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Hope, betrayal and woman in ‘Moremi The Musical’

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Though ‘Moremi The Musical’ has been modeled alongside some of Nigeria’s mega hits packing people into the theatre, the show has gone beyond a form of entertainment. It has become a key awareness to the present conversation about feminism and women leadership.
     
According to Ooni of Ife’s cultural ambassador to Queen Moremi Ajasoro (QMA), Princess Ronke Ademiluyi, women yearn for support from men, they want men to praise them but women themselves are not ready to assist one another to progress. 
   
She said that it was important for women to understand the need to express love and unity among one another. 
 
“To earn societal respect, be it in equality or in any other conversation, there is the need for them to show more love and togetherness. “This will help them to lift one another up and thus reduce their struggles.
     
“Women have to understand that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” 
     


Ademiluyi noted that it was only where unity exists that one could achieve more and learn how to stop the generational cycle of pull her down syndrome. 
     
“Women need to change that mindset in the first place. And until that narrative changes, we will still be where we are,” she said. 
   
She said that the gender challenge manifested in the story of the legendary Queen Moremi Ajasoro, where her fellow women frustrated her life until she ended up committing suicide.
   
Of course, as you watch this latest entry in the country’s ever-expanding jukebox musical sweepstakes, you will no doubt find your legs twitching, as if from muscle memory. Today, in fact, is the last show of the second season, which started running on April 18, 2019.
   
The musical gives a unique insight into the negotiation of gender and power relations in lle-Ife, while also showcasing their unique fashion, dance and African identity, and unmasking common misconceptions about them. 
   
Lucidly directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters with a tracing-paper ‘script’ by Ademiluyi, as well as ingenuity of prolific choreographers, Paolo Sisiano and Justin Ezirim, and revered composer, Kehinde Oretimehin, on the production, it is nothing but a bam. They neatly balance grit and glamour throughout, while promoting the virtue of humility.
 
The performance begins, with much a covered highlife, retelling the story of Oloori Moremi, who lived in the 12th century and was married to the then king of Ile Ife, a kingdom that is said to have been at war with an adjoining tribe who were known to them as the Forest people (Ìgbò in the Yoruba language, though the said tribe is believed by scholars to have had no relation to the contemporary Ìgbòs of modern Nigeria). 
   
These people were enslaving scores of Ife citizens, and because of this they were generally regarded with disdain by the Yoruba city-states.
   
Moremi was a very brave and beautiful woman who, in order to deal with the problem facing her people, offered her only son in sacrifice to the Spirit of the river Esimirin so that she could discover the strength of her nation’s enemies.
   
She is said to have been taken as a slave by the Igbo and, due to her beauty, married their ruler as his anointed queen. After familiarizing herself with the secrets of her new husband’s army, she escaped to Ile-Ife and revealed this to the Yorubas who were able to subsequently defeat them in battle.
   
Following the war, she returned to her first husband, King Oranmiyan of Ife (and later Oyo), who immediately had her re-instated as his Princess Consort. In order to fulfil the pledge she made to Esimirin before embarking on her mission, her son, Olurogbo, was given in sacrifice to the Spirit because this is what it asked her for when she returned to its shrine.
   
The musical is a compelling one, while at the same time deeply moving and emotionally engaging. It travels through the honest and selfless love.
   
Like ‘Beautiful’ (about Carole King), ‘Fela and the Kalakuta Queens’, ‘Saro the Musical’, the show focused on a single star, however, with the attendant by-the- number psychology.
 
It is embodied with piquantly detailed individuality by charismatic, supple voice-actors who astutely convey the imbalanced equations of ego and accommodation in their characters.
   
But while it mostly sticks to the formulaic pattern of musicals —  it also joshes the somewhat exhausted conventions of the genre with a breezy insouciance that scrubs away some of the material’s bland gloss.
   
In this artistic fusion of the Yoruba myth of Moremi, the director deploys archetypal heroism and archetypal revolution, valour and courage to make the drama relevant to the contemporary society.
   
One fact that is not lost is, time has remained unforgiving and unstoppable in the presented Moremi trajectory. 
   
The show, which shafts the changing of men (like her former husband), who became synonymous with oppression, the years keep moving forward with relentlessness of a conveyor belt in an auto-making assembly line.
   
The reconstruction of myth and history to suit the imperatives of the contemporary social realities has been described by critics as a 20th century phenomenon. 
   
This is copiously utilised by modern playwrights to depict, in a symbolic way, the dilemma and the predicament of the modern man. 
   
Both the classical and Elizabethan drama, which emphasises the concept of tragic hero and tragic flaw are regarded by the modern playwrights as the theatre of the oppressor, whereas the modern drama is referred to as the theatre of the oppressed.
   
In this new drama, the tragic hero is made as the pawns in the hands of the gods who in the eyes of the modern playwrights are oppressors. 
   
This is the hallmark of the Epic Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, which Femi Osofisan tries to follow as against the dramaturgy of Jerzy Grotowski and Absurd drama.
 
Osofisan’s deployment of myth in a subversive manner is to create awareness and campaign vigorously for the liberation of the masses from the oppressive aristocratic class. 
   
In his ‘Some Notes on Development and Culture’, Osofisan opines that Literature and History are potent weapons in the hands of artists. Such tools help the artists to project to the society certain mentality of decency, enlightenment and ethical conduct and all other virtues and values which translate into refinement and insight and without which no society can claim to have a touch of civilisation. Such values are also needed in order for the society to experience cultural liberty.
   
According to Osofisan, “what we need is to free and empower our people’s immense imaginative powers, to turn them into fearless and adventurous explorers in every sphere of activity.” 
 
For instance, the Oedipus myth of Sophocles, according to Buchanan (1984), is interpreted “as a parable of the struggle between humanity and divinity and the ultimate dissolution of humanity’s pretensions to autonomy.’’
   
To the modern artist, man is responsible for his destiny. Wole Soyinka for instance in ‘The Strong Breed’, ‘Camwood on the Leaves’ and ‘The Bacchae of Euripides’, emphasise mythic themes to engage in a struggle for self-liberation.’’    
   
Moremi addresses itself centrally to class-stratification and other satellite themes such as, conflicts arising from the exploitative social structure, the prurience and arrogance of the privileged class, its kleptocracy and general philistinism, courage, hope, betrayal and determination to rise above the limitations of the society. 


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