Heart Of Arts

The Cast of “Ayinla” Movie: Encounters With Creative Icons, By Toyin Falola

A CONVERSATION WITH SEGUN ODEGBAMI, PART 4

Mathematical 7 Goes on Stage:

Segun Odegbami, Abeokuta, and the Making of “Ayinla” by Tunde Kelani

PART 4

ENCOUNTERS WITH CREATIVE ICONS

The Cast of “Ayinla”

 

 

“Ayinla,” Tunde Kelani’s much-anticipated film, was released in June. It was a privilege for me to be in the country at the time. It generated a media buzz:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GO60-4AKd0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVFVRzC7Jsc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYXnYg4BdKY

 

As part of his role in “Ayinla,” Segun Odegbami revisited his “contacts” with Amos Tutuola, author of  The Palmwine Drinkards. In addition, he visited Wole Soyinka, Jimi Solanke, and the home of Hubert Ogunde.

 

PART A

THE INTERVIEW

(Unedited Transcript)

 

 

 

Toyin Falola:

You went to Ososa, the home of Hubert Ogunde, in preparation for your role in the movie. To do what? What was your experience of it? 

 

Segun Odegbami:

Tunde Kelani (TK) had been to Ososa many times in the past. That was TK’s project. He said he needed to commune with the great man for inspiration. He knew the terrain very well.  He worked with the late legend on two of his four epic movies – Jayesimi and Ayonmo. To and from Ososa, TK ran a live commentary of their relationship as we drove along. He had fascinating stories to tell: how the man had very peculiar habits; his eye for even the most minor details in production; his perfectionist tendencies; how he trusted only experienced White film producers from the UK because he would not settle for anything less than the best; and how he privately funded his projects and invested heavily to acquire latest production equipment for his films, props and stage shows.

We spent over an hour on a guided tour of the estate with one of Chief Ogunde’s grandchildren, the museum’s current curator. It was like going through a day in the life of the man.  The home was still intact and ‘alive’ as if time stood still. Most things were still the way they were 30 years ago when he died—the different rooms, the office, the library of artefacts, the converted garage, and so on. Each one contains priceless memorabilia from his life, his works, his culture and his arts.

We were not allowed to take pictures of the interior of the fantastic and well-kept main house. It must cost a fortune to maintain the ambience.

There was an eerie feeling of the man’s presence, his spirit hovering like a friendly ghost, watching unseen over everything from the entrance through the rest of the main building, every space a treasure trove of historical artefacts – books, magazines, publications, costumes, equipment, memorabilia, artworks, and pictures that tell different stories about the man’s journey through life, where he went, what he did and the people he met. It is a gripping historical excursion.

 

Toyin Falola:  What were your experiences of Ogunde’s House? Probably we can understand your mission to the place better. 

Segun Odegbami:

We did not do anything special. We just went through the entire house. It is a cultural throve. He used tons of spectacular costumes in all his plays and films, various unique sculptures and works of art, different Yoruba traditional masks, masquerade costumes and statuettes,  reels of some of his old films, an old projector, film production equipment, gramophones and vinyl records. 


There were two unique corners in the house, recreated sets of two traditional shrines, not for the faint-hearted or fickle-minded, altars to Sango, Obatala and Esu where extraordinary spiritual powers were demonstrated in some of his most memorable films. 


Chief Ogunde must have been a man of impeccable taste and style. His wardrobe was made of exquisite traditional clothes and handmade shoes, all feasts for the culture and art pilgrim.  


Outside, to one side of the house, were a few more old antiques – 2 trucks used for conveying the troupe of actors, dancers and production crew to venues around the country, as well as the skeleton of an old aeroplane engine used to create swirling clouds for the storm scenes in Ayanmo. 


The rest of the museum comprised bungalows for his wives and foreign production crew, plus a sizeable semi-covered hall for rehearsals and, probably, some in-house performances.  


The Living History Museum is appropriately named. It breathes the spirit of Hubert Ogunde. It is a great experience to walk through the life and works of one of the greatest Yoruba socio-cultural ambassadors in history. 

Words cannot adequately capture the real essence of the museum. It is a great learning experience of the man and his remarkable works, achievements, and place in Yoruba history. 

Two hours after arriving in Ososa, we were done. I am still trying to understand and fully appreciate why TK needed to make that visit. As we drove away, it was apparent he got what we came for. He was happy, relaxed and excited. 

