Friday, December 28, 2007

Highlife party for Yemisi Ransome-Kuti at 60

• Article by Benson Idonije as published in The Guardian December 28, 2007.

THE end-of-year edition of the monthly Great Highlife Party (also called the Elder’s Forum) falls due on Sunday, December 30, 2007 at the National Stadium Annex of O’Jez Entertainment. Happening with the collaboration of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), this edition is a Christmas Party of sort for the dynamic and hardworking diva, Yemisi Ransome-Kuti who turned 60 recently. The party will take off at 6 o’clock in the evening and last till 11pm.
An activist to the core, Yemisi is a patron of the arts, mover of civil society and Executive Director of Nigeria Network of non-governmental organisations, (NGOs). Her views on corruption and the need to protect the girl-child are very strong. She has championed this cause for years and has made considerable impact. A typical Ransome Kuti, with rebellion and activism running in the blood, Yemisi has made good her aims and objectives. She has scored success in practical terms, finding solutions to many issues surrounding women and the girl-child.
She strongly believes that every girl-child must be educated and that she should not be discriminated against on account of her gender. This is true to her words: “The Federal Government has done a lot in this area. Different schemes have been set up to ensure that education is available at a qualitative and quantitative level. But the mindset of Nigerians has got to change, first of all, to value having a daughter. There are so many women that are excelling in every field that no man should feel, oh. I’ve got a girl.
“You’ll be who you want to be, depending on the kind of training and value that has been with you. And we should equip the girl-child with not just the education capacity but psychological power because there are still some who are educated but still feel inferior. The girl child should be brought up in an environment where she is treated as a human being”.
A mother of four and two grand children, Yemisi, who has great passion for this cause, always teaches with her own example. “That’s what has made me what I am. I was never treated any differently from Fela, Beko or any of the boys around. And I was given the same challenges, same responsibilities, and taught that I had to be independent and had to be able to take care of myself and my responsibility I bring into this world. This is the kind of environment that we must provide for the girl-child, to allow her to blossom and to realise her own potentials, to understand what talents she has and utilise those talents comprehensively.”
With regard to the Triple N.G.O, Yemisi is enjoying her work as the Executive Director of the Nigeria Network of Non-Government Organisations. In the process she is harnessing the energies of civil societies, both in voluntary and the organised private sector, focusing on issues that will assist them in meeting their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) considers Yemisi’s aspirations and achievements rather spectacular and people-oriented. The only way it can sufficiently demonstrate appreciation and commendation is by honouring her on the platform of the Elders Forum as she turns 60. She falls within the purview of the Committee’s idea of celebrities. She has been committed to this selfless service to mankind for over ten years.
Tributes will be duly paid to her by the Committee for Relevant Art in conjunction with special guests and friends who admire her. In addition, she will have a chance to tell the audience the present state of her NGOs and the plans she has for the future.
Yemisi will be celebrated with highlife music, the music that helped to usher in independence for this country. And in doing so, veterans of the music have been lined up. She is particularly lucky in that she will be the first celebrity to enjoy the highlife of the new, improved Highlife Messengers, a crop of veterans who are individualists and masters of their various instruments.
They will provide accompaniment to the music of such veterans as Tunde Osofisan, Maliki Showman and Alaba Pedro. But perhaps the act she will find most exciting is that of Fatai Rolling Dollar, and eighty year old veteran who truly represents vintage highlife. The interesting thing about his music is that it is a mixture of the old and the new. Young female singers lend fresh voices to the music while Fatai himself introduces new elements to the rhythm section through vibrant syncopations and guitar strokes.
The Great Highlife Party has come a long way. It’s been on for over six years, and this being the concluding session for the year, will be exciting and colourful with Yemisi Ransome-Kuti as celebrant.
The out-going year had many exciting sessions and celebrated several great people, among them Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Paschal Orts and others.
But perhaps the most interesting edition was the one that was based on an issue rather than the celebration of a selected person. It was on the Nigerian civil war which lasted from 19967 till 1970 and the way it affected highlife. This topic was influenced by the theme of the very successful Book and Art Fair mounted for three days at the National Theatre, Iganmu early in November by CORA.
Speakers included Mr. Aderinokun and Ajibade Fashina Thomas, veteran journalists who witnessed the impact of the war at the time. But perhaps the contribution that helped to boost the event was the one that came from Kevin Ejiofor, former director General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). He gave an insight into the goings-on on the other side of the divide, telling the story from the beginning to the end.
The Great Highlife party started as an Elders’ Forum, with the hope that only the elderly would be keenly interested in highlife. But events have since proved this theory wrong. The forum is now being dominated by the youth for whom it is actually meant as a highlife revival initiative. It is the youth who did not experience the flourishing days of the music in the 50s and 60s that actually need to hear it now. And they are responding in large numbers.
On the 14th of December 2007, the Edo Chapter of the Great Highlife Party was officially inaugurated at the Hexagon Hotel, Benin City. There, a formidable highlife band has been playing regularly, but the Highlife Messengers, Fatai Rolling Dollar and Tunde Osofisan from Lagos, all went to Benin to help establish the forum. Again, the audience was dominated by young people who all sat down and listened with engrossed interest to highlife music.
In the case of the Benin experience, the fruits of the highlife revival initiative are visible. Two young people who are taking highlife to the next level are Mariam Alile, the daughter of veteran actor, Alile who gave the audience a new dose of highlife, singing and playing guitar. The second happens to be the son of Osayemore Joseph, another veteran musician who goes by the name, Oriri Joseph. He sang his own compositions and played guitar. This is the kind of experience we expect to see in Lagos.
And, who knows, some of them may come forward on Sunday, December 30, 2007 when the Great Highlife Party celebrates the activist, Yemisi Ransome-Kuti.

