Monday, 29 December 2014

Buhari, Amaechi3, El Rufai at premiere of Saro the Musical in Lagos

By Anote Ajeluorou

Two nights ago at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, All Progressives Congress’ presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, former FCT Minister, Mallam Nasir El Rufai ands Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora and other APC stalwarts stormed the premiere of Nigeria’s foremost cultural production, Saro the Musical 2.
  Midway into the spectacular musical theatre performance that held the audience spellbound, the politicians breezed in and created a stir and distraction. The audience hailed the former head of state, who in turn, waved back with a toothy smile. Buhari and his entourage watched for about half an hour before they left the performance. Buhari apparently refrained from making any statements. But that in itself spoke volumes.
  Producers of Saro the Musical and Terra Kulture’s Administration Manager, Mr. Joseph Omoibom, expressed excitement at Buhari and his entourage’s gesture in attending the show, saying such open support from people in high places was what the arts needed to thrive in the country.
  According to Omoibom, “Buhari’s visit wasn’t planned. He heard about the show and indicated interest to attend and he came. It was great to have him. It’s good for people in high places to support the arts. We actually wish we have more people in high places supporting the arts; it encourages the artists and producers to do more”.
  On whether such gesture as the one Buhari demonstrated two nights ago for Saro the Musical wasn’t a flash in the political pan that hardly transmute into serious artistic and cultural policy of government when such personages assumed office, Omoibom said that could only be seen when the time comes. He, however, stressed, “At Terra Kulture and Saro the Musical, we’re just promoting the arts; we’re not partisan at all as the entire Nigeria’s artistic and cultural landscape is our constituency. Let those in high places do it for whatever reasons – political, economic, artistic, cultural or even selfish – what is important is that all Nigerians should support the arts. That is what is important to us in our promotion of the arts through our various projects like Saro the Musical”.
  For artists and culture producers across the country, however, such concerns as the intentions of those seeking political offices towards the arts become crucial given how badly the arts and culture sector of the economy is neglected. Although Gov. Amaechi could be said to have done well in supporting the arts by instituting Port Harcourt Book Festival (PHBF), the same cannot be said for El Rufai, who as former FCT Minister, didn’t see the need to build a usable, vibrant cultural space for artists to thrive.
  The only such space at Garki, Area 10, Abuja, like the National Theatre in Lagos, hardly attracts real artistic patronage because of poor conception, execution and location of the cultural space.
  The question that arises from Buhari’s visit to see Saro the Musical is if he would look the way of the arts as an elected president. President Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated his open support for Nigeria’s film industry, also known as Nollywood, by his sundry financial interventions to it. In fact, Jonathan is often seen as Nollywood’s number fan, which many see as good, even if one-sided support for a vast sector in dire needs of funds. Jonathan’s support for the book, significant as it is for overall national development, comes by half at the moment, with Bring Back the Book campaign remaining an unfinished business.
  What sub-sector of the arts would Buhari adopt and lend his weight in support as president? Many in the arts sector are waiting for Buhari’s campaign to kick off so they could have a fuller view of his vision for the sector. They will be curious to see what he proposes to do for a sector that absorbs a large number of youths, who would otherwise have been targets of sundry anarchic groups and interests plaguing the country with virulent ideology.

