The Arts

May 1, 2023

Oviasogie: The fascinating world of US-based culture icon

Oviasogie: The fascinating world of US-based culture icon

By Ozioruva Aliu

To Osadebamwen Oviasogie, culture cannot be divorced from the moulding of a man’s character. Culture is the totality and wellbeing of a man.

For this, Oviasogie, who is a Benin culture ambassador, believes that man must bear the burden or otherwise of his cultural beliefs and associations.

It is for this reason that since his formative years he has been so consumed with the Benin culture that today he is an iconic and reference figure in the propagation of the Benin culture through playwriting, songs and traditional dance.

It was towards this end that the US-based singer and dancer hosted dance groups in Benin City a few days ago with the theme, “Suya Night” where cultural groups from Oredo, Egor and Ikpoba Okha Local Government Areas participated in the carnival-like atmosphere.

The director of Osadebamwen Oviasogie Cultural Organisation & YouTube channel called Edo Tradomusic, believes that a man is a product of his culture: “It all started one night in 1969 at late Chief Osarenren, the then Obadesuwa of Benin Kingdom house, Benin City during Eho (Ne Ana Ri’eho) performance at Igue festival. I was living with my auntie who happened to be the wife of the chief. This particular night I got excited and out of nowhere entertained the guests with singing and drumming in part of the night. It was there that an old man who was one of the guests at the event said to me: ‘You will be going overseas with this talent,’ Oviasogie recalled.

“I started performing in 1971during our graduation ceremony at Seventh Day Adventist School, Benin City, where I acted as a chief and performed the Ugie dance. Due to lack of resources, I was home-schooled via overseas correspondence to obtain my GCE. After training in the old Staff Training Centre in Benin City, I got a job as a typist in one of the Ministries.

“In 1980, I was hired by the Benin Traditional Council, Oba Palace, Benin City as a typist. I was granted leave to go back to school in 1986. This time, Staff Training Centre was now an affiliate of Auchi Polytechnic to study secretarial duties and it was there I got my OND and became a confidential secretary.”

Since then, Oviasogie has not looked back. Now, based in Maryland, USA, with a troupe, he has upped the game, performing folktales, Benin evocative songs and traditional genres that appeal to a wide audience in the US. Oviasogie tells the story of how he was able to stamp his presence on the world stage:

“In the early 70s, I lived in Iguobazuwa for a short time. While there, I met one Mr. Omere who was working with the Ministry of Agriculture. Mr. Omere invited me to help form a cultural group in his name, having seen me perform with the then Madam Iyen Cultural Group in Iguobazuwa.

“Needless to say, both groups became competitive. When I moved back to Benin, I joined the Ewase cultural group led by Mr. Peter Osunbor of Ore-Oghene Street, Benin City. It was during my time with the Ewase cultural group that Mr. John Imafu invited me to form the Imafu Cultural Group with him. When things were no longer going very well, I left Imafu Cultural Group to join the famous Edo Cultural Group International of Benin in 1975.

“Madam Igiehon was the daughter of Chief Igiehon, the then Eson N’Ibiwe of Benin. I immediately informed Mr. Sunny Obasuyi about it. To cut the long story short, we went to Lagos to have a meeting with Mr. Igiehon. In 1996, Mr. Igiehon decided to hire another person in Lagos, Mr. Ben, to put some artistes from various parts of the country together for the overseas trip. I was the only one that was selected from the Inneh Theatre Troupe. The trip did not work out as planned in 1996. In 1997, Mr. Igiehon invited us again to camp in Lagos where eventually we all traveled in May 1997 to the United States of America.

Among the challenges faced by traditional artistes, according to him, is that Nigerians do not like what they have. “They prefer other people’s culture. That’s why our people do not appreciate our own.”

Many, he said, look down on traditional artistes “as if we are not human. They want us to sing their praises for nothing. Lots of people believe that cultural artistes are not educated. But abroad, they believe in your potential whether you are a secondary school or Ph.D. holder.”
For him, bringing together artistes from the US to Nigeria in 2021 to perform with him on 50th anniversary as a performing artist in Benin City, was one of his best moments.

In all these, he is driven by the fact that he derives enjoyment and entertainment from performance. Once on stage, he showcases African art and culture to the world. “Making people happy is one of the driving forces behind my performance. I derive joy when I see people smiling when I am performing, and I am happy to know that some of my songs relate to people’s problems,” he summed.