Thursday, 25 September 2014

Making artistic expressions, cultural productions attractive on the Lagos mainland

By Anote Ajeluorou

TIME was when the Lagos mainland played host to the bulk of artistic and cultural performances in Lagos. In fact, back then Lagos Island, specifically Victoria Island, was in its formative stage, a far off suburban area whose main attraction was the famous and sometimes infamous Lagos Bar Beach that hosted beach lovers and firing executions for armed robbers in alternate terms. But since Victoria Island took over from Lagos Island as the financial capital of Nigeria, things have not been the same for the mainland, as it lost its prime artistic position. Traffic for virtually all artistic performances became directed towards Victoria Island; it inevitably became the hub.
  How can this trend be reversed for equilibrium to be achieved so the mainland can as well play host to artistic expressions? This is the headache for a few cultural producers on the mainland, especially so when, ironically, majority of those who patronize cultural productions and artistic performances are on Lagos Mainland. Mainlanders are forced to take a trip to the island to experience a performance and do a return trip back home. Ironically, they find it difficult to patronize such productions in their neighbourhoods no matter how attractive. Attending a performance on the islands has since become a status symbol of sorts. Also, almost if not all the producers of artistic and cultural expressions are from the mainland, even the nouveau riche of the comedy and music genres who migrated to live in the posh neighbourhod of Lekki were struggling mainlanders of yesteryears before they hit it big!
  Before Victoria Island overtook the mainland as cultural hub, the National Theatre was a prime facility for artistic and cultural expressions and patronage. It was the beacon and cultural producers and lovers alike flocked to it with uncommon zeal. But as is synonymous with all government facilities in this part of the world, the National Theatre soon fell into bad times, as one bad manager after another left their poor imprint and the facility fell out of repute in the eyes of culture producers and patrons alike. It soon alienated everyone in the cultural community and patrons alike. Insecurity was the first major cause, as art lovers were brazenly robbed after seeing a production. The car park became a den for all forms of attack. Then poor air-conditioning and ventilation followed due to poor maintenance and power outages during performances. MUSON Centre on Lagos Island had readied itself for the depreciation of the national edifice, and it became the centre-piece of cultural expressions.
  But even when the National Theatre was at its peak, there were other smaller performance centres on the mainland. Majekodunmi’s Jazzhole at Onike, Yaba, had its good days as a place for young musicians to expose their skills. Older ones also took to the stage to entertain the audience. Nightshift Coliseum on Salvation Road, Ikeja, also provided a rich outlet for musical performances for old and young artists. Also in Ikeja, there was La Campagne Tropicana on Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja that served as watering hole for art lovers. Not least was Fela’s Afrika Shrine in its old, hay days when the maestro was alive and later when his son, Femi built a new one at Agidingbi, Ikeja.
  But these places have since fallen out of favour. In their places have emerged, and even become triumphant, such performance and artistic centres as Terra Kulture, Eko, Oriental and Intercontinental Hotels, all in Victoria Island. Now Freedom Park has joined the fray as the newest art centre on the island. Although these centres, especially the hotels, are not purpose built for performances like theatre productions, the ample space they offer is the main attraction. For instance, performing Saro the Musical last year at Oriental Hotel was a big challenge for the producers; the acoustic output was appalling. It nearly marred an otherwise great production. Even Fela! On Broadway some two years at Eko Hotel didn’t come off as well as it should.
  Therein lies the bane of cultural productions in the country. With the National Theatre still being bogged down by the vice and incompetence that civil service now represents in Nigeria, and investors not looking to invest in appropriate venues for cultural productions, the country will be the worse for it for a long to come. Though MUSON Centre is a great venue, it has a limited space and cannot always guarantee returns on investment for a stage performance, for instance. What is worse, corporate sponsorship isn’t forthcoming to help cover some of the costs of putting up productions. But the few restless and relentless producers are marching on nonetheless in spite of glaring sponsorship handicap.

