Monday, September 25, 2006

Was at the Muson Centre, Onikan, to rehearse the stage drama, "The Gods are not to Blame", for the upcoming Muson Festival when this deterrent on a bucket used for cleaning the grounds, caught my eye. It reads "Stolen from Muson". You'd have to be a die-hard rogue to take that home. Posted by Picasa
The Deconstruction of Idemili
Laspapi's review of the Stage Play-Idemili
Written and Directed by Ahmed Yerima, C.E.O. National Arts Theatre
Performed on Sunday September 17 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos
Published in the Guardian: Sunday September 25

The other-wordly ambience of Terra Kulture was the venue for the second performance of Idemili that this writer would see, the first being at the National Arts Theatre itself in Iganmu. The stage play, written and directed by Ahmed Yerima Ph.D., was presented this time around on Sunday, September 17 by the playwright as his and the National Troupe of Nigeria’s contribution to the 3-day long Annual Lagos Book and Art Festival organized by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA).

It featured four main cast members, Clarion Chukwura as Ngbeke, a seventy year old mother, Uche Mac-Aulay as Ngborie, her forty year old daughter, Francis Onwochei as Reverend Father ‘Monsignor’ Paul otherwise known as Oheja, the thirty-five year old brother to Ngborie and a younger Sam-Uche Anyamele as Father Emeka.

One of the first points observed was that the two male cast members were prior to Idemili probably much better known for their exploits in the home-video industry and on television rather than on stage; Francis Onwochei as a Television and Movie Producer as well as an actor and Anyamele as the infamous ‘Richard’ in Wale Adenuga’s Super Story Television Series.
The Cast was backed up by dancers and drummers of the National Troupe who performed well but unobtrusively. The set at Terra Kulture was lesser in scale than that used at the National Arts Theatre performance, the stage at Terra being smaller and not as suited to drama. The National Theatre set, constructed in the cinema hall, was a bungalow complete with corrugated iron sheets as its roof and an old bicycle thrown on the roof for good measure, and was beautiful to behold. That architectural feat was not possible at Terra Kulture.

The plot, a conflict of belief systems, revolved around the character, Ngbeke (Clarion Chukwura), an ardent follower of the ‘pagan’ goddess Idemili, whose husband, Ugwuoja, was trapped underground in the mines along with eleven others and whom it seemed certain was sure to become a widow from this incident; Oheja, her son, a convert to Christianity (Catholicism to be particular) who left home fifteen years earlier because his father had slapped him for attempting to overturn the shrine of Idemili. In his long absence from home, he rises to become a Monsignor, a high ranking officer in the hierarchy of the Catholic church; and her daughter, Ngborie, an otherwise healthy-looking Uche Mac-Aulay who has discovered she is infected with the AIDS virus and has come home from the city to die.

As the plot unfolds, we see that Ngbeke, the matriarch, is fixated on Idemili to the point of obsession. She is firmly convinced she knows the cause of all her problems. Her miner husband had been promoted to foreman status and has therefore been tempted to take a second wife. Ngbeke’s call on Idemili to intervene had caused the goddess to trap the miners as a prelude to killing her husband. In Africa, the gods are vengeful.
Ngbeke also remembered that for fifteen years she had been childless, alternating between barrenness and producing still-born children. She had gone to Idemili for assistance and pledged a sacrifice to the goddess if she could have a healthy child and no longer be the butt of jokes from her husband’s family. Shortly after, she gave birth to Ngborie and then to Oheja/Reverend Father Paul. Idemili had promised retribution on Ngbeke for not fulfilling her pledge after begetting her children.

Into this plot comes the young Father Emeka, a junior colleague of Oheja in the Catholic Church, on his way to a punitive bush-posting because of a scandal in a more urban-located church (he is suspected of ulterior motives for attempting to dissuade a couple bent on having a long distance marriage from getting wedded). Father Emeka, who is also a medical doctor and brilliantly played by Anyamele, says all he wants is for his senior, Father Paul to change his negative opinion of him. He leaves after dropping gifts for Father Paul’s family. These gifts include two cockerels.

