A Festival and aligning Kenya’s cultural belief towards Festac ’77

IMG_1431

NAtional Museum, Iganmu, Lagos. Official home of Festac ’77

At a roundtable session held to celebrate Professor Austin Bukenya in Nairobi a few weeks ago, the subject of FESTAC ‘77, also known as the Second World Black Festival of Arts and Culture, repeatedly came up. Veteran thespian Steenie Njoroge was in attendance at #BukenyaForum and he had with him a copy of Kenya’s souvenir programme for FESTAC ’77, which was held from 15thJanuary to 12thFebruary 1977. When I saw it, almost 40 years after the event, I had this strong urge to make sense of our participation at that famous festival.

If you mention FESTAC in Nigeria, there are two places that immediately ring home. One, is the federal housing estate, located along the Lagos-Badagry expressway initially created as residential accommodation for delegates of the festival. The estate has lost the glory it once held. Many of the houses are now owned by private individuals although the federal government still holds a claim on the area.

The second, more popular connotation is the National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos home to the Festac Festival. This international event brought together 75 countries and communities from all over the world and today, the National Theatre remains a major tourist attraction for Lagos. It is documented that 9,546 participants and over 550 visitors attended the event from 62 FESTAC delegations.

To look through the archives of Festac’ 77 and situate the discussion in Nairobi requires a visit to the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) located on Broad Street, Lagos. CBAAC was established in 1979 and houses all the materials and core collections relating to FESTAC’ 77. What the space lacks in aesthetics and organization, it makes up for its rich collection of the artifacts and documents hosted in its museum.

A walk up the stairs, leading to the offices and archives section brings you face to face with a framed image of Mzee Jommo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president. Mzee’s portrait accompanies those of Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana, Rwanda’s Juvenal Habyarimana and Gaafar Nimeiry, who was President of Sudan from 1969 – 1985. These portraits speak briefly of the Pan-African efforts of that era. Each of their descriptions ends with the line: “He was President of the country during FESTAC ‘77”.

CBAAC’s archives section is well-organized and it is easy to retrieve data from it. IMG_3063Although the official English program is absent, there are several in French, which was the second language of the event. There are data registration cards for participants from all the countries and from Kenya, a young Professor Micere Mugo leads the pack followed by a host other artistes, some alive, some having long left us.

Lenny Juma, Paul Onsongo, Katana Kazungu, Allaudin Qureshi, Sharad Sandakass and Njeri Mwotia were present. So were playwrights David Maillu, Chris Wanjala, Francis Imbuga and the late Seth Adagala, who directed The Trial of Dedan Kimathiin Nairobi. Adagala is also remembered as the first African director of the Kenya National Theatre, the man who pioneered the very worthy National Theatre Drama School, which was opened by Tom Mboya, the Minister for Economic Planning.

Kenya, like all participating countries at FESTAC ’77 had paid a $10,000 fee and the government gave a further donation of $5,700 towards the event. Tanzania’s donation was $10,000 in addition to its mandatory fees. There’s a sense you get thumbing through the festival proceedings that this new post-independence Africa had camaraderie, a feeling of brotherliness, which was harnessed in consciously growing our culture.

For the event, Francis Imbuga wrote the play Betrayal in the City, and Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Michere Mugo co-authored The Trial of Dedan Kimathi. They depicted the struggles of the people towards independence as well as those of a pseudo-liberal society showing that the reality was “not yet Uhuru”.

Both plays were published in 1976, and prepared for the stage by the Festac’ 77 drama troupe. These Kenyan productions shared the stage with LANGBODO, an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s A Forest of a Thousand Demons and Kinjeketile from Tanzania. (In a rare case of coincidence, I managed to watch Langbodo at the Kings College on Lagos Island, featured as part of the commemorative events in honour of the school’s 109th Anniversary. It was a mix of the old and the new, part high-schoolers, part professional actors but a throw back in time of the play that won acclaim to represent Nigeria at Festac.)

IMG_3264

 

Although hugely successful at Festac and well received, it had not been an easy run for the Kenyan troupe. Back home, local playwrights and actors had to contend with issues of nationalism, ownership and the identity of African theater almost on a daily basis.

