Spoilers ahead. Readers beware!
What were those agbadas?! Those rings. The necklaces. The caps. Even the beading on the outfits. The costumes were incredible. The styling truly was. The conductor suits. Afro wigs. Lots of tie-dye, adire, batik (even as a tablecloth), ankara, swiss lace, etc. Omowumi Dada's hairstyle when we first see her, wow! Her subsequent shuku hairstyle too — resplendent. We all know Kunle Afolayan kills these kinds of roles. The half-parting on his head. The cigars. Ade Bakare, the costume designer did amazing.
The movie was set in Abeokuta. It is so good to get out of the seemingly opulent Lagos (if you watch these movies set in Lagos, you'd never know that everywhere stinks!) The rusty and red-clay landscape. Olumo Rock. Holy Trinity Anglican Church in the background. Tunde Kelani is a standard for me. Kunle Afolayan, another standard. So I wasn't surprised to see time-appropriate details on the set. The newspapers, telephones, televisions, policemen in short khaki, the bar sign spelling out its license.
I met Dimeji Lateef for the first time in Prophetess. Minor role, but he carried his own weight. He is the star here, Ayinla himself and I doubt anybody could have played it better. The walking, the sniffing, the abrupt switch from merry to angry. His gestures, his references to himself in third person. We do not have any videos of the real Ayinla flying around but Dimeji Lateef might as well have invented him. Omowumi Dada also held her own. Kunle Afolayan is a veteran, of course.
I loved the translations. It is obvious attention was paid to that. I also love that it wasn't all Yorùbá. It wouldn't have been entirely true to its time. I thought it would have been more interesting if English had been translated to Yorùbá too.
Biopic or Not?
We start the movie right at the peak of Ayinla's career. And we never go back. It is really a tragedy, how this rising star almost got everything he wanted in life. I hate 'almost' stories. We don't know how he became a musician, how he put his band together, never saw him actually record. We saw him in rehearsals once, saw him 'write' lyrics by insulting a journalist who erred him. Maybe I was expecting it to be about the music. We just see the events leading up to his death.
Ayinla was political with his music. He was morally conscious, his morality being a reflection of his times:
Despite being unlettered, Omowura was enlightened about current events and had a command of puns, proverbs innuendos and metaphors. He was a social commentator, critic as well as a moral instructor. He often served as a mouthpiece for passing on government policies to the masses and was also a messenger of the masses back to the government. In his 1976 album, Owo Udoji, he hailed the government for salary increment but however demanded for same increment in the private sector. In Orin Owo Ile Eko, He explained the Lagos rent edict to his listeners and also praised the Mobolaji Johnson-led Lagos State government for the masses-oriented programme. He influenced the response of the people to the policy and also explained the National Census of 1973 in his album National Census. In the 1973 album, Challenge Cup '73 he explained the change in driving from the left to the right hand side and the change of the Nigerian Currency from the colonial Pound Sterling to the Naira and Kobo during the General Yakubu Gowon-led military government. Asides current affairs, he used his albums to extol the importance of sporting activities. His music also preached positive change in society and portrayed both mourning and celebration. He was also a critic of women who bleached their skin and promiscuous women.
The only time we see even a semblance of this is when Ayinla holds up the twenty-naira note and says Murtala is a good guy. There is another scene where one woman insults another for bleaching.
The man is obviously much more, but we don't get to see that.
But, he is a musician. For instance, Bohemian Rhapsody introduced me to Freddie Mercury. Queen the band. And the actual music. We do not require full studio sessions or elaborate performances. But I can't tell the name of a single track, or album. I can't even hum to a tune. I really thought this was going to be the (re)introduction of a generation to Apala music. But man...
