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Father of Nollywood: What is Hubert Ogunde's life history?

What was Hubert Ogunde's life history? How did he start his movie career? Why is he called Father of Nollywood? Total biography of Hubert Ogunde is already in this article! Do not miss it!

Hubert Ogunde biography

He is a Nigerian director and play writer. Hubert Ogunde biography says he is one of the founders of modern professional theater in Africa. In 1944 he created the band, which later became known as ‘Concert-party Hubert O.’.  He was a singer and later he became a dramatic actor in his plays.

His first plays were written in the spirit of the medieval morality play, didactic content on biblical themes: ‘Garden of Eden’, ‘King Solomon’, ‘Kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’. Later his works were created according to the motifs of African legends (‘Journey to Heaven’). In the play ‘Devil's Money’ he exposed the lust for profit. Among other plays he created ‘The strike and hunger’ (1945), ‘Bread and Bullets’ (1949), ‘Yoruba, think!’ (1964).

Hubert Ogunde's life history

Hubert Ogunde biography

An actor and singer was born in Ososa, which is near Ijebu-Ode, in Ogun State, Nigeria. His parents were Eunice and Jeremiah Ogunde. Hubert’s father was a Baptist, however his grandfather (mother’s father) was a follower of a popular African traditional religion. Hubert felt a great influence of his grandfather’s views.

However, both the traditional African religion and Christianity influenced his upbringing. He attended St John School in Ososa during 1925-1928, then St Peter's School, Faaji, in Lagos during 1928-1930 and also Wasinmi African School during 1931-1932.

Hubert Ogunde's life history

He first performed when he was a young member of Daramola Atele's and Egun Alarinjo traveling theatre group. It was during Hubert’s elementary school days. After his graduation, he started working at St. John's School as a pupil-teacher. He was also a church choirmaster and an organist. Later he even joined the Nigerian police force. It happened in March 1941. He posted to Ibadan.

 In 1943, the police force decided to post him Ebute Metta. There he joined a popular African initiated church, so called white garment church. After a while, Hubert created a new amateur drama group, called ‘the African Music Research Party’ in 1945 in Lagos.

Hubert Ogunde's family

Like a lot of Hubert’s theatre contemporaries, such as A. B. David, Layeni, G. T. Onimole and P. A. Dawodu, his successful theatre career started under the patronage of his Church. In 1944, Hubert produced his first successful folk opera, The Garden of Eden and The Throne of God, whih was commissioned by the Lagos Church of the Lord (Aladura). It was founded by Josiah Ositelu. Hubert’s performance was sanctioned in order to aid contributions to their Church building fund.

The folk opera premier occurred at Glover Memorial Hall. There was the chairman of that ceremony, whose name was Azikiwe. Ogunde's first play had deep realism and dramatic action in the actors’ dancing, singing and acting. It was enough to give the play a success. According to the request of the legendary Alake of Abeokuta, Ogunde showed The Garden of Eden at their Ake Centenary Hall.

Hubert Ogunde's life

 Encouraged by such success of the play, Hubert continued writing his operas. He also wrote and co-directed three wonderful religious themed plays, they were: ‘Africa and God’, created in 1944, ‘Israel in Egypt’, created in 1945 and also ‘Belshazzar's Feast’ and ‘Nebuchadnezzar's Reign’ in 1945. In 1946, he quit his post in the police in order to become a professional dramatist.

Hubert Ogunde’s career

Hubert Ogunde’s career

The so called Ogunde's African Music Research Party, which was later known as popular Ogunde Theatre Party, was founded in 1945. It was the first modern professional theatre company in Yoruba territory. Previous performers were masked people with different shows. They were called alarinjo. These theatres were dependent on their court or sometimes church for support. They grew in popularity just due to word of mouth.

Ogunde managed to distinguish his group due to using different promotion methods such as, for example, advertisements or posters. He changed the round stage previously used by alarinjo performers to one with a proscenium. Also he introduced deep dramatic action and realism into his wonderful plays depending on his audience for huge commercial support. Due to these acts Hubert started the rise of Nigerian modern professional theatre. That is why he is called the Father of Nollywood.

