Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Pirates Of Penxance Brings MUSON Music Festival To Glorious End

By Anote Ajeluorou

AFTER over one week of musical, dance and drama extravaganza, this year’s MUSON Music Festival came to a glorious end last Sunday. With the theme ‘Celebrating The MUSON School of Music,’ past and present students of the foremost classical music school were at the forefront to put into practice what they’d learnt from the masters of classical and African chorale music in the proper tradition of music education. With masters of the genre like Tunde Jegede, Marion Akpata, Tunde Sosan and Sir Emeka Nwokedi, audiences had a swell time at this year’s festival.
  Inside the Shell Hall the stage was set for a grand finale. The main stage had a bold set with a pirate’s ship sailing on still waters close to a jagged shoreline. On the floor by the stage was setting for the MUSON large orchestra, with its multi-musical pieces that sat a few paces from the audience that had MUSON Centre bigwigs and corporate sponsors like Total Nigeria Plc and others in attendance.
  But before the show started proper, Vice Chairman of the centre, Mr. Louis Mbanefo, restated the prime place of the cultural centre in steering music in the country in the right direction. He promised more innovations from MUSON Centre, which, sadly, he said, would involve phasing out the lawn and dead fountain outfront. This wasn’t cheering news, as it is reminiscent of MUSON being built on a wrong spot in the first place to replace the colonial ‘Love Garden,’ the only green space on the island.
  Manager of Deep Water, sponsor company, Total, Mrs. Chinyere Uche, congratulated MUSON for its founding fathers’ foresight in initiating the festival and for current managers in sustaining it. She prayed that the dream would not die. Uche noted her company’s passion to support the arts and culture sector, with the belief that Nigeria’s art was world class and that when properly supported, it could serve as catalyst in the consciousness of Nigerians, adding, “Ours is an organization with a heart for the arts”.

THEREAFTER, the orchestra, conducted by Sir Emeka Nwokedi, struck up a tune for the Overture and thus began a musical and theatrical journey of sheer pleasure that took the audience to Broadway-proportion showpiece. Then The Pirates of Penxance band, with their dreadful costume, and reminiscent of Jonny Depp and company in Pirates of the Caribbean film, burst unto the stage with their hoary and rowdy ‘Pour on pour the pirates sherry’ song. The music also rose up a notch to match the rowdiness of the pirates.
  Indeed, it was an unfolding story of one Frederic, who has lived the life of a pirate from an early age and doesn’t know any other life other than being a sea pirate. But on sudden compulsion, he decides to quit the pirate gang and lead a normal life in a proper town. He has only known Ruth, who has lived with the pirates and of whom he is fond. His pirate mates urge him to take her along with him, but Frederic doubts the wisdom in it, saying what happens should he find another fairer than her? Which is exactly what happens.
  But just as his unease is assuaged, the sweet voices of young maidens singing filter into him and Ruth and in ‘Oh! False one, you have deceived me,’ duet-in-argument take-and-give, he pushes Ruth away. Then he chances upon the many daughters of a Major-General who are out in the open for fun. Frederic startles them upon their playground and he is captivated by their beauty and wants in on them, but they vehemently reject him until their elder sister Mabel comes up and falls under the charm of Frederic with whom she strikes up a chord.
  The other pirates and the pirate king burst on them and make to forcibly take for themselves the Major-General’s daughters. But the Major-General appears just then to avert the plan, and sings his way out, claiming to be an orphan himself just like the pirates. They relent and leave the girls alone.

IN Act 2, it comes to light that a certain fate binds Frederic with his pirate mates until some years in the future when he will be free to really leave; he cannot be joined in matrimony with his beloved Mabel. This provokes sorrow in the young lady who will be condemned to a life of unrequited love for that long, but she resolves to wait for her Frederic. This is given the music air ‘Oh! Dry your glistening tears’. It emerges, too, that Major-General is no orphan as he claimed, and this infuriates the pirates who now resolve to kill him for his treachery.
  But the police lie in wait for the pirates, which finally culminates in acts of forgiveness on all sides after a brief confrontation.
  Indeed, staging The Pirates of Penxance as final showpiece at this year’s MUSON Music Festival provided excellent musical feast for a faithful classical audience. However, the only challenge was that the lyrics were not scrolled on a screen, as most of what was sung was lost on the audience. And as a lady remarked, MUSON’s performance of the piece was better than what she saw earlier in Vienna, Austria, but she regretted not seeing the lyrics on a screen. Another lady similarly remarked that gradually, “Broadway is making its way here; this is what we go to see on Broadway”.
  All told, Nigeria isn’t quite a laggard any more in terms of artistic performance and perfection on this scale. In a way, it presages the 2016 edition of the musical festival.

