Monday, 31 October 2011

Ejike returns to the scene with Bright Eyes

Prof. Bob Ejike Eme

Prof. Bob Ejike Eme is not an artiste that could easily be forgotten in a hurry. He started as a columnist with the defunct Drum magazine at a tender age of 13, before venturing into acting and singer.  He has featured in more than 40 home movies, outside the rested TV drama, Basi and Company, and also recorded six albums since 1985; he made his first appearance in the music scene. This multi-talented artiste spoke to OMIKO AWA on this latest album ‘Bright Eyes’ and music in general.

We’ve known you to be a movie person, why music?
   I am a man of both worlds. I made my first CD, “No Vacancy” in 1985 while I was acting in Basi and Company TV drama. The album was a success in Nigeria. I took it to Italy, where I re-launched it and remained for 22 years, before coming home. Though, most actors move from acting to music for lack of roles in the movies; with me, it is not so, for I have been doing the two for long.

 Was “No vacancy” translated into Italian?
   No, it remained in English language. In fact Italians listen to a lot of music in English. It also made a big hit in Italy, making me to enjoy large following.

What’s is in the offing?
  It’s my latest work, a 16-track album titled, “Bright Eyes.” All the songs are written, arranged and partly produced by me, in my studios.

Since you did most of the work, who then is handling the sales?
  This is really a problem for most Nigerian artistes, who for the sake of selling their records accept whatever the producer tells them. I have my strategy of distribution and marketing, which include direct supply to the Alaba boys.

Aren’t you afraid of piracy?
  To be candid, I see it as a secondary problem. The main problem of any artiste is how to make his or her work to get to the market. It may interest you to know that some artistes even pay pirates to help market their albums, so that it could be heard everywhere and thereby make them popular. For me, piracy is no problem; ‘Bright Eyes’ is my major concern. I have spanned through three generations of Nigerians, having played alongside with big time artistes such as the late Tina Onwudiwe (a.k.a. African Oyinbo), Dizzy K, Chris Okotie, Jide Obi, and Onyeka Onwenu among others.

For you, music and movie, which comes first?
  I started acting before entering into music. My first film ‘Echoes of Wrath’ in 1982, won the National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST) prize. We featured Richard Mofee Damijo, for the first time in television in 1982. I have been in the arts for long, I started writing from 13 years and still write for The Sun Newspapers till date. I once shared column with Ben Okiri in The Drum Magazine. I was also the first person to write a graduation dissertation on the works of Ben Okiri. I wrote it without reference from any previous work on him to serve as a guide or literature review, though there were write-ups on him by The Guardian Newspaper, then; they were not really fleshy enough to be used for a work of such magnitude, besides I could not lay my hands on them. I made an  ‘A grade’ from that work. I studied under the tutelage of the late Prof. Ola Rotimi, Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi and others. I had wanted to go into writing novels, but the available structures were not motivating enough for new entrants. You will write and publishers would tell you that you are not good enough to be published, instead of saying they don’t have the fund for it. So, we went to the film industry, because sponsors were available and ready to fund productions — they were even coming after us — with mouthwatering incentives and I quickly jumped at the opportunity.

How many films have you done?
   I have acted in over 40 films outside several musical videos in my studio.

Which instrument do you play? 
  Have you watched, ‘This is it’? You will see that Michael Jackson can’t play any musical instrument; you will see that he was just using his mouth to reproduce various musical sounds. I tried to learn how to play instruments in an institute in Rome, when one of my instructors after listening to my music said: “Bob, you’re either a mad man or a genius, to want to learn musical instrument.” He advised me to either concentrate on my music or lose it, because instrument will make me lose concentration. He said, the work of a composer is quite different from that of an instrumentalist as singing and playing instrument along with it will lead to distraction.

But Fela was a good instrumentalist, composer and singer:
   Yes, he was and there are others like him, too. But, it must be noted that we all have different gifts. I was told that the concentration you give to the instrument could lead to distraction. I have worked with artistes that play instruments and I have always pointed out where they go off the tone, which goes to confirm what I was told.

Do you observe that our music is full of vulgar languages?
    It’s a serious issue, but the truth is, vulgarity is not for creative art, which must be clean and pure. Music must elevate and not reduce man or the hearer. The vulgar music popularly referred to as ‘Naija’ music talks about sex and other trivialities. You even hear artiste praise themselves, tell their illicit affairs with women, abuse people and even announce their acquisition of new property. Despite the complaints people make about them, you will still discover that they are directed by a producer to sing such, so that, they can make money. They see vulgar music as a money spinning music. For me, money is not all; I am not into music for money, but to use it to elevate man. In my 30 years of hard work, I have carved a niche for myself that I would not allow such songs tarnish dignity.

What is the borderline for music and movies for you?
   It’s very thin. In music you are the sponsor and the artistes, so, you need to do much work to cover larger grounds while in movies, a sponsor does the sleeves, advert and promotion; all you need to do is to play your lines and get your dough. The borderline for me is very slim, but for now, I am fully into music.

