Thursday, 24 November 2011

At LABAF, it's a culture carnival with high book content

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Omiko Awa and Florence Utor

BOOKLOVERS, it is said, are strange people. “They feel more comfortable in bookshops than in bars. They make friends based on whether these people appreciate books or not … and the kind of books they have read. They look down on people who don't read books.”
   But at the just-ended 13th Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), which held from November 17 to 20, this opinion was changed, as book people, at least, did not look down on others and in fact; they were very comfortable with everybody in the bar and everywhere at Freedom Park, where drinks were sold throughout the three-day festival.
  Organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), LABAF aims at building knowledge capacity of the people of Africa. A pre-event cocktail held on November 17 at the Goethe Institut, City Hall, Lagos.
  According to the Secretary General of CORA, Toyin Akinosho, two of the key goals of the festival are: "To help improve the African human capacity through encounters with the book and to provide a site for the most informed, robust debates on the literature of the continent."
  The earth scientist, culture activist explained that in pursuit of the second objective, "over the years, the organisation has evolved detailed programme content that will stimulate books in the continent. One of such was the conversation, held in 2008, which focused on Africa in the Eyes of the Other; The Moonlight Tale in Emerging African Fiction; The Growing Popularity of the Child Hero in the New African Novel and The Search For A Reading Market.”
  He continued, “To help improve the intellectual capacity of the people of the African continent — is a work in progress. We continue to work with libraries, educationists, governments, private sector, brand specialists and communication solution experts, to find the formula to build the knowledge capacity of the continent.
  Only last year, the arts body collaborated with the Presidency in the realization of projects arising from the President Jonathan’s Bring Back the Book initiative.
  Every year, since 1999, when it staged the first book event at the New Jazz 38 on Lekki Expressway, Lagos, LABAF has played host to a stream of visiting writers, members of the public and children who come to take part in some of the most insightful conversation on literature, literacy and the book market in Africa.
  Though not a Book Fair, it's a culture carnival with high book content, enthused Akinosho, noting “It is dubbed the biggest culture picnic in the continent”.

THE 2011 festival was a huge market for investors in knowledge industry and those interested in advancing 'the art' to take advantage of the current atmosphere of freedom in a country that had suffered many strands of deprivation and suppression of freedom and hence creative expression for decades.
  The four-day festival, stretching between City Hall to the Freedom Park in the heart of the Lagos Central Business District, witnessed the convergence of scholars, authors, artists, journalists, publishers and booksellers across the globe as well as large turnout of students from different schools within and outside Lagos.

   A highpoint was the participation as observers of Programme and Development officers from the famous Hay Festival in the United Kingdom courtesy of the British Council Lagos – Maggie Robertson and Penny Compton. Also the Goethe Institut, presented a film Adopted produced by a German artiste, Gudrun Widlok, while the same German institute collaborated with the Alliance Francaise to present a contemporary dance project that featured dancers from
Prof. Wole Soyinka
Togo, Benin Republic, France, Germany and Nigeria.  Perhaps, the last time the yearly festival has such a high foreign content was in 2005 when it brought to the national Museum venue award winning South African journalist and author of Country of My Skull (a non-fiction based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of SA) Antjie Kroeg; Literature expert Prof. Chris Dunton from Lesotho; international culture journalist Gerd Meuer from Germany and a top functionary of the Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) from Denmark.

WITH the theme I Vote To Read: The Book As The Voice Of The People, the event featured intense artistic and cultural productions, art shows, seminars for school teachers, colloquium, workshop for kids, mentoring session for secondary and primary school students as well as the spelling bee contest.
  Participants cross-fertilized ideas on different authors’ works as well as expressed themselves on some latent issues.
  Digital technology and its use in enhancing the business of publishing was the focus of the second yearly Publishers Forum, which held at the Goethe Institut — the German culture centre — in Lagos. The Forum, a prelude to the festival, provided a space for key publishers in Nigeria to gain critical insight into their current operations within the context of the challenges facing their industry.
 Though the digital publishing expert invited by the Goethe Institut to facilitate the workshop eventually could not make it due to Visa problem, faculties drawn from local resources did justice to the theme and objective of the Forum as they took the over 50 participants through the various areas of digital publishing under the theme, The Book in the Age of Microchips.

