I walked into the cinema with some knowledge of Ayinla Omowura, the legendary Apala artist with a notorious temper who ruled the airwaves in the late 1980s. I was curious to see what parts of his intriguing story would make it into the Ayinla project envisioned by producer, Jade Osiberu and veteran filmmaker, Tunde Kelani who has maintained that this is not a biopic.
I settled in with my popcorn and for almost two hours, I was totally transported to a simpler time where Apala music reigned supreme, cars were the exclusive preserve of the rich and black and white TVs were the order of the day. Here are five reasons why Ayinla is one of the best Nollywood films of 2021:
Good writing is the foundation of any good movie and Ayinla has that in spades. Inspired by the life of the Apala music legend, the story kicks off at a pivotal moment in Ayinla’s life. He is at the height of his career. He is well known all over town, women are falling over themselves to be with him and the media is intrigued.
It’s no wonder Ajala, a popular show promoter, wants to take the Apala musician to London. Hesitant at first, the artist eventually changes his mind after seeing the benefits to his career and the two start working on his first international tour.
Like the real Ayinla, the movie lead is a larger-than-life character with a massive ego who refuses to be held back by the fact that he is illiterate. He surrounds himself with people who can read and truly appreciate his talent while he focuses on making compelling music that is socially conscious yet makes you want to get up and move your body every time.
The rest of the movie, which took three years to make, tells the story of a talented but hotheaded man whose short temper leads to his unnecessary but predicted death. The real Ayinla famously predicted his death six months before it occurred during a band rehearsal. In the movie, the character is warned to steer clear of trouble.
Like the heroes in classical Greek tragedies, the lead character’s Achilles heel— his rash nature and love for women — ends up being the cause of his downfall.
Playing a real person, a well-known and beloved name at that, is no easy feat but Adedimeji Lateef steps up to the plate. He embodies the role so much that Lateef stops existing and Ayinla takes over. I forget about Sugar Rush and his other movies and simply accept him as Ayinla for one hour and 50 minutes.
It’s not so much in the verbal acting and singing. It’s in the nuances and seemingly little things like his gestures and facial expressions. It’s in the ‘swagalicious,’ arrogant yet charming way he carries himself or how he commands the stage when he performs.
It’s in the quick shift from having his ego massaged to anger when he is disturbed by an eager journalist played by Ade Laoye or how he smiles with his entire being in the scene where the masquerade visits his home. Lateef becomes Ayinla and it’s beautiful to watch.
He is not the only believable actor on the screen. Veteran Bimbo Manuel does his thing as a newspaper editor. Kunle Afolayan plays a music producer well. Debo Adebayo (Mr Macaroni) does a surprisingly good job as Ayinla’s band manager.
Omowumi Dada is brilliant in her Helen of Troy role and Bimbo Ademoye shines too. Tunde Kelani makes a Stan Lee cameo. Most of the cast interpreted their roles well enough.
Sometimes you watch a movie and the music placement is all over the place which can have a jarring effect on the audience. This was not the case with Ayinla.
Every song is well placed during the movie as it should be in a movie about Ayinla the icon and the music that made him. The music helps the plot along by introducing a character or offering insight into Ayinla’s head.
There is a scene where Ayinla answers a journalist with a blend of Ayinla Omowura’s “Eni to ba ro ibi Simi, ibi Aba ooo, Iya yin ni won ma jigbe” (Whoever thinks evil for me will be faced with the same evil, it is your mothers that will be kidnapped as you’ve wished). It’s hilarious and right for the scene.
Ayinla was born in Itoko, Abeokuta so it’s just perfect that the movie was made in his birth state. The landscape serves as an amazing backdrop to the story and lends credibility to the entire project.
The red, untarred roads, mountains, and architectural designs of the houses add to the sense of the nostalgia that comes with a movie set in a particular time.
Attention to detail
How many times have we seen a housegirl with well-manicured nails in our Nollywood movies? Too many times to count. So I was cautiously optimistic about this movie. However, I was blown away by the attention to detail.
The damask and adire, makeup, hair, drinks, parties, old Mercedes and Volvo vehicles truly reflect life in the 1980s. Even the old beer bottles and the graffiti painted on the walls of the beer parlour were accurate.
The set pieces inside the homes from the black and white TV to the pieces on the shelves are a true representation of what Nigerian homes looked like then.
Despite being a non-native Yoruba speaker, I could tell that the filmmakers paid attention to the metaphors, dictions and general language.
Despite the phenomenal acting, there are a few scenes where you can see that Lateef’s lips aren’t in sync with the music. There are a few other missteps but they can be overlooked as they do not take anything from the brilliance that is the Ayinla movie.
Tunde Kelani is known for taking his time with movies and I am so glad this is the case because it clearly paid off. Ayinla is not a movie that was rushed through. It’s a project that had some research, love, work, time, and money put into it and I am grateful for that.
Now and again, you come across a Nollywood movie that revives your faith in the local movie industry and Ayinla is definitely one of those.