Joshua Abel, Christopher Ukaegbu shine at Chevron-sponsored National Art Competition

By Anote Ajeluorou

The 10th edition of Chevron-sponsored National Art Competition for Secondary School has produced winners. This was at a glittering award and exhibition ceremony held on Tuesday at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos. It had a gathering of students from different schools from across the country who had come to cheer their mates who scaled the initial hurdles out of 600 entries from 400 schools to emerge top 10 each in the Junior and Senior Secondary School categories.
  In the end, Joshua Abel won in the Junior Secondary School category while Christopher Ukaegbu won in the Senior Secondary School category. This drew resounding applause from students, teachers and guests present in sheer appreciation of artistic ingenuity. Abel attends Oto Awori Junior Grammar School, Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Lagos while Ukaegbu attends Hallel College Boarding, Port Harcourt. With ‘Grow Your Ideas’ as general theme for the contest, this year’s specific theme was ‘Protecting People and the Environment,’ which saw the student artists interpreting it in various ways.
  But somehow, the works of two Junior Secondary Students – Olawunki Olanrewaju of Harrobs College, Alapere-Ketu, Lagos and Olatiboye Temiloluwa also of Harrobs College – on renewable energy failed to make even third place. Even the work of Azike Anita of Charles dale Memorial International School, Port Harcourt, condemning gas flaring by oil companies, with its attendant harmful effects on human beings and the environment, also failed to hit a distant third place mark.
  Other winners include second placed Joshua Odonsi of Hallel College Boarding, Port Harcourt and third place, Godwin Hodonu of Beulah Comprehensive College, Badagry, Lagos in the Junior category. Onyedikachi Egbebu of Harrobs College, Lagos, second and third place, Wilson Imini of Federal Government College, Keffi, Nassarawa State in the Senior category.
  But in all it was a contest where young ideas come to the fore in understanding and interpreting issues relating to the health of the environment and how it is everybody’s duty to keep it safe from man’s harmful practices.
  According to Chairman/Managing Director, Chevron Nigeria Limited, Mr. Clay Neff, “In 2005, when Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) set out to organize the maiden edition of this competition, we had no doubt that it was going to be a success. That was because we knew that Nigeria is blessed with talented young men and women.
  “Ten years down the road, the level of success and acceptance is truly astounding. This year, we had hundreds of exceptional entries out of which our judges have chosen the most outstanding 20 for the purpose of prize-giving. It shows how well the competition has gone in providing our kid-artists a veritable platform of artistic expression. It is important to note that former winners of the competitor have gone ahead to higher institutions to study fine arts, graphic design, engineering and other courses.
  “Why does CNL, an oil and gas company, sponsor Art Competition one may ask? Celebrating the arts is in line with the company’s Social Investment (SI) programmes which are aimed at contributing to the development of education, health and the socio-economy.  Moreover, at Chevron we hold diversity as one of our core values. Diversity is not just a buzz word to us; we value and encourage diversity of thoughts and perspectives. Thus, by partnering with the Federal Ministry of Education to sponsor the National Art Competition, we are keeping faith with the company’s values of partnership and respect for culture and diversity.
  “The sponsorship of the competition is also in line with Chevron’s vision of helping Nigeria lay a foundation of creative and productive youths, who, by virtue of their education, can stand tall amongst their peers in any part of the world. Through the vehicle of art we are challenging our youths to develop problem-solving and team building skills while not losing their competitive dispositions. Our sponsorship is also aimed at giving participants the opportunity to express their multiple perspectives of our environment, as there are many ways to see and interpret the world, and hone their skills.
  “Researchers have shown that skills learned through participation in the visual arts help to equip youth for the challenges they will face in shaping the future. According to Elliot Eisner, Art Education Researcher and Scholar in his The Ten Lessons The Art Teach, visual arts are essential to a high-quality and balanced education”.

