Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cover, Edition 182, April 26-May 2, 2009

Monday, 27 April 2009

Behind t he ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ set

The Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Show is now a must watch for many Nigerians. Beyond the monetary rewards for in-house participants, home viewers gain some knowledge from the questions asked those on the hot seat — contestants. In a chat with
FLORENCE UTOR, the media Consultant of Ultima Limited, Olumide Akinlabi speaks on the show and other related issues.

What is Ultima all about and how did it begin?
Ultima used to be called Ultima Communications. It started as a pioneer company in the manufacturing of satellite dishes, using fiberglass materials. It has a UHF TV license approved by the National Broadcasting Commission to transmit coded channel for a pay-TV service, which was later converted to a free-to-air television license by the NBC. This allows for the broadcast of any programme either by using its own UHF channel 59 frequency or by networking with existing television stations across the country for national coverage.
So, why did you forgo licence?
It’s not been forgone. It is fully on. It only metamorphosed into a big project that is building a virile platform for that TV in ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ You see, at the onset, Ultima satellite dishes did not enjoy public acceptance, but the reverse was the case when some people later came up with same idea. Mind you, it was not that their products were better or that their marketing approach outclassed Ultima’s, it was simply a trend thing.
So, what about Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Yeah, it is one of the pedestals we are using to showcase our relevance in TV production and to let Nigerians know that they can gain a lot of things by watching television, and reading.
How do you envision this?
The concept known today as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’
I think it is better such a question be directed to my Executive Director, Mr. Femi Ayeni. He has been the executor of that vision.
Could you give a lead into the background?
You see, Ultima bought the exclusive franchise for Nigeria from Celador International, which is now known as 2Way Traffic, UK, to the International property called Who Wants to be a Millonaire? They invested heavily in designing, developing and constructing a purpose-built studio for the production of this educative, entertaining, and participative general knowledge programme, which is aired in over 100 countries. The show has been on air for the last four seasons and has been rated one of the best TV programmes in Nigeria. We have been receiving accolades from the public, but we don’t allow them to get into our heads, so, that we may not lose focus. We believe it is not yet eldorado and as such shouldn’t rest on our oars. We are not relenting at all and to achieve these, you’ve got to be hardworking, focus and level headed.
How did you arrive at the design of the studio?
It didn’t originate from here, we followed a laid down pattern fondly referred to as the Celador format. That’s why the studio pattern is the same all over the world or rather in all the countries that have the programme. To be succinct, we have followed the pattern handed down to us by our franchise owners. The studio is a multi-camera, multi-light custom built structure with a lot of sound and graphic effects, all being harmonised to achieve a common result. Indeed cameras do a lot in this set up, especially in the area of magnitude because, the studio is not as big as shown on TV, although it can conveniently sit more than a hundred people.
Some people doubt the reality of the prize money; that the money is not real?
Let me tell you, if not that it is a franchise, I would have considered the coinage: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, a disservice to the game show”.
Which name would you have given it?
I am not the originator, but between us, I wouldn’t have hinged it to money; million or coming to be or become a millionaire. Don’t you think, that is the only reason anybody out there might be expressing misgivings about an internationally acclaimed programme, whose transparency and credibility cannot be faulted? Granted that the contestants ultimately win money, but it’s very tasking right from the verifying stage. You can ask anybody, who has appeared on the hot seat and possibly win a sizable amount. It is for this reason that we educate the people about the game at the beginning, especially during the ‘millionaire cards’. It still boils down to the same thing because money is the main focus, which is the reason you are skeptical about the payment or winnings’ redemption. In season four alone, 126 hot-seats-contestants were paid more than N5 million as their winnings on the programme, apart from the winnings from audience play, home play and compensation to the fastest fingers competitors.
Do you mean you pay the people on the FFF seats?
They are compensated with N20.000 each! In essence, if the contestant in the hot seat was unable to win beyond N20.000 he/she comes at par with the colleagues, who couldn’t scale the FFF stage. So, everybody is encouraged. Winners have given elevating testimonies and we are delighted about them. This development cuts across board; Teachers; Pastors; Mallams, Engineers, Accountants, Artisans, Law Enforcement Agents, name it. Credible TV stations are partnering with us while MTN remains our major sponsor. Haba, we don’t need a clairvoyant to tell the public that Ultima is above board in terms of contestants’ winnings and payments. During any recording session, our guests are treated as kings and queens.
Why is MTN the sole sponsor of the programme?
It has the biggest and widest network reach, which guarantees prospective contestants’ easy participation from anywhere. Besides, MTN’s business conditions are not too stringent.
How can one then qualify to be on the hot seat?
This is simple. Using your phone, you are to follow this sequence: Dial or text first name to 132 from an MTN line. Follow the sequent instruction and process you are given. This registers the number on the Database and random selection by the computer. If a number is selected among others, it will be taken through the qualifying/verification stage. A question will be posed and finally eight contestants are selected per show. However if one is doing it on Line, this is how it goes: Text “pin” to 354. A confirmatory text back is received with 3 pin numbers. These numbers are taken to www.millionairenigeria.com/onlinegame for registration. After registering, you go to the game site and input your pin. Upon doing this, the game comes up and you can start to play. First place winners either weekly or monthly from online automatically get to the TV version of the show. The second and third place winners have to scale the random selection stage to the qualifying stage of the TV version and are taken through the verification process. Cash prizes from N10, 000 to N90, 000 can still be won at this level.
This is quite explicit, but how far have you gone in educating the public on this?
We’ve been doing that. We have used every available opportunity to do this; in the papers and at any of our fora. In fact we organised a launch for millionaire-on-line at our office complex here during the first week in the month of May last year with a lot of media men in attendance. In addition to this, everything is on our website.
The money won, is it paid immediately after the show and is there any deduction like tax?
It is paid two weeks after the contestant’s show is aired, within which all proper documentation would have been done earlier.
Who handles this?
What are all the special editions about?
You know Ultima is a socially responsible company that seeks to positively impact on the people. Across Nigeria, there are many people who have done something good in the society, but are not adequately rewarded and live in abject poverty, unacknowledged; so, we intend to use the edition to celebrate some of them while strictly adhering to the tenets of the game show. We have a number of special episodes such as the Valentine special; the Children special; and the Who Deserves to be a Millionaire, which is still attracting commendation letters from the viewers. But I think the new season’s ‘Deserving episode’ will surely be superb.
Everybody kept wondering how you came about the idea?
We are aware that such an episode is still within our format. We sat down to consider its feasibility and workability. First, we came up with a long list of individuals in our midst, considering so many factors, we prune them down to five contestants that could be accommodated within two episodes while putting the geographical spread into play. In the previous episode, Tarzan was from the North, Fregene from South-South, Pa Akinkunmi from the West, Clarus from the East and Georgietta from South-Badagry. I must mention it to you that all these people were visited in their homestead. We are quite familiar with their immediate environment before bringing them down, and we shall manage the winnings of some of them for them. We have in our archives the full coverage of the proceedings. We have been able to get a befitting house for Pa Akinkunmi in Ayepe area of Ibadan, with his winnings.

For me, tank top does it...

POPULARLY called Dr Pat, Patrick Nwokolo, an artiste, has a unique dressence. The native of Orumba, Anambra State, was born and bred in Abeokuta, where he had his primary and secondary education. He later went to the United States, where he studied Engineering at the Genersy College. Pat and his partner, Sheyman, recently released their album, Hotter than fire, a collaborative venture. He tells DAMILOLA ADEKOYA what fashion means to him.

Definition of fashion
Fashion is beauty, a glamourising part of oneself. It’s one thing that adds to one’s beauty.
Position in the family
I’m the third in the family of six children. My mum is a medical doctor, and she is practising in the US, while my father is a judo coach
Music and you
It’s what I have passion for. In fact, I was born with it.
Style of dressing
It depends on the occasion. I’m very flexible with styles. Basically, it’s a tank top, a short, my palm slippers, my Jordan scarf and my skull belt; not forgetting my jewelries.
Most favourite piece of clothing
That’s my Jordan scarf; and especially, my belt.
Most expensive item
My chain and my wristwatch, it really cost a whole lot!
Most cherished possession
It is the gift of humility, that God has given me. I pray to God to help me maintain that gift because it goes a long way to help situate me.
What will you not be caught wearing?
A skirt!
Signature scents
Armani Code by Armani
Favourite designer
It’s Academy, he’s a foreign designer, based in L. A.
Turn on
When everything around me goes in a positive way, then I feel happy inside of me.
Turn off
I hate liars and people who are no trustworthy.
What do you do at your leisure time?
I play pool or I crack jokes or better still, I hang out with my friends. I go swimming sometimes.
Happiest moments
It was the time I realised that I could write a good song, and everybody will reckon with it.
Embarrassing moments
I was with my friends and we were cracking jokes and there was this girl who was sitting in a corner. She was looking at me and she was smiling and I asked what was wrong and reluctantly, she told me to zip my trousers up. I was really ashamed.
It’s just yam and egg.
Favourite colour (s)
I like black it goes with anything. I like white because it shows how neat one can be. I also love blue but it’s basically black and white.
If you were given an opportunity to change something in Nigeria, what would it be?
It will be the corporate aspect of the music industry. It’s been corrupt. They should give way to newfound acts, to showcase their talents.
Describe yourself in three words
I’m humble, understandable and definitely, hardworking.
Role model(s)
It’s Tu Pac, Bob Marley, Dr Dre and the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. I just follow the musical spirit in them, that’s all.
Projection into the future
I see myself as one of the greatest musicians in Africa. I see myself as one of those, who will make a difference in the Nigerian music industry.
Philosophy of life
What goes around comes around. What you do today will definitely come back to you.

