Thursday, 31 May 2012

By Omiko Awa
INSPIRED by the spirit of convergence for which Lagos remains pre-eminent, the Lagos Black Heritage (LBH) Festival celebrates African creativity within a carnivalesque of traditional and contemporary dance, music, painting and photo exposition, drama, international symposium, film shows and other artistic offerings.
   The 3rd edition, which maps out the black African presence in the Mediterranean with a cultural exploration of the Afro-Italian connection opened with a keynote, The Black Mediterranean: Migrants’ Routes In The Global Millennium, followed by Africa Meets Italy: History, Industry, Trade; Western Imperialism In Africa: The Italian Connection; and The Roots Of Italian Interest In Nigeria Oil: Economic And Political Stakes Of A Challenging Initiative. The various speakers that handled the subjects talked about Italy’s role in the exploitation and under development of Africa as well as how blacks have come to doing demeaning jobs in Europe, especially Nigerian ladies taking to prostitution in Italy and the consequent effect of stereotyping.
     Calling on European countries to alleviate the plight of Africans countries whose homelands were plundered centuries ago by European slave traders and colonialist, Dr. Oti Agbajola Laoye, Professor of English and Diaspora Studies, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey, US in a chat with The Guardian says, “Africans have been contributing positively to global economy. There are a lot of African professionals who are contributing in all kinds of ways to the economy of foreign countries; even the so-called uneducated or unskilled workers are also contributing to the growth and development of their host country. In most cases, people focus only on the negative facts and ignore all the positive contributions of Africans everywhere; so, if you are asking for people who are not necessary successful in the sense we define success to come back home, we should then ask everybody to come back to Africa and build the continent.”
   Responding to those who often conclude that African engaged in prostitution and the sales of elephant tusks as the same and that Africans engaged in such business are doing ‘nothing’ in Europe, the don states, “we can’t say these class of people are doing nothing, at least the prostitute are taking care of the excess sexual energy of the Italian people. They need customers to survive in the business and the striving trade shows that they are being patronised not by Nigerian men, but by Italians and this has been going on everywhere, even during the colonial periods. Many of the white people came here and got ride of their excess sexual energy by interacting sexually with our women, I do not want to use an extreme word such as rape, though the whites did a lot of it. So, this is not a recent problem, it is a problem that has suddenly become noticeable because of the kind of attention given to it in the past few years.”
  What then must the nation do to correct its damaged image as a result of this? Dr. Laoye who has presented many scholarly papers on African-European relations in seminars and symposiums says, “it’s time the various countries that make up the African continent, including Nigeria, begin to call back and ultilise their professionals that have left the continent. A lot of them left their home countries not because they hate them, but because there is nothing to do. I love Nigeria and many others outside do, but we left because we want to be busy, we want to be ultilised, we want our knowledge to be tapped for the betterment of the nation; and it is not until Nigeria and others that make up the African continent actively begin to think of nation building would they then create more jobs and the enabling environment for people to come back and contribute to the development of their countries.” She continues, “right now Nigeria is only spending money; in fact, wasting money because if you have a problem with prostitutes in Italy, then we should have problems with our leaders who take our money abroad or to Swiss banks; they buy expensive houses in different countries, thereby contributing to the economy of such countries while depleting our local economy. So, when we talk of prostitution, we need to redefine and expand the meaning to not only be limited to the women standing in the cold in a foreign countries waiting for customers, but to include our leaders and people that willingly hand over what truly belongs to Africa to Europeans.
  “We should look at it in its proper perspective and not victimise the victim. The woman who leaves Edo State or wherever she may be coming from in Nigeria or Africa to Italy is being victimised and it is tragic because they are endangering their lives, they are exploited and easily killed.”