As one watches the drama unfold, one might wonder the relevance of Father Emeka in the story. Is it just to be the bearer of these two cockerels that play a significant role later on in the drama or is it to highlight the inconsistencies in the church system which even though of ‘divine’ origin has its flaws? It becomes apparent soon after that Father Emeka is much more than the convenient bearer of male chickens. He symbolises the church’s rejection of deviation from conformity. He is a young, good looking, medical doctor who is regularly petitioned against. Father Paul concedes he understands why this might be so, it is because Emeka does not fit the mould of a Reverend Father. Emeka is suspected of seeking a bribe because he counsels a couple against a marriage where the spouses intended to stay thousands of miles apart, a position which anyone with common sense would take. For his logical sequence of thought, his seniors in the church inquire from him who asked him to play God.
Emeka tells Father Paul that he wants to be seen as a man who loves his work, again showing that the ‘new church’ seeks to be given a chance by those who hold rigidly to archaic religious customs which are more befitting of medieval times.

The character of Ngborie, the older sister to the Monsignor, is one that wavers, torn between Christianity and African Traditional Religion. In one breath, she espouses the supremacy of the Christian God and in another, gives a sacrifice of sweets and biscuits to Idemili, the goddess with a sweet tooth, pledging her life in exchange for her father’s. Ngborie in this case, symbolises many Africans, often torn between ‘the traditions of our fathers’ and those of Saints Peter and Paul. The number of African converts to the newer faiths, who visit Traditional Doctors (babalawos to be precise) is enormous. They are of the hazy but firm belief that both the God of the new faith and that of the native doctors must be one and the same, or at the worst, within calling distance of each other. They go to church one day, and the next, travel incredible distances to consult soothsayers, necromancers and diviners in some remote hamlet in ijebu or some other far-flung places.

In reality, even Nigerians in Europe ask their families to help them send made-to-order native doctor packages for a variety of issues: expediting the ‘departure’ of an enemy, good health or promotion and other issues pertaining to advancement of themselves or the detriment of others. Ngborie, after the sacrifice, is suddenly startled into the realization that she is a Christian who has sacrificed to the wrong deity, and it becomes clear there are two cultures warring for supremacy in her. Thereafter, she ’confesses’ to her younger brother, the Monsignor, that she had given what was not hers to give, meaning her life, soon to be terminated by the AIDS virus and therefore not very valuable.

Father Paul otherwise known as the Monsignor, even though only thirty-five years of age symbolises the zealots in Christianity and other modern religions. In his life, there is no room for the acceptance of any other religious practice, and practitioners of other faiths and religious beliefs are pagans and heathen. At the age of twenty, he sought to destroy the shrine of Idemili in his father’s homestead, received a slap for his enthusiasm and promptly departed from home without a farewell, only to return one and a half decades later as a doctor of divinity fully versed in his new faith. The Monsignor epitomises the rigidity of religions like Christianity and Islam which do not yield to substitute or complimentary beliefs. The hybrid practice of many Africans in which they unite their new faiths and traditional practices is anathema to bulwarks of faith like Father Paul.

Still, in the opinion of this writer, it is hypocrisy or a definite lack of direction (which is even more dangerous) that makes men combine faiths. If you do not believe in the Christian or Muslim God, then practice the African Traditional Religion and hold on to it, or no religion at all, if that is your preference. A man wearing a three piece English suit complete with waist-coat, cummerbund and bow-tie, who then wears an agbada on top of it and adds a native cap and slippers, might justly be termed ridiculous. One does not complement the other.

Clarion Chukwura’s portrayal of Ngbeke is a very convincing one. A mother steeped in the ways of her people, she worships Idemili without apology or inhibitions from the beginning of the drama, further adding irony by thanking the goddess for bringing her son back safely, despite the fact that this son is a high priest of the Christian God. She believes in the power of Idemili to give life and take it, attributes given to the strongest deities in any religion around the world.
After pitched and heated debates between Ngbeke and her children, she is convinced by them that the Christian God can save her husband. Ngbeke, desperate for a solution to her predicament, agrees to forego the ways of old, leave Idemili behind forever and face the God of her children. The symbolism is strong in that it is the son who leads the mother to God. As the mother kneels, the Monsignor asks, “Who brings this child to God?” and the daughter replies, “I do”. Here the transference of power is complete and the child has become the one in authority.

