Interviewed by R. Atanda Quadri
Tell us about your beginning as an author and publisher of literary works?
My first published work was a poem, THE FUTILITY OF LIFE published in an anthology for the fourth IFE (OAU) Festival of Poetry in 2001. The second published was ALAAFIN AFEPEJA, a play which is the adaptation of the biblical story of the birth of Christ to Yoruba traditional and historical settings. It is borne out of my imagination of what could happen if Christ was born in Yoruba land.
What is the theme and focus of the book?
I especially based it on the character of Alaafin Arole (Alaafin Afepeja) of the old Oyo empire. The thematic occupation of the play includes POWER AND REVENGE. The play, as attested to by professionals showed that Yorubas have values which transcend borders and seasons. ORI… the destiny of man is another published work. It is based on the Yoruba mythological beliefs and myths about the concept of ORI, man’s spiritual head and intuition.
Can you tell us more about the ”Ori Concept?”
Man’s destiny according to Yoruba belief is determined by the type of ORI he chosed in the pre-life. This play is influenced by my love for Ola Rotimi’s THE GODS ARE NOT TO BLAME. Ola Rotimi ended his play with Odewale’s downfall and resignation to fate. I had tried to imagine what could be responsible for such fate. How, where and when did he choose his Ori, his destiny? What could he have done right or wrong for the gods to curse him? Which of the gods cursed him and so on? The pre-thematic occupation of this play is basically DESTINY. All my plays are particularly based on Yoruba and African cultural values, heritage, belief and indigenous civilization and are based on researches.
So, what impacts do your books have?
My books play the ultimate roles of arts. They entertain, teach, instruct, educate, mould and most importantly help preserve Yoruba and African cultural values. For decades and centuries to come, I know by God’s grace that those books will serve as medium to transmit those cultural values and heritage to coming generations, the way Playwrights and Novelists like Ola Rotimi, Zulu Sofola, Chinua Achebe, Femi Osofisan, J.P. Clark, Ahmed Yerima, Wale Ogunyemi, Wale Ogunbiyi, Duro Ladipo, Habert Ogunde and so on have done.
As a family man, what challenges do you see as being responsible for prevalent family dislocations of nowadays?
It is ironical that when families and societies arranged weddings for their children, homes were kept intact and the man and woman lived together for long. But now that young ones think they know better and choose for themselves, marriages don’t last a year, sometimes married couple disengage within the first month or even almost immediately after their wedding ceremony.
What can we attribute this unpleasant trends to?
Well, this is not unconnected to the fact that the kind of marriage natural to us is the traditional one where the family search for good partners for their children, where investigations are made to ascertain the suitability of the partners and where the values of marriage required the whole families to come together as against the present concept of “strictly my family and I ”.Our people have done away with the place of values and influence of culture and traditions on marriage, and so marriage has lost its values, hence, the increased rate of family breakup nowadays.
What mass media programmes have you been part of?
In the media, I have had the opportunity from reknowned producers to co-produce and present cultural programs on both radio and TV stations. First was Cultural circle program on UNILAG 101.3 FM. After that, I got the opportunity to produce and co-present ETO KA JI JO LO, a segment on Breakfast show on NTA IKANNI OODUA on STARTIMES with Otunba Jare Ayo as the Producer-in-Chief in 2016.
How did your relationship with him evolve from then?
Thereafter, I also worked with him when he was in charge of Lagos Weekend Television in 2015 to 2016 as segment producer and co-presenter of CULTURE AND TOURISM AFRICA TV SHOW. Presently, I have just been invited by my Oga, Mr. Hafiz Oyetoro (Simply Saka) to be part of the team that will manage a cable channel that will take off on 1st October, 2020.
Congratulations on that one, which traditional music instruments are you proficient at handling?
When it comes to traditional music instruments, I love IYA ILU BABA or IYA ILU ABO BATA and DUNDUN. I love to handle the two as a performing artist. But recently, I work more as a theatre director and producer more than a performer, so, I handle less of the instruments now.
In your own view, what factors hinder the progress of Nigeria’s theatre arts industry?
Lack of professionalism is the main problem under which other problems hide. Professionalism is what gives an industry quality. The lack of professionalism is also hinged on lack of training and lack of education or lack of education. Any sector where anybody can just come in, can never go anywhere. All the careers, especially, which gives the liberty for all manners of people to come in cannot grow. Instance is the marketing profession.
Hmmm, kindly illustrate more on that point
Many people do not even know that people go to universities and polytechnics to study marketing and there are marketing professionals. Because it is an all-comer thing the profession is messed up. I am an associate member of National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN) and I am happy because I know that the stakeholders are doing something to bring the situation under control, the way the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has done.
Any other causative factor aside non-professionalism?
Apart from problem of lack of professionalism, another problem is the problem of mechanism for control and supervision. I am highly disappointed that NANTAP that was established by an act of parliament and made up of professional could not bring the situation under control and cannot actually play the pacesetter role they are supposed to play. Another major problem is lack of support from the government.
What roles have our citadels of learning played in all these?