In a series of articles written by Chris Wanjala, Hillary Ng’weno, Phillip Ochieng and Francis Imbuga and culled from the archives by Steenie Njoroge, there were repeated calls for the opening up of the Kenyan cultural space at the Kenya National theatre in the face of the then expatriate owners. An editorial written in the Sunday Nation on October 10th, 1976 by Seth Adagala detailed the struggle and “Long Hard Battle to stage Kimathi Play.”

In 2015, Professor Ngugi wa Thiongo would allude to this struggle in his speech at the official opening of the newly refurbished Kenya National Theatre. The belief of his generation of thespians was that Kenyans had the right to partake of their own nationalism before the plays, which had not been previously performed on stage, were performed for a larger international audience.

All sorts of reasons were given by the powers that were then, to prevent Kimathi from being staged, including the claim that there was a dearth of African audiences in Nairobi’s theatres. “After a struggle and some outcry from the press, we were given three days to present the play,” said Ngugi in his speech.

The theatre was filled with all sorts of people coming to see the play much to the surprise of the naysayers. This episode however, would be the beginning of Ngugi’s run-ins with the government of the day.

Much has changed over those years in the thinking that brought Africa together at what was arguably its largest gathering of the arts in that decade. Festac’ 77 had been preceded by the First Black Cultural Festival held in Dakar, Senegal in 1966. Incidentally, the ideas calling for a “resurgence” of the black man’s culture, as if it had been lost somewhere, were mooted in Paris in 1956 when the Pan African Cultural Society summoned a meeting of Negro Writers and Artistes to discuss the same.

There were also plenary sessions at Festac, bringing together minds from all over the continent on a discussion on the way forward. In a Working group report on Black Civilisation and African languages chaired by Professor Bot Ba Njok (Cameroon) and Rapportured by Prof Taban Lo Liyong, one of the outcomes was that Swahili was preferred by most delegates to be the continental language. It was deemed as necessary to dispense teaching in the African languages to ensure balanced and harmonious training of African youth. And a very strong note that NO European languages is (was) fit enough to express African cultural Values.

Public discussions on the African continent 40 years later are more about leadership, peace and security issues than about our commitment to cultural promotion. Forums like #BukenyaForum are valuable because they allow us to go back in history and assess the gains we made at national, regional, continental and personal levels in achieving the kind of Africa we want. The question of African identity still stands, 40 years after FESTAC and now it is inescapably threatened by that age-old link between our land and eager masters of economic imperialism who are aided by self-serving leaders. Perhaps, it is time for another FESTAC.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My recommended reading on Lagos and Nigeria

Recently, my friend Nebila posted a link in which Ambassadors had recommended books for visitors of the country they were (are) serving. Although it was published in June 2017, its still an interesting read and gave me food for thought. I immediately wondered what I would recommend for someone visiting Lagos, and in my case, seeking to relocate here for work or otherwise. These are a few books I would have as a start.

Disclaimer: This is a list from books I have read and shared over the last 4 years living here. It is not exhaustive – I simply picked a few titles that have stayed with me over time and which I go to frequently in case I need to clarify something.

  1. Two books appear as my favourite. The late journalist Kaye Whitman’s Lagos:City of the Imagination and Okechukwu Ofili’s How Intelligence Kills. They are both non-fiction titles but in my view the two best texts on understanding Lagos and its geography, people as well as its culture, nuances and what-nots. Ofili’s take on parental expectations, NYSC corpers (to give perspectives to those jungle green uniforms) religion and respect littered with specs of humour is a great read.

