Sunday, 29 November 2015

Holding Talks when action is needed

By Anote Ajeluorou

Nigeria’s current situation since the inauguration of a new government in May typifies Ola Rotimi’s absurdist play Holding Talks. There has been so much talk about change, fight against corruption and how to make life bearable for all Nigerians.
  Sadly, it has been all talk. A reversal of the promises made during the campaigns has been the daily reality. As the sub-title aptly suggests, ‘Relentless talks with no action kills a nation,’ and Nigeria is fast slipping down the slope, the hope for change thinning out, with the citizens beginning to wonder if this was the change they voted for.
  Holding Talks is one of Rotimi’s vintage plays that speak eloquently to the African condition. So much is being said about the development strides to be made by those who purport to lead but so little progress has beenachieved. And that brings another round of talks about new, unrealisable agendas being set with specific deadlines that don’t get fulfilled. One government after another leaves office without as much as having made any impact or difference in the lives of the people for whom they held office in trust.
  This was the dramatic plot that played out before a scanty audience last Sunday at The Ethnic Heritage Centre on Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, when Kininso Koncepts Productions performed Holding Talks, directed by Joshua Alabi. There will be encore of the play performance today at the same venue.
  And so the play opens with a barber’s apprentice (Eriakha Edgar) leafing through old newspapers and reeling out the various headlines on the crises in parts of the world. His boss (Gbadamosi Oladapo) arrives and slumps on a bench to rest. Soon enough, a man (Opeyemi Dada) walks in to have a haircut. The barber reluctantly fiddles with his instruments. But just when he’s about to do his job, he is interrupted by the man who has observed that his hand are shaking. The barber denies it, and this generates heated argument between them. The apprentice urges his boss to admit that his hand shakes and let the matter be, but his boss insists that the man is wrong. The customer offers to bet with N1000 to the barber’s N150.
  Meanwhile, the man’s hair remains uncut.
  But the barber hasn’t eaten all day and says he could only part with N100 for the bet and spare N50 for food to which the man also halves his bet sum to N500. A simple test and the barber finally admits that his hand shakes, but blames it on hunger, that he has not eaten all day. Just then he collapses and dies. The apprentice is alarmed and urges the man/customer to help take the man to hospital, hoping the barber can still be revived. But the man is infuriated and it brings out the worse in him, as he begins some lengthy argument on the possible nasty results that simple action can bring them.
  First, he accuses the barber of causing his own death when he should simply have admitted the truth, but he decides to argue instead. Then he puts the apprentice on the spot. Suppose he is the driver of a cab, would he allow a dead man to be deposited in his cab? And suppose he is a fellow passenger in a mini bus, would he allow a dead man to ride with him in it? Although he came in a car, the man declines to carry the dead man in it; it isn’t the right action to take, he argues.
  As last resort, he dispatches the apprentice to fetch the police. A policewoman (Ikhatalor Blessing) arrives and she begins to ask the usually annoying police questions. Who killed him? How did he die? What was the last thing he said? Who witnessed him die? This line of questioning infuriates the man who also counters the policewoman and points out the errors in her questions. At a point, he refuses to answer more questions and the policewoman is shocked at his attitude; she stomps off to fetch more men, just as the lights fade.

THE Joshua Alabi-led Kininso Koncepts Production of Holding Talks did a good job of staging the play. The play’s absurd and seemingly abstract nature makes it quite a task to realise, being a one act play, both in its intense dialogue that doesn’t give room for a pause or scene change. And in about 40 minutes, Rotimi packs in so much the audience is riveted on the fast-paced narrative that also says nothing meaningful in particular. It’s the futility of aimless talks that yield no results. That in itself is the success of the play; so much is said but nothing is realised. A man is dead or dying, yet nothing is being done either to save him or take him to the morgue both by those at the scene and the police that arrive later. Rather, they are all engaged in some intense, aimless inquisition.
  While Alabi and his theatre group are doing their best to keep the centre alive, the owners or managers of The Ethnic Heritage Centre need to do more media-friendly artistic events, programming and campaign to attract audience to it. Perhaps, they need to copy the Terra Kulture model to pull in the crowd. While Kininso Koncepts Productions is on the right track and doggedly propagating theatre performance, the onus rests more with the centre itself to endear Lagos art and culture community to itself for the patronage it needs if it is to be reckoned with.
 That campaign should start now as Holding Talks takes c entre-stage again today.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Publishers’ Forum… Writers’ Neglect of Young Adult Readers Worrisome

