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45 years after, Timi John Adetoyese Laoye I in the sands of time

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
02 August 2020   |   4:19 am
Last weekend, the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Osogbo, Osun State, hosted a national colloquium in memory of Oba Adetoyese Laoye I, who passed on in 1975.

Drummers welcome Prof. Yerima to the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Osogbo, Osun State

Last weekend, the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Osogbo, Osun State, hosted a national colloquium in memory of Oba Adetoyese Laoye I, who passed on in 1975.

With The Life And Legacies Of Timi John Adetoyese Laoye I: 45 Years After as theme, the virtual conference attracted a host of culture workers, experts and academics from all over the world. Among the speakers were, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Prof. Toyin Falola, Prof. Jeleel Ojuade, Prof. Oyeronke Olademo and others.

The conference was an opportunity to encourage academic and scholars to stimulate interest in Yoruba arts and culture. It also afforded participants opportunity to renew interest in Timi Laoye. Since his demise in 1975, very little have been documented on the late king, whom the late Alhaji Maitama Sule called ‘The King who made music’.

The late Timi Laoye is said to have placed the talking drum on the global map. His works are still widely mentioned and celebrated in Yoruba arts and culture till date. His legacy is a major part of Yoruba History in Nigeria. Today, it is doubtful if anybody can discuss drums in African culture without mentioning his name. He was not just a drummer, he was also an authority to be consulted and studied.

With his drum, he became a regular guest at many fora including media outfits, academic arena and international environment. One of his legacies to the local media was the signature tune of the old Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (WNBC)/Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), which has been variously interpreted as B’olubadan ba ku, ta ni o joye, Ninu ikoko dudu lati n se’be, Gomina akoko o n’imu oru, Ko si onigbese ni bi, lo si ile keji, Ojegede dudu, inu ta bon, Belo Gbadamosi Olori Ole, Eko je’badan lowo, thirteen pounds.

His performance at different cultural events in Nigeria quickly made him a toast of many who wanted to listen and learn what the drum is saying and how it is said. He went to so many countries to perform and promote this aspect of Yoruba cultural life and achievement in music and the arts.

In 1965, he led his palace drummers to attend the Commonwealth Festivals of Arts where he delivered a paper on Yoruba music and afterwards, he was received at the Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty, the Queen of England.

For Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, chairman, Board of Trustees, Timi Laoye’s “spirit of culture and arts illuminates both the young, old, African cultural experts and western cultural apologists who appreciate the essence of culture.”

According to him, “in his path to upholding the culture, Oba Adetoyese consistently supported individual and groups ambition on matters related to the culture and arts of Yoruba land especially in drum, music, festival and entertainment.”

Oyinlola noted that in Ede, Ulli Beier had important cultural, religious and arts encounters and lessons, which directly influenced his scholarship. Beier “learnt that the palace protocol of kneeling or crouching to speak before an Oba did not translate into abject weakness on the part of his subjects and likewise his encounter with babalawo and the olorisa’s taught him the attributes of modesty and absence of pretentions.

“Perhaps, it is important to mention that Oba Adetoyese insisted that for Ulli to have access to certain categories of knowledge of Yoruba society, he must be initiated into the ogboni society (council of elders). From Beier’s account, we are informed about Timi Laoye’s devotion to Sango, which he said, was his personal Orisa.”

Beier’s eventual initiation paved way for many of his discoveries and experience about African culture and religion. He was able to discover for himself some important but sacred arts, rites, artifacts and divination system of the Yoruba.

Oyinlola said, “by celebrating Oba Adetoyese Laoye’s today, we are only reminding ourselves that we have not only a rich historical past, we hold Oba Laoye as a good example of progressive monarchy that current occupiers of the royal stool can draw valuable lessons from.”

Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, Executive Director, CBCIU, in his paper titled, Timi Laoye: The Intellectual Monarch, said, “Timi Laoye belonged to the tiny club of those Nigerian Kings that historians refer to as ‘Intellectual Monarchs’ or ‘Philosopher Kings’. This class of monarchs had acquired Western education in the opening years of the 20th century and also distinguished themselves as authors and historians in their respective domains.”

