Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rotimi Babatunde; Writer, Waiting to Win

Rotimi Babatunde; Writer, Waiting to Win
Ropo Ewenla

His name is Rotimi Babatunde. You won’t notice him if you see him in a crowd but for his near Ola Rotimi looks. Even that can be conveniently ignored as looks are not indelible marks of ingenuity. It takes some patience to listen to him too because of a tendency to stutter. An attribute you could link to the hypothesis that he is probably on the point of choking from the many creative ideas struggling to find expression in him. If you mention his name in most art and literary circles in Nigeria, the chances of drawing a blank are quite enormous. Except in Ibadan, where he has been hibernating for some years now, Mr. Babatunde is hardly known as a writer to be paid any serious attention. Even at that, beyond the small circle of writers, drinkers and smokers that he is wont to be found in their company, he is just another guy on the streets of Beere, Beyerunka or Inalende. Ironically however, this young man is ending up as one of the strongest up coming writers of the current generation. That is especially true if the recognition he has garnered in the international literary circuits is anything to go by.

Before you accuse me of over-sweetened tongue or honeyed pen, let me give you an inkling of what makes the foregoing introduction near-mandatory. In 1997 his ‘Oxbow Lakes’, a poem, in Daybreak on the Land (Library of Poetry, Owing Mills MD.) was published. In 1999 his ‘Love Song’, a poem, in A Volcano of Voices: A Ford Foundation/ Association of Nigerian Authors Joint Project by Kraft Books Ltd., Ibadan, was published. In the same year, his piece of fiction ‘the Fall of Icarus’, caught the attention of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s World Service, London, and it was not just aired, it won a prize money. In 2000 ‘Death’s Last Dance’, another fiction of his was anthologised in Little Drops of Spectrum Books Ltd., Ibadan. In 2001, ‘Elements’, a sequence of poems (in both the English originals and the German translations done by Jan Wagner) in Die Aussenseite des Elementes No. 11 (NPAM, Berlin), was published. ‘A Shroud for Lazarus’, a play, was featured as a staged reading at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, London (Director: Topher Campbell) in 2004. In 2005 ‘Auto-da-fe’, a short story of his made it to Fiction on the Web.

He was a Fondazione Pistoletto award recipient for participation in the Unidee in Residence programme for artists at Universite des Idees, Cittadellarte, Biella, Italy in 2007. He was sponsored to participate at the Teaterdargana Festival of theatre in Stockholm, Sweden by The Swedish Institute and Riksteatern in November 2006. He was one of the three authors short listed for Nigerian Writer of the Year award by The Future Awards with Chimamanda Adichie and Tolu Ogunlesi in 2006. He received a Fiction Grant from The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, Shelter Island, New York in February 2006. He participated in Beyond Borders: A Festival of Contemporary African Writing, Kampala, Uganda, sponsored by the British Council in October, 2005. He participated in The Royal Court’s International Residency for playwrights at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, U.K. in 2004. He was a fellow at The Kate and George Kendall Writer’s Fellowship, The Macdowell Colony, New Hampshire, U.S.A in 2002. He had Residence Fellowship at the Ledig House International Writers Program, the literary programme of the Art/Omi Foundation, New York, U.S.A in 2001. He won 1st Prize in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Meridian Tragic Love Story Competition in 1999. He came 2nd in The 22nd International Student Play script Competition organized by the World Student Drama Trust, London in 1998. He was short listed for the Association of Nigerian Authors Drama Prize in 1997. In the same 1997, he won 3rd Prize in the North American Open Poetry Competition with Oxbow Lakes.
In October 2008, his play, Elddopet, translated into Swedish and initially commissioned by the Swedish Art Council opened, went on tour of Sweden in not less than sixty performances and closed in Stockholm in December 2008. The play was directed by Lars Melin and translated into Swedish by Eva C Johansson. The cast included Mans Clausen, Harald Lonnbro and Yankho Kamwendo. Scene design was by Charlotta Nylund and Petra Weckstrom was the play’s producer. In the words of Petra the producer of the play, it would play to “approximately 5,500 Swedish kids between 10 and 12 years old!” That is nothing if not remarkable. Before then he had been flown to Sweden to see the premier and he came back quite impressed and overwhelmed. He was impressed by what the Swedish Art Council was doing but very well depressed that the chances that the Nigerian system can give similar opportunity to writers in the land is as remote as dogs snacking on kola nuts.

