Wednesday, June 18 marked the 15th anniversary of the death of Alhaji Mamman Shata Katsina, Hausa land’s foremost musician. It is an apt time to remember the man who was said to have sung “for everything” – man, nature, machine – and ruminate on his contributions to the world, as well as see if the world has paid him back in return.
Shata, as a talented person, was and is viewed differently by different people, alive or in death. In the over 50 decades of his singing career, many things were said about him, true and false, which contributed to the boosting of his stardom and his myth. Surprisingly, however, even those that knew him fairly well had some skewed understanding about the Mamman Shata phenomenon.
Shata was honoured with a doctorate degree by Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, for his contribution to national development, using the vehice of his music. He had earlier been honoured by the Obasanjo administration in the late 1970s. And this year he was one of the distinguished Nigerians that were honoured by the federal government as part of the nation’s centenary celebrations. Nonetheless, I still feel that a lot needs to be done to honour the man, especially the governments of Funtua and Musawa as well as the Katsina state government. There is no major street in Katsina (or even in Funtua) named after him.
In the years during and after the research work I led to compile Shata’s biography, I heard so many lurid tales about the man. Today, I am listing some of the myths while trying to debunk or put them aright. The purpose is to remind you, dear reader, about them or even teach you those that you didn’t know!
1. Shata did not consult apothecaries or seers for luck or upper hand in the singing trade as was the vogue among people engaged in traditional occupations in Hausa land. Up till the time of his death no one could say for certain who his helper among the malams or herbalists was.
2. Any time Shata would sing for Mammada Dan Sambo (whose song was “Haka Nan Ne Mamman Kanen Idi Wan Yalwa”) he would stand up from his seat out of respect for his first real major benefactor. Significantly, he wasn’t doing that while singing for even bigger benefactors like the Emir of Daura, the late Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar, or the chairman of Kabo Airline, the late Alhaji Muhammadu Adamu Dankabo. Reason: Mammada, a cotton and groundnuts agent based in the defunct Katsina Native Authority zone in the 1950s, was the first person to give Shata the gift of a horse, the first to give him a bicycle, the first to give him a motorcycle, and ultimately the first to give him a car.
3. Shata was divorced from many of his wives over some major or minor misunderstanding, but the woman he sorely missed after a divorce more than any other was Hajiya Yalwa, who later got married to his main aide, the late Alhaji Bature Sarkin Magana.
4. Some people believe that Shata had sired more than a hundred children, but the truth is that he got 23 children. The many children (now men and women) people used to see in his house were the children of his relations living under his care.
5. Only the female children of Shata went to the university level in pursuit of education. They are Jamila, a lawyer at the EFCC in Abuja; Bilkisu, a banker in Kaduna; Umma and Hauwa, housewives in Kaduna and Kano respectively.
6. It was widely rumoured that Shata was so rich that even he did not know how much money he stashed away. Indeed, it was said that there was a particular bank account from which he never withdrew a penny out of his savings. It was a surprise to many observers, therefore, that when he died he didn’t leave much fortune. What happened? Shata did not accummulate the kind of wealth people speculated about, simple. Moreover, he was a philantrophist who gave away much of his wealth to others, and spending came to him quite easily. He wasn’t miserly. He sponsored many people to the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, for instance. That was why it did not take too long before his family slid into want and penury and had to be occasionally assisted by his admirers.
7. Shata had travelled in many countries abroad, especially in West Africa. He had also been to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage, and was in England, the United States, and France. Still, there were two other Hausa musicians who traversed the world more than him – Alhaji Atta Dabai and Alhaji (Dr) Adamu Danmaraya Jos. Dabai was in Europe and America long before them, as his foreign trips began in 1977 as part of the FESTAC jamboree.
8. Only two Hausa musicians have so far been honoured with doctorate degrees – Shata and Danmaraya. Some people had canvassed such honour for Ibrahim Narambada and Musa Kankwairo (posthumously), but it hasn’t happened – yet.
