Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Banjo, Anyaoku, Osomo, Dosunmu-Awolowo’s preferred musical tastes in My Kind of Music

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE on-going MUSON Festival 2014, as always, brings out the best in the performance arts, especially music for which MUSON Centre has become renowned in the last 17 years. The festival throws up a variety of cultural expressions for those with a taste for the lofty ideals that culture espouses. This year’s opening event, as the centre celebrates its 18th year of musical excellence, was My Kind of Music, in which it had some four eminent Nigerians explaining their music preferences. Such music is performed accordingly.
  Uniquely, these four personages — Prof. Emeritus Ayo Banjo, a two-time Vice Chancellor; Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Commonwealth Secretary-General and a man steeped in classical tradition; Chief Bolaji Osomo and Chief Tokunbo Dosunmu-Awolowo — embody a tradition of excellence in their chosen fields
   Moreover, they have traversed the world and at home in the classical that MUSON offers as well as their own traditional. Anchoring the programme was Chairman, Festival Organising Committee, Mr. Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan and at the end the foursome were given plaques of appreciation by Vice Chairman of MUSON, Chief Louis Mbanefo and a cocktail that wrapped up an amazing evening.

  My first choice is Louis Armstrong. I happen to be very fond of his rather croaky voice in singing What A Wonderful World’. It’s a piece that I always enjoy listening to. He’s my favourite trumpeter; he was a great trumpeter, but he combined it with his singing in his rather unusual voice.
  My next piece, it’s quite common. It’s from a musical, Sound of Music. This is a musical that I saw many years ago, about 50 years ago, and I was fascinated by the story of the Von Trapp family. This musical was based on the true story of a very distinguished Austrian Naval Officer, who had nine children; his wife died unfortunately and he went to the convent to ask for a nun to be the governess of his children. From that musical, there is one piece, Edelweiss sung by Christopher Plummer, and it’s a piece my wife will tell you she is bored with listening to me humming it and singing it all the time.
  My next selection is from another musical, Evita. A musical written by someone I met many times, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who is now Lord Webber. He wrote Evita and I saw the film version of Evita and in that film, the piece I’m going to tell you about was sung by Madonna. I didn’t like it as much as I liked the live performance of the musical and the rendition of the piece by Elain Page. This was in England and it ran for quite a long time and the piece is Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina. The story of course, Eva Peron, who inspired the musical, was a young lady born to a very poor family, but she struggled and became the first lady of Argentina. And, not only that, she made her name by being a strong writer for the rights of women, and also the alleviation of poverty in Argentina.
   My next piece is calypso music. I’ve been to the Caribbean many times; I played Mas twice in Trinidad and Tobago. Mas is the carnival and I was there and the man whose calypso, not the best of calypso, but because he’s a personal friend, and when I say a personal friend, I would like to tell you I’m not just dropping names. He was at three luncheons that I hosted in London, one of them for Nelson Mandela and he and I were honoured at the same occasion by the government of South Africa, who gave me their highest national civilian honour for a foreigner and gave Harry Belafonte the second highest civilian honour. And this piece I teased him when he sang it. It is called Mama Look A Boo Boo. Harry Belafonte is an extremely handsome individual and yet ‘Mama Look A Boo Boo’ is a song of children, saying to their mother, ‘Mama look a boo boo’ and their mother says, ‘that’s your daddy.’ And they say to the mother, ‘how come our father is so ugly’. Harry Belafonte is a handsome man and I used to tease him how he came to sing about an ugly man.
  There are several renditions of Amazing Grace. It was written by an Englishman, John Newton, a slave trader, became a pastor. The rendition that I have chosen is by the Soweto Gospel Choir in South Africa, not only because I had the privilege of going to Soweto and listening to them, but because the story of John Newton and the story of Apartheid in South Africa seem to have some commonality.
  I should probably have asked her to come here to sing it. It’s a piece by Onyeka Onwenu. Onyeka Onwenu’s mother is a second cousin of mine and this piece endeared itself to me because it’s an unusual tribute to a mother. When Onyeka sang this piece some years ago, I remember saying to the mother, ‘with this type of daughter, what more would you want’ because Onyeka in this piece was praising her mother, acknowledging the tender care that her mother had lavished on her and her siblings. The title is ‘Ochie Dike’.
  A favourite tenor of mine; I heard him perform it indoors at The Royal Festival Hall in London, and I thought he was marvellous and then when I heard him perform outdoor at Hyde Park, the power of his voice was indescribable to me — Luciano Pavarotti singing ‘Nessun dorma’.
  The difference between the piece that I have chosen and the one chosen by Mrs. Osomo is that the earlier piece is faster in movement. The one I have chosen is slower, but on the whole I believe that Sunny Ade produces the most danceable music. I have always found it impossible not to move when I hear him; I either move or nod the head to Gboro Mi Ro from Classic Volume 4.

