Update from Qudus' blog

Jul 4, 2008

US tour 1

The General Misunderstanding... Contemporary dance in Nigeria!

One of my frequently asked questions these days is "So, What is your plan after school?" or precisely put as "so, what is your participation in the ongoing development in Nigeria", although it is an ambiguous question to ask a young guy like me who is just about to leave The National Higher School of Circus Arts, a school that is considered one of the best in Europe, where one becomes a sort of "hot cake" after passing through this school.

The Ambiguity of my frequently asked question is that, i am a contemporary dance artiste, that, i'm about to finish from an art school, and musing over going to play a part in the ongoing development of my country, haha, that sounds more like a suicide mission to me, being a dancer and being a Nigeria, two things that doesn't go well together, well why am i complaining is it not my choice after all, because some will counter my stupid notion of dance in Nigeria by citing that "shebi Kaffy is a dancer, Ijodee is a dancer and they are both Nigerians and doing very well" The only excuse i have at the end of the day is that, our aspiration and pride is just not the same, i'm going to lay down my problems and you have two choices to choose from, either you will move with my stupid notion or urge me to seek alternative elsewhere, cos i don't usually sound patriotic.

I'm creating this kind of forum which i have tagged MAD HAUZ (Media And Dance), to see if i could ever settle with these questions that fiddles with my mind, to engage you all in a forum where the ignorance and general misunderstanding of contemporary dance in Nigeria can be settled, to update my own general understanding of the typical Nigerian society, which of course i cannot still claim a complete understanding of how things work and to also share my own vision for development.

To start with, i will give a very brief narration of a very recent wind that simultaneously swept over many nations of Africa, it is the wind of contemporary "African" dance, that came in trough the windows of the west (mostly French), the race began in the 80s, then it will be legal to say that contemporary dance in Africa has been around for close to two decades, it marked its debut in Nigeria, in 1994 to be precise and since then it has been growing with an unquenchable pace all over Africa, network is being set all over the continent, dancers started getting together and it is sounding very much like the eve of independence, and so it will also be legal to say that, it is the fastest growing contemporary art form on the continent, but i find it difficult to alter such a phrase in the Nigerian context.

Since 1994, Contemporary dance has only existed (officially) in Lagos and Ibadan, proponents of Contemporary dance in Nigeria has performed outside Nigeria or rather outside Africa than they've ever done in Nigeria, even at that, the audience for contemporary dance in Nigeria is usually fellow dancers, few other artistes, but more of the expatriates, it is still perceived as a foreign product, as a copycat of a western value, but i have no problem with that, it is new then it must certainly be chaotic and that will evoke a lot of agitations and contempt, but what i tend to have problem with is the circumstances at which it is being operated in most countries of Africa.

However, local critics has scolded us over and over for our sell off, then i demand of them to respond my questions, economically, are we able to meet up with our ends-meet, while performing our traditional dances that has presently been degraded to a tool to welcome VIPs at the airport and terminals, entertainers at wedding ceremonies, an element for filling the gap during "item 7"(Menu! Menu!! Menu!!!) at Unilever and Cocacola end of the year party. Legislatively, are we up to date? are we able to command respect by trying to keep tradition alive? i don't know if other dance practitioners feel good doing that, but i got my own dignity and pride to shield, and nobody can put me in a box. I am not holding anyone responsible for that, not even the government, whose idea of a dancer is a raffia wearing and spear carrying man looking very "African". Its all about the general misunderstanding.

The question i in-turn ask myself is that, does my notion of Home mean precisely being physically in Nigeria? are dancers really forgetting their cultural heritage, if some of them tend to do away with dance forms that has existed centuries ago, to be involved in some more creative tasks that conforms to today's lingua franca and becoming a vanguard that will shake tomorrow, i ask myself if there will be any logical development or cultural evolution, if we decide to stick to our root, which is suppose to make us grow and spread out more branches. The dance industry is not only about the dancers, it also about who is managing it, who is writing about it, who is making it popular for the audience to have a feel of it, a work of art is only completed when it is out there, if it is still in the studio, there can't be any dialogue on such art piece.

Now, talking about development, this is the part i feel capable of developing, there is a bi-annual meeting that rotates from country to country all over Africa, (just like the African cup of nations) it is called Dance -Africa- Dance (African and indian ocean choreographic encounters), it has never been brought to Nigeria and the only Nigerian that has ever won this price is Adedayo M. Liadi (Ijodee) and that was since 2003, the last edition was in Tunis between 1st and 8th of May 2008, i have had the opportunity to regularly attend this meeting since 2001, and i will tell you that Nigeria lags so much behind in all of these continental norm.