  I’m from a humble background. My father, Steve Ejike Eme was a tax commissioner in Anambra State Internal Revenue and my mother, a beautician. I inherited my musical gift from my maternal grandfather, who was a World War soldier. He used to entertain soldiers with his guitar then. I attended Government Secondary School, Umuahia and later University of Port Harcourt, where I studied English Language and Literature. With the success of ‘No vacancy’, I left Nigeria for Italy in 1987, where I joined a band known as Iree, that later broke up, making me to take up a job and go back to school to study Art Communication in a popular University in Rome. I also taught in a University before coming home. And since I arrived, I’ve been into acting, modeling, doing TV presentation and writes for The Sun Newspaper. I have done a lot of works, but my latest is ‘Bright Eye’, which is my sixth album.

Advice to the youths:
  Most of them are not patient enough; they are in a hurry to be independent and to make money. I would advise them to be honesty in all their dealings and to know that ‘the only success that stands the taste of time is that earned through hard work’. The youths owe posterity a duty to turn the country around for good because the older generation has failed us, which is the main reason for the failure of infrastructure and other social amenities.

Tour Nigeria… A project of unity

By Omiko Awa

WITH the zeal to quench his curiosity and have a first hand knowledge of the people in the northern part of the country, their culture and geography, Moses Oghagbon, a Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Fine Art graduate, armed with his camera sets out to explore the nooks and crannies of the region. The Lagos-based artist and photographer whose works has featured in several shows such as Lilies in the Swarm, Hidden Talent and over 25 others, says, “the idea to tour the country was a personal thing. It is a passion I developed while a student and fond of drawing the northern landscapes. So, while I was posted to Kebbi State for the national youth service, I decided to carry it out, fulfill the dream. It’s a personal thing and the project is ongoing.”
  How was it like combining adventure with national service? The Edo State-native artist adds, “ it was fun. During my service year, I always move from one local council to another to take photographs, draw and mingle with other Corpers at weekends and through this means, I was able to comb as many community as possible made friends and satisfy my thirst.”
  After the compulsory one year service, while other southerners who served in the north were hurrying back to their various states of origin to reunite with family members and tribesmen, Oghagbon stayed behind for six years, visiting places, taking photographs, following festivals such as Arugungun and knowing more about the people. Were there no challenges?
   He says, “I toured the northern zone of the country for six years, to see the northerners in their natural homes, understand how they live and know my country better. Though it has been fun doing all that, I ran into some brick walls that bother on some people not being interested in me taking the photographs of their environment or chasing me out of a place in discourteous manner, without allowing me to explain myself. Regardless of these, some communities gave me a warm welcome. So, it was, indeed, a mixed bag.”
  “However, I could remember while in Kebbi State, I think the state capital, I entered a place to see some old people, but ran into a small boy, who, perhaps, had not seen a man with camera before; he ran into the house and called his mother. The mother came out, saw me and cried out in alarm. Behold, I need not to be told of the next move, for I had to run for dear life. The other was a soldier preventing me from taking pictures at the Arugungun fishing festival. Besides, it was demanding and I had to live on the proceeds from the sales of my works, which in most cases were sold at a give away price, to get money to move ahead.” he recalls.
   Better informed about the country, last week, Oghagbon held a paintings and photography show that ran from September 17 to 23 at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos. Titled Scape from Nigeria, the event, which could be viewed online at showcased paintings and pictures of different events across the country, especially those from the north.
    Speaking on the show, he says, “Scape from Nigeria was my first solo show in the country and I am grateful for the success. I was able to use my different works on oil on canvass, mixed media, watercolour, charcoal and others to tell the story of my tour project, enlighten the people about the culture and distinct landscapes of our fellow brothers in the north, tell the story of unity and call for supports for the second phase of the tour. I really need the encouragement of government, corporate organisations and well to do individuals in this regards; I mean sponsors for the project. Though there are promises, one can’t count on them until they are materialised 
   Comparing his experience with the previous shows featured, Oghagbon informs, “previous collaborations with other artists have been successful too, they broadened my ideas and exposed me to so many people within and outside the art. The experiences garnered from them contributed to the success of my show. Though this is the maiden edition, the subsequent ones would surely be better,” he assures.
   With the austere economy and high prize tags on art works, can artists really make out a living in the profession and pursue other goals like yours? The artist says, “it depends on the artist, because doing business is part of the training we got while in school. Presently, I’m putting the knowledge I have acquired from school to test; with this, I make different works for different groups — the elite, the rich and even the ordinary man in the street.”
   With the success of the show, the artist would take a long rest before embarking on the second phase of his project, visiting the states he had earlier on missed out.
  “As the show has ended I would take some break, no photography, no painting, to rest and plan for the second phase of the Tour Nigeria Project, which will start from next year. I was unable to visit Maiduguri in Borno State because of the distance, but during the second phase I will surely do that. In fact, the state was the only place I did not visit in the north. This time around, I am joining it with other states in the south.”
   But do Nigerians appreciate art collections to make you take all the pains to explore the nation? Oghagbon, notes, I hope there could be a kind of orientation for people to know that there is a difference between a trained artist and those that learnt the trade in a street corner. Those trained under structured school system are informed and know the different genres of art; they are different from the guys that go to weddings and social gatherings to take photos. As you can see my photographs are ‘talking pictures’ of places, people, events and landscapes.”
  “Besides, through this project, I speak peace, love and unity to the people. We need to understand that despite our ethnic and cultural differences, our binding force should be love and unity of purpose for our fatherland, Nigeria”, he intones.
  From the broad spectrum of works that cut across different media such as metal, pastel, watercolour, oil on canvass, landscape drawings, human paintings and grotesque distortions, it becomes difficult to put Oghagbon to a particular school of thought. Pleased with the present situation, the artist leaves the grouping to the good judgment of the audience.
  “I would prefer my audience and art collectors to classify me and my works into a school of thought rather than do that myself, as some of my works include abstract, figurative and landscape. However, I express myself in any medium that catches my fancy at a particular time, be it abstract, figurative or expressionism because in school we did all. Though as time goes on, people would begin to identify me with a particular medium, for now, I do all,” he argues.