Friday, December 21, 2007

From left, Otunba Lawal Solarin, Publisher Literamed, Mr. Joe Musa DC, National Gallery, Deji Toye (moderator), Abdul Bangbopa, Director Nextzone, Mahmoud Ali-Balogun, MD Mainframe and Mr. Afolabi Kofo-Abayomi, Special Adviser to Gov. Fashola on Special Duties

What Budget has to Do with Culture Production

For a fair share in the budget, artistes brainstorm
By Chuks Nwanne and Jumoke Verissimo
INADEQUATE funding and poor attitude by government at all levels have remained the major headaches of the art and culture sector of the economy. Unlike other sectors, budgetary allocation for the arts is very poor, and even the lean provision is hardly properly distributed by political heads of the culture ministries in both state and federal levels.
The Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), took the bull to a slaughter house on Sunday, December 16, 2007, when it constituted a panel of policy makers, art enthusiasts, and those in the private sector to examine the effect of budgetary policies on Arts and Culture in Nigeria.
With the theme, "What Has the Budget Got to Do with Culture Production?" the 75th Art Stampede had on the panel the Director General of National Gallery of Arts, Mr. Joe Musa; Chairman, Nigerian Book Fair Trust, Otunba Yinka Lawal Solarin; notable movie maker and activist Mahmoud Ali-Balogun; the Special Adviser (Special Duties) to Lagos State culture; Folabi Kofo Abayomi and Mr Abdul Bamgbopa of NextZone. The session was moderated by CORA's member, himself a writer and lawyer, Mr Deji Toye.
In his contribution, Folabi Kofo-Abayomi expressed the need for artistes to partner with the private sector by involving them in their programmes. He explains that when the issue of showcasing Art and Culture comes to the fore in government budgetary discourse, dance, drama and such mere performances are what comes into the policy makers' contetion. This he sais, maekes it rather difficult to determine a serious budgetary allocation for the sector. While this seems problematic, the special adviser to Governor Fashola, informed that in other parts of the world; the interaction between the private, non-governmental organisations and government agencies ensure that large money is voted and expended on artistic and cultural projects.
"Whatever we count ourselves to be as a people, it is really the art and the culture that typify what you really are as a nation. Considering the diversity and the interrelationships, we then begin to see that we have a lot to offer."
However, Kofo-Abayomi observed that for the government, issues about responsibilities concerning what it has been elected to do and the overwhelming problems it has to deal with usually come first.
"How do we now prioritize resources and at the same time put Arts and Culture in its proper place? Not just in an allocation of say, 'Let's just give it 1per cent or 2per cent, but the proper way to allocate these resources is a major problem."
Otunba Lawal-Solarin observed that, funding is a major problem in the sector, citing the Nigerian Book Fair Trust, organisers of the International Book Festival as an instance.
"We have not received money from the Federal government as expected, rather the organisation has been faced with as much challenges as other art organizations seeking fund from the government."
He pointed out that the policy for National Arts and Culture does not include anything about budgetary allocation.
"It simply says there should be provision of allocation for infrastructure." In essence, the government from the outset has removed itself from the provision of fund for the sector.
The Director General of the National Gallery of Arts Mr. Joe Musa outlined some challenges being faced by the sector during budgeting, which he described as frustrating. The DG reasoned that there is an urgent need for art organisations to unite in pursuing their agenda. He also frowned at the poor representation of the sector in government.