Urban glam

ZEBRA, the clothing label run by Ugonma Ebilah, is gradually building a strong profile for itself. In the last few months, it has held a variety of shows, which have provided a forum for both fashion and socialisation to meet. Its shows have always been a perfect opportunity for Zebra enthusiasts to mingle while browsing through the racks. Last Sunday was no exception. At the Urban Nectar show held in Bambudha Restaurant in V.I, where incidentally, it has showed in the last one year, fun loving and fashionable people turned out in their numbers to see the label dish out new confections from its new collection. Some of the outfits were really sweet and looked rather edible with the interesting detailing like beading and colours and accessories that pop. beampeh2000@yahoo.com

Mix and match


Matching two or more fabric to get one remarkable outfit requires the creativity of the designer. It’s a common thing these days to see fashionable ladies turn out for traditional weddings in outfits with combination of two or more materials such as ankara, adire, lace and more. And this trend usually adds more colour to the ceremony. Realising the beauty of the craft, designers are now trying out new ways of making the style more colorful and appealing by injecting other fabrics such as tafeta, bridal satin, dry lace, wooden, and sometimes adding beads to make it look more gorgeous. This style has become very popular and fashionistas even go beyond their own shores to have a share of the beautiful design. International designers such as Louse Vutton, Channel, Prada, and others have embraced this concept in most of their recent designs. You could try matching your outfits too and see how attractive the combo style is.

20 years on, George steps in from wilderness

Enenebe Eje Olu 2

OLISA Nwadiogbu, painter, sculptor, printmaker, bronze caster and cultural activist, is a graduate of Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu.
The multi-media artist, who says his drawing and painting of figures, are the bases for his output, will be showing his recent works in oil, acrylic and metal foils early next month in a show titled My Wilderness Journey.
Showing at the main Exhibition Hall of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments Onikan, Lagos, from May 3 to 8, he says, “it is to mark my 20 years of full time studio practice.”
In his words, “art is not created in a vacuum, it is directed by the society, in which the artists live and work. The main objectives of my works are: Message, Entertainment and Aesthetics.”
According to the respected artist, “I work mostly from imagination using oil colours, acrylic, water colours, metal foils, glue, resin, bronze etc. My works are influenced by some past Nigerian masters and African sculptures. Usually the subject matter ranges from traditional concept and more contemporary concepts with narrative themes that make environmental, political and humanitarian statements.”
He adds, “my desire to experiment has evolved a style of bright palettes, stylised and elongated forms. My figures are very monumental, I am a painter by training, and in my heart I am a sculptor. I found myself working with sculptors such as the late Professor Ben Enwonwu, Chiedu Okala, Emma Mbanefo, Tonie Emordi, Jide Emordi, Cy Nwaokoli, Obi Ekwenchi, Frank Anammah, Ato Arinze, to mention a few.”
Having lived and worked with the notable names during his formative age, “I have had the privilege of interacting with virtually all Nigerian contemporary art masters such as Bruce Onobrakpeya, David Dale, Isiaka Osunde, Dele Jegede, Jimoh Buraimoh, Muraina Oyelami, Demas Nwoko, Ben Osawe, Uche Okeke, Nsikak Essien, Kolade Oshinowo, El Anatsui, Chris Afuba, Obiora Udechukwu, etc. The interaction with this kindred spirit has added a lot to my maturity and attitude in the visual art circle.”

NWADIOGBU started his art journey in 1980, when he entered IMT, Enugu. He did his youth service at Abuja where he taught art at Federal Government College Kwali, Abuja. However, before then, he had taught art and other subjects in Boys High School and Comprehensive High School both in Onitsha respectively.
“My ambition was to teach art at Federal Government College and that is what brought me to Lagos in 1987. Fortunately or unfortunately, the teaching job became elusive. Then I used to visit the Universal Studio of Arts besides the Red-brick building, where you have Aina Onabolu Gallery at Iganmu. There I met the likes of Abiodun Olaku, Felix Osieme, Babatunde, Alex Shyngle, Ali Christopher and others of like minds, who were also starting to practice and make small money from their practice.”
The full time studio practice was actually the idea of his cousin, Alex Obiogbolu. After an elusive job hunt, without success, he (Alex) went to make business cards designating “me as managing director and himself as chairman. I brought in Emmanuel Mbanefo as the creative director; having worked with his destiny studio in Onitsha. Then I used to look at him as an art god who had solution to all art problems. We started handling commissions in partnership with some architects and the money started rolling in, but before you know it, the partnership broke up due to lack of trust and youthful exuberance.”

DURING this turbulent period in the art company, Nwadiogbu met Chief E.S.O. Olisambu, then managing director of First Bank, and later, UBA.
“At that time, he was in UBA as DGM Controls. My meeting Olisambu was the turning point in my career. Olisambu is a big art enthusiast and connoisseur. He would always say to me ‘I am in the wrong profession to project the right profession.’ This is, whenever I reminded him that he did not behave like a banker,” he retorts.
In 1989, the first litmus text and baptism of fire came, Olisambu was organising an exhibition titled: Vision for Excellence, in collaboration with the Mosurs, the owners of home design centre, a furniture outfit in Apapa.
He invited Nwadiogbu to participate in that exhibition with 28 other artists; including Bruce Onobrakpeya, Okpu Eze, David Dale, Roland Ogiamen, Ben Osawe, Jimoh Buraimoh, among others. The up-coming among the group were Friday Idugie, Kunle Adeyemi, Oyerinde Olotu, Sunday Afolayan, Emmanuel Mbanefo, Nse Abasi Inyang, Lara-Ige etc.
Since then, his art has grown, as he says, “ in all leaps and bounds, and the journey is still on hence the title of my present exhibition Wilderness Journey, which I am dedicating to all creative souls and patrons who had stood by me over the years such as Maduegbunam, Engr. Yemisi Shyllon, Dr. Amaechi Obiora, Mike Oduah, Alhaji Abdulazzi Ude, Chike Nwagbogu, Peter Areh, Angela Onyeador, Olajide Bello, Jas Egbunike, Ora Egbunike, Sammy Olagbaju, Dotun Sulaimon, Rasheed Gbadamosi, Olasehinde Odimayo, Ato Arinze, Emmanuel Mbanefo, Ben Enwonwu, Kunle Adeyemi, David Dale and Ike Emeagwali, among others.”

HAVING been involved in full time studio practice for 20 years, he says, “I believe I am a success already. If I have no money, I don’t mind as far as art is concerned, I would have done other things if I wanted. To me, financial success is no success in art. The basis of my art is my mission not my commission. In the works on display in this wilderness journey, my three main objectives is to educate, entertain and beautify.”

Theatre abides with her constantly

THE way popular actress, Joke Silva, introduced Oxzygen, a theatre troupe contracted to perform the late Abioye Aronke Taiwo’s poems live on stage, stuck on my mind as we sat in the hall waiting for action to resume on stage.
“For Joke to have so much confidence on this group, there’s every reason to see them,” a colleague of mine observed; actually, we were about heading for another engagement.
Those who saw the first and second part of Oxzygen’s performance of the late Abioye’s collection, Fear Abides With Me Constantly, edited by Toni Kan Onwordi, would surely agree that the poems couldn’t have been done better. Even the late author’s mother, Mrs. Taiwo Taiwo, who was short of words, testified to that fact while appreciating the troupe for a job well done.
With cheers and encomiums pouring in for the troupe, I was more interested in knowing the brains behind the production.
To my amazement, young Zara Abimbola Udofia was introduced by Joke as the producer; she got a resounding round of applause from the sizeable crowd present.
At that point, I resolved to have a one-on-one with the young lady. We exchanged contacts, hoping to hook up the next day at the National Theatre.
Zara was in a meeting with some theatre practitioners when I arrived; she was the only female in the session. Minutes later, we are sitting face-to-face.
“Sorry I kept you waiting; I didn’t know this meeting was going to last this long,” she apologises, putting her belongings on the table.
Was that a production meeting?
“No,” she says. “Well, it’s about something that I didn’t get right last time, so, I’m seeking for advice from people on that. Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where you got stuck and you need advice from people, maybe someone younger or older. So, it’s a human decision and it happens.”

