The Singing Roofs – Abimbola Adelakun’s Under The Brown Rusted Roofs

Shakespeare says if music is the food of life, plays on. The same way a writer uses his words to paint pictures of life. We may not be able to identify the way a writer deploys other genres in his writing but we can trace the pattern of use. This is manifested in the way Adelakun uses music and songs in her writing. Under the Brown Rusted Roofs is a book set in the ancient city of Ibadan. It documents the travails and pains of women in a polygamous family. It details the sojourn of a man and his family through the web of socio-political struggles in the 80’s.

To any discerning reader, the subject of discourse in the novel is as interesting as the manner of its narration. The writer makes use of indigenous communication resources to drive home her point. One of such indigenous resources employed is songs. The people in Adelakun’s narration sing in various situations they find themselves. We shall examine a few examples here. Her first attempt at her sonorous voice is done with one of her characters appealing to familiar buyers to patronise her:

E ra eja, e sebe

                                                                Eja de obe de

Buy fish, cook soup

Fish has come, soup has come (p 10)

This scenario is not strange to those who are familiar with life in the compounds (agboole).

The book features another people’s rhythm in praise poetry. A new born has just come. To show her happiness, Iya Agaba (granny) chants her grandfather’s oriki because she believes he has come back to his family in the new boy:

Omo abikan

                                                                Omo asowo ni wura leru

                                                                Omo atori aje re ida

                                                                M’erin ni Moja

                                                                Ki o fi asiki ranmi

                                                                Omo ite gbongbo ona se omi suru

                                                                Baba mi o si n’ile

                                                                Nijo erin la de ile baba re

                                                                Iba be nile o ba pa eni

                                                                Iba be nile o ba pa eji

                                                                Iba be nile o ba pa erindinlogun

Child of Abikan

One who trades and has gold and goods

One who because of trade goes to Ida

One who captured an elephant in Moja

If only I see Moro to partner trade with

That he might bring good luck to me

One who steps on the root on the way and

Water splutters out

My father is not at home

The day an elephant came charging to his father’s house

Had he been at home he would have killed one

Had he been at home he would have killed two

Had he been at home he would have killed nineteen (p 14)

The song on page 53 is for a celebration of life well-lived. The Arigbabuwo’s grandmother has just passed away. As it is customary among the Yorubas, the death of the woman must be celebrated. Thus, various songs are on the lips of the people. The first is here rendered:

Iya wa lo , ororun idera(2ce)

Ko kuku moto, owo omo lo ku si

Iya wa lo, or rorun idera

Our mother has gone, gone to a place of comfort (2ce)

She didn’t die in a car crash; she died in her child’s hands

Our mother has gone to a place of comfort

It does not stop there, they have the second one:

E wo gele genge , lori aji gbo t’oko

E wo gele genge lori aji gbo t’oko

Aye ni n o jen o ni jiya

E wo gele genge lori aji gbo t’oko

See the head gear delicately balanced

On the head of the woman who rises early

To do her husband’s bidding

My life will be sweet and never otherwise

And another

Sibi onide ikoko onide lawa fi n sebe o

Sibi onide , ikoko onide lawa fi n sebe o

Awa, awa  anile yii o, aya oloa la je (2ce)

Sibi onide, ikoko onide lawa n fi sebe.

Spoons of brass, pots of brass,

That is what we use in cooking

We in this land, we are wives to wealthy men

And then another

Ile la baso, ke e salejo ara(2ce)

Aso ti a wo, olowo f’aramo olowo

Bata ti a wo, olowo jogun idera

Gele ti a we, sukusuku bam bam

Eni o ba wu ko be

Ile la ba so, ki salejo ara.

We met clothes at home,

It is no visitor to our body

The clothes we are wearing

A rich man moves with his kind

The shoes we have on,

The rich inherited comfort

Our head gear, properly in place

Anybody that is swollen

Is free to burst

We met clothes at home,

It is no visitor to the body (p 53-54)

The people’s voice comes up again. They intend to assert themselves in the political scene of the 80’s and they change their song from the usual one to another to reflect their thinking:

Ni Ibadan ni won bi wa si o (2ce)

Baba wa pelu won loni ile (2ce)


N’Ibadan ni won bi wa si o (2ce)

Baba sebi awon ni o nile    (2ce)

It is in ibabdan that we were born

Our fathers plus them own the land


It is in Ibadan that we were born

It is our own fathers that own the land

The use of song here is funny. It is a quarrel between Baba n’sale and his wife, Alake. He slots in an old Kollington album which goes thus:

Onigbese aya, ma gbe ko mi o

Onigbese aya,ma gbe ko mi o

T’o ba ti ri ounje

Ko niitiju mo rara

Onigbese aya ma gbe ko mi o

Wife that will bring one into debt,

Don’t bring her to me (2ce)

Once she sees food,

She loses all sense of shame

Wife that brings one into debt,

Don’t bring her to me. (p 78)

What a ridiculous way to respond to one’s wife tantrums!

The animals sing too in Adelakun’s work. They feature in a popular folktale where they want to become human beings. In their frenzy they sing:

A o d’eniyan leni o!


A o d’eniyan leni o!


D’eniyan, deniyan, deniyan!


We will become human beings today!

Become human beings!

We will become human beings today!

Become human beings!

Become human beings! Become human beings!….

What a story! The animals end up thwarting their own attempt to become human beings.

Children are not left out. They also sing. In their innocent playful moments they burst out in play songs:

Ekun meran


O tori bo’gbo

O torun bo ‘gba


O fe mu


Ko maa lemu o


Oju ekun yi pon!

Iru ekun yi le!


The wolf should catch the goat


It dipped his head in the bush


It stuck its neck in the fold


It wants to catch it


It can’t catch it


The wolf’s eyes are red!

The wolf’s tail is hard

Alhaji Arigbabuwo wants to show his esteem for his favoured wife, Afusat, when he gets up to dance to a rendition:

Afusa n soyaya soko

Afusa n te oko lorun

Ki ri oko re fin rara…

Oluwa oba….

Afusa is making her husband

Afusa makes her husband happy

She does not disrespect her husband at all

God the king … (p 159)

Children come up again in their childish bickering:

Esu ta epo si ki n ri iran wo!

Ta epo si!

Devil, put oil in this fire

That I may get something to watch!

Put more oil!  (p 176)

They get beaten at the end of it all.

The children are at it again. They document a serious national and historical event – the death of Dele Giwa in:

Babangida lo Mecca,

O de, o ko leta

Dele Giwa gba leta,

O ku

Omoleewe , e da sile meji

Ka fi s’oku re

Agba e kose, e da sile mefa….

Babangida went to Mecca,

Came back, wrote a letter.

Dele Giwa collected the leter.

And died.

School children, contribute two kobo

To use for his burial.

Adults at apprenticeship,

Contribute six kobo.

So, in Under the Brown Rusted Roofs, the songs and music continues to emanate from different quarters and segments. They document people’s social, marital and political experiences ranging from personal to national issues and so the narration goes on being extended by the songs emanating from the people on whom the story is centred.

12 thoughts on “The Singing Roofs – Abimbola Adelakun’s Under The Brown Rusted Roofs” by rasheed (@biyicrown)

  1. This is just confusing…

    1. @Seun, Please place the review within the context of the use of the songs.It is an extraction of the songs witihn the book.

  2. It’s like this becos its a contemporary work. I like the song insertions in the story.

    1. You get the thrust of the review. Thank you.

  3. This is one book I won’t be reading.

    1. Please go and read it. Highly interesting. Take it from me.

  4. What manner of book is this?
    Do I blame the reviewer or the writer?

    1. Please place the review within the context of the use of the songs.It is an extraction of the songs within the book.So blame neither the writer nor the reviewer.

  5. Wld want to read this book and see the contextual usage of the songs.

  6. @Lawal. Please read the book. You will discover it is a good read.

  7. Thank you all for the comments.

  8. I definitely understand this review. It is a good review of the songs in Abimbola’s book.

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