A CONVERSATION WITH SEGUN ODEGBAMI, PART 5
Mathematical 7 Goes on Stage:
Segun Odegbami, Abeokuta, and the Making of “Ayinla” by Tunde Kelani
THE EAGLE LANDED ON PLANET NOLLYWOOD
In this closing conversation with Segun Odegbami, Mathematical 7 speaks on his acting experience in “Ayinla”. All photos include some of the lead actors and scenes in the movie.
You wrote about a visit you made to the residence of Professor Wole Soyinka with Tunde Kelani. Many have wondered what a literary genius and teacher, a foremost cinematographer and Film Maker, and an exceptional Football player could have in common? Tell me about the genesis of the visit and the encounter itself.
Tunde Kelani has been my family/friend forever – almost 50 years. He knew my elder brother, Dele, during their secondary school days in Abeokuta.
The elements were at mysterious work when TK and I lived briefly together in the home of a friend mutual to ‘Badmeat’ (as my elder brother was called at the time for his wicked tackles on opponents in football) and TK in Ibadan. That was in 1972.
TK and I also worked briefly around the same time in WNTV/WNBS, and, later in life, connected again in Lagos where we had a few close, mutual friends – Yinka Craig, Tunde Oloyede, Tunde Adegbola, and so on, from the mid-1970s. We became neighbours again in FESTAC Town for over a decade, meeting for coffee and conversation many evenings in TK’s home, in the late 1980s till the mid-1990s.
We remained very close throughout. I was an integral part of TK’s family, just as I was in the periphery of his film projects for decades. I just enjoyed listening to his endless stories, film after film, and he enjoyed hearing the comments and opinions on his works as seen through the untrained eyes of a football player. Once, he showed the premiere of one of his movies in my house with an assembly of our two families over a feast and plenty of drinks.
He inspired and smoothened my path into the audio/visual world, helping me successfully navigate the challenges of sports TV production without any formal training in the 1990s.
I have remained around the TV production business till now, and I am in the process of setting up sports radio and television stations as a business and public service and as a production centre for films, documentaries, capacity training, scholarship and research.
During some of our conversations a long time ago, TK found out that my Uncle, my father’s immediate elder brother (by the same father), was the same well-known writer, Amos Tutuola. When the man died in 1990, TK desperately wanted to speak with my father to get complete information about his brother. That’s how TK came to interview my late father. That’s when I also heard more about my uncle and stopped wondering where my inborn interest in storytelling, literature, the arts and Yoruba cultural issues sprang from. Uncle Amos and I are from the same genetic stock.
Amos Tutuola was originally Amos Tutuola Odegbami. His children still bear the Odegbami surname. He lived in Ibadan, and my father used to go and visit him in the early days of my sojourn in the town in the early 1970s. I took my father a few times to his brother’s house in the Apata area of Ibadan.
My father told us about his famous brother and how they were all shocked by his global fame. Like the rest of them (brothers), he had minimal western education, only as much as their mothers could afford or arrange with other relatives to give them. My grandfather did not send any one of his children, from many wives to school.
Amos wanted very badly more education than the few years in primary school that he had. He was so angry later in his life with their father that he dropped his surname from his name and decided to bear his mother’s surname when the unexpected path to fame opened up through his writings.
My father, who only had a standard four education, and could read and write, never had a copy of the famous book, “The Palm-Wine Drinkard’, that made his brother famous during my childhood years in the 1960s Jos where we lived.
I believe, like his brother, my father was a master at telling us folkloric stories on some moonlit nights in front of our house at 64/5 Yandoka St. in Jos. Later in my life in Ibadan, I once tried to read the book. I was amused at the relatively ‘bad’ English it was written in and did not read far enough into it to appreciate the fascinating fantasy, imagery and creative mind of Amos Tutuola.
TK’s enquiry many decades later triggered my interest to reread it. This time I enjoyed reading it. TK enthusiasm for telling stories on Fagunwa, Bayo Faleti, Akinwunmi Ishola, and other Yoruba writers opened my mind to Nigerian literature and writers, including Wole Soyinka, and their relationship.
I went to Roman Catholic Primary and Secondary schools. We studied Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare and the Anthology of Longer Poems for literature in English. I did not read and was never exposed to any African writers.