"At the moment, there is an absence of enough culture workers in government. Culture workers are lacking in the ministries; we don't have them. The artists are not always in the corridors of power to push their agenda. We need more people to come and join us. You are existing in an environment at a time when your contribution is necessary, not when you are dead. The best for the industry would be first and foremost, the art organisations uniting to articulate their needs and desires from the government. This is the opportunity to ask many of us, how we can also be involved in the policy making, " he quips.
Musa, apainter and art journalist himself, informed the gathering of the need for an edifice for the visual arts, which he says, would help in the area of fund raising.
"We don't even have an edifice; the National Gallery of Art does not have an edifice, a proper edifice that can match any international standard gallery. There are international galleries all over the world. There is the Louvres in Paris. Let me give you an example, you need to pay 8 euros to enter the Louvres and they received up to 80,000 visitors a day. That is money. "Since I have been in government, I have been fighting that if we do not achieve anything, we should at least, have an infrastructure on ground. Let's have an edifice on ground first of all in addition to designing other policies that we've been working on, " he said.
In his contribution, Femi Jarret believes that the first step in the struggle is for the artists in government to examine themselves. "We need to examine ourselves. For these guys to succeed, we need to co-operate with them. If we can gang up together, we can make it happen. I remember a few years back, a reporter came to ask me what I think about Nigerian movies, and I said, 'it will thrive'. Whereas, a few weeks back, some of my contemporaries were rubbishing home movie. I told them, 'look, it's true there are some bad movies, but it will sort itself out. Today, Nollywood is number three in the world." Abdul Bamgbopa, from Nextzone, an investment, financial services firm with interest in entertainment, charged artistes to come up will programmes that will improve the current status of the sector. He said that the availability of such programmes and ideas will surely attract investors to the sector.
"Many of the art products are "abstract" to the audience it is directed to. There is the need to involve organisations in our programmes, but first of all, we need to make them marketable."
Mr mahmoud Ali-balogun, an art activist, movie maker and ex-President of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, NANTAP, stressed that unless the artistes themselves primed themselves ready to participate actively in the desire to redeem the abject state of the arts and culture sector, the sector will remain short-changed in the national scheme of things. He was worried that not many artistes even show interest in the affairs of the sector. All they know is just to perform; they do not ask questions from their fellow artistes who have been appointed by government to head the various cultural agencies; so how do they expect to have their voices heard,' he asked. Ali-Balogun also charged the few artistes in government to work for the common god of the sector instead of seeing their current positions as tickets to their personal conveniences and riches.
Meanwhile, CORA has proposed that a communique for the programme will be made available soon. It also promised that some of theme will be examined at a gathering in April.
• Culled from The Guardian, Wednesday december 19, 2007

From the archive: Music for Book

* At the Book Trek segmemnt of the 7th Lagos Book and Art Festival, LABAF 2005, Edaoto jams with Awoko (on guitar) and the Edun twins on drum. The book Trek is an educational initiative which takes book reading culture to the campuses.