By Anote Ajeluorou

ALTHOUGH only a handful of publishers attended this year’s Publishers’ Forum organised by Committee of Relevant Arts during its yearly Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), it yielded positive fruits that would benefit Nigerian writers and publishers in setting possible agenda for their writing henceforth. The forum is designed to synergise the business of book publishing, distribution, sales and emerging issues in the book chain.
  It held at Goethe Institut, City Hall, Onikan, Lagos.
  With facilitation from the boss of Cassava Republic Press, Abuja, Dr. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, it had Managing Editor, Kachifo Limited (Farafina imprint owners), Ms Uche Okonkwo, Editor, Storybooks, Litramed Publishers (Lantern Books imprint owners), Ms Onyinye Nwaiwu, a few others on e-portals who are creating new online platforms for book promotion and sales and book enthusiasts in attendance. It focused on ‘Genre Fiction’.
  Bakare-Yusuf pointed out that ‘literary or traditional fiction’ rather than ‘genre fiction’ is the form of fiction Nigerian writers are more engaged in whereas genre fiction, especially its romance/erotica sub-type is the biggest money-spinner the world over grossing over USD$1.4 billion a year.
  Other variants of genre fiction highlighted include crime, science fiction (scifi) and mystery. Nigerian writers were encouraged to delve into these sub-genres and make the most of them, especially as they cater to the reading needs of young adults who appear shutout of the literary space at the moment with the emphasis on literary fiction.
  Bakare-Yusuf noted that a lot of books written for young adults appear moralistic and a turn-off for young people, which she said isn’t good enough. According to her, “Young people are just discovering themselves in many ways; they are just discovering sex, their bodies, sexuality. So, such issues that engage them should form the basis of the fiction that they read”.
  For her, appropriate content of fiction for young adults is key and morality or moralizing isn’t one of them. However, for those who may feel squeamish about such position, Bakare-Yusuf was quick to point out stories should have morals carefully woven into their fabric and not ‘in-your-face’ type of morals at the expense of literary finesse.
  As she put it, “We must stop putting pressure on writers by asking them to write moral books. We need to expand our imagination so we don’t block young people’s cognitive reasoning. Authors who write morals into the fabric of the book are the most skilled. A writer’s first responsibility is to his craft and not burden it with social concerns. We need more publishers and not just writers to expand the scope of materials being published; we are not exploiting the breath of the publishing landscape enough to add to our bottom line”.
  It was generally agreed that Nigeria has a huge young adult demography that can support literary fiction, but that the needs of that demography are largely unmet with the kind of content being produced. With a few or no books dedicated to romance and erotica, crime or science fiction or mystery that ordinarily elicit the curiosity of young adults, the country’s writers have not only shut out that segment of readers, but have also denied themselves the huge revenues accruable from it.
  Bakare-Yusuf noted, “So, publishers have to be conscious about what they are publishing. It’s about demographical fiction. Your storylines must have that conflict about emotions that young people deal with. To be able to capture that 67 per cent of Nigeria’s population (80 million), we have to take content seriously, which means we have to take young people’s sensibilities into account”.
  Another area of concern is the medium of conveying content, especially with the advent of technology, which Bakare-Yusuf said has transformed their sensibilities. What used to interest young adults 20 years ago is not what interests them now. For instance, social media has replaced the once-cherished art of letter writing:
  “No more letter writing as against social media; these must be reflected in the writing. Now, there are no restrictions, as to what they can read, as young people (who are largely ‘Digital Natives’) read variedly now than before. So, too, sales of e-books are stabilizing and not decreasing. We need to get into the heads of young people when developing content for genre fiction”.

ALSO, e-publishing or e-book formats and how to maximise online sales using different portals featured at the forum, with Okechukwu Ofili speaking on his OkadaBooks online portal for publishing and book sales and Elnathan John discussing how to effectively use Twitter and social media platforms to maximize information to reach target audience.

