Cover story for September 13 - 19, 2009
BY CHUKS NWANNE.
Born and raised in Lagos, dancer Qudus Aderemilekun Onikeku now considers himself a complete Lagosian, even when his parents originally hail from Abeokuta, Ogun State. “Until the age of 17, I had never stepped my foot out of Lagos. Despite my Abeokuta and Ijebu heritage, I still consider myself a full-time Lagosian.”
Qudus’ journey into the artistic world started at the age of five when he began to feel the hyperactive pulse and curiosity that sustains his adrenaline up till date. “I could vividly remember seeing a guy do a back flip during inter-house sport in my primary school. It’s not as if I’ve never seen better acrobats on TV, especially during Olympics games, but seeing someone close to me do it, gave me the audacity to attempt it again and again.” After series of falls, with injuries sustained, Qudus found himself jumping up and down in flips. “My flips sometimes raise the blood pressure of my mum and concerned elders around. This perhaps was the most honest period of performance for me, and in all I do, I still try to do everything to retrace that path again,” he enthuses.
With his kind of energy, Qudus described his primary school days as brilliant, yet he considers his hooliganism more dominant in those days. “I got pardoned most times for my brilliance,” he recalls. “It was a moment I really had to confront my energy by easing it on something external; the issue of positive or negative was not in my mind.” The decision by the mum of the young positively-rascal boy to move him from public to private school at the age of eight, finally paved way for the making of the Qudus of today. “I was taken to Brown Memorial Nursery and Primary School, Lagos; that was where I began to lose my old bad habits. After the entrance test, I was taken to Class Five instead of Four; I was glad that I would be finishing before my mates.”
Reality dawned on Qudus when he dropped from his usual first position in his former school to seventh. “This calmed me a whole lot; I realised that success is not served with crispy fried chicken and strawberry milk shake.” With the dream of becoming a Chemical Engineer at the back of his mind, Qudus approached his secondary education with more seriousness. “I once heard my siblings chat about how the oil workers live large. But that half-baked dream was flushed away when I discovered dance in my senior secondary. But instead of taking art courses, ego would not let me stay away from sciences. Yet, the only remarkable moment of my secondary school days was the fact that I was an active member of the Music and Theatre Art Club, where I was later the dance captain.”
By the time Qudus made up his mind to study Theatre Arts in the university, he met brick walls. “It was absolutely impossible to switch from the sciences to the arts, even when you can practically prove yourself; that was how I lost interest in the Nigerian educational system.” Left with no other option, Qudus began to seek knowledge in all possible angles. At a point, he became a regular at the French Cultural Centre workshops. He had a stint with the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, before joining the renowned repertory dance troupe, Gongbeat Arts, where he remained until he got a job with an Ibadan-based dance company, The Alajotas, at the age of 17. “This was an essential period for both my artistic and intellectual upbringing. With Alajotas, the stark beauty of being away from one’s family confronted me; I began to gain the individuality I’ve continually been denied”.
Meeting Heddy Maalem at the French Cultural Center in 2004, gave a lifeline to Qudus’ dance career. “Heddy happens to be one of my mentors presently. He approached me for a contract proposition and since 2004 till date, I’ve been a permanent dancer with his Dance Company based in Toulouse – France. During tours with Heddy, I would engage him in a whole range of discussions. He is a father figure to me and I trust him. He was the one that gave me the idea of studying in a Circus Arts School, when I explained to him how I had let down my merit list admission to study Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Lagos in 2003.”
After few research on Circus Art Phenomenon that began to take over the performing art scene of France, Qudus finally decided to give the idea a trial in 2006. “I went for the selection at the National Higher School of Circus Arts, and fortunately, I was selected amongst the 19 successful ones out of the over 120 that took part in the process. On getting to Lagos, I shook my networks a bit and I got the full scholarship of the French Embassy for the two years period of my studies.” After three years of acquiring knowledge in the field, Qudus has resolved to return home to begin his one-man dance revolution.
“While in Chalons en Champagne in my little apartment all alone for three years, I dreamt, I wrote and I talked to myself; sometimes, I recorded my words. The gateway to the dance revolution in Nigeria was clear in my head. The more I remained abroad, the more I get closer to the Nigerian reality.” In 2007, Qudus started with Do We Need Cola Cola to Dance? project, touring round Africa. By 2008, he planned making ewaBAMIJO the next step, but was really busy with traveling. “The same thing was about to happen in 2009, but I said to myself, ‘this must not go past 2009.’
During my previous returns to Nigeria from time to time, I would find myself in the midst of poets, musicians, comedians, writers, journalists, photographers, painters, sculptors, actors as well as dancers. But I realised that, there is no genuine link bringing all these art genres together in Nigeria. “In this present day, where boundaries are beginning to fall away between visual, performing, graphic and literary arts, Nigerian artistes are still feeling comfortable in their various corners. Most of my works have never been about just dance. No, you will always feel the space of visual art, music, new media etc in my works. So, this is what informed the notion of having an interdisciplinary arts festival.
“The international arts scene is really getting really vicious, lacking fresh air and very boring. With ewaBAMIJO, we are doing everything possible to make the Nigerian arts scene begin to set a new pace, with fresh breeds, inspired by whatever happens on Lagos streets, and will in turn affect whatever happens in the arts world.” According to the dancer, the idea of ewaBAMIJO is to negate all conventional ideas and misconceptions of what the Euro-American power players think our art-face should look like. “We are not here to romanticise our beliefs; we are here to create something entirely different that fulfills our socio-economic and socio-cultural needs.
With this edition, we want to renovate the theories and praxis of contemporary art in our part of the world, to depart from the all pervasive discourse and fantasies of the art world.” Organized in partnership with the Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos, ewaBAMIJO is scheduled to open October 27 through November 4. YK Projects, organizers of the event, has unveiled plans to make the event a bi-annual international festival. “We are not replicating or competing with other big arts festival already existing in Nigeria, but we seek to be a support and intellectual backing for the growing art network for Africans; ewaBAMIJO is more like a principle than any other thing. For that reason, we are going into a full partnership with the Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos. All the events linked to ewaBAMIJO shall be taking place around both venues.”
To Qudus, ewaBAMIJO will make all the difference. “We want to set the pace for ourselves to start. We don’t know how we are going to do it, but we believe in the power of dreams. We shall continue to dream until we see the change we hope for. ewaBAMIJO is not just about dance, it’s about the power of dream, its about hope, its about the dance industry, its about creating a sustainable dance market for the dancers yet to come, its about doing what we believe in and about inspiring confidence in those who could stand up against those bad habits that have hindered our collective development as a people.”