I cannot believe that two weeks after writing an ode to the literary critic, author and scholar, Francis Abiola Irele, I will be returning to this page to sing another sad tune for another literary giant, this time, the versatile artist and scholar, Pa Adebayo Faleti. I couldn’t believe that death would be so cruel to the literary community of Nigeria by taking away these two giants within days of each other.
I am particularly saddened by the death of Faleti as it is comes at a time when there is an ongoing revival for Nigerian language literature; a field that Pa Faleti is a legend within.
Amidst all the economic and political turmoil that besets Nigeria, the loss of its intellectual capital in the form of artists such as Adebayo Faleti is worrisome and provides opportunity for an appraisal of the entire cultural apparatus as it currently exists in Nigeria. I was introduced to Pa Faleti as a teenager in my Secondary School days.
Writers live in their works and one of the recommended texts for our Yoruba Literature class is the book, “Basorun Gaa”, a historical drama of the political chess game between a kingmaker and a somewhat subservient King, Alaafin Abiodun. Let me digress a little at this point and give a summary of the book and maybe it will help us to see how, especially on the political terrain, the more certain actions appear to be new forms of political irresponsibility, the more they are actually old (I did not mention any name).
The Play itself is based on actual events that occurred in Yoruba Kingdom around 1750. Basorun Gaa, the Kingmaker in Oyo Kingdom had plotted the death and dethronement of four of Oba Abiodun’s predecessor for not cooperating with his corrupt agenda.
Now, Basorun Gaa is the head of Council, or Senate. In order to last longer than his predecessors on the throne, Abiodun “played ball” with Basorun Gaa.
Except, Gaa’s thirst for power and riches was insatiable to the point of using ‘Agborin’, Oba Abiodun’s only daughter for money and power ritual. That was the last straw that the King Abiodun could handle, and it set off a domino of political wars in the Kingdom that culminated in the death of Basorun Gaa and freedom from fear for Oba Abiodun.
If it sounds familiar, then it shows the vision and artistic acumen that Adebayo Faleti possesses. He was the artists’ artist, a man who puts the ‘V’ into the word versatility. Faleti is a writer of note, a translator, an actor, a musician and a radio on air personality (OAP).
His versatility also ends to be his undoing as many obituaries that I have read keeps on describing him as an actor who acted in ‘Basorun Gaa.’
Many of the authors did not even bother to check that he wrote the play in 1972 and it has been part of the school curriculum for over four decades. Even the Wikipedia entry for him did not add any book for the man. Just movies, as if in a clear attempt to validate the actor sign affixed to him.
I know it is just another sign that we are a very visual, as opposed to textual society, but it is also a sad testament to our archiving system; but that will be addressed later. For now, we keep the focus on Pa Adebayo Faleti.
After that initial introduction through his book, my work as a literary arts journalist from 1999 privileged me with multiple opportunities to meet the man and hear him speak at various events. He always declined interviews. No, not out of pride, but a symbol of his humility that I put down to him wanting his works to speak for him.
One even stood out for me. It happened at the launch of a dictionary of Yoruba names at Oyo State Cultural Centre, the one located on a hill in Ibadan.
It was soon after the advent of GSM and after we had chatted informally (I used it as an interview in my newspaper back then). Unlike many who brandished their phone back then as a symbol of belonging to a particular class, Pa Faleti’s phone was in his pocket and summoned the boldness to politely ask for his number as I pointed to the bulge in his pocket.
He laughed and told me in Yoruba: “I often forget that thing is there. It is from your brothers, my children, to help me stay in touch with my grandchildren.” He reached for the phone and handed it over to me.
“Oya, take the number you want.”
He had written his number on a clean piece of paper and taped it to the back of the phone.
In one moment, I witnessed a practical and humble man with no airs around him, a loving father who speaks of his children with pride and proclaim their good deeds to the world, a true oral legend with the power of words to describe any situation and above all, a traditional man who instantly brought me into his family because I am a Yoruba man even though we were not related by blood.
That is the Adebayo Falet I knew, the one that stayed with me and the one whose memory I will never forget. I understand why most people will see him simply as an actor. He takes on his roles with dexterity and high level of professionalism that he becomes the part he is playing.
Try taking out his role in the movies “Saworoide” and “Agogo Eewo” and you probably will not have as good a movie as we proclaim today. He was the court griot, who sees all.
He was the custodian of culture, who gives advice but never makes the big decision. He was simply a joy to watch and with his musical voice, a delight to listen to. There can only be one Adebayo Faleti, and to say he will be missed is to state the obvious.
But one thing is certain, he left a mark that guarantees him a place in our cultural memory.