Change Eludes Culture, As Year Ends With Feast Of Books, Films

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE year couldn’t have ended on a worse note for the culture sector with the sort of change President Muhammadu Buhari executed when he showed utter lack of understanding for one of Nigeria’s largest employers of youth labour. It wasn’t really unexpected; several governments had towed the same path in the past and subsumed culture into many irrelevant and even redundant ministries like information where it has the misfortune of being domiciled yet again. In fact, the country’s culture producers have excelled in spite of, and not because of, governments involvement in directing the sector in any meaningful sense.
  A simple instance of what the British Council (Britain) or Goethe Institut (Germany) or Alliance Francaise (France) does for their citizens back home while still taking the gospel of cultural promotion and appreciation abroad to impact citizens of their host countries should suffice and is a model Nigeria, with its teeming youth talent, should emulate. Alas, our government suffers from a dearth of ideas.
  And so when the irrepressible Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka cried out last week that Buhari had further made the orphan status of culture more glaring, it didn’t come as a surprise. In fact, the sector’s orphan status had long become normal in the eyes of culture enthusiasts and producers alike. This was even when Buhari was quick, during his election campaigns in April, to drop by to see Saro the Musical. It is clear he’d gone to score a cheap political point, something his disdainful action towards culture now clearly shows. Executive producer of Saro the Musical, Bolanle Austin-Peters, would now know what Buhari’s game was all about when he swept into MUSON Centre, venue of the show, without buying tickets for his large retinue. A sad loss it was.
  With Lai Mohammed as minister of Information and Culture, it’s clear where the direction would lead. However, he would soon find out that culture can’t be used as a barefaced tool for government propaganda; this means culture will just fade away and the few gains already made would slip down the slope. Nevertheless, irrespective of successive government’s disinterest in promoting culture, the sector has marched on strongly largely because of the passion and commitment of individual Nigerians. This is evident in the array of culture festivals that capped the year and showed the abundance of youth talent in creativity from photography to writing and to filmmaking.
  The Efe Paul Azino-organised Lagos International Poetry Festival started the year-end festival train with its explosive poetry concert that was simply mind-blowing. Shortly after LagosPhoto Festival in came on and add its touch of photographic magic with ‘Designing Futures’ as its theme. Both festivals had Nigeria Breweries Plc and Etisalat respectively as sponsors; this gave the two festivals needed mileage and boost away from the government’s madding crowd. Soon after also Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2015), organised by Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), came on. It was a feast of ideas and books dedicated to late writer and environmental rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa who was judicially murdered 20 years ago for his activism against the Nigerian state and multinational oil giants pillaging his native Ogoni land.
  Held at Freedom Park LABAF 2015 did not just show the indestructibility of an idea, but how ideas, when they are the right ones, can help shape the future. While at the time it seemed all right for government to clear all obstacles on its path, including murder the innocent, to continue feasting on the oil wealth unchallenged, government is now being forced to eat its humble pie and find alternative sources of revenue in the face of oil’s dwindling fortunes in the international market with buyers of Nigeria’s crude oil also thinning out.
  So 20 years after Saro-Wiwa’s murder, what has the country gained from oil proceeds? In what meaningful ways has it impacted on the lives of ordinary Nigerians? And 20 years from now, what new strategies will government adopt to change from dependence on oil and diversify the economy, clean up the damaged environment in the Niger Delta and re-green it for sustainability? These were some of the issues that engaged the critical minds at LABAF 2015, with notable poets like Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo and Dr. Obari Gomba, prominent poets from the Niger Delta who have written extensively on issues plaguing the oil-rich but deprived and degraded region, leading the way alongside many other writers.
  LABAF 2015 had as theme ‘Texts of Self-Determination’ as theme.

