Known by ‘englishers’ with such words as function, ceremony and so on, we in the southwestern part of Naija prefer Owambe, yes Owambe, a name now being borrowed by other ethnic groups to describe their various parties. Also unpopularly called Ariya, the Yorubas are arguably the Nigerian tribe that elaborate events the most and have over the years, not surprisingly, industrialized it. We can sooo do party! Owambe- meaning (s)he is there; we are the ones doing things, (similar to ebeano in Igbo) not in the literal sense but in that african communal sense of belonging which makes the niece of the cousin of the maternal uncle of the celebrant’s stepmother see the event as his own and he in turn invites his friends and friends of friends and associates to join in the feast. That is Owambe, the kind I guess, that Mary invited Jesus to, where He turned water to fine wine. Oh My. Even Jesus attended Owambe. He was there! Not the same as Mogbo-moya (I heard and I branched) translated as gate-crashing, meaning one don’t need to know the celebrant or be invited, one just needs to hear there is a party somewhere. That’s all.
Twice within two weeks I recently journeyed down to the headquarters of all Owambes in the Yorubaland; Lagos aka Gidi. Not of course as a crew member of Ovation, Veleta Celeb or Arise, but to be part of the frenzy and the celebrations. My very own friends’ weddings. Its been a long time since my last ariya. Suffice to say that several of my friends from the other tribes have variously been amazed at the frequency and extent we have taken this lovable thing to. They often tell me things like “You Yoruba people and owambe, na wa o” To them we are just too extravagant and sometimes unnecessarily excessive. I agree with them but then it seems we can’t help it in the land of Oodua. All tribes have their traditional ways of marking occasions but it seems culture tides are turning in favour of the afro-contemporary style of doing such; Owambe!
Yoruba Owambe is obviously a step above the rest with notable nativities within it setting the pace; the Ijebus, Idanre and Eko. Owambe is now a thriving enterprise. Sometimes ago Governor Fashola spoke about the fledgling business of Owambe describing it as a multi-million naira industry, at least in Lagos. From the caterers who feed party-lovers with ever expanding delicious cuisines and african dishes to the professional decorators who keep churning out new breathtaking party scenes, down to the consultant event-planners who now smile to the banks courtesy of there evident organizational skills that relieves the convener of much worries and after-party syndrome, Owambe has become a multidisciplinary sector of our cultural life.
The subtle business of aso-ebi or “ankoo” where fabrics are sold to invited guests as uniforms at profitable prices such that the guest is given a ‘gift’ (in souvenirs) as an ‘incentive’ for the purchase. Mutual benefit, someone may say. I say its business. Fashion designers are not left out of the money-spinning show. Apart from sewing compulsory aso-ebi with ever-evolving designs for all (rich and poor guests alike), from where they make cool cash, they give ladies so much to talk about post-event as notable guests and friends become the subject of fashion gossips. They have their mentor in a TV fashion police icon who recently passed on. Media coverage is another part of the deal for higher class who can afford heavy color-magazine bills and news coverage. Peeps can catch up on the flops and the best dressed thru these channels.
The broth will almost be bland if a group of people do not add their delightful spice – the musical band. Oh, they can make a low-budget owambe rock and their absence can make an expensive banquet watery. In actual fact, there is no such thing as Owambe without a live band. And this artists, as I have noticed recently, have stepped up their performances, sparkling and lighting up the parties with tunes from the older genres blending them beautifully with modern day hits, yet giving us that traditional feel to the listening. Amusing. The old and young can dance along. And that is the hallmark of Owambe- the dancefloor. Dollars, Pounds and Naira have been known to rain lavishly on the celebrant here. And the artists too. This as I understand is according to their eulogising skills, the financial calibre of guests, and the social class of the artist himself. Fact is, there is no Owambe without the music and the eulogies.
Fortunately, this is the part of Owambe that I like the most- the bandstand where gifted popular and not-so-famous artists alike play rich african tunes from juju to highlife to fuji to apala to soul to hiphop. My favorite is juju, where contemporary artists add newer beats to that rich genre, sometimes also rending popular hiphop or soul in sweet juju blended with highlife. If as a guest (and not involved in any catering or any logistics of the Owambe), you hear KSA, Ayefele or any similar modern juju artists playing at an owambe and you are not dancing or at least shaking your body or head, there are two things involved, its either you are not a Yoruba or you have a problem. If its the former you are safe, but its one of two things if its the latter. Either you are naturally asocial or really have a problem- a frank one which music will not and cannot solve. To the latter, I pray for a light in your tunnel. But to the recluse, please loosen up. At Owambes, don’t form, life is not that hard. Eat and drink what you want and what is good for you. Use your bare hand to tear the meat. Meet people and make friends if possible. And if you’re too shy to enter the dance floor, you can shake your head, move your body, tap your feet at those melodious tunes right on your seat.
Well then, that’s just my angle to this serious matter. Owambe. In Yorubaland, that’s how we roll. That’s how we ball. This article is dedicated to my friends, I wish them full joy and marital bliss. And if the reader is thinking of whom to call to make your party really look like Owambe, the writer has many helpful links. Holla @bamsky007
With my own hands.