IKENNA Jude Okpala, who describes himself as a creative entrepreneur and a staunch theatre practitioner, is preaching the gospel of Mobile Theatre Series with his Wazobia Theatre House. Alejo is the first in the Mobile Theatre Series, aimed at bridging the gap between theatre enthusiasts and location-based productions. He has worked at Terra Kulture’s Theatre@Terra. But he’s a mainlander, and is sad that his beloved mainland is bereft of cultural productions and is sad that mainlanders have had to go to the other islands before enjoying art and cultural productions. He is desirous of reawakening the artistic scene in the mainland, and determined at his quest to stage drama performances on the mainland, but the obvious challenges of lack of venues and poor attendance dodge his path. Which way to go?
  “We will have to keep doing it till we get it right”, he said ruefully at QDance Centre on 194 Herbert Macualay Way, Yaba, venue for his experimental stage performance Alejo, last Sunday. He had seats for only 20 people in the small, seminar hall at the centre, but almost an hour gone, there’s no one yet to occupy the seats. But he’s undaunted. Two shows were advertised for 3pm and 6pm. But it’s past 4pm already, and it was becoming clear he’d have to merge the two shows as audience for the first show was still being awaited.
  “We have venue problem on the mainland,” he noted, “but not the audience. Sadly, the audience that goes to the islands (Lagos Island and Victoria Island) to see productions is from the mainland here. I think producers didn’t do a balancing act from start; we took all productions to the islands, and forgot the mainland where we all came from. How to reverse the trend and bring mainland audience to see productions in their backyard have now become our headache”.
  A certain mindset is also at play in the neglect of the mainland for artistic and cultural productions. As the financial hub of the city and the posh part of town as well, culture producers naturally felt inclined to tap into the wealth of the islands. But what they forgot was that most of the operators of that wealth travel daily from the mainland to work on the islands. So much so that even the operators of that wealth have begun to see themselves as the two islands’ citizens and if it’s not happening on the islands it wasn’t worth the effort. So, they’d rather do another round trip - at great traffic cost to their time and health - to go back to the islands to see a stage production, an art exhibition, a book reading, a book launch, an art auction, and musical and comedy concerts during weekends rather than have them at their backyards on the mainland at Ikeja, Yaba, Surulere, Apapa or FESTAC Town. It doesn’t matter that the over-priced venues of the islands necessarily make ticket costs spiral out of the reach of a majority who would have seen the shows to make life easy for producers.

ARTZERO, jointly coordinated by the duo of Ato Arinze and Muraino Akeem, is another body keen on showcasing art expressions and cultural productions on the mainland. But they’ve been having a hard time maintaining their mission of “creating a platform and avenue to show their works and bring art closer to the people and market our products to people around us on the mainland. The major challenge we have is that we don’t get sponsorship and we record small attendance in our shows; and then the people don’t buy art”.
  But lack of sponsorship and patronage to drive their mission sent them on a 3-year recess. Although they are back in business, they are still battling with the old challenges. But they are undaunted in their resolve to get mainlanders.
  Like Okpala, Akeem and Arinze are determined to wake up the slumbering artistic and cultural spirits of mainlanders, and if possible, reverse the traffic of art and culture patronage from the twin islands of Victoria and Lagos back to Lagos Mainland. This objective seems high, but the trio is not short on optimism either, as they march on doggedly to fulfill their quest.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ade Bantu… Like Lekki Sunsplash like Afropolitan Vibes

