Update from Qudus' blog

Oct 11, 2008

Qudus Speaks his mind with SWITCHED MAGAZINE


Qudus Onikeku is a graduate of The National Higher School of Circus arts, France as a Dancer and Acrobat. For more than a decade, he has been present in the choreographic scene of Lagos. He is part of the new generation creators springing up from Africa. Known in Europe, in the USA and the Caribbean for his solo pieces, his participation in the works of Heddy Maalem and remarkable with his artistic research and teachings across the globe, Qudus is an Omonaija representing and carrying a message, everywhere he goes. His mission is to influence at lease one out of every 2 people he meets and who wont go on stage if he didn’t feel he could add some form of value to at least 1 person out of the audience, would love to be remembered for his words. According to him, his words are around and alive as the wind, the sea and even “Indomie” (lol). From talks about his profession, to that of change for the Nigerian youth and their thinking and even to his views about life, success and mindset of individuals, this Dance artist cum writer chats with the Switched On Team, baring all and revealing the depth, intelligence, passion and creativity in his dance, his writing and his message. HANG ON!! You’re about to join us on this roller coaster ride of deep, intense, “political” and creative words of a Nigerian who speaks with his mind, his hands…and his feet!

Basic question. How did you get started?

It was all like a kid's stuff, you know when we were young, we recognized those things that make us happy, especially in a society like Lagos. The definition of love was not so much in connection with the universal dictionary, and the strong wind that blows around just want you to do things that you associate more with. Coincidentally, mine was dance, but it all started from the kind of kid I was, very agile, stubborn and hyper. During high school, I took dance very serious, so when I graduated, I decided to move it to the next level, because I didn't believed so much in traditional forms of educational institution. I later headed for alternative learning that could support my creative temperament. As for my writing, I think it was just a way of relaying my mind’s thoughts because there is usually no one to say my mind or thoughts to especially in those days, when on tour and in my little apartment as a student. So, basically, it was just a way of retaining my sanity. I must say that I write everything, I don't have a secret. I think that's all I can tell you guys.

You started YK Projects. What is this about?

YK operates between Nigeria and France as a not-for-profit company. It was initially registered as a performing company in Nigeria, but the lack of appreciation of the arts and the disdain which tends to subject Artistes to a hostile environment, informed the coming together of a collective of Youths with legs in different sectors of the arts, amongst which are Performing artistes, Visual artistes and Writers. All have similar intentions of creating an alternative landscape for the local audience to be aware of the art, by projecting contemporary arts (Dance, New Circus and Street Performance) through outside performances, media and publications, just to create a conducive environment for our existence at home.

Tell us about the “Ewa Bami Jo” events?

“Ewa Bami' jo” is a bi-annual convention around contemporary creations, that re-unites different front- line players in the socio-political development project of the African world, under one dance umbrella that brings about conferences, debates, film screening, exhibition and shows. It used to be an annual event, where I try to invite other art forms to come and dance with me, the first edition was in 2005, the 2nd in 2006 and now due to my absence in Nigeria, it is coming back and bigger and better. The next edition will be in Lagos during the month of November 2009, you can visit www.ewabamijo.blogspot.com.



In your dance and writing, what is your message?

Hmm, well first, I am not just a dancer or writer, I am also a human being, that cries, smiles, eat, fall in love, hates and go to toilet etc, so I think there is always one or two things to see as inspiration in all of these attributes of a normal human being. So the basis of my art is just to lay before my audience how I express certain things that they might perhaps, have not found easier means of expressing. I don't think I have a particular message; I am not a preacher you know, but I am someone who tries to find simple ways of expressing what I feel deep inside of me. So there might perhaps be a message in that.

Ever gotten questioning looks when performing? How do you react/ deal with this?

Questioning looks? YES, a lot, especially in Nigeria. How I deal with it is simply to explain what i'm trying to do with my art to the curious ones who get interested in entering into my world, that is my duty, but I also try to settle those questions while creating in the studio.

How has your Yoruba tradition influenced your art?