This is the same with the advent of Christianity and Islam in Africa, where followers of the old ways were led to the new beliefs by a new generation of religious leaders. The same continues to this day, where the newer faiths continue to convert those who knew the old traditional ways and where even biological children lead their parents to their own faiths. On a wider spectrum, Africa now sends missionaries to Europe where the Christian faith originally came from, showing that the sons are again pointing the way to their parents.

But as a Christian convert, the old woman, Ngbeke, realizes in fear, that she has taken a step that might have consequences. She asks, “What have I done? I have moved from the side of Idemili’s river to the forest of wooden crosses. I have abandoned the shrines of my ancestors on the advice of a child”. The imagery in those lines speaks for itself.

Displaying a conflict and irony that continues in many Africans to this day, she asks the God of her son, Jesus, to release her from her new faith for a few seconds so she may appease Idemili and break free of the debt she owes the goddess. Back to the cockerels. Weighing the two cockerels in her hands, she takes one to the shrine of Idemili, a little to the side of the house, and asks to be freed of the debt. It is notable that if action is frozen on stage at this point, Idemili has a cockerel and her new faith has the other. Is it possible that two systems of belief can stand side by side without friction with enough ‘sacrifices’ to go round? If the action is allowed to continue, we see this is not so, as Ngbeke addresses Idemili and says she would like to be released of her vows and return to the God of her children.

At this time, her daughter runs in screaming in joy and relief, the miners have been rescued, Ngbeke’s husband is alive and well and neither of her children have died.
One question comes to mind immediately. Was it the Christian faith she adopted that saved her husband and kept her children well or was it Idemili freeing her from her vows because she made the long-outstanding sacrifice?

Ngbeke asks the question on all our minds, “Who did it? Was it you, Idemili, or you, Jesus?”
That is the question each individual must ask of his or her own person and thereafter find the courage to stand by the answer.

The cast and crew put up a competent and professional performance which was well received by the audience despite the constraints they had in the light of the limitations at the venue. The actor Francis Onwochei immersed himself in the character of the Monsignor as did his sister in the play, who though, looked much younger than the age of forty years attributed to the character by the writer. Ngbeke also, would not have passed as a 70 year old woman at the Terra Kulture Performance, a feat she achieved easily at the National Arts Theatre.

Idemili however, proved itself to be a well thought-out play with the immense experience of the actors apparent at the performance. The drama succeeds in its purpose in that all who see it are made to reflect and seek answers to that most essential part of human affairs: What does one believe in? Is one a bigot in these beliefs and if so, why is it that way?

Terra Kulture, being one of the few comfortable modern Art venues in the city, might do well to accommodate the growing theatre culture by adapting their hall to suit some of our more demanding large-scale stage plays.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ogaga Reads at the Jazzhole

Ogaga Ifowodo, a lawyer, holds a Master of Fine Art (MFA) from Cornell University, New York, where he is currently concluding doctoral work.He has published Homeland & Other Poems (1998), winner of the 1993 Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) poetry prize; Madiba (Africa World Press, 2003), winner of the 2003 ANA/Cadbury poetry prize; Homeland (Edition Solitude, 1999), a German-English selection of his poems; and The Oil Lamp (Africa World Press, 2005), winner of the 2005 ANA/NDDC Gabriel Okara poetry prize.

A noted rights activist, he was detained between 1997 and 1998 by the Abacha regime; excerpts from on-going memoirs of his detention experience have been serialised in VANGUARD newspaper (July 2004) and featured in the anthologies Gathering Seaweed: African Prison Writing (Heinemann, 2002) and New Writing 14, released by Granta and the British Council in June 2006.

He is widely published in anthologies and magazines, including Step Into A World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature (John Wiley, 2000); 25 Nigerian Poets (Ishmael Reed Publishing Co., 2000); Dance the Guns to Silence (Flipped Eye, 2005) and The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry International, Mantis, Drumvoices Revue, among others.

He is a fellow of the Iowa Writing Program and was the 1998 recipient of the PEN USA Barbara Goldsmith Freedom-to-Write Award and of the Poets of All Nations (Netherlands) Free Word Award.He is an honorary member of the PEN centers of the USA, Canada, and Germany.

