Monday, July 6, 2009

Ayantunji Amoo Goes Home

My new xperia state of the art mobile device rang exactly at 5a.m. A little early for my 5:25 alarm I thought, as I reached for it. It was a missed call from Ayantunji Amoo, the famous drummer and drum maintenance engineer. He had manufactured the Saworoide drum and her less famous cousin with no name.. He maintains both every four months or so. I added a new task on the toolbar 'Call Ayantunji Amoo with a reminder at 7a.m. But before 7, another call from an unknown number announced the death of Ayantunji Amoo which according to the caller, occurred earlier at 2a.m. I chose not to investigate the 5 o'clock call from the dead man's mobile phone because there were other things to worry about. Obviously, he had called me with Ayantunji Amoo’s phone after he had stopped breathing. How do we replace such a man who possessed decades of experience in traditional drums and a vast drum vocabulary? His death is a further depletion of the ever dwindling number of surviving traditional drummers left in Yorubaland.

Ayantunji Amoo, born on August 28 1942, was a native of Okinni, Osogbo in Osun State of Nigeria, to a family of Bata drummers. He worked at the Centre for Cultural Studies, now Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos from 1977 as a Bata drummer under the legendary musicologist Prof Akin Euba who came from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife to the University of Lagos (UNILAG). He was indeed a master drummer, who travelled far and wide with another legend, Duro Ladipo in 1963 and was awarded MBE (Member of the British Empire) by her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth 11 of England. His other memorable performances are, Ogedengbe, by late Prof Bode Osanyin, Ola Rotimi’s, The Gods Are Not To Blame, Shattered Bridge, Ayitale, Ogbanje Dance Drama, Lamb For Sacrifice by Femi Robinson and Election Fever.

His dexterity on the talking drum was never in doubt as he was indeed a master drummer who could play all kinds of traditional instruments. But his acting capability was unknown, that is, before the film Saworoide. The character of Ayangalu as crafted in the story by Prof Akinwumi Isola, demanded a drummer first and also a convincing actor. It was difficult, if not impossible to find the two attributes in one man. But Ayantunji Amoo accepted the challenges and invented his own method of tackling his limitations. He took the screenplay and methodically extracted only his dialogue scene by scene and reproduced them in a student exercise book which became his new bible. He simply memorized everything and kept the book next to him throughout the production. I had to get used to his needs and learnt to work around this method because a re-write, even a change of a line of dialogue was no longer possible as this would only leave him confused and disoriented. All in all, he did remarkably well in his popular role of Ayangalu in both films, Saworoide and Agogoeewo.

Personally, I feel the painful loss of my consultant talking drummer and engineer. He brought to life, drummed and managed the drums, Saworoide and her sibling. Now Ayan is gone, leaving only the irresistible sound from his drums in our memory. May his soul rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ARUGBA Goes Mobile

Right now, I feel like a recalcitrant, sober,  itinerant husband creeping into bed after a long, unexplained absence from the matrimonial home.  I cannot explain it and I am not going to try but why is writing sometimes so tedious?  I envy writers who have to write with deadline looming all the time. They are nothing short of super humans.  However, they continue to be my inspiration and hopefully they will dash me some more to write regularly. One thing for sure is that there is enough to write about as we embark on the special screenings of Arugba, our latest film in fifty seven local government councils and development areas of Lagos State.  I can confirm authoritatively that it is a reality. It was flagged-off yesterday 17th February, 2009 with a packed press conference held at the Press Centre of the Lagos State Secretariat.  My speech follows.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, we are gathered here today to flag-off a very important journey, a set of premieres of our latest film Arugba in each local government and development area of Lagos State.

Physical contact with the audience is a filmmakers delight and this opportunity to observe and interact with the audience of Arugba is most appreciated.  I must therefore acknowledge the visionary leadership of His Excellency, Governor Babatunde Raji Fasola, the Executive Governor of  Lagos State for providing this opportunity to screen the film Arugba in each of the 57 Local Government councils and development areas of Lagos State.  By doing so, the Lagos State government is opening up an important communication channel between the government and the governed.  This feed-back channel, in accordance with modern approaches to governance will avail government a vital insight into the feelings of the people of Lagos State.  Modern approaches to governance puts a lot of emphasis on interactivity as interactivity with the governed ensures inputs from the  people in the governance process.  True development cannot be achieved without the input of the people, after all, development is fundamentally about people.  This set of screenings will surely fulfil this important purpose.

I am delighted to inform you that Arugba has been selected in competition at the approaching Pan African Film and Television Festival FESPACO 2009 holding in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from  28th February to 7th March,  while The Women of Color Arts and Film (WOCAF) Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, USA has already programmed the film to feature at this year’s festival from 19th March  to 22nd March, 2009.  For me however, it is gratifying that we have this opportunity to show the film to its primary audience before it goes out to the international community.

The Film Arugba is yet another effort to state a case for our language and culture in a fast globalising world.  It touches on wide ranging issues such as gender equality, HIV/AIDS, good governance and many other contemporary issues, all within the context of traditional

and contemporary Yoruba culture.  The heroine moves smoothly between the two sides of the same culture coin, functioning as the votary maid in the traditional Osun festival yet, a key figure in her secular University.  She combines traditional virtues of chastity with modern life skills that enables  stand against the distractions of modern living.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I invite you to join me in flagging off the screening of Arugba in the 57 Local government councils and special development areas of Lagos State.