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‘I tell tales to lift African personality, culture’

Aiye – ko – ooto?

Aiye Ko Ooto is the pen name of a U.S.-based Nigerian poet, playwright, and philosopher also known as Cash Oladele, who says he is at a crossroads between mortals and gods.
A story architect, his creative works highlights the true Yoruba culture projecting its beauty and dynamics. In this interview, he speaks about the essence of his person and works.

Tell us briefly about yourself, especially the difference between Yemi Onadele, Cash Onadele, and Aiye – ko – ooto?
I’ AM 59, married, a graduate of the University of Ibadan, UI, and the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.

I work as an architect and as a hobby writer of tradition. Yemi Onadele, you can say is my childhood; Cash Onadele, are years I spent learning the many challenges of life. Aiyeko-ooto is my current phase of life. In this phase, in humility, I feel compelled by the deities to weave verses and craft tales for the rest of humanity.

From your bio, your background is in the sciences, how did you transmute to a poet, playwright, and philosopher? Has it always been there?
I think it would make a good story if I were to say it has always been there but that would not be true. I left the literature class in the ninth grade (Form 3). I could not stand the colonial Macbeth and Romeo stories. I felt it was a waste of my precious playtime. I stuck to sciences up to my Master’s degree in Agronomy. The fantastic story is that, in 2014, I visited Nigeria and fell into this fount of poetry beyond my understanding. I sent three of those poems to my friend, Remi Raji, professor of English at UI, who encouraged me. I started my sleep-less nights from there.

Your works are from the Nigerian culture especially the Yoruba folklore and tales. What influenced this?
Simple really. I spent most of my time (until age 12) with my grandfather and villagers in Odo-alamo, Ijebu-Igbo. When the moons covered the dark skies, Grandpa Adepitan told many tales of Yoruba kings and kingdoms. I will get to write some of them soon.

As a playwright, particularly one who lives in diaspora, who is your target, and what do you intend to achieve with your works?
At present, I aim to reach anyone who enjoys African culture. Anyone, who sees and appreciates the richness of African history. Someone, who believes in the unity of humanity and enjoys a well-told story. It is my dream to right a wrong. The wrong is that our culture is savage and to be forgotten, or one race is superior to the black race. My narratives tend to bring different races together to share the story space. I know this is not popular but I believe in equality and unity of all races.

Are you championing some sort of the renaissance of Yoruba literary works in the mold of a D.O Fagunwa as there is some sort of similarity between your works and his?
I wish I can claim such a legend. I believe in the African story renaissance. The Yoruba place is what I know. I wish to share the richness of our culture and heroes, past and present.

Every writer derives inspiration and motivation from a source. Where does yours come from?
You would not believe but nightly, I am visited by deities. Mostly, they deliver inspiration for the stories I tell. They compel me to write these stories. They keep me up while others are enjoying their good night’s sleep. Seriously, I have no muse that I know of, neither have I read enough to be inspired by a particular writer. I can’t explain how I got here. Truly, I feel compelled to write these stories and verses.

Beyond writing, are you interested in the production of your works on stage and on film?
I relish the days we can get the published works, in one shape, or form, made into theatrical plays, TV soaps, and feature films. Where the African family and the larger world can watch and appreciate the greatness of our culture in stories captured and produced for their entertainment.

What is your current assessment of the literary arts in Nigeria?
I think we have a lot more to do. Our stories need to be more authentic. Our production, comparably, better quality. Our culture, to be better represented. Our actors, directors, crews, better trained and paid. We need more investors and big thinkers who can make big-budget works a reality, increase box office, capacities, and jobs in the arts.

Which are your favourite authors and works?
Of course, I cannot remember all their works, but I like the works of Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwesi, Femi Osofisan, Hubert Ogunde, D.O Fagunwa, Ola Rotimi, Moses Olaiya, Zulu Sofola, and Chinua Achebe.

Which is your favourite work and why?
Hubert Ogunde – Yoruba Ronu. It was at Obisesan cinema in Ibadan that I first encountered it. That play was philosophical, poetic, and prophetic.

When are you coming to Nigeria for a roadshow and or exposition of your works?
Hmm. After the pandemic restrictions are removed and there is an opportunity to safely navigate the geography. Hopefully, not too long from now.

What are your goals this year?
This year, I am working towards six deeply layered short stories, which, in the future, may be translated into feature-length screenplays.