Sunday, 7 December 2014

Creativity Moving Nigeria… A celebration mixed with soul-searching

By Anote Ajeluorou

IN has been remarked elsewhere that whenever President Goodluck Jonathan has a major national assignment to undertake is when the bombs go off, with their attendant toll on human lives. Last Friday was no exception, as the deadly bombs went off again in Kano just when Jonathan was set to host Nigeria’s creative industry to a celebratory dinner. He was to have told them how grateful the country was to their talent and creativity in opening up a vital but often neglected economic frontier for many young people to operate.
  But the bombs went off and Mr. President didn’t have the pleasure to perform this important task. It, therefore, fell to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Edem Duke, who stepped in. His became the unsavoury task of the undertaker, as it were, to bury the dead and the bloodied in faraway Kano at a Lagos event, meant to be a convivial, celebratory one. The galaxy of Nigeria’s creative people rose as one man to Minister Duke’s call to pay their last respect to the fallen. It a mood of sorrow, as the gaiety that had reigned before then died down.
  Having chastised the insurgents and reaffirmed the need for Nigeria to forge ahead, Duke then began to pay tribute to the undying spirit of Nigeria’s creative industry that had gathered. He said, “Mr President has asked me to express his appreciation to the creative community, as we define our country’s position in the comity of nations. That while we sit back in our comfort zones, these gathering of stars who are gathered in this room tonight, by their creativity, by their innate talent, with which nature and God has endowed them, have continued to win hearts and minds for Nigeria. Today, the Nigerian movie industry has become the big second largest in the world and it only took the men and women sitting in this room tonight to ensure that that is achieved.
  “Indeed, through our movie industry, jobs are created but more importantly we have broken the boundaries of geography; our movie industry has moved us into the homes of people in every continent of the world… Truly you have taken the collateral of our culture, you have moulded it into mysterious stories, epic stories, stories of love and you have won hearts and minds for Nigeria. And I say to my colleagues, it is only when culture gets there that business begins to come.
  “So, also need we remind ourselves of our entertainers who today have redefined music on the continent of Africa and beyond and today we are beginning to see all over the world, whether in New York or Las Vegas, Nigerian music is played in clubs and the rhythm is very compelling.
  “It was with pride that I saw earlier this year the work of Ben Enwonwu and others adorning no other place than Buckingham Palace. Only in the month of August was the President hosted to a Nigerian Cultural Night at the JF Kennedy Theatre in Washington DC... in the promenades of the Washington DC Garden is a museum, the architectural were taken from two arts works taken from Owo in the 19th century. So Nigeria’s creative community has moved Nigeria beyond the boundaries of our nation, beyond the boundaries of Africa.
  “Our writers, many of whom have their works translated into languages that they cannot even imagine and being taught in schools in Russia, Denmark, England and all over the world. Truly, truly, the Nigerian creative community has positioned itself as the primus inter pares amongst the different socio-economic platforms of this nation.
 I truly salute you and will want to say in the 100 years of Nigeria, no president, no administration has paid as much respect to this sector as President Jonathan. Culture is the defining element of our nation; it’s the most important commonwealth that we share. It’s the truly reflective element of a proud Nigerian people that you and I are”.