Once, at the prompting of TK, when I tried to read Ake by Wole Soyinka purely out of curiosity to read a Wole Soyinka book, I could not go beyond the first chapter. Navigating through the words and style of his writing were too difficult. I laboured in reading it. I later read ‘The man died’. I did not find the true-life story fascinating reading. Recall that I grew up feasting on the diet of ‘James Hardley Chase’ for my novels and Thomas Hardy and Jane Eire for my more serious school work.
During my football playing days, reading novels was my pastime in camp. I loved to read all manner of books. Every time I travelled abroad, the first thing I did (and still until today) visits WH Smith and charter books and novels.
As I grew much older, particularly after my footballing years from the mid-1990s, and had new friends, many of whom were in academia or the arts, my mind started to be fertilised with a different mindset about literature.
Many persons around me, led by Tunde Kelani, were ardent ‘disciples’ of Wole Soyinka – Tunde Fagbenle, Tunde Dabiri, Tunde Makanju (Capone), Peter Badejo, Uncle Tunji Oyelana, Tunji Odegbami (Capone), Rufus Orisayomi, and so on.
Through the years, I was always fascinated when they discussed and spoke so glowingly of Prof Wole Soyinka and their different rather unique relationships. Everyone had incredible stories to tell about Kongi. He was like a god.
Yet, in all my ‘walkabouting’, my path with the great man never crossed. We met once at the airport, but with people milling around him, I never had the space to approach him and introduce myself; after all, a smaller crowd milled around me too. Remember that I was a little bit of a celebrity too at the time. Even when TK finally did the introduction at his 60th birthday celebration that Prof attended, it was so flitting that I could never have registered in Prof’s mind. A footballer’s name or face would be the last thing to register on the Prof’s sophisticated mind. TK’s introduction was drowned by the noisy tenor of the evening. My name would have flashed and faded immediately through Prof’s mind. Football and scholarship did not go together in the world of scholarship and intellectualism.
I was so frustrated not being close to WS, like all my friends, that I got Prof’s email from TK, sent him a short message introducing myself, shockingly received a warm response, and started a conversation thread that lasted quite a while with one of the greatest living literary giants in the world. For that period, I lived on the moon.
One day, WS actually agreed to meet with me in Lagos at Uncle Yemi Ogunbiyi’s. Uncle Yemi is one of my late cousins, Tunji Odegbami’s best friends. He knew me very well.
That’s how I met Prof, one-on-one, for about 30 minutes for the first and only time before I had the better opportunity to meet him again over a decade later with the preparations for the filming of ‘Ayinla’ by TK.
This time it was so close to home in Abeokuta. TK asked if I wanted to fulfil my dream to visit Professor Wole Soyinka in his Abeokuta residence in the ‘jungle’ of Kemta. I jumped at the chance.
TK told me he needed to brief Prof about the new film project and to secure his blessing. He told me he never did any film production involving Professor Wole Soyinka, mainly since several were adaptations of books and plays written by renowned Yoruba scholars. TK told me he had secured a ‘visa’ for me, that is, permission to bring me along.
TK is very close to Professor Wole Soyinka. They have an umbilical relationship through their mutual work, passion and life in the arts. So, that’s my story. That’s how a film-maker, a writer and teacher, and a football player found themselves in ‘Ijegba’ for an uncommon conversation.
Fascinating. Tell me about the encounter.
It is Tuesday, the 24th of November 2020. The signposts at the gates reflect the nature of the man who lives beyond them.
We leave the entrance and drive a short distance through a canopy of dense vegetation of trees. We cross a small trickling stream and emerge into a beautifully lawned clearing, a shaded paradise.
Open sesame – our eyes riveted on this reasonably large building of exquisite beauty planted on the higher ground in the environment, a unique architectural masterpiece of red bricks and unpainted walls.
Everyone that comes here must be as intrigued as we are, arriving at a place with a name that reminds one of another person and place from the past – Fela and Kalakuta Republic. But here is different.
I am riding on Tunde Kelani’s ticket to meet with the man lovingly referred to by those that have known him well and long enough as Kongi or any one of other names depending on the nature of their relationship with him – Capone, WS, Eniogun, Captain Blood. There may be other names, but I prefer to respectfully and simply call him Prof.
I am TK’s ‘handbag’ on this visit. I don’t have a visa. It is a requirement before anyone can visit the republic located high up in the hills of Kemta, a short hop from town in the outskirts of Abeokuta. TK assures me that he is my visa to the place on this trip and that I am ‘covered’.