Monday, December 10, 2007



The 73rd ART STAMPEDE holds on Sunday December 16, 2007 at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. Time is 1pm.
Otherwise called the 3rd Steve Rhodes Carnival, the theme of the Stampede is
What Has the Budget Got to Do with Culture Production? It is to examine, in this season of budgetary planning and review in Nigeria, the implication of Federal budgetary practices in the promotion of our Arts & Culture.

Art and Culture received its own Ministry eight years ago, thus raising hope that this crucial aspect of our national development would begin to receive its due attention in the scheme of things. However, as it has turned out, Federal budgetary practices have not justified such optimism. It is said that the Ministry, with its four departments and ten parastatals, receives less than 1% of annual budgetary allocation out of which, in the last fiscal year, the parastatals received anything between 3% and 30% of the already paltry allocation. What is the implication of this for our Culture and Tourism industry in view of our vision of positioning as “the Heart Beat of Africa.”

There is a converse argument, which is that, this is the era of liberalization, or private participation in otherwise public sector space, and that public funds appropriation alone cannot sustain the production of our Arts. But then, some other watchers have argued further that, without the appropriate structure amenable to private sector participation, out Art and Culture industry, including the Billion naira Home Video industry, will miss out on the current investment boon in the private sector.

Speakers include Culture Bureaucrats from Federal and State agencies; Culture producers; Culture patrons as well as academics and art enthusiasts. They include Honourable Minister for Culture, Tourism and national Orientation, Chief Tokunbo Kayode (SAN); Mr. Joe Musa, Director-General,National Gallery Of Art; Otunba Yinka Lawal Solarin, Chairman, Nigerian Book Fair Trust; Folabi Kofo Abayomi, Special Adviser (Special Duties), Lagos State Governor; Mahmoud Ali-Balogun, frontline movie maker and activist among others.
Venue: National Theatre
Date: December 16, 2007
Time: 2pm.
Performing Groups: Adunni Nefertiti, Pelumi's Crew.
Toyin Akinosho

The Stampede will also feature dance and drama skits; as well as the CORA end-year party.

Words from the Book and Art Feast, November 9-11, 2007

He wanted to be present
(A Tribute to Cyprian Ekwensi)

Sunday November 5, 2007. Members of the CORA Collective stood in front of their secretariat at 95 Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos. The gathering was an extension of a long meeting that had stretched from 2pm call time to that time – about 8pm. Someone raised the question: how far are we with Cyprian Ekwensi? Would the old man make it to the opening of the Book festival? I responded that I had had a chat with the wife; and she was not certain the man would make it. One he was ill; two, he was in Enugu and flying him to Lagos is not visible.
The members were disappointed at the news, but they understood.
Unknown to us, at the time we were deliberating over him, the man famously called the ‘Grandfather of the City Fiction’ had passed on.
Cyprian Ekwensi died on Sunday November 5, 2007. He was 86 (born September 26, 1921).
Of course, the passage of the man has altered drastically the entire plan for the 9th Lagos Book and Art Festival. He will not be joining us at this opening as we had envisaged, but his Spirit and his Letters shall be with us. The man has changed the landscape of our literary world forever. He has also changed the texture and tenor of this particular edition of the annual festival.
Were we being clairvoyant when we decided to honour him at this festival?

This festival has been dedicated to the memory of the man who documented city life in his works. You can say then that this is a CYPRIAN EKWENSI LAGOS BOOK AND ART FESTIVAL.
Last year on occasion of our 15th anniversary, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) was made a recipient the Prince Claus Fund, the foundation for culture and development based in The Netherlands. And that also changed the character of not only CORA but also the nature and size of our dream.
This festival is a manifestation of the change in the colour of our dream.

CORA came into being on June 2, 1991, as a non-profit making, non-governmental, cultural activist organisation. Its main goal is to explore all legitimate means of building the perfect environment for the flourishing of the contemporary arts of Nigeria.
To this end, the Committee produces a range of programmes and products, including, the quarterly Art Stampede; the monthly Arthouse Forum; the annual Lagos Book and Art Festival; the annual Lagos Cinema Carnival as well as publication of the quarterly Lagos: The City Arts Guide.
In its fifteen (15) years of existence, CORA has convened:
• 71 Art Stampedes
• Seven monthly Arthouse Forums
• Six editions of Lagos: The City Arts Guide,
• Eight editions of Lagos Book and Art
Festival and;
• Two (2) Annual Lagos Cinema Carnivals, which have been in collaboration with Mainframe (Opomulero) Film and Associates
• We also collaborate with Moving Movies in the staging of annual BOB TV among other programmes.