For theatre, Bikiya gives her all

Bikiya Graham-Douglas


WITH a good education, employment and promising career in the UK Theatre, Bikiya Graham-Douglas had everything going for her. Despite these perks, however, her determination to use her passion to make a difference in her country’s art and culture scene was compelling.
    Coming home, the amiable, young daughter of former Culture and Tourism Minister, Alabo Graham-Douglas, featured in a few productions; and soon, she felt the need to set up Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF) as a platform to rejig theatrical performances in the country.
    She says, “on returning home, I starred in a few productions from where I discovered the need to put theatre in the forefront. I also discovered that there was limited platform apart from the National Theatre and the National Troupe that could make theatre thrive in the country, so, I began to talk to people of like minds — young and old — and the result is Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF).”
  She adds, “at BUAF, we are focusing on the revival of theatre in Nigeria, by providing opportunities for people to access performance. We believe that theatre is an integral part of our culture and, as a very expressive people, we must not lose it.”
  The lady, whose performance in the Calabar Carnival in 2009 earned her Honorary Indigene of Cross Rivers State and the accolade Odi Ere (Odi woman) in Bayelsa State, is also focused on creating new talents for the theatre.
  “My organisation is not just about performance. We train people; equip upcoming act with skills for their advancement, hold educational workshops, organise competitions where playwrights submit in their works, we assess them and if worthy for production, put them on stage. We also use the platform to celebrate our unsung playwrights by staging their plays and as well presenting the nation’s history to the public through storytelling.”
  To achieve her dream, the Rivers and Bayelsa states-native expects art aficionado, corporate bodies and other stakeholders to partner with her in the quest to revive live theatre in Nigeria, she says: “theatre is a very important part of our history and culture; entertainment in this country started with it, yet nobody really takes it seriously anymore. Theatre could be a major industry if it gets the right support and platform. And it is on this ground that, I'm appealing to our president to declare the National Theatre, a national monument as this would attract funding from foreign organisations, promote theatre culture and preserve our beloved theatre, which is the hub of artistry.”
   Why show so much love for the theatre?
  “Why not?” Bikiya asks, as she looks into the thin air, as if on stage and with a broad smile, adds, “while growing up in Port Harcourt, my father and my mother were promoting arts and supporting people; through these efforts, I was exposed to the theatre; it is something I grew up with and anytime I watch people on stage, I often wonder ‘oh my God, how do they do this’, and it always feel more real to me; I feel I could connect with them more than watching a movie.”
GROWING up in a home that promoted the arts, Bikiya, chief operating officer of BUAF went to the UK to study Business Economics and Law, but had to do Drama and Music as electives courses.
   She narrates: “while doing some electives as part of my degree course, I picked Drama and Music. I was endeared to the stage that I was awarded a scholarship by the Queen to go to London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts to study Style Acting. After that, I moved on to Oxford School of Drama for a foundation course in Acting. Graduating from these schools, I got a place at the Bridge Theatre Training Company. I left the company after two years to work elsewhere in the UK.
   “I never taught of picking up acting as a career, while growing up, but as I got older, I learnt I have to make my own decisions and I started reading and understanding the dynamism of the art; from there, I became endeared to the theatre that I just had to be on stage.”
   Taking part in classics such as Macbeth, Electra, The Importance of Being Earnest and some other works in England, where there are adequate structures for the theatre, Bikiya was pulled home by her passionate mission.
  “ While in the UK, I made it a point of duty to come home because I wanted to be part of something more meaningful and bigger in the country. Though there were few people doing some stuff, there was still a strong need for more stage productions, so, as a theatre performer, I thought the only way I could make an impact was to start productions, create opportunities for people like myself and artistes who want to do stage, but do not have a platform.”
  According to Bikiya, “theatre is my focus. In fact, the more I get to know it, the more I love it and the more quests for it. My love for the theatre is growing from strength to strength and anytime I discovered a new play or a new playwright, I just feel excited; it makes me happy being involved.”
COMPARING the theatre in UK and Nigeria, she says, “in the UK, they have such a rich history of theatre. I mean you can use the theatre to find out what happened in the 13th century in that country. They have funds for the theatre and the preservation of their National Theatre. They also do not see Theatre as part of entertainment, but entertainment in entirety. There are a lot of people who are committed to it and as well, a lot of private organisations who support to make it vibrant. In the UK, you do not have to go far to identify the National Theatre or recognise playwrights, but in Nigeria, the reverse is the case.
  “When you talk of the theatre, some people in this part of the world would ask if there is anything happening there. This set of Nigerians cannot be blamed because of what happened in the past with the military, which created fear and so much insecurity in the society. We allowed theatre to die in this country; over there they did not allow their theatre to die; they preserved it and that is why, generation to come would still refer to it as a hub of artistry. In Nigeria, we have just very few people who are committed to it.”
  Bikiya adds, “another thing is that, they looked at the long term and sustainability that theatre has created for their economy and citizens; in Nigeria, we have not addressed that. A lot of time you talk about theatre in the country people see actors as people going on stage to make some noises for a couple of hours. They have failed to look at the channeling that comes with it. They have not realised that theatre production goes beyond the actors, directors, stage manager and others; they do not know that each performance involves building the set, buying materials and engaging people. All these mean putting food on people’s table. People in Nigeria, do not see theatre practitioners as contributing to the economy, but abroad, these channels are given serious considerations, in fact, they see theatre as a means of preserving their past, learning from it, too, and building the future.”
   According to the lady, one thing she has noticed looking at both theatre traditions, which she has played active part in is that people who love theatre in both climes are driven the same way and, the theatre uses the same technique and the same commitment; the only difference between us and them is, they have support and we don’t.
   Despite the myriads of problems facing entertainment sector, Bikiya believes that there is a great future for the industry, “so far people like me are around to make things work and also, there are people to give the scene the push it needs in terms of sponsorship and other supports. Besides, with the feedbacks I get from my productions, I am convinced that people are still interested in the theatre.”