ZARA’s acting career could be traced back to her secondary school days when she was discovered by a group of theatre practitioners in 1992.
“I met Charles who’s now in America, Ofili Joseph, who’s now in England and Sunday Okunumu, who’s a professional photographer… basically three of them discovered me; they saw that I had something they could work with. They had a drama club; it was a group of students from two schools, who came together to form a troupe.”
From accompanying her cousin to rehearsals, Zara wormed herself into the troupe.
“It all started as a joke; my cousin was a member of their troupe, so, sometimes I followed her to their rehearsals. Somehow, I go involved in a play they were doing called King Emene. Then, I was in JSS 3. When the production ended, I thought that was the end of it. But Sunday Okunumu came back to my house and asked my mother for a permission to take me to the National Theatre. He brought me to the Theatre where I met Israel Eboh; that was my first time of stepping into the National Theatre.”
And how was the feeling?
“Oh my God,” she screams, “I’d always seen the National Theatre when we drove past and I’d wished I could go there; it looked like a Disney land, somewhere magical where a lot of things happen,” she enthuses. “So, there’s this curiosity in me; I just wanted to know what happened there, but you never get to have such opportunity.”
She continues: “The National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) was rehearsing for Soyinka festival that year, so, they were doing series of Soyinka’s plays.”
Though Zara’s first visit to the Theatre had got nothing to do with seeking for role like some artistes normally do, she ended up as a cast member for Iku olokun esin, written by Prof. Akinwunmi Isola and then been directed by Segun Ojewuyi.
“I actually came to meet Israel for something different; they wanted a teenager they could send to 7Up for an advert, so, Sunday told Israel about me; I was really excited that I was going to be on TV, but Israel wanted to see what I looked like. We met him that day at the Cinema Hall 2,” she muses.
However, due to some crisis in the country at that time, the recording could not hold, but Zara got a compensation that paved way for her in the theatre circle.
“Israel asked if I could speak Yoruba, and I said yes. So, as compensation, he asked if I would like to be part of the crew for Iku olokun esin, and I accepted it. I was paid N1000 for my role; that was my first salary ever,” she says with smiles.

HAVING gone far in her acting career, Zara ventured into studying theatre at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, after her secondary education, but that dream was cut short.
“ I saw what was happening, but I didn’t stay; I left.”
“Maybe I got cold feet; but I knew I wanted to do drama,” she notes. “It was just a lot of craziness that I didn’t understand; I spent a night in Ife. I went to the department and there were lots of rehearsals; there was so much going on. But I felt I wasn’t ready for this part of the journey, so, I returned to Lagos and joined Gong Beat Art, a theatre troupe, where I continued acting and dancing for about three years.”
She had then been involved in many other major productions, including playing lead roles in plays that featured in the Afrika Project series, a collaboration between Ben Tomoloju-led Kakaaki Arts Company and Jide Ogungbade’s Rotom Productions, facilitated by the Goethe Institut, which toured Germany in 1998; as well as in Things Fall Apart, which toured the United States and United Kingdom.
However, when Zara finally decided to go back to school, it was not for theatre; she headed for the History and International studies department, Lagos State University. Yet, she was active with her acting.
“At some point, I added radio production to my courses and I got my first opportunity to do radio in 1997, when Ben Tomoloju did Askari for Red Cross; we were on radio and TV. It was amazing; I heard my voice on the radio for the first time,” she enthuses.

WORKING closely with actress, Joke Silva, finally shaped Zara’s theatre skills to the point of partnering with another like mind, Toritseju Akiya Ejoh, to form Oxzygen.
“I met Joke Jacobs some years ago and I started working with her. I used to wonder why aunty Joke took special interest in me. Apart from working with me as actress, she was so interested in taking me through things. She had this training session that she used to do with children in school, teaching them elocution, drama and so on; she incorporated me as one of her instructors.”
From understudying Joke, Zara grew up to taking Joke’s place in her absence.
“At some point, I was handling three of the Corona International Schools (Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Gbagada). It was amazing that she trusted me so much with so much. So, it was a surprise to me that someone will take such time to invest in someone else. Along the line, she recommended me as a consultant. Last year, I consulted for Action Health Incorporated on their annual event called Teenage Festival of Life. I produced the festival and we had a great time.”
This was exactly how Joke Silver introduced Zara to Mrs. Taiwo Taiwo, where she was contracted to produce Fear Abides With Me Constantly, for Art of Life Foundation, instituted in memory of Abioye, who was killed by a truck driver in GRA, Lagos some years ago. “Towards the end of last year, aunty Joke called me and said there’s something she wants me to do. She gave me a poetry book and asked me to put them in dance. So, I asked her which one we are going to perform and she said, ‘whatever happens in this show is your business, you go and decide the poems you want to do, who’s going to perform… it’s your business.’ At first, it was really scary, but as my mentor, she was with me all the time.”
From the collection, Zara selected 14 poems for the performance.
“Mrs. Taiwo Taiwo was okay with that, but she added Sleep. I picked poems that spoke with me and poems that could be dramatized. All the poems are amazing and bear the same power,” she observes, “but the ones I chose, I did because they spoke to me as an artiste; I could relate with them very easily.”
For Zara, putting up the production was very easy for different reasons.
“Somebody asked me yesterday and I said it was easy because God has been with me all the way. I decided not to employ the services of a professional director, because I wanted to test my ability as a performer. I thought of a challenge of taking it the extra mile; we wanted to do something different.
“We did a workshop, where we tried to pick into the mind of the lady that wrote the poem though she’s no more. We read the poem, trying to hear her voice; we went back and front, trying to get what she meant. The choreography…I just told the choreographer, this is my vision. I communicated the vision to every other member of the crew and we ran with it.”

FOR now, Zara’s dream is to do quality productions that will meet international standards, citing works of one of her mentors, Chuck Mike, as a yardstick.
“Those days, you are sure of getting quality productions from Chuck. But what people forgot was that Chuck Mike was not going to live forever. A lot of people probably thought in their mind, ‘ok, we always have Chuk Mike.’ Now, he’s not there anymore. So, we don’t get to see quality shows anymore.”
Where is Chuck right now?
He has gone back to the United States; he’s American but he married a Nigerian. My dream is to do something close or even better than what Chuck Mike did here and this is my effort towards that.”
In case you have a white-collar job for Zara, you can keep it to yourself or give to someone else; the dancer has no plans of quitting theatre for now despite the challenges.
“Within the last three years, there has been moments when I was really frustrated; maybe because I did a job and I was not paid when I needed it or that I just wanted a change. At a point, I thought of taking up a job to raise money, probably work for six month and resign. But some other people, who know me very well will say, ‘you, you won’t last there; it’s either you run away or they chase you away. So, sometime I pray to God to help me make good decision.”
She continued: “I never dreamt of becoming an actor; though as a kid, I loved Literature; it was my best subject. But I had always wanted to be an airhostess or nurse because I always like the idea of taking care of people. I never thought of taking acting seriously, but when it happened, I felt this peace inside me. Right now as I speak with you, I don’t have plans to do otherwise. Whatever I’m going to do now, must be within this environment I’ve found myself.”

MEANWHILE, those who knew the actress before now might be wondering where the name, Zara, came from.
“Up until 2003, my name was Mary Udofia, but I changed my first name.”
“The easiest excuse I can give you is that I stopped liking the name Mary.”
Mary is the mother of Christ, you don’t like her?
“Oh, I love Mary so much for giving herself and allowing God to use her. But I found out that from Hebrew translation, Mary means ‘of the sorrows or bitterness.’ I couldn’t get that pass over my head, so, when I found out I could change my name, I changed to Zara.”
What does that mean?
“Zara means splendor,” she says amidst laughter.

SONIFES sings democracy

AS Nigeria gets set to celebrate 10 years of uninterrupted democracy on May 29, AfroCultour, in collaboration with the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA 2, Channel 5, is planning a musical fiesta — Songs of Nigeria Festival (SONIFES) — to celebrate the event.
The delegates of the group led by the chief executive officer, Chuks Akamadu, recently visited The Guardian as a way to intimate and sensitise the media of its project.
Akamadu said it is the first time Nigeria as a nation would be marking a decade of unbroken democratic rule, which has necessitated the art and culture community to think of an event to celebrate it, and to “lavishly showcase our boundless cultural and tourism strength.”
He added that the historic event is carefully designed to contribute, considerably towards the deepening of democracy.
Akamadu, who was once the secretary of Performing Musician Association of Nigeria (PMAN), informed that the festival is going to feature a three-track album, selected through a participatory and competitive process, to be rendered by 100 Nigerian musicians from across generation; a special democracy dance by the National Troupe of Nigeria; and SONIFES Gold Award to the best male and female Nigerian musicians respectively in the past 10 years of democratic rule; and the special recognition award to pillars and heroes of democracy in the country.
He noted that the album would be close to what some American musicians did for Africa — We are the world — in the 80s. However, “SONIFES is going to be much better than what the Americans presented to the world, as the fiesta’s songs are strictly written by Nigerians for Nigeria’s democracy to be sung by musicians.”
To achieve this, entries were called for in the six geopolitical zones to compose a not-more-than-five-minute song, and summit to SONIFES zonal offices in their region, who would select the best three for the national event.
For the winners, outside rendering their songs by an all-star music group will go home with various amount of money as prizes among other consolations, which include automatic free entrance to the festival venue.
The fiesta’s chief executive officer said the selection of the three best artistes male and female, who have made positive impact on the country within the 10-year period, would be done by Nigerians via short messages (SMs). He said that they have already received three nominees for the male and female artistes; for the males, he mentioned D’banj, 2face, and P’Square while for the female, Asa, Sasha, and Weird MC; and for the pillar of democracy, he informed that The Guardian Newspaper has been nominated and the presentation has been schedule for May 31 at the Eagle Square, Abuja.