Another problem is that in our tertiary institutions, theatre programs do not evolve to reflect the present realization. I am disappointed that it was COMMUNICATION professionals who took the initiative of including FILM PRODUCTION as an area of specialization for degree in MASS COMMUNICATION while theatre departments still based their trainings on stage production which is not so rewarding again, while doing very little in the area of film production which reflects the present realization. Apart from this, theatre departments have failed to show their students of different generations the business aspect of their training, which is the reason why most graduates of theatre arts go to other close professions like marketing, PR, advertising and so on.
What solutions do you proffer to these myriad of bottlenecks you identified?
To solve the enumerated problems above, there should be policies that will guide who comes into theatre practice. Stakeholders should come up with mechanism for sanitization through supervision and control. Undergraduate students should be exposed more to the business aspects of the profession. Stakeholders, especially, those in charge of the professional associations like NANTAP, TAMPAN, AGN, ANTP and others should work on continuous training and re-training of their members. The associations should repackage themselves and re-position for government support and intervention. Above all, professionalism should guide everything we do.
How do you think we can address the challenge of dwindling passion of people for Yoruba language?
A professor once said that the dearth of a language is the death of the culture it represents. The rate at which the use of Yoruba language dwindles is giving some of us sleepless night and this calls for collective and concerted efforts to forestall this situation. Advocates and professionals in Yoruba language, arts, literature and communication should intensify efforts at preserving and promoting the language. Other Southwest states should copy Lagos state on ensuring the preservation and development of the language and even do more. The state has set a day aside in a week on which Yoruba language will be used for state house of assembly proceedings and business.
What of the schools angle?
The teaching of Yoruba language is also made compulsory in all schools from primary to secondary schools. In fact, I don’t see why Yoruba language cannot be declared or be used as the second official language in all the states in the southwest. I don’t see why Yoruba language, our first language cannot be used to teach in schools.
Can you highlight the benefits of this suggestion of yours, from a global perspective since we now live in a borderless world?
All countries of the world who base their educational, scientific and technological advancements on their indigenous languages are the ones who can attain true greatness and are actually great. Where were countries like Malaysia, Dubai of United Arab Emirates, Japan and even China about three or four decades ago, when Nigeria had began his upward journey before we allowed things slipped through our hands. I don’t know why it seems we get all things wrong here while smaller other countries are taking initiatives. Recently, Benin Republic announced that Yoruba Language as second official language in the country. The same thing in Brazil. What our people don’t know is Nigeria is digging her own economic grave and sacrificing genuine social, scientific and technological progress on the altar of undue western culture interference.
How do we adapt our traditional industry as tourism products to attract both local and foreign investors?
The traditional industry is vast and very promising if the potentials are maximized. It includes the clothing manufacturing industry like we have in Abeokuta (ADIRE) and Iseyin (ASO OFI), tourism sector in the tourism sites scattered all over the region as well as the cultural tourism and most especially, the Yoruba movie industry. All of these sub-sectors are presently under utilized and potentials not adequately tapped because of lack of concerted effort to develop the sub-sectors.
So, what needs to be done?
Practitioners should find ways of packaging better and selling to the outside world for forex exchange which can help the economy. Stakeholders have been asking since decades ago for government to diversify the economy because the crude oil relied on will soon loose its value, it is exactly what is happening now. This is the time to package these cultural sub-sectors and pushed to the outside world for consumption.
How do we relate the profitability vision of the traditional industry with the Yoruba Films industry?
Well, as for the Yoruba film industry, the problem is with the practitioners. Like I said earlier, the major problem of film industry is lack of professionalism which affects the quality of the films produced, the not too ideal quality of many films churned out every now and then has made the sector to lose its audience and by extension, business cum customer base. Film industry in Nigeria is a multi-million dollars industry which is capable of giving us forex as our films are exported to all parts of the world especially, West and East Africa, America and Asia. As regards series from abroad, especially from the Latin America and the Asia which are ruling our screen, filmmakers should begin to produce films based on good stories and with quality production.
How do we catch children young to inspire them to acquire traditional industry skills as future means of livelihood for them?
Children of nowadays don’t really have orientation in arts again, especially indigenous ones, no thanks to different distractions of this present age. Meanwhile, the best time to inculcate into our children and expose our children to culture is when they are in their formative stages as children at home and school children. Government should make policies that can ensure establishment of different arts programs and projects targeted at school children. All schools should place priority on the teaching of culture based subjects like languages, history, visual arts literature and make them attractive.
How do we involve incentives to attract children?
Different incentives like scholarship should be instituted for students for attaining excellence in cultural projects. Different exhibitions should be organized by arts professionals with focus on the arts inclined school children to encourage them and to give them sense of direction and modeling at tender stage. School children should be exposed at tender age to the economic and business aspects of arts. Ministries of culture and traditions should design different programs, projects and policies targeted at encouraging school children to embrace the economic aspect of arts.
So, what professional associations in your fields do you belong to?
I belong to Association of Nigerian Authors from my school days. I was the general secretary of Association of Nigerian Theatre Practioners (ANTP) Ifako-Ijaiye, and the immediate past General Secretary of Theatre Arts and Motion Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), Ifako-ijaiye as well as member of Guild of Nigerian Dancers (Eko Gond). Marketing is key for business aspect of the profession; I am an Associate member of National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN), and presently under going APCON program.
