Poems

A word to the wealthy

Notes

One of the things I found, while researching this piece of poetry by Lánrewájú Adépọ̀jù, is that the original title of the work was likely Máfipáwówó which translates to “Do not seek wealth with force”. I had chosen “Rest and Riches” as my English translation only on listening to the track, and surmising from its content that its focus was on the necessary balance between ambition and prudence. 

One of the reasons why many of the original titles of Lánrewájú Adépọ̀jù’s tracks or albums may be lost is that they were released many decades ago. This particular one, by the nature of the soft background music of drums and flute, was likely one of his first. I will date it to the late seventies, when poetry albums by him and his contemporaries featured this kind of soft non-intrusive background music. Others later involved louder and more active musical and vocal accompaniment while Adépọ̀jù elected to ditch music altogether, arguing that it distracted from his message which had become more acerbic, direct, and radical. 

Because of the age of this work, and because the artist no longer really has control of the distribution of the tracks, many of which have earned abiding fans in the Yorùbá-speaking population, one could find the work sometimes in a pirated compact discs along with dozens of other tracks by the same artist, with no identifying feature than a number and the artist’s name. Maybe in some thrift shop online, one could still find his albums with their album sleeve and all identifying information. But in Nigeria today, except in private collector hands, one would be lucky to get the songs/tracks/albums themselves, even without identifying information like title, date of publication, and publisher. The artist himself will be a good source.

I chose this particular piece for translation — not just because it is relatively short and compact — because of the universal nature of its theme. It feels like a written poem rather than an oral one, even though it was recorded on vinyl. It lacks the usual confrontation and militarism of his later works. In contrast to the many of the later outputs of the poet, this one could apply to any culture and at any time in history. It had no known targets, it didn’t include any personal boasts (which would characterize his later works) and could not be tied to a particular milieu. It was just a poet pondering a universal theme of greed, ambition, rest, equality, and avarice.

Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún

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