AKAMADU informed that the various ministries such as Culture, FCT, and Information are in support of the project outside such bodies as the Performing Musician Association of Nigeria (PMAN), Society for Performing Arts of Nigeria (SPAN), Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN), and Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN). He equally revealed that Cuba would be one of the countries to be visited in cause of the project
While responding to the question why it took the group such a long time to make a statement in the art and culture sector on the nation’s democracy and what they hope to do next with the group, Akamadu said the group has been on ground for 14 to 15 months, and that it took them time to make a statement because they have to carefully plan for the festival that will give tribute to the nation’s fallen heroes while bringing cultural renewal and making a lasting tourism statement for the nation. So, we took time to put the best hand to work, to bring out something. This they did and having seen the good work, we decided to tie it around some event that will transcend the borders of our culture and tourism. It was at this point that the major stakeholders decided it should be tied to our democratic practice and sustenance .It was at that point that the group chose cultural tool such as music to showcase it.
“Politicians can talk about politics, even soldiers, yet the people would not listen, but with music, there is no division; for it is the only thing that can unite the nation more than soccer, as it cuts across religion, class, and other inhibiting factors that may stop other genres of entertaining art. It is like a weapon to further express and model our democracy beyond Africa,” he said.
He emphasized that SONIFES is going to use music to lavishly celebrate our democracy. “We are giving Nigeria and her people a double delicacy — music and celebration. We are lavishly celebrating music as an indispensable tool to showcase our culture and democracy,” he stated.
“The art and culture committee for this reason are made up of seasoned hands such as Ejike Asiegbu of The Actors Guild; Prof. Ahmed Yerima, director general of Actor Guild of Nigeria, director general Nigerian Football Association, and the National Coordinator Abuja Carnival is the chairman of the advisory board; We have PMAN and others. And by the time all these groups come together, we would have succeed at making a statement that will deepen democracy and thereby attracting other segment of the society such as the banking sector, NBA, and other investors to the art and culture sector of the nation. It is a clarion call for one to contribute to the preservation, and deepening of Nigeria’s democracy,” he stressed.

ON how SONIFES will project other genres of art, the project’s spokesman said, “ outside the 100 Nigerian musicians singing the democratic song, and the National Troupe doing a democratic dance; the group is going to promote tourism through the various presentation of dance from different culture alongside the performance of musicians from outside the country. As we go along, other segment of the art and culture will begin to fall in, because of the saleable nature of the project. It is a brand that is relevant to Nigerians and our culture, which is the main reason the federal ministry of information and communication is interested in it.
“Take it or leave it, the project will surely take the nation to a greater height at re-branding the country because its going to tell the world that Nigerians are good people, and the country is worth visiting and investing in,” he affirmed.
On the promised library, Akamadu said: “The proceeds from the event will be used to build a world class tourist centre that would comprise a library, a recording studio, art gallery adorning the faces of Nigerian music icons, and a guest house among others. The estimated budget for it, is N25 billion, so, we need to successful deliver the festival on May 30, before going into it.”
How did you select the musicians?
SONIFES CEO said they were all from the grassroots. We used actresses with grassroots appeal to create the awareness as well as source for artistes because of the limitation of Internet and the various media, which are readily available in the rural communities as in the big cities.
Other gains of the project, he pointed is to promote the non-oil sector, tourism and to make government develop interest in festivals as a way of boasting our Gross National Product (GNP), and National Product (NP)

You can’t rebrand Nigeria on oil, it has to be through your culture… Nollywood

New York-based filmmaker, art activist, Tony Abulu was currently in the country to grace the African Movie Academy Award (AMAA) ceremonies. He also spent time firming up marketing schemes for his latest film, Crazy Like A Fox. ANOTE ANJELORUE encountered Abulu in Lagos and engaged him in a chat. Excerpts