All time Greats

2. Chinua Achebe’s – Things Fall Apart

On the Nigerian Civil War:

3. Chinua Achebe –  There was a Country: A personal History of Biafra

4. Chimamanda Adichie – Half of  a Yellow Sun

5. Ken Saro-Wiwa – On a Darkling Plain , An account of the Nigerian Civil War

On 419 and scammers:

6. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani – I do not come to you by Chance

6644280

On family life, polygamy

7. Lola Shoneyin – The Secret Life of Baba Segi’s Wives

8. Ayobami Adebayo – Stay with me

On History

9. Ed Keazor –  The Lagos – Hamburg Line : A brief history of German companies in Nigeria (Confession – haven’t read this yet but its on my Hitlist and I will get to it soon)

10. Olasupo Shasore – On a Platter of Gold

On art, gods and fetishes

11. Okey Ndibe – Foreign Gods Inc

On modern day happenings

Helon Habila – The Chibok Girls

Other recommendations given by friends:

Chibundu Onuzo – Welcome to Lagos (on my reading list)

Elnathan John – Born on a Tuesday

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Purple Hibiscus

Chuma Nwokolo – How to spell Naija

I would love to hear your views on your favourite reads. I am also looking for good titles on Religion and spirituality in Nigeria. Already have one or two but would love a peek into the Pentecostal movement so please shout out your recommendations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Experience

thumbnail

When I started this blog 4 years ago, it was to keep my sanity in Lagos. Sans job, sans familiar circles and with two kids away in school, writing quickly became my way of staying alive because there were days I felt I would suffocate. Four years later and an addition to the family, I realize I now post for my enjoyment – and later reading. This is my Psalms 105:5 version of Remember and tell – of His goodness and wondrous deeds He has done and the judgements He pronounced.

Through the Years I’ve heard about The Experience, a concert hosted by House on the Rock church in Lekki. The all-night event brings together some of the biggest gospel acts from Nigeria and abroad for a night of wholesome worship. I have never been invited – but then again, whom would you expect to invite you to a mega-concert? Last week I gathered the will power to attend the concert which was held at the Tafewa Balewa Square (TBS) in Lagos Island.

Make no mistake – The Experience is about crowds. The high and the Low. All stands, cricket pitch, VIP area, outside TBS — The Experience is about crowds. House on the Rock states that appearances have grown from 70,000 in 2006 when they first started to 700,000 in 2016. (Let me put it out here that TBS’ official records say it can hold 50,000 people – so even if you multiply this 4 times, it will only be 200,000). But I am not here to argue numbers.

My first reaction was WOW! You know Lagos is  “Go big or go Home” city. I was amazed by the crowds. So many people in one place and so organized. The area around the VIP seating space (and VIP doesn’t really mean important but proximity to the stage here) had a couple of mini-stampede threatening episodes when the ushers went to give water to the crowds as everyone suddenly surged forward. To their credit, they managed this pretty well and prevented anyone from jumping past the barricades, but not before there were several first aid incidents. (Perhaps they should re-think offering water to ten thousand plus people at one time  in the middle of the night – kind-hearted but needs total crowd management).

img_6307-e1512510484143.jpg

I can’t remember why people were lifting chairs – but there was no militancy.

After I got over my Wow – it was time to worship. I missed Soni Badu’s opening act and we arrived about 10 minutes before Chevelle Franklin got on stage. I was waiting for Gospo Reggae but she chose to do a medly of Nigerian worship songs. Like Huh! Confused much. Then I remembered Nigerian worship is that “If you can’t beat them, join them” type of Praise and surrendered.

I’ve never watched Midnight Crew until that day. I don’t know much about them but hear they’ve been around almost 15 years. Then there’s Tim Godfrey and His band. Their energy levels were something else. Costume. Oh wow! I hear he’s Nigeria’s Kirk Franklin. There’s something about Nigerian Praise no matter who headlines their concerts – it is intended to Glorify the Father. No matter what performance theatrics are employed to accompany the song, the lyrics always point to Heaven.

There was Frank Edwards – who looked quite different from when I last saw him in 2016.  Chioma Jesus who doesn’t seem to move an inch the entire time she sings, but the Igbo worship coming out of her is great. Don Moen (and he wore his Jubilee shirt – only Kenyans will get this one). Eben. The worship was interspersed with acts of comedy from Kenny Blaq, Akpororo etc.

One of my highlights of the night was Travis Greene (of course). THe guy who reminded us – I don’t know how God does it, but He made a way. He shared the background to that song after introducing his Ghanaian wife (He who finds a wife finds a good thing, He who finds a Ghanaian Wife finds good food ‘jollof’ – his words). Totally on point. Then Donnie McLurKin came on and they did this mini-collabo with Travis and Micah Stampey.

