Duro Ladipo (1931–1978) was one of the best known and critically acclaimed Yoruba dramatists that emerged from postcolonial Africa. Writing solely in the Yoruba language, he captivated the symbolic spirit of Yoruba mythologies in his plays, which were later adapted to other media such as photography, television and cinema. His most famous play, Ọba kò so (The king did not hang), a dramatization of the traditional Yoruba story on how Shango became the God of Thunder, received international acclaim at the first Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1965, and on a European tour, where a Berlin critic, Ulli Beier, compared Ladipọ to Karajan.
Ladipo usually acted in his own plays
Duro was raised in a Christian family, his father was a minister at an Anglican church in Osogbo. However, Duro may have been influenced by his grandfather, who migrated to Osogbo after the Jalumi war. His grandfather was well versed in Yoruba mythology, especially those emanating from Old Oyo, and was known to have worshipped Shango and Oya.
Ladipo tried hard and succeeded in exposing himself to traditional and Yoruba cultural elements especially when living under the veil of a Christian home. At a young age, he would sneak out of the vicarage to watch Yoruba festivals. This fascination with his culture goaded him into researching and experimenting with theatrical drama and writing. After leaving Osogbo, he went to Ibadan, where he became a teacher.
While in Ibadan he became one of the founding members of an artist society or club called Mbari Mbayo and became influenced by Beier. He later replicated the club in Osogbo and it became the premier group for promoting budding artists and dramatists in Osogbo. Throughout his career, Duro Ladipo wrote ten Yoruba folk operas combining dance, music, mime, proverbs, drumming and praise songs.
He started his theatre group in 1961 but he became fully established with the founding of the Mbari Mbayo Club in Osogbo. His popularity as a folk opera group really rests on his three plays: Obamoro in 1962, Oba ko so and Oba Waja in 1964. (Oba Waja – “The King is Dead” – is based on the same historical event that inspired fellow Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman.)
He also promoted Moremi. He later transformed the Mbari Mbayo into a cultural center, an arts gallery and a meeting point for young artists seeking to develop their talents. Duro Oladipo wrote quite a number of plays, such as Suru Baba Iwa, Tanimowo, Iku. Some of his plays were also produced for television. In fact he created Bode Wasinimi for NTA Ibadan.
In 1977, Ladipo participated in Festac ’77, the Second World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture, in Lagos, Nigeria.