‘The Woman who was a strong voice for women through traditional music’
Born Saadatu Aliyu in of present day Funtua Katsina State, Hajia Barmani Coge is one of the most phenomenal women to emerge from Northern Nigeria. She had no western education and reportedly got married at the age of 15.
Barmani Choge is a renowned Hausa female singer who spent 52 years of her life composing and singing various Hausa songs.
For a part of the country shackled in tradition and hemmed in by patriarchy, Barmani’s rise to prominence with her daring music that can be defined as feminist in every sense of the word and sometimes very racy is a remarkable feat.
Parents would often shield their children from listening to her music when she was being aired on TV or on radio; especially when she crooned out those salacious lines that women hailed with ululations and cheers and sometimes with bowed heads due to the brazenness of her words and their delivery. But this often increased the young ones’ desire to hear this woman the more.
Barmani soaked up the cosmopolitan nature of the place that produced the legendary Mamman Shata, and picked up what had hitherto been a pastime for women in the confines of their houses (the beating of calabashes) and made a successful musical career out of it. And all these, while having a dozen children or so along the way. A feat she celebrated in her song “Gwanne Ikon Allah”.
The Funtua in which Barmani and Shata grew was teeming with brothels and an approach to life and was perhaps ripe for the lewd lyrics of her hit song “Wakar Duwai wai”, which in contemporary Nigerian music would have taken a fitting title like “The butt song”.
In it, Barmani praises the female physiognomy and its inherent powers, how a woman can wiggle her backside and have a man do her bidding. Women loved it, and men smiled a silent acknowledgement. And Barmani place as a social deviant was firmly established.
Some of her lyrics focus on the emancipation of women, economically and otherwise. She is sometimes brutish in her criticism of women who refuse to do anything to improve their economic stations in life. Consider her lyrics in “Ku Kama Sana’a, Mata” (Women, take up a trade) or her unreserved bashing of women who are not as smart as they ought to be and prefer to be reliant on others such as in “Sakarai Bata da Wayo”, (Fool, she’s not smart).
Regardless of the songs she sings and the unconventional slant of the lyrics in them, Barmani was not a total rebel and did not encourage social disorder. She sang about her opposition to polygamy in her song “Dare Allah Magani” , sang about childbirth and bragged about her dozen children, split equally between the genders. Of this dozen, she was survived by six and some 60 grandchildren.
Her successful career spanned well over four decades from when she started singing at 27 and in the tradition of Hausaland acquired a number of wealthy patrons who sponsored her on trips, showered her with gifts of cars, money and other luxury items.
She held sway as the sole proprietress of the Amada brand of music for a very long time, having been preceded by Hajiya Uwaliyo mai Amada, whom Barmani had since outclassed and surpassed in accomplishments.
However, her star and popularity had been in decline before she died due to the changes in time, globalization of music, and the influence of contemporary forms of Hausa music.
Inspite of her fame and popularity, at the time of her death, Barmani was not in very good financial standing. She had been ill for some time, reportedly on and off over the span of five years, until she was struck down by hypertension that left her paralysed some two months before her death. That according to her son Hamza, who had the grave task of announcing her demise, saying one part of her body had been totally immobile in the last few weeks.With Barmani gone, it would seem the curtain has fallen on an era of traditional Hausa music particularly among women, which she epitomized in all its glory and brazenness and which now yearns for an heir.
The death of Hajiya Sa’adatu Aliyu (Barmani Choge) is a phenomenal loss to women of Northern Nigeria and traditional Hausa music.
Her death marked the end of an era for not only was her brand of Amada music peculiar and sung in her sultry voice to the accompaniment of calabashes, sometimes inverted in water, but her lyrics were defining and assertive. Lots of people eulogized her for being different reasons, some considered her an icon while some considered her deviant.