By Folorunso Fatai Adisa
On Thursday, November 11, 2021, A Professor of Dance Studies at the Performing Arts Department, Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), Kwara State, Jeleel Ojuade, delivered the 208th in the series of the University’s inaugural lecture entitled, ‘Dance is Life, Life is Dance: A Cyclical Nature of Man on Earth.’
With his delivery, he became the first Yoruba Professor of Dance in Nigeria and the first person to present an inaugural lecture in the area of Dance Studies and Practice in Nigeria.
In the lecture, he said: “The ubiquitous nature of Man on earth motivated and propelled my interest in this topic. It simply encapsulates the journey of Man within the Universe using Dance Allegory. Unequivocally, I have been able to view and distill „Dance‟ as a universal phenomenon practiced by all irrespective of colour, race, profession, culture, religion, ethnicity, geographical location, boundaries, political affiliation, society and others. This lecture, therefore, highlights some of my contributions to scholarship and growth in the field of Dance with reference to Yoruba Bata and Dundun focusing on the transformations that have occurred in its applications.
Culture in Africa includes the totality of the arts, of which music and dance form a significant part. Culture is equally regarded as the way of life of a people (Eagleton, 2000). It has been emphasized that the greatness of Africa lies in its culture and not in its science or technology (Nketia, 2001). The Cultural Policy Document for Nigeria succinctly captured Culture as the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenge of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organization thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours. Among Yoruba people, this way of life is inseparably bound up with music and dance.
Music and Dance are like Siamese twins, inseparable and symbiotically serving each other. Can there be Music without Dance? Without music and dance, the people cannot properly create poetry, record history, educate or train children, celebrate at festivals, praise or abuse, entertain, instruct, disagree, marry, or bury their dead. Music and Dance in performance particularly among the Yoruba constitute a primary site for the production of knowledge.
Dance is regarded as an important aspect of any culture. It is a very strong device for identifying the culture of a people. 18
Kaeppler asserts that “an adequate description of a culture should place the same emphasis on dance as that given it by the members of that society” (1967:iii). It is thus notable that in traditional African culture and societies, dance is life. It gives meaning to virtually all daily activities that human beings are involved in. It is an integral aspect of their life span; coming into this world, living in this world, and the consequent exit of humans from this world. This is succinctly captured by Ojuade (2004) in his description of dance situations in Nigeria:
Thus, before a child is brought into this world, the mother feels or experiences internal movement of the yet-to-be-born baby, therefore, the baby‟s arrival into this world elicits dancing activities of joyful movements.”
Ojuade began his trajectory as an active dancer with his father, Alhaji Fatai Ojuade — a famous dance practitioner, troupe at the age of four— troupe as he followed them to perform at installation ceremonies, seminars, workshops and so on. He would later—as a child dancer— become the youngest member of the National Theatre of Nigeria which represented Nigeria at the XII Commonwealth Games and Warana Festival in Brisbane, Australia (1982) and a performance tour of the Federal Republic of South Korea in 1983. He was also a part of the troupe that danced at Nigeria’s Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977.
He narrated: “I started dancing at about four and half years old. My father, Alhaji Fatai Oladosu Ojuade was a teacher at Okeigbo / Ifetedo Grammar School, where he taught Yoruba, History, Literature. He was involved in cultural activities and even formed a cultural group for the school aside his own dance troupe. He taught with the likes of Baba Enoch Adeboye (the General Overseer of Redeem Christian Church of God), Baba Colonel Rufus Ogundele, Baba Oludapo, Mr. Akinfesola and others. I followed him to virtually all the engagements ranging from house warming, chieftaincy conferment, demonstrative lectures, workshops, festivals, competitions and several other events. Also, I took active parts in dance activities while in the primary school alongside my sisters (Mrs Bashirat Folashade Muktar – Itai, Mrs Fausat Abiodun Ojudun) and my elder brother, Wajeed Ayodeji Ojuade – ours was a complete family troupe. It afforded us the platform to take part in series of dance competitions at the local levels where we won laurels.