He was contacted to do Elddopet in 2005. That was shortly after his participation in the Royal Court Theatre’s International Residency for playwrights in London. It was through the Residency that the Riksteatern, the Swedish National Theatre, got to know of his work and became interested in commissioning a play from him for their World Playwrights Project. There were other plays in the project which were written by writers from Argentina, Mexico and Kenya.

Asked how he took the offer? Did it have any ring of initial difficulty compared to other things he had done? He says “Every new work presents its own special challenges. Before writing ‘The Bonfire of the Innocents’ which was translated into Swedish as Elddopet, I had never created any play for a young audience so I was venturing into a new dramatic territory. The Swedish tradition for such plays is seen by many as possibly the most adventurous in the world, with issues like divorce, death, alcoholism, sexual violence and similar down-to-earth themes routinely addressed. In Sweden, plays for youth are not seen as inferior to those for adults; if anything, they are taken more seriously because that is probably what their theatre is most respected for. So, not only did I have to understand the unique demands of writing a play for a young audience, I also had to write one for the National Theatre of a country with a sophisticated critical tradition in that dramatic sphere”.

Knowing that most playwrights always have something against the interpretation of their work by a director other than themselves, one tried to sound out Rotimi Babatunde on his impression of the premier of his play he went to Sweden to see. Contrary to wildly held belief he says he was extremely satisfied by it and that “…the production was faithful to the play’s script but not in a slavish way. Theatre is a collaborative art and the creative contribution of others involved in the production was strong and pleasantly surprising, without undermining the essential vision of the play. The production crew had done comprehensive research for the work and it showed in the quality of the performance. Even the haircuts of the actors were done exactly as it would have been in Nigeria. To the credit of Riksteatern, the research was done without assistance from the Nigerian Embassy in Stockholm, despite repeated attempts of the theatre to liaise with the embassy. Having a Nigerian play going across the length and breadth of Sweden in a tour of over sixty performances is not something that happens very often, if ever before now, but it seems our diplomats in Stockholm just do not care about how Nigeria is being presented in the country they were posted to work in.”

In 2006, the British Royal Court Theatre commissioned him to write a play in commemoration of its 50th anniversary. In view of this and other similar instances in his writing career, is he ever going to write a non-commissioned play? Most other young writers are also looking for such opportunities and may not be able to kick start their career without such a boost. He insists that he has written works that were not commissioned before and that getting a commission makes projects such as creative writing convenient as it “…helps to know the context in which a play will have its first presentation and it is reassuring to know beforehand that the play one is writing will be staged. A substantial proportion of plays written in countries with professional theatre cultures are commissioned. This is not a new development. Shakespeare wrote for a specific theatre and Chekhov wrote his most important plays for a specific director, Stanislavski. Coming closer home, don’t forget that Wole Soyinka’s first major play, A Dance of the Forests, was specifically written for Nigeria’s independence celebration”.

He was challenged on the possibility of the fact that writing a commissioned play gives you a feeling of being boxed in by the terms of reference of the funding organisation and he disagrees tactically, “A playwright who understands the nature of his or her art will instinctively know how to subvert and transcend such restrictions, if there are any. For example Wole Soyinka used his play, A Dance of the Forests, to criticize and lampoon the illusions of the very politicians who paid for the play’s production. Most commissions though, do not have such reactionary expectations and the terms of reference allow the playwright an ambit so wide that it will be inappropriate to label them as restrictive”.

It is a good thing that he is recognised outside the shores of Nigeria for his literary competence but is he not bothered that Nigerians living in Nigeria have never been able to see any of his plays just as they have not been able to see nor read that of many others like him who are striving to keep the art going? He is optimistic. Carefully so optimistic. He says, “They will, hopefully. I write essentially about the Nigerian experience. If audiences from other countries can connect with the plays I write, then those in Nigeria should find it easier doing the same. So it is logical to think that it is only a matter of time before my work starts getting performed here. There is no need to force it though and end up with a sloppy production. The best approach is to wait for the right opportunity and the right context”.