AND in Abeokuta where Ake Arts and Book Festival 2015 ended yesterday, it was yet another convergence point for culture producers and promoters to feast on books and ideas. With the theme ‘Engaging the Fringe,’ the festival had a full day dedicated to environmental sustainability issues last Wednesday. Secondary school students from nine schools in Ogun State were brought in for the needed awareness on environmental concerns. They were taught on how they, too, should be part of the fight for a cleaner and greener environmental by towing the non-destructive path.
  The section had the support of cement maker Lafarge Africa Plc and its representative, Mr. Greg Salami, made a presentation on efforts his company was making to adopt biofuels and reduce the use of fossil fuels in its operations, including planting of trees at its old quarry sites.
  Also, the wife of the state governor and an environmentalist, Mrs. Olufunso Amosun, charged the students to embrace the ‘Green Empathy’ philosophy of the three ‘Rs’ by ‘reusing, reducing and recycling’ materials to save the environment. She encouraged the students to put a smile on other people’s faces by giving out their old and discarded materials rather than throw them away to litter the environment. Amosun also preached the philosophy of her pet project ‘Gefty Gospel of Green Education’ to them and distributed her book Green Education for the Youth: ‘Empowering our Youth to Save the earth.’
  Abuja-based environmental campaigner Ms Funto Borofice spoke to the students on taking responsibility for the environment for its sustainability.
  However, the highlight of the day was the documentary film Nowhere to Run shown to the students. Incidentally, it has Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr, son of the murdered environmental activist, as narrator. The film was being shown to the public for the first time, and it made a huge impact on the young audience for whom the monumental environmental degradation in the Niger Delta was sore news. When they stood up to express how they felt about the issues the documentary raised, some were close to tears and said they didn’t know anyone was being subjected to such horrendous hazards and urged those in authority to urgently mitigate the disaster already foisted on the hapless people of all degraded environments in the country.
  Nowhere to Run is a carefully crafted docu-film that lays bare the country’s underbelly in terms of poor vision of managers of its affairs. In fact, a deeply philosophical Igbo proverb sums it all up, “He who burns down his own father’s house inherits the ashes!” Indeed, Nowhere to Run explicitly depicts the waywardness of Nigeria’s managers as foolish sons who willfully burn down their father’s house. What would such wayward sons bequeath to their own children who come after them?
  And so from the desertification in the north that is driving people down south and issues of cattle grazing on farmlands, cattle rustling and communal violence as a result down to the Niger Delta’s polluted environment and the hazard it poses to lives and erosion in the south-east, with whole communities being washed away by erosion, a documentary couldn’t be more telling on the implication of a people living recklessly and burying their heads in the sand in the face of grave problems. It was Ake Art and Book Festival organiser Lola Shoneyin who put it succinctly, when she said at the end, “We’re sitting on an environmental disaster in this country!”
  The film has such telling sub-titles as ‘The Desert Dunes’ to highlight desertification, the Lake Chad debacle, to ‘Fire in the Sky’ for gas flaring and polluted Niger Delta environment and how what it means for climate change that causes ‘The Rising Tide’ that threaten those living in coastal areas. Also with the activities of man logging wood for economic reasons and not replacing same sets the tone for ‘Disappearing Trees’ and ‘Loose Soil’ that accounts for erosion in most places to the country’s inability to harness its solar power potentials in ‘Power Starved Nation’ and ‘Doing it for ourselves – Afforestation,’ the film created solid resonance that would affect audiences across the world.
  Nowhere to Run has an impressive array of environmental activists and those working to save the earth as resource persons; they gave depth to the issues the film highlights. Nimmo Bassey, Liza Badsby, Peter Jenkins, Dr. Michael Egbedike, Hannah Kabir, Amara Mwampa, Godknows Igali, Inimo Samiama and several local respondents are among those interviewed.
  Simple messages ring true from the film – We need to start seeing our environment as a resource we need to protect – Government should rise up to its responsibility; there should be a paradigm shift – We are not apart from nature; we part of nature. We have only this earth.

ASSOCIATION of Nigerian Authors (ANA) held its yearly convention in Kaduna where a new executive was elected. Mr Denja Abdullahi defeated BM Dzukogu to emerge president of the association. During the same week Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) was held in Lagos to critical acclaim in celebration of African films. Eko International Film Festival capped the film festival train in Lagos. Yet to come though is Austin-Peters’ second Broadway-type musical theatre Wakaa The Musical that would end a remarkable year of culture feast that happened without government’s input whatsoever. Obviously, this should be of concern to President Buhari.