TO what extent has your dad been of help to your vision?
   “Dad and mom have been very supportive; however, when people hear my surname, they expect I would have everything. A lot of people just assume I have all the money and do not need any help. They even think I’m greedy for asking for help, but one thing they do not know is that my parents are different, they have their destiny and I have mine to deal with as me. I am opportune to have them, but to an extent, it has not really worked in my favour when it comes to sponsors because people believe I have everything I need. I’m generally grateful that my parents have been very supportive and always encourage me, whenever I’m down. I must point out that I have been overwhelmed by the goodwill of many Nigerians and where I have not been able to get sponsors, individuals that believe in what I am doing have been very supportive. Some I know and many I do not know have been encouraging me to make the theatre what it used to be in their youthful days.”
   Not relenting in her efforts to keep the stage busy, the CEO of BUAF recently produced for stage, Castle In The Air, a play, which centres on greed, religious diversity and ethnic bigotry, written by Barclays Ayakoroma.
  On the reason for the play, she says, “I chose the play to address a lot of problems we are currently facing as a country. Most people are aware of the bombings, ethnic and religious crises as well as other issues that make up the daily topic of discourse, so, I staged the play to remind Nigerians that our diversities should be our strength rather than our weakness; we should accommodate one another and live like brothers and sisters — one united entity.”

People in Nigeria, do not see theatre practitioners as contributing to the economy, but abroad, these channels are given serious considerations, in fact, they see theatre as a means of preserving their past, learning from it, too, and building the future”

 TO make theatre more accessible, Bikiya held an Open Air Theatre tagged Cakes and Theatre last week in Abuja. The event marked the launch of her outfit in the Northern region of the country. The one-day show, which included dance, music, poems and others, showcased diverse talents.
   “Cakes and Theatre served as a launch pad to my future performance in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The one-night event was opened for all; in fact, it was different from the expected stage performances because the stage was thrown open for anyone that had something to present to the public. It was like a freedom hall event, where different people come to air their views. It was just a-one night of music, theatre and the art.
  “There was no special play, but there were a lot of cakes and drinks to savour. Open Air created opportunity for practitioners, stakeholders and theatre lovers to mingle and chart a path for the entertainment industry in the country. It was a   night of theatre,”Bikiya reminisces.
   Coming back to Lagos, Odi Ere has gone to work for yet another play titled A Man Of Character by James Ene Henshaw for December period.
  She informs, “we have started work on our next production, A Man Of Character, showing at Terra Kulture in December. James Ene Henshaw, another notable playwright, wrote the play. We hope to use it to thrill Lagosians during the Yuletide season and keep the theatre culture aflame. We hope to see families live in unity and parents come to watch plays with their children as it was in the past.” 