So, how does he think this would impact on the development of an (permit one to say so) already stunted live theatre environment? How would …? and he cuts in. “Making such predictions is beyond the immediate mandate of any playwright. Yes, our so-called globalised world is so connected that distance doesn’t matter as before, but having one’s work presented first in one’s country is still the ideal scenario. Reality though imposes other imperatives. Between having one’s play premiered abroad and not having it staged at all, every playwright will choose the former. And theatre is not the only sector where the outside world engages with our best talents more robustly than those in Nigeria do. In recent times, the bulk of notable novels from Nigeria have been published abroad. Our best brains are more likely to be lecturing in foreign universities than at home. Our best footballers ply their trade in European leagues, not in Nigeria. This is not because of a lack of patriotism. And, if one is to be realistic, I don’t see how this situation will change until we put our house in order. Resuscitating the glorious days of live theatre in Nigeria is a collective venture, not an individual one”.
…And you think this will help what is happening on the Nigerian theatre stage? I mean, in terms of interpreting our collective theatrics as the likes of Kola Ogunmola, Hubert Ogunde, Wole Soyinka and Osofisan to mention a few (don’t know how many more are left anyway) have done?

“The economic downturn after the seventies affected dramatic writing severely, in many ways far more severely than the other genres of literature. You need a vibrant theatre industry, from good venues to well-paid actors and spectators who feel secure enough to venture outside their homes, to get the best out of the rich pool of dramatic talents we have in Nigeria. You asked me what I think is at present happening on the Nigerian live theatre scene? There are a few brave individuals still trying to keep the embers of live performance glowing but frankly, almost nothing is happening. Almost nothing. And this is regrettable for a country that, in the space of just a few decades, produced playwrights as renowned as Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark and Biyi Bandele”.

At this very moment, he is on an art residency as a guest of the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Italy, for a period of four months. The Bellagio Center lies on a hilly peninsula adjacent to Lake Como, two hours north of Milan. Some place to challenge the Muse if you ask me. I tried to pry out of Rotimi, what it feels like to be there and, in his usual mode he complained about how the organisers were attending to him with undeserved seriousness. He wonders what they would do if they found out that he is the same guy to be found in some drinking joints in some unknown places in Ibadan engaged in sometimes meaningless beer talk just to exercise the jaw.

The residency program that he is involved in offers influential scholars, artists, writers, scientists, policymakers and other professionals from around the world the opportunity to pursue ideas and to engage others in their work. According to the official website of the Foundation, “The conference program leverages ‘convening power’: the ability to bring notable and diverse participants from around the world together to share ideas, to debate and to collaborate.

The Foundation has operated the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy since 1960. In leaving the property to the Foundation, the previous owner mandated that it be used “for purposes connected with the promotion of international understanding.” A group of distinguished scholars was convened to discuss and advise on the land's usage and function. It was their view that the property should be a refuge for contemplation, writing, and purposeful discussion -- a place where the world’s leading thinkers could be free from everyday demands. In addition, they proposed the Center host targeted conferences, with the goal of arriving at important conclusions concerning the state of knowledge in a given field, and plotting paths for future development”.

National Troupe...Still Dwelling In Swamps

National Troupe...Still Dwelling In Swamps
Lasunkanmi Bolarinwa
(as published by the Sunday Guardian, June 07, 2009.)

THE end of last year and the beginning of this year was a very exciting one at the National theatre, Iganmu Lagos. That was because for that season of celebrations, the management of the theatre decided to mount on stage, one of the classics of Ola Rotimi, Kurunmi, for the viewing pleasure of its thinning audience.

Aside the reputation of the play and its playwright, the fact that the artistic director would be Ben Tomoloju was also more than sufficient to challenge more than the theatre buffs to queue up for tickets at the National Theatre box office.

The media reviews, from the first rehearsals to the last performance were electrifying. The cast, crew, management and directorial crew received heaps of praises for a job well done. When it finally opened, it lived up to its reputation on all fronts. It was the kind of play production a first timer at the theatre needed to see to become permanently addicted to the theatre gospel. Even when the halls were barely filled except for the day of command performance and on the last of the eleven straight shows, those who did not come but saw the trailer or the review in the media knocked themselves for not coming and resolved not to miss such an opportunity again in the future.

