Monday, February 15, 2010

Meridian Hour, a feast of words

Published 11/15/2009 4:29:00 AM

Meridian Hour, a feast of words

Akeem lasisi

Since she played a major role in Owo Eje, a film produced by Remdel from Kola Akinlade’s Yoruba novel that goes by the same title, Ganiyat Ogundele has not been very consistently in action in the performance world. Well, she re-surfaced a few years ago in Jos, Plateau State, where she was part of the Jos Repertory Theatre Festival. 

Then, she had noted that the need to tidy up some home front demands had held her back a little bit. 

When she thus returned to stage in Lagos recently, where she performed at Poetry, Laughter, Arts and You, a poetry festival produced by Ben Tomoloju, she was conscious of the need to re-assert herself.

She largely succeeded in doing this as she swung from Yoruba traditional dance to poetry recitation, especially in the staging of Eddy Adeinokun’s collection, Meridian Hour, which was the main show of the two-day feast sponsored by GTBank. It was anchored by actor and culture activist, Ropo Ewenla.

While the programme held at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, climaxed the contributions that Uncle Eddy, as the celebrant is popularly called, had made to literary development in the country, it also helped to re-invent other poetry performers such as Iquo Eke, Funmi Aluko and Folu Agoi. 

Each had performed separately to the delight of the audience that cut across different strata of the society. 

While Eke and Aluko filled the inspiringly branded hall with poems that connected culture with romance, Agoi, who teaches English at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin, spiced the event with a satirical poem.

Yet, another major revelation of Play is that the real traditional/vernacular poetry and its modern counterpart can be accommodated in the same entertaining experience. 

This was evident in the fact that popular esa egungun (masquerade chant) poet, Suleiman Ajobiewe, opened the show with his elastic voice and seemingly inexhaustible rendition that was well applauded by the audience. 

Exploiting the flexibility of oral performance, he sang the praise of the Managing Director of GTBank, Mr. Tayo Aderinokun, digging elaborately into his Olowu Oduru lineage praise.

Also on the bill was songbird Yinka Davies, who invoked the essence of the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, with her performance of his popular poem, Telephone Conversation. 

Yet, the main act, Meridian Hour, served as a melting pot for various seasoned talents and polished groups, who practically sent ablaze the emotion of the author/celebrant. 

“I am simply flagabasted,” Uncle Eddy, who was surrounded by members of his immediate and GTBank family, friends and associates that included Mobolaji Adenubi, Mr. Ben Lawrence and Akin Adeoya, had said.

Starring with Ganiyat in Meridian Hour were thoroughbred actor and director, Felix Okolo, the Nefretiti and members of Crown Troupe of Africa.

In Ireke Onibudo, beasts batter Toyin Osinaike‘s heart. Then, he finds love

In Ireke Onibudo, beasts batter Toyin Osinaike‘s heart. Then, he finds love


For any dramatist to do justice to any of D. O. Fagunwa‘s novels, he or she must be able to make the impossible happen on the stage. The reason is that Fagunwa‘s literary world is largely that of magical and supernatural realism. The dramatist should be able to make wild animals appear and talk on the stage. He must be able to present believable encounters between the living and the dead and, indeed, take the audience to a realm that is only a stone‘s throw to the backyard of God.

In Ireke Onibudo: The Fabulous Adventures of a Sugarcane Man, an adaptation of Fagunwa‘s Ireke Onibudo, which will be on the stage from November 7 at the National Theatre, Lagos, the audience is due for such pleasant shocks. In the play written by celebrated dramatist, Prof. Femi Osofisan, coming on the platform of the Chams Theatre Series, an initiative of Chams Plc, geared towards reviving live theatre in Nigeria, the playwright has not only done both Fagunwa and the sponsoring company a great service, he has also re-invented himself as a force to reckon with in inter-textual writing. 

As Chams did last year when Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irumole was staged, it has produced both the English and Yoruba versions of Ireke Onibudo. The Yoruba adaptation is written by seasoned writer and actor, Prof. Akinwumi Isola, while it is being directed by lecturer and actor, Kola Oyewo. Again, both playwrights worked independent of each other, an experiment that has produced two independent plays from the same novel whose hero, Ireke, narrates to his long-lost friend Akintunde Beyioku, the story of a most turbulent but interesting life he has lived.