 

IMG_6305

Then Nathaniel Bassey. The man who broke the internet earlier this year with his midnight worship calls to Olowogbogboro – there’s nothing you cannot do God. Let me say something about Bassey – I don’t know who writes his music but he has a knack for producing hit after hit. Imela, Onise Iyanu – the God of awesome wonders, This God is too good O, Alagbada Ino etc. At the beginning of this year, I attended a funeral and they had to play ‘Wonderful Wonder’. At a 50th birthday celebration this week, the celebrant (Naija English) sang Wonderful Wonder, a song that’s a testimony of his life. My 2-year-old can’t sing a song in Swahili but she sings ‘Iyanu’ like her life depends on it. Bassey is gifted in so many ways…let me stop here.

What a night of worship unto God. I may be narrating the acts but this is just a memory of the men/women that night who got people on their knees in worship so many times on those concrete grounds of TBS. The damper for the night was the MC intervals, which of themselves would have been okay if only to introduce the acts on stage. But sha! Nigeria. Every important person showing up had to be recognized, introduced and some given a chance to speak. Governor Ambode attended Experience – his first time, he said – to receive a certificate of completion for a project House on the Rock was doing for computer schools. That’s fair. I don’t get though how we can attempt to mention all the Captains of Industry attending Experience – they must have been legion. And Nollywood actors and actresses “insert eye roll smiley”.  The worst thing is the more time away we took from the concert acts, the crowd on the stands got loud and rowdy and it took some time to calm them down.

Experience was a big event. A great event that unites in music and worship – and the people attending don’t just go to watch, it is hands lifted to the Almighty. PAstor Paul Adefarasin carved a worship experience that’s truly remarkable in many ways. To God be the Glory for the things He has done.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Meeting children’s author – Atinuke

IMG_4308

Atinuke Reads from her latest book – Baby goes to market.

I can’t recall the first time I picked up the Anna Hibiscus series. Our first two books must have been bought by my great friend Diana or I picked them up at TBC at the Junction Mall in Nairobi. I always look out for African writers for the little ones to increase their view of the continent and the children in it.

It was therefore a great pleasure to meet Atinuke, author of the Anna Hibiscus series a week ago through the Alternative Learning Centre (ALC). ALC is a home centered teaching space started by two amazing mums and which is the perfect fit for my last born right now. It was particularly intriguing and purely coincidental that Anna Hibiscus has been my Wed morning choice in the reading class I take on Wednesday mornings.

Here are a few questions – mostly from the few children around on the process of writing for Atinuke.

Q: Where do you get ideas to write and how long does it take to write a story?

A: My ideas come when I am asleep or at some inconvenient time so I often have to get up, sit at my desk and write them down. Some ideas are straight and flow, some do not. Writing a book can take many months to figure out. It can take only days, other times it can be between one and 6 months. Once I am happy with my story, I have to take it to my publisher who takes my ideas from emails to books. Then there’s the process of editing which may entail re-writing the story all over again, or just changing a few things in the story.

Sometimes the editors tell you to change all the characters, the whole story sequence, basically the whole book so that takes a whole lot of time. (This part is told in Atinuke’s storytelling voice).

Q: Where do you get your character names from? How did you name the twins double and trouble? 

A: It varies. It can be people who are unheard of, some I know but we change them a bit. The twins names’ are borrowed – when we were growing up, my sister and I were the original double and trouble according to my father.

IMG_4317

Q: How long have you been writing?

Professionally, since 1999 but I have always been telling African stories for as long as I can remember.

Q: Where do your story ideas come from? Like the orange seller is a common feature in your books. 

A: Growing up I wanted to be an orange seller (audience laughs) but my father was like – NO way, Go to school. In that story – Anna Hibiscus I wanted to explore what would have happened if I had the chance to sell oranges. Why would my father not want to do that because at the time I felt he was just being a spoil sport.

