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.

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