I like proverbs very much, and my childhood is a great inspiration to me as well, so in case you will like to know, I was nothing but a Yoruba boy while growing up.

You reside in France. How regularly do you visit home, Naija?

Before, I used to visit Naija frequently; it was a six month in, six month out sort of arrangement, but since I came to school here, I have learnt to “miss” Naija. (Lol)

You have traveled a lot. How has this played a role in your artistic life?

Before I left Nigeria for the first time, I thought it was only in Nigeria that we speak Yoruba. I thought Lagos was a peaceful city. I didn't even know who Fela was. But now I know. I have learnt many things while visiting places that I couldn't have been interested in if I had read it in a book. Traveling has really enriched my cognizance and point of view to life and that is the basis of my “artistic life”.

Life, they say, is funny and comes with its specific “dishes”. In your view, describe the paradox of life?

You know, in this life there are several paradoxes, some that are mere master plan, put in place by the Almighty, while many we create by ourselves for ourselves. Can you imagine that after all our struggles in life; we still die at the end? We complicate everything for ourselves and now it has become so complicated that no one has a clear solution to our troubles. A civilized man needs to go to school for almost 20 years to understand how to live in his on civilization; to discover the sea; we have to travel on the land. We know hunger by first knowing that there is something like food. When we eat and get overfed during lunch, it won't stop us from getting hungry at dinner, when we pick up our bags, drop the keys and say goodbye to our neighbors, it will surely be followed by welcome and nice to meet you somewhere else, so when we run away from our social responsibilities, will that change our childhood? will it change the fact that we are who we are? Anyway let me stop here before you start reading something else... lol

Human beings are social and unstable “elements”. Animals are too. You wrote a piece “Are we Higher Animals”. In your opinion, do you think humans are no better than animals?

You know in my article “Are we higher Animals?” I wasn't trying to judge who is better nor giving some special attributes to the “lower animals”. Truly we are “higher animals” and that remains a fact that needs no justification. Our ability to ponder over our conditions, thinking before reacting, our reflective ability over whatever we perceive through our sense organs, I mean, this ability to choose - and choose well; to kill the little harmless insect instead of letting it go; ability to have an ocean of dreams, that will soon flood away the efforts of those with just ways and means and leave others with blood on their skins; all these elements that distinguishes man from animals, for me, has later tend to kill our innocence and make us loose our sudden inner impulse that should manifest in all normal animals without premeditation or external stimulus. So it is for the same reasons for which we are "higher" that we are becoming lower than animals. Maybe we need to get rid of some of our "high qualities" so that we can even hope to ascend to a "mere human being". For some of us, we are way too low to even be called animals! Looking back at the article which I wrote while in Congo, it serves to only call to mind the attitude of those who pride themselves in being high, yet, they are the source of the bad vomit which poisons the world today. The article was not condemning a universal truth, but rather questioning those who have used that Truth as a blanket for their shameful nakedness, thereby creating another dimension of that truth - which is an illusion. So your question is like asking if Blacks are better than whites. It’s not a matter of better, but they both exist in their own particularities.

What one phrase, book or piece of poetry has inspired you of late?

Of late? Meaning like few weeks ago... I will say Kung fu Panda. I have two lines that I really like in that movie.The first line is “Yesterday is History, Tomorrow is mystery but today is a gift, that is why it is called PRESENT” and the second is “The secret ingredient of my secret ingredient soup is ... NOTHING, there is no secret ingredient, to make something special you just have to believe its special” Your favorite writer is? Why? Wole Soyinka of course! That man is a genius who has arrived at putting all his energy into one. So, in his works you can't separate talent from passion, politics from art and yet he has his own way of making you laugh. Now for me, that is 100%

Your Philosophy of life is.......

I found a new one in a cartoon (can you imagine) that “Yesterday is really a History, Tomorrow is mystery but today is a gift, that is why it is called PRESENT”. In this great future you can't forget your past and you cannot separate today from tomorrow though, they are very much linked. So, if you decide to see today and not foresee the mystery tomorrow promises, then you are getting one side of the picture.