• The Quarterly Art Stampede is an open air informal discursive platform at which the most burning issue regarding the contemporary arts of Nigeria are tabled. The
workshop-like sessions feature a gathering of artists, culture administrators and culture enthusiasts who engage issues and ideas surrounding the quality of the arts and the
management of the culture sector. CORA’s arts advocacy through this “parliament of artists” has propelled the arts onto the front burner of Nigeria’s national debate.

• The Annual Cinema Carnival is designed to showcase and celebrate the African Film, set a standard for, and challenge Nigerian film producers in the context of telling the story of an understated continent. On the last week of September every year since 2001, a large, tall screen is hoisted on the front lawns of the National Theatre in Iganmu. At least, 10 high quality African movies are screened on three weekend evenings.

• Lagos: the City Arts Guide is a quarterly calendar of the artistic and cultural events in Africa’s most vibrant city. It compiles forthcoming art exhibitions, drama performances, and musical shows. It previews and reviews homegrown movies and serves as compass to the hottest new spots in town.

* Of all these, the Lagos Book and Art Festival is the most important event in our illustrious annual calendar. An open-air market for books and art, the LABAF features live music and drama, dance sketches, workshops for kids, readings of poetry and excerpts from prose works, book parties and seminars around books. The focus of this event is to highlight the importance of the book in the development of the human capital. This event is located around the National Creativity Day to emphasise the fact that the quality of our collective and individual creative productions are measured by the quality of documents we record them on; and the number of people we can convince to access them.
Major segments of the LABAF are sessions specially designed to initiate the youngest of Nigeria’s teeming citizenry into the rites of reading. One of such is the workshop for kids on a wide range of issues that can capture their attention. Another of such was the Secondary School Essay Competition, which was introduced to the format two years ago.
We are working on improving that format.
The past eight editions of the festival have seen a tremendous growth in the rate of acceptance and patronage by all concerned - save the government itself.
Last year alone, there were not less than (fifty) 50 exhibiting organisations.
This year, we are expecting a twenty five percent (25%) increase in the population of exhibitors.
To be sure, this number appears modest. But in the absence of life-saving sponsorship we have built this ‘clientele’ mostly by word of mouth. This looks likely to change in the coming year as the community of’ funder’ notices our enthusiasm and sincerity.

