develop their craft, his close association with academics in part accounts for the attention his work enjoys.

(6) They both worked with Adebayo Faleti at Western Nigerian Television/Broadcasting Service where they pioneered the presentation of ewi.

(7) I worked with the author to produce this translation.

(8) The political circumstances of Nigeria make this inevitable as Adepoju's work imparts a large dose of social and political commentary.

(9) Interestingly, many of the poems broadcast over the radio during the late 1990s were more moralistic-didactic in content, which probably can be understood in the light of censorship. But this does not imply a negative aesthetic evaluation--in fact, audience members often appreciate ewi's moralizing. On the other hand, a moralistic-didactic undertone is frequently reconfigured into a tool for voicing harsh social and political criticism. Some of the poems by Adepoju discussed in this essay appear to employ a moralistic tone as a template for political criticism.

(10) The study of ewi has not kept pace with developments in the tradition, the consequence being that many trends in ewi practice remain unexplored.

(11) The Ewi Hit Hot Series, produced by Lanrad Records Limited and Lanrad Recording Studio, has been his major engagement, but he also runs Wisdom Publications and Adepoju Farming Industry.

(12) This group, in which Mike Omo1eye served as Occult Master, also had the late Justice Adewale Thompson as member. Adepoju claims to have been its co-founder.

(13) Adepoju strongly holds that women should not play roles that expose them to the public. They should also be in purdah. He therefore considers the idea of women poets as odd.

(14) The mosque that bears the name of UMB is located at Old Ife Road in Ibadan.

(15) He is currently the national vice-president of the Ahl as-Sunnah organization in Nigeria.

(16) Oriki Olodumare is significant in this regard as ir is brings together selections from many of Adepoju's ewi in praise of God. Such names as Oba Mimo (Holy King), Oba Ogo, (King of Glory) and Olorun, which are Christian, thus co-exist with Olodumare, and Allah and Yarabi, which are Yoruba and Islamic respectively.

(17) This is consistent with the definition of an akewi in the preface to his collection of poems. There is also a sense in which be seeks to express his distinctive vision of the vocation of the poet. Faleti and Oladapo have also contributed to this discourse.

(18) While Nibo la n lo? presents the poet as a fearless advocate of the masses Alaye Ijoba presents him as an intimidated and harassed apologist of the same government that the earlier work criticized.

(19) The election would have led to the installation of Moshood Kashimaawo Abigla, a Yoruba man, as the president of Nigeria.

(20) Each of these addressed topical and popular issues when they were produced. Ipinnu responded to the annulment of the election of Abiola; Nibo la n lo? was addressed to the military administration of Ibrahim Babangida; while Ilu Le came shortly after Obasanjo vacated office as military head of state.

(21) Many ewi practitioners have since adopted the strategy.

(22) There is considerable consensus that Adepoju and Oladapo are the two leading promoters of the genre.

(23) Bola Tinubu was governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2003 while Gbenga Daniels assumed office as governor of the neighbouring Ogun State in 2003. The two, though belonging to different parties (Action Congress and People's Democratic Party) are represented as Awoists in Adepgju's work and their tenures as governors and policies constitute subjects of the commissioned ewi he produced.

(24) This particular audio performance is significant because it offered the poet an opportunity to defend the political interest of a politician of Fulani extraction who was allegedly being persecuted by a Yoruba politician.

(25) The poems under reference are all in his first and only collection of poems, Uronu Akewi.

(26) Ologundudu seems to have carried unrestrained verbal assaults and partisan political agitations to an extreme. Irinkerindo oselu [Political adventures], Se e dawon mo? [Do you recognize them?] and Iku alagbara [The death of the mighty] are typical of his work.

(27) This, ironically, is becoming more and more apparent m his poetry.

(28) This does not necessarily refer to a particular phase in his work.

doi: 10.1017/S0001972011000192

OYENIYI OKUNOYE teaches in the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo? University, IleIfe Nigeria. Email:
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Author:Okunoye, Oyeniyi
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Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:May 1, 2011
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