I am presently at the edge of bringing in over 130 professionals, cultural operators, journalists, film makers and art scholars into the city of Lagos in 2009 for EWA BAMI' JO, this is one of the initiatives i find very important for clarity and for us to well fix our gaze unto the floor as we go on with our encounters with the world, being able to go global but with our local consciousness. This initiative is about Africa, which as well stand a great chance of bringing the realities of contemporary dance to fellow Nigerian where my primary target lies. i want to begin a fresh movement that is very well poised, backed with intellectual discourse and powered by this present youth-quake spreading all over the continent.

For this logical development, i found it absolutely impossible for Contemporary dance to grow in a society such as ours, if the media is not educated on this dance genre, in order to educate the masses or be persuaded to cover it (for we believe that seeing is believing). However, it is when a precise representation of dance is made by whosoever is writing about it or presenting it on TV, that this general misunderstanding be eradicated, what i propose now is using this blog medium, to answer questions (those that i am capable of...) on contemporary dance, propose articles that has been written on dance in other parts of the continent and other links to such discovery.

To make my final precision in order to avoid another general misunderstanding, i am not doing this because i need fame or its look alike, (i like the kind life wey i dey live now!), so please don't suggest writing my story in the front page of a national daily (no harm meant), I'm not so much hungry for popular audience, its not about the audience now, its about you and us, the media and dance! because for me, it is a really sad thing that we've got just one dance critic on the African soil (Adrienne Sichel, who will soon retire by the way), so this is just to see if we could share something amongst ourselves as youth and who knows, you might be the next celebrated African dance writer and that will certainly be a plus to Nigeria.

for further info please visit the following link and have a different feel of what i am talking about.


Jul 3, 2008

Boundaries of Criticism in “21st Century” AFRICA

It is incontrovertible to us right now that the supremacists and proponents of western civilisation has proclaimed Africa to be absolutely not part of the world map of thinkers and ideologists, Academic racism was pushed by white supremacists during the period when white people garnered great profits from slavery and colonialism. Which had the effect of attempting to deny and define the culture, history and ancestry of the victims of the profitable slave and colonial systems. Before i go far, i will state a handful of comments that will make it clear to us that the clichés laid down for us Africans has gone beyond repair, it is only left to us to turn them around and use them to our own advantage. Film maker and cultural historian Owen 'Alik Shahadah made a comment, stating that, “Historically Africans are made to sway like leaves
on the wind, impervious and indifferent to any form of civilisation, a people absent from scientific discovery, philosophy or the higher arts. We are left to believe that almost
nothing can come out of Africa, other than raw materials”, which can as well be turned inside out to their continuous need of ritualistic and primitivist contents coming out of Africa. A
Scottish philosopher and economist David Hume made an accurate comment to verify the genuineness of Shahada's statement, saying he is “apt to suspect the Negros to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences”.

Africa has been systematically detached from the rest of the world and we can now understand and see reasons why Africa can not continue to play the role that the world has specially left us with, in this civilization the higher man is rated higher based on his intellectual capabilities and the basic element used in measuring this, is either the arts or sciences. Without doubt Africa cannot claim a higher share in the sciences but that doesn't mean that there are no Africans or "Negros" in the front line of present day science and technology, but one thing that i am quite sure of is that Africans has a concrete stake in the discourse of arts, but not by engaging in cultural tourism or propagating the ways and believes of our fore-fathers.

The world look up to Africa with hope as much as they look down to it with despairs of their culpability, they treat Africa as another breed, different from the human race, it has become their mirror, but not looking directly at them selves, but looking at their humanity, a place where it becomes possible for them to carry out their humanitarian assignment, for them to continue to feel the human in them, then if we look at the world today, only the west becomes the architect of humanitarian initiations, they are the ones travelling around the world, adopting kids all over, they are the ones bold enough to give aides and save the lives of these Negros, saving them from themselves, they even show off their "givings" for personal gratification and surplus values, haven't you seen them use how much aide they've given in Africa for their curriculum vitae and Nobel price for peace? so they will look away from what could appear to be the solution to these problems, because from the moment that is solved, they won't have anywhere to go for their humanitarian pilgrimage, their children who has even gone to the extent of studying it in schools will have no more market to integrate after studying how to be useful to the petit negro.

