Artistic Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria, Mr. Akin Adejuwon, highlights the positives of the troupe’s recent trips to Egypt and Brazil in this interview. Excerpts:
What informed your trip to Egypt?
While we are trying to get our local audience, the mass populace of Nigeria informed about the role of the performing arts in national development by bringing to their awareness what the National Troupe represents, we need also to engage ourselves with the other part of our role which is being Nigeria’s cultural face to friendly foreign nations.
Therefore, when we had the opportunity through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, to go and represent Nigeria at the third Conference of the Drums in Egypt, an engagement that Nigeria had been involved with in the past organised by a private organisation and the government of Egypt, we were obliged though circumstances really were counter to our attending. The major one was funding.
However, because the idea was mooted by the ministry and we were thought to be the most appropriate organisation to represent Nigeria, I thought whatever it takes I have to go. So we did all kinds of gymnastics, financial and otherwise, and got ourselves aboard the aircraft to Egypt. We got to Egypt and discovered that it would have been a big miss for us if we hadn’t attended.
Nigeria was so well represented that even before the conference ended, we discovered at the opening that we were the only sub-Sahara Africa representative present. Most participants were from Europe and the Americas. As usual, our performance was energetic, so African and powerful that on the opening, we were virtually drafted to be carrier of the anthem because there was an anthem which involved beating of very heavy drums.
We took a lot of drums and very colourful costumes that we kind of stole the show and without us asking for it, the organisers arranged some extra performances for us outside Cairo which was not included in our itinerary. By the second to the last day, I had gone over to Brazil but there was such frantic effort to get the National Troupe of Nigeria to extend their stay so that they would be able to perform for the President on the closing day.
Sadly, the closing day happened to be the day we were booked to return and it was such a frantic communication between me and the organisers in Egypt. They volunteered to pay for the extension; give us extension of stay and accommodation for three extra days but because I had left and the communication was bad, that fell through. It really was a wonderful, exhilarating stay in Egypt and they are looking forward to having us back. And sincerely, I’m looking forward to going back to Egypt because as you know, Egypt is a very historical place and in things of arts and artefacts; visual and performative, we share a lot of similarities.
What did you achieve with the Brazil trip?
The Brazilian trip was also premised upon invitations that we had received in the past and which was also hinged upon an MOU that had been signed between the Brazilian Culture Ministry and the Nigerian culture ministry in 2010. It stipulated that we would have cultural exchanges, educational and artistic collaborations amongst others.
My former employer, the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife had done quite a lot to service the MOU in the academic arena in the past and through the linkage officer, Dr Felix Omidire who I had book appointments and further the relationship by talking to the Ministry of Culture in Brazil and they extended invitations to us.
They were looking forward to me bringing the National Troupe of Nigeria, which I would have loved to do but we virtually tip-toed out of Egypt and there was no place for me to take 17 artistes over to Brazil. I had to take that officer on my business ticket and on my estacode because he’s my translator, I don’t speak Portuguese and he was very magnanimous to come with me. And the results were also very, very rewarding and interesting.
We got into Brazil and against all odds because there were resignations and all kinds of issues between the people and the Brazilian government at that time; and the fact that we arrived in Brazil on a public holiday, arrangements were made for us to meet the government and the very important performing arts bodies in Brazil, particularly Salvador.
We were able to have meetings and agreements towards working with the National Theatre of Brazil, bringing our troupe and for them to also collaborate with us on performances and taking productions that emanate from such collaborations into the Americas and some other parts of the world sometime next year.
I was also able to visit the Museum of Anthropology at Salvador. Having been a curator, I found that aspect also an extra because everywhere I went, you couldn’t really separate the performing arts from the visual arts. So I took the opportunity to see the curators and Professors in charge of the Museum of Anthropology and also discovered that they had plans of touring the United States and Europe with art materials and artefacts, most of which had their origin in Yorubaland.
The Orishas of Yorubaland which are very well represented by some carvings by a very prominent Brazilian carver. They also had artefacts that had been collected over the years, in the early 50s and 60s and when I discussed with them about what I was in Brazil about, they readily extended hands of fellowship and couldn’t wait for me to give them a schedule which of course would have meant me committing myself on finances which we do not have.
So I will say that except for finances, that tour to Egypt and Brazil was fruitful. They were so rewarding that if I had the personal money, I would be planning taking my troupe to Brazil now because everything that is Yoruba, especially in Salvador, is so very important to both the people and the government. The patrimony of Brazil is about 45 per cent influenced by Yoruba culture.
I also explored other areas of collaborations including extant ones like the Nigerian House donated to the Nigerian government by Brazil. The state in which I met the house was very unpleasant and I also tried to reach my colleagues, the Directors General that matter, discussed it with the Permanent Secretary when I arrived and I am hoping that the National Troupe of Nigeria can get to do something about the Nigerian House. We had meetings also with very notable private performing arts institutions in Salvador including Ballet du Imale and the Olodum. These are the very interesting things we were able to do and which I hope I will develop upon as the environment permits as time goes on.