IMG_4321

Q: You have a different illustrator for each of your book series – Lauren Tobia for the Anna Hibiscus Series, Warwick Johnson Cardell for No. 1 car spotter. What’s the relationship between writer and illustrator? Do you have a say in the way the pictures come out?

A: If you are self publishing its different, but if someone else is publishing your stories its different. For instance once I write my book I send it to the publisher and they own the rights to my books. Someone can ask me to do something with my books but I usually say no, because I have sold my rights to my publisher.

In my contract however, I insisted I wanted to have a say in the illustrations. For example in this book, I love the illustrations and the illustrator is from Ghana even thought she’s grown up in England. When the pictures first came out there were all these pussy cats all around the market rubbing up on everyone’s feet. The editors loved the idea of the cats but I said we have to lose the cats and it was a big battle. My experience in Nigerian markets is people don’t have huge cats sitting on their laps and rubbing up on their legs and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to be have a say in the way life is represented here.

Usually the images will be sent to me and  I will look at them, have someone follow as well and look out for any things we want pulled out and send them back. Once they are in color however, we can’t change anything if it had not been spotted before as its very expensive to make any changes at the point.

Q: Do you get to meet them?

A: Very rarely. Most of the time they are chosen by my illustrator.

Q: Where are your books mostly sold?

A: Mostly the UK and the US. In Africa, most of my readers are in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

Q: Which of your books surprised you most over its success?

A: I am generally surprised by the success of any of my books. In the US, the No.1 Car spotter is perhaps my most well read book. I once did an event in an impoverished area in Lutten (Netherlands) which also has lots of religious background. One of the Fathers stood up after a reading to say “thank you” for writing this particular book as he had grown up like this boy and he is finally proud to tell his children about his own background. These are the stories that make me proud as a writer.

You can read Atinuke’s post on the link below on her experience at the Storymoja Hay Festival, which she attended the year in which we had the dreaded Westgate siege in Nairobi. http://atinuke-author.weebly.com/home/storymoja-hay-festival-westgate-nairobi-2013

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

20 Years On – The Prophecy: Fela Lives

IMG_5141

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, born Ransome-Kuti is a subject of epic proportion and one that I am certainly no authority on. I did not grow up listening to the music of one of Africa’s musical legends, fiery State critic, and prophet in his own right. To others, an outright rebel. I encountered Fela’s music as a post graduate student, congregated with other Africans reveling in his music as we did that of Hugh Masekela, Oliver Mtukudzi and others. This year however, I have encountered him in several conversations, most of them inadvertently while researching some stories I am working on.

I glimpsed into Fela the singer while interviewing one of Nigeria’s prolific civil rights activists, Tunji Lardner on the subject of Kakadu, a celebrated nightclub from the 1960s. Kakadu was the first place Fela performed on his return from England before moving to Afro-Spot and eventually to the New Afrika Shrine. Lardner, whose father part owned and run the nightclub spoke of him as one of the most honest men he has ever come across in his life. He shared about the Koola Lobitos, Fela’s first band, their energy and how the public often misunderstood him.

It was Fela who popularized Afrobeats, taking from the original Highlife music mainly associated with Ghanaian musicians and Nigerian Yoruba bands, fused it with jazz and the funk and soul of James Brown. Yet Lardner also recalled the warts in Fela, acknowledging that he was really just an ordinary man.

Fela became a subject while speaking to Theo Lawson, architect and warder at Freedom Park, who turned the relics of what was formerly Her Majesty’s prison into a place where artists celebrate poetic freedom and license. Theo Lawson, who is also the chairman of Felabration, conceived the idea to built the legends tomb upon his death. This was his way of giving back to a man who influenced his ideas while still a student in the UK, arguing that just as there were European classics, there was African folklore and used Fela’s music as a backdrop to his own understanding of this.

Lawson part conceived the idea of Kalakuta Museum which preserves everything associated with Fela. Kalakuta was the singers residence and the name he gave to the communal compound where he lived with his followers after his release from imprisonment by the Nigerian authorities.

