By HENRY AKUBUIRO
FOR two days in the mega city, pulsating drumbeats rent the air. Animated dance steps pounded Lagos. Chants and mellifluous voices blended in harmony. Onlookers stirred and got rooted to the spot, forgetting their destinations in the meanwhile. Some sang along; some lip-synced to the medley; some shuffled their feet; motorists cast curious glances, overwhelmed by nostalgia. You could pick a whiff of the city’s golden jubilee in the air from a distance. An ecstatic onlooker screamed as he danced away, “This is free entertainment!”
Guerilla theatre is ever stunning. Guerilla, in Spanish, means little war. In theatrical events, it typifies the act of spontaneous, surprise performances in unlikely public spaces to an unsuspecting audience. These performances intend to draw attention to a political/social issue, deploying carnivalesque techniques.
Historically, it is a form of guerrilla communication originated in 1965 by the San Francisco Mime Troupe, who, in spirit of the Che Guevara writings from which the term guerrilla is taken, engaged in performances in public places committed to “revolutionary sociopolitical change”.
Recently, in Lagos, guerilla theatre was showcased to unsuspecting city dwellers, but not tailored towards socio-political change. Created fifty years ago, Lagos, Nigeria’s former capital, is the golden boy of Nigerian politics. The famed Centre of Excellence is home to more than fifteen million Nigerians. Residents of the metropolis were sensitised of the yearlong celebration marking its golden jubilee with an enactment of guerilla theatre at locations in the city.
The city’s hustle and city was in full swing by midday when the drums rolled out in front of the State Secretariat at Alausa, Ikeja on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. In a moment, a large crowd had surged to the location. The free flow of traffic was threatened as drivers crawled deliberately to see what was going on. It was a riveting sight peppered with a colourful traditional ensemble of the performers.
To set the tone for the perform was the National Troupe of Nigeria with traditional Lagos dances, including “Pose”. The second troupe, Footprints of David, took to the floor thereafter, performing, among others, “Eko Akate” (City of Wisdom). The latter concentrated on the contemporary versions of some Lagos traditional dances and traditional dances from elsewhere.
After more than 30 minutes of sheer entertainment, the train moved over to the Obafemi Awolowo Way roundabout to perform, with the National Troupe heralding the buzz with “Ajoyo” (Celebration) before the youthful troupe from the Footprints of David upped the ante with electrifying dance steps. It provided momentary fun for the onlookers who got the message that Lagos was in a celebratory mode.
Arnold Udoka, the Artistic Director of Dance at the National Troupe of Nigeria, who represented the Director of the National Troupe, Akeem Adejunwo, told The Sun Literary Review: “The brain behind this is to enlighten Lagosians and also the public to become aware that Lagos is already celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. So, the cultural aspect of Lagos is what we have performed.
While the “Ajoyo” dance was meant to celebrate the city, Udoka said that of the Footprints of David was meant to celebrate the youth with a potpourri of dances from all parts of the country. “Lagos is the centre of Nigeria,” he explained, “with people from all parts of the world. No matter where you come from, we are all Lagosians.”
“You can see that some members of the public are even performing with us. Already the spirit of celebration has already caught up with everyone. We thank the Lagos State governor for giving us the opportunity to meet the people at their workplaces. Some are even willing to drum with us. So everybody is willing and ready for Lagos at 50. ”
Seun Awobajo, the founder of Footprints of David, spoke in the same vein: “We have been able to satisfy the community about the rich culture of Lagos and the entire Nigeria. Our major focus in Footprints of David is to do a performance of children b y children. So, we are taking care of the children arm of the celebration as being mandated by Professsor Wole Soyinka to make sure we try, as much as possible, to show the people the rich culture of Lagos and Nigeria.”
Just like the previous day, Lagosians were stunned by the sudden explosion of drumbeats at the ever busy Allen Avenue roundabout, Ikeja, where the performers announced their presence with dancing flourish. In a short while, a crowd had collected. “Ajoyo” song by the National Troupe of Nigeria rent the air, exphasising the Lagos element of the popular Yoruba chant.
“The Oriki is basically Lagosian,” explained Husseini Shaibu,” spokesperson for the National Troupe of Nigeria. So engrossing was the performance that some members of KAI (Kick Against Indiscipline) momentarily threw discipline to the dogs as they abandoned their duty posts and began recording the ongoing performance.
The National Troupe’s spectacular traditional Yoruba ensemble with fitting abeti aja caps for the men and beads for women, caught the eyes of many. Following in the wake of that performance was the Footprints of David, who burst onto the stage with agility, dressed in wrappers tied round their waists and white tee-shirts and yellow bandana worn on their necks.
The frenetic dance steps were typical Calabar, just as the ensemble itself. They soon spotted black ekanitong masks as they began another set of dance interlarded with acrobatics. The onlookers were thrilled, and kept yearning for more even when the final coda of the drums had sounded at Allen Avenue.
At Maryland Roundabout an hour after, the guerilla theatre hit the neighbourhood like a freak. The two troupes repeated their performances, drawing a sizeable crowd. At the famous Ojoto Bustop linking Kudirat Abiola Way, the dancers and the drums made the afternoon livid with thrills. Lagosians momentarily forgot their worries, and became transfixed at the fractured peace.
The swansong of the day came at Agege with the same smooth, measured, experienced display of the National Troupe of Nigeria and the seductive, pyretic execution of the Footprints of David. If given the chance, many would like to conjure up the scenes every day. But wishes were not yet horses.