…Pioneer and Queen of Waka Music
There is a tendency in contemporary Nigeria to assume that only those with high formal education can be achievers, who will be able to make significant contributions to the development of their society. We tend to forget that in some cases people who have not had the opportunity of going to school can still succeed in developing their innate, God-given talent to excel in whatever they lay their hands on. Batile Alake was such a person, a woman who had achieved prominence as a musician and leader in the development of a certain kind of traditional music, Waka music, which she launched on to the music scene from her native town of ljebu-Igbo.
Batile Alake was born in 1935 into the Muslim family of late Pa Seidu Gbadamosi and Ajoke Gbadamosi of Odolaguse of Okesopin quarter of Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State. She had her primary education in Ijebu-igbo after which she went to live with her aunt, her mother\’s younger sister, Saratu Eleba, who took care of her and was responsible for her proper upbringing.
She obviously had a natural flair for music (Ijebu-Igbo is famous for having produced a number of excellent Yoruba traditional musicians). It is therefore, not surprising that she decided to make a career of music. In 1954, she became an apprentice of Kaletin Soye ,a leader of the Alasatu group, and served as one of her back-up singers in Ijebu-Ode. Alasatu is a Yoruba popular music genre influenced by Islamic religion with some Hausa and Arabic undertones. It is played by Muslim women on important religious occasions in praise of Allah and is usually accompanied with some recitation of the Koran.
After two years of apprenticeship in Ijebu-Ode. Batile Alake went back home to Ijebu-Igbo to set up her own musical band. Initially it was also an Alasatu group but she gradually introduced many innovations into her music production and transformed it into a new and distinctive genre of music known as Waka music. She still maintained the religious basis of this music of which she became the lead vocalist with support singers trained to give the necessary responses in the manner of the Alasatu singers. But she now introduced many of the Yoruba traditional music instruments to give the Yoruba traditional rhythm with which the Yoruba audience is familiar. Without discarding the religious element, and singing generally in Ijebu dialect, she gradually introduced new themes which have social relevance which made it more acceptable to a wider audience and increased the popularity of Waka.
In an attempt to present a more professional posture, she abandoned the sitting position, which was customary with most traditional musical entertainers and adopted a new posture, that of standing, in singing to her audience, as a way of carrying them along as her band beats out the music. It is thus not surprising that her Waka music became quite popular beyond the boundaries of Ogun and Lagos States to other parts of Nigeria particularly the South-West of the country. Consequently, she got invited to give live performance on many occasions and by different social groups all over the country. When she decided to produce an album of her music, she became the first waka musician to do this.
Batile Alake maintained her position as leader in the field of Waka music where she eventually emerged as a model for younger singers like Salawa Abeni and Kuburatu Alaragbe who have also become famous and have each made a name for themselves. These are women who, without much formal education have nevertheless made a mark in the highly competitive world of Nigerian music.
Batile Alake was the artist who blazed the trail for several others, who have continued to demonstrate great industry and courage in spite of their limited access to formal education.
Batile Alake died in her home town, Ijebu-Igbo, at the age of 78 in the early hours of Saturday, August 10, 2013, while preparing for the Subh (daybreak) Muslim prayer.