On Monday October 9th, Felabration held the 9th Annual Lecture Series to celebrate Fela, the man, and the legend. Conceived in 1998 by his daughter Yeni Kuti, Felabration is a week long festival for artistes and musicians celebrated once a year during the week of his birthday. This year’s events kicked off with the annual lecture series where Professor PLO Lumumba gave the keynote speech.

On the panel, sat Femi Falana, Fela’s lawyer of whom he said, “Fela was my client and the most interesting one I have had to date. He would come and tell me, I want to commit this offence and it is your business to use your neo-colonial law to defend me.”

Professor Lumumba spoke about Pan Africanism, looking at the movement in light of 20 Years of Fela’s death and 40 years since FESTAC, the celebration of African Arts and Culture, which was held in Lagos in 1977. FESTAC’s ideas can be traced to Negritude and Pan Africanism, inspired by Aime Cesaire and Leopard Senghor. The Festival was first celebrated in Dakar in 1966.

IMG_5157

The winners of the #Felabration2017  art competition unveiled at the event.

Using Fela’s music as a mirror, Lumumba drew out the realities currently happening across the continent. Quoting his famous line, “If a man wants to enslave you forever, he will never tell you the truth about your forefathers,” he made mention of the fact that Africa’s ideals in the 1950s and 60s are a long way off from where we are today. “We gained independence, Lumumba quipped, but it is now debatable if we are at all independent”. His lecture touched on corruption and cultural revival, which Fela stood for.

His song ‘Teacher don’t teach me no nonsense’ spoke against European hypocrisy in dictating African life and their inconsistency to point out wrongs elsewhere. Lumumba questioned the current tenets of democracy we use, imposed on us by the West and wondered if they are really right or wrong for us. For instance we are divided into Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone Africa, created by colonial masters with no Yorubaphone, Igbophone or Hausaphone.

Some of Fela’s music was ahead of its time like Yellow Fever, released in 1971, which poked fun at skin bleaching. “Who steal your bleaching, your precious bleaching, you buy am for shopping for forty naira, you self wan yellow…” which Lumumba said was an affront to African identity and her pride and is still common amongst our sisters.

Zombie was undoubtedly Fela’s most popular song, his way at hitting back at an authoritarian government and its foot soldiers who simply did as they were commanded. The government responded to this song by sending 1000 soldiers to Fela’s Kalakuta home. They burned the place down and threw his aged mother down the window, fracturing her leg and suffering serious trauma. She never recovered and died a few months later.

One has to remember that Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was one of Nigeria’s heroines; a women’s rights champion, teacher and political activist. She was the first black woman in the country to drive a car. Fela’s father, the Reverend Israel Ransome-Kuti was a known academic of note who founded among other things, the Nigeria Union of Teachers. Fela turned his back to the religion he had grown up with, castigating religious leaders for their lavish lifestyles while their flock walked around in poverty, epitomized in his song “Suffering and Shmiling”.

Fela the revolutionary nurtured a close friendship with Thomas Sankara and seemingly sought to challenge the ideology of other Africans around him. He was not just a musician but gave over 60 lectures in campuses around Nigeria, according to his lawyer Femi Falana. “When Fela read the book How Europe underdeveloped Africa by Rodney Smith, he sent a lorry load of books to Ife (University) so they could read about it,” he noted.

To others, the late Fela was seriously temperamental, rambuccous in nature, a lover of women (he married 27 of them in one day) who poured obeisance to unknown spirits. Who can forget the Fela who walked around only in his underwear, items that are still on display at the Kalakuta Museum. 20 years after his death however, Fela lives on, like In the Broadway musical bearing his name or in the music of his sons Seun and Femi Kuti. His songs are as relevant today as when he first penned them.

So where do we find musicians of this generation with Fela’s spirit? As PLO quipped in his closing line, where are the young suckers growing when the old bananas die?

Kenya’s Sauti Sol will be taking the stage on Sunday October 15th at the New Afrika Shrine. Perhaps in celebrating Fela a consciousness will spring amongst the current crop of artistes and maybe, a Fela will arise from amongst them.