 

Toyin Falola :

On Ipara and Jimi Solanke, did TK now fulfil his promise to accompany you to Ipara? What was your mission there? 

Segun Odegbami:

Yes, we went to Ipara. It was to be my inspirational pilgrimage.
When TK offered me a role in Ayinla, I knew the day would come when I would need a boost in confidence, courage, reassurance and inspiration to take me through the wahala I would be putting myself into by accepting to be an actor in a big movie. 


That’s why I had negotiated with TK to accompany me to Ipara after completing his cultural communion in Ososa with Hubert Ogunde. I needed a drink also from the fountain of the best actor in my world – Uncle Jimi Solanke. He now lives in Ipara.


Ipara is just a hop away from Ososa. Uncle Jimi Solanke had been excited when I called and told him TK was coming with me to see him. 


When they eventually met by the side of the road where Uncle Jimi waited to meet us and lead us to his new home in the town, they hugged like long lost friends. 


Uncle Jimi Solanke is a man of many artistic parts – teacher, actor, singer, writer, fine artist, dramatist, multi-instrumentalist, children’s television presenter, film director and a key minister in the government of Professor Wole Soyinka in the  Autonomous Republic of Ijegba.


When we arrived at his place, it is typically like everything else about him – a free spirit, simple, very basic but functional structures, no-frills.  Everything here is some work of artistic expression. 


The sizeable walled courtyard is still uncompleted. A big stage with a background built with tree trunks and the tree’s scraped skin is the first structure into the expansive compound. The theatre welcomes you before his home in the compound. That is vintage Jimi Solanke. Like in a famous Coke advert, he eats, drinks and sleeps the Arts. 


Tunde Kelani whispers to me, and I agree immediately, that Uncle Jimi is a gift to the world by the heavens, with the Creator of the Universe spending extra time creating him, without an ounce of the love for materialism in his veins. He is contented with the simple things of life, and  Ipara is his new world. 


Uncle Jimi Solanke has no time for frivolities, luxuries and vain things. Give him the simplest things in life; give him the stage, and he is fulfilled. 


The man has one of the richest voices on earth. He can talk, and he can sing. He is a born actor made for both film and theatre and a multi-instrumentalist to the bargain. He paints. He writes. He teaches. 


Inside his uncompleted house, the tables and benches are made from tree stumps and tree branches, with one or two plastic chairs complimenting the lone classic wooden Rocking Chair that indeed is Baba Agba’s throne. 


The whole place is strewn with books, and his artworks litter the extended, unpolished shelves of flat wood. Every inch of the walls is decorated with his artwork. 


So modest, he runs a quick look around the sparsely furnished room, he tells us: ‘I have been asking myself since I fixed the few things in this place what more is left for God to do for me? God has done more than enough for me. This Coronavirus period has been a blessing. I have had the time to come, stay here and build this place with money that I can’t claim to know where it came from. My wife is sacrificing all her earnings and supporting me here. It has been like squeezing water out of stone. See where we are now. Although there is no electricity yet in the house, I sleep here. Come and see”.


He then showed us around, a tour that lasted a few minutes, at most. He learnt well the spartan way of life from his mentor and boss, Kongi, the man he refers to fondly and with reverence as ‘Iwin’. That’s it. Our visit was completed. I had met the great man and ‘drank’ my inspiration-portion from his words of wisdom, humility and gratitude. 


That’s what I needed to take on TK and conquer Nollywood. 


Jim show, as I call Uncle Solanke, presented TK and me with gifts of some of his artworks. He saw us to the car, and we were soon on our way back to Abeokuta to start filming the movie.

 

 

PART B:

ODEGBAMI’S ITINERARY AND THE CREATIVE ICONS

 

HUBERT OGUNDE 

Born in 1916, Hubert Ogunde was one of the preeminent Nigerians and, by extension, African icons with pioneering efforts in the field of drama, with his brand known as Nigerian Opera Folk. There was nothing in the description of dramatic productions in the country before, and by the time he was born, but as soon as he gathered sufficient knowledge, he founded the Ogunde Concert Party in 1945 and electrified the country with his suspense-filled and scintillating drama productions that immediately registered his name in gold. Ogunde was aware of the sociopolitical issues around which the country was shrouded, and he, therefore, spoke in a loud voice, using the drama industry as his agency of communication. His brilliance was mind-blowing, and because of his ability to interpret social situations from the viewing lens of the masses, the acceptability was relatively easy as he became the common choice of many people.

