By Ozoro Opute
WHILE the political and economic indicators at home remain dire, Nigerian artists of various hues are making the country not only proud but actually rewriting its cultural dominance in the global sphere. Indeed, someone has quipped somewhere that Nigeria’s men and woman of culture are its greatest global ambassadors. The truism here is no longer in dispute. From literature to visual arts to music and then theatre, the augury is well documented for even the naysayers. So that when government remains deaf and dumb to the magic Nigeria’s cultural ambassadors are capable of conjuring on all spheres, these committed men and woman have continued to plough their trade in spite of government. For them government is an absentee father who only garners the accolade of a sperm donor.
Only last year the State of Georgia in the US handed the key of its state capital gates to Nigeria’s iconic visual artist, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya. That conferment makes the nonagenarian artist a citizen of the world, effectively an American citizen who can travel anywhere without the usual restrictions the Nigerian passport subjects many travellers at airports. It is through his artistic vision that has travelled globally that conferred on him that significant status. Onobrakpeya has been making art for over 60 years and still waxing strong, and the world celebrates him for it. He has taken his art to every available global arena and has enjoyed immense success for it. He is also the biggest mentor in his chosen area of artistic vision at home, with his Harmattan Workshop series at his Agbarha-Otor country home in Delta State that has spanned over 20 years extending the frontiers of informal art education. He continues to impact lives with his art and philanthropy.
Davido; Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy garnering accolades on global platforms
In the field of literature, they are legion who continue to fly the Nigerian flag in the global arena. Currently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie seems to be the strongest voice. Although Americannah is her last major literary work, she has been doing a lot of lectures around the world, explaining the Nigerian and African situation to her western audience that still sees Africa as place that does not even have libraries, but basically still living on top of trees. Adichie has her brief cut out for her where immortals like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka possibly stopped. It’s not an enviable position, but she’s up to the task of explicating her ‘dark’ continent to a western gaze that refuses to see the evidence before it.
And then comes Nigeria’s music scene which is perhaps the biggest exponent of the strength that the African continent embodies, but which is daily being sunk in the murky waters of political miasma. At the forefront of this musical renaissance are Davido, Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy. Of course, there are lots more, but these three acts stand out in the definition of Afrocentric music that the world avidly thirsts for. Last year at the World Cup in Qatar, Davido was one of the main acts. Coming on the heels of the excruciating loss of his son Ifeanyi, Davido rose to the historic occasion and gave his heart out in his performance. His was like a phoenix rising from the ashes to overcome a great personal tragedy. It was a grateful world that watched and listened to Davido.
Tiwa Savage did not disappoint either. Hers was even more historic and symbolic, as she graced the stage for the coronation of King Charles III, King of England, a podium that had trampled on the rights and dignity of the African man for centuries. Her performance was akin to writing back to empire: that we, the minions of yore, have arrived and you cannot do without us or ignore us! It was a powerful message of regeneration she sent to all axis of global evil represented by systemic racism, tribal bigots and all such cohorts that dehumanise her continent. Tiwa Savage raised the African flag aloft with her superlative showing that aggregated all that embodies the African musical philosophy and idiom: the African drum, the talking drum! She left no one in doubt that you leave out Africa on the global table at your peril, at your own loss.
And just a few nights ago on June 10, 2023 when the world turned to Turkey’s capital Istanbul for Europe’s greatest football assembly, and guess who grabbed the spotlight? Nigeria’s Burna Boy! He flew Africa’s musical flag at the closing event with his immersive performance. Only a week before the football fiesta, Burna Boy had an 80,000-capacity stadium sold-out concert in London, a feat only a few British major acts ever manage to accomplish. Burna Boy carried with him the weight of his country’s cultural and musical vision, and mesmerised a global audience to the immensity of talent rippling through Nigeria, nay Africa.
Brighton Fringe Festival 2023: Fusi Olateru-Olagbegi (left); theatre producer and Director of Lagos and Abuja fringes, Kenneth Uphopho; Nigeria Country Director of British Council, Lucy Pearson and CEO of Brighton Fringe Festival, Julian Caddy in Brighton
Only recently, Nigeria’s fast-rising theatre writer, producer and director, Mr. Kenneth Uphopho, was at the Brighton Fringe Festival, UK, with his sterling production, Esther’s Revenge. The performance emerged the best overall production winning The Brighton International Fringe Encore Award 2023, sponsored by Soho Playhouse of New York City. The duo of Kenneth and Brenda Uphopho of Pawstudios got the International Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Fringe. Brighton Fringe, UK, may not be the loudest cultural space, but the Uphophos have put in considerable time and resources to raise the bar in the area of growing theatre productions in the country with their Lagos and Abuja Fringe Festivals that provide platforms for young creatives to showcase their talents in all segments of artistic expression.
Taken together, including the many other smaller platforms on which Nigeria’s cultural ambassadors continue to ply their artistic trades, it’s safe to say that Nigeria’s global reckoning as destination of abundance of talent is assured. But how can this be sustained beyond just a few persons to accommodate the vast army of youthful and talented population? That’s the biggest question confronting industry watchers. How can more platforms of exposure be created to accommodate young ones coming up to also stake their own artistic claim? Who will spend the big bucks the likes of which only Big Brother Nigeria is capable of mustering to erect platforms to hone the abundance of young talents out there? This is the conversation the new administration must engage in by harvesting the brains of stakeholders in the sector, who have managed to do so much with shoe-string resources. What the examples of Davido, Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy show and what they stand for is belief in the capability within and investing in it to bring it to fruition. And the fruits appear sweet in all intents and purposes, from Qatar to London and to Istanbul, where these three musical acts consciously or otherwise flew the Nigerian flag. Of course, not forgetting Onobrakpeya in Georgia and Uphopho in Brighton, UK. The possibility is an endless carnival of sweet harvest!