  Ise Oluwa by Edwards. Ise Oluwa is very popular in Nigeria and I had course to render the song in the 60s in England and I was the only Black student in Scarborough and I was taught how to sing it. Ise Oluwa was written by Dayo Dedeke as performed tonight by Mr. Edwards. He has a very wonderful bass voice and the bass voice reminds me of Paul Robeson.
  My next song is Wherever You Walk’ by G. F. Handel. I always like listening to I love you by Ella Fitzgerald. I do it in memory of my husband, who died exactly 22 years ago. He was a perfect gentleman, a wonderful husband, a wonderful father, a man who every woman would have loved to be married to. I met my husband in England in 1960 at Trafalgar Square. It was love at first sight, I had never heard about him before neither did he hear about me. But when we both walked into each other, we knew we were husband and wife (murmurs and applause from audience). We were married for 30 years and at that time, I was a government scholar. I was being trained to be a teacher. Later I decided I was going to read law. Most of his friends told him ‘you want to marry a lawyer? You are going to be in trouble!’ And he said, ‘but I love this girl; I want to marry her.’ I told him, ‘they didn’t ask me to go to England to look for a husband, but if you must marry me I must be a lawyer.’
   And of course, he stood by my side. It’s a shame that 22 years ago exactly he passed away in England and I thought it’s a shame that all good things do really come to an end. But I do love him, very much and I will continue to respect him (applause from audience). The only thing I have to say was that he allowed me to go into politics, as bad as it was and I was made a Commissioner by Baba Ajasin. I was away in Akure for four years and I never had any problem of any woman coming to the house to tell me stories about my husband or writing me stupid stories about my husband. I respected him and I washed all his clothes till he died (another applause). I wasn’t good in ironing, but the washing was always done by me. I hope many women, and I really mean that as a grandmother, that you must make your husband comfortable. Most of my friends refer to me as Iyale Ile (first wife of the house). When his friends were being worried by their wives, they asked me, ‘what do you think about your husband?’ I told them ‘I’m not worried; I’m the Iyale Ile of this house.
    My next song is by Afroman; it’s a satire Because I Got High. My next one is our one and only Fela (applause). I love his music; I kept asking myself, ‘would I have liked Fela as a man?’ I wasn’t too sure, but I think some people should take time and really analyse the man. Was it the effect of society on him or he on society? But I love his Palava’ (applause). (Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan, in response to Osomo’s choice of Palava said, I think the political aspect of Fela is probably the part that appeals to you and that he was quite frank in what we should do, if we really want to help the country). King Sunny Ade’s The Merciful God comes next in my choice.
  I have one from my area, the riverine area of Ondo State and this song is by a lady, a queen for that matter, Comfort Omoge, ‘Olorun mi.
  Also, The Blue Danube by J. Strauss is my favourite. The river is so beautiful and it reminds me of the River Niger. Colour of the blue Danube has a lot in common with the River Niger. The Blue Danube traverses many countries, so also the River Niger. The peace of mind that I get from this music is colossal.

