By Temi Bamgbose
If Ayo Arigbabu’s futuristic retelling of the Moremi myth effectively connects youths and modern people to the ancient story, then the Sewedo Nupowaku-inspired transformation from text to stage which was directed by Segun Adefila and performed by the Crown Troupe brings the story closer to home.
“Moremi: Revised Standard Version is a street thriller,” I reckon, watching one of the performances on at Forks & Fingers, Ikeja, Lagos.
The story is about Queen Moremi Ajasoro, a prominent figure in the history of the Yorubas from southwest Nigeria. Moremi’s town, Ile-Ife is constantly assaulted by Igbó men (not ìgbò tribe but cannabis men) as a punishment by their gods for some evil. The people of Ile-Ife made several sacrifices to appease the gods, but it is obvious the gods wanted more.
For the love of her dear land and in a selfless move, Moremi allows herself to be captured by the marauders so that she can learn their secret. Before she hatches the plot, Moremi begs Esinmirin, a goddess for help. The goddess consented on the condition that Moremi would make a sacrifice if the scheme was successful. It was.
The strength of the Igbó men eventually becomes their undoing as they succumb to Moremi’s tactics. It is Moremi’s turn to make the sacrifice, the goddess Esimirin having demanded her only son Oluorogbo. Can Moremi sacrifice him for the love of her homeland?
The first feature of the play that stands it out from other mythical adaptations of stage plays is its use of modern genres of music: fuji, soul and afrobeat, among other genres. Adefila successfully blends traditional African percussion iwith western instruments.
The costumes also speak volume about the avant-garde nature of the production. Obatala for example, reincarnates as a 21st century doctor in full regalia: a lab coat, stethoscope, and a mobile phone with which he calls other gods holding a conference in Libya. The infusion of street slangs into the dialogue puts the play in context with some new Nollywood movies, yet it beats them by retaining its strong cultural allusion. The Chant by Toyosi Salami, who also plays Balogun, says it all.
Salami resurrected DJ Zeez’s o fokasibe while praising the king, at the same time referencing current trends in the society. Obviously referring to the underage marriage issue that recently raised dusts in Nigeria, the chanter said “oba to le ran omodun metala lole oko kosi eni ti o mu.” (Meaning: a king that could make a 13 year-old get married without anyone stopping him).
Technology was also factored in: instead of the traditional opon ifa, the ifa priest consulted the gods via the internet and begrudged the slow network. While instead of the traditional ofo incantation chanted into the empty space or an Iwo (voodoo horn), the warriors supplicated the gods through a mobile phone.
With silky movements and purposeful voice modulation Tejumade Toyosi brilliantly suggests what a modern Moremi would be. I love the ghetto depiction of the liberty tower when Oluorogbo eventually finds himself in New York and the crude form of early Naija rap music that leads to the curtain call (It brings to mind rappers/comedians, Junior and Pretty).
But stage lighting and set is conspicuously poor and it reminds me of what a friend describes as ‘economic theater’, where emphasis is placed on the performers’ acting while the sets and lights are downplayed (apparently for lack of funds).
The play was seen by a multi-cultural audience, which was a pleasant thing in itself. In all, the allure of the story is not compromised
and for me it bridges the gap between “serious ancient” and “street modern”. And in street lingo, Segun Adefila and Crown Troupe‘s Moremi RSV is dope, and it can get dopper on a bigger stage.