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Is Yoruba Language the Leading Dialogue for Storytelling in Nollywood?

The narrative of Nollywood to the World is championed by the new slates of local productions produced solely in the Yoruba language for the global audience.

Language plays a variety of roles in cinema. Language helps to create a solid representation of diverse cultures to a larger audience. For a country like Nigeria with over 200 million citizens and multiple languages, The film industry produces about 2,500 films yearly according to the National Bureau of Statistics Data on Nollywood in 2021. This growth in the number of productions by Nollywood filmmakers is affected by the current evolution in African cinema through global streaming, international collaborations and funding made available for filmmakers to tell authentic African stories.

As a result, dialogue gives meaning to the action seen on the screen. Dramatic action in a film is meaningless without dialogue or at least difficult to comprehend without it. The Yoruba Language currently serves as the leading language for storytelling in Nigeria. The narrative of Nollywood to the World is championed by the new slates of local productions produced solely in the Yoruba language for the global audience.

For one, Eleshin Oba, an Ebonylife/Netflix Co-production was selected for the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as a special recognition project. Eleshin Oba is the first Yoruba film project to be given such recognition at TIFF.

Locally in Nigeria, the Nollywood cinema has shifted the dynamics of her storytelling techniques towards local dialects. Within the last four years, Blockbuster films from Nollywood have been Language driven with Omo Ghetto The Saga, the current highest-grossing film in Nigeria heavily delivered in Yoruba. With this new wave, it is essential to note that every producer expects a return on investment and must decide the demographics of his/her audience before production.

As Yoruba films have become increasingly popular, so have language and film production. A symbiotic relationship between the Yoruba language and Yoruba film production is evident because of the history of Yoruba drama and its influence on Nigerian filmmaking through the Yoruba Traveling Theater Troupes.

Yoruba dramatists chose Yoruba as their language of choice during the days of the Traveling Theater Troupes. Hubert Ogunde is considered the pioneer of Nigerian folk opera and is called the father of Nigerian theatre. He established the first professional Nigerian theatrical company known as ‘The Ogunde Concert Party' in 1945’. The Garden of Eden and the Throne of God (1944, Opera), Strike and Hunger (1946, play), The Tiger’s Empire (1946, play), and Yoruba Ronu (1964, play) are his well-known works.

The Yoruba traveling theater troupes became popular across the southwestern region and beyond, exporting the Yoruba language to different regions of the country and across the continent of Africa. The accomplishment of the theater troupes was further championed by other filmmakers like Tunde Kelani who trained under the Yoruba Travelling theatre troupe with Hubert Ogunde. With Kelani, he carved out a niche of telling stories that cut across borders while remaining firmly rooted in Yoruba.

Tunde Kelani told stories like Saworide, Agogo Eewo, Thunderbolt(Magun), and many more in the late 90s and the cultural and language aspect of the film has remained relevant and still serves as a form of reference for Nigerian cinema to date.

Recently, there has been a dynamic shift in Yoruba drama production for a global audience by Nollywood in recent years, showing that the filmmakers have embraced African culture, and the Yoruba language has remained a constant throughout.

As far as video production is concerned, this adoption of Yoruba complies with the popular adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Essentially, the language evolved from the days of the traveling theater to the global scene. Thus, it is a winning formula that has been carried over from stage to screen.

Yoruba cinema is a remarkable example of popular culture self-assertion, addressing a mass audience directly and effectively. Because the Yoruba language has confidence in its influence on its audience and does not need to change to attract enough sequence, it speaks directly and effectively to a mass audience.

As far as using the Yoruba language in video film production is concerned, Yoruba video production seems satisfied with its current state of development. The audience also seems to be pleased with Yoruba language with recent films like Ayinla, For Maria, Ageshinkole, and most recently Anikulapo providing quality and entertainment. However, through their patronage, the industry can develop other stories beyond the Yoruba language to other languages in Nigeria to further promote diversity in our storytelling.

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