Soon, an opportunity to live up to their resolution came. This time, the National Theatre was to stage the production of Wole Soyinka's Swamp Dwellers. It was to be directed by Nick Monu. Going by his resume, this is another director whose work the average theatre buff in Lagos, if not in Nigeria should crave to see if not for all, but for one of the following reasons. Nick Monu was at a time in the recent past, one of Britain's most demanded young actors. He had been with the British National Theatre, the Royal Court and of course the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company. He had also acquired a stretch of experience with the Moscow Arts Theatre.
By the last day of production of Swamp Dwellers, I had seen three shows, all confirming and rebutting my perceptions of the position of the director; the place of the playwright in our national discourse; the attitude of the National Theatre/National Troupe to its productions; the quality of cast; the texture of interpretation and most importantly, the continuing relevance of the play as a potent post colonial treatise that is still capable of interpreting our current reality beyond issues even in the Niger Delta which the play ostensibly deals with. Mind you, none of these three shows was the command performance. I deliberately stayed away from that. The three shows I saw were actually after the command and the last was on the close of production.

On the three occasions that I saw this show, never was I offered a production brochure at the box office. A number of things could have been responsible for this. You sometimes get the feeling that the NTN is reluctant about doing some of the things it does. This feeling arises when you have course to interact with some of the personnel placed in charge of some of the activities. You ask for a production brochure after paying one thousand naira to see a play and you are told that they are meant for the command performance alone; you do not even get to leave with a small literature of additional information about the context of the play. The one I am using for the purpose of this review was obtained from a friend's library.

The production starred, back to back, some of the cast who made a success of Kurunmi in the hands of Ben Tomoloju. The challenge thus was to see them do again what endeared them to the critical audience that saw them in the previous production. I am not sure this was a challenge they lived up to. There are doubts also whether the management of the National Theatre, producers of the play has a full grasp of the kind of standard it bears and should protect. We would get to that later.

Some of the cast one had to watch out for were, Wole Macaulay, playing as Makuri; Albert Akaeze, playing as beggar (spelt begger in the brochure); Toriseju Ejoh, as Igwuezu; David Uba, as drummer/servant; Martins Iwuagwu as Kadiye; Titilayo Akinmoyo as Alu; and Okokon Nse as Flautist.

Apart from these players, there was also a strange clan of ten dancers from the National Troupe of Nigeria who found themselves into the beginning and end of the play. I am confused as to ascertaining whether their coming was as an apology for the length of the play for which the poor fee paying audience who were not circumspect enough had to cough out one thousand naira, or it was as an extended interpretation of the theme and concerns of the play.

Were it to be for the former, then the management of the theatre should know that had there been something of a full house on the days that the show held, there might have been a protest from a substantial number of the audience who felt swindled and ripped off. I actually overheard some members of the Lagos chapter of ANA wondering aloud after what was the curtain call at the end of one of the shows what just happened? They both agreed that they were yet to start understanding the play when it ended and actually joked about getting a refund. I could not agree with them more.

On the other hand, if the dancers had been in the show for the latter reason, then there is a strong need not only to question the quality of interpretation of the director but also to interrogate the process of evaluating directors for a National Troupe's job. In concept and execution, the opening and closing 'glee' were the greatest disservice to what might have passed as a worthwhile project. What could have been more damaging to the credibility of an intellectual effort than to see one of the dancers more devoted to the chewing gum in her mouth than the dance she was executing right there before the full glare of the audience.

If for any of the reasons of extending the duration of the play or exploring the thematic concern of the play, adding a dance or series of dances was necessary, there are more apt junctures in the play where dances that are interpretive of the mood and situation of the play could have been planted. What we had in this case was slovenly, lazy, unprofessional and unbecoming of a National Troupe of Nigeria's production.

