Chief Hubert Adedeji Ogunde (born 1916, Ososa, near Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria—died April 4, 1990, London, England), was a Nigerian playwright, actor, theatre manager, and musician, who was a pioneer in the field of Nigerian folk opera (drama in which music and dancing play a significant role). He was the founder of the Ogunde Concert Party (1945), the first professional theatrical company in Nigeria. He is regarded as the father of Nigerian theatre.
Ogunde’s most famous play, Yoruba Ronu (performed 1964; “Yorubas, Think!”), was such a biting attack on the premier of Nigeria’s Western region that his company was banned from the region—the first instance in post-independence Nigeria of literary censorship. The ban was lifted in 1966 by Nigeria’s new military government, and in that same year the Ogunde Dance Company was formed. Otito Koro (performed 1965; “Truth is Bitter”) also satirizes political events in western Nigeria in 1963. An earlier play produced in 1946, The Tiger’s Empire, also marked the first instance in Yoruba theatre that women were billed to appear in a play as professional artists in their own right.
Ogunde’s technique was to sketch out the basic situation and plot, and then write down and rehearse only the songs of his plays. The dialogue was improvised, thus allowing the actors to adjust to their audience. The plays produced by his company usually reflected the prevailing political climate and interpreted for audiences the major issues and the aspirations of those in power. His company performed with equal ease in remote villages and in metropolitan centres of Nigeria (as well as throughout West Africa). Many of Ogunde’s later folk operas were basically popular musicals featuring jazzy rhythms, fashionable dance routines, and contemporary satire. Through this format, he set an example for a successful commercial theatre and prepared audiences all over Nigeria for his followers.
During the 1960s and ’70s his plays became an important part of the urban pop culture of West Africa. In the 1960s, the advent of Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) gave Ogunde an avenue to reach his audience without traveling. He produced his plays Ayanmo and Mama Eko for the television audience.
Ogunde was a representative of Nigeria to Expo 67 in Montreal. On his way back to Nigeria, he stopped at New York and performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
In 1983, Ogunde was awarded the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) by the Federal Government under Alhaji Shehu Shagari, unbelievably; Ogunde rejected the honour arguing that corruption is endemic in the land.
In 1987 and 88, Ogun state Government awarded Ogunde the Excellence Award in the field of Drama and Film Production which he joyfully accepted.
In 1985, Ogunde was awarded Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Lagos on Friday 17th of January, 1986.
In his career on stage, he wrote more than 50 plays, most of which incorporate dramatic action, dance and music, with a story reflecting the political and social realities of the period. His first production was a church-financed play called The Garden of Eden. It premiered at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos, in 1944. Its success encouraged Ogunde to produce more plays, and he soon left his job with the police force for a career in the theatre.
In the late 1970s, Ogunde was spurred by the success of Ija Ominira and Ajani Ogun, two pioneering Yoruba feature-length films, to co-produce his first celluloid film, Aiye, in 1979. He released Jaiyesimi, Aropin N’tenia and Ayanmo, feature-length films influenced by Yoruba mysticism, thereafter.
Ogunde released many music albums during his career. His distinctive voice marked the songs in these albums which, like his plays and films, demonstrated knowledge of the Yoruba ethos. The albums included Ekun Oniwogbe (about the human conscience), Onimoto (about motor drivers) and Adeshewa (about the loss of his wife and co-star, who died in a tragic accident). The most popular of his albums is Yoruba Ronu, a soundtrack to the play of the same name. He produced over 90 songs in a creative life that stretched from the late 1950s to 1988. From the 1960s onwards, he produced a soundtrack album for each play.
Ogunde established a film village at Ososa, his home town, to serve as a film shooting studio for his films in 1982. His last two films, Aropin N’tenia and Ayanmo were shot at the Ogunde film village. In 1986, he was invited by the Nigerian government to form a national drama troupe.
Ogunde’s films include Aiye (1980), Jaiyesimi (1981), Aropin Tenia (1982) and Ayanmo (1988)
Ogunde also starred in Mister Johnson, the 1990 motion picture that also featured Pierce Brosnan. The movie was shot on location in Toro, near Bauchi, Nigeria.
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