  My first song is Mozart — Piano concerto No9 (first movement), and my second song is My ain Folk. It’s a Scottish song made very popular by the celebrated Scottish tenor, Kenneth Mackeller. But this recording is by John McDermot. I came across this piece when I was studying in Scotland and Kenneth Mackeller used to perform it very often and I found the words very fascinating because he says, ‘I’m far across the sea, but my heart will always be at home in good old Scotland, with my ain folk.’ Now, each time, I hear that, I said to myself I’m far across the sea, but my heart will always be in good old Nigeria with my own folk. Nigeria, of course, in those days was a country where the sky was the limit. It’s a song of nostalgia and if there are any Scots people in this audience, I’m sure there will not be a dry eye at the end of this performance (laughter from audience).
   My next choice is the composition by Saint-Saens, The Swan taken from Carnival of Animals. What fascinates me about this piece of music is not just the cello, but the way in which the piano accompanies the cello. It keeps a respectful distance from the cello. Beethoven’s piano sonata comes next. I love Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and I think basically because I am myself a failed pianist (laughter from hall) and the number that I am proposing is his Sonata No 21 in C Major, the Rondo.  Ever since I first listened to a live performance of this sonata, I fell in love with it.
  My next song is by Edith Piaf, the French singer. And the interesting thing about this for me is that this was a woman who had a most unfortunate time as a young girl and went through all the horrors of growing up and then became one of the most famous singers in France. The number reflects the biography of Edith Piaf that I’ve just narrated and the title is Rien de rien (No regrets). The defiance in the voice says it all and it also has some lessons to teach.
  Ayo Bankole’s Iya would come next for me. (Ayo Bankole Jr. played the piano and was accompanied by Nelson Cole in a live performance). My next piece is by the Italian baroque composer, Albinoni. He is very famous for his adagios and I have chosen this one Sinfonia in G for 2 oboes, Second Movement (Adagio).
  The Anglican hymn, The Day Thou Gavest, Lord’, is ended by John Ellerton.   There is a story behind my liking of this hymn. It takes me right back to my first encounter with art music, and I think the transition from church music to opera, it was a smooth one. I first sang this song in the choir as a treble. Later on, I sang the same song in the choir as an alto. Then later still, I sang it as a tenor. And, now, I sing it as a bass. That’s one of the fascinations. The music, I think, just chimes with the time; I sang it at Igbobi College. Later in life, it struck me that the hymn can also be interpreted metaphorically. The day can represent a lifetime.

  Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan read out her choice of song, I Will Always Love You, originally done by country singer, Dolly Paton but popularised by the late Whitney Houston. Dolly Paton did the original version in 1974 and it went to number one on the country’s chart. She wrote it following the breakup of the musical partnership she had with country singer, but they were never romantically involved. The lyrics are sad yet they know they are not right for each other and must let him go. It is often misinterpreted as a song for people who will be together forever and even gets played at weddings. It is featured in the movie The Bodyguard.’ Houston’s recording had more lavish production and became a pop, soul and adult contemporary hit.
  MY Kind of Music session at MUSON Festival 2014 simply was an enjoyable evening in the eclectic renditions and the wide range of music that these four personages spoke candidly about the music that have continued to shape their lives. And as the festival comes to an end of Sunday, Lagosians are urged to go out and see great music. Tomorrow, Saturday, MUSON alumni, those who have graduated from MUSON music school, will perform and on Sunday, the festival will be brought to a close with performances and a cocktail.