YOU have an association in the US. What is its relationship with Nollywood?
I’m the president of the Nigerian Filmmakers Association in the US. We’ve been working with the Filmmakers Cooperative of Nigeria. I was instrumental to the bringing of 40 top Nollywood stars to the US in 2004 with the hope of introducing the Nigerian film industry to a more global audience, and more importantly, to find distributors. The basic concept is finding distribution for Nollywood content worldwide. We’ve been at it for a long time and we are happy to have secured several deals with major distribution companies. All Nigerian producers have to do is to shoot films in high definition cameras.
We made Crazy Like A Fox by Black Ivory Communications of which I’m president and based in New York because we noticed that way we were shooting on the regular DH, which was very difficult to find international distributors. We believe that if we package our products well with high definition format, which the whole world is using, we’ll find distribution. We believe Crazy Like A Fox will open the doors to international distribution-ship for Nigerian films. We have Karibi Fabara in it, he’s Nigeria’s number one actor in the US; and Angel Fershgenet. We write a story, which Americans will appreciate; we did the film with half a million dollars, the average American film is 50 million dollars and above. We did it like that so it won’t be too far-fetched from the Nigerian experience. If Nigerians shot with budgets like 200-250, 000 dollars, they will be able to enter into distribution channels globally. They are shooting good movies but the channels available for them for distribution are limited by virtue of their budget, which is 50,000 dollars. You can’t shoot a film like that and expect it to go globally. Crazy like a fox is like an example of what that kind of money can do. We are very fortunate to be selected to the American Black film festival, the biggest black film festival in the world. It’s very difficult to get in there. 412 black movies applied worldwide, they selected only 12 feature films. Crazy like a Fox was nominated for best film and best inspirational film. And we’re competing with films that were shot with millions and millions of dollars, and in 35mm.
We’ve signed deals with several distributors in the US, who distribute over 200 million per title worldwide. We’ve also signed with Silverbird to distribute for the whole of Africa.
I’m talking with my colleagues in the Nigerian film industry. People like Paul Obazele, president of Association of Movie Producers (AMP), we’re talking on how to move the industry forward. Filmmakers Association of Nigeria in the US is working to stop piracy of Nigerian films in the US. The problem with Nigerian films is not that they are getting less in quality. As soon as a DVA come out in Nigeria, somebody sends it to the US and it’s all over the place. We had a copyright conference in 2005 with the US Department of Justice, US Copyright Commission, Intellectual Property Institute, the US Board of Patrol and Customs. Adebambo Adewopo of the Nigerian Copyright Commission and Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board were also there including the Justice ministry. It was a major conference. The US government pledged to help Nigeria with a patent. They asked us to form an NGO, which we have done. They gave us attorneys who are working with us for free. It costs over 250,000 dollars just to prosecute one case of copyright infringement.
The problem again is that Nigerian films are not copyrighted in the US, so you can’t accuse anybody. For four years, we tried getting Nigerians to copyright in the US… Right now if you watch a Nollywood film, the music is all Nigerian, which is very good for the Nigerian musicians. They are using their own music and spreading the business around and thereby improving the quality of the outcome in music as well as in films. We are ready to move to the next level, which is intense global distribution of Nigerian films. What does it require? First is to shoot in high definition format; secondly, the stories have to change a little bit.
Yes, I was going to come to that. How can Nollywood improve its stories to attract global audience?
As I said, when I came in 2003, we were a little elementary at that time. Many have improved their stories. It’s different when you want to tell an indigenous African story, which is just meant for Nigerians. If you want the global world to watch your films, you have to be able to retain what we call your African-centric personality, which is your Nigerian personality but at the same time, the film must be able to relate to people around the world. That’s the next level and that’s where we’re going to work with some of the producers in term of story telling and scripting and so forth.
In what way are you going to partner with Nollywood to write better stories for good content?
Well, it’s a little bit difficult because artistes are very creative and everybody believes they have their own ideas. So, if you’re not careful, people feel you want to infringe on their own creative input and idea. But I will say this: everybody is free to tell their story the way they want to because they raised the money. But if you’re looking for a global audience, you must give them what they want.
Our last movie was called American Dream. It’s an indigenous Nigerian story about three young Nigeria men. One of them is hell bent on going to the US; one says he isn’t going anywhere, that he’ll stay and get involved in politics and get the country better; the third one says he’s in the middle of the two. We followed them to have the story developed to the end. You’ll be amazed how the world is responding to that story. It’s a comedy and people are tracking us. Everybody can identify with the immigrant aspiration that is there.
It shows you how Nigerian young people are thinking; how they want to fit into a global community. And the world would like to see something like that. In most Nigerian films, you’ll see the name of all the characters in the story with none being African or Nigerian name. not a single one; they all have English names. If people are watching abroad, it’s what they feel: You mean there’s no Nkechi, no Ngozi, no Segun; there’s no Ade, no Razaq? The film itself stands out looking fake; it looks like a fake version of an African American film. The way the people are talking, the accent obviously is not an American accent; it’s trying to be like an American accent but to Americans, it looks fake. You don’t want to present something that is fake to the world; you want to present something that’s authentic. Even when you’re speaking English, you speak like a Nigerian, so people will know this is English-speaking African country. It’s our own personality, that’s what I’m talking about. You tell a young man and a young woman falling in Nigeria falling love, it’s going to be totally different from young people in New York falling in love; it’ll be different to from those in India. Look at Shun dog Millionaire, how
The story went, the kind of music, the setting and so on.
Unfortunately, our own culture, we have allowed it to be something that is not protected. We’re just letting it slide away. We never really plan here; in the world, everything is planned. We cannot afford to just let it be whatever it is. It’s being influenced by places. It’s not just the problem of the filmmakers; it’s the problem of the Nigerian contemporary culture. That question has not been asked. And that is, what is contemporary Nigerian culture? That is what influences the music. If you notice now when our musicians are beginning to sing in a version that sounds more African — they are speaking Yoruba, Igbo languages in the music —people are beginning to buy the music. That is how we used to buy Fela, Sunny Ade, Obey etc.
And I praise the young Nigerian musicians a lot. That’s why we try to include Nigeria music in our films and pay for the rights. We did it with Fela’s music, with King Sunny Ade’s music. There’ll be D’Banj, Wande Coal, TuFace and the others in our next movie. We want to take all those guys to a global market, whereby the world begins to appreciate what we have; but it has to be authentic. Most Nigerian filmmakers are young; they are being influenced by the contemporary culture. But they have to go back. When you talk of Tunde Kilani from a deep cultural background or the new movie Jenifa, the film goes back to the authenticity of the culture. It shows how Africans are trying to fit into a modern world. Does it work or does it not work? So, the viewer that is watching sees the authentic African personality and then sees the other personality that is trying to be fake, and then he can follow it.
Until that problem is solved… what is contemporary Nigerian culture? How do you define it? What is contemporary Nigerian personality? How do you define it? That’s the only way we can create cultural products that we can sell to the world. Otherwise, all the products we’ll produce will be fake. We can buy that ourselves here in Nigeria but nobody else will buy them.
What has been the response in your interactions with practitioners in the industry with respect to these issues you have raised?
Well, I think they have responded positively. We’ve spoken to some of the producers on several occasions. We’ve going to get more of them involved. They’ve going through a lot of issues now because they have to make their films better. Luckily, a few banks are getting interested in what they are doing. But I always say that the government has a major, major role to play. It’s very unfortunate that our government has not understood its role.
What kind of role should government play?
There are several roles. The Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board is doing a major job in trying to help them in forming a distribution chain in the country. Emeka Mba is well traveled and understands the process. The problem for them right now is the 20-in-1 and 15-in-I DVDs coming from China that are flooding the country. Government has to go ahead to stop them; if they don’t stop them, there will be no film industry in the next one or two years. Government has the role to stop them.
The other critical role that government can play is to create an endowment fund. The 20,000 dollar films cannot take Nigeria anywhere. Slumdog Millionaire was shot for 50 million dollars — an Indian story shot by a British producer; and everybody is screaming that it won all the awards. Where can a Nigerian producer find that kind of money to produce such a film? Hotel Rwanda was shot for about 25 million dollars and it won award. The money came from their government. Nigeria government has a lot of money.
And they are re-banding Nigeria?
I love the fact that the Minister is re-branding Nigeria though people don’t understand it. They are accusing her of wasting money and all that. Every country re-brands continuously. You have to understand that you’re competing with other countries in the world for attention for your products. That’s the bottomline. Name any single product that Nigeria is making that is on sale to anybody… the only one is the Nigerian movie, a cultural product.
But the government is not putting anything into culture as much as it gets in terms of image laundering?
That’s what we’re saying to them. What indigenous product made by anybody in Nigeria can they sell to anybody? The only country that did it was Ghana because of Kente cloth. It took years and millions of dollars in branding before they got it through. In the African-American community, we can do the same branding with Ase-oke and Akwa-ocha. We’re taking our culture for granted because we have oil, which has taken us out of our element. We’re making so much money from oil, we have totally relegated what is going to save our people when oil runs dry in the future.
Nobody is interested in our culture because we haven’t branded it; nobody is willing to pay a dime for it… the only thing anybody is willing to pay for is our film, and we’re looking at the filmmakers dying. And we yab them, we criticize them but South Africans are buying them and showing them on their TV television. The whole world is switching their movies. Where is the support? Are we going to wait until they die even when we share 50 billions in the reserves, for whom? We can’t just put 100 million dollars in an endowment fund account for them and insist on quality as a minimum requirement for accessing the fund?
Is it not in the place of the Nigeria Film Corporation to persuade government about such funds?
They can’t do it alone. The government ought to pass the money through the NFC. The Managing Director, Afolabi Adesanya, would like to help the industry but he’s handicapped. Where is the finding? It has to come in from the government. Spike Lee got 40,000 dollars from the US National Endowment Fund. They saw the potential in him. He raised additional 50,000 dollars to shoot She’s gotta have it and it went to Cannes films festival. Look at what Spike Lee has become today and the number of people he has employed.
I’m not waiting for the government because I can raise my own money in the US. But Nollywood is here. The banks are not giving them the money; nobody believes in them. The government that’s supposed to raise them up, it is not doing anything.
The argument sometimes is that their stories do more harm than good to the image of the country. Is this a valid argument?
How can the stories be strong enough when they don’t have money. They shoot movies for 20,000 dollars and the whole world is watching. If you give them 200,000 dollars, will they not do far better than they are doing now? There’s no funding, so don’t expect more. Maybe individuals have to do it.
When I took the National Troupe to the US in 1992, it was amazing the response we got. So, it’s your culture that creates the opportunity for your products that you can sell. You first of all find that culture, brainwash everybody into accepting it, which is what they have done to us in Nigeria. They brainwash us to watch their movies; then you want to look like them.
Branding is coordinating your culture in your country; make it appreciated by the indigenes of your country and then ship it abroad. It’s not just for people to love you; it’s for economic reasons. You don’t go and spend your money on CNN when you don’t have a product to sell. If you spend one million dollars to advertise, you make 10 million. And we have people that can do it.
The way the re-branding is going, it seems focused only on publicity. How does that profit Nigeria?
You do not spend the money by just talking or taking adverts. You spend the money by way of social responsibility. You have to have a constituency that loves you to death. That’s where you spend the money. With five million dollars, I can raise one billion dollars for this country. African Americans spend 900 billion dollars every year. Not a dime of the money comes to Nigeria; not one cent. Nigeria doesn’t get one dollar. And they are our brothers that were stolen from us and we’re just looking! And they hate us to death. Their attitude is: ‘you’re the big brothers, what are you doing?’ That was why I took the National Troupe to tour the black community in the US.
You’re letting the culture just die; you have to know what to do with the branding. The culture is going to die the way we’re going. All your kids are imbibing other foreign cultures. It shouldn’t happen. You create that culture, monitor it and you influence the world, with the culture. That’s why the world will want to wear Aso-oke to watch your film. You have to know what to put in the film.
The country has allowed 20-25 years of our culture to elapse without doing anything with that culture. The young kids don’t know anything about our culture. We make them believe that our indigenous culture is backward; so everyone wants to be like American but, eh African Americans want to be like Nigerians. When they come they are disappointed because there’s nothing left for them to see of our culture; so they go to the hinterland. They go to Ghana that has branded her culture.
Branding is continuous; if you cannot brand, you cannot sell. You remove oil from Nigeria, what is left? The whole of Nigeria will starve to death; we won’t even be able to pay our civil servants. 98 percent of our revenue comes from oil. What we’re saying to the whole world is that we don’t have sense or brain to create anything else we can sell. Where is our mind; we all go to college and we can’t create a product that we can force down the throat of somebody else. And we keep buying their own. The world doesn’t work like that. If we don’t quickly wake up and understand how the world works, we’ll be in a mess. We must be very diligent and hardworking. We have to be creative; it should be number one.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Cover, Edition 181, April 19-25, 2009

Mr. Tinsel goes to Memphis

Odugbemi on set

I WAS in his Gbagada office that afternoon to grab a chat with him before he jets out for the Memphis Film Festival, running April 23 through 26. His two films, Bar Beach Blues and Ibadan – Cradle of Literati, have been scheduled for screening. But as it turns out, my meeting with Femi Odugbemi lasted longer than expected.
Oh, but the experience is worth the time spent.
Odugbemi has little patience for theories. For the former president of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN), action speaks louder than words. The original plan was actually to have a chat with him, but we ended up watching Bar Beach Blues on his laptop; we were also in his studio to see his five-minute film. But for time, we would have also watched Ibadan- The Cradle of Literati.
“I don’t like people writing about my films without seeing them,” he says.
From all indications, Odugbemi is very excited with the invitation to attend the film festival, and having his two works screened to the audience.
“This is the 10th anniversary of Memphis, so, for two of my works to be selected for the event, is a great honour to me. This is an opportunity for me to take the Nigerian film industry to international platform.”
Aside from his films being shown on the last day of the event, Odugbemi will also sit through a question and answer session on his films.
“I’ve been informed that I will be hosting the session and I will be glad to explain in details, the concept of my works to the audience.”