ON his part, Group General Manager, National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Mr. Dafe Sejebor, said, “The event seeks to stimulate the Nigerian Secondary School Students’ interest in the study of fine and creative arts, promote healthy competition and develop their capacity for young children to see themselves as future entrepreneurs. We also believe that our students can attain academic excellence not only in science subjects but also in Fine and Creative Arts.
  The objective of the competition is not only to promote creativity in the Nigerian child but also to provoke an early awareness of the environment for the Nigerian Child. I want to use this opportunity to reassure you that efforts are being intensified to ensure that this event runs continuously on a long term basis and that all participating students are properly catered for.
  This edition of the competition marks another opportunity for us to develop and showcase our young talents under the theme ‘Protecting People and the Environment…’”
  Also representing Lagos State Deputy Governor and Commissioner for Education, was Hon. Obafela Bank-Olemoh, who commended the organisers and said the contest would help to bring out the entrepreneurial spirit of young people. He said it was a celebration of passion and excellence and a way to reward the students and the schools. Bank-Olemoh said education is a great investment in developing a morally upright generation and charged stakeholders to do more in this regard.
  Wife of the state governor, Mrs. Bolanle Ambode, represented by Mrs. Abiodun Opeifa commended Chevron for giving back to society through sponsorship of the contest and charged every individual to emulate the oil company by always helping out those in need. She also said art is a way “to channel the creative energy of young Nigerians to make a living”.
  Acting Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs. Hajia Hindatu Abdullahi, represented by Rev. Chris Ogorji, stressed the importance of art to human development, as it “enhances the process of learning and nourishes the integrated sensory organs such as the cognitive, emotional and psychomotor capacities. In fact, the research shows that art is the driving force behind all other learning… A holistic education involves not only classroom activities of reading and writing, but the ability to express ideas and issues through art…
  “The NNPC/Chevron Joint Venture is collaborating with the ministry through this programme to preserve ourtoday for posterity and also encourage creativity among our youths… We owe our young ones a duty to revitalize their minds, commitment and vision towards making Nigeria a better place”.

At The Arthub, others, spoken word performance takes centre-stage

By Anote Ajeluorou

“A crossroad between poetry, oration, commentary, performance and rap,” so did Mr. Chike Ofili, a poet, succinctly categorise the new poetic buzz in town known as ‘spoken word’ performance. In deed, throughout most performance outlets, spoken word is taking over the traditional poetry performance of reading from the cold pages of a book. It is the new generation alternative poetry that is fad among the young and not so young poets. Its main attraction rests in the fluidity it offers its performers to mesmerise the audience with seeming verbal virtuoso, especially in the hands of gifted performers who season it with none verbal elements to woo the audience.
  But some die-in-the-wool ‘traditional’ poets would have none of it; for them ‘spoken word’ or ‘spoken call’ is nowhere near poetry as it lacks the essential ‘ingredients’ of poetry. But yet others see it as an extension of Africa’s oral performance poetry coached in modern robes and that it is giving traditional poetry a fillip, as it is gradually winning more converts to itself, especially from among the young. But even while the place of spoken word is still being debated, strands have started emerging from within it that would interest keen observers.
  There is no doubt that there will be an explosion of spoken word performance at Paul Efe Azino-organised Lagos International Poetry Festival 2015 scheduled to start today at Freedom Park, Lagos Island. Azino is one of the masters of spoken word in the country and as director of the festival, he has promised a balanced space for performers from both sides of the poetic divide.
  Last Saturday at Tantalisers, Masha, Surulere, Lagos, the debate about spoken word performance, its place within the poetic space, spiced up The Arthub’s programme when it unveiled its poetry magazine PoetsinNigeria (PIN) – The launch was amidst performances from young poets who regaled the audience with variants of spoken word.
  While defending spoken word at The Arthub, former Lagos State chapter chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) AJ Daga Tola argued that spoken word takes after African oral poetry tradition, adding that it should not be discriminated against as not being proper poetry. But founder of The Arthub, Mr. Eriata Oribabor was insistent that spoken word, though tantalizing as it may sound, is not poetry and should not be regarded as such as it lacks the core ‘ingredients’ that make up poetry.
  Others also argued in support of spoken word performance, but charged its practitioners to have a good grasp of the written language first, as it wasn’t enough to mouth inanities on stage and call it poetry. They added that spoken word artists fall into the danger being outright prosaic in their bid to impress, something they must avoid if they are to make lasting impact.

