Will R-Kelly Fly Again?
By Adebayo Fajinmi
“Call no man happy, until he is dead!”~ Sophocles
He set forth at dawn as a longhair in church at eight as an orphan, eschewed the fall walls of classroom, yet derided every stronghold erected with mind bricks of impossibility and conquered obsecurity. From Kenwood, he sailed the sunset and captured his world. R-Kelly’s story was a self-belief sold to the world in lyrics. It corroborates Alfred Tennyson’s line in Ulysses, “that which we are, we are.” He is the lord of the mic who serenades my senses. He shone like a great man but abysmally descended in the definition of the great. Jury had found him guilty of charges including sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, racketeering and sex trafficking.
English playwright, Christopher Marlowe cries, “What nourishes me destroys me” but the King of R&B rides on the wings of affluent. He mirrors a coterie of people who nourish the outside and left the inside rotten. Kelly is a metaphor of great men whose costly libido had made them to rattle out of stage untimely. Grammy award winner now wears prison overall. Lack of discipline has reduced a legend to a defeated figure.
While growing up in my hamlet, forklore is what my granny used to impart knowledge. Each time I express my penchant to explore the uncharted territory, she would call me and say, “Son, you need more than a willing spirit to succeed in life. Rising to stardom is not really a big deal; you need capacity to maintain it. As you grow in life in pursuit of your dreams,learn to conquer flesh and live a discipline-centre life. Self control.” In support of her sermons, she told me two stories which I would never forget in my life. The first was on Bashoorun Gaa in the old Oyo Empire and Ajala The Traveller. I later read an article about Ajala (published in the Guardian on February 20,1999) by Mr. Bolaji Tunji, spokesperson of former Governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajumobi.
Being the Old Oyo Empire’s Prime Minister and lord marshal in the 16th century, Gaa stood in that position from 1750–1774 and oversaw the reigns of four Alaafins of Oyo. Gaa’s military prowess and mastery of the geography of war gave the Empire all-round conquests in wars Oyo fought during the period. As head of the Oyo Mesi (the Oyo council of Kingmakers), he had awesome powers, especially taking into cognizance the fact that the Alaafins were tyrannical. He acquired so much power during the period such that he could turn to any animal of his choice. Eventually, Gaa’s talismanic fetish powers and prowess befuddled his character and sense of reasoning, which made him a tyrant.
He was also accused of instigating criminal activities in the empire, aiding, abetting and serving as a cover-up for notorious activities traced to members of his household, as well as serial killings his sons and the head of his slaves were committing. Bashorun Gaa became uncontrollable, even to Alaafin Abiodun Adegorolu (Adegoolu) who reigned from 770–1789. Adegoolu’s reign was remarkable in Oyo’s history as that of prosperity. The wealth of the nation was so huge that women gleefully sang of how, during his reign, they offhandedly sewed costly velveteen cloth materials. Coming after the empire’s subjugation of neighbouring Dahomey, Adegoolu brought about economic expansion to his domain and rejected every entreaty to plough the wealth of the empire made from the Dahomey trade into military expansionism. He also collaborated with European merchants of the coast through his policy of peaceful trade with them. This path necessitated the weakening of the empire’s army, conversely strengthened Gaa who was amassing an army and eventually posed a huge challenge to Abiodun’s successor, Alaafin Aole who had to contend with revolts from within the empire.
Gaa seized and diverted all the apparatuses of political machinery and power of Oyo kingdom to himself, including all the homage, which constituted the material paraphernalia of benefits that the Alaafin was entitled to by culture and history. If Alaafin Abiodun allowed the surfeit of his Prime Minister, who was so powerful that he had over 500 aides and a palace of his own, he would lose the de facto power to administer the empire.
As a result, Alaafin Abiodun and his allies planned a way of ousting Bashorun Gaa. The Alaafin’s daughter, Agbonin, an itinerant kola nut hawker, was selected as the bait and eventually turned a martyr to castrate Gaa. Agbonin sold this particular variant of kola called gbanja, with its multiple faces. Knowing that she could not have access to Gaa, the kola nuts she hawked were soaked in potion and the immediate target was Gaa’s Chief of Staff, called Gbagi. Gbagi and Gaa both indulged in metaphysical explorations. They went together to seek spiritual powers. It was said that every of those powers acquired by Gaa, Gbagi duplicated. Those potions were in turn tested on various animals to ascertain their efficacy. As she hawked the kola by Gaa’s palace one day, Gbagi invited her in and was enchanted by her beauty.