The defamiliarisation is, of course, further radicalised by the director, Tunde Awosanmi, who is steadily establishing himself as a force to reckon with in the industry. The obviously fluid professional communication between him and Osofisan makes the play a must-watch. This is apart from the fact that the producers have been able to rally into the cast thoroughbred actors such as Toyin Osinaike (co-acting Ireke with Kunle Agboola); Albert Akaeze (Tiger) and Charles Ihimodu, who brillantly plays the role of the king of Alupayida. Also in the cast are multi-talented hands such as Ropo Ewenla, Ify Agwu and Jude Udeni who, like some other characters, effortlessly switch roles to capture Ireke‘s galloping narration of his past life.

In the play, the hero, who sets out as a common man - unlike the hero of Ogboju Ode who is a powerful hunter - is in search of succour and meaning to life. Offspring of a man that foolishly falls from grass to grace, Ireke finds himself in a world where wild animals have to dictate the pace of his breath. Today he is in battle with Ologbo Ijakadi, the wild cat. Tomorrow, he is on the lap of Arogidigba, the queen of all fish who loses her tender temper when the adventurer refuses to marry her. 

But while remaining faithful to Fagunwa in terms of structure and overall theme, Osofisan puffs rebellion onto the face of the audience in terms of stories he invents into some of the ‘episodes‘ that make up the long flashback that Ireke Onibudo is. 

Like many other Osofisan‘s plays, Ireke makes use of traditional songs, dance and even poetry. There is, for instance, an exchange of love poems between Ireke and Ifepade, just as some verses of Ekun Iyawo that Ifepade chants to bid her parents farewell will remind the audience of the Yoruba bridal poetry of old. 

To add to the beauty of the play, the director may, however, have to shorten it a little to completely sustain the audience‘s attention. 

Grammarians will also prefer “My attendants and I must leave at this point” to “I and my attendant...” (as said by Ireke’s resurrected mother) just as Tiger must remember that the last syllable in the word ‘coward‘ should be pronounced as ‘ward‘ (of a hospital) and not ‘wad‘ (as in a wad of money). One other thing, when Ireke and his friend, Beyioku, sit among the audience to watch the drama of his past life on the stage, it may be better if they sit at one side of the hall, so that the people sitting behind then would not miss their (actors‘) countenances.

On the whole, however, the play is a remarkable experience that will win many back to the stage. Beyond fulfilling the CSR tradition, the Chams‘ initiative has shed light on how the corporate sector can help to revive the art industry. 

Osofisan captures this when he says, ”With this project, Chams is able to stir up a revival of interest in the works of a cultural icon, Daniel Fagunwa. But also significantly, Chams is able to employ over a 100 theatre artistes for about three months a year. For these, all those who relish this form of social and cultural entertainment must remain eternally grateful to the company.”

And the remarks made by Chams’ Managing Director, Mr. Demola Aladekomo, at the preview of the play held at the University of Ibadan, indicates that the organisation is also enjoying itself as far as the sponsorship is concerned. ”We are glad to restate that the Chams Theatre Series is a strategic intervention and contribution of Chams Plc to the rejuvenation of the arts and stage culture in Nigeria. It is also a means of promoting our culture and re-orientating Nigerians to the values that we hold dear. We believe those values should propel action in our society,” Aladekomo notes.

When poets gather, the muse reigns

When poets gather, the muse reigns

By Abimbola Adelakun, Published: Tuesday, 5 Jan 2010 

The city of Ibadan played host to the literary community when poets gathered there for the Open House Poetry Day. The event which held at the University of Ibadan was organised by the Nigerian Pen Centre. Featured were five published poets and several aspiring ones who read their works and interacted with other guests. 

The five poets who sat on the high table were a graduate of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, University of Ibadan, Ibukun Babarinde; poet and copywriter, Jumoke Verissimo; psychiatrist, Niran Okewole; publicist, Perpetual Eziefule and lawyer and literary critic, Tade Ipadeola. 

The reading session was moderated by Ropo Ewenla while the convener, Dr. Remi Raji, who read the poets’ profiles, said the purpose of the gathering was to bring poets down to earth and know how their minds work. “We want to know why they write and how they write,” he said. 