Nana… Nigeria’s growing club of Musical Theatres

By Anote Ajeluorou

When the lights faded on Nana and Rosa at Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan two weeks ago, with Nana dragging the suitcase of fortune left behind by the thieving and womanising politician Otunba Taiwo, it became unmistakably clear that with three successfully produced Broadway-style Musical Theatres, Nigeria has joined this elite club of world culture producers. Musicals are tasking by nature, particularly so in a clime that puts little premium on cultural production much less offer sponsorship. But thanks to MUSON Music Festival 2014, a new Broadway Musical has been added to the two already existing.
  And this is huge bonus for the paltry audience that theatre attracts in the country, and a salute to the indomitable spirit of theatre producers and directors working magic in a sector that demands so much. And so from Saro the Musical to Kakadu and now Jagua Nana, Nigeria’s musical theatre culture has taken a firm root. These three musical theatres (a combination or blend of music performance and drama on stage) are sufficient to put Nigeria on the map of that theatre genre if only sponsorship would be forthcoming as it should, as they provide a new direction of cultural diversity and production in the country.
  From Saro the Musical that charts the career path of four young Saro youths set on a musical journey and arrives in Lagos to try their luck to Kakadu’s amazing life – club life, music, relationship - in Lagos in the 1960s up till the civil war years that tore the country apart and now Jagua Nana, the fabled woman that is every man’s dream, an enchantress and goddess of romance vainly trying to find some sort of anchorage to her life; these are the new theatrical offerings beckoning for a wider audience and exposure outside of Lagos and even Nigeria.
  Directed by Wole Oguntokun, founder of Renegade Theatre that initiated Theatre@Terra, Jagua Nana an adaptation of Cyprian Ekwensi’s novella of the same name is the story of a street-wise woman, who, not being able to have a child, leaves her marital home for the glittering city of Lagos for the good life she’d heard so much about. Her story is also the story of Nigeria’s early days, the good living, how ambitions easily materialize or collapse depending on which side you look.
  First encounter with Nana (Ashionye Michelle Raccah) in her apartment with her friend, Rosa (Dolapo Ogunwale), is a give-away of their type, as women of dalliance, with an eye for men with deep pockets. But when Freddie (Olarotimi Fakunle) walks into Nana’s room asking her to accompany him to a seminar that would increase his career prospects, it’s clear the two are a mismatch, with Nana insisting on going to the club after the seminar as appeasement. This is where and how Freddie finds out who Nana truly is, as a woman far above his means; she just wants to keep him as insurance against her misadventure with men.
  Nana loves the life of glamour, which only men with means can provide her. So she flirts from one man to yet another; it becomes a strain on Freddie, whose ambition is to go abroad to study law and settle, but he lacks the means to do so. Then Nana promises to send him to London to study if only he will return to marry her. At first he agrees, but when Nana’s rival, sets her daughter Nancy (Lily ‘Leelee’ Byoma) up for Freddie, he falls for her. On learning about Freddie’s impending London trip, she quickly gets Nancy to travel to study there as well so the two young people can meet and marry over.
  Nancy is enraged and confronts the two, who don’t deny it. She tears Freddie’s passport she helped procure, and it seems Freddie has played a wrong hand towards Nana, his benefactor and paramour. But this is Lagos of the 1950s and 1960s, and life is swinging and hot. The nightclubs, the music, the merriment, the alluring women and the men who hanker after women for adventure all make Lagos thick; it’s the stuff of Lagos legend. It’s the playground for men looking for a little adventure with women like Otunba Taiwo, who meets Nana and his is aroused sexually. They both hit it off much to Freddie’s disapproval. Taiwo and Freddie later square up as opponents in the political race for the office that Taiwo has been occupying, and from which he’s been stealing the people blind.
  Like Nigerian politics, it soon becomes dangerous, as Freddie is killed and Taiwo does not only loose the election, he is also killed. But before he meets his tragic end, which he foresees anyway, he entrusts a large suitcase with Nana. Nana, too, isn’t safe, after her dealings with Taiwo, as his woman. Sensing the danger they are in, Rosa drags Nana away for a return to their original place in the east but she is reluctant to leave even for dear life having been so addicted to Lagos lifestyle.

JAGUA NANA is the quintessential Lagos and Nigerian story of the 1960s; Lagos has always been the city of dreams as a magnet for many to its bowels either for their fortunes or damnation. Jaguar Nana, like Saro the Musical and Kakadu before it, is a great musical drama worth all the efforts. Directorially, Oguntokun does a superb job; so, too, is Ashionye Raccah, who performs Jagua Nana; it is as if the role is made for her (or she made for the role?). And for all who saw the show, Nana’s character would stick for a long time, as she invests so much of herself into the part she becomes unbelievably fluid in it. Ogunbowale, too, does a good job of her performance, with her soulful sining.
  But at Agip Recital Hall last Saturday, there certainly was some queasiness, at the opening scene with Nana and Rosa turning up in their near-whorish outfits in the presence of under-18s. Also the Tropicana Night Club scenes should be rated 18, not good for minors. Another major snag was Nana’s transition from the village or Enugu to Lagos. Although Nana tries to reflectively explain away Juan Martel’s return home after he became the first man to habour newly arrived Nana in Lagos. That part, however, lacks seamless grafting onto the main narrative.
  However, Jagua Nana is worth seeing for its music (even though there wasn’t an Igbo music with Nana, Rosa and Freddie all from the east; Yoruba highlife tunes dominate), Raccah’s superb acting, the overall conception and execution of the narrative interspaced with music, dance and acting.
  Although theatre-loving public owe a debt of gratitude to MUSON Festival 2014 for giving Oguntokun the handle to direct his creative energy into Musical Theatre, the play should go far beyond it. That is the challenge of sponsorship, which should come to it for a wider audience that should see Jagua Nana for its sheer dramatic impact.

