Port Harcourt Celebrates Centenary in a Carnival Air

15 Dec 2012

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The year winds down with festivals, from the South-East to the South South, the cultural fever is biting hard. CARNIRIV packs an extra punch with this year’s event coinciding with the commemoration of the 100 years existence of the City of Port Harcourt. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI writes

Traffic into Port Harcourt city on Sunday was quite high especially from the airport where tourists, returning indigenes and international performers streamed in for the week-long festivity. No small feat as top hotel brands in the city and other leisure outfits had a field day playing host but the icing of the cake was the on-going CARNIRIV, described as the one of the oldest carnival in Nigeria. Going into its 5th season since its revival in 2008 (established since 1988 and suffered a lull until its revival). 

Culture, music and intellectualvstimulation
The 2012 edition of CARNIRIV got off to an impressive start that Sunday with the colorful Childrens’ carnival later in the afternoon. Much more than a colorful scene, it provided a glimpse into Rivers sate rich cultural heritage, and the nimble hands and feet carrying out this pleasurable but exhausting task were excellent ambassadors as they carried out their task with professionalism and passion.

If the Childrens’ Carnival was much more than a promise of another rich socio-cultural showcase, the Carnival Praise Jam uplifted and inspired the added spiritual ambience for which Port Harcourt is renowned.  Even though it started an hour after schedule, the Praise Jam featured vocally-blessed gospel bands both locally and internationally. From the sonorous voices of the 100-force  Ensemble to Sotonye Omalle and partner operatic tenor, Praise Jam started on a fabulous note. With no gate-taking, tourists and indigenes came in their thousands to witness this fervent but entertaining worship.

The night ended with gospel music sensation, Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa with lots of tap dancing, clapping, waist and body movement, energetic display and singing of modernized folk-lore songs. The Grammy award winning group kept the audience on their feet all night and even if most of their songs were in their traditional zulu language, it was lost on the audience as they danced along.
Dressed in very colourful Dutch wax fabrics with beads, their music was best described by Martin, an indigene, ‘as a vivacious mix of peerless voices and hi-energy dance which is fun, glamorous, dignified, and deeply enriching”. However a few popular Christian tracks such as ‘halleluyah’, ‘this little light of mine’ etc were also a favorite with the audience.

A centenial celebration
With Christmas just around the corner, it is time to discard last year’s blues and get soaked in the carnival fun. But this year’s edition coinciding with 100 years of Port-Harcout as a city offered more than colourful attires, dance moves, interesting cuisine and other fun attractions associated with the carnivals. With the carnival theme being ‘’Reminiscing our past and consolidating our future’, a more intellectual aspect of the carnival, CARNIRIV 2012 Colloquium provided a forum for intellectual discourse on issues that border on the state and nation. Nobel Laureate; Prof. Wole Soyinka gave the keynote address of this A-list event took place on Monday. Prof Soyinka’s address dwelled on the theme ‘’Reminiscing our past and consolidating our future’’. He spoke on the need not to romance the past but to reminisce about it towards building a better future. ‘’To what is the evocation of the past, is it as a way of assessing our past or is it the symbol of the people’s dignity reduced to the vagaries of a few political elites.’ Culture is in itself not static and constantly evolves. Culture is also communal, spiritual and binds us together whether we belong to the church, mosque or shrine,’ he said.

Also in attendance was the deputy governor, Engr Tele Ikuru, Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Rivers state, Dr Nabbs Imegbu;
Director-General, Rivers State Tourism Development Agency, RSTDA. Other speakers include Prof JW Okowa, who spoke on ‘Fiscal federation and resource control in Nigeria’. Frank Ughuimoh who spoke on the ‘celebration of culture as a people of Rivers’.

Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers state was formed in 1912, it was formerly called Ngwocha before Lord Lugard named it ‘Port Harcourt’ because of its strategic business nature. A city of diverse nationalities, it is known as the oil base of the nation.

And the fun begins
The unique blend of culture, music and intellectual stimulation has been described as underlining the distinctiveness and multifaceted character of CARNIRIV as a global carnival brand compared to any similar carnival held elsewhere.

