Saturday, 6 May 2017


I was at Ososa, near Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State to visit the birth place and gallery of Oloyo Hubert Adedeji Ogunde. This gallery was meant to be the rehearsal center for the National Troupe.
Ogunde is the son of  Jeremiah and Eunice Ogunde, born on July 16, 1916, he founded the Ogunde Theatre Party, Nigeria's first contemporary professional theatrical company. He was an actor, playwright, theatre manager, and musician. His father was a Baptist and his maternal grandfather an African traditionalist. Young Ogunde took part  in the Ifá and Shango celebrations while growing up. He attended St John School, Ososa, (1925–28), St Peter's School, Faaji, Lagos, (1928–30) and Wasinmi African School, (1931–32).

His first contact with performance art was as a young member of Egun Alarinjo and Daramola Atele's travelling theatre group during his elementary school days. After completing his education, he worked as a pupil-teacher at St. John's School and was also church choirmaster and organist. He later joined the Nigerian Police Force in March 1941 and posted to Ibadan. In 1943, the Police Force posted him to Ebute Metta where he joined an African Initiated Church white garment church. In Lagos, he created an amateur drama group the African Music Research Party in 1945. His theatre career began under the patronage of the Church. In 1944, he produced his first folk opera, The Garden of Eden and The Throne of God, commissioned by the Lagos-based Church of the Lord (Aladura) founded by Josiah Ositelu. The performance was sanctioned to aid contributions to a Church building fund. The folk opera premiered at Glover Memorial Hall with the chairman of the ceremony, Azikiwe in attendance. Ogunde's first play incorporated realism and dramatic action in the acting, dancing and singing of the performers separating it from the common Native Air Operas predominant in Yorubaland at the time an innovation that contributed to making the play a success. At the request of the Alake of Abeokuta, Ogunde performed 'The Garden of Eden' at the Ake Centenary Hall. Encouraged by the success of the play, Ogunde went on to write more operas. He wrote and co-directed three religious themed plays: Africa and God (1944), a folk opera infused with Yoruba cultural themes than were non-existent in The Garden of Eden, Israel in Egypt (1945) and Nebuchadnezzar's Reign and Belshazzar's Feast (1945). In 1946, he resigned his post with the police to become a professional dramatist.
Ogunde's African Music Research Party later known as Ogunde Theatre Party founded in 1945 is the first contemporary professional theatre company in Yoruba land. Previous performance groups were masked theatre troupes called alarinjo who were dependent on the court or church for support and grew in popularity as a result of word of mouth. Ogunde distinguished his group by using promotion methods such as advertisements and posters and changing the round stage used by alarinjo performers to one with a proscenium. In addition, he introduced dramatic action and realism into his plays depending on the audience for commercial support. By these acts Ogunde began the rise of modern professional theatre in Nigeria, a movement in which he remains the father figure. After leaving his job as a police constable, Ogunde moved away from his earlier focus on religious themes and started writing plays that were nationalistic or anti-colonial in outlook, a trend in Lagos during the furious forties. During this period, many of his early movies were co-directed by G. B. Kuyinu.

Ogunde married about twelve wives: Clementina Oguntimirin was the eldest of them all, she later became known as Adesewa Ogunde or Mama Eko (Lagos Mama), after taking the leading part in a popular play. In 1947, Ogunde and Adesuwa, traveled to London to make contacts with the promotion of his shows. There they took waltz and tap dance classes. He was able to merge the waltz with the traditional Batakoto dance and tap dance with traditional Yoruba Epa dance. Adesewa had five children for him. Oguntimirin died in a road accident in September 1970 along Ilesha. The following year, Ogunde wrote a play in her memory entitled Ayanmo, he also did a musical album 'Adesuwa', about the loss of his wife and co-star in a tragic accident. Another of his wife is Idowu Philips, an actress.

