The Tongue, the Gong and the Song: Olu Obafemi At 70, By Toyin Falola
His ways are the gentle strides of a giant king that loves teaching many of us to submerge might and adopt suuru baba iwa (patience, the ultimate character). The efforts of oloye iwe are indeed gigantic and we can learn from the wisdom of such a great man. It is an honour for me to write this tribute to honour an araba. The gods have smiled on him.
Now that the bird of songs
dazzles us as it flies in the
sky, let us clap our hands and
pay homage to the carrier
of our country’s light. In the
tribe of words, the calabash
of wisdom never misses.
From the streets of this land
to the world across, those who
know the music of hope know
the words weaved by you, Olú.
You are the song, you are the
gong. You are the dance that
lifts our feet to the drumbeats
of Àyángalú. Today we pay
homage to the Anigilaje
that entertains us with fecund
lyrics from the home of music.
We pay homage to the
seer who cast his spell
of light to map the future
of our land.
B’omode o babá’tàn, a baroba.
Olufemi, admired by the supreme deity; Obafemi, adorned by the king; Nifemi, loved in the purest way; Femidenu, deeply admired by his friends. Who is that mortal that does not cherish such brilliance and treasure as Olufemi Obafemi? Having distinguished himself over the years as a remarkable, talented and ingenious playwright, poet, scholar and mentor, his praise of greatness chants itself. Many are gifted, true, but ojogbon Obafemi is truly gifted and in many ways too. At the crossroad to entering this world, some chose to be seer, and some maestroes. Yet some others chose to be troubadours or reformers. Olu Obafemi, however, understood there was no single pathway to the market, so he strode all the pathways to become the tongue, the gong, and the song.
A conscientious playwright, his artistry in works such Pestle on The Mortar, Nights of a Mystical Beast and The New Dawn, Scapegoats and Sacred Cows, New and Distant Cries to Running Dreams: Tales from Many Nations, reflects and refracts the post-colonial Nigerian predicaments and sociological matters. In Dark Times Are Over?, for example, he satirised the decadence in Nigerian universities. The portrayal of happenings in Nigerian universities highlighted ills such as religious tension, prostitution, social injustice, and cultism. In Naira Has No Gender, he satirised the philosophy of possessive individualism of Nigerian politicians from a womanist point-of-view. This does not only border on gender and gendering, but also on the social formation of Nigeria, with full recognition of the tension between tradition and modernity. While in Suicide Syndrome, he employs radical poetics to confront the socio-political organisation and power relations of the Nigerian society, thereby highlighting the deprivation and afflictions imposed on the masses. These three plays capture the man himself as an eniyan atata, who is concerned with our Nigerian situations.
From Ulli Beier, Herbert Ogunde to Moses Olaiya, ogbontarigi Olu Obafemi has done extensively well to properly position the significance of theatre in the socio-historical development of Nigeria, while also advancing the frontiers of Theatre Criticism in Africa. More than just a renowned scholar, he is a man of service. There is no surprise that anywhere oga Olu served, as president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), president of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, director of Research at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies and so on, he leaves a trail of accomplishments. After all, eni mo oju ogun ni pa obi n’ire. His service is not limited to just the scholarly arenas but to the generality of humanity. In 2018, when Prof. was conferred the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), the first Nigerian theatre critic to be ever awarded so, many of us believed that it was an award long overdue for a man of many merits.
Whilst the nation was cowering at the chaos and tumult of the military regime, this illustrious son of Akutukpa Bunu and his gallant peers were busy counting the tiger’s teeth. His repertoire of works includes 18 creative works, 14 single and co-authored books, and over a hundred scholarly articles published in local and international outlets. He truly stands out as an unforgettable legend. Who dares to ask, but a man who sings of hope and assures us that hope persists, “Why should the society be organised in such a way that so many people can be suffering while a few have so much to waste?” Indeed, the phrase, “History will be kind to you,” is derogatorily used these days. In the case of ekun Olu, it is a phrase that is already justified by his contributions to scholarship and humanity.
His ways are the gentle strides of a giant king that loves teaching many of us to submerge might and adopt suuru baba iwa (patience, the ultimate character). The efforts of oloye iwe are indeed gigantic and we can learn from the wisdom of such a great man. It is an honour for me to write this tribute to honour an araba. The gods have smiled on him. It is a blessing to live long and be celebrated.
Ìwó is the home of Odídẹrẹ́.
Obafemi, the scion of the land,
the veil of your kindness spreads
across the world. You–the skilful
hunter who kills the bloated dreams
of power-drunken leaders. You–
the flute that produces tunes
that gather our ears. Since today
is the birthday of the wordsmith
whose name cuddles our tongues,
may your sea of songs never dry.
Every year, kolanut visits the market
of the world. Every year, bitter kola
graces the market of the world.
Bàbá, may your feet never slip
on the eye of the earth. May you
grow old to witness many seasons
Koko lara ọta le.
I wish you the brightness of the
moon, the colorfulness of the
rainbow, the endless flow of the
Toyin Falola is University Distinguished Professor of the University of Texas at Austin.