Title: 50 Years of Solo Performing Art in Nigeria
Author: Greg Mbajiorgu, Amanze Akpuda
Publisher: Kraft Book, Ibadan
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
2016 is a remarkable year for the subgenre of monodrama in Nigeria: it marked its fiftieth year of enactment on stage. In the intervening years, new performers have emerged and new techniques have been innovated. But, how do we aggregate this data yet present a compendium that would serve as a reference point for the golden jubilee? Step in Greg Mbajiorgu and Amanze Akpuda, and the rest is history!
Thanks to the two scholars, the documentation of 50 Years of Solo Performing Art in Nigeria has become a reality, and fills a yawning gap in this area of theatrical scholarship. First, the idea for this book was nursed by the lead editor, Greg Mbajiorgu, who, himself, is a solo performer, in 2014, when he wanted to organise a confab to celebrate 48 years of solo performing art in Nigeria. He was to collaborate with Dr. Amanze Akpuda, an enthusiast of solo performing art, to make the dream of the book crystillise.
Monodrama, as a theatrical form, features a single actor on stage, who plays multiple roles streamlined in the plot of a script. It, however, takes genius to execute this enactment, which is why solo performance is not for all-comers in the make-believe world. From ancient griots, masquerades to modern-day comedians, monodrama has evolved in this part of the world, which this book, in part, validates.
50 Years of Solo Performing Arts in Nigeria is segmented into nine sections. While the first four sections are exegetical testaments of the evolution of monodrama in Nigeria, the last five chapters are essays and interviews on specific monodrama practitioners and their works. This offers us a rare opportunity to juxtapose or approximate each of major practitioners and also explore the possible synthesis.
While the first section dwells on the theoretical and proto-historical/pre-generic foundations of monodrama, the second section focuses on meta-theoritical, comparative, analytical and generic studies. In the third section, a searchlight is beamed on pioneer Nigerian soloists like Betty Okotie, Tunji Sotimirin and Funso Alabi; while, in the fourth section, there is a focus on directing the monodrama script.
The works of four major practitioners studied by different scholars in the concluding sections of this book include Greg Mbajiorgu’s The Prime Minister’s Son, Inua Ellams’ The 14th Tale and Untitled, Binebai’s My Life in the Burning Creeks and Karina’s Cross, and Akpos Adesi’s Whose Daughter am I?
These playwrights, as well as Tunji Sotimirin and Tunde Awosanmi, inspired lengthy conversations on their fidelity to monodrama all these years. The youngest of the practitioners, Ndubuisi Nwokedi, who goes by the stage name, Mbem Ijele, equally contributes a chapter on his emergence as a one-man solo performer. Thus, what we have here is a hybrid of solo performers with intrinsic nutmegs and variegated nuances.
Contributors to this publication include some of the best scholars in theatre and literature. The big names include Professors Kalu Uka, Ahmed Yerimah, Chimalum Nwankwo, Ademola Da Sylva and Emeka Nwabueze. Other notable contributors include Onyebuisi James Ile, Chike Okoye, Ben Tomoloju, Amanze Akpuda, Awosanmi Tunde, among others. In all, there are 36 contributors to the first edition of 50 Years of Solo Performing Art in Nigeria.
Moses Idowu’s essay on “Words of Power, and the Power of Words: The Spoken Word as a Medium of Vital Force in African Cosmology” is the opening discourse in the book, followed by Emeka Nwabueeze’s “The Griot as Solo Artiste: Aesthetics of Performance in African Folk Art” and Chike Okoye’s “The Igbo Mask as Solo Performer” in the first section of this unique whooper. The historical basis of these essays situate the matrix of the Nigerian soloist from the pristine, with forerunners in the griots, masquerades and ritual folk art.
Griots, announces Prof Nwabueze, exist in almost all African societies, but are quite predominant among the Mandinka, Bambara, Hausa, Igbo, Tukulor, Wolof, Dagoniba, and the Mauritanian Arabs. As he reveals, “The griot is not only a repository of knowledge … but he embodies many things at the same time: historian, storyteller, singer, poet, musician, traditional leader, social adviser, satirist, or political commentator” (p.22).
The talent and tradition of the solo performer is the preoccupation of Professor Kalu Ukah in the second chapter of the book, “Meta-theoretical, Comparative, Analytical and General Studies”. In tracing the tradition of performative art in Africa, he cites African Dances, a book by Geoffrey Gorer, an English anthropologist, who travelled across the length and breadth of West Africa in early 20th century, and relives the ritual dance of Dahomey women, entrance and transported to a spiritual realm. Pointing out the basic characteristics of the performative arts in Africa, Ukah says, as a group art, it usually involves crowds on stage, in the dance, in the carnival.
In “The Nigerian Responses to the Monodramatic Tradition and the Culture of Solo Performance”, Amanze Akpuda offers the proto-history and origins of solo performance and monodrama in Europe and Africa, while isolating the areas of dissonance from the Homeric precursors to the modern.
Chimalum Nwankwo’s “The Colony and Post-Colony, Monodrama and Minimalism: Reflections” is also illuminating. From the deployment of bastard imaginaries by the west in its ambiguous, forceful civilisation of Africa, which he locates at the beginning of his essay, he substantiates minimalist intervention in art, for instance, with American musicians of the 1960s to the domestication by Mbajiorgu, of ideological forms in many faces of the necessary reconstruction and firming up required to fill up the utilitarian desiderata in African politics. Needless to say, this is just a fraction of what is contained in this seminal tome, which bellows attention.