In early 1945, he produced Worse than Crime, later in that year, he wrote The Black Forest and Journey to Heaven, two Yoruba operas that also improved on his use of traditional Yoruba folklore but with the latter having a strong Christian influence. In November 1945, he wrote a pro-labour play, Strike and Hunger motivated by the events of a general strike by labour unions led by Michael Imoudu. In 1946 he wrote and produced Tiger's Empire. Premiered on 4 March 1946, Tiger's Empire was produced by The African Music Research Party and featured Ogunde, Beatrice Oyede and Abike Taiwo. The advertisement for the play was the result of Ogunde's call for "paid actresses". It marked the first time in Yoruba theatre that women were billed to appear in a play as professional artists in Light in their own right. Tiger's Empire was an attack on colonial rule. He followed Tiger's Empire with Darkness and Light, a play he vaguely remembers. Later in 1946, he produced Devil's Money, an African story about a man who entered a contract with an evil spirit so as to get rich. The folk opera was successful with a set of twenty-four actors donning costumes. After the death of Herbert Macaulay, he wrote the opera Herbert Macaulay, to commemorate the life of the nationalist who died in 1946. He then released another political themed play, Towards Liberty in 1947. Before 1948, Ogunde plays were staged in Lagos and occasionally in Abeokuta, both his growing popularity in other Western Nigeria provinces made him think about traveling to other cities with his theatre troupe. In 1948, he went on a tour major Western Nigerian cities with his group, including stops at Abeokuta, Ibadan, Oyo, Ede and Ogbomosho. When he took his tour to the north, he had two major encounters with the police due to the political context of Worse than Crime and Tiger's Empire. His first tour outside Nigeria was not well received by the Ghanaian audience largely because they did not understand the Yoruba language and Ogunde was ignorant about the tastes of the audience.

He wrote a satire, 'Human Parasites', about the craze for Aso ebi, a custom that lent itself to much abuse. Friends forcing friends to buy Aso-ebi for occasions to celebrate marriages or funerals. There was also 'Bread and Bullet' - a play about a coal miners' strike in Enugu that resulted in the shooting of twenty-two people. Later he introduced English language to the dialogue of his plays. He also had an Islamic morality tale 'My Darling Fatima' in 1951 followed by three situational comedies: Portmanteau Woman (1952), 'Beggar's Love (1952) and Princess Jaja (1953). In 1955, his theatre went on a tour Northern Nigeria, including performances at the Colonial Hotel, Kano. During this time, Ogunde wrote less but went on grueling road tours to different parts of the country becoming a traveling theatre group. He also changed the name of the group from Ogunde Theatre Party to Ogunde Concert Party around 1947.

Ogunde released a few music albums including: 'Ori' about destiny, 'Onimoto' and his most popular album was 'Yoruba Ronu', a soundtrack to the play with the same name.
Some of his plays include:
Garden of Eden and the Throne of God (1944)
Africa and God (1944)
Israel in Egypt (1945)
Nebuchadnezzar's Reign and Belshazzar's Feast (1945)
King Solomon (1945)
Worse than Crime (1945)
Journey to Heaven (1945)
The Black Forest (Igbo Irunmale) (1945)
Strike and Hunger (1945)
Tiger's Empire (1946)
Darkness and Light (1946)
Mr. Devil's Money (Ayinde) (1946)
Herbert Macaulay (1946)
Human Parasites (1946)
Towards Liberty (1947)
Swing the Jazz (1947)
Yours Forever (Morenike) (1948)
Half and Half (1949)
Gold Coast Melodies (1949)
Bread and Bullet (1950)
My Darling Fatima (1951)
Portmanteau Woman (1952)
Beggar's Love (1952)
Highway Eagle (1953)
Princess Jaja (1953)
Village Hospital (Ile Iwosan) (1957)
Delicate Millionaire (Olowo Ojiji) (1958)
Songs of Unity (1960)
Yoruba Ronu (1964)
Aropin N'tenia (1964)
Otito Koro (1964)
Awo Mimo (1965)
Ire Olokun (1968)
Keep Nigeria One (1968)
Mama Eko (1968)
Oba nta (1969)
Ogun Pari (1969)
Oh, Ogunde (1969)
Ewe Nla (1970)
Iwa gbemi (1970)
Ayanmo (1970)
Onimoto (1971)
K'ehin Sokun (1971)
Aiye (1972)
Ekun Oniwogbe (1974)
Ewo Gbeja (1975)
Muritala Mohamed (1976)
Oree Niwon (1976)
Nigeria (1977)
Igba t' ode (1977)
Orisa N'la (1977)

Pa Ogunde passed on, April 4th, 1990 at London's Cromwell Hospital following a brief illness. He rests in peace.

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