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.
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.