Duro Ladipo, (born Dec. 18, 1931, Osogbo, Nigeria—died Mar. 11, 1978, Osogbo), Nigerian dramatist whose innovative folk operas incorporating ritual poetry and traditional rhythms performed on indigenous instruments were based on Yoruba history.
As a teacher in a church school at Osogbo in 1960, Ladipo scandalized church members by including bata drums in the Easter cantata that he had composed for the church and was thereafter obliged to seek a secular outlet for his musical interests. In 1962 he founded the Mbari Mbayo Club, and for its inauguration his new theatre company performed his first opera, Oba Moro (“Ghost-Catcher King”). He premiered Oba Koso (“The King Did Not Hang”) at the club’s first anniversary in 1963 and a year later introduced Oba Waja (“The King is Dead”). All three operas are based on the history of the Oyo kingdom and are available in English in Three Yoruba Plays (1964).
Yoruba operas prior to Ladipo’s were mostly moral exemplars based on Bible stories or folktales. Ladipo, by contrast, wished his operas to be reliable cultural and historical records, and he was painstaking in his pursuit of authenticity. In order to achieve greater dignity and dramatic impact, he dispensed with the traditional dances and the opening and closing “glees” usually employed for bracketing performances in Yoruba operas. For Oba Koso, his most successful work, he received a Nigerian government citation for cultural achievement in 1963. The work also proved to be popular throughout Europe and the United States.