THE management of Zmirage Multimedia Company (ZMC) has announced the passing of one of its international consultants, Vernon Shabaka Thompson, 65, who died Tuesday, July 4, 2023 in Saint Lucia, the Caribbean. He was said to have died of heart-failure-related complications. Until his death, Thompson was lead consultant and head of United Kingdom operations of ZMC, the frontline professional group in provision of technical support for theatrical and entertainment projects. Thompson was also oversighting the company’s operation in the Caribbean, a statement by the Producer of WSICE 2023, Joy Obuto Nweye, said.
It further stated that Thompson was a renowned specialist in carnival management around major centres of the world. He was for many years director of the famous Notting Hill Carnival in the United Kingdom, from where he was head-hunted by ZMC to serve as technical consultant to Calabar Carnival, in Cross River State, and later CARNIRIV in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He was reputed to have initiated and realised a major capital project called Carnival Village, which provided technical support to projects around the world.
According to Soca News.com, a regular mouthpiece for carnival community in the Caribbean, “While he was the director of Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre, he was instrumental in the formation of the Association of British Calypsonians (ABC, now ACASA) and the London Calypso Tent. He was involved in many carnival arts projects in the UK, the Caribbean and Africa. Soca News will carry a full obituary in due course.”
Vernon Shabaka Thompson
The CEO of Zmirage Multimedia Company, Dr. Teju Kareem, in a statement, recalled how the intervention of Thompson changed the culture and landscape of carnival production and management in Nigeria, and in Ghana, by extension. According to him, Thompson was a highly resourceful professional whose service would be sorely missed not just by ZMC, but also the Nigeria carnival production community.
According to Kareem, “At ZMC, he spearheaded most of our operations in the UK and the Caribbeans and was a regular visitor to Nigeria, especially attending the yearly Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) programme through which, in the past 14 years, we not only celebrate the annual birthday anniversary of the Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, but also contribute to the grooming of the next generation of leaders through our annual essay writing competitions for secondary schools and cultural advocacy sessions.
“As a matter of fact, he had just – some 16 hours before his shocking passing – submitted his travel itineraries to the Nigeria High Commission in the UK to commence his travel to Nigeria to join us in Lagos and Abeokuta for the 2023 edition of WSICE, which holds July 13-15. It is such a traumatic thing to learn of the sudden death of such a major contributor to the WSICE dream to continue nurturing the future of our humanity. Our universe will miss his gentle and Africa and black cultural advocate soul.
“We commiserate with his family and all the people he left behind in all the stations where he operated and registered irrepressible impressions and impacts on our collective humanity.”
Co-Executive Producer of WSICE, Director of Global NewHaven, and Illinois, US-based professor of theatre, Ojewuyi Professor Segun Ojewuyi, stated, “Shabaka was a good man. A true collaborator and man of the arts. Shabaka never left the motherland forever chorded through the navel of Africa to the world.”
Thompson, popularly known as “Shabaka”, was a cultural leader with extensive experience in carnival, theatre, event management and production, working over three decades in Canada, Trinidad, the United Kingdom and Africa. Until his death, he was an Executive Director with Zmirage UK and artisan consultant and entrepreneur with De CORE Ltd, UK. He was an ardent carnival practitioner, who produced costumes for Notting Hill, Nottingham, Calabar (Nigeria) and Trinidad carnivals.
As the Director of London’s leading African Combined Arts Centre, the Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre (London), Shabaka initiated and realised the Carnival Village project for the development and sustenance of Carnival Art in London and all its related industries, a project of which he was the initial Chief Executive. He was instrumental in initiating the London Calypso Tent, in partnership with the Association of British Calypsonians in 1992 (now ACASA). In 2004, he received an Arts Council Fellowship Award for two months study of the Miami Carnival. In 2005, he was the Acting CEO of the London Notting Hill Carnival.
Shabaka lectured in schools, colleges and universities, conducted Theatre in Education (TIE) workshops in primary and secondary schools across the United Kingdom, and presented papers at national and international Carnival Arts conferences. His theatre involvement incudes acting and directing spanning various countries. He was currently completing a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Carnival Arts Studies, having previously attained his Master of Arts in Carnival Studies, both at The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
Shabaka’s vision was to contribute to the economic liberation of African people through empowerment, leadership and the development of sustainable institutions and communities.