Additional Reports from the Internet.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

KAKADU – The Musical Reviewed

 

DBUcobLXcAA0NYo

Uche Nwokedi’s impressive musical Kakadu, which opens at the Johannesburg Theatre this June, may have been set in Lagos, Nigeria but its themes resonate with Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan and many other African nations.

Set in mid 1960’s Nigeria, the musical is told through the lives of four friends living in post independence Nigeria and working out the challenges that come with nationhood.

They meet frequently at Lugard Da Rocha’s Kakadu, whose name is borrowed from what was an actual nightclub back in the 60s. Nwokedi notes in an interview that Kakadu was the place his uncles often went to which inspired the decision to situate his musical around it.

Da Rocha, the boisterous nightclub owner puts on quite the show-taking guests through periods of musical history from the Limbo, twist and bop, to Nigerian highlife music like Rex Lawson’s Sawale and Bobby Benson’s Taxi driver. Lagos is a city of nightlife, the city of promise, the no-joke city.

The thrills in their lives – women, night escapades and economic aspirations are cut short by the Biafran civil war, rendering those like Emeka and Osas who came from the East back home while his friends Dapo and Kola remain in the city. There’s a period of searching for those left behind, wondering what had become of the country’s freedom. Da Rocha loses his clients to the war but it is in this haunting silence of his bar walls that he has to come to terms with his own identity.

After the war, Emeka returns to Kakadu to find his friends. Lagos feels like a different town and he cannot return to business as usual having been on the frontlines for so long. It is the conversation with his friends that resonate with anyone who has experienced war, unrest or ethnic strife so common across the African continent.

“Hostilities? Is that the euphemism for the war?” Emeka asks his friend Kola who refers to the civil war in this way. Nothing will ever be the same. The reality sinks in when Emeka makes a request to marry his long-term girlfriend Bisi – but she’s from a different ethnic persuasion and both parents will have none of this.

Writer Nwokedi pushes his craft in Kakadu. A lawyer of known repute particularly in the oil and gas sector, he is at home on stage in his rolled up sleeves as he is in the courtroom closing cases. Where legally he cannot get away with mere emotion, in Kakadu he exposes the boldness of poetic license, getting on stage a message across that shared elsewhere would perhaps have different results. The conversations are difficult but here they come alive on his stage.

At the staging of Kakadu in May as part of the activities lined up to mark Lagos@50, there was palpable silence across the auditorium. At the mention of the war, some people walked out, perhaps because the play is considerably lengthy without a break, but also that there is still a lot of discomfort at the mention of Biafra. Kakadu played to audiences alongside Fela the musical – a Broadway and Royal National Theatre production – and Wakaa the Musical, produced by Nigerian veteran Bolanle Austen-Peters, albeit on different dates.

The music on this show scores high; the voices blend effortlessly conveying the right emotion. Musical director Benneth Ogbeiwi who also plays Lugard Da Rocha combines his own skill and mastery of voice with those of the entire cast. There’s not a dull moment with the music, only tapping of feet and nostalgia of the music of yesteryear. The costumes lend to each period in time heightened by the artistic woven display of the women’s hairs.

The shows antithesis would be its length, at three hours and without an interval it is a stretch but the scenes are captivating and one immediately forgives the producer for this faux. Also, the dialogue from Emeka and his friends is a tad bit drawn out in the opening scenes but they make up for this with their animated dances, which follow thereafter.

It is a show relevant for 60’s Biafra, post-election violence Kenya in 2007, the Rwandan genocide in 1994 or even the protracted Sudanese civil war. It speaks to the memories of hope of the locals, their dreams and aspirations for their future against the harrowing recollection of loss, displacement and death of those they know.

A fortnight after Kakadu was staged, the Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua foundation and co-sponsors hosted a colloquium in memory of Biafra@50 which had Nigeria’s acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and former President Olusegun Obasanjo in attendance.

Issues of marginalization, the memory of entire savings and business entitlement whittled to a mere 20 pounds and the starvation of children were brought up. In the same vein speakers celebrated the citizen-to-citizen efforts made by ordinary Nigerians to form an inclusive community where everyone was represented.