By Anote Ajeluorou

For those who were on the music scene in the 1990s, Lekki Sunsplash concerts might still ring a faint bell. Held in the sprawling beach of Lekki with coconut trees waving their plaited leaves overhead, the ocean waves rolling and crashing on the beach land and rumbles of music issuing from loud speakers, it was a grand Lagos musical narrative long lost. It also had a favourite beer as sponsor, and music on the open air felt right, with reggae still the dominant music.
  All the stars of the 1990s, mostly reggae artistes, were at their best. Name them – Majeck Fashek, Ras Kimono, Orits Williki, Blackky, the funky mallam with a flashlight, Zak Azzay and the many new voices coming up - they peppered the music scene with their various reggae styles, and the eager, restless Lagos crowd found it a wholesome outlet to unwind. Lekki Sunplash was to make way for the entrance of the revivalist Plantashun Boiz era (the trio of 2face Idibia, Blackface and Faz) towards the late 1990s, when reggae seemed to have run its course and was petering out. Private radio station Raypower 100.5 FM had just hit the scene and the duo of Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye were extending the frontier in promoting a new, sassy Afri-pop culture that inevitably gave birth to the current somewhat ‘unmusical’ sound dominating the airwaves.
  But that was the time when an artiste’s stagecraft or musicmanship was the hallmark of music performance; he didn’t have to mime to his CD playing on the turntable. Rather, the musician had the full complement of the band he commanded; it was how music was done, and still continues to be done among real musicians. Not the current fad (invariably started by the Plantashun Boiz; 2faces’ fame rests on such ‘unmusical’ style) of miming to a CD and strutting the stage with a bevy of butt-wriggling girls!
  The world’s acclaimed way of making music is being able to play an instrument; that is what Ade Bantu has come to reaffirm, with his monthly gigs at Freedom Park (FP), the old colonial prison turned into a showpiece of cultural engagement. Third Friday of every month is it. Last Friday was no exception, as the Nigerian-German-born pelted his huge audience with his redefined Afri-pop culture alongside many like-minded artistes. Drawing heavily on Fela as inspiration and often times playing the maestro’s music, Ade Bantu has engrafted his brand of Afi-pop music called Afropolitan Vibes into the skin of his followers, and they are hooked like flies to palm wine, a precious liqour actually served at the show to anyone initiated on the famous brew.
  It has been a slow start for the Afro-German who performs a unique blend of Afro-funk, -pop, -hop and highlife, but it has since caught on like wild fire. And so at the amphitheatre located on the east side of FP Ade Bantu set up shop some eight months ago, and from there, he’s been urging, ‘Lagos, jump!’, and the city denizens of the night time have been happily jumping along to the rhythms of his Afropolitan Vibes with uncommon zest. It started with a modest a crowd, as he admitted, but now there isn’t room enough at the amphitheatre to accommodate the over 3,000 strong young and sassily mixed audience of Nigerians, Asians, Americans and Europeans of all ages that throng FP every third Friday to jump with Ade Bantu.
  Many other artistes share the Afropolitan Vibes’ stage with Ade Bantu, and he makes the most of it. From Adeniji the Heavy Wind to rap maestro, Victor tha Viper, with his raunchy raps that send the women into rapturous ecstasy (the writer, Lola Shoneyin, couldn’t stop herself from being seduced on stage to dance) and Seyi Shay and her unabashed, almost vulgar ‘unmusical’ lyrics were all there, not forgetting Daddy Showkey and many others.
  Next month Ade Bantu is shifting base to the main stage located on the west end of the prime culture and tourism place, a spot made infamous as the execution ground of condemned prisoners. Now, the souls that perished on that spot will also jump alongside Ade Bantu, happy now to be serenaded, as some sort of appeasement for their restless souls cut short too soon by colonial justice.
  Oddly, no fee is as yet charged from the thousands that throng the show every month except the N200 entry gate-taking. But this is not sustainable for a show that has shown so much promise from start. It isn’t just Ade Bantu; it’s the band that he performs with, and the numerous other artistes that he attracts to the stage. Surely, they can’t be performing for free all year round! As he moves to the larger stage next month, perhaps there’s need to rethink strategy. Even when Lekki Sunplash had popular lager as sponsor, it still collected fees back in the days. Afropolitan Vibes, in concert with FP, can start small with a token entry fee on the day of the show while FP returns to its N200 gate fee the rest of the month for those addicted to the many allures of the Food Court. Asking show attendees to donate, as Ade Bantu currently appeals to fans with a begging calabashes would certainly not do. It would amount to very little at the end of the day, and he would continue to count losses. Except perhaps sponsors of Afropolitan Vibes are doling out enough to keep the show going.
  But even as Ade Bantu is set to move Afropolitan Vibes to the main stage next month, there’s a sense it will also overflow in no time. Then what, or where next? Afropolitan Vibes is the only show that commands the open air space with a great ambience, and it appears unstoppable in its march to making its indelible print in music performance history. Will it move to the National Stadium or Teslim Balogun Stadium in downtown Surulere? Lagos, like all Nigerian cities, is built to choking point without an eye for the cultural or relaxation needs of the people. There are no large spaces earmarked to accommodate a sizeable number of people. And so, Ade Bantu might just jam FP to the brim with an eager Lagos crowd still hungry for good music, and go home in ruing it if he continues to offer Afropolitan Vibes for free.
  For now (next show is October 17), Freedom Park will continue to be home to Afropolitan Vibes and good music, and music lovers of ‘Lagos’ will continue to ‘jump’ to the commands of Ade Bantu in the freedom of open air performance FP offers!