  “Prostitution is not a good or fair business, rather those involved are victims of the society; they are, in fact, the victims of our time. And because of the activities of these victims of our local societies, the Italians have resulted to stereotyping all African women. To them, the few African women involved in the illicit trade, mean every woman that has legally made her way to Italy and doing legitimate job is a prostitute, and if there is any man carrying a bag or wearing Senegalese clothes, as long as he is an African, he is selling elephant tusks,” Laoye sighs.
   Frowning at the way Africans are stereotyped the English language teacher says, “stereotyping is bad, in Africa we don’t say because one white person is a serial killer, he has killed a hundred people, therefore all white people are killers; it is not extended to all the white people in the world, why then should Africa identity be based on stereotype. I think it’s a dangerous way of looking at the world, because it will make us to continue to look at the world in terms of race, which is obsolete. We should look at the world in terms of ethnicity, culture and national identities rather than identifying a person based on the skin colour and then engaging in stereotyping, which are mostly negative. You will never find positive stereotypes.
  “Nigeria has some of the most brilliant people in the world, but you will never hear them say Nigerians are brilliant people, you will never hear them extend that brilliance to every Nigerian. Stereotyping is, in fact, bad and dangerous,” she states.
  Comparing the situation to the US where she lives, Dr. Laoye informs, “in the US you can take a person to court for stereotyping you, so they are more careful about asking you if you are a waiter, but that does not mean it does not exist. I am telling you if Obama steps out of the White House some one will surely stereotype him; even as he is in the White House, he is experiencing discrimination too.
 “ Someone said there are Italians involved in crime in the US, yet an Italian rose to be a US president; that does not mean they are no longer criminals; the fact is, the illegal acts of those few Italians was not used against all of the Italians, but when it in the case of Africans, it is generalised inform of stereotype. Europeans forcefully transported Africans to their plantations to work for them and are still bold enough to punish us that should be punishing them for the crime committed against us.”
  Can’t Nigeria and other African countries call Italy to pay reparations? “Some group of people want Italy to be held accountable for exploiting the African continent since they were among those that forcefully took away our resources, art and even man power to develop their country, but rather than refuse our people visas or citizenship, they want them to make it possible for any Nigerian or African to work in Italy because they are owing us.
 “Reparations can take different forms; some people have said it is not possible to pay African in monetary terms because the harm done cannot be quantified monetarily; for example how do you quantify the Africa-American whose parents were forcefully taken to America 400 years ago and have worked for centuries without payment. It is not just the money, but also the suffering, psychological torture and the trauma, which can’t be paid for. European countries that have robbed Africa in the past can make things better by funding research, giving free services in needed areas and, with time the people will get back what that have been taken away from them, even if such giving lasts for 400 years. All the European countries are owing Africa and the least they can do is to respect us and not punish Africans for being black.”
  Commending the efforts of Lagos State government on LBH, Laoye says, “the name Freedom Park, venue of the festival should be extended to other facets of life in the country, so that we can sit and think about freedom in more engaging ways and know what to be freed from.”
   Making reference to the state of the nation, Laoye asks, “is it freedom from economic hardship, freedom of speech, freedom to move from one part of the country to another without fear of being bombed or is it freedom to work in the northerner part of the country without being offered temporary appointment because one is not a northerner?     “We need to make border crossing a more positive thing rather ignore them or focus attention on the mobility that exists outside the country. While we are theorizing on freedom; we should begin to look at its practicality and extend it to our immediate local.”    

