By Gift Samuel, The Sight News
Foluke Iyabode Opalade is undoubtedly one of Africa’s best in terms of musical theatre performance, with so much passion about the Ijala (the Hunters’ chant) and Aro genres of Yoruba folk music. For a 21st Century artiste, Foluke’s choice of a musical genre will take so many by surprise, as it is deeply rooted in the Yoruba age-long folkloric tradition. Little wonder many arts critics in Nigeria describe her as a traditional African musician with a global focus. It therefore comes as no surprise, that this compelling African voice is determined to take her unique brand of music to the world.
Fielding questions from a crop of Arts Correspondents recently, the art performer, who is blessed with a compelling voice, confidence and powerful stage presence, took journalists on a trip to her musical and theatrical careers, with a prophesy that the folkloric musical world will soon be trooping to Africa in a bid to find the musical missing link. The graduate of Music from the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Nigeria, bares it all in this interview with The Sight News.
Can You Describe Your Childhood?
I was born and raised in the popular Oshodi area of Lagos, Nigeria. I lived in the area till I was in my teens, after which my family moved. In those days, Oshodi was a calm and cool area. I honestly can’t reconcile the Oshodi that I knew back then with the rowdy Oshodi of today… It is probably now so because a lot of people have migrated there since it has evolved into a beehive of commercial activities. While growing up, I wasn’t the outgoing type. My daily routine then was home-school-church, and straight back home. My parents were strict disciplinarians. Even though we lived in a crowded house, with the then Brazilian design popularly known in Nigerian as a face-me-I-face-you, my siblings and I dared not step out of our room. It didn’t matter whether our parents were around or not, we all must abide by my father’s set rules. Not that this was any bother to me, as I spent most of my time listening to music and singing. I was in a world of my own, and music ruled that world.
Yes, Music… How Did You Become Interested in Music?
I will say that I was born into music. I grew up knowing that music was an important part of my life, so much so that I cannot imagine a life without music. My father played a vital role in this, as he is also a lover of music. He would buy musical albums, and we’d listen to them together. And my mother also came from a family of folklore singers. By and large, I took a lot of my voice from my mother and the creative ingenuity of my dad’s. When I was in Primary School, I preferred listening to music and singing to studying. Expectedly, this soon became an issue. However, I reached an interesting compromise with my father; when we both agreed that I could play music while studying. Thus, it happened that whenever I was to study, music would be playing in the background.
What Kind of Music Inspired You as a Child?
My taste in music was a bit eclectic. I liked listening to the Nigerian traditional folk songs as well as Western country music. However, I fell deeply in love with the music of Dauda Epo Akara, Ayinla Omowura, as well as The Lijadu Sisters. I loved listening to them, and I also got taken in with the way they dressed and danced. I particularly loved Aro Sisun (a chant song made popular by bride as she heads towards her new home). That’s quite emotive and so it usually made me cry! I also developed a strong desire to make people cry from the pure joys of listening to me sing. I remember that my late husband, Prof Adewoye, once saw me perform in a theatrical production in Abuja. He was worried. After the show, he repeatedly asked if anything was wrong with me. I merely laughed it off and merely muttered to him that ‘That is acting’.
How Supportive Were Your Parents of Your Love for Music?
My parents were very supportive. I was their pride, and they encouraged me to follow my passion. I always sang in our church choir. Whenever I took a solo in the choir, I would look out for my parents in the congregation, and they were always there. Many times have I caught my father weeping while I perform in the choir, and I would be spurred to do even better.
How Did You Start Pursuing a Career in Music?
With the experience of singing in my church choir, I was already a classical singer. I could do Handel, and church songs. Then around 1997 – 1998, when I got to the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, I had two interesting encounters. The first one was with a certain Aunty Yeside Dosunmu-Lawal; now a Dance Lecturer at the Lagos State University. Aunty Yeside was involved in a rehearsal for a theatrical production that needed a singer, and someone had mentioned to her that I could do it. She immediately sent for me and asked me to sing, and I obliged her. Then she observed me for a few seconds and requested that I perform the Ijala (traditional Yoruba Hunters’ Chant) Although it was my first experience at performing that genre of music, I tried my best. It was an exhilarating experience for me, as it felt as if I had just discovered what I was born to do. The doors to my very soul were flung wide open, as I sang my heart out.
This first encounter led to the next. As I was performing the Ijala, a man came out of his cubicle-like office at the Amphitheatre. He yelled “who is that girl?” I was scared. I wondered what I had done wrong, and who the man was. Then he said again “I said, who is that girl with such a voice? Bring her to me!” In fear, I was led to the man. He asked; “in what department are you? I have been looking for your voice. It is needed right here in the theatre.” I later discovered that the man is the legendary Choreographer and Theatre Director Ojo Rasaki Bakare , now a Professor in the department of Theatre and Media Arts of the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria. And so it was under his tutelage, and many theatrical productions later, that I honed my skills with my voice becoming fluid and I could adapt to diverse genres. I became a full-fledged Theatre-music artiste… Prof Ojo Rasaki Bakare discovered the strength of my voice, and since then, I have not looked back.
What an Interesting Journey. What do You Consider to be the Most Significant Points in Your Career?
I was privileged to be a part of “The Voyage”, a cultural performance which was a composite of the Heart of Africa Project, launched by the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications in 2006-2007. The production which toured the United Kingdom and France the was a means of deploying culture as an image-laundering tool for the Nigerian nation. I was also the lead vocalist in the ‘Alaoma’ track of the musical album which the production culminated into. I was an ambassador for my country, and it gave me a heady feeling.
What Advice do You Have for Young People Who Wish to Pursue a Career in the Theatre?
Well, all I can say is that young people who aspire to be artistes should love what they are doing or want to do. Passion is the key word. Music is my first love, and the passion I have for it has sustained me over the years. I have tried my hands in so many other things, but none worked out, and I always find myself going back to my first love; music. This is what I love to do. It is what I feel comfortable doing. It is what I was born to do. My music s defines me. It is simply the air that I breathe. It is my destiny.