The five read from their works. Babarinde read Kpansia, a poem about a market in Bayelsa State that was relocated when President Umaru Yar‘Adua was to visit the state. The poem is one of the many he has written as a result of his experiences as a youth corps member in the state. With nothing much to do, Babarinde found solace in poetry and came back with a collection. Describing the market, he said it was located on the only road that led to the city. 

”When I visited the market, I saw what the people were doing to themselves. To me, I saw them being squeezed and oil dripping as droplets of blood.” 

In the poem, Babarinde says, ”Market was bad today/ A pint of blood now drops a dollar/ I must take heart myself/ The market is never for the highest bidder.” 

Verissimo didn‘t just read her poem, Wanderer, she performed it and got a resounding applause . 

Okewole, who was earlier described as a bridge between science and art, said his journey into poetry began in his younger days when he went into fits of depression. His poetry then was all about rhymes. He doesn‘t know why he writes but claims he writes to speak to the human spirit. He is a Marxist because it is an ideological position he finds congenial. He read The Hate Artist. 

Eziefule had her service year in Ibadan. She also did her masters’ degree in Ibadan. She thinks the city made her a poet. She not only reads her poems, she also accompanies them with songs. That way, she says, she is able to eliminate the monotony often associated with reading poetry. She read Our House and sang Feso jaiye to it intermittently. 

Ipadeola, the lawyer, attributes his love for words to his grand mother, somebody he describes as one with a phenomenal command of language. 

”She sent proverbs on errand. She had aesthetics of speech and was always called to settle quarrels because of her word power. She lived to be very old and till she died, she was still settling quarrels. One of her favourite expressions was Eni go ku isinmi, eni gbon ku aapon which means, ”If you are a fool, you will have a peaceable existence, but if you are smart, you will always have issues, challenges.” 

Ipadeola said that he started writing because his law profession taught him that judgement does not end with a proclamation. The “confrontation potential” of words made him take to writing. One of his grandmother‘s words, Adie ba lokun, inspired him to write, Songbird, which won him an award in Korea recently. 

When asked whether they find it easier to write on paper or type their thoughts straight into the computer, Ipadeola said he never can bring himself to write on a computer. 

”Ideas can strike you anywhere and if you don‘t write it down immediately, it will leave you forever. So, I keep a paper and a pen on me all the time,” Eziefule said. Babarinde prefers typing directly into the computer and cannot bring himself to write on paper anymore. 

Verissimo said that she had to learn to be flexible enough to keep her day job and still write good poetry. Okewole says since his poetry does not feed him, he has no choice than to hold to his medical profession. 

While responding to the issue of objectivity and the poet, the Marxist, Okewole, said the environment determines consciousness. A poet cannot divorce his emotions from his writing. 

”You cannot have a mind like Einstein and Gates, without the environment. People criticise American poets for being frivolous, flippant. It is the Marxist approach. People think writers are starry eyed romantics. A poet has his brain wired differently. In fact, a good poet distances himself from the theme. Don‘t write tear jerker instead of a good work. It is a given that a poet is engrossed with the subject matter.” 

Eziefule posits that there is no way a writer will not be subjective. She said the poet cannot help but be involved, but what matters is the degree of involvement and how it affects the work. 

Other young and upcoming poets were also given a chance to read their poems at the occasion. Olarewaju Adewusi read his poems in Yoruba and got an applause.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day of bards at TerraKulture By FEMI SALAWU

Day of bards at TerraKulture

The Sun Newspaper, Thursday, November 19, 2009

The expectations were quite high when renowned culture/ theatre activist, Ben Tomoloju announced plans to stage a pan Nigerian poetry festival tagged P.L.A.Y (Play, Laughter, Arts and You) with the backing of GTBank. 

Being an art critic himself and having distinguished himself as one of the pioneers of art journalism in Nigeria, the burden of the success had fallen squarely on his shoulders. But the big stage is not something new to him. Tomoloju had been credited with successful big budget theatre productions which had been taken on tour of the shores of Nigeria.

However, at the end of the two-day event, not a few were not left in doubt of the impact which the event had on the artistic community. For two days, the stage of TerraKulture, Victoria Island, Lagos witnessed different shades of poetry such as performance, spoken word, chants, and mentoring/ discussions forms among others. 