Gbagi and Agbonin started talking, and of course, purchased gbanja which, unknown to him, was for him to inexplicably desire Agbonin. To try the efficacy of the potion, Agbonin was directed to distance self from Gaa’s palace for some days and by the time she returned, it was obvious from his utterances that Gbagi was already starved of her presence. So on this day, as he got engaged with Agbonin, Gaa had made efforts to get across to Gbagi from the inner court of the palace, but his efforts were futile. He sauntered to the front of the palace and a bitter exchange started. Other aides who couldn’t stand the Chief of Staff’s prowess revealed that he was having an amorous relationship with Gaa’s enemy – Alaafin Abiodun’s daughter. Pissed, he called Gbagi all manner of names and threatened to behead him. The latter called his bluff. As Gaa made to enter his palace, Gbagi hit him with a talismanic paralysis belt called onde which instantly paralyzed him. Agbonin was killed immediately as a reprisal by palace courtiers and as Gbagi ran to Alaafin Abiodun’s palace to ask that the Bashorun be immediately captured, one other aide shot him dead. Gaa was reportedly incinerated alive by loyalists of the Alaafin, as a way of ensuring the non-reincarnation of his wickedness.
Moshood Adisa Olabisi Ajala, otherwise known as Ajala Traveller or globetrotter, who Ebenezer Obey, a Nigerian jùjú musician praised to high heavens in his 1972 album, ‘Board Members’ was born in the 1930s in Ghana in a large family of 30. He had a whopping twenty-four siblings, as his father had four wives. Not long after his birth, Ajala’s family moved to Nigeria, where he attended Baptist Academy in Lagos and Ibadan Boys’ High School.
When Olabisi turned 18, he went to the United States to receive his pre-medical education from the University of Chicago. He used to dream of becoming a medical doctor and returning to Nigeria to help people, where voodoo and superstitions were held higher than actual medicine. However, Ajala found something more exciting to do.
In 1952 at the age of 22, he embarked on a bicycle tour across America that covered 2,280 miles. During this tour, his goal was to teach Americans about the progress of his country and to show them that his people were not running around naked or wearing loincloths. To further his point, Olabisi wore traditional Nigerian wears that people described as flowered robes and a felt-like headdress.
The news of an African man travelling across the States on a bicycle and wearing flowery robes quickly spread across the country and Ajala became a celebrity. His story was featured in newspapers and even on television, and people described him as a charismatic man. It was also said that at some point, he got a degree in Psychology from Columbia University.
Apart from TV appearances, Olabisi could also boast of having a part in a movie. He landed the supporting role of a character by the name of Ola, who was a companion of a famous African hunter Loni played by Robert Mitchum. The movie was called White Witch Doctor, and Ajala earned $300 per week from his gig with 20th Century-Fox. He later starred in several other movies that involved Africans.
Ajala the traveller later went on to prove his name by travelling across 87 countries on his Vespa. During his travels, he dined and wined with world leaders, including the USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev, Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, India’s Jawarhalar Nehru, Iran’s Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, America’s Ronald Reagan, and Nigeria’s Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Unfortunately, the story of Olabisi Ajala ended tragically. His troubles began all the way back in 1953, when a nurse from Chicago by the name of Myrtle Basset claimed that she had given birth to his son, who Ajala allegedly named Oladipupo. Olabisi refused to acknowledge his fatherhood without a paternity test, but when the mother agreed to it, he disappeared. Thus, the court ruled against him and made him pay $10 a week as alimony.
The same year, the trouble got worse. He was arrested on the charges of worthless cheque, grand theft and forgery. Even though he plead not guilty, Ajala was still sentenced to spend a year in prison. After he got out, he was supposed to be deported back to Nigeria due to his arrest and violation of the terms of his student visa.
However, after the man spent a whole day dangling from a radio tower in protest of his deportation (and later even jumped from it), it was decided that he would not be deported but instead flown to London.
Nevertheless, Ajala returned to the States by the end of 1954 with his wife Hermine Aileen. The two did not stay together for long, and Hermine left him half a year later because of his cheating. But Olabisi refused to stay single, and a few months later, he was married to a British actress Joan Simmons. Women were to him what yam means to goat.
Sadly, the legendary Ajala the traveller slowly descended into obscurity. In his later years, he ended up back in Nigeria, but he was no longer famous; he struggled to make ends meet. He rented an apartment on Adeniran St., Bariga, in Lagos where he lived with a few of his children. When he got ill, almost none of his kids and wives were there for him, apart from his 20-year old son Olaolu and 17-year-old daughter Bolanle. He wanted to capture the world but was consumed by his passion.
“People, both in real life and literature seal their fate through their own action,” famous French fabulist, Jean De La Fontaine has said.
Now that he had been ordered to remain in custody, as he faces May 4, 2022, for final verdict. Will he fly again?