Kemi Akinyele, the Founder of Edatika Academy, a cultural wedding and traditional marriage events coordinating outfit, in this interview with NKASIOBI OLUIKPE, sheds light on what Alaga Iduro/Ijoko is all about. Excerpts:
What do you do for a living?
I am a traditional marriage compere, in Yoruba known as Alaga Iduro/Ijoko. I am the Founder of Edatika Events. We coordinate traditional marriages and we do engagement packaging, that is bride price; we do Eru Iyawo, we purchase things for the bride and decorate her; we write engagement letters.
That kind of sounds traditional! Does it thrive here in the metropolis or the villages?
It thrives in the cities, villages and outside the country.
As long as there are weddings and you know without the traditional marriage where you pay the bride price, the wedding is really not complete in this part of the world.
Do you really need to have a deep knowledge of traditional values before being able to succeed in the trade?
Yes, you need to understand cultural values; you need to learn folk songs, apart from that of your state of origin; their culture and a bit of their language.
So, what exactly does it require to be a good Alaga Iduro/Ijoko?
I always believe it’s a proper training, in-depth knowledge of different types of traditional songs, proverbs and personal development in other areas of knowledge.
Where did you personally get these trainings from?
There are Alaga academies. I also run one, the Edatika Academy.
So, you must go for training. There is no way you can do without being trained to get to understand the procedures.
How do you develop yourself since it is not a course of study in the higher institutions?
Google is my friend. If I want to have different views from other people, I go online. You know there are different aspects to what we do. You also get to know about different kinds of dressing/attires.
Now, with the rate at which civilization/modernization is forcing itself on our tradition, how do you think we can best preserve our culture from being eroded?
First of all, for the elderly ones, we try to speak more of our dialects and that is another way we work as traditional comperes.
All we try to do for even people who are watching, I mean the guests now, is to impart traditional knowledge so that people can also learn from us. At Edatika Academy, we put culture first.
The songs, the traditional greetings and in a funny way, we entertain as well as impart that knowledge of culture into the people.
Do you also compere for non-Yoruba couple, I mean, is there an English version of what you do?
Yes, because it is not all the couples that understand their dialect. People who are based abroad and come home to pay their bride prices, some have lost touch and they just have to communicate. At times, you have inter-tribal marriages, like Yoruba marrying Edo and vice versa. You just learn to speak a bit of the languages or you can get somebody to interpret it for you. But we still do the coordination.
But yours appears to be a non-tangible kind of business. Do you really need an office space to conduct your business?
Yes, you do. The clients will need to meet you; we do rehearsals, and we do training.
How about a workforce or is it a one man show?
It is not a one man show. We have backups; when I am leading, I have people behind singing along with me. I have my drummers, cameramen, admin and some other people. It is not just me alone. On the average, I have six people working regularly for me.
This is in addition to the temporary ones I engage when I have events.
So, how would you describe the patronage? Are people actually disposed to engaging the services of an Alaga Iduro/Ijoko?
As long as there are weddings, there will always be the need to engage an Alaga Iduro/Ijoko. Then, it also depends on the time of the year. Between January and April, there is no much activities but you can still do at least one every weekend, that is four in a month. But towards the end of the year, and most especially December, you have a lot of people trying to get married.
There are always weddings within this period; then you can afford to do back to back. So if you are known for quality service you will be busy from Thursday till Sunday. In fact, on some occasion, you might even have two events in a day or even more than two at times. That is why we do team work.
If there is a need for you to travel outside your state of residence, would you do that?
With all pleasure, even outside the country!
What are the challenges of Alaga Iduro/Ijoko kind of business?
I enjoy it quite well. The only challenges I can tell that is inherent therein has to do with the issue of African time. They tell you the event is for 10, it ends up beginning at 12. And as a compere, if they tell you it’s 10, you must get there quite early before the stipulated time.
Since there are times you do have two events in a single day, how do you juggle between them?
You calculate the time. That is why we have a team. If the events want to clash, you have your team at the other side standing in for you until you come.
How do you think people can fully become conscious of the trade so as to key into it?
First and foremost, they need to have an idea of what it is because if you don’t know what it is all about there is no way you can key in into it. But I must also tell you that a good number of people are conscious of it. Truth is, you cannot do without us. If you truly want your wedding/traditional marriage to be interesting, you don’t have a choice but to invite an Alaga Iduro/Ijoko.
Are your charges not scaring?
Different individuals with different prices! You get some cheap while some are expensive, it all depends; the location also determines the price. Sometimes, you may need to lodge in a hotel, sometimes, you may need to travel. If I am to travel to South Africa, you don’t expect me to charge the same amount with what I charge here in Lagos; and the price in Lagos is not the same thing as that of Ibadan or same as in Ife.
Now, for how long have you been doing this?
I started last year, 2018. It’s just been one year.
Before then, what were you doing and why did you have to leave that for Alaga Iduro/Ijoko job?
I was into bead making, selling beads and makeup accessories. I was also into supplies and farm produce sales. But I wasn’t enjoying any of them.
I wasn’t just there; people don’t pay you on time; you can’t go back to the market because your money is tied up somewhere; before you know it, your capital is gone.
But I just got inspired to do this, added to the fact that I grew up in the village with my grandparents. There, in the village, I used to organise traditional and cultural performances for weddings and burials; even during end of the year parties in schools, I was always leading out the cultural dance group. Apart from the African time issue, I just don’t have problems with what I am doing, I enjoy every bit of it. I feel fulfilled.