Performing arts are your specialties. How would you rate your “feet” on a club dance floor?

On a club dance floor, you don't want to try me “Mo Gbona feli feli”... LOL

Lol..What does success mean to you?

Hmm success, you know I did a project in 2007 titled “DO WE NEED COLA-COLA TO DANCE?” While in places like Bariga, Eleko beach, in townships in Cairo, in Maputo, at Soweto, at Mathare slum in Nairobi, and other places like that, no one paid to see my show. It was outside in the dirts, but seeing those kids coming around and smiling after my show, was a “biggggg” success. I was able to successfully add to the experiences of those guys that stopped or came out to see my show. That is one of my most successful performances; more successful than the positive critics I got in New York Times or for my numerous performances around the globe, because that one really touched my sincere purpose as an artiste I think.

Art whether poetic, visual or performing, in Nigeria is worrisome though improving. Do you think Nigerians are ready for this kind of art?

What do you mean ready? Nigerians are human beings and I am also a Nigerian, and that's where it has to start from. I think the question should be “AM I READY TO MEET NIGERIANS AT THEIR POINT OF HUNGER?” You see, I have studied the capitalist way of thinking, even if I don't really agree with it, but I think that it is the language my people understand the most. I just have to learn how to speak it fluently, but keeping my purpose and core values intact of course. Are we ever ready for those adverts and billboards we are bombarded with everyday? Do we even know what we are ready for when we haven't seen it? SEEING IS BELIEVING MY BROTHER; I think it’s time pure art began to claim ownership to what the common man refers to as “mainstream”. That is when all these general misunderstandings will be settled. A sincere example is Soyinka. So many Nigerians don't know this guy for real; they don't even know what he really means to the world, but his name has become a cool reference in the intellectual mainstream. When a Nigerian sees your pix with Soyinka or Soyinka in front of a magazine, it means much more than a D'banj or ASA for Nigerians, you know. That is what I am out for. So, I think Nigerians are in a state where all they cry for everyday is that six letter word C.H.A.N.G.E.

What is the one thing that can put a smile on your face when you’re down?

A flash or SMS from my woman would do.

More importantly what are your fears concerning the Nigerian youth of today?

I think my fears about the Nigerian youth doesn't exclude myself, so I will prefer to use WE. Our attraction to vanity is scary. We want a better life, so it overshadows our morality. The new culture we imbibe is very scary as well. I like the new culture; don't get me wrong, but what is the speed limit? Globalization, is it about exchanging what you have, for what you don't have or mere adding one to what you already have? What’s up with this cultural assimilation? How are we refusing hegemony? How much reference are we taking from our past? We need to structure a future at which we can't forget our past. I also like D'banj you know, just as I like iPhone, but what is the value of my iPhone? Does it mean more that just a phone to me? NO, but what it can really do, ahh! that is the value that takes it one step further than just a phone. It’s not just about the coolness of having an iPhone. This is the profoundness I find missing in today's youth. One more thing is what I refer to as the “UP-NEPA” mentality, which makes us scream in euphoria when we get access to something that is meant to be ours, our basic amenities o. We tend to get used to the lies we've been constantly fed with by our leaders. Now, the normal thing in the Nigerian moral bible is that a politician must throw money in the air to get our votes, even if his head is filled with human feces and his money painted with our blood. In order to counsel a Nigerian youth or convince any typical Nigerian about the credibility of a particular profession, career or project, you are obliged to talk extensively about the possibilities of making money from it, and die rich afterwards, not minding what else he or she will do with the money after making it. Otherwise your preaching is as good as flaunting Naira notes in the air and your job is done, case closed. Our catalogue of the national maladies, that has crept upon every Nigerian youth, still include the undesirable manifestations such as greed, dishonesty, impatience, discourtesy, vandalism, indecency, brutality, robbery (in every form), drunkenness, cultism, tribalism, selfishness, ostentation, indiscipline, corruption, insensitivity to filthy surroundings and many other identifiable ills, and what do we say to all these afterwards “May God help us”. And meanwhile God don't help those who don't help themselves. My brother, when we complain, we also need to back it up you know, when we cry and tears drop from our eyes, it doesn't make us go blind.