Hubert Ogunde's look

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After quitting his job of a police constable, Hubert decided to move away from his earlier focus on different religious themes and began writing plays with anti-colonial or nationalistic outlook. It was a real trend in Lagos during that dangerous forties. During this period, a lot of his early films were co-directed by famous G.B. Kuyinu.

In 1945, Ogunde produced his ‘Worse than Crime’, which was a political play decorated with national Yoruba dance and popular ancient folk songs. Like most of Hubert's early works, it was also premiered at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos. Later the same year, Hubert wrote his two works ‘Journey to Heaven’ and ‘The Black Forest’. Those were two Yoruba operas, which improved the traditional Yoruba folklore but still having some strong Christian influence. In 1945, he wrote his pro-labor play, called ‘Strike and Hunger’. It was motivated by the general strike by labor unions. It was led by Michael Imoudu.

genius Ogunde

Then in 1946 Ogunde wrote and also produced ‘Tiger's Empire’. Its premiere was on 4 March 1946. The play was produced by The African Music Research Party and featured by the genius Ogunde, stunning Beatrice Oyede and also Abike Taiwo.

The advertisement of that play was the real result of Hubert’s call for ‘paid actresses’. It was the first time (in Yoruba theatre) when women were billed to take a part in a play as professional actresses in Light in their own right. ‘Tiger's Empire’ was something like an attack on that colonial rule. He followed 'Tiger's Empire' with his' Darkness and Light'. A bit later in 1946, Ogunde created ‘Devil's Money’, which was an African story about a guy who had had a contract with some evil spirit in order to get rich.

Ogunde's song

After the sad death of talented Herbert Macaulay, Hubert wrote his opera Herbert Macaulay in order to commemorate the difficult life of the nationalist. A legend died the same year, in 1946. After that Hubert released one more political play, which was called ‘Towards Liberty’. It happened in 1947. Before 1948, Hubert’s plays were mostly staged in Lagos and sometimes in Abeokuta, but his growing popularity in other Nigerian regions made him think about trips to other cities and town with his theatre group. In 1948, he had a huge tour in the Western Nigerian cities, including stops at Oyo, Ede Abeokuta, Ibadan, and Ogbomosho.

When he had his tour in the north, Hubert had two huge encounters with the local police due to the political context of his ‘Worse than Crime’ and also ‘Tiger's Empire’. Ogunde’s first tour outside his native Nigeria was not received well by his Ghanaian audience. It happened because they could not understand the national Yoruba language and Hubert was totally ignorant about the audience’s tastes.

Hubert Ogunde with girls

Hugert wrote his first satire work, ‘Human Parasites’, about the huge craze for Aso Ebi, a social culture that encouraged both women and men to purchase the most expensive materials for their social gatherings. ‘Human Parasite’ lampooned Lagos socialites but a lot of them were Hubert’s patrons. At the time Ogunde wrote his ‘Human Parasites’, he decided to change the name of his theatre troupe to ‘Ogunde Theatre Party’, its previous name was ‘African Music Research Party’. His earliest dramas were mostly folk operas where the actors sang their lines with very limited dialogues on the stage.

In 1947, Ogunde and his wife Adesuwa, who was also his co-star went to London in order to make contacts with the promotion of their shows in England. Those talks were not very successful, but they got the chance to take waltz and also tap dance classes. In Hubert’s later operas, he syncretized his experience of waltz with the traditional dance of Batakoto, the tap dance with his favorite traditional Yoruba Epa dance.

1950s-1960s period

Hubert Ogunde's play

In 1950, Hubert went on writing his plays with political context. ‘Bread and Bullet’ play first appeared in 1950. It was about the coal miners’ strike in Enugu. Unfortunately, it resulted in the killing of twenty-two people, who were there. In Northern Nigerian regions, the play was limited to some areas due to allegations of their seditious dialogue. It was during the period, when Hubert introduced English language to some dialogues of his plays. In 1950, he created a reproduction of his play ‘Black Forest’ (1945), but introducing English and also Yoruba dialogues with some African music played on the background by both African and Western instruments.