Friday, 28 October 2011

Tade … Culture advocate on a mission

 By Omiko Awa

OBSERVING the changes in the society, especially, as it affects Nigerian communities, Olufemi Tade, a cultural aficionado and the Artistic Director of Royal Star Entertainment Production (ROSEP), an organisation that aims at revitalising, preserving and projecting African cultural heritage through dance, music, drama and general theatrical acts, has chosen to take the bull by its horns and checkmate the infringement of foreign cultures on the various Nigerian culture.   Recently, he organised a seminar to commemorate the World Culture Day (WCD) and a week later, staged a play, The Incorruptible Judge to celebrate the Nigerian child, instill moral, justice and uprightness aside from marking the Nigerian Children’s Day (NCD).
    Femi, who would stop at nothing to support the African culture and its importance to our various communities says, “for the past three years my cultural outfit Royal Star Entertainment Production (ROSEP) has used May 21 declared by United Nations Education and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as culture day to bring artistes, traditional chiefs and culture devotees to lecture and discussion on how to promote and sustain African culture, so that, the youths will not be carried away by the enculturation of foreign life style.”
   The culture advocate this year adopted a different system to the yearly seminars and talks by encouraging speakers to use Yoruba and English languages to present their papers. Speaking on the theme Harmonization of Art and Culture In Modern Nigerian Society, Mrs. Bridget Yerima, the Deputy Director of Lagos Zonal Office of National Institute for Culture Orientation (NICO), who gave the key note address led other speakers, which include Mrs. Bankole Williams, the general manager of La Campaigne Tropicana; Mr. Segun Oseni, publisher, The Genesis Magazine; Mr. Shedrack Golen of Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC); and Otunba Gani Adams, president /founder Olokun Festival, who sent a representative, to do justice to the topic.
  Was it not tough managing the two languages? “No, it wasn’t. In fact, it was planned in a way to our objective and make people to freely use our local languages in public gatherings. This will not only make us to learn, understand and speak, but would also encourage its passage to the next generation and as such sustain usability. Besides, the speakers had translators for those that could not understand Yoruba language and during the interactive session the ideas raised by various speakers were also translated for better comprehension.”
   Not depending on the success of the seminar, Tade concerned about the moral decadence of the youth celebrated the Nigerian child with a play, The Incorruptible Judge written by Olu Olagoke. He says, “we have been celebrating the Children’s Day in the past with a drama presentation. In 2004, we had Oluronbi while Moremi was in 2006, but this year we decided on The Incorruptible Judge, one of the recommended texts for the Senior Secondary School (SSS) students. We decided to stage it as way of making them to internalise the storyline and imbibe in the underling moral lessons.”  He adds, “it has been observed that most students spend more time with the TV, Video and other screen shows than on their books, which is even becoming a general practice among the adults. So, since it’s an old play, which most people may have come across, I presented it, as a reminder of the past for the adults and as a revision lesson for students writing their School Certificate Exams.”
TADE has to modify the cast and setting of the play, introducing comedy, dance and other theatrics to make it entertaining without loosing the key message of the author. He informs, “firstly, the play was chosen for its relevance to our time. Secondly, we modified the cast and settings to reflect our contemporary society. We added elements such as comedy, romance and dance to it without losing the original message.  In fact, the judge to some extent used some Yoruba words, though part of the original words, but translated to Yoruba language; as the grammar was on the high side. We also added music, dance and Pidgin English in some of the scenes.”
    With these additions, it’s sure you have changed the play. “ No, the author and publishers were among the audience. In fact, they were pleased with the modifications; Olu Olagoke specifically said he made the play simple for any group to adopt.  Before doing that, I had earlier told him of my intentions, which he consented to, saying the play is for the open theatre. As you must have known, when it was written, there were only two of such theatres in the country — Ife and Ibadan. There was no proscenium theatre like the National Theatre, so for one to make it suit the audience it has to be modified.”
   Impressed by the message and cast, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is working out modalities with culture activist to restage the play.
 “I hope to stage it again on the International Youth Day (IYD). The first show was specially made for youths in SSS 11 and 111, we were specific at first, but when we discovered that some schools could not hold their programme because of the rain, we allowed their children in, even making it a-two show event. But, with the one coming up on the International Youth Day (IYD), there will be no limitations, as it would be opened to all categories of youths, adults inclusive.” He continues, “I also hope to take the play across the country to enlighten people about their rights, crime and how to stay away from criminal activities. We are going to localise the play to fit into the tradition of the people of any of the zones we get to; in terms of costume, language and other elements of drama.”
   Tide, whose contributions as a drummer in his church (Redeemed Christian Church of God) choir led to the church adopting traditional attires for the choir on special events such as the Holy Ghost Congress, says, he localised the play, adding traditional costume, local language and proverbs as way of passing on our culture to the next generation. He stresses,  “as I pointed out in my speech, if nothing serious is done to save some of the elements of our culture in few decades from now, they will all die off, because foreign cultures are fast encroaching into our culture; imagine only few people could play the ayo olopon, our traditional game and even understand our local proverbs.”
“IT’S in line of preserving the African culture that, my outfit organises the yearly cultural show to project our culture aside from the intellectual discussions on how to move it forward. It’s indeed disheartening to know that some Nigerians hate wearing our traditional attires and don’t believe in our culture; which is part of the cultural imperialism we are talking about and, if allowed to continue will get to a level our children may not even know how to dress in our traditional attires or speak our local languages,” he quips.
Olufemi Tade
   But does culture begins and ends with dance, clothing and languages? “No, it goes beyond that. It is the totality of our being. It’s tells whom you are, your behavioral partner, technology and how you live. Most of the problems we are facing in the country are as a result of the infusion of foreign cultures into our society and most people are Ignorant of this. So, we are creating the awareness of these cultures, so that, they could be preserved and for the people to live by their tenets.”
   For supporting and encouraging his organisation in the fight against cultural imperialism ROSEP honoured some individuals that have contributed to the growth and development of culture in the country. Among such personalities are Aduni, the president of Orisha Congress and others that have been championing the cause of African culture as well as Evans brothers Ltd, the publishers of the play, The Incorruptible Judge, and the author, D. Olu Olagoke. 

