By Anote Ajeluorou
When the cast and crew of Kakadu the Musical took its bow on Sunday night after a superb performance at Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, audience in the packed hall had occasion to feel a sense of nostalgia about a once glorious past lost in the hands of inept politicians. Perhaps the only thing that further accentuated the sadness of the audience was the timeless misbehaviour of the political class; it first led to the eclipse of that unforgettable era of social and cultural awakening shortly after independence. What is worse, they are yet to learn any useful lessons ever since. 53 years after, the politicians are still hell bent on sinking the sheep of state with their corruptive tendencies, a practice that has been raised to an art form in recent years.
Indeed, if there’s anyone that needs to see Kakadu the Musical for the mental purgation it offers, it is precisely Nigeria’s politicians, that group of denizen that has behaved worse than his forebears at independence for plunging the young nation into a fratricidal war that has made Nigeria’s journey to nationhood ever difficult and unfocused since then. It’s also for this reason that Kakadu the Musical must be taken to Abuja and all the state capitals as a recommended political re-engineering textbook, which the country’s rulers must see and study for sensible political and leadership education. They need to see what Nigeria lost, what they put the country and its hapless citizens through and then device new means to rescue the country from their own excesses and lack of foresight. These are what Kakadu, a cultural showpiece (often taken for granted by the political class for lack of understanding of what culture is capable of delivering) can offer – real time re-education for redemption!
As lights open, the audience is thrown back to the 1960s, shortly after independence and the newspapers are replete with reports of corruption in high places. But this after a burst of Kakadu’s theme music and energetically choreographed dances, and a typical Lagos bursting street scene in a typical early morning ritual – the akara seller, the newspaper vendor, the traffic warden all at work, the newly arrived to ‘Lagos in a time of infinite possibilities’, as the musical’s apt sub-theme reminds all, in search of the golden fleece!
Then the story of four friends – the engineer, Emeka (Chidi Okeke), the journalist, Kola (Pius Amolo, aka Bongolipso), the newly arrived, Osahon (Onyeka Okuafiaka) and the dandy, rich playboy, Dapo (Tom Godwin). Like all young men, the talk is on how to access the women and enjoy the pleasures Lagos has to offer. Kola offers to show Osahon around the only thriving nightclub in town, Kakadu; it’s the place of choice even though Emeka and Dapo are reluctant, but for different reasons.
There were also the women to appropriately compliment the men, women so in vogue and abreast of their time they matched the men for whatever they had to offer in the intoxicating nightlife of Kakadu. So, from the mermaid, irresistible Amonia (Zara Udofia) to love-struck Bisi (Damilare Kuku), impressionable Enoh (Kemi-Lala Akindolu) and coyly Hassana (Prisca Enyi); they were the women that made Kakadu the honeypot of pleasure that men flocked for fun.
At Kakadu nightclub, it’s welcome to the heady, intoxicating 1960s, with its dose of optimism, of a country heading into the future with sure, firm feet. Run by Lugard Da Rocha or Lord Lugard for short (Benneth Ogbeiwi), Kakadu is where you needed to be if you lived in Lagos of the 1960s, with its sassy, enchanting air made even magical by Lord Lugard. He is the ultimate impresario, helped by the Flamingoes Dance Band that pelted the clients with all the vogue music of the era from ‘Another Saturday Night’ to ‘My Boy Lollipop’, ‘Let’s Do the Twist’, ‘Limbo Rock’, ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and ‘Love Rock’, music from across the seas. Then there was the hot music from the local scene, as Nigerians musicians began to master their craft and grew their repertoire to an impressionable level – from ‘Omopupa’ to ‘Sawale’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Omolanke, ‘Love me Adure’ to ‘Guitar Boy’; it was music that the current hip hop scene has continued to feed fat on, as foundation and inspiration.
Here, the Uche Nwokedi-led The Playhouse Initiative’s Kakadu the Musical, as is fashionable with all musicals, makes a bold blend of music and narrative in a seamless manner. This is the allure of musicals, that perfect harmony of music and story told to elicit clarity of an era and the characters that shaped it.
BEYOND the jazziness and highlife and social camarradiere engendered by Kakadau the Musical is the salient historical narrative it offers. In a country where policy summersault is the norm rather than the exception, which turns logic on its head, history as subject is no longer taught in Nigerian schools. The result is that young ones are short-changed; they do not know the historical evolution of their country that is barely half a century old. But producers of Kakadu the Musical and other producers of cultural performances in the country are not so unpatriotic as to deny the country’s future an awareness about its past no matter its ugliness.