So, we go to this place, once a secluded environment far from the bustle of town, but is now teeming with new buildings.
It is not every day that you get to meet with the man who spends more time in the skies than on the ground, flying from one continent to another to meet up with the endless demands for his talks and speeches.
I have been looking for a second opportunity to share some time with Professor Akinwande Babatunde Oluwole Soyinka, writer and teacher (as he likes to describe himself), since meeting him one-on-one for the first (and last time) over ten years ago at Uncle Yemi Ogunbiyi’s in Lagos. But that was a different setting. It was very brief and not on his own turf. I needed to see and experience him where he lives. Now, here I am, in an anticipated experience of a lifetime.
TK and I are here alone with the iconic literary giant, a global ambassador of humanity, scholarship and deep thinking. We are having a conversation without boundaries or structure, pure talk from the heart.
Two hours come and go very quickly in a flash.
It is an incredible journey into the unguarded side of Prof. We gently traverse the periphery of various subjects, one magically conjuring another in a seamless stream of light-hearted banter – phenomena, spiralism, spiritualism, philosophy, films, literature, the state of Nigeria, the Yoruba race, Ogun State, my political odyssey, the incredible agricultural revolution in Ogun State driven by a certain Dr. Adeola Odedina, and so on, one subject dovetailing into another.
I am told that the Nobel Laureate lives in this forest of woods, shrubs, and even some monkeys. A shallow stream meanders gently directly in front of the house. The chirping of unseen birds punctuated the silence and interrupted the serenity of this kingdom. Here, there are no ugly and unnecessary physical structures, no pollution of any sort, no obscene images, only tokens of artworks strategically positioned around the house’s exterior like a woman’s facial ‘makeup’.
Prof. welcomes us at his door and takes us into his sanctuary, a small but special part of the house where he escapes when he wants to get away from the world to commune with the spirits of creativity.
It is here that we sit, with shelves of books, files and video cassettes as a company, to have our chat and later have a communion of wine specially selected by Prof himself from his famed cellar of rare and exotic collections from different parts of the world.
The only decor in the room is a few works of art. TK assures me there is nothing more to see anywhere else than books, more books, and more unique works of art.
Prof is not a victim of materialism, so his home and lifestyle are spartan but very with a touch of class.
The only items of furniture in the room are three cushioned cane chairs and a 3-seater settee. The floor is of beautiful rugged brown wood. Could it be Iroko? I wonder.
Pablo Picasso will not go back to his native Malaga in Spain should he come here. He would make it home to create his most imaginative works.
I am thinking and watching Prof from the corner of my eye. He is very calm, a gentle smile dancing on his face. His deep rich baritone voice is providing melodious music to my ears as he discusses Ayinla Omowura, TK’s next movie project that has listed ‘yours truly’ as a ‘major’ actor. The shooting starts next week. I can’t wait to get started and ‘conquer’ Nollywood.
I eventually join in the conversation, and we travel through time, space and various subjects. I observe that Prof is thoroughly enjoying the conversations. I like the man very much.
Then it is time to go. Prof has another appointment to keep. One day, probably, I shall write about our conversations.
Finally, I remind him of my open invitation to visit the sports academy in Wasimi Orile. He gladly grants my wish. He will come pretty soon to meet with the students and the people in the community. I am enthralled.
I try my last tease. How about TK and I transforming to flies on the wall to watch Prof and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo spend a day together, just the two of them, in a room? What would they talk about? What would happen?
He laughs out very loud, immediately seeing the humour and ‘trap’ in my plot of an unlikely event that could only be made possible if TK, arguably the foremost cinematographer in Africa, turns on his creative genius and scripts a fictional blockbuster film series to capture Ebora and Eniogun in a duel of any sort.
Between them, Prof says, there is no enmity or animosity, but lots of mutual respect. They obviously don’t belong to the same planet and see the world very differently. For that reason, my proposed scenario and TK’s movie would not last more than 10 minutes before Kata Kata will burst, and there would be a ‘tsunami’. Still in that mood, he tells us a few of their past encounters. Gripping, interesting and humourous stuff.
Prof walks us to our car.
We depart. TK and I are silent for a while as we head back to town. It has been a truly fascinating experience on my first visit to ARI, the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba.
