A Legend To Many
By Kayode Ogunyemi
I was pacing the lawns of the residence of the U.S. Consul General in Lagos. We had come there for a performance and I was the Stage Manager. I went over details in my head the umpteenth time, trying to make sure all was ready for the night of wonderful play. I was lost in thoughts…”Come, come”, came a voice interrupting my thought process. I looked up and there looming in front of me was the tall figure of the producer of the play, Chuck Mike.
“I heard you are Wale Ogunyemi’s son’, he said. I only smiled. “How come you never told me all this while?” This was a reaction I have got used to getting from other artists I work with when they find out I am the son of Wale ogunyemi, the playwright and actor they revere so much. I am proud to be associated with that name. I am proud to have been spurned by him. I am proud to have called him dad!
My fondest memories with daddy are those mostly from my childhood; those very ones which later shaped me into being the person I am today. One of such was the many nights I spent alone with him at the balcony of our rented duplex in the Bodija area of the city of Ibadan. Dad was always sitting there most nights taking in the cool clean air blowing from the trees and forests which mostly surrounded the house then in the early 80’s. Most often than not, he would be there enjoying his beer, or Foreign Extra Stout, sitting in the usual dark corner illuminated only by the lights streaming out through the bedroom window (when there was electricity) or just from the glowing tip of his cigarette; the smell of is favourite brand which I grew to love and which years of perceiving makes me distinguish among other brands and the brand which I later associated with him.
I would sit down with him in the balcony and we would talk for minutes. Most of the topic of discussion I cannot particularly remember but I knew they were deep and they were topics that captivated my young mind. A recurring topic I can remember are discussions of adventure and talk about the countries he had visited. This made me also want to see the world! Small wonder I grew up to be an adventure seeker! It was during those periods I was introduced to the world of mysticism, Yoruba Cosmology and African culture and traditional religion. I can still remember how intrigued I was at the stories of afterlife and reincarnation. Those were wonderful learning periods that opened my mind to possibilities and great imaginations.
I remember now, fondly, of those many night rides I had with him, accompanying him to go pick up mom after she closed from her shop. Often times he would stop on the way to have drinks with his friends at a pub and I can still recall the pride I used to feel as a young boy to sit amongst men feeling a sense of fraternity, which at that ahe though my mind was yet to fully conceptualize.
Dad was certainly a big influence in my life. I was even reported to have taken my first baby steps as response to a song from one of his plays, Obaluaye, a Yoruba opera which was recorded on vinyl record. We used to play it often because we all loved it so much. I was told that I loved the ‘Jengudu’ and would always jump with glee anytime I heard the track, which later inspired my first steps. Born a few weeks before his epic play Langbodo was to be staged at the 2nd Black Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC ’77, dad gave me the nickname, Imodoye, after one of the characters in Langbodo. I never got the chance to ask him why he deciede to nickname me after this particular character and guess I was because I eventually found out, as I grew older, that the name meant “Knowlede becomes wisdom”—a name I didn’t mind answering to in any way.
In spite of his often busy schedule, dad was close to everyone of his children and I spent an awful lot of time with him and he was also there for me during my teenage years. I grew from an inquisitive, mischievous little boy into a shy and reclusive teenager and dad often tries to get behind the walls I had erected and in the world in which I had shut myself. I felt he knew more about me than I weas comfortable with and this made me retreat more into my shell but he always knew how to get me talking, especially when it was just the two of us. One of such moment with dad, another that changed my life for the better, was one morning while he drove me to school. It was my first year in senior high school. He became a little worried about my taciturn and shy nature. I remember him asking me questions on how I related to my classmates, if I ever volunteered to participate in class lessons. The truth is that, at that time of my life, for some reasons, I had developed a phobia for expressing myself and calling attention to myself. Dad taught me not to be ashamed of who I was or be afraid to express myself and say what was on my mind. He taught me a great lesson that I cannot afford to be a by-stander in the world. That I had to get up and take charge. All these made me to make personal efforts to change and live my life realizing my potentials. I enrolled in the school’s drama club, I became more active in the Student Christian Fellowship and eventually got used to standing up in front of the crowd, same thing I now do to earn a living.
Now I sit down with some artists who had worked with my dad and listen to stories of their experiences with him. I became even more interesting when those folks talked about him in a few certain ways I didn’t quite know him. Wale Ogunyemi was no saint but never have I heard anybody say anything about him. He was loved, he was respected. I am often overwhelmed by emotions when I think, “Hey! That’s my dad they are talking about!” Most importantly, I am happy I showed him while I was alive, how much I appreciated him and how much I loved him. He was my hero. A legend to many but I am glad I called him dad.
* Kayode is Wale Ogunyemi’s last child