If you had your way, how would you try re-shape our thinking as a nation.

I think a great surgery has to be done to our reorientation as a people; we need to flush some superfluous reasoning out of our subconsciousness. We need a whole new academic brainwash that must begin from our first day in school. Stop forcing kids to go to school. Nigeria has more traditional educational institutions even more than Britain that thought her, Uni. of this, Poly of that, Fed College of this, high school of that. Bros! my theory is simple, the moment those numerous institutions begin to transform into practical spaces for alternative learning, things will begin to change. Development can't be one sided; it has to move hand in hand. Erecting schools is not development when the human development is neglected? Do you know I went to a CIRCUS school in France? Yes I did and you don't want me to tell you the fight to convince my parents from stepping out of UNILAG where I was studying Mathematics and Statistics. People are tired of traditional forms of learning, because it’s not even working. Our national maladies won't let it work. Let there be schools of carpentry that offers degrees, erect respectable schools where kids go learn mechanic and give them masters even PhD, then we will begin to feel respect for every human for what they do. And you know what; learning will be fun without cheating. Sincerely this is what I do all day with my works, my job is all about ideology and reasoning.

Oct 8, 2008



All these art-forms are what this project reunites into one. 


All photos by Emeka Okereke
The Artwork is disseminated into two phases, the first phase of the project was the touring of an outdoor performance in Six countries of Africa with a team of five, amongst which are 2 performers, 1 sound artist, 1 photographer and 1 video artist, during the tour we also had the opportunity of meeting and talking to professionals in the arts world, asking questions, trying to structure a future for ourselves as young professionals. The second phase of the project was to return to the studio in France with all the visual materials we were able to acquire during the tour, and came up with a documentary film titled "DO WE NEED COLA COLA TO DANCE?".

The project rallies around Dance which is the centre of attraction here, and as it was showcased mostly in public spaces and performed by performers who at a time, posseses the skills of dancing, juggling, acrobatics and hand standing. It broke into the frontiers of street theatre. Meanwhile, the happenings were absolutely un-official; no posters, no info, even we didn't necessarily know where the next performance spot might be, just like in ancient traveling theaters. This "piece", more of improvisation, is to be an alternative artform to the traditional exhibition of dance in the theatre, it creates its own context, since there are few or no ready made theatre venues or audience to begin with, and there is only a few practice of alternative movements in the continent today, the coming to life of this project is not to insert a new style into existing buildings, nor enticing already formed audience away from existing venues, but just to be involved in a special broad oppositional art experiment. The Project is an artistic expression and declaration of our engagement in a structural development that is in the making, as well as our responsibility as artistes for change, it is a sincere laboratory experimentation of an existing theory. Our reference points or case study could be coming from dance and cinematographic perspective, but its a valid element for development using alternative measures.


I thought of taking contemporary dance to “NON CONVENTIONAL” spaces and locations where the growing art network could not get to, be it public or private surroundings who are yet to discover the theatre for the purpose of Dance, as an avenue of crossing the borders that exists between artists and the audience, as well as formation of a local market and audiences structure. This first attempt took us on a journey across the African continent, around six countries, each from the different regions of the African continent including;Nigeria, Egypt, SouthAfrica, Mozambique, Kenya and Cameroon.


The first phase of the project was already two faced in terms of targets, it first seeks to cross the borders of our traditional four wall performances in the theatre space, to go in the pursuit of the populace, i decided to spread this research into three similar locations in 6 cities in Africa (Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg, Maputo, Nairobi and Yaoundé), organize happenings in public spaces varying from market places to malls, university surroundings to the beach, bus stops and boat terminals as well as the corners of the streets and other unimagined available spaces that could accommodate such manifestation. One important criteria we put into consideration is the possibility of balancing the gaps, by making sure that our happening travels from the locality of the low income earners to the rich quarters and also the young intellectual sects in the educational institutions, in order to have a broader view to this issue. The echo of such project already travels around, and in its own special way inspires a handful of professionals who saw it as a fundamental step towards concrete and logical development. 