I forget. If you ever want to visit the Republic, do not think of doing so without securing a visa first. There is a whole list of Ministers of the Republic that can be of help – Tunji Oyelana, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Jimi Solanke, Peter Badejo, Wale Adeniran, Jahman Anikulapo, Bankole Olayebi, Tunde Makanju, Peter Badejo, Teju Kareem, Tunde Awosanmi, Makin Soyinka, Kunle Ajibade, Segun Ojewuyi, Tunde Kelani, and a few others. They are all citizens of the Republic. I may soon be one, too, the elements permitting. However, all visitors are advised to always keep in mind the grim warning signs at the entrance. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
What is a footballer’s connection with the cultural movie on Ayinla, the late legendary Apala musician?
I have known Tunde Kelani, TK, the filmmaker, for almost half a century. I have never been a close part of his film community through this long period. This time, we are ‘5 and 6’, tied in a knot.
TK has been ‘close marking’ me, the way Claudio Gentile marked out Zico at the 1982 World Cup, giving me no breathing space. Everywhere Zico went on the field of play, Gentile followed him like his shadow. That was the strategy Italy adopted to stop Zico.
In my case with TK, he may have adopted a similar ‘strategy’ to forestall any possible ‘escape’ for me. He obviously remembers my ‘versatility’ as an actor; that’s why he is investing a lot of time in me this time. I am all set for him to play a significant part in the movie. He thinks a footballer cannot conquer Nollywood. I will show him.
The only caveat is that apart from playing my part, I shall keep a diary of the highlights of my experience, telling it all, tiworo tiworo, mainly what this faded football star thinks of the experience and how well he does in Planet Nollywood.
What have you learnt so far in the two weeks that you have spent on the set?
The past two weeks have been intense, exciting and a blast. Working with TK and seeing how a movie is being put together has been a unique experience. The details in producing an epic film like ‘Ayinla’ are mind-boggling.
Tell me about it.
The only subject anyone can get TK to discuss these days is the film. Every conversation starts and ends with ‘Ayinla’. I am in his ‘prison’.
The good news is that, at last, the actual filming started some days ago in Abeokuta. That has taken over his life.
Before that, TK had been prancing around like a boxer on the eve of a big fight. He reminded me of how I used to feel before a big game – restless, singleminded, anxious, poor sleep, fasting and praying, adrenalin pumping in the veins, all emotions unleashed. At such times, time moves very fast, racing at a thousand kilometres per hour.
We have an exciting but challenging movie script in our hands. It is tasking TK’s creativity and stretching the limits of improvisation in securing the tools and locations for a film set a long time ago, in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The other day I jokingly teased TK about why he is not using me as his lead actor, considering the rave reviews I got for my ‘world class’ performance in one of his previous movies, Campus Queen.
His response left me confused.
The protagonist in ‘Ayinla’, TK says to me, is not Ayinla Omowura, but the ancient ‘town under the rock’ around which the movie is intricately woven – its environment, people, culture, history, language, and a social life that moulded a local musical genius, whose songs were deep socio-cultural and political satire.
Abeokuta provided all the ingredients that created Ayinla Omowura and gave him all the ‘materials’ for evergreen songs for those who understand the Yoruba language and appreciate his genre of music, Apala.
So, the movie captures the odyssey and adventures of the local musical hero and recreates them in Abeokuta, this quiet town in the heart of Yorubaland, saturated with nature’s ‘accidents’ in its resultant ‘catastrophic’ topography of meandering brooks, rocky boulders, dangerous rapids, rolling hills and valleys, deep gorges, and so on. Abeokuta also birthed some of the most accomplished and educated people in Nigeria’s history in virtually all sectors. This was where Ayinla lived, loved, worked and tragically died on the eve of his greatest triumph.
TK has always wanted to let people see and appreciate Abeokuta in all its splendour and spectacular beauty.
I can almost read TK’s mind about his ultimate but unwritten mission – to market Abeokuta to the world through this film. His greatest challenge, however, would be how to do justice to the sites, sounds, culture, architecture, people and the fear of the Coronavirus pandemic lingering in the land in order to achieve that goal.
Do not let me take the thunder out of the movie. It promises unique music, suspense and great drama.
How did the filming eventually go? What were your experiences? Were you able to get rid of the butterflies in your stomach? What were the differences between a football field and a film set?