Becoming… Sonuga takes women’s issues to the big stage

By Anote Ajeluorou

BEYOND the entertainment and feminine spectacle which it provided in amplitude inside Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, the Titilope Sonuga-inspired Becoming show last weekend is somewhat difficult to describe. Perhaps, architect-turned-spoken word poet, Sonuga’s telling title of her first act ‘Have you seen a woman?’ gives insight into the direction of the all-women’s concert.
  Who exactly is a woman and happens in her world? How do men perceive her, relate with her? Does she get the best from the world she inhabits? What are her fears? What gives her happiness and how does she get it? How do the men around her help her achieve happiness? In all, what is her place in society?
  ‘Have you seen a woman?’ is Sonuga’s loaded question for society and for the men who co-inhabit different spaces with the women in their lives. At what point does a woman’s ‘no’ translates into ‘yes’ that encourages men to inflict all manners of emotional pain on her? It became the defining question for the show, as Sonuga explored the many facets of a woman in the course of the evening in her enchanting, impeccable spoken delivery in a poetry that transported the audience’s soul to magical realms. Hers isn’t the usual ball-bashing type like her co-performer in music Ruby Gyang, but a firm engagement with the male folk. Neither does she spare women either; Sonuga wants her kind to be clear-eyed in their relationships and to know when to pull back.
  So, it was an enactment of a woman story from her beginning, early years and its travails, her midlife and its inevitable crisis, with her men. This was Sonuga’s story of epic proportion told with warmth and empathy.
  But it was the free-spirited Falana, formerly based in Cuba, who started the showpiece evening with her skills on the drums that produced a stirring performance, as the hall boomed with her voice and hands in an all-female band – two guitarists, one saxophonist, one drummer, Chopsticks and two vocalists. Falana’s stage presence was inspiring as she traversed, possessed it with the ease and fluidity of a nymph.
  The set design by Jude Okpala and his crew provided a magical accompaniment to the near-all white-clad female performers; it was a set for angels, and it lent a certain halloo to the acts.
  Sonuga’s second entry with the story of a girl-child’s birth and on which the question hangs, came with the accompaniment of Yoruba chants supplied by Deborah, an enchantress of some power. And so, at what point does the gloriousness of such birth begin to transform into something other than what it was to an object of uncertain future to be toyed by men? From here, Sonuga begins to explore love found and lost.
  When Omloara came on with ‘I’ll be your love,’ she really got the hall rocking to her beats. Then Sonuga came back with ‘There are a few things more beautiful than a sunset…’ that ends with the inevitable pains a woman is plunged by the one she loves. Falana then intervened before Sonuga could begin to rebrand women and lift them up from the ashes of a bitten love with her 10 receipts, as she sings softly, ‘Know when to leave…/know when to burn the bridges…’
  But Ruby Gyang will have none of that softness from women who are spurned in love as her music ‘Ok’ takes a turn and asserts that a woman be strong and bold to take the exit and not allow anyone crumble her world for her. She toughens the ladies ‘on how to handle breakups and not beg.’ Beyounce is her inspiration on this score.
  From Sonuga, ‘a woman is not your rite of passage…/she is not your game of numbers…’ explores how very useful a woman is, ‘a woman is busy… working’ and ‘ a woman is a writer, painter, dancer, singer…/they are all dreamers… follow your dream, but don’t screw it up…/somewhere, there is a dream waiting for you to start…’ Also, Sonuga affirms that there are second chances for love ‘even (love) scars are masterpieces’ that a woman bears as trophy of her triumph in love because ‘the heart is like a fist, (that) feels like throwing a punch’.
  On a conciliatory note, Ruby Gyang wooed the men after she’d first bashed their balls with ‘Shout out to my babe’ and enjoined the ladies with their men in the hall to publicly affirm their love for them!
  In ‘love scars don’t scare,’ Sonuga brings her poetry class act to a beautiful denouement, as she says ‘…rock bottom is a perfect place to start…’ as she enjoined women never to be shy of starting all over again as they may be twice lucky in love. With ‘the victory dance is just about beginning…/loving yourself without shame…’ she brought the show that was part musical, part poetry and part dramatic journey of the ritual of becoming an uninhibited woman to a close.
  The applause was as warm and encouraging as was the support Intel gave the show in believing in women’s performative power. Surely, an encore performance that enjoys support from women’s product makers back by strong publicity blitz would help expose these amazing women of immense talent to a wider audience than attended the November 6 show.