Monday, February 25, 2008

A Painter meets an Actor on Great Highlife Party Stage

Highlife party celebrates Kolade Oshinowo at 60, Zack Orji, 50
By Benson Idonije
(As published in The Guardian, Friday Feb. 22, 2008)
IT's going to be a double take for the Great Highlife Party also called the Elders' Forum on Sunday, February 24, 2008. The great artist, Kolade Oshinowo will be dancing on the same floor with the actor, Zak Orji as they both clock 60 and 50 respectively, with the collaboration of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA). The event is holding as usual at OJEZ Restaurant, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos from 6 pm till 11.p.m.
In the last two months, so much has been written about Kolade Oshinowo as a consummate artist, art teacher, mentor, administrator and president of Society of Nigerian Artists. But it is perhaps as artist, teacher and mentor that he has garnered the highest volume of tributes and accolades. And of the many tributes that have been paid to him by art writers before and after he turned 60 on February 6, 2008, I find the one by Akin Onipede most incisive and graphic.
I have always known that he is an artist of repute and substance even though I did not bother to ask for details. Since the '90s, when I started to attend art fora and activities passionately, I have always seen Oshinowo. Of a truth, he has attended almost all the art stampedes organised by the Committee for Relevant Art and the annual Book and Art Festivals religiously. Even when I got to know him at close quarters last November at the National Theatre during the last Book and Art Festival, we merely greeted and exchanged pleasantries. But it was his contribution to the discussion we had about art writing that compelled me to ask, not from him, but from some one else, whom he really is.
The testimonies of his lecturers and students at the Yaba College of Technology where he has been teaching since 1974 speak volumes for his creative ability, sense of commitment and good sense of administration. With a record of over 60 exhibitions and numerous commissions, Oshinowo has painted his way as it were into the hearts of almost every art lover.
Oshinowo is one of the most effective art teachers ever known. While most teachers rely only on the Lecture, which is a mere verbal symbol medium that puts knowledge at the cognitive, he takes his teaching a step further to a psycho-motor process in order to drive his point home in practical terms. With a studio where he paints and the various exhibitions he has put in place, he is able to extend his training methodologies into Demonstration and Evaluation, which are perhaps the most crucial and rewarding of them in all training interventions.
After our meeting last November when Oshinowo's artistic prowess and background were revealed to me, I took time out to see some of his paintings. I cannot agree more with Akin Onipede who has a correct description of his style. He says:
"He can be described as an impressionistic variant of naturalism. He paints everyday scenes in alluring colours and brush works, which are sometimes muted and at other times flamboyant. A draughtsman of impeccable rendition, he makes people, villages, festivals, bus stops, market places etc come alive on two dimensional format." Onipede further says, "With Oshinowo, there is no ambiguity in pictorial representation and interpretation of forms, he is simply magical."
Since his graduation from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where legendary veterans such as Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke and others acquired their artistic training and expertise as the first generation of students, Oshinowo has distinguished himself not only as a painter but also a teacher.
As a professional artist, Oshinowo has inspired a whole generation of young followers who admire him not just for his talent as a creative and profound artist but also the way he carries himself. Looking clean, simple, likeable and attractive with elegant manners, Oshinowo's image has given the profession respectability and nobility.
As an icon of the arts, a colossus, he will be greatly missed by Yaba College of Technology as he disengages from an institution he has served meritoriously for almost 34 years.
Several parties and events have been held in Oshinowo's honour to mark this landmark in his life, but the Great Highlife Party will perhaps round-up all the celebrations with a highlife feast which will require him to put his best foot forward and dance to the highlife of some of the great veterans still on the scene.
The climax of the event will be his admission to elderhood in a ritual performed by elder Steve Rhodes in conjunction with a triumvirate that also includes Chief Femis Asekun and Ambassador Segun Olusola.
The actor and musician Zak Orji will also enjoy the blessings of elders, but in his own case, he will be admitted to the lower cadre of elderhood, at 50, a transformation he is going to experience as a seasoned actor and producer.
Zak has been principal actor in numerous films, always the victim, the good guy so to speak. Does he choose these roles? Is it in keeping with his religious faith?
"In our line or work, we are usually put in a box. You deliver a role creditably, and a lot of such roles keep being offered to you." Continuing, Zak explains from a professional stand point, "Sometimes one has to turn down some offers because the fee is not okay, or the script is lacking in depth and coherence, or you want some things built in or altered and the producers do not agree, or some other reason. Only once in no occasions do I choose my roles."
Zak is the president of the guild, which is spread across 16 states of the federation. As president he is like the chief executive officer (CEO). Every state has a chairman and his officers who oversee the day-to-day running of the guild. When matters are unresolved at state levels, they are referred to Zak who has authority to ratify the expulsion of any member. And, as the image-maker of the guild, he represents the guild in all functions relating to other bodies.
Zak was voted into this office because of his ability as a profound actor, director and producer on the one hand, and his good reputation on the other.
There is now a formidable group of veterans who, for the purpose of the Great Highlife Party goes by the name, the Highlife Messengers. Including such towering individualists is Biodun Batique on trumpet; Fred Fisher on trombone; Abel on bass among others, the standing orchestra is versatile and capable of playing highlife with conviction and finesse. There are two guest saxophonists cum singers featuring Eji Oyewole who comes all the way from Ibadan. The other veteran is based in Lagos and helps to extend repertoire to the Eastern part of the country-to capture the memories of Celestine Ukwu, E.C., Arinze Ralph, Amarabem and Stephen Osadebe.
The regular veterans who are the stars of the show include Tunde Osofisan of Roy Chicago fame whose voice continues to reach out vibrantly in all the registers, with ease. He reminds you always about the golden days of Roy Chicago's Rhythm Dandies for whom he sang until it disbanded.
Guitarist Alaba Pedro is also a graduate of Roy Chicago's Rhythm Dandies, a group for which he provided palm wine guitar chords and singles notes until its exit. His fingers are still as flexible as ever, generating chorded solos at the octave, and singing at the same time.
Maliki Showman who created the Joge beat in the late '70s brings the highlife party alive with vocal renditions and saxophone solos that remind you about the past. But of course, Fatai Rolling Dollar, the living legend of highlife will set the place ablaze as top of the bill with an ensemble sound that is like no other. Still as strong as ever on stage at 80, Fatai is unleashing on his fans, the true sound of early high life which he refused to compromise when it was being watered down to an urban social music type by the likes of Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade and their numerous disciples.
Tributes will be paid to Oshinowo and Orji by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) and their friends and well wishers.
The Great Highlife Party also called the Elders Forum is a highlife revival initiative with the full involvement of the Committee for Relevant Art CORA- in a project that takes place every last Sunday of the month.

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