For three days, I saw action in two locations in Abeokuta as soon as filming started. The first was on a Saturday, at a police station in the Ibara GRA area of town. There was little to report. The crew were just milling around, and no filming had started by the time I left.
The second day was on Sunday, in the evening, at Ake, behind the Palace of the paramount ruler of Egbaland, the Alake, at the location chosen as Ayinla Omowura’s residence during his lifetime.
The external scenes in Ake were incredible. The entire community came out of their homes and gathered in the big square in front of Ayinla’s house to watch the filming. Tk would surely not need to invest in any ‘waka pass’ actors. There were enough from the environment during the filming of several major scenes.
I watched the production at Ake, a particular scene inside Ayinla’s apartment where he welcomed a neighbourhood masquerade. The conversation between them was not part of the original script but an absolutely natural and brilliant improvisation that must have been inspired by the actors on set caught in the spirit of their characters.
The acting was out of this world – hilarious, spontaneous, dramatic and colourful.
Lee Evans, the African American athletics legend who was with me, could not get over the experience long after we left.
It was fantastic watching TK and his team of producers at work from very close quarters.
TK had grown more grey hairs and plenty of additional worry-lines on his face in a few days. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and from peering for long hours through the lens of a camera like a sniper in a war zone.
Filming went on all day and part of every night. I could see, just as many in the audience of watchers confirmed in conversations on the sidelines, that this movie had all the potential and trimmings of a blockbuster.
TK called me early on Monday morning to give me the message I had been quietly dreading – that my part in the movie would be shot on Thursday and that I should prepare for it.
Butterflies started to rumble again in my stomach. All my bravado of an Eagle coming to conquer Nollywood disappeared in an instant. I was shaking like a leaf. This was my litmus test.
All-day that Monday, I wrestled with my simple lines.
An interesting debate was taking place in my head: between football and acting, which was more difficult?
Those were the thoughts racing through my mind since TK gave me my filming schedule. All my earlier ‘sweet talk’ about some past acting records and prowess evaporated, and reality stared me in the face.
A film is an eternal documentary. I will either be applauded or crucified!! There is no place to hide anymore. That’s why I needed Uncle Jimi Solanke.
I had watched him act at close quarters in the past. He chews up acting with the ease of a Lionel Messi doing things with a football.
That is why I needed to make the pilgrimage to Ipara. I am glad I did. It helped me when the time finally came for me to act my part.
So, what happened to TK’s concept of Abeokuta as the film’s main protagonist? Did it unravel to you? What is it about the town that is so fascinating?
Ha, it is a long story. The most unexpected things happened.
The filming of Ayinla lasted three gruelling weeks. It ended on Christmas day. On Boxing Day, at my insistence, Tunde Kelani, TK, went into ‘hibernation’ to catch his breath, to catch up with sleep and to recover from the mixed bag of the good and the ugly of experiences whilst filming inside Abeokuta. Stress and satisfaction found common ground on this his most challenging of works. Filming amid a global pandemic cannot be anything but a challenge of monstrous proportions.
One week into the filming, the arrival of Kunle Afolayan, actor, filmmaker and cinematographer, to Abeokuta to play his role in the movie provided an excellent lift for TK. Kunle arrived with refreshing energy, charisma and vivacity. Almost effortlessly, he charmed his way into the hearts of those watching the quintessential actor in his best elements as his role was knitted together, scene by scene, like a complex jigsaw puzzle.
Kunle is no stranger to Abeokuta, but he had not worked there in recent years, at least. He fell in love with the town all over again for its scenic beauty and told TK that his next movie, titled ‘Swallow’, still on the drawing board, would be shot in the ‘City under the Rock’.
That was all before he got down to filming his parts in Ayinla.
After 12 days of sharing in TK’s experience and having a taste of the reality of a new Abeokuta under Coronavirus, in the morning that he was to leave town, he announced that he would be taking his proposed new movie anywhere else but Abeokuta. He had changed his mind about the town.
What he experienced, first-hand, and saw beneath the calm exterior, the quiet streets, and the peaceful ambience of Abeokuta, were ordeals. Miscreants and hoodlums may now be holding the town by the jugular.
They were everywhere, lurking at every location, like leeches. Their daily demands of ‘filming rights’ are presented as threats and warnings of dire consequences should their illegal demands not be met.