The forum brought together some of the best poets from different orientations such as traditional, conventional and contemporary. It was also witnessed bodies such as the Veteran Association League, Students and Lecturers from Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Lagos State University, University of Lagos and Olabisi Onabanjo University. 

On the purpose of the event, Tomoloju disclosed, “We are trying to enliven performance of poetry in Nigeria. We are exploring the various traditions and influences in development of poetry to get this genre of literature showcased to the public.”
The first day of the event began with an opening ceremony and recorded a capacity crowd and was attended by special guests such as representatives of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orietations, Lagos State Government as well as members of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). 

Renowned Yoruba actor/ poet and chanter, Sulaiman Ayilara popularly known as Ajobiewe kickstarted performances with traditional homage poetry entitled IBA. Other highlights of the occasion include performances by respected poet, Odia Ofeimun, sensational singer, Yinka Davies and NEFERTITI, an all female group, Akeem Lasisi of the Iremoje fame. 

Yinka Davies, aside performing some of her songs, also mesmerized the audience with a brilliant rendition of Wole Soyinka’s Telephone Conversation which drew applause from the audience.
The segment was capped with the World Premiere of Meridian Hour written by Eddie Aderinokun and directed by Tomoloju. Otunba Eddie Aderinokun is a writer, poet and former Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and has been a supporter of several bodies of writers in Nigeria. 

One of the highlights of the festival was the presentation of the stage adaptation of Meridian Hour. Essentially a collection of poems, Meridian Hour traces parts of Nigerian history from 1960s to the 1990s. 

Tomoloju explains, “The adaptation to stage moves with the word, sounds, music and spectacles. The only caution was that it didn’t take the form of drama because the word is very pre-eminent. We didn’t any allow any spectacle or song to distract the audience from the main thing which is the word.” 
The afternoon session featured a discussion session for young poets with the title My Voice, My Style. Anchored by Aderemi Adegbite, Cordinator, Poetry Potter, the segment featured discussants including Joke Muyiwa Fadirepo, HOD, Performing Arts Department, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Odia Ofeimun, Sage Hasson, a Spoken Word artiste, Ropo Ewenla and Ayodele Arigbabu. 

Another session tagged Children’s Matinee was devoted to children with respected author Madam Mabel Segun OFR, as main guest. Highlights of the session included performance of Mabel Segun’s poems by selected children and an interview session with the matriarch. Apart from giving her the opportunity to interact with her ‘grand children’ as it were, a workshop will be carved out of it to teach the teachers how to teach poetry.
The final session again included performances by Ajobiewe, Yinka Davies, Akeem Lasisi and stage presentation of Meridian Hour. 

Tomoloju had high expectations for the festival, when he said, “I am sure after this festival, people will be encouraged to try one thing or the order with poetry performance or performance poetry. As we know, performance poetry maybe poetry written to be performed while poetry performance maybe an attempt to put any piece of poem on stage. Well we are looking at both angles. It might encourage people to go on and expand on this. It will help the educational process and help more people to align with poetry either to enjoy its performance or meditate on the content and its aesthetics. The project is simply about promotion, propagation and preservation of a poetic heritage.”

On the future of the festival, he revealed, “Well as soon as we are through with this, we start working on another event. We are looking forward to this event being staged yearly and ofcourse this would not be without the help of sponsors. We appeal for assistance in this regard.” 


The Line... drama collaboration across border By Lasunkanmi Bolarinwa

The Line... drama collaboration across border
By Lasunkanmi Bolarinwa
as published by the Guardian of Friday, January 22, 2010
AT the end of 2009, words went round the theatre circuits of Nigeria and Ghana that there would be an audition for a play that would draw its cast and crew from Ghana, Nigeria and Benin Republic. That it would also be a collaborative production involving the National Theatres of Nigeria, Ghana and the Benin Republic drama school, Atelier Nomade, under the artistic direction of Alougbine Dine.

The play in question is Israel Horovitz's The Line, which in this case would be coming alive as an African adaptation. It requires only five characters: four males and one female. They are Flemming, Stephen, Dolan, Molly and Arnall. The implication of this, therefore, was that between Ghana and Nigeria, there were just five slots.

