Writings of the general word's body

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Lagos Black Heritage Festival

Here's Odia Ofeimun's dance drama A Feast of Return being performed at the Agip Hall of the MUSON Centre on Easter Sunday as part of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival (in the Shell Hall next door was a performance of Aime Cesaire's 'A Season in the Congo'). A Feast of Return is on tonight again at the Agip Hall, starting 7pm. Another play, King Christophe will be on 7pm also at the University of Lagos Auditorium.

For something a little different, US actress Sheryl Lee Ralph gives a performance 'Sometimes I Cry' at the Shell Hall of the MUSON (5-6pm) - today April 6.

If you're thinking that sounds cool, wait till you get a load of Hollywood star Danny Glover. Star of The Color Purple, Beloved and the Lethal Weapon movies, not to mention African modern classics like Bamako - the actor arrived late for the festival's pre-colloquium on Sunday at the Civic Centre. He had an excuse. There's a lovely little story about how Glover was getting set to fly to Lagos only to discover that his Nigerian visa had expired (he was here last year for the AMAA awards, Forest Whittaker in tow; none of that 'I'm American without the African' Morgan Freeman nonsense for Mr Glover, who's been known to attend events even in the US proudly wearing his agbada; and who fraternises with African filmmakers). So Glover phoned Wole Soyinka to ask what to do; it was too late in the day to go seeking a new visa and arrive in Lagos on time. WS told the actor to talk to Virgin Atlantic and see if they would fly him down all the same (he is Danny Glover after all). The Lagos end would be taken care of by the Nobel Laureate and the Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola (the festival is a Lagos State project). Well, someone must've taken care of something, because Danny Glover showed up, albeit a little late.

Danny Glover takes centre stage at the Southern Sun Hotel in Lagos tomorrow April 7 for 'Nollywood Meets Hollywood' - An Evening with Danny Glover and Sheryl Lee Ralph. 7pm.

It's all kicking off in Lagos this week. The Lagos Carnival was on yesterday, and carnival goers thronged Lagos Island and Victoria Island for the parades, which ended in a jamboree at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in Onikan. All very well, but many who attended, even children, said it was a shambles at best, marred by poor planning on the part of the Lagos State Government. Why an event with a potential to attract a multitude of people should be concentrated on the island is beyond me. Immense pressure on the already crushing traffic situation as many extra thousands in cars would have squeezed through the bottlenecks of two bridges to reach the island, and find their way back again later. How much better it would have been if it had been on the mainland, Ikeja for example. It would have been less elitist too; who says it's only the well heeled on the island that must have everything at the tip of their noses?

There was poor communication of carnival routes which left many rudderless, only stumbling on parades by chance. Marwa/Keke Napeps (commercial tricycles if you're not a Lagosian) were dressed up to double as carnival floats instead of the real things - which was sad and charming at the same time. Some say it's only the first outing and the organisation will get better. But what is clear is that Lagos has a long way to go to come close to the now well oiled Calabar Carnival which takes place every December in Cross River State.

Perhaps the issue I have with these 'carnivals' in the first place is that they are so blatantly derivative of Caribbean carnivals. London's Notting Hill Carnival celebrates Caribbean culture in London (as claimed by people of Caribbean descent on the British Isles), so its perfectly fine. When the Notting Hill or Rio carnivals are then transposed wholesale to an African setting, which source-culture is being celebrated? How it is relevant to the day-to-day reality of Calabar or Lagos? Plumed, painted gentlemen with sequins and glitter on the streets of Calabar or Lagos - there is something faintly ridiculous about it. Something dreadfully out-facing. But as Lagos attests, it is catching on. Former Calabar Governor Donald Duke has succeeded in projecting Calabar as a tourist haven and a place of December fun and frolics, but at what cost? At least the Abuja Carnival - which is not without its problems - takes its cues from indigenous cultures, thank God for that.

Faint ray of hope: something tells me Lagos will not completely bow down and go the Calabar way, just something untameable about this city. Which is why I was so happy to see amidst all the cliched carnival images from Lagos yesterday a Sango devotee dressed up in trademark red adorned with cowries and "jazz" (oogun, juju, charms, talisman, voodoo... call it what you like), his hair in defiant 'Sango-man' cane-rows - doing his thing and breathing smoke. If only he had retained some dignity and did not carry on like a court jester. Oh dear.

Back to the Lagos Black Heritage Festival, which opened on Saturday April 3 and goes on till Friday April 9. The festival packs chockfuls of wonderful events into every day, something for everyone, including masquerades, boat regattas and Hugh Masekela in concert. Oh yes.

Unfortunately the festival programmes need a bit of deconstruction to unearth the gem of details from event listings. For instance there's an amazing Poetry Reading tomorrow (Muson, Agip Hall, 3pm) with over 10 poets (will post about it later). The festival programme just notes it down as 'Readings and performances by Odia Ofeimum (sic)' - which says nothing. Nuff said.


MsAfropolitan said...

This piece is really informative. Puzzling that some of this information is not on the LBHF website!
Also, I strongly share your sentiment regarding Lagos Carnival.
Why we wouldn't celebrate the dances, costumes and rituals that are more closely relevant to our cultural background, is to me a saddening conundrum.

Anonymous said...

I think your post is very silly, and i really hope that very few people read this. I attended the black heritage festival AND the carnival and i loved it. I am a Nigerian from the Diaspora and I thought it was a great sign of progress. The event was well organized yea it had a few kinks as is characterized by an event like this taking place for the first time in years. Every event has its ups and downs. FYI, Lagos Island is the traditional base of street carnivals and if you read your history has a lot of connections with the Brazilian culture. They used to hold such carnivals years ago. The parades and costumes were also very good.

People like you are part of the reason why people will constantly have a negative view of Nigeria and Lagos especially. Turning a beautiful thing into a bitchin fest. Go somewhere else and write crap about them and shut up about our beautiful country. I was so angry and heartbroken when i read this and i cant understand why you would sit down and literally write all this crap...where you even there???

Temitayo said...

Ha...well said MW. S/he should be resting after a dose of Panadol now.lol.

BTW, I want some more education about the history of Lagos Island and carnivals from this anonymous commenter ;)

More insight on OUR very beautiful nation would be so cool...