Ogunde’s re-created ‘Black Forest’ and also ‘Bread and Bullet’ changed their style of drama from national Yoruba folk opera to extremely improvisational theatre, where the dialogues were spoken. After a while he released some plays with dialogues, spoken or sometimes sung.

Hubert Ogunde and friends

In 1951 he suddenly released his Islamic morality tale called ‘My Darling Fatima’. It was followed by new situational comedies, called: ‘Beggar's Love’ (in 1952), ‘Portmanteau Woman’ (in 1952) and also Princess Jaja (in 1953). In 1955, Ogunde’s theatre went on their tour to Northern Nigeria again.  They showed performances in Kano at the Colonial Hotel. During this period, Hubert wrote much less, however he went on grueling tours to different regions of the country. Hubert created a traveling theatre group. He again changed the name of his group from ‘Ogunde Theatre Party’ to new ‘Ogunde Concert Party’ in 1947.

In the 1960s, Ogunde created two important plays: Otitokoro and Yoruba Ronu that refer to some political events in the Western Nigerian regions and which led to the declaration of their state of emergency in 1963. He became the most prominent of the dramatist of the local folk opera. Hubert composed about 40 operas in Yoruba. Ogunde’s play Yoruba Ronu (means Yoruba Think) was a satirical theme of the strife, which plagued Yoruba people in the 1960s.

Hubert Ogunde with Yoruba

 Oba Fiwajoye, who was the protagonist of the play, was betrayed by the acts of his frenemy deputy, a man was betrayed to his enemy, Yeye-Iloba leading to his imprisonment along with two political allies. The play was banned in some western Nigerian areas for some time, but was had the great success in other regions of the country.

In the 1960s, the WNTV (Western Nigeria Television) gave Hubert a chance to reach his audience without any traveling. He created new plays: ‘Mama Eko’ and ‘Ayanmo’ for the TV audience.

Hubert Ogunde movies

Hubert Ogunde film

In the 1970s, Ola Balogun, who directed two successful Yoruba movies, the first was co-produced by Ajani Ogun and Ade Love and the second one - by Ija Ominira and Duro Ladipo. Hubert joined that mainstream, so he invited Ola Balogun to direct his new ‘Aiye’, an adaptation of one his old stage play. Ogunde decided to choose the play partly as it attracted a lot of crowds during its running. Unlike the stage performance, the movie was shot in order to allow creation of a sequel.

Hubert Ogunde movies

The film was presented to the world in 1980. Within one year it made its all money back. ‘Aiye’ showed Yoruba mysticism, the topic of witchcraft and the traditional notions of deep light and darkness. Hubert sold a few properties to finance that film. The next Hubert’s play was ‘Jaiyesinmi’. It was a sequel to already well-known ‘Aiye’, which was co-directed by Freddie Goode and Ogunde. His third movie was ‘Aropin N'Tenia’. It became another adaptation of his famous stage play, which saw the world in 1964, the movie had much less superstitious moments as the previous ones. He managed to provide the funds for most of his films with the exception only of his fourth. Hubert’s fourth movie was called ‘Ayanmo’. It was originally adapted from his play, which was dedicated to his beloved late wife.

Hubert Ogunde also established a movie village at Ososa, which was his hometown. The venue was created in order to be a rehearsal center for the famous National Troupe before he died in 1990.

Personal life

Hubert Ogunde’s personal life

Ogunde had twelve wives.  Oguntimirin (his wife) accidently died in a road trip in September 1970. She was going to a scheduled show in Ilesha. Next year, Hubert wrote a wonderful play in her memory. This play was called ‘Ayanmo’. Her unexpected death was mourned throughout the whole country. The mass-media and press told that her funeral was extensive.

During the shooting of famous ‘Mr. Johnson’ Ogunde had already been ill. The talented person passed away on the 4th of April in 1990. It happened at London's Cromwell Hospital. The life of Hubert Ogunde was full of surprises, terrible accidents and God blessings. He managed to help Nigeria wake up and move to its goal – to becoming successful and artistic country. No wonder, why Hubert Ogunde is called the Father of Nollywood.

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