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Duro Ladipo… Reincarnation Of Theatre Enigma

By Omiko Awa

LIKE yesterday, it has been more than three decades that the renowned dramatist, Duro Ladipo passed on. In fact, it was precisely on March 11, 1978, he breathed his last at the age of 47. Like a colossus, the theatre practitioner left an indelible mark on Nigerian stage.
   The late theatre icon was famour for capturing the Yoruba mythology in his plays, which were later adapted to other mediums such as photography, television and cinema, with the most famous being Oba Ko So— a dramatisation of how Sango, the third king of Oyo Empire, became the God of Thunder and Justice. The epic drama received international acclaim at the 1965 Commonwealth Arts Festival held in United Kingdom.
  Aside from this, Ladipo was instrumental to the founding of Mbari-Mbayo, a cultural organisation that aimed at promoting budding artists in Osogbo, Osun State.
   With over three decades gone, Ladepo Duro Ladipo, one of the sons, is to bring back some of his father’s works to the present generation. The University of Ilorin Performing Arts graduate is currently working on a project that aims at revisiting Mbari-Mbayo.
   Tagged, Back To Mbari-Mbayo, he says, “the project is a movement of young artists that are determined to revisit Mbari-Mbayo Art Gallery in Osogbo, the root of Duro Ladipo’s theatre, to look at some of Duro’s works, make them relevant to the contemporary society and as well showcase them to the younger generation. We also hope to rekindle his memory in the minds of average Nigerians, make them have the feel that he was one of the founding fathers of the Nigerian theatre. We hope to inform them that he and other practitioners such as the late Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola and Akin Ogungbe laid the foundation on which today’s home video strives.”
   Ladepo, who upon graduation, had a stint in the media and advertising was involved in Gelete, a TV serial. He later left the production crew to join his elder brother, Tola Duro Ladipo, to produce Sho Da Mo, a TV programme sponsored by Lever Brothers Limited.
  He says, “Duro and others theatre practitioners including Ogunde, Ogunmola, Ogungbe, made popular Alarinjo (travelling theatre) in the country, and I think government should immortalise them for their contributions to the arts, especially theatre.”
   According to Ladepo, his pet project will enable him showcase areas of the late actor’s art that has suffered neglect and not known to the public. Such areas, he notes include music. “I was 12 years old when Duro died. I was part of the cast and crew that followed him to France, his last trip. At some of the performances held there, I played the roles of Oduorogbo and Moremi and also beat the Bata drum. Right from my childhood days, he had always been encouraging me to do theatre. He taught me how to play the piano, he was an organist and a choirmaster; in fact, we had a piano in our house and he used to teach us, especially my younger brother, Wole, and I. It was through this process that he passed some of his skills to me; so, when I came of age, following his footsteps became an easy go,” he informs.
  “However, I want to do something different from what others have been doing, but within the scope of his works. Duro was a trained teacher, he never had the opportunity of going to the university to study theatre; he was rather influenced by Ulli Beier and Kola Ogunmola when he attended Ijesha Moral classes organised by the University of Ibadan. Ulli Beier advised him to study the Shakespearean series as well as the stories of the gods, which really helped him to write fantastic operas such as Oba Ko So and Eda that earned him international recognitions abroad. I want to improve on what he started aside from projecting some of his thoughts,” he adds.
    Has any of your family member done something on any of his works? Yes, my mother, Abiodun, has taken the plays to so many places. She has even tried to put them into TV dramas. Recently, she produced a film, Moremi, as a continuation of the legacy Duro left behind. My younger brother, Yomi, is also working on Oba Ko So. But I am focusing on Duro’s musical prowess. People do not know that he was a fantastic composer; he composed the songs for his plays and also for his church. In fact, some of the common songs sung in the churches, especially the Anglican Church, were composed by him,” he says.
   “We are putting together most of the songs he composed in the 50s and 70s, including those he did while as choirmaster of the Anglican Church. I was privileged to have been with him to learn those songs, which I am now going to reproduce.”
   To give his reinvention the charm of originality as if it was the late stage, himself, that did it, Ladepo aside from being the lead singer, reassembled the repertoire of his father’s troupe.
  “I went to Oshogbo to bring young singers, Bata drummers as well as most of the people that started Mbari-Mbayo with Duro.  In the CD, you will still hear the traditional chanters do their things as if it was in his film. You will hear the real Esan chanters, the egungun and others just like they did it with Duro,” he says.
   Produced and arranged by Ladepo, the seven-track album blends African percussion with modern instrument to make the songs relevant to the time.
   “The songs are arranged into a medley of juju, fuji and others to bring out the message. Music is nothing without the message. The album also includes the Bode Wasinimi Duro did for the then Nigerian TV, Ibadan; social commentaries that remind leaders to be responsive and responsible to their subjects; and others that talk about family and society,” he notes.
   Recorded at 2KB Studio, Lagos, Ladepo states that the follow up musical video will be out this month.
     Recalling what informed the project, the music producer says, “it all began from a dream I had while in class two in the secondary school. In the dream my father gave me gangan drum with the kongo and I said, ‘Baba mi what do you want me to do with these’ and I woke up. I did not understand the dream, so, I allowed it to lay low. But years after graduation from the university, I saw my father in a dream again and when I moved close to him, I discovered he was in tears; I demanded to know why he was crying, and he disappeared again. Comparing the dreams I concluded he wants me to do something for him; it is that believe that has given birth to Back To Mbari Mbayo project.”
   He continues: “After the public presentation of the CD, we shall embark on rewriting some of Duro’s play to drama, opera or a blend of both. We also intend to fill in the missing gaps and improve on his works without throwing away the spirit. We want people to see the beauty of his play the way it was done in Commonwealth Art Festival in 1965 that earn him first position and a national honour — Member Order of Niger (MON) — at home. We still want people to feel the spirit, the elaborate costume, energy and language of his operas. We want people to know that though Duro has passed on, Duro still lives on.”  

