2019: Peering into Possibilities for Nigeria’s Art Scene

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Yinka Olatunbosun gives a forecast of events and developments expected to make 2019 a tremendous year for Nigeria’s art scene

With the enveloping air of political campaigns and activities, the 2019 art calendar may experience a slow start as it is likely that the momentum will build into a fever pitch in the second quarter of the year. That has been the routine for some years and it is not certain things will change. When the surge of activities in arts and culture begins, art journalists struggle to spend quality time at each of the events as they often take place simultaneously.

For theatre practitioners, a lot of dynamics will make 2019 a memorable year. A leading theatre producer and director, Bolanle Austen-Peters, in December 2018 declared that one of her productions, Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, will be exported to South Africa this year on the invitation of the South African consulate. The musical, based on the story of the women behind the music of Fela, the Afrobeat legend, is the second contemporary musical from Nigeria to be staged in South Africa. The first musical from Nigeria to be performed on the South African stage in 2017 is Kakadu the Musical, written by Uche Nwokedi SAN.

Following the box office success of Queen Moremi the Musical, there are indications that the play will return during Easter holidays. According to Austen-Peters, many theatre buffs were displeased to know that most of the tickets were sold out days before the 12-day show commenced. In fact, two more runs were added to meet the demand for the performances but many still couldn’t get the tickets. Hence, this year, the play is expected to run during the holidays, most likely during Easter holidays.

Joseph Edgar, the produçer of Oba Esugbayi play, had also said that the historical play will return to stage in December 2019. Meanwhile, one of the most controversial stage plays of the year, “3some”, written and directed by Jude Idada, will be produced by Joseph Edgar in June at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos. The controversy around “3some” lingers because of the sexual theme and the graphic interpretation of the script. Besides, the live theatre is considered by some critical audience as far too sacred to bare too much details of a sexually explicit material even to a “forewarned” audience. The “3some” drama is rated 18 and it qualifies to be called a sex therapy for couples though its moral value is arguable.

For the rather quiet producer and playwright of Kakadu the Musical, television entertainment is his new toast. Having developed an interesting story for the television series showing on EbonyLife TV, titled “E. V. E.”, the legal drama series is one of the best developments in Nollywood’s history of its portrayal of legal intrigues. As a senior advocate, he has re-scripted Nigerian television using the right language and temperament of his characters in a fictitious commercial law firm thus making the drama series an x-ray of the scandals that beset the judiciary or in fact the entire legal system in Nigeria. The television drama scene is very competitive and really, time will dictate to the existing players that time is up for their painfully long television series and stock characters to be put to rest. Many of them may want to take a cue from Tyler Perry who recently rested the character of Madea.

For the music scenes there were a lot of comebacks in 2018. Timaya, Duncan Mighty, D’banj and 2Baba made top charting songs in the previous year but overall, there is a rising degree of mediocrity in lyricism, professionalism and artist’s personal music portfolio. Whilst collaborations are great in producing hit songs, it makes music artists lazy and this explains in part why there are just very few music albums in the previous year in Nigeria’s popular music scene. Instead of developing international standards of live performance, many artists still engage in lip-syncing and stroll into view of the audience without any dramatic game plan. Music artists across the globe have appropriated different stage crafts to make artistic entrance. Nigerian artists are in dire need of creative directors for their performances and concerts. In 2019, concert figures will likely dwindle as more music fans may be bored with the same old performance styles, with the exception of prospecting baby mamas.

For the visual art scene, Lagos Island will remain the hub of art exhibitions, artists’ talk and previews. Ake Book and Art Festival will break the tradition by situating the annual event at the city’s capital, Ikeja. The private sector will still be a driving force in the visual art scene as the first major privately owned museum of contemporary art will be launched later in the year by Otunba Omooba Yemisi Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) in partnership with the Pan-Atlantic University, Ibeju-Lekki. All the sculptures that are inside OYASAF garden are likely to be moved to the museum. Shyllon, a foremost Nigerian art collector has donated many of his sculptures to good causes including Freedom Park, Lagos during its beautification process. Also, another museum of photography is being executed by Frank Oshodi in Lagos and is quite close to completion.

For the literary art scene, there will be a private sector intervention in the creation and replication of open air libraries to revive the reading culture. Interesting conversations around books will be stirred during the Lagos Book and Art Festival, an annual literary series which features book and art exhibitions, authors and publishers’ talks as well as music concerts. Other festivals that will be showcased this year include the Lagos International Jazz Festival (LIJF), Lagos Jazz Series and the Lagos International Poetry Festival (LIPFEST).

For the movie scene, there will be a resurgence of new movies by Nigerian movie producers. There will be more competition in the film industry and the audience will be more informed to discern when a movie is just a production with a lot of hype and when it reflects true professional standards.
There is no gainsaying that in general, the cinematography, especially in the area of picture quality has improved but one cannot say the same about the scripting or editing, even with some of Nollywood’s acclaimed box office hits. Casting directors, performance coaches and screen writers will soon be in high demand because if the movies do not pass the “litmus” test, Nigerian movie producers will remain a part of the cheering audience at international film festivals and not the cheered.