In the absence of any form of protection by the Police (rendered impotent since Endsars), the miscreants became a law unto themselves. If TK could have aborted the filming at a point, so frustrated was he that he would have. He did not.
Kunle saw all these and decided Abeokuta had become a no-go area for a serious movie producer, for now. The risks are not worth taking. Abeokuta is under seige!!
Abeokuta, today, has become like a girl, a figure-8, ten-over-ten, beautiful on the outside, but a simmering volcano on the inside. It took the filming of Ayinla for us all to see beneath the superficiality of life on the streets, the amount of unseen damage that the pandemic and other social ills are wreaking to shatter the innocence and the magic of this once-enchanting town.
TK’s dream was to use Ayinla to ‘sell’ Abeokuta to the world as the new Mecca for foreign filmmakers in Nigeria.
The good news now is that a few nights ago, TK called to tell me that Kunle Afolayan has again changed his mind. Like a pregnant woman that gives birth and immediately forgets about the pain, she goes through, the allure of Egbaland is overpowering. Kunle has changed his mind again – he will return to Abeokuta to shoot ‘Swallow’. But this time, he would come prepared to take on the menace and nuisance of the hoodlums and miscreants all over town.
Ironically, the best night of TK’s filming almost turned out to also be a nightmare. It was the filming of a major scene at the famous Centenary Hall, Ake, the historical and cultural landmark of old Abeokuta, the venue of many epochal events in the days of yore. To be able to use the hall, TK did a cosmetic refurbishment and restoration. With some fresh paints, new rugs, and excellent lighting, a magical transformation took place. The whole of Abeokuta knew something big was to happen.
Like locusts, they descended. Every area boy in that part of town used the opportunity to feed their extortionist appetites. TK paid through the nose that night. Despite that, there were fights between the different groups of miscreants, some of the artworks on the walls went missing, chairs and tables were upturned, and filming was disrupted intermittently for hours. Some calm finally returned at the end of the day, and even TK was over the moon with the pictures from that unforgettable night, where the scripted plot and unscripted reality blended to make Ayinla Omowura’s concert at Centenary Hall a scene in the movie that is a must-watch for the world when ‘Ayinla’ is finally released.
So, did you find out why the town, Abeokuta, rather than the man, Ayinla, is the movie’s protagonist?
That’s very interesting. It is an unconnected incident that opens my eyes finally.
It is five days to Christmas, the eve of my first major shot at cinema stardom. The scene of my special appearance in ‘Ayinla’ is to be filmed in 24 hours’ time. I am preparing hard.
Then, Tintin comes to town.
Tintin is a media and communications consultant based in Lagos. He is a new friend. I like him a lot – young, wickedly handsome, lively, brilliant, on top of new technology, immensely gifted, creative, and a real guru of the broadcast media.
When he arrives, I am in a depressed place in my mind, the product of second-hand pressure. I have been worrying that TK is worried. The menace of the area boys and miscreants everywhere in town, whilst trying to film, has been making life miserable for everyone. I am worrying about Abeokuta. This is the same town TK intends to market to the world through ‘Ayinla’ as the new Mecca’ of cinematography. Can’t these hoodlums see the damage they are doing?
Ogun State Government must come to the rescue and quickly establish a special place where filmmakers can get adequate security support for future filmmaking and other projects.
But Tintin is entirely oblivious of my movie involvement and also of the mood around me in Abeokuta. He walks into it all like a man with a blindfold.
On alighting from his car in front of my house, the first words out of his mouth are jolting. The filming crew must not hear him, I tell myself. The prevailing mood is too reflective. TK is frustrated. Kunle Afolayan is angry. Everyone is depressed. Abeokuta, our fantasy paradise, has been under the siege of miscreants.
And then, in the midst of all these, Tintin loudly and innocently arrives and proclaims: “I love this town”.
Ha! Love ke? Abeokuta? Who is this?
I am looking at him and thinking: Tintin does not know anything. He is fooled, like we all have been, by the surface-look, the quiet and peaceful ambience of the residential estate where he meets me.
Tintin must be thinking he is making a good impression and goes on: “driving into town is breathtaking. You cannot miss the beauty of the landscape; the undulating hills and valleys stretching out as far as the eyes can see, by the Muhammadu Buhari Estate on the Sagamu entrance into town”.