In Nigeria, over 60 people auditioned at the Cinema Hall II of National Theatre, though about 33 officially put down their names, while in Ghana, about 21 showed up for the audition. 

Perhaps the number would have been higher in the two countries, but for the condition that rehearsals would be at a location in Benin, which many felt was not favourable. 

As a matter of fact, quite a number of people left the Lagos venue of the auditions when they discovered it would be difficult to cope considering their other schedules.

Those who stayed behind took turns to do the usual singing, dancing and reading as the groups were gradually pruned to the last five in each country. 

Part of what the director said he was looking for were rich voice texture, added to it was original body movement anchored on strong professional discipline. 

In Ghana, Emmanuel Abankwa, Dotse Mawuli Charles, Ekon Morrison, veteran Solomon Sampah and Bernice Abena Ampafo, the only woman in the team, made it. The Nigerian audition, however, threw up two female possibilities in the persons of Virginia Okereku and Inna Erazia. The three males who made the Nigerian list were Oladele Akinseye, Williams Benson and Ropo Ewenla.

To add another twist to the selection tale, Alougbine Dine, the director insisted on a workshop that would bring all 10 together in Cotonou where the final five would be picked. 

So, on December 26, 2009, the two teams met at the Atelier Nomade Centre, Benin, for three days of gruelling sessions of acting and improvisation, dancing, singing and a sprinkle of sightseeing.

At the end, Dine chose two from Ghana (Sampah and Abankwa) and three from Nigeria (Erizia, Benson and Ewenla). 

Consequently, preparations are expected to have commenced at the Atelier Nomade especially since the premiere is slated for Ghana on February 18, at the National Theatre of Ghana. 

This would be followed by eight other performances in other parts of the former gold coast country. 

Thereafter, the show goes back to Benin in the American Centre, Cotonou for four performances before its final berth in Nigeria for a series of nine shows.

Apart from the initial fund provided by the Prince Claus Foundation, Dine is optimistic that other prospective sponsors that his Centre had approached for additional support would respond in good time before the show begins. 

There is also another sense of optimism he holds in the promised attendance of the playwright, Horovitz, at the Accra premiere. 

If all other things work well, this might also signify that the play would be making a run of some theatres in the United States of America. 

What gives credence to this is the fact that Horovitz is marking his 70th birthday this year and there is already a grand plan to have a global celebration of the playwright by friends and associates. An African interpretation of one of his works therefore might just be one of the strands of argument to support the claim that his work has a universal appeal.

The Line is one of Horovitz's plays with the longest theatre runs, with its over 30 years consecutive off-Broadway showing. 

Dine, on his own, has had 79 performances of the French adaptation, First, in a number of African countries including Nigeria and South Africa sometimes in 1999.

The original play classifies well into the absurd genre. It uses the contest for priority of five characters on a line to reflect on the manipulations we all employ to be the first and not necessarily the best in all things even at the most ridiculously obscene level. 

What or whom the characters are waiting for on the line, is not known. But it is most important to them that they do anything and everything to be first in line and maintain such without compromise. 

As the characters manipulate and trick themselves in and out of first position on the line, the playwright dwells on sexual and gender relations in handling the character of Molly against others.

Speaking about the choice of The Line for a collaborative nature as this, Dine says that there is a lot to do in the task of reintegrating West Africans culturally especially with the lingering effect of colonisation and a divide and rule mentality that took no cognisance of the traditional cultural affinities of people across the Berlin conference imposed boundaries. 

He expects the playwright to be slightly shocked and pleased on seeing his interpretation because he intends to entirely domesticate the theme of the play within an African worldview. 

Dine, who is a Yoruba from the Ajase extraction, is already drawing a correlation between Orunmila, his corpus of wisdom, and Horovitz's European perception of human strife.

While he is working out how to mediate in the tango of the African and European world, there is also a need for some mediation in the course of his rehearsals which would be interesting to follow. 

He speaks French but for a dash of English; he is adapting an English text, though with a French translation, yet, the copy being used is English; his cast speaks only English but for a smattering of French. Perhaps somebody in the audience would speak none of these languages and yet understand the actions without ambiguity.