Date: 30th September, 2006
Time: 5pm to 7pm
Venue: The Jazzhole, 168 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A 2-man play

Location: The New Africa Shrine

When: Some time in the past

Man 1: What do you think of the music, hehn? It's great, isn't it?

MAN 2: The man is playing rubbish, but I can understand what's happening here. When there's so much weed in the air, all noise will sound like music.

I smoked Cannabis yesterday.
And the last smoking substances I remember putting to mouth were the regular cigarettes we experimented with as 17 year olds.
Yesterday, September 23, I didn't walk away from life-long abstinence. I just happened to be sitting in the midst of thousands of weed smokers and became the ultimate passive smoker unable to avoid inhaling no matter where I turned . It wasn't a grass-grower's convention, it was a musical concert.
I'd been invited to Africa Unite, a concert in honour of Fela Anikulapo Kuti (the Abami Eda) and since the tickets which read V.I.P. admitted two, I chose Music over the Man United v. Reading F.C. Match, picked a friend and went to the New Africa Shrine for the first time.
V.I.P. meant I got a nice spot to park in, not afraid some deranged person would smash my windows and make off with my steering column. It also meant my friend and I got to sit upstairs at a vantage point, looking down at the extra-ordinary and scantily dressed dancing girls placed in strategic positions designed to take the mind off weightier matters. For the Africans who complain about the undressed women on MTV, they haven't been to the shrine.
As we entered, guided by witchdoctor/babalawo types dressed to fit the image of a shrine, they sprinkled water from raffia sponges as if on sacrifices. I ducked behind my friend, Kenneth, just in case I was being marked as a meal for some deity. There were great pictures on the way in, of a much younger Fela, who was actually dressed in clothes and not just his underwear.
Femi, Fela's son didn't play, but there were Yinka Davies, Alariwo, Sound Sultan, D' Banj, D.J. Shina and the comedian, Basket Mouth to enjoy. The singers all did Fela songs spicing them up a little with their variations.
The quality of the sound from the microphones was terrible (I was reliably informed that when Femi plays it is crystal clear) and the MCs were equally ghastly but there were many extraordinary moments like the performances of the Sound Sultan, Yinka Davies and D' Banj particularly, who worked the crowd well.
A friend I met there asked: "laspapi, how do you feel in this crowd?". I thought a bit, and he went on, saying: "For me, this feels like church". I admitted to being a little on edge in the midst of so much illegal smoke. No, I didn't feel like I was in church. Only Jamaicans smoke weed in church. And I'm not being silly, some Jamaican churches use the weed as Holy Communion. Really.
All in all, it was a good concert, the dazed 'high' look on the faces of a number of punters there ensuring I remained just slightly uneasy for the duration. A bit like when you enter a mental hospital for the first time and think someone is going to lunge at your neck and take a chunk out of it. But it was fun. Expatriates (white men can't dance...and white women too) mingled freely.
The event was sponsored by HARP beer, produced by Laface.
Would I go to the Shrine again? Maybe.
Abami Eda's (Strange Being) portraits filled the entirety of the New Africa Shrine at Omole-Ikeja, Lagos as thousands gathered in honour of him. Posted by Picasa
The award-winning singer, d'banj, whose trademark salute is a tongue-in-cheek innuendo "no long t'ing", performs in celebration of Fela, backed up by Femi Kuti's band. d'banj, an extra-ordinary showman stole the night. Posted by Picasa
Femi Kuti's (Fela's Crown Prince) band and his dancing girls. Posted by Picasa
Yeni, the "Abami Eda's" daughter addresses the crowd at the Shrine. Posted by Picasa
Iyabo Aboaba (left), a Manager at the Muson Centre and Sister to Dr. Doyin Aboaba Abiola, meets up with the singer, Yinka Davies, at an event at Muson, yesterday, Sept 22. Posted by Picasa
The actor, Richard Mofe Damijo, meets with the children at the 8th Lagos Book & Art Festival. Posted by Picasa
The Benin Republic-based Nigerian Percussionist, Segun Olabisi, heats up his act by dipping a fire-brand down his trousers at the Lagos Book and Art Festival. He really did. Notice the looks of shock on the faces of the young spectators.  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The CORA Book and Arts Festival is over for another year. There was fun, lots of debate and seminars, an area for the kids, food, clothes, Dance, Drama, visual arts, books, comics, sculptures and more books.