The night provided a different kind of entertainment, a rich mix of tradition and reggae. At the Carnival Village, Liberation Stadium, the carnivalesque ambience erased any doubts left of doubting Thomas. The crowd outside the stadium was huge and brisk business was going on as everything was sold from carnival memorabilia to food and drinks. Music blasting from loudspeakers and different games from snooker to CARNIRIV was officially declared open by the Engr Tele Ikuru, on behalf of the governor Rotimi Amaechi who was unavoidably absent.

After it was officially declared open, a retro version of the national anthem was given by Mercy, who also sang the theme song of the festival. Closely followed was the governor’s speech read by his deputy. Rhetorical questions are definitely a no-no with Port-Harcourt audience as they gave a resounding no to the deputy governor’s questions, where ‘yes’ would have been suffice with another kind of audience.

The governor’s speech included what to expect during the festival from the international aquatic festival to Ikere dancers. Salutaions to participants were not left out (23 local governments areas in participation and over 400 participants per local government area and 33 floats. The governor Rotimi Amaechi is the president of Treasure Base band.

Agbani Darego, former Miss World and ambassador of CarniRiv spoke to the audience about the festival after the deputy governor was done, almost inaudible initially, she spoke audibly towards the end of her address. Rich and captivating fireworks heralded the dance of fireflies. A folklore song with dancers holding brooms commenced their performance.  With over 60 participants including choreographers and drummers, their well choreographed dance steps to beats of talking drums kept the audience mesmerized. Mostlydressed in black, though some dancers wore colorful ensembles of gold and light blue, their firefly ornament dazzled as they performed.

Another fascinating performance was the masquerade snake dance. A boa-constrictor that comes out every 20 years and has become a very strong myth in Rivers culture.  The excited audience watched as the masquerade of this giant and long snake danced and moved to traditional music being played. The props behind this performance were an interesting one to behold.

By this time of the night, adrenalin was still high as more performers such as Gbenga olowu and Burna Boy came on stage. The organizers sensing the need to thrill the crowd more opened the gates to the inner sanctum of the stadium where the stages were to the public and the crowd moved in as the DJ started dishing out tunes.

If the audience were ecstatic when they got neared the stage, they went into a frenzy when Shaggy got on stage. For a city that prides itself on its rich Reggae heritage, Shaggy must have left with more fans than he had before, his performance was scintillating. Patra, the former dance hall queen gave a good performance but it paled near Shaggy’s. And Patra (Dorothy smith) who started Djing at the age of 13 is a ghost of her former self. In terms of size and swag, its obvious she’s way behind her time.

Shaggy, said he was proud to be part of the celebration, which is an event that pays tribute to our roots. With his band members and Patra, he arrived in port Harcourt on Sunday and left on Monday morning after his performance.

The cultural festival also featured a variety of indigenous and international displays. The Black African Music Festival (BAMFest)held on Wednesday, 12th December, featured celebrated Nigerian music acts, Tuface Idibia and Duncan Mighty. The artistes thrilled the crowd with a memorable performance.

Another main attraction was the “Ekere: Rhythm of the Tribes”, a display of the rich cultural heritage and glamour of the Rivers people in the 23 Local Government Areas. Each Local Government Area put of a show of glamorous costumes and captivating dance steps.

Other activities include International Aquatic Fiesta on Wednesday,  while the Heritage Parade and the Old Port Harcourt Town Groove respectively held on Thursday. The weeklong CARNIRIV rounded off with the World Peace Concert yesterday, 15th December.

According to Imegbu, ‘‘the government of Rivers State, over the past five years, has been consistent in its efforts to make CARNIRIV a tool for cultural revival; I mean culture in the broad sense of it.  That is, the articulation of the special values, customs and attitudes of the people into a whole sellable package. In Rivers State, we are a people founded on unique good values which we individually and collectively express in the way we live and interact with others. This ministry and the Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA) are collaborating to actualise the policy of the state government on cultural revival by according CARNIRIV its pride of place as a focal policy thrust of the Amaechi administration,’’ he said.

No doubt, CARNIRIV has its pride of place as a focal policy thrust of this administration as there were corresponding infrastructures on ground, from security to organization, CARNIRIV started on a good note.

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