Moremi The Musical… Affirming supremacy of mothers in times of national crisis

Moremi The Musical

There’s something defining about the concept, ‘nneka’ (meaning ‘mother is supreme’), as expoused among the South-East Igbo people in Chinua Achebe’s famous novel Things Fall Apart.

This is aptly telling when the hero, Okonkwo, at the height of his powers in Umuofia, commits sacrilege and is forced to go on exile among his mother’s people.

At that moment of his fall from grace, it is his mother and her people, who provide sucour to a warrior, who is rejected by his own father’s people. It is one of life’s tragic ironies, especially in a deeply patriarchal society like Umuofia.

Its subtle and nuanced version was what threw up the great heroine Moremi Ajasoro among ancient Ife people of Yoruba.

Here is a community ravaged by the wars waged being constantly against it by its Igbo neighbours, who appear invincible against whatever Ife throws at them. And so for years, Ife is brought to its knees.

Its great monarch the Ooni, too helpless against the decimation of his kingdom, resorts to carving images of the many Ife children killed and captured.

It is a time of defeat too shameful for a monarch to admit, but the Ooni is sensible enough not to see the war with his Igbo neighbours any other way.

The carved images, he tells Moremi, represent every child killed or captured in Ife. It is not the best of time for a people, and the monarch sees his reign being ruined by a war that renders him helpless and hopeless.

Not even Moremi’s injection of hope is able to sway the king otherwise. And so he leaves the presence of Moremi a defeated man, who sees an insurmountable obstacle stacked against him, his reign and his city.

The city is on edge, talk of revolt is rife; not even the pronouncements from Ifa priest give the people any hope.

Hunters sent to fetch live elephant, tiger and lion from the forest to mitigate the disaster, as commanded by the oracle, return defeated in their impossible mission. They are almost lynched for their failure at such a perilous time.

It is precisely at this moment of extreme hopelessness that a woman steps forward to affirm the nneka principle, the supremacy of women, of mothers, to mend men’s broken back and ribs and heal their ravaged souls at a time of national crisis.

And so the historical and evergreen true-life story of Queen Moremi Ajasoro, who sacrificed everything, her marriage, her son and even the risk of death in order to secure the future of the people of Ile-Ife becomes the big musical performance for this festive season.

Moremi The Musical is directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters and produced by Mrs. Amosun Olufunso and the House of Oduduwa.

The show hit Terra Kulture Theatre Arena since Friday, December 21 and will run till January 2.

The performance has as thematic preoccupation sacrificial leadership that gives all to the service of the people just to build and have a better society.

It presents a talented bunch of actors, dancers and musicians, who interpret their roles appropriately to stun the 400-pus capacity hall with two shows per day.

The stage opens with a male singer who sings sonorously to introduce Moremi.

The plot weaves in and out into scenes interspersed with dialogue, songs and dances that interpret the culture, history and traditions of the people and the lifestyles and living conditions of the people.

Moremi, played by Kehinde Bankole, is able to go against certain cultural and traditional restrictions that helplessly tie the African woman down by choosing her own cause of action to save her people.

She rises above the demands of marriage and dictatorial husband who forces her to chose between remaining his wife and saving Ile-Ife from its enemies.

Moremi puts her life on the line and allows herself to be captured by Igbo warriors, whose masks make them invincible before the cowering Ife soldiers.

She had approached goddess of water for a safe mission and promised to make sacrifice on her return.

There, she learns the secret of Igbo warriors, as she is consort of the king himself on her arrival. By the time she returns, the reigning Ooni has passed and Oranmiyan had been recalled from Benin, where he’d been gone.

A joyous Ife people and Moremi then approach the water goddess to pay homage and it turns Moremi’s only son becomes the steep price she has to pay for giving Ife peace of mind from her aggressive neighbours.

Moremi the Musical is an engaging musical performance that will thrill any day, especially in its elaborate scope, costuming, computerised visual images.

However, not as much compositional and research rigour are put into the songs and instrumentation as it is the case with the directing and acting.

A local bard like the Ifa priest, who does the chants so effortlessly, should have been consulted to give the songs and music more local depth and pathos.

It is understandable that a sense of modernity for contemporary taste is aimed at, but it somewhat detracted from the time frame of Moremi’s existence.

The Yoruba have enough oral tonality that can meld into the sort of musicality that fits the era. Too many modern musical instruments are deployed that often detract from the ancient ambience being reenacted.

After the performance, Austen-Peters told her audience how the story of Queen Moremi became a stage performance.

She said it was Ronke Ademiluyi, an Ife princess, who pushed forward the idea about putting the historical figure on stage.

She said she didn’t want to get involved in the complications of tradition and religion initially, as they naturally go against her belief as a Christian, but she eventually agreed and realised how much part of tradition and religion everyone is.

Princess Ademiluyi, who is the Global Ambassador for Queen Moremi Ajasoro brand and Vice Chairman, House of Oduduwa Foundation, said the concept came from His Imperial Majesty, Ooni of Ife, which collaborated with Rejuvenee as main sponsors for the production.

“The idea is to tell the story of Moremi, a queen, who reigned over 1000 years ago and gave Ile-Ife back its peace and right,” Princess Ademiluyi explained. “Also, we want to talk about our history, get the younger generation interested in our culture and tradition, for them to know their root, to know that once upon a time there was a powerful woman, who stood up to do things men weren’t able to do!”

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