Apart from some strange looking pencil-portraits I commissioned for N5oo apiece and neither of which looked like me, I also purchased several books-

1) Nigeria-The birth of Africa's greatest community Volumes 1 & 2 (From the pages of DRUM)

2) 50 Great American Short Stories (Published by Bantam Classics)

3) Death and The King's Horseman-Wole Soyinka (Spectrum Books)

4) The Count of Monte Cristo- Alexandre Dumas (Wordsworth Classics)

5) Anne Frank-The Diary of a Young Girl (Pocket Books Classics)

6) Les Miserables- Victor Hugo (Penguin Classics)

7) Vanity Fair-W.M. Thackeray (The Great Writers Library)

8) Don Quixote- Cervantes (Penguin Classics)

By far, the most expensive and which could easily have bought all the other books over twice, was the book on Nigeria culled from the pages of the Drum magazine.
At the 8th Lagos Book and Arts Festival, the man of letters, Pat Utomi chats with the Programme Chair of CORA, Jahman Olasubomi Anikulapo. 'Patito' delivered a lecture on the 2nd day of the festival titled "Book in my life". Posted by Picasa
The TV producers/directors, Amaka Igwe, left, and Bayo Awala catch up at the Festival grounds. Posted by Picasa
Visual Artists from the Yaba College of Technology did pencil and charcoal drawings on the festival grounds. Posted by Picasa
Maria of the African Folk Song group, Nefertiti Posted by Picasa
The journalist from Finland, Rita Dahl, joined the the music band, Seyi Solagbade and The Black Face as they performed at the festival... Posted by Picasa
Adunni, the traditional chanter and singer, performed along with her group, Nefertiti on the first and second days of the festival. Posted by Picasa
Peju Alatishe, Architect and author of the novel, Oritameta (Crossroads) on her way out of the Festival Grounds on Day 2. Peju's work was one of four discussed at the Festival on the topic: 'what women write'. The others were Splendid by Mobolaji Adenubi, Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi and No Sense of Limits by Araceli Aipoh. Posted by Picasa
Dr Sola Olorunyomi of the University of Ibadan stands with Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi at the Visual Arts section of the Festival. Mufu Onifade's (Founder of the Ara-ism movement) works were on display. Posted by Picasa
The Children were not left out at the CORA festival. See more festival pictures. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Lone Traveller

I’m on a train journey that will never stop
A train, train journey on a rain, rain day
through the windows watching the leaves drop
swirling softly ‘fore a wind blows them away

I’m a lone traveller on a bleak landscape
A lone, lone traveller on a long, long trip
through tunnels, fields and by placid lakes
listening quietly as tracks and wheels grip

It’s a very dark day in a very far place
A dark, dark day in a hard, hard life
trying to be strong in a world’s vicious race
holding my head up in the midst of strife

Tomorrow, I’ll pass a land I do not know
As I’ve passed many cold, cold lands
bracing myself against the freezing snow
dreaming of love, warm oceans and sand

© Wole Oguntokun Posted by Picasa

The Picture's from Wole Oguntokun's stage play, 'The Other Side'.

In a reversal of roles, Europe and North America are the continents of lack; Africa, the continent of abundance, and Lagos, its most attractive city. In the premiere, a lagos ruffian (Osagie Okedigun, right) meets 'a boat person', (Anthony Offiong, Centre) and asks for his work permit. Another ruffian, (Kenneth Uphopho) backs up his 'home-boy'. In the play, Darren Campbell (Offiong), a caucasian born and raised in the U.K. had come to Lagos in search of a better life. The premiere was staged at the Muson Centre, Lagos, in November of 2002, re-staged in April 2004, featured Kate Henshaw-Nuttall in October 2005 and for the Associated Press in November of the same year. All performances were at the Muson Centre.

The Immigrant

I’m trying to lose this accent
trying to blend into my surroundings
like insignificant wallpaper
I’m trying to smile
when you laugh at my mistakes.
Trying to be a good sport.