Monday, 21 May 2012

The grill, the frill of a child’s vision


 THE hall was filled to capacity with parents and children wearing smiling faces. The horde of photographers struggled for vintage positions to take shots of the 30 participants selected from the 42 public and private schools across Lagos State that qualified for the maiden edition of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF), Child Art competition.
  With theme, The Black In The Mediterranean Blue, the festival, which in the past has featured adult art competition, this year, in its third edition shifted ground with the child art competition and a sub theme, The Vision Of The Child.
   Aimed at making the children from age range nine to 12 tell in painting what they know about their culture, immediate environment and the changes that have taken place in the Lagos, organisers wrote to public and private schools in the 57 Local Councils and Development Areas in the state and only 42 met the requirements. With weeks of painting and assessment, this number was trimmed down to 30 and finally the best six was picked for the cash prizes.

THE award and dinner night sponsored by Diamond Bank PLC saw the top six winners go home with different prizes. Akinola Ibukunoluwa Ayomide of Methodist Girls’ High School, Yaba came tops going home with N120, 000, followed by Doyinsola Akinwande N100,000, Lotana Nnoli N80, 000, while Sokoya Kayinsola, Sulaiman Sheriff and Babatunde Balogun got N50, 000 respectively. 
  Apart from the cash prizes, other gifts including a LBHF customised laptop and certificates of participation were given to them. All the 30 children that made the semi-final level got different prizes.
    Drawing a loud ovation was Divine Grace, a five-year-old girl, who forced her way to the competition. She was also given an honorary certificate for her tenacity and ‘I can do it spirit.’ 
  Commending organisers of the show, Dr, Odu Akinola, mother of the star prizewinner, said, “I am shocked by the quality of work presented by the children and I see greater leaders in them, judging from their paintings and the interpretations.”
  Happy for the success of the event, Foluke Michael, the festival secretary, said, Nigerian is a land of talent, I never believed that Nigerian children could do what we are seeing today, they interpreted their paintings like people of 18,19 or even 20 years old, which means we must all sit up in this country, because these children are conscious of the goings-on. We must also encourage them, provide the right environment for them to grow, so that, we can get the best in them.”
  She added, “parents should encourage their children to go beyond studying mathematics and physics, but develop interest in others subjects and courses. They should also not ignore any talent discovered in their children.”
  Compered by Tee A, the event was graced by Lagos State Commissioner for Culture and Inter-governmental Relations, Mr. Disu Holloway; the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Executive Director, Corporate Banking and Regional Businesses, Lagos/ West, Diamond Bank, Mr. Uzoma Dozie and others.

