BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Talking drums herald the beauty that is Saworoide. The sound is rich and owns its depth, the setting is reflective of nature, and the language draws you in, in a heartbeat.
Saworoide is a 1999 Yoruba movie from the stables of Mainframe Productions (Opomulero), written by Akinwunmi Ishola and directed by the veteran Tunde Kelani. It is a story of a small town called Jogbo, whose kings were, for many years, sworn to service rather than the life of luxury that kings are wont to have, bound by a pact and linked to a brass crown (ade-ide) and the drum of brass bells (saworoide). Then Lapite suddenly ascends the throne and decides he’d rather make money than serve. His recklessness moves him to murder all his prospective contenders, trade with the homegrown trees and have the earnings transferred to a foreign account while the town remains in penury. Just before he ascends the throne, he marries a young lady, Tinuola, who is already pregnant with another man’s child but hides it from him, and abandons his former wife because according to him, she is a fat pig unfit for the palace.
In a quest to get their town back from the hands of the fraudulent king, journalists and a team of vibrant youths led by Fadiya, make several attempts to be heard and get rebuffed, some ending up killed or thrown in jail. They decide to employ violence, and are sponsored by a concerned member of the logging merchants to purchase ammunition.
On another hand is Adebola, the only child of Adebomi, the rightful heir to the throne who was killed by Lapite’s assassins. He is raised by Ayangalu the drummer, after his parents’ demise, and taught all he needs to know about his royal rights. He befriends Arapa, the king’s supposed daughter when he returns to Jogbo under a pseudonym: Aresejabata. When he reveals his real identity under the influence of the bottle, Lapite plots to murder him, but he is overthrown by Lagata, a military man who is equally corrupt and greedy for gain. Still battling the claws of bad leadership, the youth turn to Amawomawo, the chief priest for help, and he works with the drummer to get the Saworoide played on the day of coronation, which causes Lagata to die mysteriously. Adebola becomes king eventually.
Apart from the attention to detail that is highly paid, or the intermittent use of sweet-sounding songs and chants to drive points home, Saworoide thrives on very witty performances from its lead characters. It is also a star-studded movie, laden with many legendary Yoruba film actors. Kola Oyewo, who seems to appear the most, brings his A-game with every scene, portraying his villainousness with such finesse. Lere Paimo and Larinde Akinleye’s performances as greedy eye-servicing chiefs are stellar, and just when you think you’ve seen all there is to it, Adebayo Faleti hits the roof with his sarcasm and proverbial songs, keeping your eyes and ears fastened to the screen.
The subtitling of Saworoide, though not perfect, is very meticulously done. As compared to wishy-washy translations done in our present day indigenous movies where incantations are subtitled as a mere ‘INCANTATIONS’, Saworoide does a thorough job in order to carry the non-Yoruba audience along, and does it fine.
Saworoide also shines the torch on the splendor of tradition, the myth of folklore and the allure of African art in a manner that isn’t forced or overly mysterious. It is able to merge a broad spectrum of Yoruba culture into one hour forty-five minutes without choking us or rendering us confused and scrambling for meanings in a mess. The writer is patient with the script and intense too, leaving no evident loose ends. And that’s just swell!
Yes, there are certain places that make you frown. For example, there are parts in the subtitling that would have been better off not seen. An example is a scene where certain people dance without any words spoken and is subtitled as ‘Arapa and Arese are dancing. Arapa advances towards her opponent…bla bla’. This information only belongs on the script and not our screens. What happened to showing rather than telling?
The gunshot sounds and wounds are evidently poorly executed, the blood seeming like diluted red paint. That Baba Opalaba remains at one spot throughout the movie, from Lapite’s ascension on the throne to Lagata’s ascension some fifteen years later without any significant aging just seems ridiculous. Talking about aging, the only obvious signs that fifteen years have passed are the characters of Arapa and Arese, and maybe the priest. Everyone else looks almost identical with their fifteen-years-ago selves. Tacky!
There are also certain abrupt scene endings here and there, but many of them can be overlooked on the basis of great acting.
The flaws notwithstanding, Saworoide is an all-time charmer, a testament to what we can do and be in Nollywood when filmmakers bury their heads patiently to work. Despite being seventeen years old, Saworoide is one movie you’d never really tire of seeing; a true breath of fresh air with a satirical image of corrupt practices in government. If I had to use one word to describe the movie, I’d just take a twenty-second sigh and then exclaim: Classic!