At Duro Ladipo lecture, stakeholders task government on Yoruba language, values
The Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Abere, Osun State, two weeks ago, was the cynosure of eyes, as art and culture enthusiasts, the academia, royalty, students and theatre practitioners converged on the institute for the second Duro Ladipo Lecture and 41st anniversary of his death organised in collaboration of the centre and Osun State government.
With Design And Aesthetics Elements In Duro Ladipo’s Oba Koso And Moremi, as theme, this year’s guest lecture was Prof. Duro Oni of the University of Lagos, Akoka. Quoting Yemi Ogunbiyi, Prof. Oni said Duro Ladipo was the most traditional minded of the three foremost theatre practitioners of his time, which included Hubert Ogunde and Kola Ogunmola.
According to Oni, there is a certain complexity that characterises Ladipo’s theatre and also distinguished him from both Ogunde and Ogunmola. He noted that Ladipo’s approach to theatre was marked by innovative use of ritual poetry and traditional rhythms he (Ladipo) learnt from his grandfather, seen in traditional festivals and ‘egungun’ (masquerades) ritual performances.
The don observed that there was the influence of the church on Ladipo’s theatre, especially at its formative stage, saying this was noticed in both the conception and subject of his early plays such as, Jaleyemi, Afolayan and Kobidi, which he reworked from Biblical stories of Samson and Delilah, Joseph and his conspiratorial brothers, and David and Goliath respectively.
Prof Oni noted that Ulli Beier, in his account, both as someone who helped to develop Ladipo’s career and as frequent collaborator in the making of the works, said Ladipo was not just one of the best known and critically-acclaimed Yoruba dramatists who emerged from postcolonial Africa, but was also able to capture the symbolic spirit of the Yoruba through his works, particularly Oba Moro (1962), the famous Oba Koso (The King did not hang) and Oba Waja (1964), the last of which also inspired Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman (1976).He noted that Ladipo was a powerful figure, the very image of energy and health, adding that his theatre shaped the existences of a whole generation of Yoruba people, challenging them to re-examine their attitudes towards their own culture as well as to re-evaluate Yoruba religion.
According to him, the trio — Ogunde, Ogunmola and Ladipo — followed closely by major proponents of the Yoruba travelling theatre such as, Ade Love, Isho Pepper, Oyin Adejobi, and Moses Adejumo (Baba Sala), had their own unique footprints on the Nigerian theatre scene. He noted, while Ogunde was the impresario personality, Ogunmola was quintessential, but Ladipo excelled in the authenticity of his historical and folkloric dramatic presentations.
The academic said Ladipo was a performer par-excellence and known for his dexterous use of traditional musical instruments, chants and dance steps. He stated that in Oba Koso in which Ladipo played his most notable role as Sango, he (Ladipo) brought to the performance such unusual dexterity that was so close to reality in his delivery that the audience assumed he was Sango-incarnate.
Recalling how Mbari Club at Ibadan, which Ladipo, alongside Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, J.P. Clark, Chinua Achebe, Demas Nwoko, Ezekiel Mphahlele and others founded, influenced Ladipo’s theatre and career, Oni revealed that after leaving Ibadan for Osogbo, where Ladipo finally settled and started his theatre troupe in 1961, he replicated the Ibadan club by converting his popular bar to a theatre hub, which he renamed ‘Mbari Mbayo’ (Were I to see, I would rejoice) to distinguish it from the one in Ibadan whose name was derived from an Igbo concept of creation.
Mbari Mbayo became, among other things, a cultural centre, arts gallery and meeting point for young artist(e)s, including, Twins Seven Seven and Jimoh Buraimoh, the theatre troupe’s first and official technician, Muraina Oyelami, Adebisi Fabunmi, Asiru Olatunde and others. He disclosed that Ladipo wrote his plays to ensure that Yoruba traditional stories survive the influx of western narratives, demonstrate both the richness and uniqueness of the Yoruba culture in its totality, and to enshrine in the hearts of the people the names and memories of great Yoruba kings, both historical and mythic hero(ine)s.Oni revealed that some of the stories including Ejagbigbe, Oyelogbawo, Ewe Ayo, Akeju and Gbade-gesin were later recreated as short sketches on television.