The secret challenge I nurse in me is to one day see a set or light designer tell the story of the play in colours of paints, shades of light, sound of music and poetic set design that complements and accentuates the intended meaning of both playwright and director in an artistic synthesis. I see most often, barely functional technical designs even when there are open invitations for expressive interpretations. Either for lack of material or metal requirements, technical designs of our plays hardly excites one these days. Sometimes where the set attempts to live up to expectation, the light scheme and or cues take on a life of their own and come on and go off at will.

Where the lighting scheme in The Swamp Dwellers might not be worth writing anywhere about, the set in its design was daring and commendable. Credit for the set is given to Simone Nick. She was able to create a piece of installation for the audience to behold. The set alone was enough reason for me to say that the first one thousand naira I spent on the ticket was not a loss and, on each of the other two times I went back, the prospect of seeing it again was an easy excuse to endure other shortcomings in the production.

Off the script, the play is in a dialogue with the aspiration and reality of the nation. It speaks of debauchery and religious bigotry. It speaks of treachery and loss of basic African family values. It speaks, most importantly to me of the need to realise that each different cultural, social and economic component of the Nigerian state would achieve more, if it concentrates less on its deficiencies and devotes more time into how to creatively align with the others in order to tap from them what it lacks and which others have in abundance. The play suggests a magical alignment between the arid desert and the flooded swamp. It warns of a need to let the past and its failings be, while we focus more on the fruits of the future. All these I see in the situations given life to by the characters of the beggar, Igwuezu, Kadiye and of course, Makuri and Alu.
Unfortunately, I did not see all these in the production. I mean, I did not see any point of emphasis of all or any of the aforementioned. Thus, I will not be able to say categorically, what the thematic area of concentration of the play is. In all, it felt like a production in which the cast did not do enough work to interrogate their lines, characters and the situation in which they are in the play against one another in order to determine interpretation. You therefore have Macaulay in the character of Makuri, speaking with an Igbo accent, while the wife, Akinmoyo, speaks plain, unaccented English just like every other person in the play.

Again, while there is some attempt by Macaulay to speak and play an age that helps the audience understand the character of Makuri just a little, Akinmoyo was rather unconvincing either in carriage or speech. I am sure that she would not have been able to say by how many years her husband is older than her as she was just the same person you encounter at Ojuelegba in her jeans and possibly spaghetti top. This shows a lack of an understanding of the principle of give and take, action and reaction in the theatre, as you cannot effectively give back, in acting, if you do not know or understand, what you have been offered. I have no doubt that there would have been more life on stage had there been a better understanding of this principle.

In the curse of trying to satisfy my curiosity about my perception of the play, I encountered the work of a literary critic, teacher and Professor of Literature in his book, African Drama and the Yoruba World View. He says of some characters in the play: Alu and Makuri, landlocked in cosmic loneliness and futility look much nearer the grave than to life (26). As a mater of fact, Macaulay committed one of the most unforgivable of crimes on the stage when on the last day of performance, he came on wearing a gold chain; part of his own personal jewellery which he must have forgotten to remove in the cause of assuming the character of Makuri at the beginning of the play. All through that performance, I am sure the audience would have been distracted with the glittering shinning necklace on the neck of a character whose portrayal was at variance with every other thing in the play.

However, you cannot say the above for the character of the beggar as played by Albert Akaeze. You need not be told that he is blind when he comes on stage to know that his sight is impaired. His characterisation is one that justifies his inclusion in the cast and equally gives credence to his invaluable experience in the profession. But for a lack of team spirit, which may not be so obvious to the undiscerning, but which is there all the same, his efforts, just like others in the play too, would have come out more prominently.

As far as incongruities go, I think I also saw a bit of anachronism in the use of props where a 555 aluminium bowl, the type which just surfaced in the market in the past ten years or so, was on the set of a play set in pre-independent Nigeria. In my opinion, a calabash, if not an older aluminium bowl, would have helped the audience understand better the temporal setting of the play. A calabash would be more preferable because it shows that limited or lack of contact that the Makuris have with the approaching modernity.