While he entertained his audience, Ogunde equally condensed messages in his songs. His resonant tone and the adept messages became a certified identity that his admirers could not afford to part with. Ogunde was among the generation of Nigerians who experienced the rough hands of the colonial culture. He employed his creativity to blend the indigenous culture with the imported ones so that the people would not be alienated or submerged in the grand identity politics.

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Ogunde quickly blurred the gap between the elite and the everyday folks because of his sensitive connection to their collective aspirations. For elites who were suffocated by the imposition of Western ideas and identity and the people at the lower rung who felt the damaging effects of colonialism, he provided cinematic displays for them that showed an anti-colonial disposition. As nothing unites a people more than having a common interest, the commonality of the elite and proletariat interest, which was collapsed together by Ogunde, increased his popularity and the milestone achievements he made in his chosen career. He functioned best as the conscience of society. His stellar popular culture tagged Yoruba Ronu, which he produced in 1964, showed how invested he was in the project of cultural preservation and identity protection. Literally meaning “Yoruba, think,” the song aimed to provoke the Yoruba people into a moment of sober reflection about their collective aspirations and progress. Ogunde was nothing short of a maverick who accepted the responsibility to conscientize the society, irrespective of the personal sacrifices.

 

WOLE SOYINKA

Arguably one of the best intellectually progressive Africans alive, Wole Soyinka remains incontestably relevant in the global knowledge production industry because his contributions to intellectualism have continued to help shape a profound philosophical and ideological direction for humans generally. Soyinka is a personage with multiple interpretations. He is the cultural icon who uses his indigenous epistemological understanding to produce cultural content transported into the international community for consumption. To others, the man is an unyielding critic of successive Nigerian political classes.

Wole Soyinka is the proverbial figure whose description can only be as detailed as the side that the descriptor faces while analyzing him. In the contemporary knowledge production industry, he positively represents Africa because of his ingenuity and clairvoyant vision of his writings, which have continued to amaze the international community. Writers are believed to have a tremendous capacity to predict the future using the current world as their instruments, and they would do so with great exactitude. Soyinka is considerably unique in literary works, and interestingly, the literary industry recognizes his presence.

Born in 1934, Wole Soyinka has continued to use his sociocultural and sociopolitical experiences, merging them with the corresponding ontological reality of the Yoruba and African world, to produce works of significant standards. Soyinka is a monumental success in everything he does. He was an unrepentant critic of Nigeria and the African political class, and in some cases, he lends his voice to global political infrastructure. He used his youthful energy to challenge the bureaucrats who upended the country’s political landscape for their indifferent search for continued relevance. He has challenged the government on different occasions whenever he believes they were unreasonably evasive in their duties.

Apart from this, Soyinka represents a voice. He remains the voice of African identity as he used his literary works to depict African literature’s originality and essentiality. When the imperialists challenged Africans as crudely primitive and uncivilized, Soyinka was loud in his condemnation of such sweeping generalization with no firm foundation. He corrected the wrong impression that outsiders have about the African people. As a result of these outstanding contributions, he was recognized with the Nobel Laureate award in 1986. Soyinka continues to blossom in both the intellectual and political front even at his old age.

 

JIMI SOLANKE

Jimi Solanke, born in 1942, is a proud Yoruba man from the present-day Ogun State. He had his formative academic experience at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he bagged a diploma in drama. After deciding to pursue his academic and career dream, Solanke chose the United States of America as his preferred destination, believing he could have more impact there, relying on his African cultural knowledge. Being a determined individual, he became exposed to a chain of opportunity in America where he blended his academic experience with the sociocultural setting of the new environment to produce breathtaking works, especially for those of African origin in the country.

After making a groundbreaking effort, he invented a committedly ambitious drama group that has the mission to expand the cultural reach of the African people in the Global North. Called The African Review, the group was focused on the production of African content with African specifications. Using Yoruba costumes and adornments, the group became exponentially successful because they have been known to produce drama content in Black Africa schools, redefining the African identity. The group’s uniqueness is revealed in their very concentration and conscious employment of Yoruba cultural frames as ornaments used to bless the spectacles of the audience.