The Prof stated that in Ladipo’s short, but glorious career he and his theatre company featured in some of the most important festivals of the time and won many awards. These included the performance of Oba Koso at the Berlin Festival in Germany (1964) where it won the first prize, followed by its international acclaim at the first Commonwealth Arts Festival, Great Britain in 1965 before its European tour, and subsequent performances in Brazil, Australia and Germany. His theatre troupe also presented at the Festival Mundial, France in 1973, the Yoruba Festival in Zurich, 1974, went on another tour of Brazil in 1975, and gave performances in the United States and Paris in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In West Germany, he recalled that Ladipo became the first African to be honored with the National Arts Trophy, while Oba Koso was chosen as the Model for Outstanding Performance at the Commonwealth Festival. In Nigeria, Ladipo was conferred with the national honour, Member of the Order of Niger (MON) for his outstanding contributions to arts in the country. Shortly before his death, he noted, Ladipo featured in a couple of films alongside television plays that he produced through with Bode Wasinmi.
On the design and aesthetic considerations of Oba Koso, the erudite scholar noted that the performance captured Sango’s war exploits, rise to power, fame and subsequent clash with his lieutenants, especially Gbonka and, finally, his abdication of the throne, to his subsequent suicide and deification by the people. Oni noted that the play was first performed with rather simple costume and no painted backdrops in 1963 at Osogbo to mark the anniversary of Mbari Mbayo, adding that Demas Nwoko observed that the performance was laced with original indigenous music and appropriate dances along with poetry. He revealed that Beier corroborated Nwoko’s observation by mentioning that while preparing for the show, he (Beier) personally introduced Ladipo to real-life Sango priests at Osogbo, Ede, Otan Aiyegbaju, Ila Orangun, Ilobu and Ifon, and the result of Ladipo’s interaction with the traditionalists was enormous.
Following series of competitions and performances, Oni recalled how Georgina Beier created extravagant impressions of forest, sky, sun, moon and city gates on a fabric dye measuring about 6.5m by 2.7m to effectively tell the story. He added that in Osogbo, prior to the Commonwealth Festival in Britain, Georgina assisted by Bisi Fabunmi, an Osogbo artist, designed and built the set, which turned out to be both a simple and powerful piece, a ‘network of geometric silhouetted patterns in indigo.’
“Different venues of performance, especially during the Commonwealth festival tour, posed challenges to the use of the backdrops in terms of the size/space of the performing areas. While the backdrops fitted the small stage of the Mbari at Osogbo and were simply hung to make scene changes straightforward and effective, the cloth were threaded on bamboo poles, which rested on vertical sticks with a forked end to change them; they were turned over like the pages of a book, but was not the case on the tour, hence they had to be both imaginative and creative in overcoming the shortcomings presented by the large traditional proscenium stage of the Royal Court in Liverpool and the Scala in bLondon,” he said.
According him, Georgina noted that the available lighting equipment became useful to manipulate the backdrops in ways that they could not do with the limited technical resources at Osogbo, Quoting Georgina, he said: “They were suspended in mid-air on a blacked out stage. They were like paintings in space. With lights and dimmers we could change the colours, repaint them. We could start a scene with a glimmer of light and gradually bring the ‘painting’ into full colour. We could use colour like an orchestra, something soft and gentle could build up into a crescendo, the colour of sound.”He disclosed that while Georgina was the set designer for Ladipo in Oba Koso, Jimoh Buraimoh played the role of lighting technician-cum-designer.
On the design and aesthetic considerations of Moremi, Oni noted that it was quite different because the concept for the backdrops were appliqué, especially due to the play’s ‘cultural diversity’ in terms of the reflections of the Yoruba and ‘foreign’ setting of the play in Igboland (precisely Agbor) for the invaders of Ife. Oni disclosed how Georgina represented the Igbo King’s palace and the sacred Esinmirin River, which was symbolised by a broad band of bold blue tie-dye on a black background. According to him, the need to represent Igbo setting determined the choice of ‘Dutch’ prints, imported textiles that were developed by Dutch firms specifically for West African markets.
For the lighting, he referred to Buraimoh who disclosed how the group used dimmers for the first time at the performance of Moremi. According to Buraimoh, after the Commonwealth Festival, the group went on tour of Europe and performances in Brussels and Vienna were particularly memorable. But of significance was how he was able to convince Ladipo to purchase the dimmers which was effective to bear the 4000 watts lights, even as a precaution. He noted that the availability of the dimmers ensured the elimination of the kind of problem that the group faced in Bad Godesberg in Germany at a special performance of Oba Koso for the diplomatic corps in a hall that was not equipped.
