May 31, 2009
Hubert Adedeji Ogunde (May 31, 1916 in Ososa, near Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria – April 4, 1990 in London, England) was a Nigerian actor, playwright, theatre manager, and musician who founded the Ogunde Concert Party in (1945), the first professional theatrical company in Nigeria.
Ogunde starred in Mister Johnson, the 1990 motion picture which also featured Pierce Brosnan. The movie which was shot on location in Jos.
He worked first as a teacher before joining the Nigerian Police Force. Like many of his theatre contemporaries, such as A. B. David, P. A. Dawodu, Layeni and G.T. Onimole, his theatre career began under the patronage of the Church. In 1944, he produced his first opera, The Garden of Eden and The Throne of God, by commission of the Lagos-based Church of the Lord, a sect of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society. The performance was in aid of the Church building fund. The huge success of the production spurred Ogunde on to writing more operas until he decided to leave his amateur status as an artist and turn professional. He founded Ogunde Theatre — the first contemporary professional company in Nigeria. By this act Ogunde began the rise of modern professional theatre in Nigeria, a movement in which he remains the supreme artist and father figure.
Professional theatre work
The first play featured at Ogunde Theatre was entitled Tiger’s Empire. Premiered on March 04 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. It was followed by Darkness and Light, although Ogunde does not remember writing it. This is the only play that has escaped his memory. A public outcry had been going on for a year over the growth of a ‘social evil’ which was entering into Lagos society and corroding it. This evil was popularly known as the ‘Aso Ebi Craze’, a craze which required both men and women to buy the most expensive materials for social gatherings.
The rule was that: “When someone wants to celebrate a marriage or a funeral obsequies (sic) she chooses a piece of cloth to wear on the occasion and approaches relatives and friends to buy the same stuff to wear with her as uniform on the day. The number of people to wear the uniform with her will depend on her popularity and social connections.
“The custom has lent itself to much abuse in that the occasions for celebrating marriages of funerals occur so often that one may be asked by friends to buy ‘Aso Ebi’ more than ten times a year”. This craze of course bred intense competition with celebrants trying to outshine one another. It was a competition that delighted textile traders but which often ruined marriages, as women were known to leave husbands who could not afford to robe them, for lovers who could. Ogunde decided to make his first social satirical comment by writing a play designed to expose the vulgarity and ostentatiousness of the craze. He called the play Human parasites. A tragedy in two acts commenting that ‘Aso Ebi is a Social evil…
Aduke who kissed and keyed a thousand lovers for the sake of Aso Ebi… what happened when boys refused to be keyed is better seen than described”
Personal life and legacy
Clementina Oguntimirin later married Ogunde and became Adesewa Ogunde or Mama Eko (Lagos Mama) as she was popularly known by her fans in the 60’s, after taking the leading part in the popular play of that name. She had five children for Ogunde. The two senior girls Tokunbo and Tope are now leading members of the company.
Oguntimirin died in a road accident on September 1970 en-route to a scheduled performance in Ilesha. The following year, Ogunde wrote a play in her memory called Ayanmo. Her death was mourned throughout the country and press and mass media coverage of her death and funeral was extensive.
With many internal fightings amongst the elites Ogunde's Yoruba tribe of Nigeria in early 1970s, Ogunde came up with a song "Yoruba ronu" calling for unity of purpose. This has remained an evergreen album in Nigeria.
Ogunde died on April 04, 1990 at London's Cromwell Hospital following a brief illness.
Ogunde became the leading producer of Yoruba celluloid movies with "J'ayesinmi" (Let the world rest)and "Aiye" (Life!)blazing the trail.