Kukah to govt: Expand the frontiers of humanity, youths

By Anote Ajeluorou (who was in Port Harcourt)

Governments in Nigeria, as currently constituted, believe that democracy dividend to the people lies only in the building of roads, boreholes, hospitals and provision of other infrastructure. While these may be worthy engagements, which are taken for granted in other climes, a more noble duty for governments has been pointed out to include expanding the frontiers of humanity so youth energy and talent could be better harnessed for national development.
  Also, youths have been charged to “slay the Goliath of injustice, corruption… inefficiency, gross mismanagement of resources that have rendered our country what it is today” with their talents and to stop complaining about lack of opportunities. These were the submissions of Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Kukah, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, yesterday, at the opening of the 7th edition of Port Harcourt Book Festival holding at Hotel Presidential. He spoke on the theme ‘Possibilities for Nigeria at 100: Youths as Underdogs and Misfits’.
  Kukah explained that the duty of government went beyond mere provision of infrastructure to include an expansion of the space for the engagement of youth energy and talent to flourish. He noted that the many vices like corruption, greed and incompetence in government plaguing the country necessarily constricted the space for the youths to excel, fearing that the youth have also been compromised on several fronts to cripple their capacity to function properly. He cited the instances of Microsoft and Facebook founders, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg respectively, who dropped out of their prestigious universities to found their iconic brands, not because they were dullards but because they found the formal way of learning too cumbersome and constricting to their creative imagination.
  The revered Bishop, who listed 10 areas where youth energy could be better directed, argued that there were too many youth bystanders who were contented with merely complaining about their problems rather get their hands dirty and helping to solve them. According to him, “This fractured world is also full of possibilities; there are possibilities that are huge, but you must have an eye for them”.
  Although Nigeria may be going through a difficult phase, Kukah said there was a need for a new narrative after 100 years of existence, which he said lay at the doorsteps of youths. He, however, expressed the view that there was a need to balance youth optimism and enthusiasm, as they often got in the way if not properly managed.
  The cleric and public intellectual also stated that it was imperative to create a balance between youth and the notion of success, which has been bastardised in the Nigerian context to include dubious and unquestioning means of acquiring wealth. He charged that youths need to be able to learn their history so they have a proper perspective on where they are coming from and how to confidently approach the future. Kukah also situated youth in the contexts of politics, globalization, anger and protest, saying that the youth were yet to appropriately express their anger and protest against the villainy of corruption, greed and incompetence in the public space for genuine change to happen.
  While advising government to provide an friendly environment for youths to direct their talents for the development of the country, Kukah also advised youth to, like the biblical David, find “the stones and sling David used that are around to kill the Goliath of corruption, under-development, greed, inefficiency” and other ills plaguing the country.
  Earlier Festival Director and a recent national honours recipient, Mrs. Koko Kalango said that in the country’s march forward, “We have an opportunity to reflect on our past and explore the opportunities before us that can enable us build the Nigeria of our dream”, saying the youth were key in the project hence the festival’s focus on them this year.
  Also, Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who was represented by a Permanent Secretary in the Deputy Governor, Mr. Tele Ikuru’s office, Evangelist Eddy Oloko said, “We must keep hope alive and believe only for the best as one nation. The festival theme explores the vast potentialities that we have been endowed with as a nation, with its focus on enlightening the youth and motivating them to look inward and help create a brighter future for the next generation”.
  The 7th edition of Port Harcourt Book Festival, with its rich weeklong activities around books, ends on Saturday, October 25.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Blast from the past saves Afropolitan’s Felabration show