 The Forum was targeted at principals of publishing houses who seek to grow their market and are willing to engage in creative thinking towards identifying strategies that could make this possible for them whether within a collective or through their individual operations. Among the major publishing outfits that sent in participants were Heinemann, Longman, Evans, Sefer Books and others.
  In the evening session shortly before a cocktail that wrapped up the Forum, two publishers discussed their efforts at publishing online literary journals, revealing the mileage the Internet afforded them in their efforts. A digital display of past editions of their journals was also presented.
    Tunde Babawale, professor of Political Economy, who is the executive director of Centre For Black And African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), opened the Festival in the morning of Friday November 18. In keynote address on the theme: The Book In My Life, which is also known as My Encounter with Books, Babawale mentored the gathering of over 100 children on how the Book could help them become enlightened citizens and help shape their future as leaders in different spheres of life. .

The Festival’s opening session at 9am is, as is traditional, largely for the young Nigerians (aged 11 to 18), for whom the organisers usually stage a robust set of programmes – workshops, reading, entertainment as well as gift items. This year, the Bring Back the Book initiative supported the segment with donations of several books which each of the students that showed up every day of the festival went home with.
  Previous speakers in this segment included Prof. Pat Utomi, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Prof. Femi Osofisan, the country’s most distinguished Professor of Drama, who gave a moving speech, in 2006, on how he discovered literature via the Bible and how reading enabled him to escape a childhood life of poverty. For Babawale it was the Yoruba folkloric novels such as works of D. O. Fagunwa that first introduced him to the pleasure of reading. The children loved his presentation as they gave him a standing ovation.
 The Day 2 of the festival, Saturday November 19,  indeed turned out to be the luckiest at the festival. Early in the day, the Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka had strolled into the festival and gave a talk to the children on the importance of the Book and Education. And just as he was about to step out, the eminent Dramatist, poet and professor of English, Prof. John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo and his literary critic wife, Prof. Ebun Clark came in and also treated the children to a mentoring session. The children rewarded the Clarks with an unscheduled birthday song for Prof. Ebun Clark, who had recently marked her 70th birthday.
  Remarkable, the last time the two eminent literary scholars and artistes were recorded at a public event was when in company of Prof. Chinua Achebe, they went to appeal to military President Ibrahim Babangida to appeal the death sentence passed on Mamman Jiya Vatsa and others in 1986.
MC reading the citation of Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD)
  In the evening of the second day, eminent artistes and culture producers who had marked their landmark birthday in the course of the year were celebrated, according to the organisers, to “assure them that their contribution to the wealth of our nation will not go unrewarded.”
  Among the celebrated were the kokoma highlife musician, Fatai Rolling Dollar at 85; the novelist Chukwuemeka Ike at 80; the music critic Benson Idonije at 75; the actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett at 70; the culture scholar Ebun Clark at 70; the journalist, writer, Lindsay Barret at 70; the photographer, Sunmi Smart-Cole at 70; the singer/entertainer Charly Boy at 60; the actor Richard Mofe-Damijo at 50; the dancer/choreographer Yeni Kuti at 50; the actress Joke Silva at 50; the music critic and publisher Femi Akintunde-Johnson at 50; and the culture scholars Tunde Babawale, Sola Olorunyomi and Remi Raji at 50.
   Aside from formally presenting them to the culture community and guests, there were also performances in honour of the birthday people with Adunnin Nefertiti serenading them to folkloric songs while Fatai Rolling Dollar dished out fourb numbers in the two hours tightly packed party.
Professors J.P Clark and Wole Soyinka
 THROUGHOUT the festival, the children segment, otherwise tagged the Green Festival adorned a carnivalesque character. The students were divided into different groups according to age and class, and were allowed to tell their group members’stories from books they had read and the moral lessons learnt. 
   The Green Spelling Bee competition, which capped up the children’s session, had different volunteers participating. Divided into two categories, the primary and secondary, participants were made to spell different words.
   Winners in the primary school category were Toyosi Adesanya, Mary Ajayi and Shade Ramos, all of St. Mary Convent School, Lagos Island, taking first, second and third respectively while the secondary school category saw Ibukun Adeyinka (Mountain Top College, Yaba), Riyyah Aghasili (Teenland School, Ojota) and Yemisi Abiodun (St. Timothy College, Yaba) emerge first, second and third respectively.
MC reading the citation of Edun Clark
  Speaking on the event Sola Alamutu, LABAF Children Segment Coordinator, said the Green Spelling Bee is to encourage participants learn new words, read widely and understand how words are pronounced.
  “As far as we are concerned every child is a winner. Though we gave out prizes as a motivation to those that excelled; our aim is not to make the children compete for prizes rather to encourage them to read, pronounce words properly and learn new words,” she said.
  Teachers present commended the organisers for making them part of the event and promised to put the knowledge they had acquired in the three day event on classroom management, parents-school relations, reading and making the children to read books other than the school’s recommended texts to good use.