Castle In The Air… theatre against ethnic bigotry

By Omiko Awa
THE nation’s ethnic and religious crises were recently brought to the fore in a theatric performance by Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF) at Terra Kulture, Ikoyi, Lagos.
   Titled Castle In The Air, written by Barclays Ayakoroma and directed by Israel Ebo, the production centres on the hypocrisy of the tribes that make up the geographical entity called Nigeria.
   With each tribe pretending to love the other, the play through different comic acts depicts how self-centeredness, greed, tribalism and other ills have continued to tear the nation apart.
   Set in Benin, Edo State, where Alhaji and Hajia, the parents of Aminu, live and have been doing business for more than three decades and as well, brought up Aminu, their only son to marriageable age, the play shows how personal interests of Alhaji, which could be likened to our leaders — political, religious and tribal — would have hindered the son from living a happy life and be free to express himself.  
  Within the periods of their stay in Benin, Alhaji, a Moslem and an indigene of Kano State, has established himself as a businessman and made friends among the people, one of who is Chief Emokpare, an Izon and a Christian. This also goes for other members of his family.
  Alhaji’s friendship with Chief was, however, put to test when his fortunes took a nosedive, making him to look for a lifeline. Finding one in his brother-in-law, Alhaji Usman, a Kano-based businessman, he rejoices. The joy did not last, as the condition for the bailout states that Aminu, a sassy young man, must marry and within a year brings forth a baby boy. This sounds impossible, but with the N100 million at stake, Alhaji and Hajia change their minds and decide to look for a wife for their only son.
    Identifying that they are Moslems, the couple ponders on getting a wife from their state of origin. Though Hajia suggests, picking a Moslem among the Benin people since they have lived in their midst for several decades, the husband insists on Kano, stating that he is Hausa and a Moslem, and as such his son must marry form his state.
   Unlike Alhaji, Chief was happy that his niece, Stella, whose education he is responsible for, has finished her studies in England and is coming home to stay. He arranges that Stella marry one of the commissioners in the state, so that he could recoup some of the money spent on her. The arrangement was done, even, to the approval of Stella, who accepted not for love, but to satisfy her uncle’s selfishness.
   Bringing Stella to rejoice with his friend, Alhaji, for the arrangement, Chief meets Alhaji’s family deliberating on how to get a wife for their son.
   Unknown to the two friends, Stella and Aminu have been lovers. To show he is of age, Aminu proposed marriage to Stella and she agrees. Realising this, hell was set loose with both guardian and parents swearing never to allow them marry on the grounds of tribe and religion. 
  Considering the bailout fund, Alhaji and Chief shift their stands and list out conditions for the marriage to go on. The conditions are not only difficult, but a hurdle to wane the love that exists between Aminu and Stella.
  As fate would have it, Alhaji Usman passes on without fulfilling his promise and bailing out Alhaji, his in-law, from his financial crisis. This leaves the two friends in a limbo, having built castles in the air, while the young lovers go ahead to formalise their relationship, overlooking their religious and tribal differences.
   Speaking on the play, Bikiya Graham-Douglas, the chief operating officer of BUAF said, her organisation hopes to emphasise on the unity of the country and showcases how our leaders through greed and self-centeredness have projected those elements divide the nation instead of working for its unity.
  She informed that BUAF aims at rejuvenating the theatre, celebrating our unsung playwrights and presenting the nation’s history through storytelling.
  Assuring theatre lovers of more captivating plays, she said the group would this month organise an open-air theatre at Abuja. Tagged Cakes and Theatre, the show would serve as a platform for people to showcase diverse talents — dance, music, poems and others.
Cakes and Theatre would serve as a launch pad to my future performance in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). It is a one-night event and open for all; in fact, it will be different from the expected stage performances because the stage would be thrown open for anyone that has something to present to do so. It is going to be like a freedom hall event, where different people come to air their views.”
  “There would be no special play, but there will be a lot of cakes and drinks to savour. It will create opportunity for practitioners, stakeholders and theatre lovers to mingle and chart a path for the entertainment industry in the country,” she said. 
  Commending her sponsors, Bikiya informed that the venue for Castle In the Air was given to her group for free by Terra Kulture and called on other stakeholders to emulate this, to make the stage active again.
Bikiya Graham-Douglas
 “The greatest challenge facing the theatre is fund and the only way to overcome this, is when corporate organisations and private individuals partner with various theatre groups for stage production,” she noted.
   Not deterred by this problem, she said, “with the boom and appreciation for local entertainment such as music, film and literature, we are encouraged that we can succeed in our cause to bring back the theatre to the fore-front of the nation’s entertainment. We are optimistic that with the continued supports of corporate bodies and private individuals the theatre will flourish again.”

