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K1 De Ultimate and Bankulli: The Untold Story of Nigeria’s Magic Duo

K1 De Ultimate and Bankulli

The recent release of Ijebu, by King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall (K1 De Ultimate) produced by Bankulli restarted a conversation about magic duos in the Nigerian music industry. The magic duo concept implies the likelihood of lightning being bottled when such artistes collaborate. When most people will point out Flavor and Masterkraft, Wizkid and Sarz, Asake and Magicstixxx, AQ and BeatsbyJayy, Show Dem Camp and Spax just to mention a few, K1 De Ultimate and Bankulli’s collaborations have long been unheralded. Probably because the genre isn’t afrobeats but Fuji, and the main listener base of this genre are older and aren’t fond of sharing opinions online. Or maybe because nobody ever reads the credits.


The duo met more than two decades ago. Bankulli at the time had transitioned from singing and playing instruments in church to working in the music industry as a singer and promoter. One Sunday around the turn of the millennium, Bankulli was introduced to Ayo Shonaiya by Mrs Shonaiya after service. Ayo at the time operated in the entertainment sector within the UK, operating with close ties to Nigeria– Bankulli helped out with work on ground. Ayo Shonaiya eventually managed K1 De Ultimate for a few years, and it was during this period Bankulli and K1 met. Soon after, strong synergy was formed.


“I remember some years back, I was backstage at the Barbican Centre in London– some Nigerian artists used to perform there then and King Wasiu Ayinde had a concert there.” Bankulli relayed the story, a tinge of nostalgia in his baritone. “There was a grand piano at the back and I decided to just test it out. I mean who else would I have played if not for K1?” He laughed.


“I played one of his tunes, ‘Ekú àtijó, sé dada ni’, he heard it and ran out. He was so happy at the time. We just started freestyling. And he told me he wished we could record something.” Bankulli didn’t think much of it, this was King Wasiu– a continental superstar, he must be very busy. However as the years went past and growth inevitably set in, the two men would run into each other at the airport. K1 would always remind him of his wishes to record. “He didn’t forget. He never forgets.”


Just before the pandemic hit, Bugo Aneto-Okeke of Mad Solutions reached out to Bankulli inviting him for an event, an opportunity to network. K1 was also billed to speak at the event. The men met backstage and K1 once again reminded Bankulli of the potential for collaboration. Bankulli agreed, “Let’s do it tomorrow” he said.


It took over 20 years to get K1 De Ultimate and Bankulli in a room together, but the endeavour was stone set. In the course of two weeks, they took out rooms in Oriental Hotel and another in Ikeja as makeshift recording studios. Bankulli came along with Mystro, a singer who doubles as a producer and they got to work. The vision for the project was to create a collage of K1’s greatest hits. “What a lot of people do not know is that: people like K1, Sunny Ade– their songs can be an hour long. What we did was trim it down. I told him ‘sir, they play your music on some platforms. How do we make the radio appreciate it?’ We decided to cut it short to four minutes.”


The first song on Fuji: The Sound is ‘Awade’ which compressed four of K1’s nostalgic choruses. Where the original 9-minute version carries a gradual, romantic rhythm with heavy bata and talking drums– the reimagined version of Awade races through its 3 minute duration with pulsating violin chords. It trades the traditional percussion on the old version with trap snares and 808s. The rhythm is double, and triple timed as with conventional trap music. When traditional drums eventually kick in, the new Awade is accompanied with grunge guitar riffs that will not feel missing on a soft rock album.


Awade features a 40 second interlude where King Wasiu Ayinde reads the Biblical promises within Deuteronomy 1:1-10. When prodded on the reasons K1, a Muslim would pick this passage to read, Bankulli said “I don’t know, he was in the spirit. Kwam 1 is a very spiritual man. Very detailed and super talented. He has too many buckets of knowledge.”


This record was not an attempt to cash grab on existing legacy, but a calculated attempt to enrich and reimagine what has existed. After all, the old and the new can rub shoulders and extend embrace to generations unborn. Instead of sampling and re-engineering, the songs were remade and arranged from scratch. “He re-recorded all the songs. He was on key, and he is a perfectionist. He was born into it, if you play a note, he will go there. Kwam 1 writes with a pen and paper and he’s always ready to make music. I believe he was just waiting for someone like me.”


Most of the instrumentation was digital, save for some appearances by K1’s band members. Notably Joel, a saxophonist who made an appearance on Omo Naija. This track also featured a verse from Teni Entertainer early in her career. A part of K1’s Berlin Compact Disk album was singled out on Fuji: The Sound as “Thinking About You”, featuring Toby Grey. It is a romantic, somber rendition that ends on a strong note with both artistes feeding off each other’s riffs.


The last song ‘Ade Ori Okin’ has been a fan favorite at events for decades, yet, was never recorded. They took this opportunity to put it down on wax and its release has established it a staple in parties all over Southwest Nigeria. “We recorded even more. There is something about Kwam 1, he listens. I also allowed space for creative expression too. They are his songs, what I basically did was bring scissors, or cutlass to bring it all together.” he added.


Bankulli swivels on a white ergonomic chair in his studio in Surulere as he shares his story, legs tucked in on themselves. He had briefly gone inside to change from a white V-neck to his ‘Osha’ hoodie once we wanted to start the interview. Like Clark Kent changes to a public facing Superman persona. He hardly ever goes out unless invited, or to check out something music related. Yet, it would seem he is everywhere and knows everybody.


There is music all around the room: on the wall are pictures with Kanye West and Jay Z, another one with Femi Kuti. A Grammy nomination file sits on his cupboard, inside are three studio microphones. “My friend in the US gave them to me,” Bankulli said. Just by the drawers are video recording equipment he acquired while creating “Chronicles of Afrobeats”, an episodic film detailing history of the genre.


He leans into his computer and plays an untitled song which would later become Ijebu; a panegyric of the place Ijebu in Ogun state. The song coasts down-tempo, punctuated by percussions and accented by a guitar. K1 had held off on the release of the song because he forgot to name one local government in Ijebu and he’d rather not let them feel slighted when stamping it in history.


On seeing the success from a 2-week endeavour that produced a beloved album, Bankulli is enamoured to do more, with more Nigerian music legends. “Another person I would love to do this for is Ebenezer Obey. I don’t know him, I am not close to him” he said. And with K1, he probably has the most ambitious hopes in future collaborations. “If I can get Kwam 1 for just two weeks again, we will do more than that. I just need to get him in a room with a keyboardist. I listen to all the Victony, Omah Lay vibe, Kwam 1 can go there.”


King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal ‘K1’, 66 and Abisagboola Oluseun ‘Bankulli’, 49 both carry an old school demeanour in their affairs. Disciplined, hands-on men who have built legacies in an industry that resists and forgets. The quality of their collaborations and individual efforts shows and proves that music remains a universal experience that transcends age and trends.


Oyedele Alokan is passionate about culture and arts. Engage on instagram and twitter, @omoalokan


Oyedele is passionate about culture and arts. Engage on instagram and twitter, @omoalokan