The sound was grating. The mixing, the lip-syncing. Even the talking drums weren't beat according to what you could hear and it was blatantly obvious. Anytime the camera panned to the drums and I could hear the out-of-sync audio I wanted to shake Elder Sir Agba Tunde Kelani. Why? The camera pan reminded me of the scene where Ayanniyi played the Saworoide and Lagata feels every throb in his head and dies (re Saworoide). Every beat of that drum was powerful and it could not have been so if careful attention wasn't paid to the drumming. I wonder, Tunde Kelani has done this before. Why couldn't he do it again? I'm sure there are àyàns in Abeokuta. There are followers in the Apala genre. Apala has a grating effect normally, but somehow the movie made it worse. I don't know whether Dimeji Lateef can sing, but if he can, he should have. If the producers could get rights to the music, maybe they could have gotten rights to re-record. Rami Malek did sing in Bohemian Rhapsody, but Marc Martel did a lot of the heavy lifting for him. One of the most emotional performances I have yet seen in a musical is Never Enough. It is so epically rendered by Jenny Lind / Rebecca Ferguson. It wasn't until I randomly stumbled on a performance by Loren Allred that I realized that Rebecca Ferguson was lip-syncing. I love musicals, more so musical biopics and I really had high expectations. Especially since it is the first of its kind.
The only good singing in the movie is when Jaiye / Ade Laoye goes around interviewing Ayinla's fans. Two fans render two different choruses, no sound, no accompaniment, and I was like — okay so this is possible?
Music is such an important component of a film like this and this cannot be understated. Maybe a music producer on set would have taken things up a notch. When Kunle Afolayan drives to the booking office for the first time we hear Ebenezer Obey's Egba. I was like yes! Finish us. I hoped the (music) drawing board would be vast and arresting and spectacular.
I'm not sure you can pull off a musical without going to a recording studio. You really can't. It is not enough to overlay the music over lip-syncing actors. This ups the production budget, but if you are going to produce a musical, you have to produce a musical. No shortcuts.
If you like pancakes like me, you would know firsthand how eggs are the cohesive ingredient in your meal. It just binds, holds it firm and steady. Transitions are the eggs of movies. A fade out and fade out in every scene? And then every scene is different from the other and most times, there is no continuity? It took a few scenes to even realize what was happening. It was just clumps and dumps of information. It gets better, it becomes more linear as the film progresses. But fading out and fading in for every scene?
In his lifetime, Ayinla was known for his conflicts with near and far and sundry.
Omowura was known for feuding with other musicians including his superiors such as Haruna Ishola, whom he later acknowledged to be his superior. He also feuded with his son, Ayinde Barrister, Fatai Olowonyo, Yesufu Olatunji and Dauda Epo Akara. These feuds coloured his music over his discography. He was noted to have a quick temper and engaged in marijuana use and in physical altercations.
The movie glosses over his feud with a fellow entertainer, but we never know who the other party is and why. It is a setup for his temper and future actions but it makes me wonder. Was this man so disagreeable? Or was he widely misunderstood? Is it the danger of a single story?
Ayinla is a Muslim. He is called Alhaji. His Mecca trip is briefly mentioned. But he drinks. He welcomes a masquerade into his home. In fact, he has a personal medicine man that makes incisions right in the middle of his head. This medicine man gives him protective amulets, warns him of coming danger. Colonialism brought its pathways to God and spirituality and before these pathways were prescribed as the one and only, it must have taken a long time of peaceful co-existence before the old ways fell off. I once read a Leke Alder post of the melting pot of traditional religion and Christian doctrines and how it has become hard to separate one from the other. It is so much ado about nothing, nothing being a tug of war set in motion by those who needed a means to an end.
When we see Deborah for the first time, Ayinla tries to stamp his feet. Bayowa stops him, telling him he 'cannot make claims on this one.' I was fascinated. I didn't know that gbẹ́sẹ̀ le was a literal action.
Also the first time we see Bimbo Manuel, there is the name plaque Sam Ayo-Vaughn on his table. I googled the name, and it turns out he was a Nigerian journalist who once served as an acting general manager of the Western Nigeria Television Service. Everyone did their homework, as they should, and I tip my hat to that. History can be tedious and is best served as tidbits in entertainment. If the culmination of these events was really the birth of the Arts and Culture column (as we know it) in the then Ìwé Ìròhìn, hats off. History is really strange.
Can Nollywood be a bit more particular about archiving and documenting and disseminating? I can't find any photographs, BTS clips from set.
I don't like ratings. Except I'm shopping online. I just find it a bit unfair to summarize the millions spent in production, the blood and sweat of actors and designers and writers and cinematographers into a few stars or numbers on a linear progressive scale. Ayinla is a good beginning for biopics in Nigeria. This landscape is definitely fertile for this and this project must have seemed insurmountable at first. We are well on our way.