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Opinions of Thursday, 25 November 2021

Columnist: Bola Adewara

Baba Suwe, farewell to comedy

Baba Suwe, Actor Baba Suwe, Actor

In 1997 when I was in Daily Times, I did a piece on the trajectory of comedy in Nigeria. I don’t know where to find that piece now. There was no Google, no internet those days.

I did a lot of research on the topic. I found out that the first comedian in Nigerian theatre was a man named Kaka, who acted briefly with Hubert Ogunde in his Alarinjo travelling theatre of the 1940s/50s.

Following him was Moses Olaiya Adejumo, later known as Baba Sala, who started as a magician. He learned his magical trade from one Mafimisesin, a native of Iseyin. Adejumo adopted the name Prof Chandu.

When that did not bring much fame and money, he left magic for music. Sunday Adegeye, later known as King Sunny Ade, was one of his band boys. He soon abandoned music for comedy where he made it big. With his group members like Adisa (Adis Ababa), Iya Sala, Kari Ile, Senge, Denge, Okondo, Edokpolor, etc, Baba Sala made it big with comedy recorded on audio devices like plates, radio and television shows. He is indeed the doyen of comedy in Nigeria.

Soon to join him in comedy was Ojo Ladipo, aka Baba Mero, when he started his Awada Kerikeri Organisation in the very late 1960s. He met Baba Sala on the job, no wonder he also took after the Baba tradition. Some of his early members were Adebayo Salami (Bello), Sunday Omobolanle (Aluwe), Lanre Hassan (Awero), and others.

Other comedians rose after them, using the same costumes made famous by Baba Sala. From Ibadan came the Papa Lolo and Jacob group. They were made famous on TV while Baba Sala and Baba Mero cut their teeth in the Alarinjo travelling theatre made famous in the Yoruba Western area by Hubert Ogunde, the doyen of theatre.

When Baba Mero passed on, his group did not die. It was kept alive by Bello, Aluwe, and Awero. They carried on with zest and prodigal enthusiasm. Awada Keriri group began to act with other groups, and there came the fame of Aluwe. He became the next famous comedian who reigned for a long time after Baba Sala and Baba Mero.

In the mid-1970s, Dr. Ola Balogun came from the blues to produce the first optical film in Nigeria titled Amadi, starring a hilarious young man named John Chukwu. The film made its impact and introduced to the entertainment industry, John Chukwu.

Chukwu built on the fame he made from Amadi to become the first stand-up comedian in Nigeria. Though he was not moving from stage to stage as it happens now, he carried on his trade in nightclubs and on TV programmes. John Chukwu went to have his own nightclub called Klass along Obafemi Awolowo Road, Ikeja, opposite Balogun Bus Stop.

Next to John Chukwu in the stand-up comedy train was Tunji Sotimirin and Danjumah Mohammed, who did not wait to eat from his labour. He died early having done so well on the Charly Boy Show before stand-up comedy became free for all. But we must accept that these boys are doing so well, giving Aluwe a chase for his money.

Side by side with Aluwe were side stars like Otolo, Alaran, Ojoge (the last two were in Awada Kerikeri). They made waves on the Yoruba drama on TV. They also made waves on the reversal and optical films by people like Ade Love, Sam Makinwa, Awada Kerikeri, Dr. Ola Balogun, Jimoh Aliu, etc. The most famous reversal film then was Ekun by Muyideen Aromire (Alade).

When the home video came in 1991 with the first home video, Aje N’iya Mi by Kenneth Nnebue (NEK), it built on the tradition of the first film location in Nigeria at Iyesi, not far from Winners. I went there several times to interview actors like Afolabi Afolayan (Jaguar), Iya Ngbalife, Baba Ngbalife, Sisi Ologede, etc.

Not long after, Iyesi became too far and Yoruba artistes began to settle in Meran, where I met actresses like Aduke George (Iya Sala), Basiru Isola (Oloye Ajere), Ola Omonitan (Ajimajasan), Dupe Johnson (Fali Werepe), etc.

The ascendancy of Babatunde Omidina (Baba Suwe) was through the Yoruba drama productions on TV and the home videos. He told me his story in an interview I had with him in 1996. I will search my library for it. Keep a date with part 2 of this piece.

Baba Suwe did his best. I expect the Yoruba people to celebrate him more than they did. This comedian made his fans smile. It was comedy at its best. Raw comedy! Unscripted! Straight from his unfathomable reservoir of God-given talent. All you needed as a film producer those days was to explain the storyline to Baba Suwe. He would deliver!

He was married to the first comedienne in Nigeria, Moladun Kenkelewu, who passed on in her prime. With her, Baba Suwe made a perfect acting match in manufacturing jokes that perfectly fit into the unscripted dialogue of films to the great delectation of their fans.

Like any man, Baba Suwe had his faults and mistakes. If God should mark iniquity, who can stand? It is within this context that I wish Baba Suwe good night. I hope he settled eternity before he left. We appreciate you for your contributions.