Saturday, March 29, 2008

For Kelani at 60; Fosudo at 50, a highlife party

By Benson Idonije
(As published in The Guardian Friday March 28, 2008)
COME Sunday, March 30, 2008, the 78th Great Highlife Party also called the Elders’ Forum will be experiencing another milestone in its continuing push for the resurgence of a dying musical culture. On this special occasion, trumpets, saxophones, trombones, guitars, drums and indeed all the instruments of the orchestra will be at their frienziest as the entire art community congregate to celebrate Tunde Kelani and Sola Fosudo, two of its most distinguished artists. The party begins at 5.30 p.m. and terminates at 11 p.m. at the usual venue of OJEZ Entertainment, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.
A foremost Nigerian film maker whose creativity matches international standards, Tunde Kelani’s passion for this career is still as profound as ever-even at age 60. He does newsreel work for such reputable stations as BBC World and other international organisations in Nigeria. His passion lies mostly with the documentation of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage including shorts and features where he turns out works that are resplendent with the creative treatment of actuality as well as the imaginative presentation of concrete facts. He has contributed immensely to most of the films made in Nigeria to date.
T.K. worked as cinematographer on Anikura, Ogun ajaye, Iya ni wura, Taxi Driver, Fopomoyo and Iwa which he also produced. This represents a sizeable segment of the popular Nigerian films made in celluloid medium.
More recently, with funding from South Africa as part of the M-net New Directions initiative, T.K. functioned as cinematographer on Twins of the Rain Forest (16 mm), A Place called Home (16 mm), A Barber’s Wisdom (35 mm) and White Handkerchief) (16 mm), which he also produced and directed.
As a director of photography, T.K. stretches the optical capacity of digital video close to its elastic limit. What he does is use light to create what he sees because light is his main tool. He then uses the camera to record as much of it as technology makes available to him before PHCN (Nigeria’s unreliable power utility company) switches off his light to disrupt his work.
As a director, T.K. is a man of profound imagination who digs deep into the innermost parts of his mind, drawing inspiration from the past and building a bridge across the past and the present. This is because at 60, his age has afforded him the opportunity of being exposed to Nigeria’s cultural past – unlike most of the young folks whose knowledge of the past is vague and so are prone to foreign influences. With the deeply theatrical culture of his Yoruba pedigree, T.K. appears to have perfected the art of conveying Yoruba traditional theatre on the cinema screen without necessarily importing the limitations of the stage to the screen.
One of the attributes of a good producer is the clear identification of his target audience. T.K. understands what the viewing public expects of him and one of the strategies for achieving his objectives is the strong relationship with the traditional Yoruba theatre movement which constitutes a major group from which he draws actors and actresses. And because his casting is in the right direction, they often acknowledge him as a vital link between their history on stage and presence on the cinema screen.
T.K. recognises the popular video work as digital film making and has managed to make no less than seven full length features which represent some of the best offerings of the prolific Nigerian video phenomenon. Some of them include such down to earth productions as Ti Oluwa nile, Ayo ni mofe, Koseegbe, Oleku, Saworoide, Thunder bolt and most recently Agogo Eewo.
T.K. is a firm believer in alternative technology for motion pictures in Africa and says with conviction, “My ancestors used wood, terracotta, bronze and whatever else they could lay their hands on to document their reality. If we do not use whatever we can to document our own present realities, our children will suffer identity crises if they have to resort to archaeology to find out how we lived in the age of multi-media.”
Like last month when the artist, Kola Oshinowo and actor Zack Orji were celebrated for their achievements, Sunday’s party is another double take, featuring in addition to Tunde Kelani, the consumate actor and dramatist, Sola Anthony Fosudo. At 50 he is at the prime of a successful and challenging career. He is also a theatre director, scholar, critic and Head of Department of Theatre Arts, Lagos State University (LASU).
As a versatile artist, Fosudo has registered considerable impression on stage and screen.
He floated Centre stage Productions essentially to discover and nurture budding talents. His exploits on stage speak loud even though he has also made his mark in Nollywood with a participation that has continued to introduce intellect and professional commitment to the home video movement, featuring in such movies as True Confession, Glamour Girls, Rituals, Strange Ordeal, Iyawo Alhaji among several others.
Fosudo’s interest in theatre began from primary through secondary school where he played prominent roles in the end-of-year cultural dramatic activities which snowballed into participation in National Arts Festivals. But the final polish was put to this passion and professional career at the University of Ife. Says he:
“No picture can best paint the serenity that was Ife in those days. It was a campus to behold with its array of lecturers. I was thrilled by the stimulating and challenging academic environment, the structures, the unending rehearsals, the songs, drama and so on. It was indeed a very great experience.”
Explaining how he settled down to the real business, he further says: “The first play I took part in was Ola Rotimi’s Kurumi. After Kurumi, I found myself picking lead roles in most other productions that probably showed that I must have impressed the lecturers in Kurumi. The lecturers in Ife back then were some of the best anyone could ever pray for. We had the likes of the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, eminent theatre director, Chuck Mike and a host of others who gave all they had to the theatre. After the training, I was retained by the troupe for another two years.
“While there, I often craved to be like my lecturers, and I realised that the only way I would become a lecturer was to go for further studies. When Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) refused to allow me into a degree programme with my certificate, a friend advised me to go to the University of Ibadan where I later ran a diploma programme. I followed up with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and later, a Masters degree.”
However, it was not the paper qualifications that prepared him for what he is today. Rather, it was the natural flair and urge to give vent to and lend expression to his talent that did it. While at Ibadan for instance, he reached out restlessly to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) to act. He got involved in a number of TV plays and moved from stage to the screen. He produced a dance programme for BCOS, a Disco Jam fashioned after Soul Train. But Koko Close was perhaps the most challenging of them all.
When he came to Lagos, he was invited to join The Village Headmaster, The Third Eye and later Ripples which established him as an actor because it ran for five years, during which period he played several controversial roles.
But today, Fosudo is a master of situations with a level of involvement in theatre that transcends acting. He directs, produces, markets and teaches.
Kelani and Fosudo will be treated to the best of highlife on Sunday from some of the veterans of the music still alive. Headlined by octogenerian Fatai Rolling Dollar whose career began in the 1940s, the party is bound to swing as he reminds you about the past and the present – in live setting.
Singer Tunde Osofisan of Maria fame will be on hand to sing from the highlife era of the 60s. He operates from a wide repertoire that extends beyond Roy Chicago, his mentor and former band leader – to the Tempos Band led by Emmanuel Tetteh Mensah, the king of highlife.
Alaba Pedro whose palm wine guitar strokes evoke the nostalgia of the vibrant highlife of the 60’s will thrill the audience as he doubles on vocals while Maliki showman’s hard- driving sound will generate excitement for dancing – with vocals and saxophone.
In recent times, the scope and dimension of the music have been extended beyond the conventional by musicians who sound rather progressive because they are masters of their instruments. Veteran Eji Oyewole, a multi- instrumentalist will feature on a couple of vintage highlife tunes. Fred Fisher, perhaps the finest trombone player around will lend support to the ensemble sound. Biodun Adebiyi will excite the audience with his exuberant trumpet as he plays with tremendous fire and spirit, soaring off into high note runs with confidence and precision.
And of course, the Highlife Messengers, an aggregation of brilliant musicians will be playing exuberant highlife that speaks for the present even though it has its roots deep in tradition.
The trio of elders headed by Steve Rhodes and supported by Chief Femi Asekun and Ambassador Segun Olusola will be present to initiate the two great artists into elderhood.
The Great Highlife Party is a highlife revival initiative with the active collaboration of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA).

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