It will be an understatement that is looking away from the truth, if we proclaim that the "love" the west has for Africa has not gone beyond humanitarian, The west that is doing all she could to encourage our melancholic moods and give shape to our thoughts, so that we could be matured enough to treat our own issues in our own primitive ways, therefore, an African thinker should only think about African issues, their scientist must only be busy, thinking
about cure to malaria and typhoid, staphylococcus and ring warm, they should be more keen about how to reduce the numbers of people dying with AIDS daily in every single houses in Africa, they should careless about vegetation, global warming is not their issue, that's the world's issue, so let the worlds talk about it, similarly our artists should concentrate on keeping our tradition alive, we should hold on to the part that has been heavenly bestowed upon us, that is, the entertainers bringing them freak shows so they can continue to get the exoticism coming from this special continent.

In this age of hybridity and mixing, technology and popular culture, If there is one perfect exemplification of the avant- guardist movement in which Africa is still being denied of, it
will precisely be in the words of Bell Hooks in his essay, Making Movie Magic, where he stated that “in this postmodern era which has been proclaimed as the era of nomadism, the time when fixed identities and boundaries lose their meaning and everything is in flux, when border-crossing is the order of the day, the real truth is that most people find it very difficult to journey away from familiar and fixed boundaries”. This then become where my own
criticism of the so called critiques who began to give shape to the academic look unto the African continent.

Since they are the organisers and sellers of meaning and information, much of which is now clear to us as sincere propaganda, that will automatically inform the reaction i will get
during my encounter with the common man on the street of Europe, as well as during their voyage to Africa, and since the market for finished goods and the centre stage for exposition is under their concierge, that has not given them the audacity to dictate what comes out of Africa, this ideological colonisation that is sweeping all over Africa in this 21st Century, must surely come to an end, i will radically condemn any so called critique or intellectual, sitting somewhere in France or England, one who wonders in his mansions, sipping his cup of coffee on the roadside café of Paris, or eating burger king on the broad ways of New york, one who spends profitable time in the comfort of his library, in front of his books that has been borne out the intellectual masturbation of “their own” homegrown intellectuals who has written about Africa in the 19th and 20th century from miles away, then want to extend this augmented truth of his across to us the offspring of this 21st century, coming out from the blues to tell me what is African and what not is African, passing the ecstasies of his present intellectual masturbation across the boundaries of his analytical capabilities, i will renounce all the so called festivals and awards and contests that presently exist on the African soil, the so called biggest platforms that produces “Africa's best”, these meetings that has been systematically
tailored and shaped for a surplus value that will suit the whiteness of the west, juried by the beloved and respected sons and daughters of the west, seconded by few of their ideologically
colonised black allies.

Not to radically condemn or castigate such initiations but to carefully put to table, to be weighed on different grounds, one that consciously knows what is coming in and also able to
appreciate two worlds, which is one aspect of our realities as Africans that can't be ignored, liking it or not is a secondary issue. Like every art form, critique itself evolve out of necessity, put into consideration and die afterwards, despite the conservative cry of “standards and identity”, there be no criticism of all time especially in the case of Africa, where things metamorphose with a desperate speed, will however be a landmark admission of the bankruptcy of the old critical vocabulary, confronted with ever-new and evolving forms of art.

Just as a case-study, It is absolutely unimaginable for me to accept that a dance piece such as Heddy Maalem's Rite of spring be condemned under the shadows of insecurity and evading the truth we don't wish to bear, because that is the only thing that makes us uncomfortable even while in the comfort of our very well conducive theatres. The discourse of colonialism and slavery in Europe has been cunningly arranged in layers under the ground, buried for ever and never to see life again, in Europe, we can talk about everything subordinate to that, but not to go undisguisedly into this part that hurts and could arouse anger and agitation from the
side of the offended. In the works of Heddy Maalem, one could be just if we proclaim his controversial approach and frontal presentation of Africans before their identified adversaries, as “the manipulation of dangerous substances”, asking the interdicted questions, speaking the vulgar language to the very ears of the priest who is also a silent dealer in this specified trade.