Monday, 14 May 2012

How Providence Smiles on Ajai, The boy slave

By Omiko Awa

LIKE the proverbial cat with nine lives, Samuel Ajai Crowther went through the vicissitudes of life to attain greatness. The first African Bishop of the Anglican Communion, whose time and life is currently being re-enacted in a stage play titled, Ajai, The Boy Slave. The play gives a photographic reminiscence of how the boy-slave from his teen years — when he was taken into slavery — rose to be an icon of the Christian faith, a scholar and a historian.
    Staged recently at Agip Hall of the Music Society Of Nigeria (MUSON), Onikan, Lagos, the play written and directed by Wole Oguntokun based on the original concept by Gbemi Shasore ( a descendant of the Crowther family) gives a high quality dramatisation of an African story with cast drawn from Nigeria and Europe.
  Captured with several other family members at his teen, when his community, Osogun in Nigeria was raided by the slave merchants, the boy, began the adventure that would later transform his life in a dramatic note. He passed from one master to another before getting to the Portuguese slave traders, who after several weeks of keeping him in the slave market put him alongside about 187 others in a ship en route Portugal. The Portuguese slave ship set off, but was later intercepted on the sea by two British Man O’ War ships positioned to enforce the abolition of slavery already adopted by the United Kingdom. With the interception, the British ships led the slave ship to Sierra Leone where all the slaves on board were set free. By virtue of this, the freed slaves began a new life in the country.
   While Sierra Leone, Ajai under the tutelage of missionaries attached to the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) learnt to read and write and as well as developed carpentry skills.  He also became a Christian and was baptized Samuel Crowther; a name of his Christian mentor. 
  In 1826, he was sent to the Islington Parish School, England, and returned a year later to attend Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
  Upon graduation, he began to teach at the college and married a schoolmistress, Asano who was baptised Susan. Asano had been one of the slaves bound for Portugal alongside Ajai. 
   In 1841, Ajai was selected by the Anglican Church to accompany James Schön, a missionary on an expedition along the Niger River. The expedition aimed at carrying out the colonial master’s 3C’s policy — Christianity, commerce and civilization — on the Niger River province. 
   Following the expedition, Crowther was recalled to England where he was trained as a Priest and ordained by the Bishop of London. He returned to Africa in 1843, opening a mission in Abeokuta with Henry Townsend under the supervision of Henry Venn. The relationship with Henry Townsend was a rocky one, lasting all their lives. 
  Crowther began to translate the Bible into the Yoruba language and also began a compilation of a Yoruba dictionary. A Yoruba version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was to follow as well as a codification of other local languages. 

Following the British Niger expeditions of 1854 and 1857, he produced a primer for the Igbo language and another for the Nupe in 1860 as well as a full grammar and dictionary of the Nupe in1864.
SAMUEL Crowther’s life was marked by stand-offs with Church establishment, which had factions that believed native African was incapable of leading an African Church. His pursuance of a truly native church met with resistance form Henry Townsend and those of Townsend’s school of thought. He sought to use his acceleration within the church hierarchy not only as a tool to spread Christianity, but also as one that would set his people free from the shackles of colonialism and ignorance. 
  Ajai understood that head-on collisions with the colonialists would not achieve the desired results and, so, made himself indispensable to a system that in turn allowed him continue his work in enlightening the natives. 
  In 1864, he was ordained the first African Bishop of the Anglican Church, and in 1891 suffered a stroke, dying on the last day of that year.
THE well-designed play, which is on tour of European countries features an all-new and first time cast that showcase deep understanding of the Nigerian culture with a mix of Anglo-African music. This background sound rightly depicts the historical context on which the play is set.
   Aside from passing on the message of morals, commitment, heroism and patriotism, the emotion-laden play highlights the role of providence in Ajai being able to reconnect with his roots and family members.
  Speaking on the production Oguntokun, avers, “the research for the play was massive. I had access to materials form quite a number of sources. It is probably the lengthiest script I have ever written. We had to really trim it down. The first performance, we had was well over two and a half hours. For this performance it is one and a half.”