The second phase which is the documentary film that followed such manifestation, the film is primarily directed to issues affecting the continent's arts world, but its primary audience lies amongst the young creators and the art's students anywhere in the world, which in no way limits its influential capacity to other domains and aspect of human development, which is more of the reasons why our diffusion cuts across different horizons, aiming at being part of the tours of my presently created solo piece, film festivals in the African world, Dance film festivals, documentary film festivals, alternative film festivals, libraries, schools, museums, cultural centers and all other imagined venues suitable for such presentation.

Our approach to the documentary film that emmanate from this tour, is powered by the juvenile energy we are presently bestowed with, by nature we ask ourselves questions about the future as much as we inquire from the older generation, a detailed account of their time for a better comprehention of our tomorrow. This film in its own special way sways between dance, interviews, reasoning, people and politics, aimed to combine entertainment with database, discussion, socio-political proposals, recommendations and policies of culture. Primarily committed to bringing about actual changes in specific communities towards arts and culture. All actions, aesthetics and pragmatics, stories and documentary explored in this film – are inscribed with questions of fundamental importance to the freedom of the young professionals. However, our choice of research was guided by a more fundamental impulse than the quest for mere traveling and performing.


This will perhaps send messages, meet the youth and young creators at their point of hunger, the young generation is hungry for life, we so wish to break bounds and go beyond the line drawn by the older generation, we jump on every thing that comes, and in a life where everything goes, we get confused about what to hold on to, Religion? Culture? Or the Media...? We imbibe the new culture and migrate easily towards easy life, run away from our social responsibilities and these will only lead to a further destruction of our nullifying "Self". Therefore as we seek this freedom, we however need a guideline.


This project is first an imagined solution to a very personal issue that bothers my soul as a young African creator, it speaks the mind of many youth of this 21st century, and breaks the bridge between the artist and his audience and vice versa.

I happen to be one of those trained as dancers in an environment where all inconveniencies and risks were involved, yet survived it, it however gives my originality and identity at the end. i proceeded to study in France where all began to appear as two realities apart, just as the north and south pole, this project was then borne out of my introspection on where i was coming from. This refusal to go back to my locality with all foreign influence, becoming a dictatorial artiste who can no longer perform without a theatre well acclimatized with perfect technicalities and constitution, yet wishing so hard to have the same conditions and structures in Nigeria, as i presently enjoy in France, in order to give credibility to this art form by inspiring confidence in local audience and youth interested in taking up this art-forms.


I strongly believe that there's a powerful connection between artists of all kinds and human rights. Artist and activist sometimes stand up against the establishment to say what needs to be said in the name of humanity. Artists are a leading voice for freedom - and for this project, it is freedom from fear, such fearless project could get us into trouble, but truth comes out of the light that we brought and the powerful often fear this. 
The French cultural centre and other international organizations has claimed a complete authority over the circumstances at which we operate contemporary dance locally, so the need to break bounds and refusal to hegemony brought about this project. This artwork communicates across boundaries of geography, politics, gender, race, cross all divides and belong to every individual in those public spaces.
Freedom of expression is vital for an artist's work and the human rights activist works to protect that very right and in the end the relationship is more fundamental. We experienced art together with our audience, it makes us feel human, and moves us to protect the human rights of others. Everyone has a voice and should use it... No one sees the world in exactly the same way, no one sees the world through the same eyes as I do, nobody will see how i think and feel about the world unless i express it in some way. The interactive moments we shared with our audience was another means of getting closer to them, I was ready to hear their stories as much as they might like to hear mine. This can awaken their consciousness in a way politics or radical activism may not, this on the other hand inspires both fellow artistes and our audience, give self-confidence to people who believe in something but feel that they are alone.