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Tope's drum of a life

Obanikoro Street in the suburb of Lagos is roused from its serenity by sounds filtering out of the Breath of Life Church auditorium, venue of the Wonder drums Live-In-Concert.
I’m ushered into an empty seat in the almost filled hall, as the sound from the drum sets on stage continues to enchant the audience; watching the drummer hit the gadget in a tutored rhythm.
Within seconds, “pam, pam, gre…gre…gree…greee… pam, pam, pam” and a lady springs up from behind the drums.
“You are welcome to my show,” she says gasps for breath as a result of exhaustion.
“I am Tope Odebiyi (a. k. a. Topsticks) of Wonder Drums; with me in live-in-concert is Emeka on keyboard and Philips on bass,” she informs, bowing in obeisance.
Her last word, which is not far from ‘thank you’, is drowned by applauses that sends her off the stage for another performer to step in. Topsticks’ performance is almost cyclic, as she comes on and off stage giving room to other invited upcoming artistes performing.
“I feel so great, so good that the event was a success,” she says after the concert. “Putting things like this together was not easy for me with my limited resources.”
She adds, “I thank God for the audience, I never knew the turn-out would be this much even with the little publicity given to it.”

TOPE’s joy reflects on the way she responds to greetings. She hugs some, shakes hands with others and almost kneeling to acknowledge the greetings of an elderly woman.
What’s next with this outing?
“I cannot say for now, but definitely there is going to be another outing before the year runs out,” she says looking satisfied with the just concluded one.
“I look forward to having an all-female band, where all the instruments would be played by ladies; though I have not started putting things together in that direction, I must mention that it has been penciled as one of the things to do this year.”
As if not satisfied with her response to the question, Tope in emotion-laden voice reveals her other plans.
“I also want to mentor upcoming drummers to play the instrument better and to tutor interested youths, who want to come into this aspect of the art form.”

WHAT is your relationship with ( K-Sticks), Kunle Ponmiloye?
“He is my mentor and coach. He advises and directs me on drums, and I hold him in high regards. He is like a father, a teacher and mentor. He is all put together,” Tope says with a giggle
But people say he is your secret lover.
“No-o-o-o! Our relationship does not go beyond mentoring. He is more experienced than I am, and guides me professionally. Besides, the gap between us is too wide for him to descend so low, to be involved in extra-marital affairs with me. Please, it is not true.” Her otherwise happy mood is changing already.
And the men, are they coming?
Tope, drummer girl, not yet recovered from the last question, says, “let’s keep that for now. “They have been coming and God in His infinite mercy has been giving me the wisdom to handle them because I can’t give everybody a chance. It is not that I do not want to marry, but I want to use this period to concentrate and acquire more musical skills, so, that I could be firmly established, like some of the men, in the field.”

THE queen of drums, a product of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, is not in a hurry to be joined in matrimony, in fact, she is more interested in building her musical career and mentoring the youths than settling down to make babies.
So, when would the bell ring for you?
“I will let you know when the time comes,” she says amidst laughs.
And your leisure
“I enjoy listening to music or being around drums. I hardly go out to leisure places on my own, except to shows. I’m always thrilled by music, especially the sound of drums.”
Just like always wanting the best for herself, Tope is not in a haste for the market…
“I am not in a haste to bring out a CD, I am taking my time and as soon as the guys working on it is through, I will push it to the market. Surely very soon,” she enthuses.
Your parents”
“Oh! I have their backings for all I do as you can see that they came to cheer me up. When I started, they never supported me because they found it difficult to see their daughter drumming, but seeing my dedication and success, they, especially my father, had no choice than to support me.”
Talking to the parents, the elated father the father, Odebiyi, an engineer, says, “I was not willing to allow Tope to take to drumming as a career because nobody in my family does that. But with what I saw this evening, she has won my heart, I never knew she has gone this far; her confidence, prowess and following are what I never expected. I’m happy because she has made me and my family proud.”