WHILE Bar Beach Blues is a metaphor on the corruption in the society, Ibadan-Cradle of Literati, a-26 minute film, is a documentary on that monumental part of our country’s history that we often don’t pay attention to.
“It occurred to me that almost all the great writers, whose works have put Nigeria on the international map in literature, at one point or the other in the 60s, were from Ibadan. Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, JP Clerk… the list goes on and on. So, the documentary is a video biography of the city and how it has encouraged creative minds.”
For him, filmmaking goes beyond commercial viability.
“I do a lot of work that is not meant for mass audience because of their contents, which are dear to me. There are things I’m interested in as a filmmaker because I view filmmaking as my voice. For me, the whole process is not about me, but about my target audience.”
Odugbemi belongs to the rare club of concerned Nigerians, who strongly believes that training and re-training are very vital in the effort to put the country’s films on the global platform.
“What this training awareness that ITPAN initiated some 10 years ago has done is that both the filmmakers and the audience, we have raised the bar. You cannot tell me that the quality of Nollywood films has not grown,” he muses. “The truth of the matter is that ITPAN started the film festival and the Lagos international film forum. Now, there are film festivals all over the place and the people have approached it also with a commercial intent.”
Notwithstanding, Odugbemi sees a positive light in the latest trend.
“The consequence is that filmmakers have also focused more on rising above the pack. AMAA, Abuja films festival…all these festivals now in Nigeria came as a reward for excellence. When we have this reward system for excellence, people will strive to be excellent. At the end of the day, I think what we are looking for is for the filmmakers to be excellent in their storytelling and production.”
Topmost in Odugbemi’s dream is to see a Nigerian production win the Oscars.
“For me, this is the time to identify opportunities in the international film world. A South African film has won an Oscar, an Indian film has also won it; I don’t see why a Nigerian film cannot win it.”
To the filmmaker, the most viable tool for re-branding the country is film.
“We have the stories, the talent, and the people. But we still need the commitment and the training for the quality to rise.”
On the way forward, Odugbemi says, “we need to seriously focus on excellence in filmmaking, having in mind that it is a global language. We have a story to tell; our people are telling it. We need to expand our training, get serious with it, and then find collaborations. What I think is drawing us back right now, is the division within. In different camps, we are using film festivals to reward mediocrity.”
He continues: “We need to start collaborating within ourselves. What stops Amaka Igwe from collaborating with Zeb Ejiro if they find a good script? Both of them don’t have to be directors. Amaka is a fantastic writer while Zeb is a good director. What stops Tunde Kelani from combining with others? That is the lesson we are trying to pass on with Tinsel.”
The success story of Tinsel, according to Odugbemi, could be attributed to the collaborative spirit of the parties involved.
“Jaiye Ojo, Lemi Adegboye and I are known producers. Lemi has a lot of experience as an international person; he brought a lot of that experience in; Jaiye has experience in producing television programmes in Nigeria; he also brought that in and I brought in my experience as a director.”
“One lesson in Tinsel is that everybody is humble enough to agree that we want to create something of international quality. We don’t want to do a Nigerian soap; we want to learn how other people do it. So, we gathered ourselves — 20 people — to South Africa, London… to see what they are doing.”
And you spent time understudying them?
“We spent a month,” he harps. “We took the people that will do it there, then we came back and we all went into LTV 8, formed a very strong bond as a team, and as Nigerians, to proffer solutions that work. Nigerians have an intrinsic desire for quality; almost everyone that saw it confirmed that it’s a superior production to what we had done in the country. Tinsel has established that Nigerians can achieve anything they are determined to do.”

MEANWHILE, the filmmaker has just rounded up his most recent work, Bariga Boys, a documentary film that traces the origin of the Crown Troupe of Africa; a theatre troupe led by Segun Adefila. The film, which was recently screened for two days at the National Theatre, Iganmu Lagos, for so many reasons, is dear to Odugbemi’s heart.
“I’ve followed Segun Adefila and the Crown Troupe for over three years; I first saw them at CORA event. I’ve always gone to CORA events and they are like a constant there,” he notes. “I’ve watched them at NANTAP event, I’ve watched them perform for Steve Rhodes. At some points, I decided to take a look at what drives them. I’ve always thought they were heavily funded.”
But to his greatest surprise, despite the creative ingenuity of the leader and the quality of its production, Crown Troupe of Africa largely survives by the little money they make from their shows.
“I thought they got grants from places until early this year, when I was invited to their rehearsal in Bariga. The context and the environment in which this art emerges from is totally uncomfortable.”
In case you’ve seen the troupe in one of their productions, especially the one with political undertone, then you’ve seen the true-life experience of Adefila as a young boy growing up in Bariga.
“During my visit to their rehearsal ground, I realised instantly that the work of Adefila is actually directly connected to what he sees and lives every day. It is not an academic exercise,” reasons Odugbemi.

IF there is one man Odugbemi has so much respect for in the arts in the country, that must be the late Steve Rhodes; his pictures with the late music impresario were conspicuously placed on the wall. Little wonder Odugbemi did a documentary on the musicologist shortly before he passed on.
“I learnt a lot by watching him closely; I had the privilege in his latter days, to be his son and disciple; and to watch him work.”
To Odugbemi, Uncle Rhodes’ life is a good example of an artiste.
“ He never told me the way to excellence; he showed me. When Uncle Steve gives you an appointment at 9am, he will be there five minutes to the time. When he gives you his word in an agreement with a handshake, he will live by it even if it will kill him. Basically, as a human being, he showed me how integrity is the only value in life. As an artiste, he showed that commitment to excellence and to the highest level of the craft. I don’t know how I could have done the documentary,” he says.
Though a lot of people have reservations about the depth of the documentary, which screened during a special Art Stampede organised by CORA in honour of the late composer, Odugbemi, still puts his head high over the work.
“Some people told me that they were planning to do a documentary on Steve Rhodes; some said the one that I did is not full enough; others said it did not cover Steve Rhodes Voices while some are of the opinion that it is not comprehensive enough. But if that documentary is the only thing I could do to thank him, then I’m gratified that God gave me the chance to do it because, I think it would have been much harder if it wasn’t done and he died.”
“The tragedy of Uncle Steve’s life was that France gave him a distinguished National Award as a creative icon while Nigeria never remembered to honour him; it saddens me each time I remember that,” he says with a sober mood.
“This is a man that put in over 60 years of creative excellence in the arts; he was the mark at which excellence is musically graded. As a TV producer and as an art entrepreneur; he did everything. There’s nothing we are doing today that he had not done,” he declares.
“In that documentary, you can hear him reflect on his life and his country. He loves this country; he loves the art. He was working until the last day of his life. In the latter part of his life, he was growing a new crop of big band musicians, who could read music; who could play Nigerian music to international quality of musicianship.”
Though his role model is gone, Odugbemi is still keeping his relationship with Rhodes family alive. He is closely working with Uncle Steve’s daughter, Gloria, to set up a Foundation in memory of the art impresario.
Aside from preserving the legacy of Steve Rhodes, the Foundation also aims at perpetuating his work in terms of research into Nigerian musical instruments; sustaining the Steve Rhodes Orchestra and to have his type of music available for people to enjoy. “I’m confident that Uncle Steve’s legacy will not die; Steve Rhodes cannot die, just as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti cannot die. All I can say is for everyone, who loved what Uncle Steve stood for, to always look forward to supporting the Foundation.”

My Journey through the Arts

The desire for self-expression is indeed born early in the human mind. A myriad of influences condition the chosen path. I am not an exception in the conflicting emotions sparked from time to time about my preferences in serious arts appreciation. Once it was music, an interest which took me to symphony halls abroad and peaked as one of the foundation members of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) and indeed its Chairman for five years.
My Isale-Eko, Lagos childhood immersed me in the appreciation of dramatic and creative possibilities: the perennial Oro shrieks in the heat of the night, which forced my sinking under bed covers in the belief that I could not be snatched from my mother’s bosom, my mother’s Isale Eko roots, which she transmitted to me by forcing me to stand by her outside her shop on Reclamation Road while Tarzan, Sokolobo, Bamgbose, Olukoso, Alapansanpa, the Egungun masquerades in procession paid her homage, greeted her in the rhymes of the deadman’s voices, cagged money off her, frightened the daylight out of me and vanished into the receding silhouette of the evening towards the Oba’s palace.
Mother’s greatest love of course was the fascinating Adamu Orisha play, the Eyo, that enduring heritage of her ancestors. I remember once, a stray Eyo came into her room for a quick swig of beer, unmasking himself, mouthing and displaying bravado exaggeratedly and reciting prayers and incantations. With an exchange of money and gently, playful strokes of the “opambata” on my mother, the Eyo would jump and twirl and disappear into the fold of the returning dead symbolised by the awesome Eyo group.
No wonder my mother got me enrolled in the Eyo Agere group on my return home from academic pursuits overseas. I have since risen through the ranks to become the Chairman of that group.
The walk to the secondary school on Broad Street, Lagos, sometimes took me through the Brazilian quarters where the Pinheiros, the Da Rochas the Damazios, the Grillos had bequeathed artistic architectural landmarks to replace the back to back compounds (Agbole) of yesteryears, where the children of those days were identified sometimes by their Agbole of origin. The Island of Lagos was then quite small and everybody knew each other and juvenile delinquency was bare.