If there is anything to doubt about Jimi Solanke, it will not be his dedication and the drive to make an impressive impact. His presence in American society, registered by his persistence in producing dramatic content rooted in the African knowledge economy, has attracted their attention and won their admiration. Because Solanke was doing something right, he was recognized by CNN as a Master Storyteller. Generally, his impact is widespread, and the command that his productions have gathered reveals his uncommon prodigy.

Having succeeded materially and career-wise, he extended his ingenuity to his fatherland, where he accepts as the root of his creativity and splendor; after all, nothing is bad in spreading one’s creative force to influence a couple of things in one’s home country. Indeed, the feeling was mutual between Solanke and his country, Nigeria, as his homecoming was well-received and offered maximum cooperation to create an atmosphere suitable to maximize his talent. Upon his return in 1986, he joined the Nigerian Television Authority to provide content that will especially promote the Nigerian cultural economy. He was a member of the drama crew that interpreted the famous Wole Soyinka’s Kongi Harvest into a film. He is an embodiment of perseverance and dedication, which explains his success across the board.

 

AMOS TUTUOLA

To talk about one African literary icon who strutted his way into intellectual stardom is to talk about that historically eminent scholar, Amos Tutuola. Born in 1920, he was another shining product of Abeokuta, whose indelible imprints are visible in the African literary culture of the colonial and post-colonial times. Tutuola was born during the period colonization was at its peak. He was carefully observant of Africa’s gradual yet progressive declination, especially the Yoruba literary tradition in the face of horrendous denigration it faced during the people. Without making an effort for its resuscitation, it was apparent that the dangerous consequences of the marginalization of the intellectual industry would inevitably bring about the subversion of the African identity, under the erroneous impression that it did not exist in the real sense.

As the majority of the African peoples did not keep their folk history or social experiences in writing, and as it was characteristic of Europeans to make quick and unsubstantiated claims, they concluded that anything in the form of literary culture was absent, and that, in their misevaluation, was an indication that the people had no history. Although this abrasive misconception was popular in the Western literary market and their general intellectual environment, Africans, against whom this distortion of their history was targeted, had no understanding of the damage done to their identity. Upon discovery, especially after the elites were introduced to the Western knowledge systems, sadness, depression, and disappointment filled their minds, and they must protest.

Understandably, their protest would not necessarily be a physical demonstration of their displeasure because the baseless allegations levied against them have not been done in that manner. Hence, their reaction must be done in similar methods. Amos Tutuola was one of the prominent Africans who challenged the unfounded notions of the Universalists that Africa was a den of primitive savages and the site of backward civilization where nothing progressive could survive. He came with a mind-blowing literary piece, The Palmwine Drinkard, filled with the Yoruba ontological and epistemological perception of life. He breathed life to the topic otherwise seen by the Eurocentric scholars as a dead-end for the African people.

The book was explosive for very different reasons. One is that, in the process of receding to the book’s condemnation, perhaps because the worldview expressed in the book stands in converse position with the Europeans’, they considered it underwhelming and a confirmation of their jaundiced assessment of Africans. The more they used the book as a confirmation bias instrument, the more it drew an increasing number of readers. Secondly, once the West generated the impression that the people are less valuable in intelligence, it was natural that they expected people to disprove their position, notably with quality content. So, immediately after the work was produced, the hunger to consume it made it a widespread production.

Considering Amos Tutuola’s intellect and the knowledge of his history of the African ontological trajectory, one cannot but admire his sense of commitment and undaunted spirit. Several uncontrollable circumstances thwarted his access to education, and his intention to reach the highest heights was frustrated by these emerging challenges. Parental support was a borderline skirmish, and social assistance was unreliable. However, his lack of adequate parental support and adequate social care was compensated by the deposit of intellectual brilliance in him. He braced himself up for the challenges that were bound to come due to his inevitable social reality. He was determined, focused, and dedicated to his ambition, and he became outstanding in the process.

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Tutuola established himself and planted his presence firmly into the social and cultural world of the Egba people, and was celebrated both in the academic and political circles. For example, he found his way into the elite group in the academic community using his intellectual productions as the required ticket. For someone whose academic pursuit was challenged by factors beyond his capabilities, the familiar eventuality would be to spend his entire life as an adjunct in the social arrangement with absolutely no contribution and recognition of some sort. But because he utilized what he got from his little academic engagement, he became a respected fellow granted a visiting research fellowship in prestigious institutions like the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Amos Tutuola was phenomenal.

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