Heritage Africa Revives Arts in Abuja

Yinka Olatunbosun

The bead-decorated dancer glided across the stage in slow, snake-like swangedance, which is associated with the Tiv traditional dancers. Called Kwagh-hir theatre, the late-night spectacle at the newly-built amphi-theatre at Heritage Africa Village Square (HAvis) signalled a looming season of cultural renaissance in Abuja.

The creative community in Nigeria’s Federal Capital City of Abuja will give their counterparts in other parts of Nigeria a run for their money with the birth of this new cultural centre.

It is atypical, with perks such as a nine-hole golf course, beautiful Jabi lake view, a towering glass-house exhibition hall as well as a 1000-seater amphi-theatre designed for multi-purpose use; add to these a proposed studio room with film editing kit.

A guided tour of Heritage Africa was recently championed by Moses Ayom, a household name in hospitality and construction industry. Ayom was compelled to invest hugely in the arts when the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo declared a tax waiver for the creative industry.

Osinbajo has been very vocal in reiterating the contribution of the creative sector to Nigeria’s economy. At a recent relaunch of the Dome in Abuja, Osinbajo compared Dubai and Nigeria, remarking that the former draws up only 20 per cent of its revenue from oil. The creative sector reportedly contributed 2.3 per cent to the Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product in 2016, that is, N239billion.

Ayom must have glimpsed a huge economic potential in art as well when he sold an art work for an undisclosed mouth-watering sum some years ago. Before then, his involvement in art was peripheral, enjoying the applause of a dancer in his school days.

As one who, personally benefitted from the arts, from petty art trading to contracted supplies, giving back to the creative community is Ayom’s desire and he chose a most improbable location, Abuja.

Many had thought that art is not as vibrant in Abuja as it is in big cities like Lagos and Ibadan. The reality is that there is a significant population of artists across the genres living in Abuja who do not have a rallying point like the Lagos’s Freedom Park or Terra Kulture.

Certainly, there are a few art galleries in Abuja but Heritage Africa comes with a broader spectrum, serving as a platform of creative expression in multiple genres of art such as performing, visual and literary arts.

Heritage Africa is created simply as an empowerment centre targeting creative youths in arts and crafts.

Ultimately, the vision is to curate creative programmes that can reach out to far-flung corners of Nigeria such as the IDP camps. The facility is close to completion with buildings for resident writers called, “Writers Village’’.

To transform Abuja from being construed as a sleeping city of civil servants to a city of creative charm, a gala night was staged for the first time in August as a pilot performance night at the centre’s amphi-theatre.

How refreshing it was to welcome back to life puppeteers, masqueraders, oral story tellers of the Kwagh-hir theatre fame! Dating back to early 20th century, Kwagh-hir theatre articulates music, dance, drama, folklore and comedy. The total theatre experience was heightened by a dramatic storytelling from Gondo Edwards and the use of masks.

The educative aspect of the Heritage Africa Initiative is anchored by the renowned Professor Duro Oni towards developing rich cultural programmes through the centre’s team of creatives. Oni, a former Director for the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) commended the private-sector driven initiative during a press conference held to announce the impending arrival of the centre.

“The creative industry has been yearning for the private sector to make an input,’’ he began. “For many years, we clamoured for the National Endowment Fund. It has yet to take off. That is why several eggheads, other stakeholders have assembled here in Abuja to come up with the mission, aims and objectives of the Heritage Africa Village Square.

“The centre is set to empower practitioners and make arts employ many youths. There will be training facilities and there is already an MOU with a Chinese institute on language training and exchange”, he said.

At the moment, finance is the largest obstacle to a rapid realisation of the dream of this audacious cultural centre in Abuja which will be commissioned later this year. Still holed in the pipeline is the proposed African Fashion House, a showroom of exquisite Nigerian and African fabrics sourced from indigenous communities. Situated as a family-oriented home of cultural entertainment, Heritage Africa will also be the first privately owned cultural centre that makes room for a media centre.

Other intellectuals involved in developing ideas for the centre include Professor David Ker from Nassarawa State University and culture consultant such as Jahman Anikulapo with Ier Jonathan Ichaver as lead consultant.

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