By Anote Ajeluorou

When Ade Bantu-led Afropolitan Vibes said last month it was moving to the main stage from the smaller amphitheatre, its young, upwardly mobile Lagos audience that had made it their regular show was ecstatic. The amphitheatre had become too small to accommodate the ambition of the only serious live band playing genuine music in Lagos. True to type the audience kept the date. Incidentally, the date coincided with the yearly Felabration events designed to honour the late musical legend, revolutionary and avante garde, Abami Eda, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
  And so at 8pm last Friday, genuine music lovers streamed to the main stage at Freedom Park, Lagos Island, to be treated to something extraordinary. Even the line up seemed mouth-watering – Simi, Praiz, Gaise, the Lekan Babalola-led leading Eko Jazz Band and a blast from the past, highlife master, Etubom Rex Williams all the way from Calabar. Then it was showtime. Ade Bantu started on a tentative note. The Afrobeat or the Fela’s songs he pelted were as though he was on rehearsal; there wasn’t the strong, masculine, Fela stamp that is gut-wrenching, which Ade Bantu is capable of delivering.
  But it was just the beginning, and so he be could be forgiven; better you don’t burn out so soon. Simi came on and added a spark with her sassy performance and a wooing voice that got the audience nodding and salivating for a promising night. Eko Jazz Band came on and attempted to raise the bar; it did to some extent with just the instrumentals before the lead vocalist came on with a voice that failed to carry, probably because he chose the wrong song. The band had what it takes to re-enact Fela on stage, but he went off tangent and lost out, completely. On Felabration night on the main stage at Freedom Park, the only jazz band known for its amazing performances failed to resurrect the spirit of Fela. So, the palm wine felt tepid on the tongues of many with the drab performance on stage; Ade Bantu had to constantly coax his uninspired audience to buy some more to finish the 500-litre lot or so on offer!
  But there was a little moon yet to light up a bleak night of lackluster Afropilitan Vibes that failed horribly to reverberate and rouse the spirits of those hung on that platform in the colonial prison in celebration of Fela, a latter day co-prisoner of conscience. However, when Ade Bantu introduced the next act, the crowd held its breath for this blast from the past. When he was wheeled onto stage, the audience stopped breathing all together. What was a frail man in a wheelchair doing on stage? Wait for it! A microphone was pushed into his hand; a little later, a trumpet was also pushed into his hand. Where they serious?
  But Etubom Rex Williams knows his musical onions and how to peel them to make a fine musical brew. Yes, his voice may sometimes go off key and a little too loudly, but he can still undulate it to produce good, gravelly vocal delivery. And the trumpet? Well, Rex Williams, probably in his late70s and early 80s, is still the man for the job. Poor microphone positioning perhaps didn’t help much, but he blasted off gloriously, as he showed Lagosians what stuff he’s got. Indeed, it was sheer musical resurrection for this man as he relived his younger years once again on the big stage with an audience to woo.
  A little background; Ade Bantu had been invited on a trip for a documentary of musical oldies when they happened upon him in Calabar. Eager not to let the big chance slip, he invited him to Lagos for the big stage he’d always known before he faded into anonymity. It was a chance of a lifetime, and Etubom Rex Williams grabbed it with both hands. Frail and in a wheelchair, but his talent still shone through. And like a lame man hungry for a walk on a moonlit night, Afropolitan Vibes provided the platform yet again for Rex Williams to relive his musical life. And he would leap to his feet sometimes from his wheelchair and sing or blast off on his trumpet.
  A little later it became a duo performance as he was joined by a fellow oldie, Orlando Julius, a saxophone maestro also of the highlife genre. His wife, Latoya had ignited the stage earlier with her energetic dances that put the motley crowd allowed on stage to shame. It was a wonder Ade Bantu allowed such nuisance crowd to monkey on stage in the name of dancing. But Latoya sparkled, and when Orlando Julius joined Rex Williams with his saxophone, real Felabration just seemed to have started. They were the true artistes like Fela, multi-instrumentalist, with a strong bias for the saxophone. The duo was a magnificent blast from the past and even the call and response part on the trumpet and the saxophone between Williams and Julius was out of this world; it put the audience edge, and it was a shame it had to end.
  When it ended, the show also literally came to an end as well. Praiz’s first note showed promise, but after that he descended to current hiphop craze with little finesse to set him apart from the ‘unmusical’ crowd. He got a bit of spark back when he veered into Bob Marley, with ‘No woman no cry’ and, capping it off with ‘Redemption song’. Gaise didn’t show up.
  When Ade Bantu took back the rein of performance, it still felt flat. He couldn’t lift up the flagging mood. There was the sneaky suspicion that he believes he’s got it made so why border exert oneself. Having moved from the small stage to the main stage, Afropolitan Vibes would seem to have arrived or is it? Taking an audience for granted with the kind of performance put last Friday is certainly a terrible mistake. The main stage certainly demands even major performance. Afropolitan Vibes has done it since it started; now, perhaps is the time to do it even better to justify the Lagos crowd being commanded to ‘jump’! It can only jump to good music and equally good performance the way it has come to know Afropolitan Vibes doing these past months. Anything less is recipe for irrelevance, which it can ill afford.

