Not until you meet Papalolo off stage would you be struck by the difference between him and Ayoola Ogunsina.
Absent is the deformity which resulted into a pronounced limp on his right leg. Ayoola Ogunsina, for that is his real name, stands ramrod straight in a gait which belies his true age.
He was born 72 years ago in Osu, in the current Atakumosa Local Government Area of Osun State. But in that sparsely furnished room and clad in an ankra print buba and sokoto the veteran actor exudes a radiance that is both contagious and exhilarating.
However, in the course of the chat, his voice and countenance fluctuate according to his emotion which changes with the mood of the question. With twinkling eyes and a smile on his face he delves into his past.
I attended Methodist Primary School in Osu, and Wesley College Practising School, Elekuro, Ibadan and Methodist School, Egbeda, Ibadan. I took up teaching appointment in 1961 after my secondary/modern school education.
As a teacher then, I was regarded as an auxiliary teacher, because we are not actually teacher training graduate and we taught every subject. In 1962, I worked in Offa with Phillip Morris in 1962 as a Sales Representatives. Philip Morris produced cigarettes like Target and Good Companion.
Relationship with Hubert Ogunde
Not satisfied with the job, I left to join Hubert Ogunde Group in 1962. I was with him for about four years and we travelled through the West Africa Coast with the play that was later banned in the Western Region, ‘Yoruba Ronu.’ “When I joined Ogunde, it didn’t take me too long before I started playing lead roles.
For example, I played the lead role, Otunba Ekeji Oye, in the controversial play, Yoruba Ronu. Before I joined Ogunde I had performed with a music group, Sami Taiwo Orchestra, also in Lagos. I sang and drummed in the group. Drumming is one passion that had been in me since my school days at Wesley College Practising School, Elekuro, in Ibadan where I finished in 1960.
And because acting in those days was a combination of music and drama, I was able to blend easily with the Ogunde Group.” Recalling how Yoruba Ronu turned out to be a controversial play. He said that the play became famous as a result of its ban by the then Government of Western Region.
He disclosed that it was a trying period for both Ogunde and the entire cast of the politically volatile play. The ruling party then, a coalition of Action Group, (AG) and NCNC, under what they called ‘Egbe Demo’, invited Ogunde to perform at the launch of the party at Mapo Hall, Ibadan. Unknown to the politicians, our play Yoruba Ronu, had a thought-provoking theme, the rivalry between late Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola.
It was during our performance that they realised that Ogunde’s play was against the political views of the party. In fact, some of the dignitaries at that event angrily left half way into the performance.
Therefore, subsequent shows were banned in the Western Region. “It was after the ban that we went with the doyen of theatre, Baba Ogunde, to the West Coast with the play. Ogunde spoke to us that we had to forge ahead and we did. We moved to Lagos and started performing the same play, attracting crowd from as far as Benin.
We toured Lagos with the play and performed at Empire, Lisabi and Glover Halls before we proceeded on a tour of the West African coast, which included such countries like Republic of Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia” he said. Papalolo spoke on how the play battled language barriers given that some of the countries are Francophone.
According to him, at different times, depending on the audience, the play was staged in English, Yoruba and French. He said Yoruba was mostly used, “because all the countries toured have Yoruba communities both as settlers and citizens. “English language”, he continued, “was rarely used, except in a few places like Liberia and Ghana.
“Performing the play in French language”, he said, “was not very difficult. All Baba Ogunde did was to engage a French scriptwriter and theatre director. We, the same actors, from Nigeria were rehearsed in French language.” he said with a smile. He noted that they usually received applause from the French-speaking audience.
The West Africa tour lasted three months. “I and some of my friends pulled out of the group later. I left in company of Ade Adeeko from Ijebu-Ode, Tubosun Odunsi known as Baba Amoye from Ibadan, Isaac Itawe from Bendel, Tiamiyu Busari from Okeho and some others I cannot remember. “I was the person that pulled out at first because I was not happy with the dictatorial attitude of Hubert Ogunde’s wives while we were in Ghana.
While we were in Ghana, the wives of Ogunde decided to pay us in Cedi instead of Nigerian pounds. We insisted that we should be paid in pounds because Nigerian pounds had more value than the Cedi. Money is the root of all evil and it was the issue of money that led to our exit from the group and the behaviour of Ogunde’s wives. It was a messy affair.