And so on a typical Kakadu nightlife when Lord Lugard and his band are serenading its top-notch clientele in celebrating the country’s independence, the military strikes and topples the civilian administration of Tafawa Balewa. This action has grave consequences for Kakadu denizens. Emeka the engineer and Lord Lugard are from the east, a section of the country that the consequences of the coupe forces to secede. Emeka and Bisi are fiercely in love, but the ensuing uncertainty of the crisis must separate them for as long as it takes to resolve it. Igbo people no longer feel safe in Lagos and so must leave; Bisi is heartbroken. So, too, must Enoh. Only Lord Lugard stays and asserts vacuously, “Eko mi ni!” – “I’m a Lagosian!” and that he had nowhere to run.
The scene of separation for these young people who have lived together for so long and bonded so well is rendered so movingly, especially so for Bisi, whose vision of a life together with Emeka crumbles before her eyes. Even so tragic and moving is the fierceness of the hostility, its brutality on Igbo people, as to engender mutual feelings of distrust amongst a people who once lived happily together. After the war, the survivors return, including and Emeka and his father. His mother dies during the war. But their friends in Lagos, so far removed from the madding crowd of the war that had just ravaged the east and its people, see the war in terms of a mere skirmish, a term Emeka takes exception to on account of the bloodiness of the war and what was lost in human lives.
Perhaps, more pitiable is Lord Lugard, also an easterner, who sent his family to the east but remained in Lagos to savage his club. Kola could not believe Lord Lugard’s claim of being more Lagosian than all the others that ran to the east in the heat of the war. He could not even go looking for his family after the war; he had to send someone instead. Lord Lugard is a broken man though; he does not know the whereabouts of his family, with his brother lost in the war.
After the war, the displaced try to mend the broken pieces of their lives. But Ndigbos are not helped much by the 20 Pounds the Federal Government offers them as part of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction after the war. Lord Lugard’s attempt to revive Kakadu cub fails; he tries a new beat that confuses his clients. Emeka and Bisi’s attempts to start their love lives from where they left off is not helped by the feeling of mistrust the war engenders, but Bisi’s father is eventually persuaded to let her daughter go. But by now, the war has done irreparable damage, as the social fabric of society has been rent apart to unleash such terrors as armed robbery and other crimes.
Emeka and Bisi’s wedding reception at Kakadu is violently disrupted by a robbery attack; this finally snuffs life out of the once thriving club and the buoyant nightlife it offered. Street parties or owambe effectively takes over, as places of social gathering in Lagos!
ON a certain level, Kakadu the Musical offers the Nwokedis a fantastic chance to put the Igbo story, as lived during the war on stage, and as truthfully as best they could. It’s the forgotten story of a country in a hurry to move forward even if in haphazard manner. From master storyteller Chinua Achebe to Amadi Elechi to Chimamanda Adichie and others, the Biafran story has been told to a half listening Nigerian audience so far removed from the ravages of the war at the time. Its echo is so faint now many wonder if it actually existed or a mere propaganda that sustained the war while it lasted. But Emeka stuns his friend Kola when he reveals after the war that as engineer, he helped build refineries that fuelled Biafran cars after the blockage, and also helped to convert trucks to armoured tanks.
The questions Nigerians haven’t asked are, What happened to those refineries? Indeed, what happened to the technology that a war-torn people developed in a desperate bid for survival? Why didn’t the country immediately appropriate such technology for its development quest? What then did the Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction mantra of Yakubu Gowon’s government mean if the human ingenuity Biafra exhibited was thrown away and not appropriated in a time of peace and oil boom of the 1970s, when Gowon could so brazenly proclaim that Nigeria’s problem was how to spend its money and not how to make it? So many questions Nigerians haven’t asked perhaps because there’s too much oil money to steal at will, a culture that has bred national indolence!
But Kakadu the Musical, a cultural production, sheds light on an inglorious aspect of Nigeria’s past and as it is sung, ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and it’s not clear where to begin or how to begin. This is the irrepressible story the Nwokedis have told Nigerians through Kakadu the Musical, a story Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, also helped facilitate in his own way. Perhaps, other state governors can take a cue from him and begin to treat cultural products with the seriousness they deserve, as repositories of our common communal lore!