July 14, 2024

To think we encouraged youths not to ‘Japa’ in ‘Motherland’, but here I am, says UK Global Talent Migrant, Obende

  • September 11, 2023
  • 7 min read
To think we encouraged youths not to ‘Japa’ in ‘Motherland’, but here I am, says UK Global Talent Migrant, Obende
By Ozoro Opute
IS there a difference between literary ideal and real life situation? Does literature only create utopia while reality is what radically defines individual actions? Julius Obende, an astute actor, would find himself in this opposing bubble shortly after dexterously playing a part in Bolanle Austin-Peters (BAP Production) in the hugely patriotic musical, Motherland the Musical, a performance anchored on Nigeria’s continuing and how a country can navigate from failure to a new era of wellbeing, with her youth actively in the forefront pushing the boundary of political discourse. But stifling conditions in Nigeria would soon push Obende out and in the United Kingdom (UK), where irresistible Global Talent Migrant opportunity would soon beckon. He took his chance and is currently enmeshed in a Nigeria-inspired production, Ann Hibiscus that is touring many theatres in the UK.
In what seems like an open, ironic confession about why he had to leave his home country unlike many of his fellow youths who ‘japaed’ through all manners of irregular routes that often leave many dead and unaccounted for.
Obende would say, “To think that we encouraged the youth not to ‘Japa’ in the play ‘Motherland the Musical’, but here I am. Maybe we should dissect the term ‘japa’. For me, I wouldn’t say I ‘japaed’, but was offered an opportunity to migrate to an enabling country where my talent is more valued. Hence, ‘japa’ in my definition is when you desperately migrate from your home country to a foreign land with little or no plan of what you are going there to do, and that results into getting involved in illegalities.”
To Think We Encouraged Youths Not To ‘japa’ In ‘motherland’, But Here I Am, Says Uk Global Talent Migrant, Obende 2
In Motherland the Musical, Obende’s character raved against the older generation for betraying young people’s trust by running the country aground to the point of being irredeemable. His character would call for a bloody revolution if need to right the systemic generational wrongs that make the young ones hopeless and which force them to leave in droves to foreign lands for greener pastures that home fail to give them. But Obende isn;t so keen on the revolution that much and tends to postpone the evil day, as the last general election in Nigeria proved an abortion of what might have been.
“Blood of Jesus (jokes),” he exclaims when reminded about how passionate he was about a the possibility of a revolution to right the obvious wrongs. “This is a rhetorical question. I will just say perhaps that our generation or the ones to come,” will carry out the revolution needed to shake up the system, adding, “I wish a lot of things were different, but I will just say in summary that Nigeria as a whole needs systematic, structural realignment starting from the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. This would help put all the sectors to start working for the people also.”
Obende had genuine reasons to leave in response to an opportunity, and he hit it off immediately working on a production that has Nigerian motif in Anna Hibiscus’s Song, written by Atinuke, illustrated by Tobia Lauren, adapted for the stage and directed by Mojisola Kareem-Elufowoju and produced by Tom Dixon for Utopia Theatre. The cast include Saskia Rose, Malick Bojang, Maya Thompson, Althea Burey, Dorthea Darby, with Julius Obende playing multiple roles as Storyteller, Papa and on stage Musician. What his own government and country couldn’t offer him, he got through a foreign country and government to which his home country has complex colonial relationship, a colonial construct needing atonement.
Ann Hibiscus Song is the story of a young girl named Anna Hibiscus who lives in amazing Africa; Ibadan, Nigeria, to be exact. Anna Hibiscus is so filled with happiness that she feels like she might float away. And the more she talks to her mother and father and grandfather and grandmother and aunties and cousins about it, the more her happiness grows! There’s only one thing to do… Sing!
Told through music, dance, puppetry and traditional African storytelling, this theatrical adaptation of Atinuke’s much-loved children’s book promises to have audiences beaming from ear to ear. Suitable for children aged 3+ and their families, the performances will be interactive and colourful throughout to bring the stage and story to life.
To Think We Encouraged Youths Not To ‘japa’ In ‘motherland’, But Here I Am, Says Uk Global Talent Migrant, Obende 1
The play has been performed at various venues such as The Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres, The Montgomery, Sheffield, Terry Wright Community Hall, Sheffield, Verdon Recreation Centre, Burngreave, Sheffield, Stannington Community Centre, Sheffield, Riverside Library, Rotherham, Leeds Central Library, Leeds, Zest Centre & Sports Hall, Upperthorpe, Sheffield (totalling to 33 performances).
Of course, Obende experienced performance shock, but in a different sense. Not so much because he found it hard fitting in, since it’s essentially a Nigeria themed production, but the long run and multiple venues that wouldn’t happen in Nigeria, just yet. Also, he’s completely blown away by the audiences’ dedicated investment in the theatre, something sharply at variance with where he left behind.
“Performance shock?….,” he quipped. “Yeah! I have never experienced a production with such a long run to have most of the tickets sold out weeks before the start of the run. It does show how invested the people are in in the theatre.
“It feels so good to be in an environment whereby the theatre is so appreciated, not just by the makers or creatives, but also private organizations, governments, NGOs and the public contributing to it in many ways. Although I have only taken a tour to some of these theatres, but haven’t performed in them, because the first production I featured in was theatre in the round. Someday soon I will be on those stages and will be able to share my experience.
“As mentioned earlier, many seem to be invested in the theatre here in the UK compared to where I am from – Nigeria. Back home, most times we wait for at least 60% of our audience member to arrive even 30 minutes after the supposed show start time. But here, the audience is already in the theatre 15 minutes before the play starts.”
Working on some of his pieces and putting them on stage are high on his agenda, as well as fostering cultural exchange programmes between his current location and where he left behind.
According to him, “I am currently on a one-year contract with Utopia Theatre, as an Associate Artist and the plan is to develop or redevelop some of my ideas or already staged pieces like Ijakadi, Aro-Meta, and so on back in Nigeria, and making them bigger with every resources needed and provided by Utopia Theatre. Although there are no specific dates yet as to when they will be staged, but the paper works and brainstorming are already in process, and hopefully they will be premiered in 2024.
“Oh yes! In fact, it’s in alignment with the vision of the current company I work with. They only not engaged in cultural exchanges of performances, but also performers from the different bases where the work is being created. For example, Patrick Diabuah, Kehinde Bankole and Debbie Ohiri have been brought to the UK by this same company for exchanges.”
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