Who are those that influenced your interests in theatre arts and culture?
I have many things and many people that have developed my interest in the performing arts and the media and the cultural sector. I was in primary school when I read OGBOJU ODE NINU IGBO IRUNMOLE and IGBO OLODUMARE by D.O. FAGUNWA from my father’s library. This influenced me and developed my interest in my chosen fields. Like I said, my literature teacher at Saint Peter’s African Church Grammar school, Ile-Ife. I will never forget my father’s training and exposure to culture at tender age.
Your father’s training in what ways?
I remember that my father would take us to watch masquerades during oje festival in Modakeke in the 80s and 90s. The experiences form the contents of my play THE MEGA. I also have to thank my father, Baale Akano Oludele Arowoogun for his rich library where I read the work of great writers all over Africa and the world. At Iree, my first professional theatre experience at Osun State Polytechnic completed the development of my interest in arts and passion in theatre. I also have to list my time with Late Chief Femi Robinson for opportunity to be in charge of his theatre productions. For media, I am indebted to him, as well as my uncle, Otunba Jare Ayo Martins.
What is your take on the quality, standards and messages of many Yoruba films today, I still remember some of us learnt much of history from Yoruba drama and films when we were children without studying history in schools, how do you compare present day Yoruba films with those of the past?
As regards my take on this, I will remark that the Yoruba film is like the Nigeria country. While we have a few who have decided to do right things rightly, we have many who belief in the short cut and “Wuru-wuru” to the answer. We have different filmmakers who are known for standard and who are seeing as pacesetters. I will not like to mention names because apart from the ones who have established themselves as good filmmakers, we have new ones who are not doing bad. But there are general problems. One is the issue of language medium. In most Yoruba films, it is disheartening that the actors speak more of English and the few Yoruba they speak are very light.
Can you shed more light on that?
Most Yoruba films lack researched contents, but worst of all, most of the films instead of promoting our culture project foreign values that we are working to reduce their culture eroding influence. In comparison, most films while we were growing up in the 80s and 90s were majorly based on Yoruba culture and traditions and characters spoke undiluted Yoruba language mostly. The problem with speaking of Yoruba by Yoruba actors is that the present crop of ‘educated’ actors cannot speak the language fluently. Meanwhile, instead of sitting up to adjust and learn the language, they hide under being educated to speak more of English.
Do you have anything to add which is of beneficial effects?
One, if the culture and traditions industry which includes tourism, theatre and films, arts and music and so on will be lucrative, they must be seen as business and their economic potentials must be maximized.
I wonder why traditional festivals are money consuming instead of money making. Government should repackage these festivals to serve as economic means. Professionals and stakeholders should also come up with workable proposals toward private partnership scheme to manage and to maximize the economic potentials of tourism sector and festivals.Our festivals and tourist attractions should be packaged to attract foreign exchange.
Any strategic approach to achieve that?
If there is something that still gives Africa respect, it is our unique cultural tourism. Our dances, our festivals, drumming and so on. It is clear that government and its agencies cannot achieve this, so, in few words, private partnership programme is the way out because we have a lot of individuals and organizations who are doing fine in the packaging of our cultural tourism. Prominent among who were Chief Wande Akinboboye and so on.
Name some of your role models, culture, theatre and art icons
My father, Baba Tunde Kelani, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Femi Osofisan, Akinwunmi Ishola, Wande Abimbola, Adebayo Faleti, Yemi Elebuibon, Blackman Abeeb Kareem, Professor Folorunsho formerly of LASU and so on.
What’s your kind of ideal meal?
African and organic meals generally, beans with boiled plantain, porridge, Amala (yam flour) with gbegiri, as well as yam and fried egg.
You certainly love food, what’s your favourite genre of music?
African music generally with African tunes, rhythm and beats which include highlife, juju, afro, apala, a bit of selected fuji songs and core traditional beats like adamo, sakara, apala as well as reggae, blues and calypso from offshore Nigeria.
Who are your favourite musicians?
My favourite musicians of all times are Late Orlando Owoh, Ebenezer Obey, Victor Olaiya, Blackman Abeeb Hakeem, Tunji Oyelana, Fela, Late Hubert Ogunde, Late Haruna Ishola, Late Ayinla Omowura, Late Yussuf Olatunji, King Sunny Ade, Shina Peters, Wasiu Ayinde, Adewale Ayuba.Miriam Makebais my favourite African musician, while offshore Africa it is Bob Marley, Celine Dion, Late Whitney Houston and R Kelly.
How do you love to dress mostly?
I dress to express myself as a Yoruba and African man, and then I am an artiste. So, I wear Yoruba attires most times with a traditional cap to match because of Yoruba philosophy that a man’s dressing is incomplete without a cap and a woman’s dressing incomplete without the headgear. Sometimes I dress as an artiste and that is when you see me wearing shirt made of adire textiles on denim jeans trousers, and yet with a matching traditional cap.
Thank you for the patience, time and hospitality it has taken you to grant us audience
Thank you too.