Nigeria: My Films Reflect My Cultural Identity, Personal and Emotional Connection - Tunde Kelani

29 October 2020

In this conversation with Toyin Falola, Mr Kelani speaks about his works in the past four decades.

The Nigerian entertainment industry is dominated by a group of passionate African storytellers with a flair for intellectualism, and Tunde Kelani is not just one of them, but has established himself and his crafts as household names in names in Nigeria.

Born in Lagos State, Nigerian, to Yoruba parents, he was exposed to a multicultural environment where traditions and African epistemic systems are weaved into the people, albeit unconsciously. Growing up, he was sent to Abeokuta to his patrilineal ancestral home, where he was groomed in the African and simultaneously exposed to indigenous knowledge systems through well-informed elders. Navigating his way, he acquired a reasonable level of cultural traditions, and his foundation in these systems inspired his creativity, and interestingly, he expanded his knowledge to give expressions to African (Yoruba) cultural traditions in which he has well-established himself today and made a global impact.

Through experience gathered across four decades in movie productions, he has manufactured a number of movies that express the sociocultural heritage of the Yoruba people. On this account, Mr Kelani has produced White Handkerchief, Ko se Gbe, Oleku, Maami and Dazzling Mirage, Thunder Bolt, The Narrow Path, and featured in a number of others himself.

He has often been declared as a significant nexus between the old Nigerian film makers and the new generation of Nollywood directors.

While the Nigerian movie industry was just blossoming, Mr Kelani had harnessed necessary technological skills combines with his creativity and flair for indigenous knowledge to advance the Nigerian (Yoruba) socio-cultural narratives.

As many as these movies are, they all have a unifying ideological temper, which is the promotion of the Yoruba philosophical standpoint about life. They are depictions of the African system in every aspect of human endeavor. When Mr Kelani directs his works towards a given subject matter, he employs an Afrocentric methodology to carry his messages across. For example, on many occasions, his works center on the postcolonial tempers where the issue is seen from European systems' operations as they affect the current life system of the people. Therefore, his works fit into the description of the decolonization project because they masterfully highlight the country's sociopolitical conditions.

The thrusts of his narratives thus connect the African world with their pre-colonial identity and expose those areas where sanity is needed. When his works are not engrossed with the purpose of clarifying and elevating indigenous epistemes, they are embroidered in socio-political criticism or the edification of the public on nascent societal issues. It is not unusual for Kelani's narratives to be loaded with a mix of the aforementioned.

TK, as popularly called, was influenced by a number of Yoruba film and literary icons who shaped and continue to influence his knowledge and intellect during his formative years. The works of these renowned Yoruba literary creatives are The Palmwine Drinkard, Oba Koso, Kurunmi, Ogunde plays, all shaped his knowledge and interest in proportional measures. In a similar form, he was influenced by D. O. Fagunwa, who recorded a significant impact in African literary engagement and produced such work as Aditu Olodumare, Igbo Olodumare, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale, Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje, and Ireke Onibudo. Apparently, all of these contributed to his interest in African cultural praxis.

TK started his film production industry in 1991, and ever since his debut, he has made considerable progress and recorded profound success. Mainframe Films and Television Productions, his company, has produced great movies, including but not limited to Thunder Bolt (Magun), Saworoide, The Narrow Path, Arugba, Maami and others.


Q: What is your approach in delegation of responsibilities in multifaceted jobs?

Kelani: Filmmaking can be such a huge task. It starts usually by one person, from an original idea or from a source material and grows through a complex process. It is also a collaborative art which involves working with a team throughout the creative project. I start first with adding a script writer who works on the screenplay, the blueprint, the strong foundation which will support the creative structure involving other experts. In low budget production, key roles sometimes overlap - the producer may as well be the director, but usually, I add a production designer, actors, the cinematographer, production manager, the technicians, a process that grows from one or a few people to a crowd of creatives, service and administration as needed throughout the production.

Q: Do you have a difficult production problem you had to solve?

Kelani: Filmmaking by its nature is about solving problems. The level of preparation and approach help solve or reduce the seriousness of the problems. The main problem is usually, apart from the production, is managing the logistics of providing services, for example accommodation, catering, transportation, power, water for a team of a hundred people on a daily basis. The greatest problem may be as basic as providing constant electricity and drinking water for cast and crew throughout the project.

Q: Describe an instance where you had to resolve issues between staffs.

Kelani: I am always on the lookout early in the production for flashpoint areas between members of the team who find it difficult to work in a group atmosphere. In my early days, working with the greats, Hubert Ogunde taught me how to handle issues from key staffs. He explained to me the meaning of "Sùurù tó lọ́jọ́' - filmmaking has a schedule, a start and a finishing date. I always explain to staffs who find it difficult to get on with each other that the job usually is a temporary engagement with an end fixed on a production calendar. Surprisingly, through patience, perseverance and understanding, the staffs get used to each other and parting becomes painful at the end of production.

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