This Tintin is in love, indeed.
“Who owns those empty houses?”. He is pointing at some uncompleted houses in the GRA. The man cannot be serious.
“There is something about Abeokuta that makes it different from every town I know in Nigeria. The moment you enter the town, all the tension and pressure imported from Lagos dissolve and evaporate. The streets are clean and uncrowded. They calm you down. The sanity and casual pace of life suck you in. Chief, I am thinking seriously about moving here to join you o”.
Ha, Tintin. 5 minutes in town, and you are singing such a lullaby. I can understand, though.
Coming straight from Lagos, a city that never sleeps, a city groaning and bursting at the seams with the weight of competing forces – an exploding population, impossible and chaotic traffic jams, hustle at every turn, deafening noises and mega environmental pollution, and an ocean of okada riders and area boys that make our Abeokuta-experience look like Kindergarten stuff.
Tintin’s romantic melody about Abeokuta starts to make some sense. His words are true, despite our troubles with hoodlums during filming ‘Ayinla’.
They jolt me back to reality. In the heat of some local challenging social problems, we forget to appreciate the bigger picture of what Abeokuta offers that we (TK, Seun Oyefeso and I) saw some years ago as we traversed Ogun State on my theatrical but very fruitful political odyssey.
I remember vividly.
We were constantly fantasising about Abeokuta; how, through the arts and entertainment – film, music, dance, sports, drums, theatre, sculpture, literature, culture, poetry and other artistic expressions, we would position and promote the town as a deserving capital for a new Black civilisation to be established in the world.
Our ambitious plan was to plant the seeds of a socio-cultural, political and economic revolution in the Statè, by building a solid relationship with our Black and African Diasporàn ‘brethren’ in all parts of the world through projects that will bring them back to their roots in Africa, re-settle those that are interested, provide opportunities and incentives for them to invest, to work and to live in a land they can rightly call their homeland. Ghana has embarked on that route in the past two years!
Abeokuta has the ambience, the knowledge base, the cultural institutions and traditions, the human and intellectual capacity, and the resources to justify our belief that it can be achieved within a short time with the right kind of leadership vision and political will.
We fantasised about reviving and repackaging the FESTAC ’77 project and goals; of recreating the festival with an ingeniously new funding mechanism and methodology; using it to catalyse and facilitate the design of a new cultural, infrastructural architecture that will transform Abeokuta into a global destination of choice for an annual cultural pilgrimage for all Black people!
We were like prophets.
As if we saw the future, our plans have become relevant in the past few months. The Black Lives Matter movement and the global fight against racism, inequality and social injustice have become trending global struggles. Sports have become a potent tool in the global struggle. Sports and politics that used to be two parallel lines have now become Siamese Twins.
All these things mean that in our little heads and for our little town, we were dreaming right – Abeokuta can become the epicentre of a new and mighty cultural army in the world. It has all the essential ingredients. One only needs to visit the old sections of Abeokuta, look deeply into the history and surviving traditions, and take lessons from local cultural and spiritual institutions to stimulate a revival of a once-well-established and very sophisticated society and civilisation in history.
So, Tintin’s coming to town is a divine commission to re-set my mind temporarily dislodged by the troubles that TK has been facing. So, he comes, re-ignites the fire, fans the embers, revives the flames, and departs.
‘I love this town.
His words continue to ring in my ears. They are magic words, and Tintin says them with innocent sincerity. He is ‘rewarded’, of course, with an unforgettable evening. Outdoors in my little compound in the sequestered serenity of Ibara Housing Estate, I fete him with Charcoal-grilled freshwater fish, boiled same-day corn, the freshest palm wine in the world (trust me), some good company and elevating conversations under the half-moon of mid-December!
The following morning is the day of my filming. Tintin announces his final, new Egba residential ambitions. He is unable to resist the temptation of the squirrels and the rabbits scurrying in the surrounding bushes full of ‘singing’ birds. The tranquillity, peace and leisurely pace of life under Olumo Rock have won him over. He has decided to set up both shop and home here in Abeokuta.
Tintin returns to his Lagos base a very happy man, his unplanned assignment to restore my waning spirit in the ‘Ayinla’ movie accomplished. Now I understand why Abeokuta is the protagonist in ‘Ayinla’.
So, how does your filming go?
Well, things start to happen very fast.
