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Remembering the thunderking of theatre, Duro Ladipo

By Lekan Alabi
07 March 2018   |   3:21 am
On Sunday, 11th March, this year, it will be exactly 40 years that Nigerian iconic actor, playwright and musicologist, Duro Ladipo, MON, died in Ibadan, Oyo State, aged 45 years.

Duro Ladipo

On Sunday, 11th March, this year, it will be exactly 40 years that Nigerian iconic actor, playwright and musicologist, Duro Ladipo, MON, died in Ibadan, Oyo State, aged 45 years.

Perhaps, “died” is a skinny adjective to describe the passage of the world-acclaimed thespian. ‘Ascension’, like the Yoruba firm belief of the departure of Alaafin Sango, whose alter ego, Duro Ladipo was, is more appropriate. Sango, the fire-spitting King was the fourth Alaafin of the old Oyo Empire. He reigned for 60 years (1077-1137 AD). His mother was from the Nupe tribe of the present Niger State of Nigeria. Sango, was a powerful and feared king who the Yoruba, and his devotees in the diaspora (Brazil, Cuba, USA, South America, West Africa etc.) belief ascended into heaven, as against Sango’s critics false claim that he hanged himself. (Oba Ko So- The King did not hang).

In commemoration of Duro Ladipo’s exit from this world on 11th March, 1978, his family has put in place a weeklong 40th anniversary programme, starting from Saturday, 10th March to Sunday, 18th March, 2018.

Highlights of the remembrance programme include the launching of the Duro Ladipo Monument, (the new Mbari in Osogbo, Osun State), arts exhibition, stage performance of “Ajagun Nla” and premiere of “Moremi Ajasoro”, It will be recalled that the new film, “Moremi Ajasoro” was shown in Chicago, USA last summer. I was present as a Trustee of the Duro Ladipo Foundation and chairman of the USA premiere of the new film, directed by Duro Ladipo’s wife – actor, Chief (Mrs.) Abiodun Duro Ladipo, alias “Moremi”.

The late Duro Ladipo belonged to the talented group of pioneers/doyens of Nigerian theatre such as, Hubert Ogunde, Oyin Adejobi, ‘Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Segun Olusola, Sam Akpabot, Sonnny Oti, Kola Ogunmola and Akin Euba.
Let me recall my article titled”, “An Evening with Sango” published in some national weeklies sixteen years ago. Please see The Guardian on Sunday issue of 21st March, 2002 for ease of reference.

“We have since that 2002 evening of tributes established the Duro Ladipo Foundation, with “Moremi” as the president and my humble self, her deputy. In celebrating the 30th anniversary of the passage Duro Ladipo in 2008, we published his biography co-authored by “Moremi”, and two of Nigeria’s star authors, academicians, poets and playwrights, based at the University of Ibadan, Professor Remi Raji-Oyelade, President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and Professor Dapo Olorunyomi. We also staged “Oba Koso” in Oyo and Osun States. Our intention to put three of Duro Ladipo’s epic plays on celluloid is stalled by lack of funds/sponsorship. I pray this piece gingers philanthropists and endowed theatre lovers to rise up and lend helping hands.

“True to predictions and expectations, it not only rained, but thundered as well, that Monday (March 11th 2002 to be precise) when relations, admirers, media and theatre arts practitioners gathered at Bode Wasinmi, Ibadan to celebate the 24th anniversary of the passage of Duro Ladipo, MON, the world renowned actor, playwright and folkore exponent, who, in character and acts, proved that he was no fluke re-incarnation of Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder and the fourth Alaafin of the old Oyo Empire.

“Sango, was a very powerful king. He had an equally strong wife called Oya. She was a loyal ally of her husband. In the heat of a revolt by his subjects, due largely to Sango-induced duels between two of his generals, Timi and Gbonnka, Sango abdicated to his mother’s town in Nupeland from where he “ascended” to heaven. He became a deity and is worshipped as the god of thunder till today in Yorubaland, Brazil, Cuba, USA, South America and parts of Africa.

“The Monday 11th 2002 rain and thunderstorms were repeats of the March 11, 1978 scenario, when an unusually heavy rain with equally heavy thunderstorms heralded the transition of Duro Ladipo, at 45,confirming Sango’s welcome of his ‘alter ego’ to heaven and before the owner of heaven and earth, Olodumare, God.

“There were three ‘takes’ of rain on the evening of tributes, which failed to deter one’s resolve to attend the ceremony, moreso, as the matriarch of the Duro Ladipo Dynasty, Chief (Mrs.) Abiodun Duro – Ladipo, alias “Moremi”, had personally delivered the kind invitation to me and had admonished that the evening was going to be the forerunner to the silver jubilee celebration of her late husband’s ascendancy to heaven, come March 11, 2003 .

