The Songs of Freedom

05 May 2013

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Kole Omotosho

A Kole Omotosho’s stage play on post-apartheid South Africa re-examines the concept of Freedom. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Suddenly, the thrill of watching the vigorous and blurry movements of the dancers on stage begins to ebb. Such a pity! More so when the viewer is beginning to accept these colourful choreographed interludes as a welcome reprieve from the numbing series of dialogues.

The theatre section of the Ondo State Cultural Centre in Akure isn’t exactly capacity-filled. But it comes close. All eyes are – or should be – riveted on the stage performance of Kole Omotosho’s play, Yes and Know to the Freedom Chatter. This play – directed by Felix Okolo and produced by Odia Ofeimun –concludes the South Africa-based Omotosho’s 70th birthday anniversary celebrations.
Other activities, which included a colloquium and a photography exhibition, had previously struggled to make the ambience as festive as possible. This stage play, as the climax of the celebrations, now follows closely on the heels of an extemporaneous lecture by the cant-peddling Professor G.G. Darah.

The theme of this play might indeed have been inspired by the post-Apartheid South Africa but it resonates strongly among this Nigerian audience. Even the producer acknowledges in the events’ brochure that it “has been chosen for its contemporaneity”.
“Or call it liberation’s post-natality,” he continues. “Imagine it in the context of a country, not unlike Nigeria, undergoing change from military mayhem to what we may now ruefully describe as a distracted civilian regime.”

A distracted civilian regime... Many in the audience would readily agree with the producer, even for the fun of it. Naturally, they reason, it is the government, which takes the blame for virtually all the woes of the country. It is neither here nor there that the people themselves egg on corrupt officials.

Meanwhile, all the chatter about freedom, pro-democracy activism and the sanctity of the annulled June 12, 1993 elections have done little to improve the living conditions of the Nigerian masses.  Many were the Nigerians, who gladly saw the back of the last military regime in 1999. But, 14 years after, not a few have ceased to grumble and rue the bygone years. This attitude evokes that of the ancient Hebrews on the way out of the Egyptian bondage to the Promised Land.

To think that the agitation of the masses could sweep away undesirable regimes in North Africa! And that, decades earlier, a wave of black consciousness had burst the chains of colonialism across the continent. Southern African countries, once under the stranglehold of white minority regimes, soon became liberated.

Yes and Know to the Freedom Chatter takes a swipe at a society that flaunts great talkers as its beacons of hope. History attests to the havoc wrecked by these false shepherds, who lead their flock to barren wildernesses and whose great words are drawn from the repository of their low earthly experiences.

Thus, the spectre of imminent collapse looms over any society that has earned its political freedom. Guaranteed to collapse are all wrong human endeavours be it political, in economics, religious or social.

Does the concept allude to the right to material acquisition? Poverty still stalks the post-apartheid South Africa almost two decades after Nelson Mandela emerged as the rainbow nation’s first black and democratically-elected president. Ditto post-colonial and post-military era Nigeria...

Would a better distribution of wealth translate to freedom? The sedating staccato of chatter on stage, framed by colourful choreographed spectacles, conveys this impression. Does that imply more freedom in the economically-advanced Western societies?

Omotosho, exiled from the country of his birth since 1988, chants the mantra, “Dislocate or Relocate!” Nigerians, in other words, should neither get used to nor accept rubbish. He looks forward to when everyone would give up their generators in protest against the epileptic power supply. But, how indeed would a deserted Nigeria look like?

His call for relocation from existential problems – which translates to playing the ostrich – exonerates the would-be exiles from the rot in the system. These problems have to be blamed on a faceless system! Thus, the solution: abandon the sinking ship if you cannot captain it!

Back to the play: what really makes a people free? To aspire to something, a people must be clear about what it looks like. Otherwise, they wouldn’t recognise it even when they do get it. The gyre of confusion in the play hints at how nebulous the concept, “Freedom”, has become.

Freedom, those who know affirm, can only be achieved by each individual for himself. It consists solely in doing the Right things. This should explain the futility of the centuries-old struggle against the faceless enemy. The so-called revolutions of the past have failed because they fought the non-essential issues. No new attempt at improvement would escape the impending doom.

Kudos to the core cast, consisting of Mawuyon Ogun, Thompson Toritseju, Seun Kentebe, Toma Enakarhire, Omobolanle Atitebi and Rhoda Albert, for struggling through the hall’s poor acoustics to be heard. And the dancers? A laurel wreath for their unrepressed enjoyment of their performance impervious to the audience’s opinion.

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