Without cultural revolution, there cannot be political revolution, says Tomoloju

By Anote Ajeluorou

IN most parts of the world, Africa and Nigeria inclusive, the artist is the conscience of society, the man or woman who points out the way forward. He’s also the seer or prophet foretelling the future from the present. In these cases, he or she is usually apolitical, refraining himself or herself from overt political power. But times are changing; with reactionary forces seemingly commanding political power and using same for less than honourable purposes that hurt society’s wellbeing, artists are increasingly beginning to rethink their stance of aloofness.
  Clearly, their houses have caught fire; chasing rats in the circumstance would seem defeatist. So more than ever before artists are venturing out rather than remain mere prophets and seers of doom shouting themselves hoax on the sidelines about the shenanigans of reactionary politicians leading from the tail rather than from the head. This also has always been the position of culture activist, poet and playwright, Mr. Ben Tomoloju for whom the culture sector turned out in their numbers to celebrate his 60th birthday with a fanfare of activities including sundry performances, a lecture and vintage conversation.
  On Sunday at the museum at Freedom Park, Lagos, Tomoloju, who once took a shot at elective office but failed, had asserted, “The artist is a political animal. The likes of Bob Marley, Fela impacted on the politics of their societies with their revolutionary music. Artists should be able to affect the political desideratum. There’s this push that artists should be in politics so as to transform the nation culturally. In fact, without a cultural revolution, there cannot be a political revolution”.
  Tomoloju, who had his three plays – Jankariwo, Mujemuje and Ephigenia Finds Ayelala - performed to a warm reception both at University of Lagos and Freedom Park, also spoke on the value of intellectualism as forming the basis on which social development could be achieved, a commodity that is lacking in today’s Nigerian political culture. What is pervasive in the political scene, he said, was mere charlatanism that is reductive in reasoning in all spheres.
  He recalled his days at University of Ibadan as a student unionist, who helped to influence major decisions on campus. Although he never wanted to be lead, he was a kingmaker and helped in lending intellectual vigour to debates on campus, including the infamous ‘Ali Must Go’ students’ protest of the late 1970s against the scrapping of feeding allowance for students.
  According to him, “I was a student politician. Radicalism was the in thing for students who wanted to be useful. I campaigned for one Osagyefo; I don’t always want to be in the executive. Back then students will be radical from the inside, but join reactionary forces when they join politics after university. We used to eat with N50 a day as students. We need to tell our children these things”.
  Tomoloju’s right and rite of literary philosophy in which the future exerts a strong pull on the present is quite ample, saying the prophetic rite of literature to give accurate prognosis to problems is always vindicated in the long run. “I just pity those who refuse to hearken to the statements of the artist’s vision,” he said. “To argue with them is to argue with the dumb; it’s part of the imbecility that informs political leadership in this country.”
  On the currency of the recent infamous ‘stomach infrastructure’ coinage that represents a warped national political culture that cripples development on offer, Tomoloju sees it as recipe for the hoped-for revolution that would sweep away current shaky structures. He noted, “Stomach infrastructure will be the instrument for revolution”, as it is antithetic to enduring intellectualism infrastructure that should stand society on a sound footing.
  It’s was also to chart a pathway for society from such fraudulent coinages that he based the focus of one his plays Let the Vanguards Come to Town, in which he exposed the “sequestration, disconnect between intellectualism and popularism… Rather than produce vanguards to advance society, we’re producing vandals to annihilate it”, as the case with Niger Delta militants and the current rage of Boko Haram suggests.
  On his plays, Tomoloju said, “There was a season of experimentation in the early plays. It was a kind of total theatre. My first three plays are very revolutionary, especially in the Marxist revolutionary frame. We wanted to test out how we could do it like the masters”.
  But even as a Marxist, Tomoloju said they knew back then that Marxism could never work in Africa. The major problems were that the citizenry was largely uneducated and not the working class proletariat, as found in parts of Europe where Marxism effectively took root.
  The culture activist paid tribute to lawyer and playwright, Mr. Fred Agbeyegbe, describing him as “that individual who created and a creative habitat for artists to create and have spiritual satisfaction. Fred was a standard-bearer; he sheltered us, fed us, paid artists to just stay in one place and perform! He created the Mbari-like kind of infrastructure, where artists were removed from society and camped in the shrine groove to just create as the muse led them. Agbeyegbe provided the intellectual ferment for us. And we forget that intellectualism is of the highest value in social development. Rather, what you find in today’s Nigeria is charlatanism in the highest places”.
  The man of culture also lent his voice to artists’ cry for the establishment of structures to support artistic and cultural productions for employment generation for the teeming youthful population that easily becomes targets for recruitment into radical ideas that are inimical to society’s wellbeing. He called for the establishment of Neighbourhood Theatres that can sit from one hundred people and above for artists to produce.
  He said, “We need Neighbourhood Theatres in every council area in each state of the federation. By now Fashola should have built theatres in all local government councils of the state. I will shout myself hoax on this until something is done”.
  Tomoloju expressed disappointment with Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, whom he campaigned for in some local council areas, for failing to do anything of real value for artists.
  A former Director of Lagos State Council of Arts and Culture and Osimawa of Simawa, Oba Gbenga Sonuga, also paid tribute to Tomoloju. He decried the inability of the state government to embark on building theatres across the state, as was nearly the case while he was director, but which plan was aborted for whatever political consideration. A visual artist, Mr. Kolade Oshinowo, also lamented lack of structures for artists, as there were no purpose-built galleries across the country. He said it was a regrettable situation that impacts negatively on youth employment.

A day earlier at Afe Babalola Hall, University of Lagos, Akoka, Distinguished Professor of English at New Orleans University, U.S., Prof. Niyi Osundare, who attended the same Christ School, Addo-Ekiti, as Tomoloju, recalled their days as youngsters in that famous school. He said although Ben Tomoloju was one of the smallest boys in the school, he stood out in his erudition and intellectual prowess at that early stage. He recalled that Tomoloju would not speak or write in simple, straight-forward manner, but was always fond of using convoluted sentences and complex phrases.
  In adult years, according to Osundare, “Any time you met Ben, he was talking culture, philosophy, ideas, poetry. He has impacted so fundamentally on the culture of this country. Now, our country looks like philistines, but Ben Tomoloju is the silver lining of our skyline of thieves. Integrity is in short supply in our country, but not in Ben. Money does not decide anything for him; it’s of less value to Ben. He breathes ideas, culture, philosophy; he does all kinds of things to change our culture. He has this depth; it’s what we need that is in short supply in our country.
  “He is a mentor to young and old people alike. Our country has a future; you are the future. Ben’s uniqueness is in his versatility as a poet, a playwright and a singer. People like Ben never die!”
  Tomoloju also presented books – Jankariwo, Flowers Introspect and Other Plays and Ben Tomoloju: Essentials of a Culture Communicator. Mr. Fred Agbeyegbe was chief presenter and guest of honour.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