Can you imagine that just Two pounds was the cause of disaffection as that time? “When we came back, we formed Araba Concert Group due to the sack by Ogunde. He sacked some of us when we came back from Ghana due to the crisis that occurred while on tour. I called the others and told them that we should not get discouraged due to the sack as we could move on with our lives.
The name ‘Araba’ Concert Group came as a proverb for our mentor, Ogunde, that we were solid and strong as the Araba tree. We were mindful of the Yoruba saying that, “Owo omode ko ka pepe, ti agbalagba ko ka igi ose, awa ti di igi araba ti owo o le ka”. Our message with the name of the group was clear to our former boss, the Late Hubert Ogunde. “At the same time, whenever we were printing posters for our plays, we would put Araba Concert Group trained by Hubert Ogunde. His name on the posters was even bolder than the name of our group.
We did this to honour him and also to catch attention of the people because Baba Ogunde was a pillar in the Industry as at that time. Our group was beset with a lot of problems. Internal wrangling and endless rifts were our lot.
At a point in time, we believed that it was spiritual attack from Ogunde so that we would not succeed as a group. “Looking back now, I believe that the fact that we were young and of the same age group coupled with youthful exuberance contributed largely to the issues we had in the group in those days.” “We resolved to settle with Ogunde. We implored an elderly man who was close to Ogunde to plead with him on our behalf. All the members of the group went to Ogunde to plead for forgiveness. He spoke to us, advised and forgave us.
To be candid, issues among us calmed down after the settlement. “Yet, after resolving our major issue with Ogunde, things were not really moving as expected. I was having more domestic pressures. Our group was not making so much money because our major customers then were students. We moved from one school to another to stage plays. I could not meet up my domestic needs financially, so I opted out of the group again. I secured another employment.
Partially, that settled my immediate needs but not my passion and love for theatre. While working, my friends at that time were also mounting pressure on me to come back into the group because of my role there. Relationship with other artistes and early career: He went down the memory lane on his relationship with other artistes.
‘‘Fela Anikulapo- Kuti was a great friend of mine. He normally sent his autographed records to me. If you observed very well, I used so many of his songs for my comedy a lot. I worked in WNTV under Alagba Adebayo Faleti. I worked with Moses Olaiya too.
Perhaps the turning point of my career as a jester was when I met my friend, Olowomojuore, popularly called Baba Gebu. He implored me that we should come together and storm the industry. I was not too interested because the whole industry wasn’t too encouraging financially.
He encouraged me and took me to NBC, now Radio Nigeria, Ibadan. I started working in NBC as a freelancer. I produced programmes like ‘E nle nbeun, E ku iyaleta, short stories in English for kids, Laugh and Learn’.
“The programme ‘Laugh and learn’ ruled the airwaves in the early 70’s, and it was a live programme with audience in the studio. The programme was a comedy house. It was also designed to teach the listeners and audience realities about life, hence its name ‘Laugh and Learn’.
It was aired on Radio Nigeria, though a recorded programme. It was on air in 1973 to 1974. Olowomojuore was my partner before he was moved to Lagos to head Atooka as the Editor in 1976 before Festac 77. I stood as the main character of the house, Yemi Elebuibon, Lere Paimo and a host of stars featured prominently in the programme.
“I actually left Alagba Faleti sometimes in 1975. I wrote WNTV and I was called for audition. I wrote the play and we acted the play ‘Owo Tabua’. The play was just I as a major character, my friend and my younger sister. They were so impressed that I was asked to replace Ajimajasan (whose real name is Ola Omonitan) after those that auditioned me watched us. Ajimajasan ran to me and asked us to work together because we are from the same place.
He asked if I still have other ‘work’ with me apart from ‘Owo Tabua’, because then you need 13 episodes for a quarter, I told him that I had as many as he wanted, that I could produce within days 24 episodes without batting an eyelid.
Then it was Moses Olaiya that is Baba Sala that was the only comedian. He was the only rival to Baba Sala as at that time. I gave Ajimajasan my terms and he did not even negotiate but accepted all the conditions.
“I was preparing my scripts when Late Duro Ladipo known then as Sango came to me that he wanted me to head his new group that he was starting- Bode Wasimi. Duro Ladipo loved me then and he mounted pressure on me to join his group, as that time, a lot of his prominent artistes like Lere Paimo and host of others had left the group (that is Duro Ladipo Group) for irreconcilable differences. I had made up my mind not to do serious drama, as such, I teamed up with Ajimajasan Theatre Group. Early relationship with the late Jacob
At the mention of Tajudeen Gbadamosi alias Jacob, Papalolo’s voice changed and his countenance fell.
