“Sango o gbodo pa mi, omo iya mi ni o, omo iya mi ni. Bi Sango ba pa awo, ile lo da o”, meaning “Sango must not kill me; he’s my kindred. If Sango kills an initiate, he’s a betrayer,” she sang in one of the scenes in the video film, ‘Yanponyanrin’ in her sonorous penetrating voice.
Sadly, it wasn’t the God of Thunder that robbed Nigerians, nay the world of Folake Aremu, better known as Orisabunmi on Tuesday, January 5. It was death, the end of all mortals at the relatively young age of 60. The news was like a thunderbolt of a clear blue sky. It was shocking, especially coming some four months after the passing of her mentor and ex-husband, Chief Jimoh Aliu, who brought her into the limelight.
But for the late Aliu, also known as Aworo, Nigerians would not have been treated to the lovely chants and incantations of Orisabunmi in productions including ‘Arelu’, ‘Yanponyanrin’, ‘Fopomoyo’ and ‘Oluweri Magboojo’ among others.
Besides, her playing the eponymous heroine in these productions against the malevolent Fadeyi Oloro (Ojo Arowosafe) reaffirmed to a generation of Nigerians that good would always triumph over evil. Time and again, she handed resounding defeats to the larger than life Fadeyi Oloro in the productions, to the delight of viewers who had always wondered who would tame the ‘evil’ man. She also affirmed the Yoruba cultural belief that ‘okunkun ko le bori imole’ ( darkness will never overcome light) with her roles as priestess and comforter.
Who would forget how she dealt with Fadeyi in ‘Arelu’, that monstrously popular TV series that grounded the southwest to a halt whenever it was shown in the 80s? Ha, Orisabunmi was a talent! And not only was her acting beautiful, but she was also lovely with a petite frame and fair complexion.
Born in Ilu Ola, Kwara State on October 10, 1960, Orisabunmi attended Ola Primary School and Eruku y Commercial College. Her latent acting talent was further polished by Aworo who met her while working as a teacher in Kwara State. Chants and incantations came naturally to her, and she deployed them effectively in productions having been born into a family with a masquerading history.
“My father’s family is prominent as masqueraders while my mother’s family is into Osun deity. I know so much about the two. I lived with my grandmother. That helps me to be grounded in the knowledge of traditional worship and oratory rendition. I was born into it,” she explained her unique gifts in an interview with a national newspaper last year.
Orisabunmi married the much older Aworo six years after they met, but it didn’t work out well. They later separated but remained good friends until Aworo’s passing last September. “Chief Jimoh Aliu was my husband. We had fulfilled our time as a couple. Beyond that, he was a father figure to me. He mentored me in the film and theatre industry. All I can say about him is that he was a good father. I cannot forget him and what he stood for. Today, people know me as Orisabumi. That is as a result of the grace of God and the goodwill of Baba Jimoh Aliu. God gave me fame through him,” she said in the same interview.
When Aworo celebrated his 85th birthday at Jogor Centre, Ibadan in 2019, Orisabunmi was one of the prominent guests at the event. She not only attended but gave guests a peep into the past when she and Fadeyi re-enacted a scene from ‘Arelu’ live on stage.
Though the winner of the Best Nigerian Actress Award from 1986 to 1992, infrequently appeared in movies of recent, she remained a toast of colleagues audiences, with an outpouring of grief following her demise online and offline.
National President of the Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), one of the first to announce her demise, described it as a significant loss.
”O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? It is so sad we lost a priceless jewel, a scarce gem in the Nigerian film industry, Chief Mrs Folakemi Aremu aka Orisabunmi to the cold hands of death last night. Though good people die every day, yet not all of them affirm for us the goodness in humanity the way Orisabunmi did. She passed away, leaving a legacy of positive experiences for anyone who took the time to know her. If oratory is the masterful art, the world will surely miss Orisabunmi for her talent,” he said in a statement.
Another icon, Prince Jide Kosoko also described her passing as a terrible blow to the theatre. “No doubt, Folake was a thoroughbred actress. She was an amazon in the industry, and we respected and valued her for her contribution. She gave her all to her career, and she was recognised for her worth.”
Though she’s gone, taken by God who gifted her to the world, real artists like Orisabunmi never die. She lives on in her art, and in hearts.