THERE was also the Visual art segment, Do Not Resuscitate, which featured the works of six artists including the performance poetry of Iquo Diana Eke, the video screening of Aderemi Adegbite’s Ghetto Games as well as the installation performance of Jelili Atiku on the 1897 unfortunate incident of British Colonial administration’s invasion of the old Benin kingdom during which valuable treasures were looted and carted away by the whitemen from the palace of the then monarch, Oba Ovonranmwen Nogbaisi. The exhibition which also featured the brightly coloured works of Tolu Aliki and the abstract works of Ben Uwagboe was curated by the painter, poet, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo who also mounted an installation that commented on the state of Nigeria’s nationhood.
Benson Idonijie
THE 2011 festival ended with CORA’s signature event, Art Stampede that examined the theme, The Nigerian Abroad: Fictional Accounts of the Immigrant Experience.
  Books up for panel discussion included The Phoenix by Chika Unigwe; Some Kind of Black by Diran Adebayo; 26A by Dianne Evans; A Squatter’s Tale by Ike Oguine; Her Majesty’s Visit by Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo; Icarius Girl by Helen Opeyemi; Lawless by Sefi Atta; and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  Visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor, Aderinsola Ajao of Pulpfaction Book Club, Funsho Ogunsan and stage matriarch, Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett formed the panel while Toyin Akinosho moderated the engaging session.
  Ehikhamenor and Ajayi-Lycett, who had previously lived in the US and UK lent their personal experiences to the issue. Ajayi-Lycett recounted how she went abroad with the mindset of gaining knowledge and coming back home to put it to use. Ehikhamenor gave instances of Nigerians abroad, who give the impression that they had it all rosy, but who were barely surviving. He regarded this as duplicity that fooled many unsuspecting Nigerians who queue up at different embassies everyday to look for visas to travel abroad.
RMD, Jahman Anikulapo and Nike
  For the duo, there is no place like home because out there, you are “neither a fish nor the fish.”
  Ajao, who couldn’t contain her laughter while making a brief sketch of the characters in Some Kind of Black and A Squatter’s Tale, reinforced some of the observations that Ajayi-Lycett and Ehikhameno had pointed out.
  Some Kind of Black is about a Nigerian guy born and raised in London and who feels he is a different black man because he can’t relate with the indigenous blacks because he feels he is on a different level since Nigerian immigrants usually discuss who has acquired what degree or which aso ebi is in vogue — things that often dominate their discussions most of the time. At the end of the day, he sees himself as a different kind of black because he does not fit into either group.
  Squatter’s Tale, on the other hand, is about the experience of a Nigerian graduate who desperately wants to travel abroad and is banking on his friend, who keeps assuring him that all is well and that he would take care of him when he arrives. But when it is time, the faithful friend puts his phone on the answering machine until he is sure that his friend had settled and is even doing well.
Cross section of attendants
he shows up again and spins yarns on why he did not show up in the first place. His coming-to-America friend shows his vulnerability by accepting more lies from his America-based friend, who dumps him in a nightclub.
  Ogunsan pointed out Africa’s belief about the mystery of twins in 26A, with one twin believing that once one is dead, it may have a positive or negative effect on the other, he says.
Book stand
  Ajayi-Lycett, who is a twin herself, debunked this as superstitious, saying, “No matter how identical you are as twins, you are still very different.”

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