In this performance, I saw things, images and suggestions that stood unconnected with other issues in the play. I saw and read things that made me seek the counsel of the original play text by Soyinka. I do not intend to substitute an impression of the written textual material I have since come to with the impression the textual performance had on me. No. But by going to this length, I have found out that there were deviations - unforgivable and inexplicable deviations. Note. There are provisions to deviate within accepted limited scope but such deviations must be consistent with an overall vision. This way one can be sure where either the director or the playwright has faltered or done well in representation and interpretation within the agreed philosophical, literary or artistic medium of realisation. I found this wanting in Swamp Dwellers. I do not know how many other productions have since taken place between the end of this play and now, but I hope someone else had spoken up on time to alert the management of our theatre about some, if not all of these critical points.

Keeping Nigerian Legends Alive

Keeping Nigerian Legends Alive

By Akintayo Abodunrin and Obidike Okafor of Next on July 17, 2009 01:25PMT

The lack of documentation and preservation of legendary works in Nigeria’s arts and culture sector was painfully highlighted at the 78th Stampede of the Committee for Relevant Art, held on Sunday, July 12, at the National Theatre, Lagos.

Kongi here and there

The screening of a yet-to-be-completed documentary on Wole Soyinka by Dapo Adeniyi titled ‘Kongi Here and There’ signalled the commencement of the forum with the theme: ‘Legends and Legacies’ and which was dedicated to the late music impresario, Steve Rhodes and Soyinka, whose 75th birthday was on July 13.

The moderator, Ropo Ewenla, opened the discussion philosophically by stating that “the history of a people’s art is the history of the participants or creators of that art. You can’t talk about the history of music in Nigeria without mentioning Steve Rhodes; you can’t talk about the history of theatre in Nigeria without mentioning Jimi Solanke”. Ewenla added that it was important to keep the memories of the late, living and upcoming legends alive.

Secetrary-General of the Committee for Relevant Art, Toyin Akinosho, also spoke on the theme before the nine panellists gave their takes. Akinosho highlighted the relevance of the stampede and the legends being celebrated.

The CORA official buttressed the importance of preservation and documentation. He concluded with a poser: “How do we ensure that our children and grandchildren have access to the works of these people?”

The courage to carry through

Before the exchanges between the panel members and the audience, Segun Adefila’s Crown Troupe of Africa performed a dance centred on the theme.

Gloria Rhodes, daughter of the late music icon who represented the Rhodes Foundation, opened the discussion proper. She spoke about the history of the foundation, how it started as The Centre for Cultural Preservation before lack of funds affected it.

She also touched on the foundation’s new lease of life. Rhodes said keeping the organisation afloat requires people’s support and not trusting in the vision of the foundation alone. She was to later draw angry responses from the audience when she said government’s role was to provide policy and structures to help the arts, not to fund it.

“Government won’t do everything for you.Its role is to give policy and structures, it’s our own to earn respect and protect the sector ourselves,” she said to the audience who made disapproving noises. “Where are the policies and structures,” they demanded?

Richard Mofe-Damijo, the Nollywood actor who is now the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Delta State, informed the gathering about what is being done to document history in the state. To him, making archival materials more contemporary is the key.

“Key it into the world of pop, for example. If we can package the works in such a way that it can be can be shown in programmes like ‘Soundcity’”. Mofe-Damijo also noted that science and technology should be employed in documenting and showcasing the people’s culture to make it more attractive.

He believes the lack of commitment by the custodians of the arts sector is the major hindrance to progress. “When we find ourselves in positions, we have to have the courage to carry through,” he said.

Not government’s spokesman

The Director of Culture, Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, George Ufot, was glib when asked about the policy of the Federal Government in canonising heroes and heroines of Nigerian arts. “Government has policies but I am not here to disclose what government has,” he said.

“The government has honoured Chinua Achebe and Bruce Onabrakpeya before, I am here to listen and take back feedback to government. We need to tell the government what we want, it is important to make specific demands. Government does not have all the answers, we all need to participate. We need to send communiqué to government that this is what artists need. It is important we come up with an advocacy to carry the cause to government,” he said.

The solution is with us

The Chief Executive Officer, African Movie Academy Awards, Peace Anyiam Osigwe’s take on documentation was that the solution lies with the artists themselves. “It’s about commitment, dedication. Keep knocking until you get what you want. We need to learn how to keep documents and keep records. We have to take responsibility for taking and preserving what we have,” she said.