Oyeweso noted that Oba Laoye was a regular participant at international conferences on African culture. From the conference on Yoruba Poetry held in Abeokuta that was organised by Ulli Beier on wide ranging issues on oral and written poetry in Yoruba land to the 1953 conference on ‘West African Culture’ at the University College, Ibadan, where he gave a lecture on all aspects of Dundun: its history, uses and techniques, Oba Laoye I, no doubt, over the years established an academic reputation for himself through his publications in books and articles in learned journals.”

The CBCIU executive director said, “given the corpus of his publications and academic engagements, there is certainly no doubt that Timi Adetoyese Laoye was an intellectual monarch. His published works have remained indispensable roadmap for scholars of African Studies and the bedrock of many masters’ dissertations and Ph.D. theses. He was a practical man of letters, a man who lived his thoughts. He was an avid participant in many international conferences with focus on the deepening of African culture and civilisation. He was a gift of the 19th and 20th century and the contemporary society. We urge our contemporary traditional rulers to emulate his best practices in education, professionalism and mentoring of young monarchs, artistes and scholars.”

Oyeweso said, “the bane of traditional institution today is that many of the rulers are yet to fully grasp the essence of history. When people are looking for relevance and upward mobility in life, they use history as the platform. When they have attained the Olympian height of their choice, they abandon history.”

In his paper, titled, The Enduring Legacies of Timi Adetoyese Laoye (I): 45years After, Oba Munirudeen Adesola Lawal (Laminisa I), the Timi of Ede, said, “Timi Laoye made Ede the cultural hub of the Yoruba nation.”

Like his predecessors – Timi Abibu Lagunju, Timi Bamgbaye Ajeniju, Timi Agbonran I and Timi Sanusi Akangbe – he was well versed in Yoruba history and culture and also held in high esteem as a reservoir of knowledge of the history of ancient Oyo Empire. He added that Timi Laoye gave “his copious time and attention to the German scholar and cultural icon, Ulli Beier. His long hours of conversations with Ulli Beier and other stakeholder in Ede culture industry, led to the production of Ulli Beier’s magnum opus, A Year of Sacred Festivals in One Yoruba Town.”

Ulli Beier also encouraged Timi Laoye to document some aspects of Yoruba Talking Drum. “Oba Laoye was a major protagonist of the Yoruba renaissance who successfully mobilised a number of Yoruba Oba to preserve the culture and traditions of their people,” he said, adding, “in spite of the challenges facing the institution of monarchy in Nigeria today, the institution remains the vehicle for grassroots developments, modernisation and conflict management and resolution. It is also the government that the local people relate with in their day-to-day life. There is no denying the fact that Timi Laoye was ahead of his generation. His contribution to Yoruba culture, traditional institution and community development were enormous. It is against this background that I enjoin the appropriate authorities to see to the immortalisation of this great monarch as we celebrate his achievement 45 years after.”

The conference ended with a resolve that the memory of Oba John Adetoyese Laoye should be kept alive and CBCIU was tasked to lead the crusade. Participants noted that the centre could actualise this by spearheading the setting-up of a library that would contain his published and unpublished writings, his letters and other archival materials like photographs, audio and video recording of his activities on the throne.

They also noted that to stem the tide of decline in the moral authority of the Yoruba traditional institution of obaship, the centre could begin an advocacy for a return to the observance of traditional ‘due process’ in the selection and appointment of obas.

They said the subversion of that process has led to the increasing politicisation and commoditisation of the obaship position leading to the enthronement of upstarts and fraudsters who now emblamatise the decadence of the institution. This seems to be “gradually denuding that institution of its moral authority.”

There was also a call for the promotion of Yoruba culture at the regional and intercontinental levels through encouragement and organisation of regional cultural competitions and stronger cultural contacts with the Yoruba diaspora in Europe, West Indies and the Americas. The centre, participants agreed, must internationalise its programmes and activities.

More importantly, in order to cope with the emerging problem of government’s reduced funding for the culture sector, they urged government to explore greater partnership with the private sector to bridge the funding gap.

They equally called government’s attention to its discriminatory attention to tourism at the expense of culture, saying without a vibrant culture sector, you can never have a vibrant tourism industry.