Also at school, Pa. Aina Onabolu fearsomely ambled into the school premises donning his trademark well-spruced tropical suit complete with his rimless glasses and his walking stick. The day’s routine was thus: A boy, on Pa’s orders, climbs the teacher’s desk and, models a pose at an angle, another boy moves his chair to the middle of the space between the blackboard and the front desks. Pa. Onabolu draws lines on the blackboard, nasaling like an Englishman the memorable phrase: ANGULAR PERSPECTIVE!
Then the drawing by the class commences. Pa. Onabolu sits and pretends to be dozing off. Momentarily, one of the naughties in class distracts us by mimicking the teacher. He (Onabolu ) is awakened, fuming and asks the boy to step out, hand outstretched for a dose of beating on his palm with that cudgel of a walking stick. Oftentimes, the hour bell rings, the class comes to an end for a rendezvous next week with that early Master of art, Pa Aina Onabolu.

I was of course a poor student of art. I remember my mother once taught me how to draw lizard and female comb (iyari) for a class assignment in elementary school; but she was indeed transmitting her ungiftedness to me and I lost interest in a way that even my Biology suffered in later years from an inability to draw.
Interest in art was eventually aroused through the embrace of literature; the written word encapsulating varieties of human creative mind. In effect, the poetry of the labour of aloneness whereby a blank canvass is transformed into a painting of exquisite beauty, a chunk of tree becomes a carver’s delight, the muse instructs and a play is crafted, a novel awakens from months of lonely agony and providence guides the creating artist to produce a masterpiece thus winning the adoration of his peers. A musical composition endures beyond the lifetime of the composer thus earning him eternal existence.
A journey through drama has been mine. Mercifully, the entire tapestry of creative impulses is spread before man, indeed the youthful mind and the absorption by the brains of anything creative is nature’s divine narrative as found in the dictum: go forth to conquer the earth and appropriate all there is therein. There is indeed room for embracing all or perhaps flirtation with each genre as the restlessness for appreciation of the arts captivates. The choice is that of the individual.

HEROES surface all the time. Fela was a friend and a great influence in the fertile mind of that epoch of the rebelliousness and left-wing persuasion. What commenced as another incursion into art collection in my student days was prompted by buying of Athena prints of masterpieces of Van Gogh, Piccaso, Renoir, Rubens. I was being won over by European masters, influenced by the acculturation wrought by visits to the museums of the western world. At last, fate drove me to a conscious search for fulfilment from home-grown visual art endeavours.
For example, my late friend Tade Ismail gave me as a New Year present a print of Enwonwu’s Tutu masterpiece, which is lost somewhere. I had totally forgotten the episode until Prof. Grillo reminded me about two years ago that he had designed the set for my maiden play, Trees Grow in the Desert in 1970 at the instance of the producer, late Eldred Fiberesima. Meanwhile, several visits to exhibitions in the burgeoning visual art market preceded by my chairing of a J.A Akande’s 1984 solo exhibition prompted my emergence as a serious art collector. There has been no pause since then and no serious distraction into another variety of the world of arts.
The hold of Lagos and its creative soul has however been stronger. I remember Professor Babatunde Lawal kept me awake on family visits to him at the University of Ife in the 1970s and regaled me with tales of his archaeological exploits. Igbo-Ukwu finds fascinated me, and his fertile mind and its possibilities in the transmission of his profound thoughts had stayed with me ever since. We both, of course, share the Isale-Eko background and indeed the Ikorodu roots.

ONCE I encountered Yusuf Grillo’s painting Awo Opa procession, there was a rushing of emotions which has since surpassed my life-view as an art lover. I could always see my childhood reincarnated, my mother celebrated, the calm dignity of her relations in white loin cloth quietly and solemnly marching along our street, who unlike the boisterous Egungun, Gelede, Eyo, Igunnu, Meboi and Fancy parade etc. exude the spiritual underpinning of a race that need periodic cleansing by serious-minded, etheral, priestly beings, unspeaking, awe-inspiring marching into a hallowed grove of fulfilment in the recesses of the world beyond.
Another great piece of work by Grillo is the 5-part serialisation of the Nativity story enriched and ennobled by the artist’s superb interpretation in a combined synthesis of the cubist, the impressionistic and the surrealistic modes. Here is Grillo, the inheritor of Islamic ancestry reverting back to his Catholico-Brazilian heritage amalgamating life force legacies suffused with intriguing symbolism of the story of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Lagosian in Yusuf Grillo shines through. Lagos is the home of three religion and the ideal situation is to create the space in our consciousness to expunge the potentially alienating stresses of a megapolis like Lagos. I share an affinity with his kind of profile having been similarly raised and nurtured and yet liberated from inordinate hate of any fellow man.
The creator of those phenomenal masterpieces, Yusuf Grillo, is whom we are celebrating today.
Of late, his pre-occupation has been more of the execution of glass stained, mosaic window of churches as work in progress in his studio rather than blank canvasses waiting for his cerebral paint and brush. Is there now a re-discovery of yet a spiritual plane?
But Grillo is not alone, there are peers and disciples. In all this agglomeration of creative talents, I take pride in being amidst you all admiring an array of collections, revelling, learning and gaining intellectual strength from your diversity, which is at once ennobling as well as enriching our collective souls.

TODAY, I acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Omooba Yemisi Shyllon, a soul brother in the art from whom I spied his prodigious, prolific commitment and irrepressible investments in fine art. In fact, his multi-talent stance was put at my disposal to sketch the original concept for the building, assemble the builders and he has been untiring giving ideas at all times.
Of course, my old time architect/builder, Arc Kunle Onafowokan who joyfully deceived me into building this house and had anticipated the Grillo Pavilion and the garden went to work six years after his original concept; and the rest is what is before you. No wonder, he had commenced his post secondary education as a student at Yaba College of Technolgy. Art practitioners hugging Ikorodu precincts have been a gem and I must mention the supreme, Olu Ajayi even for falling ill while curating the exhibition and arranging the ceremony, Hakeem Balogun, Ajobiewe, Abdulsalam, Ejoh and Ogunsanya (Olu Ajayi man Friday) for being so kind as to relieve my wife and I of the burden of organising this event
And so my fellow men and women of visual arts, let the Zarianists live long, let the Oshogbo School mourn Susan Wenger no more since her spirit lives forever and they ought to produce more work, let the Ullists prosper, let the Onaists continue their experimentation; Auchi school be colourful. Let more art schools blossom and let us expand the landscape and exact more earnings from our collectors. In short, let prosperity reign in this our collective endeavour to grow the art terrain.
May the spirit of creativity never die.

Originally titled Yusuf Grillo Pavillion: Its Influences and Confluence, this speech was delivered by the economist, art patron and ex-Minister of National Planning, Chief (Dr.) Gbadamosi at the opening of the Yusuf Grillo Pavillion Saturday last week in Ikorodu.

Honour for the master, Grillo

LAST Saturday presented another day of honour for the master artist, Prof. Yusuf Grillo, when artists from across the country joined art patron and industrialist, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi to unveil the latest Centre in art documentation, the Yusuf Grillo Pavilion located in Ikorodu, Lagos.
The event started with a lecture by Prof. Babatunde Lawal of the Art History Department, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia, U.S. Titled Behold the Rising Sun: Reflections on Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art, Lawal’s paper focused on current trends in contemporary art, especially as it concerns art production in Nigeria.
Shortly after the presentation, guests were led into the pavilion to see the works of Grillo and other artists displayed on the ground and top floors of the building.
The event was concluded with discussion on Lawal’s paper. Anchored by Toyin Akinosh, Secretary General of the Art Advocacy group, the Committee for Relevant Art, CORA and Mufu Onifade, founder/director of the ARA Studio, discussants were art patrons Torch Taire, Sammy Olagbaju, J. K. Randle, Yemisi Shyllon, and Bode Emmanuel. Others who joined the celebrant, Grillo on the speakers’ side of the sub-event were Agbo Folarin, Shamusideen Adetoro, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Kunle Filani and Babasehinde Ademuleya.

