It was a good dose of nolstagia for this writer to be part of the audience that watched the Niger Delta ensemble in performance at Eko Hotel and Suite, recently. It was exactly eight years ago since this writer had seen the lead actors, Francis Omoh and Nelson Alexander-Akari, way back in Bayelsa State. With a lot of strained effort, it was tempting to bolt for the backstage at the end of each scene. Omoh and Akari had been members of the Bayelsa State Council for Arts and Culture and are good mentors to young performers. Both natural actors, all eyes were on them as they paddled their make-believe canoe back and fro the stage in one of the opening scenes. They encountered foreign culture but remained resolute in sticking to their indigenous life. They demonstrated this by teaching their own people some traditional dance steps and that formed the plot of the piece.
Seki, a play with exquisite set design and beautiful props, was created and directed by Yibi Koko. Sponsored by Heritage Bank, it is an assemblage of traditional dances from the Okrika people in Rivers State. Seki, an official entry to the 10th anniversary of the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta Georgia is made up of five different masquerade groups set to recreate the indigenous response to the struggle in resistance against foreign culture and the promotion of indigenous culture. The director is a graduate of Theatre Arts at the University of Port Harcourt who, in the past decade, had served on different boards, committees in the Creative and Tourism industry and as a creative consultant as well as set and production designer.
But against what many in the audience must have anticipated, it is not a conventional drama piece. No doubt, Seki had all the elements in drama namely setting, characters, symbolism, language, audience, theme but it seemed to lack a well-developed plot in its deliberate use of few distinct characterizations to tell the story. Every drama should have a conflict. For Seki, the conflict came with the infiltration of Western culture in the lives of the Africans who are represented by the Okrika people in the Niger Delta region in the performance. Yes, there was a narrator (Yibo Koko) who interrupted the rhythmic flow of dances in the performance just as it is in literature with authorial intrusion. Yet, a logical storyline didn’t run through the series of dances such as Owembe, Owu-ama, Ojongo-owu and iria dances. However, the morale of the dance ensemble is to evoke interest in the tradition dance rituals of the Okrika people while reminding the audience of the roots of drama itself, namely, rituals.
It took about three weeks to stage the performance. Being a production that highly demanded aesthetic details, a large chunk of the budget was vested in building costumes and stage props for the dancers. In a private chat with this reporter, the director disclosed that the opening scene was an impromptu performance as no one anticipated the early arrival of the Minister of Information, Alh. Lai Mohammed at the evening show who described Nigeria as African entertainment powerhouse.
“Seki showcases the rich culture, dances, language and costumes of the Okrika people in Niger Delta. Our country Nigeria is indeed blessed and we are unique as a people of different ethnicities and cultures who are united by the common collective art of creative resources. This is why we must celebrate the best of our culture. It’s our history, identity, collective humanity, creative diversity and cultural creativity. Also, we must always seek to emphasise our nation’s determination to rise above our perceived challenges by reinforcing the common things that bind us as a people.
Beyond entertainment, this event is a veritable source of information education and cultural integration with one of the objectives to promote cultural antecedents and the development of community cultural awareness,’’ said the Minister. He also called on the public not to overlook any opportunity for showcasing and celebrating the various rich aspects of the national cultural heritage.