Based on the revitalisation of this concealed veracity, will then be the crucifixion of anyone who is going to step into the shoes of the betrayer, then emerges the question of political and
cultural identity, question of manipulation, question of colonial exposition of Black bodies, i shake my head in irritation, whenever phrases of such breeze through my ears “The piece is not
bad, but looking at it from the political point of view, it is not correct, because he (Heddy Maalem) is not African”. Thank God its not politically correct, because that is where my own interest in a genuine work of art lies these days, i won't want to be the advocate of Mr Maalem, but i could also justify my advocacy for this piece because i performed in it, and i will tend to refuse the name i am being indirectly stamped with by accepting this self-cheapening contract, but by making it clear that Heddy is first an Algerian before being a French, the shocking death of his father in the wars of Algeria has augmented his fears and quest for constructed identity, and if we claim that Algeria is not part of Africa, then i don't know from where we are drawing the line.

An artiste that goes nude on a stage has nothing to worry about, it is the eyes watching that then decide if they have a problem with that or not, and that is the question they have to deal with, that is the way to cultivate the audience's look to contemporary dance, so being nude on stage is something and making a striptease show is something else. In the words of the Congolese choreographer and philosopher Zab Maboungou, where she asked the derogatory question “what are you looking at when you look at African dance? and if its still the black body you are looking at, well this may get very boring in the end” so if me being BLACK poses a problem to any eyes watching me out there, it remains his own identified problem, and this is truth that most of us don't like to bear, as i have understood that we all have our self esteem to keep high, we all have need to deliberately denigrate the other in order to magnify our superiority, being it from other race or not, man will continue to be man, and nothing will be
inhuman in our acts, racism is a matter of history and i think we still need more centuries to settle with that, i accept that i could be a racist, and i think this is a first step, i know that i
have a racist part of me and this is what i have to deal with, to let go and live a bearable life with others, but my fear is for those i see daily in the media, trying to intellectualise and
making politics out of a common problem, not admitting that we are humans, and supremacy and jealousy will forever reign in the minds of every individual.

In other words, if i decide to bring in another case study like Kettly Noel, whom the critique of our adversaries proclaimed and awarded one of the leading voices coming from Africa, an Haitian who has sincerely adopted Mali without questions of manipulation. I'm not going to intentionally condemn her work that appears “very African” because of the grotesque images she plays around with, her exposition of trancelike gestures and non-believed rituals that is just a mockery of the real, that will make any conscious African of this century blush, but my interest is just to place the like of Kettly Noel to juxtapose the works of Heddy Maalem, and we will see clearly that lies become clearer when it is placed beside a truth. Like every good art, it should be critiqued above the bias of racial differences and economic imbalance, above talent or lack of talent, but based on what it can do and at what level its subject has arrived at convincing its audience, it will then not be acceptable that a banal piece of art, be recompensed for its coming from Africa, I refuse to subscribe to any institution that goes around, carrying banners and flags, screaming "I'm black and proud" in this 21st century, i say farewell to post colonialism, are we going to be colonies for ever? Its not about pride, gays will proclaim gay pride for they are fighting to resist a major pressure that seem to be different from their own kind of breed, but the pressure we are presently faced with in Africa is no way different from our race, the ism that i am grasping with is not about colour or race, it is a thing of the mind, regardless the body type or skin color the body is putting on, this ism that seeks to reduce me to a mere jester or one who practises non- believed rituals on stage, one who seeks to reduce my thoughts and enslave my aspiration, so that my reflection about the world be limited to where my economic capabilities is levelled. I am sincerely a racist against idiots, no matter the colour, I'm allergic to game people who seeks to mortgage our future for their own gratification.

One of the images that creators, dancers or performers of contemporary dance in Africa tend to pass across to us is images of the real, springing from the sincerity of their experiences or
history, but what the audience in me will not want to see is, giving me or re-staging to me all the dailies of my daily life, I'm not opposed to that but if a performer or choreographer will
ever attain that height of bringing reality on the stage then he (or she) must really be “ready” to climb the mountain he is anticipating, he can't afford to play around that, it is illogical
for me to see an African creator, anticipating African realities on stage, fabricating a sort of documentary of the real, when our sincere job is only to mirror and make a sincere fiction out of the real, because what could be of more interest to the audience is the ability to see something decoded, a re-invention of the real that has been re-imagined in a creative way at which the audience is familiar with and yet far away from. That's what makes any art piece so compelling. Visionary filmmaker Stan Brakhage declares that “slavish mirroring of the human condition feels like a bird singing in front of a mirror. The less the work of art reflects the world the more it is being in the world and having its natural being like anything else.” he went on by saying “Film must be free from all imitations, of which the most dangerous is the imitation of life.” This is true of not just cinema but also for dance and other artistic expressions. This is the point where the Occident misplace creative performance with the documentation of our reality.