Fatai Rolling Dollar

The Late Fatai Rolling Dollar & His Influence on Yoruba Juju Music

by: Ademola Bello

Fatai Rolling Dollar, who passed away on June 12th 2013 at the age of 86 years, was extremely talented at playing musical instruments. He was known as “Agidigbo father,” or exponent, for his dexterity playing traditional thumb piano known as “Agidigbo” and because he was also a virtuoso guitar player he dubbed himself “Seriki Oni Guitar” (Leader of all Guitarists).

He was also a colorful musician who played variants of musical fusion genres of both Highlife and Juju music. He was a well-regarded music teacher who taught up-and coming artists guitar and theory. Among his former students who learned lessons on music from him are Juju Music maestro Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, and the late talented Highlife musician Orlando Owoh. He was a revolutionary singer who mentored a whole new generation of Juju musicians and he had big influence on King Sunny Ade’s music career. He also had influence on Fela Kuti’s music career.

Rolling Dollar got his first major breakthrough as a musician in 1953, when he teamed up with Julius Oredola Araba, a guitarist and vocalist, and Olaseni Tejuoso to form Rhythm Blues, also known as J.O Araba and his “Afro People Band,” or “Afro Skittles Group.” Another member of the group was tenor sax Ishola William Payne. They got a reliable ally in Steve Bankole Omodele Rhodes, a German-trained musicologist who was director of music at what was then known as Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation.

Their aesthetic storytelling music drew upon the essence of palm wine music. Mr. Rhodes produced several groundbreaking songs that were composed by the “Rhythm Blues” for the Philips Record Company, which recorded them on 78 rpm vinyl songs; popular hits include “Ranka Dede,” “Kele gbe Megbe,” “Easy Motion Tourist,” “Yanbosa Jawale”, “Yaa Amposah Jawale,” which has Ghanaian Highlife root rhythm, and J.O Oyesiku and his Rainbow Quintet popular hit song “Oro Re- Repete.”

After the quartet broke up due to managerial difficulties, Rolling Dollar formed a band of his own in 1957 with his friend Seni Tejuoso, and they had a young apprentice called Ebenezer Obey. Between then and 1965 they recorded several hit singles including “Won Kere Si Number Wa.”

Fatai Rolling Dollar was also one of the influential members of the “Harbors Band Group” that was originally based in Port Harcourt. Other featuring members of the group were Harbor Grant, J.O Araba, Seni Tejuoso, Ishola Willie Payne, and Ambrose Campbell. Until his death, the late Rolling Dollar was the last surviving member of the “Harbors Band Members” and one of the greatest musical ambassadors of Highlife and Juju music genres in West Africa.

In 1971, The Harbors band members re-recorded and released a highlife song that became a landmark and cultural milestone titled “Koma Mosi” which includes the phrase “Easy Motion Tourist” composed by Fatai Rolling Dollar and Seni Tejuoso. The inspiration for “Easy Motion Tourist” came a few days after a younger Seni Tejuoso was locked out of the house by his strict disciplinarian father upon returning from a night party in the early 1950s.

“Easy Motion Tourist” is an impeccable song that has been covered by numerous artists including King Sunny Ade who further popularized it. It is a metaphor song about human psychology that asked questions about the meaning of life and chilling account of life behind bars, and some of the hypocrisy in people who used position of authority to persecute their opponents. It is also a song about power, strength, love, prayer, empowerment and kinship that figuratively asserting that the world is “Easy Motion Tourist.”

Fatai Rolling Dollar
Fatai Rolling Dollar

The supplication prayers in the songs were exhibited by the lyric line that states:
“Ka ma mosi ka to lo laye”
“Ka ma se won, ka to lo laye”

The song decried the idea of crassness and flamboyant lifestyle, while emphasizes simplicity and refinement. “Easy Motion Tourist” is also a song that depicts power struggles, human psychology as I earlier mentioned. It tells the story of a locked-up landowner son called “Omo oni le” who was in a state of unhappiness because he was caught off-guard by unscrupulous, evil-minded people who took possession of his willed large estate. The turbulence that followed led to the coup de grace of “Omo Oni le.”

“Easy Motion Tourist” was narrated through an eyewitness who experienced nightmares; he kept on recalling the traumatic experience of witnessing a “wounded” man, “Omo Onile,” who lost a battle.

“Easy Motion Tourist” song encapsulates our vivid imagination. It is a song that also tackled issues of fertility and fruitfulness, the powerful message of the song was also illustrated by the usage of the bird (DUCK) called “Pepeye” in Yoruba language to conveyed the musical story. In the song we learned that “Pepeye” were special breed of birds noted for their fecundity in the absence of natural predators, they multiply well. They eat well, swim well. However, “Pepeye” floundered to sleep at night.

“Pepeye” in “Easy Motion Tourist” song is a “Phantom Duck” and it was an introspective, futuristic adventure about danger and difficult path of human being.

The two other greatest songs of Fatai Rolling Dollar were “Won Ke re Si Number Wa” (“They Cannot Match Us”) and “She Go Run Away/ Omo Lere Aiye.”

“Won Kere Si Number Wa” is a song arguing for generational superiority. Rolling Dollar criticized the new generation who entered the workforce and wanted to advance their causes and shake things up, but who lacked work ethics and possessed different values and attitudes that potentially caused conflict between them and the older generation, who berated the new generation for their lack of ingenuity and productivity.

“She Go Run Away” on the other hand is a song about superficial love and a materialistic girlfriend, and the only way to deal with her is to cut her off from your resources and see if she still sticks around.

“Omo Lere Aiye” is a song about the importance of children and impassionate appeal against abortion.

Fatai Rolling Dollar was a natural singer who practiced a relaxed style of the “Toy Motion Sound,” a progressive and sophisticated Juju music style that was prevalent in the 1950s that eschewed pandering to the conventional and popular trend. He was a contemporary of Ayinde Bakare, Julius Araba and Olaseni Tejuoso among others. Their music was not meant for the “illiterates.”

Rolling Dollar’s music was about journeys, philosophy, thinking, and ideals. His music demonstrated metaphoric paradigms about struggle, poverty that he himself experienced, and the ups and down of life in general.

Born in Lagos on July 22, 1926, Alhaji Abdul Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju hailed from Ede in Osun State. The name “Rolling Dollar” was a nickname that was coined around 1937, when Fatai would always roll a silver dollar piece at the coin toss in soccer matches in his school in Lagos, Nigeria.

Finally, Fatai Rolling Dollar songs were alluring, they refresh the spirits, and they were emotional fervor that created a catharsis by purging the soul. He was a diehard musician who continued to work till death. His legacy as one of the trailblazers and exponents of Highlife and Juju music in West Africa is already secured.


Originally written for Huffington Post.

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