Obituary: Biyi Bandele
By Michelle Mojisola Savage
On the 7th of August, 2022, the creative industry was struck by devastating news - Biyi Bandele’s demise. Regarded as one of the finest writers of African descent, Bandele enjoyed an excellent career spanning theatre, fiction, film, radio, and journalism. His daughter, Temi Bandele, announced his death via a Facebook post. He was just 54.
Born in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, his dreams of becoming a writer were ignited by the stories told by his father, Solomon Bandele-Thomas, a veteran of the Burma campaign in World War II, who was brought back from the war in a straitjacket and had PTSD for the rest of his life. Coupled with the death of his brother in the Nigerian Civil War, his father’s boisterous narratives inspired his most critically acclaimed novel, ‘Burma Boy’ (2007).
Bandele began his literary career at a young age, winning his first short story competition at 14. While studying Dramatic Arts at Obafemi Awolowo University in 1989, he won the International Student Playscript competition with an unpublished play titled ‘Rain.’ The award gave way for more, as he won the British Council Lagos Award in the same year for an anthology titled ‘Waiting for Others.’ Eager to make his name known beyond the shores of Nigeria, he accepted a one-year scholarship to continue his studies in London when he was 22.
‘Marching for Fausa’ (1993) and ‘Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought’ (1994), both published and produced at the Royal Court Theatre, were the plays that brought Bandele to the limelight. He remained with the Royal Court Theatre for several years, churning out play after play, including ‘Two Horsemen,’ which was selected as the best new play at the 1994 London New Play Festival.
Bandele authored a number of novels, including ‘The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond’ (1991) and ‘The Sympathetic Undertaker and Other Dreams’ (1993). The books were well received and praised for their excellent dramatic dialogue and humor. However, ‘Burma Boy’ (2007) remains his best-known novel. Lauded for providing a voice for previously unheard-of Africans, the book became the first novel to depict the experiences of Black African soldiers who fought in the second world war.
After making his mark in the literary world, Bandele moved to the film industry. His first film as a director was ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ (2013), a movie adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel of the same name. The movie was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was reported to have received “a rapturous reception.” His next film, ‘Fifty,’ was included in the 2015 London Film Festival. At that point, Bandele was the Nigerian king of international premieres. In 2018, he directed a TV special documentary for BBC titled ‘FELA - Father of Afrobeat’ and released his self-produced documentary - ‘African States of Independence’ (2010).
Moving on, he directed the third season of the popular MTV drama series ‘Shuga.’ And in 2022, he achieved a significant milestone in his career by directing the first Nigerian Netflix Original series, ‘Blood Sisters.’ The successful series premiered on Netflix’s top ten global list of TV shows, recording 11 million views in its first week.
‘Elesin Oba, the King’s Horseman’ an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s 1975 play - ‘Death and the King’s horseman’ was his final work. Unfortunately, he will be absent for its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2022.
Bandele told his stories beautifully in the short time he was given. While the world mourns his untimely loss, we must take comfort in his legacy, which will live on through his works.
‘Burma Boy’ is available to borrow from our library at 196 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. Have you read any of his books or watched his movies? Tell us about them in the comments section.
Michelle Mojisola Savage
is a writer and Engineering
student at the University of
Lagos. Her interests include
playing the guitar, strong
political arguments and
talking to dogs.