All schools in Ogun State are shut immediately by order of government due to a second wave of the Coronavirus all over the country.
In Abeokuta, there is a virus-fatigue. As far as the public is concerned, the virus does not exist. Wearing masks in public is a rarity. A gentleman asks me the other day to mention one poor person I know in Abeokuta that has caught the virus or died from it.
“Corona is for rich people o”, he declares and walks away.
I hope we all do not have to pay the price of this disrespect and carelessness.
My advertised role as Vice-Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School in the movie is no longer feasible. All
schools are closed for the year.
A completely new plot has to be scripted into the movie and a new scene created in order
to accommodate me, the ‘joker’ in TK’s pack of screen cards!
TK is smart. He knows he cannot leave me out of this movie no matter what happens. The noise of an Eagle landing in Nollywood has reached even to the moon and back. ‘Ayinla’ without ‘Mathematical’ will be incomplete, like sauce without pepper. We have even consulted with the gods of theatre and obtained their blessings. Remember our trips to the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba, to Ososa and Ipara?
A new plot is, therefore, written into the movie. I do not know what to make of it. I notice it does not give me the space to put on the full array of my acting skills😜.
This TK cannot be serious, I tell myself. We shall see.
The day of filming my scene arrives, four days to Christmas. The preparations at the Sports Lounge in the Panseke area of town takes the whole day. Heavy trucks, cranes, the army of technicians, set designers, make up artists and the ‘waka pass’ audience all land at the location. That’s the nature of filming – the preparations take more time than the actual filming.
Later in the evening, after sunset, the time finally comes to play my ‘lead’ role. The set is beautiful. The lighting is fantastic. I am in my full royal purple regalia. Even Tori Adelanwa, my friend, travels from his home in the hilltop outskirts of Abeokuta to bear witness to my performance.
TT is all over me and all over the place. I am taken through my lines.
“Chief Ishola”. That’s my name in the movie. I am called to the stage.
I climb onto the podium. A million eyes are trained on me. The lights, a packed audience of guests in the set, the large technical crew of cameramen, audio specialists, and many others with or without functions are all focused on me.
Expectations are high. I have made too much noise about this role and my prowess. Too many people are interested in what I will do. The smile on my face is plastered and cosmetic. The words I have been memorizing all evening freeze halfway between my brain and my mouth. I am struggling. Kai, Universe, don’t disgrace me o.
I open my mouth. Words start tumbling out. My heart is racing.
“Cut!”. TK’s shrill voice cuts through the suspense on the set. I pass out.
After all the weeks of preparation, prayers, and fasting; after all the noise I have made; after visiting Kongi and Jimshow; Kai, this TK is wicked.
On the outside, I am cool and calm. Inside, I am trembling like a leaf. But I survive! 30 minutes come and go quickly. The shoot is like a minute. I keep asking myself: Is that it? All my ‘noise’ about an Eagle landing in Nollywood with a bang, is this it? What is all my lala koko fefe for, if this is all to it?
Anyway, I believe TK, the filmmaker, has an ace up his sleeve. I am waiting patiently for the final magic he will perform to make a footballer an actor.
At the end of the day, TK appears to be very happy with everything. That’s the best news.
Tell me, did your expectations and reality coincide? Did they meet at all?
I believe so. For me, being a part of filming ‘Ayinla’ has been an incredible experience, even with my limited days on the set. It was better than I had imagined it would be but more complex.
When I finally depart Abeokuta 3 days to Christmas, I carry an unbelievable catalogue of pictures in my head of unique moments. I can still picture the legendary filmmaker from very close quarters on this greatest of his projects. TK is my own subject in this movie.
I can already see what’s coming, though TK’s relief and excitement when we speak on the phone on Boxing day.
TK swears that the movie has been everything he dreamt it would be at the start and even more. He thinks we have an international blockbuster in the kitty.
So, in the end, I am glad too.
So, in your estimation, did the Eagle finally land successfully on Planet Nollywood?
Yes o. This Eagle landed safely on the planet. I am not sure if it is with a bang or a thud. Either way, that he safely lands at all is enough to hold on to until ‘Ayinla’ comes out of the production furnace. The rest of the world will have to wait to make up their mind about landing quality.
The movie will be released, I am told, by June.
Thank you. I cannot wait to see how you will fare in your minute of fame in “Ayinla”.