WHILE preparing for the opening, Gbadamosi a founding member of Visual Art Society of Nigeria, VASON, had explained that his choice of Grillo was to underscore the influence the artist had on him, when he returned to Nigeria in 1966. Grillo, he said, naturally, “appealed to me with his art when I returned home from Europe.”
Among the works of Grillo that set Gbadamosi into the world of art collection was the piece titled Awopa Procession, a depiction of traditional ritual procession.
Gbadamosi said the work reminded him of his early days in Isale Eko, Lagos Island.
“The Awopa Procession fired up my passion; the way the traditionalists filed out — the mystery. Grillo’s painting captured that procession vividly.”
Gbadamosi also recalled another piece of Grillo, a surreal work, Come With Me. He said, “you can write volumes on this work.” He described Grillo as a “captivating and enigmatic artist.”
Born in 1934, Grillo was among the pioneer Fine Art students of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria.

An aspect of the property housing the Yusuf Grillo Pavillion

Cobhams goes to London

THE British Council has named Cobhams Asuquo the Nigeria’s International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year (IYMEY). The Cross River State native, who has worked with notable Nigerian artistes, was honoured for his creativity in music production, having been selected by the panel of judges.
For coming tops in the contest, Cobhams will be involved in a 10-day tour of the UK music industry, where he will compete with nine others from Colombia, Estonia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Latin America and the Caribbean, Lithuania, Malaysia and Poland for the global award.
The contest attracts a cash prize of Seven Thousand Five Hundred pounds (£7,500) for the winner, which will be spent on a collaborative project with the British Council. The winner will be announced at The Great Escape –– a music-trade event in London in May 2009.
Song writer/music producer and music entrepreneur, Cobhams started his professional training as a lawyer but ended up a full-time music producer. Though he started on a low key, working for a Nigerian music label as an in-house producer, today, the man behind Asa’s successful debut album now manages his own entertainment company, CAMP (Cobhams Asuquo Music Productions) located in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos.
Over the years, Cohbams has won several awards for his excellent work. His awards include The Future Awards 2009 - Producer of the Year; One Gospel Awards 2008 - Gospel Composer/writer of the year; Hip-hop World Awards 2007- Producer of the Year and Hip-Hop World Awards 2008 - Producer of the Year. He also clinched the Nigeria Music Award (NMA) 2007 - Producer of the decade and the Future Awards 2006 - Producer of the Year and others.

IYMEY is an award designed by the British Council to champion and celebrate the notion of creative leadership; specifically the need to identify and nurture future leaders of the music industry. It is part of a suite of British Council awards, which include awards in eight other sectors namely: Communications, Design, Fashion, Interactive, Performing Arts, Publishing, Screen and Visual Arts.
Nigeria has featured in the music category since 2006 and has since produced one global winner – Audu Maikori, CEO Chocolate City Nigeria Limited , who was the IYMEY 2007 global award winner.
Members of the IYMEY panel of judges include Olisah Adibua (Storm Records), Aziza Uko (Bank PHB), Audu Maikori (Chocolate City and IYMEY 2007), Tunde Kuboye (Jazz 38), Lanre Lawal (International Young Design Entrepreneur of the Year 2005), and Ojoma Ochai (Connected Africa Arts Project Manager, British Council).

Maxi way to go

A MAXI dress could be very flattering as it disguises the legs as well as lengthens them with the right close-fitting cut. In recent times, this floor sweeping length has upstaged, the sometimes shockingly short clothes.
With a maxi on, it’s possible for you to hide a pair of high heels underneath, thereby giving yourself extra height to carry it off. However, the beauty of this dress is the fact that you need not have perfect legs or fitting body to wear it; it suits all shapes and sizes.
Maxi dress fits into the role of how this season; it is very flexible and penetrates ever so deeply into the past and romantic theme — having dreamy and flowing full lengths that brush the floor. This plays a part in the silhouette and voluminous trend, comprising of a somewhat cone shape (small to big) with a fitted upper body and a flowing bottom.
Maxi can be both formal and casual with the compliment of different accessories. Teamed with flip-flops, it can be worn to the beach or with heels and glamorous jewellery for a night out.


MATILDA Shulaa Ogunleye is one of the presenters of Flava, a syndicated radio show on Abuja’s Kapital FM, a station under Radio Nigeria. Matilda shares her experiences as a radio presenter!

What excites you about radio?
The fact that I can reach out to so many different people at the same time, help change their views about some certain issues, entertain them as well as be there for them without necessarily knowing them individually.
Is this what you’ve always wanted to do?
Well, I was never one of those kids who wanted to become a Doctor or Lawyer but never did I also think I’d work on radio.
Did your family give support when you started?
Not really. My father didn’t like the fact that I left my course of study, Economics; my mother thought it wasn’t a job for a young girl like me but my brothers thought it was cool!
To what extent did your childhood influence the kind of person you are today?
My father sure instilled the word discipline in us kids but my Mom’s caring and generous nature was a greater influence. Also, growing up in a house with two brothers and several male cousins taught me to be tough and independent.
How did you start and what did you do to get to where you are today?
It started for me at the NYSC orientation camp, I joined the orientation broadcasting service where I read camp news, took vox-pop, made announcements and initiated some ideas that helped make camp more lively and interactive. When I was posted to a radio house for my primary assignment, I learnt all I could on the job, read books, listened to a lot of more experienced broadcasters, did some training and here I am.
What would you say are the advantages of radio?
First, and foremost, my privacy! Unlike some TV presenters, who get easily noticed and more often than not have to “represent” even when they’d rather be themselves, I can afford to sit amongst my critics and fans without them having an inkling as to who I am. Moreover, I still fit go buka!
This anonymity so many radio presenters say they enjoy, how far do they really enjoy this? Don’t you sometimes want to be noticed?
I can’t speak for the others but I know I enjoy it. Of course, there are times I crave some sort of preferential treatment — I mean, who doesn’t? When little voice in my head screams “do u know who I am? Notice me for a min or two!” But then again, I think to myself, “what makes me so spectacular that I should not be treated like others?”
You never feel that TV would have been a better medium to get things done?
No one can deny the power of the medium called television. Most people are inspired by TV personalities or others they see on the screens because it lends a particular credibility to them and their work et al because they can influence a good number of the public. So, I guess if I were on TV, I could get people to do stuff easily, but then again, that is not a guarantee.
You also present a show on HIV/AIDS, why?
Well, aside from the fact someone has to do it, the message and information about HIV when it was first discovered was scary and very misleading. Also, it was not made readily available for most people who needed it, especially the youth, who are most vulnerable to the virus. The youth, as most people know, don’t like being talked at; they prefer to be talked with; hence my being paired with Okechukwu (the male presenter) for the show.
How has presenting this show affected your life?
It’s changed my perception on a lot of things and different people’s attitudes. I’ve made new friends, travelled to a lot of places and most importantly I am reminded of little things I should be grateful for, especially when people tell me how the programme has either helped them or a friend of theirs.
As a young female on radio, is it a plus or minus?
Minus ke? My dear, it’s a really big plus on my part and on the show’s part.
What are the challenges you face on the job generally?
Getting resource persons could be hard but often convincing people to talk freely can be more difficult; you have to make them comfortable and accept you as a friend; if not, they won’t bring out the best in them. Programme planning is another Herculean part of the job, and I have to keep striving to improve myself.
You think radio is easy?
I wish it were that easy, but there’s more to it than meets the eyes or rather, the ears in this case. There’s more to radio, like production and research and knowing what you go there to say, or else you make a fool of yourself on air... it isn’t so easy
You must have your share of crazy studio moments?
A lot! Like me having a bad hair day, my being dressed like I’m just taking a stroll down the road or me dancing my swagger-dance when I’m really feeling a particular song.
What has been your most embarrassing time on radio?
Ah! Once I was in the studio and I thought I had put off the live microphone and I started gisting with my friend, and I even made a grammatical error!
The best show you ever had?
Every time I think I’ve had my best show, another one sure beats that. But the show done in the Ghetto happens to be one of the most memorable so far.
What would make you give up radio?
Hmm, let me see...can you ask me this question again when eventually I leave radio? I will have the answer by then.
What’s the audience like in Abuja?
Abuja has a very diverse audience; you have those with great scholar minds; the upwardly mobile young people (hope I got that phrase right, I’ve been waiting to use that for a while!), the deeply-rooted cultural people amongst others; so satisfying such an audience is quite challenging but equally interesting.
Does being a presenter in Abuja limit you in any way?
Not at all. I may not be popular in Lagos, which is seen as the nerve of entertainment, or in Port Harcourt; but also how many of them Lagos presenters can be at home in Abuja?
Have you been on any other station outside Abuja?
I’ve been on Grace FM Lokoja, Joy FM Otukpo, Cosmo FM Enugu, Gold FM Ilesha among others — as a guest presenter.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m pursuing a Post-graduate Diploma, after which I hope to move on to the next level; either designing or producing my own programmes, which may not be limited to radio.
Why are you back to school?
To improve myself and get the qualification needed to achieve my life-long goals.
If you had to come back to the world again, would you choose to be Nigerian?
Definitely, it goes without saying.
Favourite colour: Purple tops the list but I also like blue as well as brown.
Food: Amala and Okro soup.
Place: My room.
Fantasy? There’s the dream-date with William Smith (sorry, Jada!) and wanting to own a home on the hilltop of an exquisite island.
Fashion item: Flat slip-ons.
Person: My mother.