I’m trying to appreciate John Keats
and William Butler Yeats
I’m trying to put up a jolly good show
I’m trying to sit in this blood-red bus
and act as if I know this city
and I’m trying to look inconspicuous.

I’m trying to be dismayed
when you catch a corrupt official
Trying to forget
he’d be a lord in my land
Trying not to think of those I left behind
Trying to forget
how I almost didn’t make it out.

I’m trying to be you, curse this clumsy tongue.

© Wole Oguntokun Posted by Picasa
First came across this in the library of the Nigerian Law School as a student there. The poet and publisher, Tade Ipadeola, also a student at that time brought this letter published in a book, the title of which I have long forgotten, to my attention. Years later, I sought the picture of James E. Agate on the web.


Dined last night with an old manchester friend and he vouches for the authenticity of this letter from a native of Lagos to the owners of the vessel which he was helping to load:

My statement to you about my speech to my lawyer when he came to demand as per legal orders the sum of 50 pounds for my poor damaged body by falling in company's lighter while doing my honest due on account of which I might have gone to heaven that day. Praise the Lord I did not go.

But, Sir, when you said to my legal adviser:
1st that I was drunken
2nd that cause of drunkeness was stealing gin from lighter.
Well, Sir, those two speeches, 1st and 2nd proved that you are a son of the father of lies i.e. Devil because said gin had been freely drunk at 8am prompt. I fell headlong into lighter at 11am prompt.

AT 11am gin had passed through body, so cause of top-heaviness had finished. Therefore you are the very first born of the father of lies, to wit the Devil.
Because 2nd charge of stealing gin is libel. Beware Sir,do not take away my poor character beside thousand pounds are often lost legal by libel, as legals cost plenty money.
Now Sir, for God's sake try and sign for 50 pounds for damage to poor frame of mortality as follows:

Fell down in lighter on tons of metal
One head splitten
One nose useless (very grave)
One shoulder broken (blood extracted)
One arm bent (blood ditto)
One thick leg dashed (ditto ditto)
One private member damaged (slightly bent)
One leg half broken (blood freely)
General conditions (breakings, dashings-all blood freely etc)

Now Sir, this hurts are cheap at 50 pounds...I will come for book re 50 pounds to morning, meantime may God watch and protect your slumbers tonight so as to keep you safe till morning and I get my 50 pounds

-Yesufu Illorin Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Saw this sign at the University of Lagos a week ago. I assume a group of bright students put it up as their contribution to the well-being of the school. "Say no to indiscriminate urination. Urinate inside the gutter"? We've fallen a long way. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 09, 2006

At the short-listing of the nominees for the LNG Prize for Literature (Drama) last Thursday the 7th of September- Venue: Ocean View restaurant, Victoria Island. Some of the judges of the 77 entries (3 were disqualified thereafter) included (from left- Chief Joop Berkout-Publisher of Spectrum Books, Professor Ayo Banjo-former V.C. of the University of Ibadan and Professor Theo Vincent). The three shortlisted books were Hard Ground by Ahmed Yerima, C.E.O. of the National Arts Theatre, Ajayi Crowther by Professor Femi Osofisan, Professor of Drama at the University of Ibadan and Esoteric Dialogue by Emeka Egwuda, former Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors-Lagos State Chapter. For some reason, they failed to recognize my genius with my entry, The Other Side.  Posted by Picasa
At the presentation of the book, THE WINGS OF DAWN, an anthology of New Writing by the Women Writers of Nigeria (WRITA) and edited by Akachi Ezeigbo and Veronica Uzoigwe, Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo (Editor of The Guardian on Sunday, left) chats with the time-tested writer, Mabel Segun. Venue was the British Council, Ikoyi on Thursday the 7th of September. Posted by Picasa
The Comic and Cartoon Carnival will be a big part of the Lagos Book and Art Festival this year from the 14th to the 17th of September. The Comic Carnival kicks off at Terra Kulture on thursday the 14th. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Stopped by to see Joke Silva yesterday at her office to sort outstanding Inheritors maters. J Silva is a member of the planning committee of the government sponsored annual Abuja Carnival, meant to showcase Nigeria's tourism potentials. Posted by Picasa