Thursday 15 September 2011

Yekini Ajileye, Nollywood leading man bows out

By Tajudeen Sowole 

Yekini Ajileye. Pic: c/o Ajileye Films.
BETWEEN the early and mid-1990s there emerged a new phase in the Nigerian film and television industry, which unknowingly was to give birth to what is today known as Nollywood.
One of the front line actors and producers whose works contributed to that change was Yekini Ajileye who, sadly, passed on last week, October 11, 2006, nearly two years after his wife and actress, Mujidat Ajileye died. He was buried last week according to Islamic injunction.
  One cannot forget, so soon, characters such as Abija, a torn in the flesh of wizard, Ogunjimi and his witch collaborator, Oyiboyi in the Yoruba TV hit drama, Koto Orun, which reigned on the airwave from 1989 to 1992. The same work made star of the comic character, Koledowo. Ajileye, under his theatre troupe wrote and produced the drama for television that starred mainly members of his group some of whom were trained under the Osogbo born actor.
 The success of Koto Orun led to sequel like Koto Aye, which was part of the early releases into the very young home video setting of that time. Having made such a monster star of the Abija characer played by actor, Tajudeen Oyewole, Ajileye’s entry into the video scene was a smooth success as several other works from the group followed.
If record has to be put in proper perspective, the journey of Ajileye’s fame cannot be separated from his very early TV success, prior to the coming of Koto Orun. The credit of that exposure of the actor goes to no other person than the veteran television producer, Laolu Ogunniyi. As an independent producer, Ogunniyi was the person who produced Ajileye’s first ever hit Opa Aje, which was a huge success on television, between 1988 and 1991.

Describing Ajileye’s death as a big loss to the entire industry and Yoruba sub-division in particular, the producer of the 1979 TV hit, Wind Against My Soul recalled his working experience with the deceased during the production of Opa Aje. "Ajileye was a very gifted artiste; there is no doubt about that. His death is painful and a big loss to the industry. If there is anyone to know, I should be the one as our working together in Opa Aje gave me the opportunity to see his wealth of creativity," Oguniyi said. Further revisiting how he met Ajileye, the Ibadan-based pioneer independent producer recalled that it was late actor, Oyin Adejobi with whom Ajileye had a brief training that recommended the Osogbo born artiste to him in 1986. "After we met through Late Pa Oyin Adejobi who insisted that I should do whatever possible to assist Ajileye, he brought a script entitled Balogun Abija. The script in my opinion was though good, but identical in concept with another popular TV series then," Oguniyi said.
What eventually came out of that script of which Oguniyi said he worked on together with Ajileye, to fit his own standard as an established and experienced independent producer, was to launch the late actor into stardom. "We worked and improved on the script, rehearsed it in 1986, recorded in ’87 and started transmitting in ’88." For close to four years, Opa Aje, across the south western states, was a house hold name from which actor like Oyewole and other members of the Ajileye troupe first had a taste of stardom.

While Oguniyi brought out the immense talents in Ajileye, (the theatre man), gave him the TV experience, and ended the partnership, it was Koto Orun, a solo effort of the Ajileye group, which was released in the early 1990s, that consolidated the actor’s popularity, particularly with the coming of the video industry.
  Ajileye must have underestimated the impact of Koto Orun until he hired out the tape to a film exhibitor in Ibadan shortly after the series stopped running on TV. The exhibitor, (names withheld) was said to have made a huge financial returns from chain of cinema release in Ibadan to the envy of Ajileye. While he was said to have regreted hiring out the tape at almost next to nothing for some one else to reap so much, the actor would however go down in history as a producer, whose work, Koto Orun made such a cinema hit, a record that was previously held by the late theatre icon, Hubert Ogunde’s films.
  Unlike most actors who, as a result of the video upsurge, abandoned the tube, Ajileye soon returned to TV. From the tube, he further made a star of a member of the group and one of his wives, Mujidat Ajileye who later passed on in November 2003. The theme of the TV drama Mama Mi L’ Eko (My Mum in Lagos) was built around the title and central character played by the late actor’s wife. 

Success, they say, don’t come without a trying moment. One of Ajileye’s trying days was the sudden change of attitude of actors which the home video scene brought then. To the established traveling theatre groups in the South West, the home video as a fast growing medium turned out a double edge sword: most troupes started losing their key members to independent video producers. For Ajileye, his most popular star actor, Oyewole (a.k.a Abija) could not resist tempting offers from these producers. This, naturally set the actor in collision with his master, a crisis that seriously affected the Ajileye production company until amicable settlement was reached.
For Ajileye, the worth of an actor was leaving an imprint on the stage. His subsequent works in the video industry till he breathed his last had a kind of identity that can be likened to that of Ogunde. His works like Ide, shot some years back and the last one, Aiye Alaye produced under Yem Kem International’s Gold Link Communications and released shortly after his death, are though mainly of traditional and periodic settings, but usually involved large cast and lavish costumes as well as sets similar to Ogunde’s films. 

But Ajileye’s effort at meeting the yet to be equalled standard of Ogunde are usually lost in the electronic image  medium of video. Unlike the film format (celluloid) used by Ogunde in his films, works like Ide, which had the elaborate sets and costumes similar to the late icon’s films appear too slow on the video format, thereby reducing the pace and concealing the creative effort invested in the work.
  Perhaps in the coming years, digital imaging would be able to meet the quality of films and afford Ajileye’s production company, a legacy he left behind, as well as Nollywood in general a higher production quality.