The Traffickers… Absurdity in modern times

By Anote Ajeluorou

In spite of seemingly becoming more modern as some African societies tend or pretend to be, the more barbaric certain practices also tend to recur. Killing for ritual, for instance, is one barbaric practice claims to modernity is yet to stamp out. Sadly, it keeps recurring in cities with supposedly civilized folks. The media is awash with reports of burst dens of ritual killers.
  The sheer horrors of such ritual killing and the grim reality of their wider socio-political implication for society form the subject matter of a new play, The Traffickers written by Owerri-based Dr. Sam Madugba. It was the 2014 Convention play of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Imo State chapter held recently.
  Performed by Akaraka Theatre Group, Owerri, and directed by Frank Awujo, The Traffickers gives a grim insight into the macabre practice where human lives are counted next to nothing in the morbid quest for some well placed individuals to gain wealth and power, with the end result that has significance for the entire society and those who purport to run its affairs.
  This is the crust of the matter. A community is in the grip of fear, with five women already murdered, their private parts cut off and still counting. The police appear not only helpless, but grossly compromised, with one of them Inspector Gwando (Iwuchukwu Daniel) in active connivance with the powers-that-be to cover up their misdeeds. As it turns out, Alhaji Oriogwu (Austine Awujo), a political heavyweight and respected member of society, with many national awards and honours, is one of the brains behind the ritual killings. He has further political ambition, and needs these victims to gain ascendancy, as he admits.
  But how do you ever suspect a man of such high standing in society as being responsible for the dastardly act plaguing it? All the female victims bear the same mark. Their private parts are usually cut off. They are the sacred items needed to unlock the doors to wealth and power.
  However, in the home of Nwankwo (Emeka Njoku), one year remembrance of his late wife is being planned, but with little resources; his friend, Ugwumba (Eric Secondson) is part of the planning, and donates to the purpose. Nwankwo’s, Nwakeago (Emenaha Hope), who is supposed to assist Mgbakwo (Patience Nkemjika), the late woman’s friend, to organise materials for the anniversary, is kidnapped on her way to the market by a man contracted by Alhaji Oriogwu to supply human items for his diabolic plot he believes makes him climb the ladder of success both as a businessman and a politician.
  This admission by Alhaji Oriogwu seems frightening to ordinary watchers of events in the polity. If most or some highly placed individuals in society go through this evil route to gain fame and respect in the eyes of society, then there’s need for concern. In retrospect, with Otokoto saga of some years back in Owerri, a situation that is daily replicated in many parts of the country (a dump for mutilated human parts surfaced recently in Ogun and Oyo states), one is tempted to give Madugba’s The Traffickers a little more fictive attention, as it just might explain a malaise plaguing Nigeria’s society.
  As the killing and the anxiety it causes reach a crescendo in the community, the police manage to come to grips with the situation and get the suspects arrested, thus serving first justice to the innocent victims of power lust and greed. Then the process of soul-cleansing ensues, as the reality of murders dawn on the entire community and its hapless victims. Will the law courts finally serve justice to victims and their families? What sort of society and individuals emerge from this dark period of a society preying on itself?
  These are some of the underlying issues raised in Madugba’s The Traffickers, a play that reaches to the core of society to mine one of its dirt. However, Akaraka Group’s performance though commendable, leaves out performance gaps. Although the Theatre Arts Hall of Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education is ill-suited for stage production (with its poor acoustics), some of the cast couldn’t project their voices. Some of the students at the back, having asked for audibility without the actors improving on it, left the hall.
  Alhaji Oriogwu (Austine Awujo), who passed the audibility test, was virtually shouting his lines, with his grating, gravely voice. The opening was also in virtual slow motion; the actors had no sense of timing, and it became a drag on the entire performance. Inspector Ihuoma (Imprey Amarachi) infused some liveliness in the play with his serio-comic performance at Alhaji Ariogwu’s office.
  Overall, The Traffickers’ performance was passable, just as the message got across as to the evil resident in some men’s hearts, men who see their fellow humans as ladder to climb to their haven of greed.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Odia Ofeimun Festival… When a poet serenades a mother home