As Buraimoh explained, the group had to borrow light equipment from television house which he used to generate 10 floodlights with a total of one thousand watts. Apart from the cumbersome nature of preparing the lights for the performance, the process was also time-consuming, leaving him with only 30 minutes before the show started. But such a hindrance was eliminated with available advanced technology.
In his welcome speech, the Executive Director and member Board of Trustees, CBCIU, Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, noted that as one of the pioneers of Yoruba travelling theatre in post-colonial Nigeria, Duro Ladipo’s plays occupy a significant standing in the political, socio-cultural and religious milieu of the Yoruba people.
According to him, the visual theatrics or components of the plays are the very key area that will interest most Yoruba and Nigerians, adding that his visual theatrics often conjure meanings that take the audience into historical journey; one that provides a subtle understanding of the aesthetics and expressions found in all aspects of Yoruba culture. He stated that Ladipo’s plays generally explore the spiritual and socio-political motivators of the Yoruba from historical setting, which link the life history of the embodiment of Yoruba cosmology.
According to Oyeweso, entrenching and preserving Yoruba culture and traditions for the future generation is a task that must be taken seriously if the Yoruba culture and tradition must survive. “With Mbari Mbayo group, Duro Ladipo trained a number of young men and women whom he considered as future generation. In spite of the challenges confronting his aspirations, he remained undaunted to his ideals and belief and today, one can look back and say that what Duro Ladipo envisaged about the sustainability of Yoruba culture and traditions is true about the decline Yoruba culture and traditions has suffered. In recent times, there has been clamour for children to speak their indigenous languages. Therefore, all stakeholders and policy makers need to rise to the task of preserving our culture and traditions because it is the only solution to the myriad of challenges confronting our society,” Oyeweso said.
In his speech, Chairman, Board of Trustees, CBCIU, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, said, mausoleums are significant monuments that reveal a lot about people’s beliefs concerning death and the afterlife. According to the former Osun State governor, Yoruba people have a very strong attachment with their dead relatives and recognises their achievements and lives through monuments and other physical materials or signs, noting that CBCIU would build a mausoleum at the playwright’s final resting place and also rehabilitate the famous Mbari Mbayo Club as a way of immortalising him.
Prince Oyinlola disclosed that when completed, the edifice would serve as a tourist centre and a melting pot for culture enthusiasts and other cultural activities. “We believe Duro Ladipo is still alive with us through his plays. And to bridge the gap between the old and the young, we have a very strong partnership with the Duro Ladipo family to host an annual Duro-Ladipo Memorial Inter-school Drama Competition. This year’s edition was held on Thursday, March 7, 2019.
“We are using this opportunity to promote stage drama among secondary school students by catching them young and also to encourage the speaking of indigenous languages among the youth. Most importantly, the competition is informed by the need to keep these young ones abreast of the abiding legacies of Duro Ladipo by encouraging them to stage some of the plays of the playwright in their respective Drama clubs. Through this, they too will have a strong connection with what Duro Ladipo stood for, which is to preserve the Yoruba culture in its entirety through drama, music, dance and performance,” he said.
Traditional leaders, including the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun; the Orangun of Oke-Ila Orangun, Oba Adedeokun Abolarin; among others called on the people to leverage on Ladipo’s legacies to advance Yoruba’s cultural values and heritage.The highpoint of the event was the announcing of winners of the drama competition, which saw Abolarin College, St. David’s High School, St. James’ High school all in Osogbo emerging first, second and third positions respectively. The Apostolic High School, Modakeke came fourth.
Others winners include, Best Discovery Female Artiste, Afolayan Blessing of Methodist High School, Ilesa: two prizes for the Best Storyline and Best Play Director went to Abolarin College; Best Overall Actor, Tijani Aremu, and Best Overall Actress, Egbewale Sadiat. This second edition of the competition according to organisers is an improvement of the first and hopes to bring in more schools from other states in its next edition.CBCIU also gave out award to different art patrons that have contributed to the promotion of art and culture in the state, as well the matriarch of the Duro Ladipo Family, Mrs Abiodun Duro-Ladipo.