Chief Hubert Adedeji Ogunde is an actor, Playwright and Musician. He founded the first contemporary professional theatrical company in Nigeria, the African Music Research Party, in 1945.
Ogunde was born in Ososa, near Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria, to the family of Jeremiah Deinbo and Eunice Owotusan Ogunde. His father was a Baptist pastor and his maternal grandfather was a priest of Ifa, an African traditional religion.
He briefly lived within the precincts of his grandfather’s compound and was exposed to Ifá, Ogun and many other traditional religious celebrations.
Both the Christian and traditional religion of the Yoruba influenced his upbringing.
He had his education between 1925 and 1932, attending St John School, Ososa, (1925–28), St Peter’s School, Faaji, Lagos, (1928–30) and Wasimi African School, (1931–32).
His first contact with performance art was as a member of Egun Alarinjo during his elementary school days.
After completing his education, he worked as a pupil-teacher at St. John’s School, and was also church choirmaster and organist.
He later joined the Nigerian Police Force in March 1941 in Ibadan. In 1943, the police force posted him to the Denton Police Station, Ebute Metta, where he joined an African initiated church, the Church of the Lord (Aladura).
In Lagos, he created an amateur drama group, the African Music Research Party, in 1945.
Ogunde distinguished his group by using promotion methods such as advertisements and posters, and by changing the round stage used by alarinjo performers to one with a proscenium.
In early 1945, he produced Worse than Crime, a political play infused with Yoruba dance and ancient folk songs. Like most of his early plays, it premiered at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos.
Later in that year, he wrote The Black Forest and Journey to Heaven, two Yoruba operas that also improved on his use of traditional Yoruba folklore.
In 1946 he wrote and produced Tiger’s Empire. Premiering on the 4th of March, 1946, Tiger’s Empire was produced by The African Music Research Party and featured Ogunde, Beatrice Oyede and Abike Taiwo.
The advertisement for the play was the result of Ogunde’s call for “paid actresses”. It marked the first time in Yoruba theatre that women were billed to appear in a play as professional artists in their own right.
Tiger’s Empire was an attack on colonial rule. He followed Tiger’s Empire with Darkness and Light.
Later, in 1946, he produced Devil’s Money, an African story about a man who entered into a contract with an evil spirit so in an effort to get rich. The folk opera was successful and had a set of twenty-four actors donning costumes.
After the death of Herbert Macaulay, he wrote the opera Herbert Macaulay to commemorate the life of the nationalist, who died in 1946. He then released another politically-themed play, Towards Liberty, in 1947.
Before 1948, Ogunde plays were staged in Lagos and occasionally in Abeokuta, but his growing popularity in other Western Nigeria provinces made him think about traveling to other cities with his theatre troupe.
In 1964, he produced two important plays: Yoruba Ronu and Otitokoro. They both spoke of the political events in Western Nigeria, events which led to the declaration of the state of emergency in 1963.
He was the most prominent of the dramatists of the folk opera. He composed over 40 operas in Yoruba. His play Yoruba Ronu (or “Yoruba Think”) was a satirical account of the strife that plagued Yorubaland in the 1960s.
The protagonist of the play, Oba Fiwajoye, is betrayed by the actions of his deputy. He is given over into the hands of his enemy, Yeye-Iloba, leading to the imprisonment him and two of his political allies.
The deputy then ascends the throne and rules as a tyrant before he is eventually killed by the people.