Professor Olabode Omojola and his class at Mount Holyoke College present an opera based on the legend of the Yoruban Queen, Moremi.
The African folk opera series, which has become one of the signature performances of the Music Department, commenced in the fall of 2008 with the production of the Palmwine Drinkard, a Yoruba opera composed by Kola Ogunmola and based on Amos Tutuola’s novel of the same title. The second opera in the series, Queen Moremi, written and composed by Professor Olabode Omojola.
Jointly produced by the Departments of Music and Theatre Arts, both operas were performed by Mount Holyoke College and 5-College students of Omojola’s African music classes, in collaboration with invited African musicians and choreographers. These operas are noted for their use of African mythology and performance practices, featuring song, chant, dance, and drumming, while utilizing the resources of the Western theatre. Omojola, who directs the series, explains that the operas provide a unique context for students to gain a firsthand experience of African music through performance and by working with distinguished African professional musicians.
The origins of this musico-dramatic genre extend as far back as the 17th century, when the Alaafin, king of the ancient Yoruba kingdom of Oyo in Western Nigeria, declared that the egungun (masquerade) performance, hitherto performed as part of religious rituals, should henceforth also be performed as royal entertainment. It soon became accessible to the general public and was subsequently referred to as alarinjo (lit. walking dancers), because of the itinerant nature of the performers. The alarinjo, like most African performances, is operatic in nature, consisting of singing, comical narratives, dance and magical displays done to the accompaniment of bata drumming. It would later provide an important model for the Yoruba traveling theatre of the 1940s of which the folk opera tradition was a major part.