54 years after independence, what future for Nigerian art, culture sector

By Anote Ajeluorou

Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan made a token gesture to the arts and culture sector by honouring some of its members with national awards. The numbers of those recognized swelled considerably compared to previous administrations. Yet 54 years after Nigeria’s independence, the vital arts and culture sector remains on the margins of government’s thinking. What has so far been achieved in the sector has been on individual basis and self-motivated.
  But the future of the sector remains precarious, especially with culture ministry only focusing on bogus festivals and carnivals that have little or no impact in moving the sector forward. The ministry’s festival and carnival organisers largely make efforts to give those actively working magic in the sector a wide berth. Some stakeholders shared their views on how to move the sector forward for optimum growth.
  Dillibe Onyeama is the convener of Coal City Book Convention noted, “The arts/culture sector is deserving of greater government patronage. A significant increase in the numbers of its workers in future National Honours lists would be a good incentive in the drive for nation-building.
  “However, the Federal Government has not been entirely bat-eyed in its perceived duties to this productive sector, whose workers provide an essential social service to the country by the very nature of the varying creative disciplines pursued. The National Theatre, the National Council for Arts & Culture, The Nigerian Prize for Literature sponsored by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas company, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation are just a few of the notable Federal Government institutions that have strived to demonstrate practical appreciation of the intrinsic value of arts and culture in the quest to create a viable society.
  “The essence of art is to nourish the roots of a culture, a means of addressing humanity. Art reflects creativity, which involves aesthetic sensibility, emotional reverberation, and a flair for expression. It is upon the sweat of artistic and cultural expressions, recognized and celebrated in the world’s public gaze that a government parastatal is established as a national monument, a magnet of the tourism industry, and a means of livelihood for the many civil service hands employed to enhance the image of government in its laudable celebration of local talent.
  “Certainly there is great prestige in government recognition. The paltry selection of arts and culture workers in the Federal Government’s recent National Honours List, however, exposes a discreditable bat’s eye for priorities. Yes, there is already the glory of world recognition for the artist’s genius for painting, or music, or poetry, or philosophy, or architecture; but, still, that is not to say that he is not also eligible for further recognition by his home government – which the National Honours Award symbolizes.
  “If the fortunes of the Nigerian Arts/Culture sector can be said to have dwindled since independence, certainly it is not out of proportion with the other fields of human endeavour suffering the rigours of the ongoing global recession. If the economy improves, however, and there is an inference of stagnation in the Arts/Culture sector, then it is in line for emergency Federal Government intervention, having regard to the country’s super-rich cultural heritage and enviable outpourings of local genius from sundry branches of the Art industry.
  “This class of genius is overdue for the anointing of National Honours Award, and this should be reflected in greater numbers in future after this abysmal showing”.  
  For Ayo Adewunmi, who is the Head of Department, Graphic Design Department, Institute of Management and Technology and Art Director, Life In My City Art Festival, Enugu, “There is no reward for the diligence and hard work demonstrated by the arts and culture sector operators rather what they receive from the government is neglect. ‘Anonymousity‘ characterize the identity of the artists from the pre- colonial era. The philosophy which still exists subtly in the minds of the citizenry explains why the artist is not given his due recognition, his creativity is considered adorable, but his identity undeserving of recognition.  Thus, since the traditional period, artists strive continually for relevance, but hardly ever realize it.
  “In the first and second decade after independence, art professionals fought their way to relevance and got seemingly recognizd by the government. Consequently art and culture flourished just for a while. By the 1990s the prominence and respect attained gradually disappeared, owing to the military junta of the era.
One of the reasons attributable to the draggy socio-economic development of the nation is the neglect of the art and culture sector.
  “Art is central to national development; we can draw inference from the developed nations. Here, lack of art appreciation has impaired the development of the sector and indirectly the growth of the economy. The result of government’s insensitivity to the sector is apparent - muddled art curriculum in junior schools which is devoid of any clarity and which undermines the visual art and thus destroying creative foundation. Our landscape speaks volumes of how “artistically uninformed” we are, with hundreds of tourism sites and events waste away due to glaring abandonment by the government. Amazingly, government officials and heads of art and culture institutions regularly visit other countries to patronize similar sites.