WHILE unveiling the online poetry magazine poetsinnigeria and PIN online, the editor, Mr. Freedom Olanrewaju Kolade gave a brief historical background to the online publication just as he stated the vision behind it.
  According to him, “In January, 2015, PIN was born to meet the multidimensional demands associated with the growing affection for poetry writing, reading and performances across Nigeria. The aims and objectives of the magazine include to create a holistic online directory for poets in Nigeria, create unlimited opportunities for poets to showcase their poetic crafts, a veritable ground for poets and performance poets to hone their writing and performance skills via literary projects like poetry workshops/residencies to be organised by PIN, protect and promote registered poets and their works to be showcased beyond the shores of Nigeria.
 It will also give poets and performance poets recognizable voices in the scheme of things in Nigeria and guide poets in the areas of editing and publishing”.
Young poets that performed at the event were Ajenifuja Alim who did ‘Who am I?’, Rachel Charles ‘Beyond the Colours,’ Favour Agom performed ‘Time to rise again,’ Kukogho Samson did ‘Beggar without choice’ and ‘Little boy, little girl’ from his collection What Can Words Do? Edwina Eleme (NEO) did ‘In His image,’ Emmanuel Kwapyil performed ‘Portraits of girls,’ ‘After I’m gone,’ and ‘I have a dream’. By far the youngest poet to perform was Adeyemi Jeremiah who also did ‘Beyond the colours’ and performed in a band.
  By far the most electrifying performers were Graciano Enwerem of the poet group, Figures of Speech, Paul Word and a young lady, Lawal Gold. While Enwerem added an interesting variant to spoken word performance with his breathless act, Word gave a sustained oration that was enthralling.
  But it was the lady performer, Gold, who showed uncommon, immense prodigy, as she entered the stage with a Yoruba chant. Hers was a class act, as she gave both vocal and bodily expression to piece ‘Social leprosy’ with a definitive social reorientation of her country in rearranging Nigeria’s old and new anthems to create lingering luminosity to the country’s current lot. Gold’s depth of historical perspective is stunning and how she weaves it into her poetic rendition to give a broad range of stimulating ideas.

TOLA was the guest poet and he thrilled the youthful audience immeasurably with his socio-political poems. One such provocative poems he rendered was ‘I’m AK-47,’ which has the people facing the nozzle of that dreaded gun, as the target of misrule. Another piece ‘Books’ being burned on Third Mainland bridge to draw symbolic attention to the reading of books was telling. But ‘Wearing your mother’s name’ from his collection Being A Woman Being struck an instant rebellious cord with the audience, especially the young women who are required to lose their surnames upon marriage.
  In responding to issues about his political poetry, Tola said there has to be a clear ideological perspective from which to write such poetry, saying he doesn’t think about his audience or what would happen to him when he writes. He said Marxism is his take off point, and noted that the current the socio-political arrangement was stacked against the poor masses. He urged poets to begin to use their talents to demystify forces against an egalitarian society.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Re-evaluating Africa’s Development In The Beautiful Ones Have Been Born