Osigwe decried the poor documentation of Nollywood movies, informing that a Spaniard has a rich archive of Nollywood movies which is not likely to be the same with the Nigerian Film Corporation. The movie maker also spoke on funding, urging that artists cooperate more and stop relying on handouts.

She said artists have been unable to attract funds from the private sector because they don’t write proposals in a way corporate Nigeria understands. “We could do things like fundraisers, or organise cultural shows. Teamwork is required, creativity thrives in team work,” she said.

Age has nothing to do with it

The filmmaker Femi Odugbemi told a damning story about records keeping in Nigeria, when discussing his documentary on the late Steve Rhodes. He recounted the difficulty he encountered sourcing materials for a documentary he wanted to make on Nigeria’s history; and how he had to pay the BBC for the required footage.

The veteran producer Tunde Oloyede, informed the shocked audience, that, he also couldn’t find footages of ‘Village Headmaster’ when he needed them recently. “Nigeria will be celebrating 50 years but my fear is that it will be extremely difficult to document what Nigeria is about because it is disappearing,” he added.

He said the dearth of footages on Rhodes made him source for footages from the man himself. “When I sat with Steve Rhodes, I was amazed by what he had done. He was profound in his thinking and he studied and created”. The former president of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria added that, “Legends have the responsibility to write their own stories. The older generation kept diaries in the US while most people do memoirs.”

On why he did a documentary on Segun Adefila titled ‘Bariga Boy’, Odugbemi said, “Documentation is not about age. A problem with youths nowadays is that there is more appearance to them than essence. They have reputation but most people don’t know what the reputation is built upon. Segun may be in his early 30s but some in their 60s have not done the quantum of work he has done”

On what galleries are doing about documentation, Frank Okonta, President, Gallery Owners Association of Nigeria, said the brochure of Art Expo 2008 organised by the association profiles about 150 artists who participated in the event.

“What is really bothering us is money. Banks don’t give loans and we haven’t learnt how to source money from outside... We need encouragement from government and individuals,” Okonta stated.

Age of materialism

Femi Aseku weighed in. “There are so many problems but we don’t know how to tackle them,” he said. “We must also make efforts to disseminate information more. Materialism seems to be the only thing elders are indoctrinating into the young these days. The youths are materialistically oriented these days, it is sad, sickening. Until we can tackle the problems, I don’t know where we are heading to”.

In their contributions, Mahmoud Ali Balogun, Greg Odutayo, Zik Zulu Okafor, Yinka Ogundaisi, Ikeogu Oke, Tope Babayemi and Francis Onwuche all aired their views on what could be done to properly document the arts and the players.

“Being in the art is our tragedy, we should not rely on the government”, Okafor said with feeling. A common thread in their contributions was a lack of commitment artists; the need for them to take their destinies into their own hands, and backing from government and corporate Nigeria.

Our responsibility

Odia Ofeimun prefaced his comment with a poem titled: ’Civilian to Solder’ by Soyinka, before asking if anyone had a tape of Steve Rhodes’ last performance. No one did. “If you don’t do your own documentation, you are not doing justice to yourself. History will not do you well. We need to keep records of what we do ourselves although there is nowhere in the world where government does not provide a platform for the arts to thrive. We owe ourselves the responsibility.

“We are all in trouble in Nigeria because we don’t protect our works ourselves. No ministry of culture in Nigeria is about culture. There is no journal that defends us. If we don’t defend ourselves, we won’t get government to do anything for us”, was Ofeimun’s advice.

Veteran producer, Femi Jarret, made the last contribution and he dwelt on making sacrifices. “Sacrifices are made for change to happen but nobody is making sacrifices. I have been at several stampedes where we talk but who will make the sacrifice?” Jarrett also mentioned corruption in Nigeria.

He said Rhodes’ production company, Fiesta, lost many jobs because Rhodes refused to give bribes. “Artists are endangered species. Hold yourself very carefully. Stop extending yourself,” was his parting shot to the gathering.

Ironically, for a stampede concerned with documentation as a means of preserving legacies, the organisers did not provide any audio-visual coverage for the event.