Grace … on graceful love for the physically challenged

Omiko Awa

Grace Alache Jerry
LIKE any upcoming music act, Grace Alache Jerry looks forward to a prosperous career, scintillating stage performance and showcasing of captivating dance steps. This dream was almost aborted on January 7, 2002, when at about 8 pm, the commercial motorbike she was on had a head on collision with a car while returning from ‘God’s own house’, where she had gone for the day’s choir practice. Regaining consciousness in a hospital, she realised her spine, lower back and pelvic have been affected; a damage that has since, then, confined her to the wheelchair.
  The Otukpo, Benue State-native, whose rescuers ignorantly compounded her pains   says, “though there was immediate help at the scene, as you know, those involved in the rescue mission were not Paramedics and as such, they didn’t know that my spine was broken on the spot. So, they mismanaged the situation, thereby worsening my case. Anyway, if not for their intervention, there is the possibly, I may have been dead by now.”
  Surviving the mishap, Grace bounced back to her passion; playing music and helping parents identify and hone the talents of their children. However, her confirmation on the wheelchair opened her eyes to the plights of the physically challenged; a group she is now, in the forefront, advocating for, especially, as it concerns the construction of public building and roads.
    Advancing her cause, the National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja, English language student contested for the 2011 Miss Wheelchair beauty pageant in the country and won. A platform, she hopes to use to promote the general good of the physically challenged across the country.   
    But what do you intent to achieve with your winning? “I want to promote a society where everyone is free to live and interact without prejudices, a society where people with disability will be free to move with little or no hindrance. I hope to persuade decision makers and those in charge of the construction of public buildings to make ways for those on wheelchairs to assess public buildings and the roads.” 
   The founder and executive director of Xperience Grace Foundation, a faith based not-for-profit and non-governmental child care organisation, is not only centred on the policy makers, but big private organisations; in fact, she has taken the battle to the hotels. Recently, she visited some hotels, which included the Golden Tulip, Festac, Lagos, where she discovered that some of their facilities are suitable for those confirmed to the wheelchair or physically disabled.  
   Speaking on how to make others in her shoes join the campaign, Grace who on June, this year, became the WaterAid in Nigeria ambassador, making her the official spokesperson for the physically challenged people in their Water, Sanitation And Hygiene (WASH) sector, enthuses, “my campaign is not for people with disability alone, but for the general public. I am out to enlighten them to first see people with disability as human before their disability, to see them as unique and endowed to do extra-ordinary things. I’m also carrying the same campaign to people with disability because if they don’t believe or see themselves as human that can do anything and everything, the society will see them for that light. If they begin to look down on themselves, expect people to have pity on them or depend on charity the society will look at them like that; but if they see themselves as achievers, people of great talents and ready to blossom, the society will take them for that and give them the hand they need.”
  For how long have you been in this? Grace beams with smile; joy could be seen all over her. “Before my accident I had been involved in mentoring children.” She continues,
“I’m passionate about children. I help parents identify and groom their children’s talent and make the child to be his or her best.”
   With three CDs and the musical video of the fourth CD soon to hit the market, her return to the scene stunned those who saw her during her crisis, especially the children who looked at her from the corner of their eyes. She says, “though few of the children understood my problem, for most of them it was, their first time of seeing someone in a wheelchair. So, they felt I was enjoying myself seating on a chair with wheels; I had to use the opportunity to explain my situation to them. That made them to know that the chair is a mobility-aid.”
   And your music? “Presently, I have four CD in the market. My recent work is a song for Nigeria; it celebrates our cultural diversity, the people and the nation as a whole. The video will soon be out. I dedicated two songs in the CD to the country.”
   Though the song is enjoying massive airplay in the queen’s home state, Benue, and Jos, where she resides with her family, the songwriter is still battling with the sales and distribution of her CDs to give them the desired massive appeal. “I have been marketing my CDs by myself, but I’m working on getting a marketer, so that, the distribution would move faster and for wider spread.”
   Grace, whose intention was never to be a beauty queen had gone to present a paper to an event when providence linked her to Mr. Cosmas Okoli, CEO, Mobility Aid and Appliances Research and Development Centre  (MAARDEC), Lagos, the chief advocate for the physically challenged. She informs, “after I recovered from the accident, I became an inspirational speaker and any opportunity I have, I tell my story and people began to know me. I, however, came in contact with Mr. Cosmas Okoli in a workshop, where I presented a paper, he introduced me to the pageant and I went through the flier, checked them up in the Internet and filled the necessary documents and by the Grace of God, I emerged winner.”
“I hope to use my winning to speak on behalf of the over 20 million Nigerians living with disabilities by raising public awareness of their plight and as well influence attitudinal, architectural and social change in the people. In most cases, amenities such as pedestrian bridge, public toilet, bus-stop shelter and others do not cater for the physically challenged. I also hope to emphasise on the campaigns against maginalisation or discrimination of people with disabilities, many of them still suffer rejection from families, relations as well as government at all levels,” she quips.
  On stage performance and marriage, the ambassador says, “some times while on advocacy, I sing some of my songs to make people know what I can do. But for marriage, definitely, it has to be after my reign; for now, my work comes first.  For now, my work is my number one passion, I think work, I go to sleep thinking of work and all round me is work, which for now is my major concern. I ‘m much concerned of how to effect change, impact on lives and leave a lasting legacy for people living with one physical disability or the other.”