The performances
BUT Duke’s speech came after King Sunny Ade (KSA) had led a group of stars to perform his own anthem for Nigeria, ‘Gbe’, in which he exhorts all to lift Nigeria up to an enviable height. Then the National Anthem was next, and performed by several stars including Kate Henshaw, Segun Arinze, Aki and Pawpaw duo, Rita Dominic and others. Opening the main performance menu was soul singer, Timi Dakolo, who literally brought down the roof of Eko Hotel Convention Centre. With his signature national flag in tow, Dakolo marched on to the podium with the precision of a military man with a mission to brand patriotism fervor deeply on the breasts of every Nigerian.
  With neck veins standing out and a cracking voice laced with a fervour far higher mere patriotism mantra, Dakolo took the audience through a musical tour de force. So overwhelmed by Dakolo’s emotive rendition and the aptness of his lyrics in calling for healing of the national psyche, a large of part of the star-studded audience took up mini flags on their tables and surged towards the stage to solidarise with the crooner who obviously stole the hearts and minds of everyone by the sheer power of his supreme, superlative performance.
  Gospel crooner, Lara George came next and got some rocking in their seats, but it was another soul singer, Asa, who also stole hearts and minds with her callisthenic, bare-feet performance in a fusion of Yoruba and European tap dance style. Asa performed one of her new songs, ‘So beautiful’, which she said she did for her mother, and dedicates to all mothers out there. She was rousingly applauded, as she bowed out.
  After a short docu-film on the visual arts sector, renowned printmaker, painter and sculptor, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya took to the podium to make a case for the visual arts sector and what its needs were, urging Jonathan’s action on them. Onobrakpeya noted, “Thank you, Mr President. We appreciate your great interest in the creative sector and all that government has been doing to elevate our sector to a higher level, where they can continue to play an optimum role in the development of our country, Nigeria.  The occasion provides me the opportunity to plead with Mr. President to look into these areas, which need urgent attention to facilitate and accelerate the growth of the art sector.
  “Social welfare for the artist and grants to empower them to take care of their various associations and carry out their projects. The second is the building of infrastructure to showcase the artists’ works”.
  Sani Danja took the podium with his malamy hip-pop, and his swaying, waist-wriggling lady in tow. It was more noise than music, which soon it gave way for another malamy pop singer, Zak Azzay, who didn’t fare much better than Sani Danja. His torch didn’t shine as usual; so, too, was the music tepid and lacking in lustre. But Waje and Omawumi quickly came to rescue a bored audience. Theirs was the real deal, as they took on Onyeka Onwenu’s old lyrics to really rouse up the audience. Unable to keep still in her seat, Onwenu leapt onto stage to boost the two ladies. It turned out a marvelous trio doing ‘Ekwe’ to the delight of the audience; it was a triple star performance. When Waje and Onwenu stepped off the stage, Omawumi remained to dish out her affirmative tunes for the indefatigable Nigerian woman.
  A short interlude of music documentary followed before Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) President and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Prof. Remi Raji stepped up to also give a voice to the plight of Nigeria writers and how Mr. President can weigh in to put things right. Raji said, “Your Excellency, I want to use this opportunity to thank you for being physically present at the final burial ceremonies for ANA’s initiator and first President, late Emeritus Professor Chinua Achebe. You were there in Ogidi, Anambra State, in May, 2013; this we found uplifting and symbolic of your government’s support for the literary community when it mattered.
  “It is also on record that you gave wholesome support to the successful organisation of the “International Colloquium on Arrow of God at 50” which held between March and May, 2014, with presentations and performances in and around seven cities in the country.
  “So, just as we salute you for being Nigeria's number one Nollywood fan, we, the body of authors, in close associations with publishers, librarians, editors and booksellers, and other groups with interests in literacies, (we) desire further conversation with you on the ways and means of building structures and institutions for the benefit of Nigerian writing and Nigerian writers. You have been a supporter of Nigerian literature; the Bring Back the Book project, which has been very dear to you, is a mine of ideas in which ANA is most pleased and interested.
  “It must be put on record that Nigerian Literature has won all possible international literary awards available in the world: the Noma, the Orange Prize, the Man Booker, Caine Prize, the Fonlon-Nichols, and the Nobel Prize for Literature. This fact is a clear indication of what we must do in our own backyard.
  As artists, and artistes, we must heal by our creativities: we must continue to paint it; we must continue to sculpt it; we must dramatise it; we must continue to compose and score it; yes, and for Memory, we must WRITE it. Admit it or not, paint it, perform it, act it, install it, weave it or sing it, it must still be WRITTEN ABOUT. The centrality of writing for a nation for historical and scientific purposes cannot be overemphasised. It is for these reasons among others that this occasion becomes a good opportunity to reinvent our interest as a nation in the book and the knowledge industry.
  On this account, we would like to open a conversation on how to support the creative industry further, on how to support the Book industry, on how to support ANA as the largest body of writers on the African continent. Indeed, on how to build enduring structures and institutions for the generality of our country's creative industry.
  “May I use this opportunity also to call on those of us in the creative industry to renew our commitment to the cause of healing this nation of the malaise called "Insurgency". We must bring back the book to end the incendiary of ignorance in the land. We must, at the insistence of our resolve, continue to lend our voice to the call to bring back the book, bring back all our beauties to end the pockets of uglinesses around.
  “Finally, Your Excellency, Mr. President, permit me to conclude by thanking you specifically for the most recent proactive assistance, which you have rendered towards the hosting of this year's ANA Convention holding in Ibadan, Oyo State, from December 11 to December 14, 2014”.

