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With LEGENDS the Musical, Muson Centre channels past heroes to save the present

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For three days, theater goers in Nigeria will be treated to inspiring and spectacular stage performances when LEGENDS the Musical lights up the stage from October 19 to 21 at the MUSON Center, Onikan Lagos. The musical drama is a collaborative production of Seeing Through the Arts and Declassical Arts & Entertainment, in partnership with the 22nd MUSON Festival of the Arts.

Though, in the past few years, the genre has had rather trickling success in the country, nevertheless, there is a new sheriff in town that seeks to shake up the landscape and take the thrill a notch higher. The LEGENDS is outstanding for its masterful concern with the deeds of a-select African leaders and making their ancient, lofty achievements relevant to the 21st century African, in order to revive self-belief and reliance on their capabilities as a people.

In this musical revolution, five popular African heroes: Sango (Nigeria), Nana Yaa Asantewaa (Ghana), Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (Egypt), Shaka Zulu (South Africa) and Queen Amina of Zazzau (Nigeria), drawn from different African countries, must come together to save ‘Modaland’ from a common foe.

Segun Adefila is one of the lead characters saddled with the role of Sango. In this interview with him and Segun Dada, more light is shed on what the audience must anticipate at the show that is barely two weeks away from kick off. A theater veteran and artistic director– Crown Troupe of Africa, for Mr. Adefila, LEGENDS is a unique production for so many reasons.

Considering your background, what makes the LEGENDS unique?

First and foremost is the approach of the producer and director, these guys are phenomenal.  I have seen a couple of their works in the past– musical and then dances. For me, though my approach to theater is different, I find their approach unique because it is a huge attempt at looking where our arts should be focusing on at the moment. The idea of telling our own story in a language that can be understood by all generations.

When you hear the names of these legends, they wouldn’t be strange to you. And if you are young and don’t know anything about your culture or tradition, the way the idea of the musical drama has been deconstructed makes it easier for you to appreciate and understand. There is a somewhat level of blend and that is what I think our arts should be doing at the moment– repositioning all the materials we were given, recreating modern narratives from cultural or traditional narratives, and bearing in mind that, everything called traditional today was once innovations.

These are ancient leaders; how important are their past glories in today’s modern society?

All these things our young people look at and tag “old school” were innovations some years ago. LEGENDS is placing the whole of these under a new lens for us to reevaluate and then talk about who we are. There is the metaphor in it too, a lot of humor and spectacle. Ultimately, there are plenty things to take home from all of these ideas. Man is the solution to his problems. If there is any enemy to defeat, it is you, and once you can conquer the self, then, you are in control of every other thing. You become deified and gain ascendancy over everything. All of these legends we are talking about had some level of control over themselves, over the things they could do.

Popular people we venerate today such as pastors, we must go and find out some of the sacrifices they made to be who they are. They dare not do the things we as ordinary humans do and this already places them on a pedestal. It doesn’t mean they are flawless either but the ideas LEGENDS tries to explore and the reason for such endeavor are interesting to me.

The approach to tell our own story in our own way without too much attempt at appropriating western values. We are saying to the world that our Legends are the real deal. You could bring the Thor legend out of Sango, you could bring the different foreign legends out of ours but we are not bringing ours from your point of view. What we probably might do with our costume for instance, is a hybrid of ideas, to say listen, Africa is not isolated but developing with the rest of the world, which is a global village. We are developing with you but with lots of our rooms.

The idea of Sango for me is one of the most contemporaries of all ideas. Let’s take it from the dance, Bata dance is a contemporary dance till tomorrow because, people keep reinventing it and it responds and never gets stuck. Basically, it is about Staccato beat and movement.

Sango in today’s age and time would be the minister of mines and power because of his ability to conduct electrical energy. Mark Zuckerberg in about two thousand years from now would have become a legend due to his current innovative ideas. I have not been able to place Sango or any of the legends in the past with the way the script has been treated, I can only see them through a modern eye in the light of things that confront us.

A rising star in the industry, Segun Dada is quite a familiar name. In his words, LEGENDS is the best thing that has happened in a while. He plays the role of the South African warrior– Shaka Zulu, and shares his thoughts and excitement in this incisive conversation.

How has it been like in the rehearsal room bringing authenticity to your character?

I have done some musicals in the past which were great but the first time I read this script; the idea of bringing past legends and icons, and the concept of fusing them into the present era is fascinating. You want to know how these legends behave and of course, the story to fight one common foe is really charming. It has been good so far trying to tell the story and absorb the Zuu character.

Have you found the unique accent and sounds of the Zulu language difficult to learn?

I have had to take lessons, and do researches into the character, the accent, the pronunciations, bringing all of these together into the rehearsals. Working with Gbenga and Ayo has been really good. Basically, those are the challenges; giving life to this character. I am not South African but I am doing my best to create believability. here are three click sounds in Zulu language, fortunately, I don’t have too much of the click sounds in the character. Learning the accent has come natural to me being an African. I am really looking forward to the audience having a swell time while we do what we like doing and bringing authenticity to these characters.

I think the audience has not seen something like this before. It is a milestone and a groundbreaking effort going by the story and characters. Nigerians might have seen something on these legends individually, certainly not collectively in a musical drama and I think that is outstanding.  With the music and dance orchestrated by world-class professionals  like Ayo Ajayi and Gbenga Yusuf, bringing original music with popular music with singing inflection on the lines, a lot of emotions. This is packed and the audience will definitely have a swell time.