Our troupe became so popular within the communities of Okeigbo, Ifetedo, Ile – Ife Osogbo, Ibadan, Akure, Ijeshaland and Ekiti. While our Dad played host to itinerant stage drama performers like Ishola Ogunsola (I-show pepper), Oyin Adejobi, Duro Ladipo, Funmilayo Ranco, Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala) and host of others. Our family troupe partook in some of the dance activities of that at time:
(i) Representation of the Western Region of Nigeria at the National Festival of Arts and Culture, Lagos in 1970.
(ii) Representation of the Western Region of Nigeria at the National Festival of Arts and Culture, Ibadan in 1971.
(iii) Took part in a play „Ogun Onire‟ at the then University of Ife in 1972.
(iv) Took part in a dance drama to mark the 10th anniversary of the University of Ife, Ile – Ife.
(v) Featured as a guest artiste in „Gese Dance‟ on Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) and Western Nigeria Broadcasting Services (WNBS), Ibadan in 1976.
(vi) Took part in a re – play of „Ogun Onire‟, as a special guest at the University of Lagos in 1977.
(vii) Took part in the Black Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977.
(viii) Took part in a performance, „Unity in diversity‟, a programme of selected Nigerian Dances at the National Theatre Main Hall, Iganmu, Lagos on 18th October, 1980.
(ix) Took part in a command performance for the President and Commander – in – Chief of Armed Forces, Alhaji Aliyu Shehu Shagari at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan on 18th November, 1980.
(x) Took part in a command performance for the 21st Regular meeting of the then twelve progressive Governors in Nigeria at Enugu between 26th – 28th March, 1982.
(xi) Took part in command performance for the President, General I. B. Babangida during his visit to Oyo State in August, 1991.
(xii) Took part in the 2008 Ife International Festival of Arts at Institute of African Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile – Ife.
In the late 1970‟s, our Dad was transferred to Iwoye Ijesa to go and start a new school called Iwoye Ijesa Grammar School in Osun State. He propagated dance and theatre into this community and ensure that the school became known as the best in Ife / Ijesa zone. As part of his experiments, I played lead roles in different historical performances that he wrote which include; „Oranfe‟, „Obatala‟, Ogun Onire‟, „Aje‟ and others. However in 1982, he requested to be transferred back to Ayanbeku Memorial Grammar School in Ifetedo, where he further engaged the pupil in the propagation of our dance culture. He created a „brand‟ out of Bata and Dundun among his people and enthusiasts. Branding, which Awodiya (2016) referred to as „‟means to co-ordinate and package our culture like a product to make it appeal to our people who will appreciate it first before we ship it abroad for consumption by foreigners who will buy it.”
Born on April 18, 1969, Ojuade is a researcher and dancer, with specialty in Yoruba Bata and Dundun dances. He holds a PhD in Performance Studies (Dance) from the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. He joined the services of UNILORIN as an Assistant Lecturer with the Department of Performing Arts on April 21, 2001, and rose through the ranks to become a Professor of Dance in the Department in 2017.
On Saturday 13, November 2021, he will be installed as the Aare Alasa of Ifetedo, at a ceremony to be hosted by the Olubosin of Ifetedo, Oba Akinola Akinrera (Latiri I) in Ifetedo, Osun State.
Prof. Ojuade is the President, Association of Dance Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria, and a member of several other professional bodies including the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists, National Association for the Promotion of Studies in Arts and Social Sciences, and Dance Guild of Nigeria. He featured in local, state, national and international performances/competitions and has been a guest lecturer at ivy league universities in the US and elsewhere.
It is noteworthy that he is a researcher and an expert dancer, with a special interest in Yoruba Bata and Dundun dances. The promising and precocious traits of character he displayed as a child dancer in the late ‘70’s has manifested today as he turns a prominent face of dance practice, both as an intellectual proponent and active practitioner in Nigeria.
*Folorunso, Fatai Adisa, writes in from Ilorin.