Toyin Akinosho

You Will Feed, Feed... Feed

On behalf of the Central Working Collective of the Committee For Relevant Art, I welcome exhibitors and audience to the ninth edition of our annual homage to The Book. This is the event through which we contribute to building a virile book industry by encouraging public engagement in literary pursuits.
As it was last year, this year’s feast of the written word has drawn comrades from outside of this shore to join CORA in the celebration of the importance of idea and knowledge in the development of the human capital. Thus we welcome into our midst our dream sharer and soul mate in this stressful but beloved journey, Akin Adesokan from Indiana University, Plumington USA. He is the author of Roots in the Sky, winner of ANA prose prize in 1991. The book was eventually published in 2002 by Festac News Press. We also salute Prof. Niyi Coker from the University of Missouri and Prof. Awam Amkpa, our collaborators in the on-going 10-day Africa World Festival – a documentary Film feast screening over 50 films. If you have missed out on it these past seven days you have from today through Sunday to join in the party.
Following our modest publicity, we have received hundreds of applications from a whole range of individuals and organisations.
CORA’s famous The City Library Shelf — a thematic glimpse to the proposed six-city libraries that we hope to establish in the most populated cities in the country in the next few years – has resurfaced this year. The dream is sure in our grasp.
The past eight editions had been held at the Ikoyi-Lagos premises of the National Commission for Museum and Monument, NCMM, which management had indeed been magnanimous in their support. But as we approach the 10th anniversary of the festival we decided this year to seek fresher ground and as well new relationship; moreso worm deeper into the heart of the people of this town. Hence we berthed at the prime cultural centre of the country, the National Theatre of Nigeria, which we must admit has received better and improved life under the management of Dr. Ahmed Yerima. We need to stress that the management of NTN has graciously put its facilities and personnel at our disposal – free of charge. We are grateful for this kind gesture, which we consider so alluring that we resolved – against our wish and nature, you would say – to abandon our usual ambience of open air for the cosy comfort of a fully air-conditioned exhibition hall.
We also salute the management of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) under the direction of Mr Joe Musa - actually (now do not say I told you) a CORAite by inclination. The Gallery has remained our valuable supporter. We thank the management of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, which was kind enough to support us in realising our main educational/capacity building project, the Annual Book Editors Workshop – which second edition ended yesterday. We are grateful to our collaborators in the various segments of the festival: Children Care for the Environment, CATE, coordinators of the Children section; Revolution Media, conveners of the Lagos Comics and Cartoons Carnival, LC3; Goethe Insitut, organisers of the presentation on Dokumenta: Towards a Nigeria Biennale; BookCraft, publishers of Ake: the Year of Childhood who are launching an bridged version for children; AJ Bookshop/Daggar Tolar, presenters of the book Darkwater’s Drunkard: a poetic mish-mash oil dirty politics & despoliation of land and life. We are grateful to our performers: Fatai Roling Dollar; the Highlife Messengers; Seyi Solagbade and the Blackface; Crown Troupe of Africa; Pelumi Lawal and troupe and the magnificent National Troupe of Nigeria.
In particular, we are very grateful to the ElderArtsMan, Steve Rhodes who unsolicited presented us with the biggest showpiece for the festival – the SR ORCHESTRA. Uncle Steve, we can’t ever thank you enough, sir.
We are glad that we are able to pay honour to the Noblemen of The Arts, whose various landmark birthdays we have celebrated all through the year – Fatai Rolling Dollar (80); Femi Asekun (75); Bruce Onobrakpeya (75); Niyi Osundare (60); Ihria Enakimio (60); Tunde Oloyede (60); Sonny Okosuns (60); Yemi Ogunbiyi (60).
We cherish you our consistent resource persons, event facilitators, exhibitors and audience(s) in the past and this festival — speakers, discussants, keynoters, and the audience included. We salute you for your belief in the possibilities of this country.
We thank our numerous patrons and supporters, particularly members of the Arts Writers Organisation of Nigeria, AWON, whose work has remained the major vehicle through which the various activities of the CORA have been projected to the larger public. We appreciate the enthusiasm of our numerous fathers, uncles and aunties, as well as colleagues and dream sharers, whose advices, critical commentaries and admonitions have kept us glued to the drawing table.
To members of the Central Working Collective (CWC) of the CORA, plus the endless stream of enthusiasts, volunteers and friends, word is not enough to express our gratitude. Let’s keep steadfast on the self-chosen path.
We have been accused in the past of being over-ambitious — chewing more than our little mouth can chew. Well, we assure you that we are unrepentant. We have gone far past redemption. And you have been infected too. You will feed and feed and feed till you become fed up. Our plan is to drain you out at this culture picnic. So sit up and tight.
We often insist that this is not a Bookfair. It is an Arts festival with large Book content.
In the next three days we would have all witnessed a sprawling display of books of diverse subjects produced in this country; a large exhibition of fine art; spirited debate on the state of the nation through the Book and the Art.

THIS indeed is a feast like no other. The next three days will thrill you to no end.
It’s our wish that by getting the public into a party atmosphere, we can subtly convince an increasingly larger body of Nigerians that The Book is the key ingredient in the growth of the country’s human resource. The truth is that all this talk of “abundant human resource” is glib, when half of the people can neither read nor write.
We trust that you will enjoy yourselves tremendously as we have attempted to ensure that there’s something for everyone.

Jahman Anikulapo
Programme Chair