Jacob died on February 22, 1987 but with the look of Papalolo when discussing him, a casual observer would take it that the subject just passed on. “When I joined Ajimajasan Group, I introduced side attraction, comedy and changing of songs by popular artistes into the group in 1975 which today become what people refer to as Stand-up Comedy. I met Aworawo, later known as Oloye Ajere, Iya Ijebu, Jacob and some others at Ajimajasan Theatre Group.
I cannot easily recollect the names of the people in the group because it has been a long time, more so, I am also used to their various stage names. “It was not too long before Jacob and I started moving together because we understood each other very well. It was a misconception for people to think that he (Jacob) knew about his death, hence the record we waxed then ‘Jacob is Ku’. “While with Ajimajasan, we started the Jesters International. The Jesters International was just me and Jacob and most of our scripts were done by me.
It was a natural combination and we enjoyed what we were doing tremendously. For us, it was passion for what we do and excitement to see people reacting favourably to us. It was an impetus to want to do more, and that was a lot of encouragement for us.
“The first car given to us, we gave it to our ‘oga’ (leader) , Ajimajasan because we were not comfortable with the fact that others had car, but he did not. The Jesters International at a point stood on its own.
Initially, Aderupoko wanted to team up with us but we told him to be patient because we did not want to destroy the Ajimajasan group. “Our decision to move on was because of our brand of play. We were more involved in comedy act and songs.
That was the beginning of the Jesters International. “Before our time, comedy was not prominent. I introduced the method of going to shows with KSA to entertain guests. At the beginning, it was just me and Jacob that approached King Sunny Ade and we struck a deal.
It was first of its kind. We travelled around with him to wherever he played. When he stopped playing, we usually provided comic relief. Actually, what we did was to bridge the gap for King Sunny Ade (KSA). Our first outing was The Tennis Club, Ibadan where we came on stage during KSA’s performance.
The likes of late Henry Fajemirokun, Shokas, the current Ooni of Ife were also present and so many notable socialites. It was a huge success because the people at the party were thoroughly entertained. Where you performed and was sprayed N200 back in the 70’s, it was no child play. Our fame spread like fire on a dry grass.
He recalled that in those days, “We normally took our acts to the school halls. Even the likes of Ogunde, Baba Sala, Duro Ladipo and host of others did same. At that time, our major clients were the students.
When we started going out with KSA, we made more money through spraying than going to school. Our fame spread too very fast and it opened a lot of doors for us. We left our normal clients for the new ones that were giving us money.”
How Jacob Died He paused for a while and his countenance changed when asked of the circumstances of Jacob’s death. The rumour had it then that Jacob was used as a sacrifice for the Ogunpa River in Ibadan, Oyo State. He said, “Jacob’s death is something that I can’t ever forget. His death is ever fresh in my memory but he was not used for sacrifice. He died naturally.
Before his death, when we were shooting films for different television stations across the South West, there was a time we were in Akure at a location. We were busy shooting while our family and friends were looking for us. At a point, everybody was looking for us, including Pa Hubert Ogunde.
As you are aware there was no telephone to contact the outside world. Nobody could reach us, and we didn’t know that they were looking for us. When we resurfaced after our shooting, we became heroes and we used that too to act, as we turned it into comic play.
“I remember then that as regards educated actors and actresses, we that had modern school were the highest in terms of education. Not much of the actors and actresses were actually educated. In those days, before a movie would be aired, it underwent a lot of stages. In fact, some movies would be tagged “Not to be used (NTBU)”. The high level of immorality and level of indecent exposures in our movies nowadays is alarming.
Decency has been thrown to the winds. Films shot do not care of the age grade watching it. He listed the plays they performed on WNTV to include a detective series, Adegboye, two tele-drama, Sawo S’ogberi (The Hypocrite) and Won Ro Pe Were Ni (They Thought He Was A Madman). Papalolo and Jacob were weekly on Nigerian TV like NTA Ibadan, Lagos Television (LTV 8), and OGTV Abeokuta.
Apart from having works on vinyl and being a house hold name on TV, he had a good number of celluloid movies to his credit. These include such successful films as Anikura and Ija Orogun.
First published in National Mirror on