‘Saro the Musical 2 is a fantastic way to celebrate Christmas’

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE start of the cultural explosion in dance, music and drama, Saro the Musical 2 yesterday at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos lived up to expectation as lovers and enthusiasts of creative package are beginning to feel what producers of the Broadway style musical product tagged a December to Remember.
  Running till Sunday, December 28, the total culture presentation boasts of three directors, who have been working on the three-pronged, but harmonised departments of drama, music and dance. The three directors have effectively fused together these three elements of stage to create incredible spectacle.
  Last week, The Guardian engaged the three directors – Mr. Kenneth Uphopho (drama), Ayo Ajayi (music) and Gbenga Yusuf (dance) as rehearsals peaked for the performance designed to thrill audiences this Christmas.
  To Kenneth Uphopho, the journey has been great. “It’s a tremendous effort in scriptwriting that is robust. Saro 2 has more elements to play with. We wanted to make the characters stronger and distinct because we want to carry the audience along. What we’re selling to people is a lifestyle. The theme of Saro is liberty to achieve, to excel, to achieve what you hope to achieve! That is what we want people to buy into. It’s the story of four young boys who want to achieve something for themselves, musically. Fate takes them to Don Ceeto. Lagos city influences them and impacts their lives. At the end they come out triumphant. There’s also a love story, as a sub-plot. So, there’s a thin line between dream and love.
  “Of course, we’re looking forward to a good show. The three directors are working six hours a day to ensure everything works out well. It’s a combination of all efforts. Saro 2 the Musical is a fantastic way to celebrate Christmas. We’re asking all to come enjoy Saro 2; bring the entire family. Saro is child-friendly; the language is simple.
  “The hard part is the rehearsals; a 100-man cast and crew is not a joke. We’re trying to micromanage everything; managing the emotions of people takes a lot. But the cast has been amazing and supportive. There’s no laid back approach; everyone is ever ready to play his part.
  “I’ve done musicals before – Cinderela, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Rubiewe –an African adaptation of Beauty and the Beast and then Beauty and the Beast proper. But Saro is more challenging; it has bigger cast and crew. Luckily, I was part of the script development process; I can only say it’s been tough all through, but absolutely enjoyable!
  “Of course, Lagosians and Nigerians should look out for Saro 2. It’s the biggest thing after our elections. In fact, this is bigger than elections; elections leave us hungrier and frustrated. Saro will bring joy and smiles to Nigerians. It will provide a beautiful escape from all the election hardship and excesses of our governments.”
  IN the reckoning of the music director, Ayo Ajayi, Saro the Musical 2 has been a trying journey that is, however, worth the while. “We didn’t just want to repeat what we offered last year, but to refine and produce the best performance so far in Lagos and Nigeria. A lot of hard work has gone into it, and we’re determined to get the result we want. What we had last year was good; this year we’re taking it through the necessary process, through fire, through the forge to make it the best performance ever.
  “You know, last year, it was a great show, but now we have to infuse many things into it to make a great product. We have refined the three departments – drama, dance and music – and the effect on the audience will be whaoh! In music, so many original songs have been incorporated to meet the demands of popular hip-hop artistes and listeners alike; the standard of music we have in Saro 2 is higher than what we have in current Naija hip-hop. Like last year, we only had Magba gbe mi, but now there are so many other original songs. The audience will have to sit tight or else they will be thrown off balance. For me, the audience must have goose pimples from the effect of music or else just scrap it. There’s so much musical content for Saro 2 than we have on the streets because we are schooled and professionals in what we do.
  “Don’t forget, we didn’t quite bring out Don Ceeto’s musical project last year. Don Ceeto is the man who discovered the four young men and gave their music career a lift. Now we’re bringing out his musical project for it to stand out on its own. We have five tracks of Don Ceeto’s musical project incorporated in Saro 2 and made up of different genres and styles – jazz, soul, Naija music. Three of the tracks have already been recorded.
  “My job essentially is that of music arranger and composer. Several musicals have sprung up after Saro the Musical since last year; it’s a pacesetting production. We’re trying to set the pace, a turnaround in Nigeria. Nigerian music at the moment doesn’t seem to have focus; it’s just about rhythm, but bad sound and silly language. On the contrary, Saro music is attractive and different in language and lyrical content. Hip-hop artistes in Nigeria will learn how to make good music after listening to Saro 2. Indeed, Saro songs make sense unlike most of the music we have on the streets.”
  “PREPARATIONS are going on but very hectic,” says the dance director, Gbenga Yusuf rather enthusiastically. The goal this time around, Yusuf insisted, is “to beat Saro the Musical we produced last year. Of course, we can’t give the same thing. So, it’s been challenging. Saro 2 will definitely be better; the dances are spectacular. They will take audiences unaware by their very breadth and depth. We have more indigenous, cultural dances infused with modern dances.   Then, there is that grand performance of the four young men this time, which didn’t quite happen last year.
  “In Saro last year, there was no circus, acrobatic displays, no skaters on stage; Saro 2 has all these spectacular elements in it. There’s also the use of props, things that will give that whaoh effect.
  “And you know, dance is wide in form and style; imagine bata drumming infused with jazz or ballerina and wange; the range is very wide. The team I’m working with this year is unique; we will give something unique as well. We will use certain dance forms we didn’t use last year; there’s the use of circus and props. The Saro boys this year are really digging it; they will really sing, dance and act.
  “In fact, Saro message is clearer this year; everybody will now understand why we have Saro. In Saro 2 audience will be able to follow the story of the four boys from the village to the city, to Don Ceeto’s house. We’re taking the audience through Lagos State and different locations, which the audience can relate to as part of their own Lagos experience. Saro envisages the future of music.”