In his speech, Prof Osinbajo alluded to Biafran commander Ojukwu’s words on why he didn’t think a second Biafra would not be necessary, “We should have learnt from that first one, otherwise the deaths would have been to no avail; it would all have been in vain.”

Although Kakadu the musical is largely about Lagos, high living and merry good times, it is largely about finding the right place to appropriate a nation’s history and question what do we do with this. Africa should be having more of these conversations. Memory has a way of constructing our individual and cultural identities, particularly in literature, both oral and written and should therefore be embraced to help us evoke nostalgia and then move on.

As a Journalism student at Wits in the early 2000s, I came across many students, particularly undergraduates who had no sense of the other Africa, still reeling in their newly found freedom as a nation-state blurred by the promises of BEE.

Grace Musila, associate professor of English at Stellenbosch speaks of this idea of South Africa’s conflicted relation to its Africanness in her essay Lot’s Wife’s Syndrome and Double Politics In South Africa.

Although speaking from the point of literary awareness from its students, her postulation that South African exceptionalism manifests a conflicted kinship to its Africanness and a fear of glancing back, becoming “like Africa”— a phenomenon recently embodied by Zimbabwe’s crises. She continues, “Like Africa” is shorthand for all that is wrong with many postcolonial African states, including developmental challenges, weak institutions, and various tropes of failure, arguing that this undermines their ability to learn lessons from the rest of the continent.

Kakadu would offer some sense of other for these students, and nationals of all African countries as they struggle with their own issues down South, examining in their own ways, their response to their neighbors from across the continent. Particularly Nigeria.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ATTITUDE. is. everything.

The manicurist at the local salon is just that by day. By evening, she’s a student in Yaba  Polytechnic learning IT. I walked in today after about six months and randomly ask where the manager is today. “She’s late – passed on in December after a brief illness.” Such a sad story. Her demise opened a door for this young, quiet lady to become the stand-in manager. A girl who three years ago came in to clean the  floors and quietly learnt the ropes how to do a good manicure without formal training and is now holding fort as the manager. The power of attitude, the willingness to learn and open doors allowed her to get to where she is now.

There’s a great gift shop that sells children’s items and quirky fun stuff in Lekki. It was one of the first places that Wowed me for customer service. There’s this young lady,a  graduate of Political science who manages the place. She knows what you are looking for and helps you get it. I love her attitude particularly because you go to so many stores where attendants ask you as you walk in, “Madam, what do you want?” Not how can we help you. And if you don’t look the part they totally ignore you. I keep going back because of the lady’s knowledge and her attitude. Her sights are however set on working in the political sphere. Her dreams are valid.

I used to love my previous hairdresser on Awolowo Road. She’s skilled and great at her job but her customer skills are non-existent. Once, I deviated from her  because I was tired of the attitude and the man who re-touched my hair burnt my scalp and he couldn’t care less. About four months ago I was introduced to a new place in Victoria Island by a fellow school mum and friend. The owner is a naturalista and runs the place with her stylish mum in the backroom. She’s taught her stuff to treat people with respect and speak well. That’s my new space. A place that takes people for what they are and gives you your moneys’ worth.

The news channels have been filled with talk of South Africa and xenophobia against Nigerians. I try to explain to a friend that the cadre of jobs being fought for are not held by white collar Sandton sitting Nigerians. It is the Nigerians on Cameroon Street in Braamfontein selling tomatoes and sukumawiki, and slowly growing a business until they own their houses in Gauteng. It is the pimps in Hillbrow making money off uneducated young black girls who don’t see a future. They are  doing whatever it takes to make money because there in South Africa, no one knows them. Not like Lagos where everyone is hustling but no one respects your hustle until you make it. I heard the story of a man who built a huge house in Ajah, beautiful mansion but the neighbours bad mouth him saying he does menial labour in the US. Does it matter? Doesn’t his wife wear expensive lace and live in her house with a working generator off the sweat of her husband? But no one respects the hustle.

Effort is always rewarded. Solomon speaks about wisdom in Proverbs 3, 4 and the value of it. And whatever it takes, learn to serve with a smile and value people for who they are and not the size of their wallets. Difficult lesson for today’s world.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment