It has been a rain of congratulatory messages for the world-class stage and screen icon Taiwo Ajai-Lycett since she clocked 80 on February 3. Messages have continued to pour in from all over the world for the thespian, poet, philanthropist, motivational speaker and educationist whose passion for the performance art is glaringly boundless.
Fans, colleagues- both young and old- friends, contemporaries and family members of the Matriarch of performance art all took to their various social media handle to eulogise the quality and skilful performer who has exhibited a rare combination of hard work and an inalienable commitment to her first and what she says has remained her only love-acting.
And how does it feel to be 80? “I feel great that I am alive,” she replied. “I am happy that I am alive and strong and that I am living my life and I am enjoying it. I truly enjoy being alive and having young people around me. When they are around you, you feel like you are their age. They learn from you and you also learn from them,’’ she enthused.
Meanwhile, her younger colleague and notable stage and screen actress Joke Silva took to her social media handle to celebrate the ‘Auntie TAL’ (as she is fondly called by younger colleagues) whose career has spanned over five decades.
In her only Instagram post on Wednesday, Joke described the actress as the “MATRIARCH of the ACT” and one of the shoulders on which her generation of storytellers stand.
“Today, we celebrate the matriarch of the act. Mama T as we fondly call her…one of the shoulders on which my generation of storytellers stand and stand tall. Maaama is 80 years young today; I tap into your grace Mama T., your strength, your resilience, your fierce intelligence and your faith in this country no matter how hard. Enjoy your day ma. Here is to many more years in good health, sound mind and amazing abundance,” Joke wrote.
Foremost arts advocacy organisation, the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) also felicitated with Auntie TAL who sits on the Board of CORA as matron, mentor and member. CORA in a statement signed by its programme officer Samuel Osaze described the matriarch as a vital force behind the dreams and passions that drive CORA and its various activities.
“We indeed cannot quantify her contribution and support to the progress of the organisation this past three decades. It is thus with pleasure that CORA Working Committee (CWC) has dedicated the entire 2021 programme season to celebrating the illustrious life and career of the enigmatic matriarch of the Nigeria stage and screen.”
Born in Lagos on the 3rd of February 1941, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett or TAL for short had her early education in Lagos, Nigeria, and was a Pupil Teacher before proceeding to the UK in 1960 in search of the ‘Golden Fleece’. While in the UK, the icon of the PAN- Africa stage and screen worked in several organisations, including the General Post Office and the Young & Rubicam Advertising Agency, UK. While at this, TAL ensured that she combined working with further education.
A trained photojournalist, former Associate Editor of the London based Africa Magazine and publisher of the defunct Africa Woman, a political, economic and social magazine for Black and African men and women in the Diaspora, TAL revealed that she studied at major nights schools and at Pitman’s College, London before attending the Christine Shaw School of Beauty Science and Cosmetology, London; the North Staffordshire College of Technology (now Keele University) and graduated with the Higher National Diploma in Business Studies in 1969 at the Hendon College of Technology.
A member of numerous professional organisations, including the Black Programming Consortium, USA; The British Actors’ Equity; the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) and the National Association of Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), TAL who was in 2006 awarded the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), started her acting career at the prestigious Royal Court Theatre London, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). This was between 1969 and 1976. She revealed that during this stage of her professional life, she combined acting on the UK stage, television and films with print and electronic journalism.
Recipient of numerous industry and society awards including the Heritage and Honours Award of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, TAL, a Fellow of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists has received several other awards, including the Amazon Award – for Outstanding Contributions to Nation Building in 2002 and the Lagos State Government’s Merit Award in Recognition of Meritorious Service Towards the Advancement of Education in the Alimoso Local Government Education District of Lagos State in 2005. That award came for TAL for founding TALHouse private School, which has bred so many young people.
A broadcaster per excellence who for several years served as the weekly presenter for the BBC’s magazine programme Calling Nigeria, TAL has a successful career in singing and voice over. To prepare herself for that phase of her career, TAL attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, City Literary Institute, (City Lit.) and the Dance Centre in London where she studied acting, music, voice, singing, ballet, modern and contemporary dance. She is also professionally trained in front and behind the camera, qualifying as a television producer and presenter at The London School of Television Production.
TAL’s career as a performer started on stage. She recalled that it started in 1971 at the Bublin Theatre Festival with her appearance in Conor Cruise O’Brien’s Murderous Angels and since then she has not looked back as she has performed in some of the world’s famous theatres such as Royal Opera House, Hampstead Theatre Club and at the Palace Theatre, Westcliffe. She has also appeared in numerous UK Television drama productions for the BBC (TV & Radio Drama), ATV, Granada and Thames Television. She had a film appearance in the film A Warm December, starring and directed by iconic Oscar winner, Sidney Poitier and several television appearances including Some Mothers Do ‘av ‘em and Crown Court.
Back home in Nigeria, TAL found home on the live stage and on screen. Some of her stage appearances include, Song of a Goat, Death and the King’s Horseman, The Lion and the Jewel, The Divorce, The King Must Dance Naked, Wole Oguntokun’s The Inheritors, Shylock, Laolu Ogunniyi’s Winds Against My Soul, Jab Adu’s The Young Ones, The Honourable, For Better for Worse, Rasheed Gbadamosi’s The Mansion and Hear Word.
Founder and President of Talhouse Worldwide Limited, a firm she established after the death of her husband Thomas Aldridge Lycett in 1993 for the promotion of the Arts and the training and nurturing young artists, except for one or two quality Nollywood productions like Tunde Kelani’s Dazzling Mirage that has had the benefit of her expert portrayal, TAL has not featured in a core Nollywood production and she explained in an earlier interview that it is deliberate.
“There is so much that is going on in Nollywood that I don’t agree with. For instance, most of them don’t spend enough time to research and gather good scripts and the technicalities in some of their productions are just below average. Besides, a lot of the producers and directors don’t seem to know their right from their left. But that is not to say that they all bad. No, we have some very brilliant people in the industry who are trying their best to change things and I think people like that need encouragement especially by government. Government needs to do more by investing in the sector and creating the enabling environment,’’ she said.