60 drumbeats, dance steps for culture advocate, Ben Tomoloju

By Anote Ajeluorou

Last Friday at the amphi-theatre at Freedom Park, Lagos, dancers and drummers held audience spellbound with vigorous dances and drumming. It was so intense that the celebrant, Mr. Ben Tomoloju, could not help himself as he went on stage to also show that he was at home with the dance medium as a form of artistic expression being held in his honour art his 60th birthday celebration. On the bill were several groups led by Guild of Nigerian Dancers, Ijodee dance Group, Sight and Sound, Footprints of David, MJ groups and Dogumbas.
  Although many dance groups performed, it was Sight and Sound and Ibadan-based ballerina dance group, MJ Groove that obviously stole the show in the unusual dexterity of their drumming and dancing. Sight and Sound was unusual in every department. First was their costume- a blend of red and white as if they were worshippers in a shrine. Sound and Sight has complete music set, but with drums are giant-sized as well to lend ample rhythm to their performance.
  Perhaps, more significantly were the three young women that make up the group, who are not just mere dancers as is often the case with most groups. The three women drummers drummed with such energy and style and possessed so much expertise that they inspired with their act. They weave a tapestry of drumming pattern that was stunning. Both on the big drums in choreographed rhythms or the use of pestle and mortar to create syncopated rhythms of beating either pepper or millet or with beaded calabashes, the girls drummed with such fanfare.
  In fact, there was something sexy about their drumming and wooing smiles that the audience wanted more from them. Sight and Sound’s ability to transit from one drumming pattern to another was its big advantage; from the kakaki horn, on the guitar or the jazz drums or the big African drums, Sight and Sound stunned the audience with its enchanting drumming performance.
  Dogumba group, a hunter dance group, also came on, but the group’s performance was shallow for hunters wielding guns and shooting them. When the four-man piece with one female among them came on stage with a decorated pot of charms, there was some expectation that they would give Sight and Sound a run for its performance. But progressively, it fell far behind.
  But then came on MJ Groove, a boy and a girl group, doing European ballerina. Such performances often don’t live to hype for a lack of that magical flare. But the duo turned out a marvel on stage as they glided effortlessly, heaved each other up and down in response to the music with perfect aplomb. They told a unique story with their performance, of a tragedy and pain, even kidnap, rescue and finally of triumph and celebration. Indeed, the sheer sublimity of their dance was such they had the loudest applause.
  Perhaps, more disappointing was established Ijodee Dance Group. There just wasn’t a pattern to their performance. The group possibly needs to start reinventing itself; it cannot live on past glory as last Friday’s performance obviously showed. It was lethargic performance with no innovation whatsoever. Crown Troupe of Africa’s one-man performance rescued the audience from boredom. It’s one-man act also told a story, Africa’s story of pain and under-development and the attendant suffering of her peoples, who need redemption. It was heart-wrenching performance.
  Although Shelter group was called, it didn’t perform as Tomoloju and all dancers were invited on stage. They honoured their mentor with a dance. Former editor of The Guardian on Sunday, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, also joined in and showed that he is as much an actor as well as the meritorious journalist that he was.
  Tomoloju confessed to having had real fun dancing on stage with those whose lives was wedded to the stage. He said what was offered the audience in celebrating him was “a whole collage of dance and artistic experience”, and noted that it would be immodest of him to claim all the accolades alone.