Grip Am ... A spell of change

By Omiko Awa and Florence Utor

THE aphorism, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ unfolds itself in the play Grip Am, staged under the Live Theatre on Sunday project recently.
   Written by the late playwright, Prof. Ola Rotimi, Grip Am chronicles the life of a couple — Ise and Aso — who resides in an agrarian community.
  Ise, an impoverished peasant, would have been happier maintaining a low profile, but for his wife, Aso, who constantly reminds him of his wretchedness. In fact, she nags him, which always result to a fight.
   The farmer’s problems was compounded when one evening he returns from the farm hungry, with the unruly wife not ready to prepare his food; so, he decides to pluck some fruits from his orange tree, but soon discovers that the fruits are no more there. The children in the neighbourhood have taken them. This grieves him, especially when the wife describes the orange tree as nothing worth caring for.
    To prevent further intrusion, Ise ties some charm on the stem of the tree, yet the stealing continues. It, even, becomes one of the causes of the almost constant fight in the couple’s home.
   However, events take a new turn when in the midst of their regular squabbles, an angel from Orumila (a Yoruba deity) turns up; not only to make peace, but to take their personal requests to God. The condition for the request to get to God is that their individual wishes must not be more than one.
   Ise, then, sees the demand as a means to arm himself with power to punish anyone he catches plucking his oranges, including children. So, he asks for the power to make anyone he sees on his orange tree be gummed to it for as long as he chooses whenever he says grip am. The divine messenger, who had expected he would ask for something more demanding, persuades him to ask for another thing, but he won’t change his mind.
   Surprisingly, Aso asks for the power to command Death to take her husband whom he considers a pain in the neck, since he has chosen to live a wretched live.
   Not long, Ise’s landlord who had come for his rent falls victim. He comes to Ise to collect his accumulated rent, sights an orange on the tree while waiting for the arrival of the impoverished farmer and just as he attempts to pluck it Ise returns; seeing him, he shouts, grip am — instantly he is gummed to the tree.  
  After making the landlord to go through pains, Ise gives him conditions for his freedom, which include writing off his accumulated rent and forfeiting his house to him. These, he quickly accept to free him from the condition.
   Aso reprimands Ise for using crooked means to get a house; but just at the nick of starting a fight with the wife Death comes for him and the wife commands him (Death) to take the husband away.
   Confident that Ise will follow him to the land of no return, Death gives him some time to prepare himself. While preparing to die, he appeals to Death to pluck him an orange from his orange tree. Not thinking twice, Death obliges and Ise says his magic words and Death gets glued.
   Like the landlord, he pleas for mercy and swears never to kill him if freed. Ise frees him and he flees not completing his mission.
   Realising that Ise’s request is not useless after all, at least he has used it to make the landlord cancel his debts, dispossess him of his house and chase away Death from their lives, Aso braces her husband and they lived happily afterwards. 
    The comedy, a reflects on power, shows how man can change his fortune for good with his meagre or almost inconsequential resources. It also reflects on occurrences in politics, where a leader gets to power and instead of using his office to improve his society, uses it to witch-hunt his enemies and enrich himself and his cronies.
   According to the producer, Adenugba Olushola, Grip Am is symbolic of Nigeria with its abundant natural and human resources, yet most of its citizens are living in abject poverty. The orange tree that is the main attraction in the play depicts the nation’s commonwealth, which the rich and powerful have always deprived the poor from getting; and each time they make frantic attempts to get it the rich and powerful shout grip am.
Commenting on the play, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, a veteran actress, who was in the audience said, “Grip Am is a food for thought for all of us as a nation and individuals. Aso has nothing positive to offer; women make the home, they also have the power to make their men to be whatever they want them to be.  But in her own case, she abuses her husband. It’s just the same way a lot of us, Nigerians, complain all the time without doing anything positive to change the situation.”
Sola  Adenugba
  She added,“ the couple did not ask for anything positive. They illustrate the power of the mind, which gives you what you ask for. So, if you ask for something bad, you get it because we are co-creators with God, Orunmila, in this case.”
   The elegant septuagenarian matron of the art, Ajai-Lycett stated that Nigerians are endowed with the best resources in the world, but if we don’t prove that to the world, those with less endowment will take over and we will remain at the bottom.”
   Deleke Gbolade, the director of the play, informed that his group is trying to bring back the theatre culture with the production.
His words: “We are just trying to reclaim the lost glory of the theatre culture.  We are putting up billboards, radio jingles, newspaper adverts and have opened a website to create the necessary awareness. We are also on Facebook.