9. Shata sang the best “zambo” (attack music) songs among all Hausa musicians. In this genre, ‘Gagarabadau’ remains unbeatable. But he never tackled anyone to a fight first; anybody he attacked in his music had hurt him first. And, admirably, he was quick to forgive. For example, he reconciled with the man he downgraded in ‘Gagarabadau’ to the extent that he didn’t want to discuss the song again, much less sing it.
10. Many of Shata’s benefactors have not been assisting his family after his death. But some are doing well, such as the Jarman Keffi, Dr Hassan Lawal; the Danburam Gombe and former FCT minister, Dr Aliyu Modibbo Umar; the Sardaunan Dutse, Alhaji Bello Maitama, and Police Commissioner Abdu Tsantsaya (of the ‘Dan Sanda DPO Audu’ fame).
11. Is it true a former state governor and minister had married one of the Shata girls? Sure. Col Bala Mande (rtd), a former governor and former minister, now a PDP chieftain, married Umma Shata and they have children.
12. Is it true Shata once cursed his son who decided to take up the singing career because he did not want him to do so? False. Shata had repeatedly said he would not want any of his children to become a singer because of the changes going on in the Hausa society; he preferred that they go to school and acquire some education, which he saw as the best weapon in the modern world. When his eldest son Lawal (Magaji) started singing he tried to discourage him, but he did not curse him. Lawal still sings.
13. Four of Shata’s children died, three of whom when he was alive. They were: Amina (1951-1954), Ibrahim ‘Babangida’ (1973-1995), A’isha ‘Hajjajo’ (1969-1999), and Hadiza ‘Lami’ (1972-2003).
14. Is it true Shata once said when he died some of his songs would simply disappear? And if it is true, did they actually disappear? It is true he uttered something like that to Alhaji Halilu Ahmed Getso in a 1988 interview on FRCN Kaduna. But after his death, no song of his is known to have disappeared. Indeed, he did not tell Halilu the actual titles of the songs that would disppear. Most observers, including Halilu, consider that pronouncement the kind of grandstanding usually ascribed to Shata, who used to make it in order to intimidate or boost his legend among listeners.
15. The most amazing gift received by Shata, in his view, was when a “person was given to him as a gift”! It was in 1974, when one of his friends, Alhaji Sani, the son of the Village Head of Falgore town in Kano state (the present Village Head), gave him his daughter Dije to marry. Dije (a.k.a. Ta-Falgore) became Shata’s wife in 1975 and remained so till his death in 1999. They were blessed with two sons.
16. Shata was survived by three wives: Furera (the eldest wife, whom he married in Niger Republic), Dije, and Amina. The youngest, Amina, never had a child for him.
17. Who was that advocate (maroki) who became famous for his praise epithet of Shata in which he says “Jirgin sama ko macen tsari ta san ka”? His name is Alhaji Lawal Tsangaya Musawa. He was of Zaria origin, but was born in Musawa, the hometown of Mamman Shata. He and Shata were childhood friends. He was Shata’s first advocate. He remained a member of the Shata group up till the time he died in Funtua in December 1984.
18. It was not only in the field of praise-song that Shata carved a niche for himself. He was a big-time farmer and politician. He owned farms, cattle and other animals, such as crocodiles. On the political field, he was once a councillor in Kankia local government area in 1976, later chairman of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) for that LGA in the Second Republic, and in the early 1990s was chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for Funtua local government area. Shata ran for president in the Third Republic!
19. Shata, like Fela Kuti, lived like a commoner. He was not flamboyant or showy. You could tell from his dress, his food, his house, etc. Any expensive dress he wore or vehicle he drove must have been given to him by a benefactor. He was progressive in his worldview, which brought him into conflict on many occasions with some members of the establishment.
20. Is it true Shata was over 100 years old when he died? Not true at all. He was about 76 when he died in Malam Aminu Kano Teachin Hospital in Kano on Friday, June 18, 1999, after an illness. He was buried in Daura, the city of the man he came to rever like a father, the late Emir Muhammadu Bashar. May his soul rest in peace, amen.
Sheme, the editor of Blueprint, was leader of the writing team for Mamman Shata’s official biography, titled “Shata Ikon Allah”, which was published in 2006