“Arriving at Duro Ladipo’s Bode Wasinmi Ibadan expansive, but modest home, the name which the well populated area of Bashorun area in Ibadan now proudly bears, one transited into the rustic, pure, cool, native and natural village atmosphere. What with theatre and broadcast media greats like Alagba Adebayo Faleti (Baruuwa to Duro Ladipo, his chum),”Baba Sala”, alias Moses Olaiya(wait a minute!), Tubosun Oladapo, [Odidere Ayekooto], Dr.Larinde Akinleye, Moses Omilani, Olowomojuore, Ayobami Olabiyi among others, in attendance. On hand to welcome guests, like a good hostess which she has always been, was “Moremi”. She seems to grow more radiant in beauty, sonorous in voice and glossy in skin, as seasons fall on themselves. Her constant pleas to us, her guests, to please pardon Bode Wasinmi’s simplicity were drowned by our choruses of

“We are not here to lap up gaudiness or stinking riches, but rather to pay homage to a true star actor and reformist”. I noticed that “Moremi” eventually relaxed when the genuineness of our feelings and expressions as sincere friends and admirers of her late husband sank home. That’s the beauty of life with ordinary folks and natural people. No pretentions, no fusses.

“Perhaps, because of the rain and thunderstoms that evening, public power supply was cut off. As such, we had to watch a 1966 documentary on Duro Ladipo with power supply from a fairly-used portable generator whose havoc (actually a blessing in disguise), I shall recall in a short while in this piece.

“The evening of tributes, organized by the elders of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTAP) was the first public appreciation of Duro Ladipo’s immense contributions to theatre arts in Nigeria by fellow artistes, according to “Moremi”. From Alagba Adebayo Faleti, the Chairman, Oyo Sate Council of Arts & Culture to “Baba Sala” and Olufemi Dada, alias “Benja-Benja”, it was eulogies, songs, ewi (poems) and reminiscences galore in honour of the late son of a catechist who not only revolutionized church music with the introduction of native drums, but opened a fresh chapter in yuletide celebrations in Nigeria with the production of Christmas cantata at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos state in 1963, for which he was presented a trophy by Nigeria’s first president, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Duro Ladipo, then went on full-time play writing and stage production in collaboration with a German and former lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Prof. Ulli Bierre, who converted Duro Ladipo’s “Popular Bar” in Osogbo to the famous Mbari Club. The genius in Duro Ladipo blossomed, in no time, resulting in his production of classical operas and plays such as “Oba Moro”, “Oba Koso”, “Ajagun Nla”, “Eda”, etc.

In the documentary titled, “The Creative Man” by the American Educational Television, Duro Ladipo talks about his life as a youth who took early interest in drama while at school in Otan Ayegbaju in present day Osun State. From there, he graduated to producing school plays when he became a pupil teacher. “I introduced native drums to church music in order to change the monotony. I shocked everybody”, he explains in the film.

“According to Duro Ladipo, his travelling theatre group made do with gas lamps and hurricane lanterns for stage effects. With vigorous rehearsals, attention to details, researches, guts, and sheer luck, he broke through the amateur ranks and emerged the notable dramatist whose group, the Duro Ladipo National Theatre would win the first prize at the Berlin Arts Festival in Germany in 1964 and at the first- ever Commonwealth Arts Festival in London, UK, the following year, with his epic play, “Oba Koso”.

With this play and “Oluweri”, Duro and his group stamped their authority across the globe with capacity-filled presentations in Scotland, France, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Italy, Iran, USA, Brazil, Belgium, Austria and Holland. To his credit, Duro Ladipo wrote and produced 36 plays, published 10 plays, produced 9 gramophone records, received two national and three international awards and acted in four films.

“When earlier in this article I refered to the blessing in disguise by the flunking generator at the evening of tributes, what I meant was that on getting to the scene in the film, “The Creative Man” where Sango threatened to hang himself, the generator spluttered to a stop! All efforts to restart it failed, thereby making it impossible for the audience, to see whether Sango carried out his threat to hang himself or not. Someone in the audience described the generator failure as confirmation of the long-held belief that Alaafin Sango did not commit suicide, but ascended to heaven (Oba Ko So).

“Describing the evening of tributes as a prelude to the silver jubilee celebration of her husband’s passage, come March 11, 2003, Mrs. Duro- Ladipo, thanked the audience for its kind response to her invitation. She praised the organizers for their thoughtfulness and prayed for the chairman of the occasion (guess who? Me, now). Between now and March 2003, the onus is on all lovers of arts and admirers of “Sango” (Duro Ladipo) to gird our loins and actualize the dreams of “Moremi” to make the silver jubilee celebration a thunderous show”.

This is 2018, the 40th year that Duro Ladipo quit the stage and the world. It behoves on us, governments, corporate bodies, arts buffs, admirers etc to rekindle the sweet memory of the late thunderking of theatre, Duro Ladipo, by supporting and attending the beautiful one –week anniversary programme designed by his family.

• lekan alabi is, agba akin olubadan of ibadanland cultural ambassador of the national museum, ile – ife, and trustee of duro ladipo foundation.