By Anote Ajeluorou

In 1968, Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Amah published his classic The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born where the beautiful ones connote Africa’s incorruptible, nation and empire builders. It was the era shortly after a flurry of political independence from colonialism of many African countries and corruption and military coups were rife. Now, a little over four decades later the continent hasn’t fared much better. Africa’s perennial problems persist. It’s exactly why a young African who could pass for Amah’s son, or even grandson, is proposing a counter-narrative: that indeed the beautiful ones have been born, but that they have failed to truly manifest!
  Che chidi Chukwumerije’s The Beautiful Ones Have Been Born (Boxwood Publishing House, Germany; 2015) has shifted the logic somewhat. Nigeria, for instance, has travelled 55 years away from her date of independence, but is yet to find the guts to be self-dependent. And so, she is still hopelessly dependent on others for sustenance, from food to clothing to technology and what-not. This is hardly the usual fare for poetry, but Chukwumerije would not tolerate the ostrich posture that has continued to stunt Africa’s development.
  In a poetic manifesto, he writes, these are “poems on the activation of the can-do and will-do spirit of self-help in Africa. Gone are the days when we lamented that the beautiful ones are not yet born. The future has left us in the past, and we have no more time to waste”.
  Chukwumerije is a futuristic poet who is frustrated by Africa’s inability to measure up to her counterparts in shaping the modern world in development strides, but which has remained a puerile, slavish consumer of what others make. The poet is asking questions about Africa’s geniuses and why they have failed to apply their knowledge. He is asking questions about Africa’s leadership that has led the continent in a backward slide in sharp opposition to the rest of the world. He is asking questions about Africa’s elders that burden their children with shaping the future without tools. He is also asking the youth questions about their vision for their continent’s future.
  The first poem in part one ‘Building a car’ tells it all about Africa and Nigeria’s laggard situation among the leading nations. When will Nigeria build a car she will sell to the world? He writes, “Strangers cook the food in your stomach/How can you vomit what/You cannot digest? You cannot even/Build a car, you cannot even/Drive to the future where the world has gone…”
  ‘Quantum Leap’ also continues in this castigation tone, of Africa’s inability to keep up, “The plane that flew away/You cannot follow with your spear/The air is too far/…They can lend you money/With which to buy from them/What money cannot make -/It comes from the spirit/Awaken, black spirit, and take/The quantum leap/Don’t read it. Think it/Don’t buy it. Make it/Don’t take it. Give it/There is something greater than/Independence. It is called/Self-dependence. Adulthood”.

INDEED, encapsulated in this poem is Chukwumerije’s charge to his continent that has failed the adulthood test and remains infantile. Although he lives in faraway Germany, the poet is disappointed that his continent lacks the spirit of enterprise to match the strides of progress knocking on her doors. Chukwumerije is right to rail at a continent’s slumbering spirit that has failed to awaken to its duties. But it is not so much that the spirit is not there, it is that the galvanizing spirit to propel the can-do spirit forward is lacking. Scattered in many university campuses today are innovations and inventions, like the Shell-sponsored made-in-Nigeria cars from Petroleum University, Efurun, Warri and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria taken to South Africa for exhibition/fair.
  What becomes of such technology thereafter? Take Sir (Prof.) Victor Uwaifo, for instance, who invented a car years back, which is parked in his compound in Benin City; it’s technology waiting to be exploited and monetised to give employment to Nigeria’s teeming youth. In fact, there is technology in abundance in the land, but who will transform it into economic asset? What is the role of Ministry of Science and technology in harnessing such potentials into economic gains away from dependence on oil as mono-economy?
  For poet Chukwumerije, the beautiful ones have been born, but they willingly give space for the ugly ones to take active possession of the land and naturally ruined it, as is their nature. He sums it up thus in the title poem, “The beautiful one gave birth/To another beautiful child, and said/To it mournfully: the ugly ones/Still rule over our land/And the beautiful ones have not/Been born.”
  Also, the poet’s charge is contained in the piece, ‘I Don’t want to be a Trader’ presented in full on this page. Nigeria is one vast sales store of goods made in other people’s countries. Why can’t Nigerians also make these things and sell to self and others? This is Chukwumerije’s lament; it’s what is at the soul of his poetic journey.
  Chukwumerije’s The Beautiful Ones Have Been Born is admix of poetry and prose. In fact, it is even prosaic in its simplicity. This is understandable; the poet wants everyone who can read to get the message – that Africa exercises her full potential to be self-dependent otherwise its independence will continue to be vacuous, empty. But, of course, in Chukwumerije’s prosaic style also lies the utilitarian aesthetic of communicating the shared failure that calls to action renewed zeal to forge ahead from debilitating failure to long awaited success. This is poetry of a patriot.