Remembering JaJah Onilu

JaJah Oga Onilu

JaJah Oga Onilu

Jajah passes on: Trinidad and Tobago lost one of its musical pioneers with the death of percussionist Ja Jah Oga Onilu who died suddenly at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope last Friday night. Known as a master drummer, Onilu, who was 58-years-old at his passing, was also a well known artist and maker of “organic” musical instruments. He was also one of the members of Jewels of Nature organic percussion group along with his two sons Baba Onilu and Modupe Onilu. —

By Brother Resistance
January 11, 2012

If we say he was/is a great one yuh might say is ah cliche dat we use every time a popular artiste pass on. JaJah Oga Onilu is truly a great one. Artiste and cultural activist, teacher, craftsman, instrument designer/maker, jeweller…and dat eh all. JaJah was a singer, songwriter/composer, a record producer. Above all JaJah Oga Onilu was a MASTER DRUMMER and PERCUSSION SCIENTIST. Yes he was all dem tings and good at dem; good to de extreme. And so he did like he self and he all right to.

Many communities will claim Onilu as their own and dey right becuz he give he self to every body, every where, every block, every yard. Laventille though and East Dry River in particular was home -Basilon Street Youth Centre wey he had his workshop for years…before he children born, before the Caura project. Picadilly Street wey he had his retail store in Mango Rose in spite of de NHA(now HDC). And before all ah dat, Jackson Hill wey de power and percussive possibilities roll out in de story of de MAU MAU… wid Vennie and Pops and de rest ah dem. And JaJah wid Vennie and dem would bring dis experience to build a foundation wid Andre Tanker. Yes, there was a time when there was a drum culture in our communities…not a gun culture, and JaJah was one of de leaders at de centre of dat movement… proud and powerful… African King.

JaJah Oga Onilu consciously and self-righteously appointed himself de title Master Drummer and continued de work of de great Andrew Beddoe…sharing his percussive intelligence wid ah mystical flair dat went beyond his youthful years… building de foundation for a DRUM CULTURE.

Talk to de drum… and de drum a talk back to you

Talk to de drum… and de drum a talk back to you

JaJah Oga Onilu at Ella Andall's 2010 CD Launch

JaJah Oga Onilu at Ella Andall's 2010 CD Launch

JaJah Oga Onilu was always a man who live like he was here already and so he was always one step ahead on dis journey. When from early we was sitting on de cold concrete in Quarry Street, East Dry River or playing ball below de caimate tree, Onilu was walking wid he talking drum… everywhere. And so he coulda show off on de block… bcuz he had de Mau Mau and dem was one of de top drumming organisations in de Caribbean, yes. And how he playing wid de great Astor Johnson Dance theatre… and how he working wid Lancelot Layne… and how he working wid Cheryl Byron … and dat he was a professional. Then he went North America on tour wid Astor and out dey he see The Last Poets and realise dat we was done doing de same ting home in Quarry Street. He come home and tell we dat Network had to get serious and get we self …professional. He start to work wid we drummers Mickee and Black Pearl… he bring a child star named Wayne Haynes (Bongo Waynee) and say dis child hands faster than his own and he want Network to take care of him. He start to drill Brother ShortMan.

It was a new day in East Dry River. A triangle of young leaders: JaJah, ShortMan and Resistance. Music, madness, magic and community work… it was a Rapso attitude and we was ready for de world. It was JaJah dat carry me and ShortMan in de studio for de first time in Sea Lots. It was he and Ron Reid who would produce we first recording Dancing Shoes and Squatters Chant. Yes, de new sound of de Network Riddum Band… 1980/81.

Talk to de drum… and de drum a talk back to we

So who coulda stop we when we moving wid ah vibes like dat. We went England by 85/86 and JaJah went wid we… we mash up London, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Nottingham; yes we and Mystic Revelation of Rastafari; we and Lee scratch Perry; we and Aswad…

Some years before dat, JaJah turn down ah offer to tour wid Bob Marley and de Wailers…he say dey couldn’t pay him to leave home.

Right: Jajah Onilu and his two sons Baba Ayinde Onilu and Modupe Folasade Onilu

Right: Jajah Onilu and his two sons Baba Ayinde Onilu and Modupe Folasade Onilu

Onilu would give many years to build de Andre Tanker legacy. Onilu would give many years to support Ella Andall on her journey…and dat was a combination, a living testimony to Africa in dis part of de world and a foundation to de building of dis Trini culture. It was JaJah who would work wid Lancelot Kebu Layne to organise de first procession to commemorate Emancipation in these times… One grey morning, 6 o’clock, Basilon Street Community centre, one small Mazda van and JaJah lookin’ for de drummers to support him. It was JaJah who would bring de energy and excitement to bear on de Peoples Mall as we established de Uprising Culture Shop to be de Ministry of Rootical Culture and de Calypso headquarters at de time…Karega can testify.

It was JaJah who would seize de time and seize de space up at de savannah to establish a real craft market and cultural arena in de middle ah de Carnival.

Onilu dey wid he Bamboolin and he rain maker and he berimbow and he bowlee drum and thru it all he stood tall, he walk tall, he did not bend nor bow down to de oppressor; did not surrender to de colonial order. Yes, JaJAh Oga Onilu – King Master Drummer and Percussion Scientist – walked wid de glory of Kings.

He take years to make dat pair of drums and then added a next one to it right dey in Quarry Street – #9 to be exact. And is Brother Shortman (Everad Romany) who do de carvings on dem because Onilu wanted monuments out of his musical instruments for he had seen it all in a vision.

Talk to de drum and de drum a talk back to you.

Celebrating the Life of Master Drummer Jajah Oga Onilu in pictures

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