By Omiko Awa
LIKE yesterday, it has been more than three decades that the renowned dramatist, Duro Ladipo passed on. In fact, it was precisely on March 11, 1978, he breathed his last at the age of 47. Like a colossus, the theatre practitioner left an indelible mark on Nigerian stage.
The late theatre icon was famour for capturing the Yoruba mythology in his plays, which were later adapted to other mediums such as photography, television and cinema, with the most famous being Oba Ko So— a dramatisation of how Sango, the third king of Oyo Empire, became the God of Thunder and Justice. The epic drama received international acclaim at the 1965 Commonwealth Arts Festival held in United Kingdom.
Aside from this, Ladipo was instrumental to the founding of Mbari-Mbayo, a cultural organisation that aimed at promoting budding artists in Osogbo, Osun State.
With over three decades gone, Ladepo Duro Ladipo, one of the sons, is to bring back some of his father’s works to the present generation. The University of Ilorin Performing Arts graduate is currently working on a project that aims at revisiting Mbari-Mbayo.
Tagged, Back To Mbari-Mbayo, he says, “the project is a movement of young artists that are determined to revisit Mbari-Mbayo Art Gallery in Osogbo, the root of Duro Ladipo’s theatre, to look at some of Duro’s works, make them relevant to the contemporary society and as well showcase them to the younger generation. We also hope to rekindle his memory in the minds of average Nigerians, make them have the feel that he was one of the founding fathers of the Nigerian theatre. We hope to inform them that he and other practitioners such as the late Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola and Akin Ogungbe laid the foundation on which today’s home video strives.”
Ladepo, who upon graduation, had a stint in the media and advertising was involved in Gelete, a TV serial. He later left the production crew to join his elder brother, Tola Duro Ladipo, to produce Sho Da Mo, a TV programme sponsored by Lever Brothers Limited.
He says, “Duro and others theatre practitioners including Ogunde, Ogunmola, Ogungbe, made popular Alarinjo (travelling theatre) in the country, and I think government should immortalise them for their contributions to the arts, especially theatre.”
According to Ladepo, his pet project will enable him showcase areas of the late actor’s art that has suffered neglect and not known to the public. Such areas, he notes include music. “I was 12 years old when Duro died. I was part of the cast and crew that followed him to France, his last trip. At some of the performances held there, I played the roles of Oduorogbo and Moremi and also beat the Bata drum. Right from my childhood days, he had always been encouraging me to do theatre. He taught me how to play the piano, he was an organist and a choirmaster; in fact, we had a piano in our house and he used to teach us, especially my younger brother, Wole, and I. It was through this process that he passed some of his skills to me; so, when I came of age, following his footsteps became an easy go,” he informs.
“However, I want to do something different from what others have been doing, but within the scope of his works. Duro was a trained teacher, he never had the opportunity of going to the university to study theatre; he was rather influenced by Ulli Beier and Kola Ogunmola when he attended Ijesha Moral classes organised by the University of Ibadan. Ulli Beier advised him to study the Shakespearean series as well as the stories of the gods, which really helped him to write fantastic operas such as Oba Ko So and Eda that earned him international recognitions abroad. I want to improve on what he started aside from projecting some of his thoughts,” he adds.
Has any of your family member done something on any of his works? Yes, my mother, Abiodun, has taken the plays to so many places. She has even tried to put them into TV dramas. Recently, she produced a film, Moremi, as a continuation of the legacy Duro left behind. My younger brother, Yomi, is also working on Oba Ko So. But I am focusing on Duro’s musical prowess. People do not know that he was a fantastic composer; he composed the songs for his plays and also for his church. In fact, some of the common songs sung in the churches, especially the Anglican Church, were composed by him,” he says.
“We are putting together most of the songs he composed in the 50s and 70s, including those he did while as choirmaster of the Anglican Church. I was privileged to have been with him to learn those songs, which I am now going to reproduce.”
To give his reinvention the charm of originality as if it was the late stage, himself, that did it, Ladepo aside from being the lead singer, reassembled the repertoire of his father’s troupe.
“I went to Oshogbo to bring young singers, Bata drummers as well as most of the people that started Mbari-Mbayo with Duro. In the CD, you will still hear the traditional chanters do their things as if it was in his film. You will hear the real Esan chanters, the egungun and others just like they did it with Duro,” he says.
Produced and arranged by Ladepo, the seven-track album blends African percussion with modern instrument to make the songs relevant to the time.
“The songs are arranged into a medley of juju, fuji and others to bring out the message. Music is nothing without the message. The album also includes the Bode Wasinimi Duro did for the then Nigerian TV, Ibadan; social commentaries that remind leaders to be responsive and responsible to their subjects; and others that talk about family and society,” he notes.
Recorded at 2KB Studio, Lagos, Ladepo states that the follow up musical video will be out this month.
Recalling what informed the project, the music producer says, “it all began from a dream I had while in class two in the secondary school. In the dream my father gave me gangan drum with the kongo and I said, ‘Baba mi what do you want me to do with these’ and I woke up. I did not understand the dream, so, I allowed it to lay low. But years after graduation from the university, I saw my father in a dream again and when I moved close to him, I discovered he was in tears; I demanded to know why he was crying, and he disappeared again. Comparing the dreams I concluded he wants me to do something for him; it is that believe that has given birth to Back To Mbari Mbayo project.”
He continues: “After the public presentation of the CD, we shall embark on rewriting some of Duro’s play to drama, opera or a blend of both. We also intend to fill in the missing gaps and improve on his works without throwing away the spirit. We want people to see the beauty of his play the way it was done in Commonwealth Art Festival in 1965 that earn him first position and a national honour — Member Order of Niger (MON) — at home. We still want people to feel the spirit, the elaborate costume, energy and language of his operas. We want people to know that though Duro has passed on, Duro still lives on.”