By Anote Ajeluorou

He’d wondered aloud and asked plaintively when news of his mother’s passing reached him while rehearsing for his latest dance drama Because of 1914, ‘how does a poet send his mother home?’ The answer didn’t take long in coming. Quickly, he began to gather his ilk in the writerly world for a poetic feast in his hometown of Iruekpen, Edo State.
  For poet, public intellectual and essayist, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, the passing of his mother, Elizabeth Onomonresoa Ofeimun, could not have been more momentous. Against the grain of orthodoxy, the old lady had named him Frederick, a non-biblical name, after that legendary man, Lord Frederick Lugard, who changed a people’s history by the famous amalgamation of 1914 that yoked the Northern and Southern Protectorates that produced a nation still in search of its soul some 100 years after.
  Now, Ofeimun was rehearsing a dance piece that gives a affirmation to that historical fiat some 100 years ago when the woman who saw some affinity between his son and that white man joined her ancestors. As Ofeimun himself put the coincidence of his mother’s passing, “It suggested a poetic conjuncture requiring a second look at my personal mythology in relation to national history.
  “As it happened, I was named Frederick Lord Lugard, the thug of he Royal Niger Company transformed into a statesman by his amalgamation… The poems being rehearsed for dance drama on the day she died turned out to have a lot to do with Frederick Lugard and the amalgamation. Evidently, she had something for the amalgamator, which made her return to the ancestors on that day virtually a matter of fate. Whether it was whish, will or accident, she had cornered the dance drama for the celebration of her life… In my personal mythology, Lugard has always featured as an indelible notation of origins”.
  Indeed, Ofeimun’s mother, Onomonresoa, an Esan word, which means ‘daughters who will be, or are, outlived by, and celebrated, that is, taken home, by their own children’ became a focal poetic celebratory point at her death, with the gathering together many Nigerian poets at her graveside. And so she was taken home by her many ‘poet children’, who serenaded the passing of a poet’s mother.
  On Thursday, at Edo State University, Ekpoma, near his Iruekpen town, the performance of Because of 1914 was held, which, according to its writer, Ofeimun, is a drama that enables a people “to reason out their space in the enigma of history, how a people reason out their space in order to have a good life – no matter how defined; it’s the dance drama which I have given poetic accreditation”.
  But the dance drama became an inkling of what poetic gesture was to come in celebrating a mother. A collection of poems, Onomonressoa, also in honour of his mother, was put together by fellow poet and teacher, Dr. Obari Gomba of English and Literary Studies, University of Port Harcourt; he was longlisted for The Nigerian Prize for Literature 2013. It’s an anthology of Nigerian poets on mothers and motherhood and features a fine blend of old and young writers.
    Even the dedication of the collection is telling in its mastery of subject, “This is to you/Mama Elizabeth Onomonresoa Ofeimun/Mother of Poet, Odia the Owanlen/Mother of minstrels and minstrelsy/We have gathered our songs/To take you home”.
  According to its editor, Gomba, Onomonresoa “is the first in a series examining the triumphs and travails of our times within a venturous pursuit of a thematic approach to the appreciation of poetry. Although only Nigerian poets are represented here, the evident ambition is a comprehensive coverage of a theme – in this case, the theme of mothers and motherhood – in the spirit of an international festival of creativity that proudly gives centrality to poetry.
  “The suasion is simple: to celebrate one mother in the context of other mothers and motherhood in general. The result is this wide-bodied, rambling and supremely self-engrossed anthology, dutifully and artfully put together”.
  After the internment of Onomonresoa in the house her son named after her, poets gathered again in the evening to properly serenade her home in a festival of songs and poems. Although her only son, Ofeimun could complete the house he built for her nor take her to see it before passing, it nonetheless became a symbolic place of songs for mothers, who have been, who are and who will be remembered by poets.
  The role call was modest but impressive – Prof. Kole Omotoso, Canada-based Prof. Onookome Okome, House of Representatives aspirant, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, Dr, Obari Gomba, Deinbofa Ere, quo Diana-Abasi Eke, Monday Michael, the all-girl musical group, Topsticks and, of course, Odia Ofeimun among others.