WHILE visual and literary artists made demands that have largely been ignored over the years, Nollywood didn’t step up to make any. Not that it hasn’t any to make, but because like Prof. Raji rightly argued, President Jonathan’s support for Nollywood is ‘legendary’, as Nollywood’s number one fan. With N3 billion in its kitty, it perhaps would amount to Oliver Twist for the film industry to make another demand just yet. What others expect is for Jonathan to also show that he is the President of the other sectors and yield to their demands to set enduring structures such as endowment funds for the arts that is long overdue.
  Thereafter, an energetic dance group, DNMI took to the stage and performed dance skits of music pieces mostly from Christie Igbokwe, Onwenu’s ’Dancing in the sun’, Majek Fashek’s ‘Send down the rain’ and also from Mike Okri. Sunny Neji also took to the stage and did his stuff to complete a night of rousing entertainment that Boko Haram insurgents did its best to stop or dampen. But as the credo of characters from this industry has it, ‘the show must go on’, and it did just that. Perhaps, it was designed to shame those characters from hell that believe shedding the blood of innocent Nigerians will give them their own piece of heaven or whatever their goal is!

Music, docu-films, visual arts steal the show
OF the various sectors of the creative industry, photography, visual arts, the short film or docu-film and music benefited most on the night as against such sectors as literature and fashion. From the entrance, guests were treated to the visual presence of Nigeria’s men and women of creative spirit, past and present.
  In fact, it was a kaleidoscopic display of the history of Nigeria’s creative industry from time past till now. Late Ben Enwonwu’s photograph at work sculpturing the Queen was also on display. Perhaps, the only big figure missing was foremost filmmaker and former Chairman, Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), Chief Eddie Ugbomah otherwise all other personages made it.
  Going past the entrance, past the cocktail lounge was the art exhibition hall, with works of some of the masters and younger artists. So, from Onobrakpeya’s shrine-like installation to Mufu Onifade’s Araism to Kolade Oshinowo to Juliet Maja-Pearce and works of several other artists were on display to give a visual testament to the creative spirit in that sector. It was the first artistic taste for guests of Mr. President.
  Of course, the music also came on, perhaps the most energetic statement for the night.
  There were short documentary films. First on the night was a clip on the visual arts sector, with Onobrakpeya and Oshinowo speaking on the sector, how they got into it and how it has blossomed over the years in spite of the odds they faced convincing their parents, particularly Oshinowo, to study arts instead of medicine or other lucrative courses.
  Another documentary film dwelt on Nigerian music, its evolution, its varied sub-genres, the players and exponents from the 1950 to the moment. It’s a docu-film that any aspiring musicians and music historians will do well to own because of the richness of its background in tracing the journey of a sector.

NEVERTHELESS, some industry operators who were present at the dinner are still wondering what the meeting was all about. For them there was no policy statement from either Jonathan or Minister Duke. While some infrastructure developers in Nollywood have got grants to build cinemas houses and some directors have been sent to Colorado, U.S. to train as directors, producers, who are employers in the industry, are yet to be given their share of the grant so they could produce films. This leaves a huge question mark on both the grant initiative and the dinner.
  Book lovers and writers are also wondering what happened, as there was no definite statement on Mr. President’s pet project, Bring Back the Book, which he launched in 2011, and which has remained in abeyance ever since. Perhaps, another forum will provide opportunity for creative industry persons to get answers to these questions.

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