  “Given this background, I would say asking for National Honours for the operators of art and culture sector,” will be asking for too much”. We should ask ourselves, how many of the professionals from the art and culture sector have been appointed as Minister or Directors-General for relevant ministries and parastatals? Does it mean there are no competent and deserving individuals from the sector? Far from the truth! But again, it only reveals the mind of the government. Added to this point is the concern about the credibility of national awards, the (dis)credibility of the awards is substantiated by the rejection of the Award by some credible individuals. Consequently, the exclusion of deserving art and culture operators from the National Honours Award may not only signify its failure, but also substantiate the fact that the Awards have lost their glory.
  “The art and culture sector has done, and is still doing so much to expand its fortune frontiers, if there has been any failure; it weighs more on the side of the government. The art and culture sector should not expect much until there is attitudinal change in respect of art appreciation and re-awakening of the government to its responsibilities towards the development of art and culture. The ‘anonymousity’ of the Nigerian artist as it was in the traditional period subsists in the contemporary Nigeria society, which in the word of Prof. Ola Oloidi is ‘artistically uninformed’. Nevertheless, the artists should remember that their identity is not defined by the National Honours Award; rather, it is defined by their determination, dedication and creative passion. This, definitely, is the character that must be sustained and which the government will necessarily have to latch on whenever it decides to wakes up”.
  A researcher in the culture sector, particularly Nollywood filmic genre at pan Atlantic University, Anuli Agina, “The future holds five times less of what it holds for the power, education and manufacturing sectors. I think the education sector is the most important for the growth/civilization of a people; and the power sector, the most important for manufacturing and employment. In Nigeria, we need education, constant electricity and manufacturing in that order. If there are prospects for those three sectors, then the future is bright for arts and culture. If not, I'm afraid, the future cannot be better than it is now. 
  “But if the principal actors in arts and culture break free from their longings for government money (especially Nollywood), then they can generate for themselves the revenue and goodwill they need for sustenance and relevance (haven't they done that already, you might ask?). I do not think artists should pride themselves with receiving national honours (Soyinka and Achebe have left good examples in that regard since such recognitions appear to be a cover for many other negligence). 
  Secretary-General of Committee for Relevant Art and organisers of Lagos Art and Book Festival (LABAF), Mr. Toyin Akinosho also noted, “Culture producers don’t need the national honours, as presently determined. A work of art shines through the darkest recesses of corners. And we need to stop equating government with the Presidency and engaging more with the shop floor; bureaucrats who handle segments of culture administration. Let’s forget the arts for a minute; there are people in the oil industry who have been awarded marginal fields for 11 years and still are unable to create value out of it but they get so called National Honours the umpteenth time as “captains” of industry whereas people who have built badly needed infrastructure out of the little they had are not considered”.
  For Dr. Sunny Awhefeada is of Department of English, Delta State University, Abraka is optimistic that the future of the arts and culture in Nigeria is bright “whether the Federal Government bestows honours on writers and culture workers or not. Remember that the Nigerian establishment is ever suspicious of writers. Recall the embarrassment the Federal Government suffered when Chinua Achebe rejected a National Honour in 2004. Again, Wole Soyinka recently rejected the Nigerian Centenary award for good reason. So the government will not gladly look in the direction of the arts except on the eve of election when it will promote another sham in the name of Bring Back the Book as it did in 2011. Nigerian writers and culture practitioners do not need the Federal Government's award to excel.
  “So far our literature has grown commendably, the sphere of fine arts has blossomed and the theatre is flourishing. However, there are hindrances occasioned by the failed economy. Talking about Nigeria at 54, one can confidently say that the arts and culture sector has done the nation proud. Scholars and critics should continue to guide our artists regarding future direction. The media also has a role to play in the sustainability of the arts. The Association of Nigerian Authors as well as The Nigerian Prize for Literature should also be commended for their roles. They should not relent. The fact that Port-Harcourt was chosen as World Book Capital for 2014 attests to what the sector has done for Nigeria. The sector does have so much to crow about”.