No! That headline is not complete and the language is incorrect.
First, the headline should fully read “The day Fela ‘yabbed’ me; and I tried to ‘yab’ him back”, even though my ‘yabbies’ wasn’t the same day or venue! It took about a year for the opportunity to ‘yab’ him back.
Secondly, the word ‘yabbed’ is incorrect . There’s no word like that in any English Language dictionary. The nearest word is ‘yap’ which basically means to bark or yelp or shout. So there is no word like ‘yabbies’. Sorry to disappoint you all about this. But you can continue with your Nigerian English, if you want. Fela could coin any word anyway and we would all have followed him.
So, how did the Abami Eda yap me?
It must have been 1988. Sven Jurschewsky (surname pronounced ‘Your Chef’s Key’) was Head of Chancery and Deputy High Commissioner so he supervised all of us at the Canadian High Commission. Sven knew Lagos more than many Lagosians. By the time he was two years in Nigeria, he knew every exciting place to be that many of us did not. He knew the best Amala joint in Idi-Araba and would go there from Victoria Island at night if need be. He liked the African Shrine and Baba 70.
So, at a time I thought I had had enough of Fela after all the running from soldiers we did as members of YAP – the Young African Pioneers – which was the name of Fela’s young followers, after the Kalakuta invasion, Sven insisted that about six of us, male and female, had to go to the Shrine one Friday night.
I’m not sure what it is like these days, but the trademark of the African Shrine was the smell of Igbo and urine outside. Because we had Oyinbo faces among us, we had express VIP treatment because even though Fela always ‘yabbed’ white people, he seemed to have a soft spot for Canadians. It could have been because of Sven or the Montreal Jazz Festival which was always the place to be annually for every musician worth his salt.
Then came the ‘yabbies’. Fela told his guys to serve us drinks. I requested for Ginger Ale. I don’t think they produce the soft drink any more in Nigeria. Fela looked at me and said, ‘Yeye black man wey dey drink Ginger Ale’. The implication was that black man must drink strong stuff like all those small bottles of gin and kai kai the faithful were downing outside. Everyone laughed of course but it wasn’t funny for me because at that time, I was a teetotaler and didn’t have use for the strong stuff. And his ‘yabbies’ wasn’t even during the famous “Yabbies Night”. So I just had to bid my time and waited almost a year.
My turn came in 1989 when the High Commission brought to Nigeria the top Canadian jazz pianist, Oliver Jones and The Jazz Trio made up of Archie Alleyne on drums, Dave Young on acoustic double bass and Jones himself on piano. The jazz group had series of shows and jams in Unilag, National Theatre, Jazz 38, Peter King’s music school at Ilogbo Badagry, Asaba etc and met with late Art Alade and Fela who both came to Jazz 38 on different days when the Jazz Trio jammed with the Lagos jazz crowd, including late Zeal Onyia and his trumpet and Peter King with his saxophone. The tour was what the film, Oliver Jones in Africa, was based.
Then, Tunde Kuboye arranged for us and the Trio to visit Fela in his house in Ikeja. Day time visit it was this time.
They went to wake Baba up around 3pm and he came wearing his infamous ‘dross’ – no trouser, no shirt – and passed totes around. One or two of the musicians were bold enough to smoke the ‘thing’ with Fela as he sat down on the floor with one knee raised up and his balls in full view because the undie or ‘dross’ was loose. I looked hard at him like a gun dog to make sure he knew I was pointing at his ‘kini’.
I was ‘yabbing’ him silently. The man no care sef! But I took that as my own silent ‘yabbies’ of the big man. ‘Why you come outside in pant?’ But that was him. Did I really ‘yab’ Fela? You decide.
Photo credit: youtube.com