Global, Black and African Theatre Reading Group

Global, Black and African Theatre Group

The global, black and African theatre group is a regular

Group that aims to bring people together to read plays in a convivial atmosphere – whilst also increasing knowledge (both ours and yours) of the broad diversity of theatre in the world, we have an emphasis on black and African playwrights, but not exclusively so – with the aim of including a very broad spectrum of experience as developed by the playwrights of the world. We welcome all participants irrespective of ­­­­­­­­ gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, income, or physical ability; whilst this is a play reading group, the emphasis is on amateurs and enjoying the text in a playful manner, acting is part of it, but not the entire point – and no one should feel uncomfortable about joining because they feel they can’t act.

Why are Nigerian buildings so hot?

One of my recent observations has been how hot many Nigerian buildings tend to get without an air conditioner – and it seems perverse that with the sun being the one environmental factor we can take for granted on the continent and architecturally this wasn’t factored into modern building methods.  It prompted a conversation with architect Giles Omezi, founder of the architecture and urban design firm, Laterite. Below is a summary of our conversation, which started off from my inkling that cement might be a problematic building material.

Is cement the ideal building material?

Cement is not the problem; actually it’s a very responsive material. Essentially the issue you have is that buildings are not designed around the peculiarities of our environment – anymore.

What is the problem?

What you’ll find is that the old buildings – like you would find in many a village, are always very cool; In the rural areas, traditional buildings are responsive to the sub climates they exist in; it’s blazing hot outside – and you find that you step inside and the space is cool – and dark. That’s because the principles used are to build around the constraints of the environment.

But are there examples in Modern African architecture?

Very much so yes, you can build modern buildings on those principles, so that the building benefits from passive cooling; the whole tropical architecture movement actually started very much as an English thing – and very much before the introduction of air-conditioning as a major technology. So for example if you go to a number of the buildings at University of Lagos or Ibadan from the 1960s – you will find that they are cool, because of the way they have been built – to be spaces in which there is passive cooling. These were built by a variety of architects, for example, Godwin Hopwood, Maxwell Fry & Jane Drew.

Are there examples of African architects?
Yes, the work of Demas Nwoko – his buildings are technically accomplished, and designed to be cool even in the heat; there are examples – though not many examples of African contemporary design. For example, we’re also building this school in Benin – which is designed to cool passively – single storey quadrangles, simple straightforward, passively ventilated, utilising solar energy and collecting rainwater, all laudable environmentally sustainable intentions, but one can argue, critical in our environment.

Is the problem architects or consumers?
The problem is that we don’t engage with architecture so much in Nigeria – except in terms of aesthetics; clients are resistant to suggestions that might seem over-elaborate – and we tend to design with off the shelf technical solutions, for example the air conditioner, rather than building around our constraints, which are the heat and other factors. Then there is the cultural and aspirational factor, technology is viewed as somewhat progressive, therefore your average client won’t permit any experiments with passive energy buildings.

So it’s possible to build with cement, and get a building that cools without air-conditioning?
The short answer? Yes



Review – Moremi

 Crown Troupe of Africa’s rendition of the famous Yoruba myth of Moremi, the lady who saved the people of Ife from the Igbo people (not to be confused with the Igbo people of South-East Nigeria) – is youthful, exuberant and effectively crowd-pleasing. The story, relocated to an Ife that serves as metaphor for the wider Nigerian polity, is laced with clever contemporary references that keep the dram from being overly worthy. The conceit works well, in most respects, and provides the most gratifying elements of entertainment in the play. As a social critique of contemporary Nigeria, the narrative is a little confused – but it does pointedly and with humour highlight the degree to which youth are sacrificed to maintain the social order, without following through with the implications of this critique. More delightfully, the production makes good use of a minimal set, and inventive transitions with music to gives us a sense of the mise en scene and symbolic life of the Ife Kingdom – most elegantly in a brief musical number for one of the river deities.

Though it remains true to the myth, the tragic element of the Moremi story is under-utilised – the salient fact of a mother giving her only son is rather haphazardly worked into the story, and we have very little time to reflect on it in the course of the play; what does sparkle are the actors, and the musical numbers, bar a few bum notes. Providing lots of comic relief is the love sub-plot between Moremi’s son, Oluorogbo, sometimes to the detriment of the play – and the hapless emissaries to the Oba, and their unfortunate encounter with Ife’s market women.

In general, the pacing of the production is sure footed – and it is only at the end when we are given a very bizarre concluding hip-hop number that the youthful exuberance starts to chafe. Nevertheless, this is slick and entertaining fare, which one hopes will find a home to play again.

Moremi played on the 25th – 27th March, as part of Park Theatre at Freedom Park

 Picture courtesy of Segun Adefila | Source: Telegraph Newspapers


In praise of Ancestor Worship

So, Grace Mugabe has said that should her husband die before the next election, he should stay on the ballot as a corpse. It’s not a bad idea, and it is keeping with ancestor worship, an aspect of our culture as Africans that we have for so long neglected, albeit never abandoned. Now that Grace Mugabe has put it on the table, it is something that needs to be explored in all African countries. In fact, it is in Southern Africa where this idea first needs to be applied; in South Africa where the African National Congress is struggling to field a candidate with charisma and character to revive its electoral fortunes, the answer is obvious – Nelson Mandela needs to be on the ballot, and if the ANC really wants to recover its radical bent, it should field Chris Hani. Further west, the revolutionary presiding spirit of Angola, Eduardo dos Santos should feel no need to step down, instead, he must wait till he is transformed by death into an ancestor, and can continue to benevolently supervise the development of his country. In West Africa, where the giant of Africa has suffered the travails of death and ill health plaguing the highest office in the land – our veneration of ancestors must be brought back into the field of politics; if during the political crisis of the Jonathan-Yaradua years we had the option of fielding Yaradua as a corpse, would the constitutional crisis have been so great? I think not. As it stands we can even take the idea further and schedule elections with no living candidates at all; for one thing, it would make electoral politics much cheaper, and might even give us a better connection to our history. How wonderful it would be if we could have Nkrumah, Awolowo, and Bouteflika (oh wait, he’s still alive) contest again – alongside their corpses we can also revive moribund political ideas, or at least justifiably allow them to remain in circulation. In truth, putting our political ancestors on the ballot papers all across the continent will save us the hardwork of reconciling our need to have more youthful and dynamic leadership to match our populations – with our long held respect for age – even when such aged persons have more years than sense.

1. 100 Essential Non-Fiction Books: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa By Walter Rodney

Written by one of the most celebrated thinkers in the tumultuous decades following Africa’s independence struggles, this is a book to read both for its romance, as well as its insight. First published in 1979, Walter Rodney’s dissection of the west’s imperial domination and deliberate under-development of  Africa is a classic of anti-imperialist literature. Since its publication, it has given intellectual ballast to African examination of the experience of colonialism and its aftermath; Rodney’s examination of the relation between Europe and Africa through the prism of historical materialism is both bold and rich, with a bracing articulation of what development is, and how Africa was denied it. Seizing on the Marxist concept of the dialectic, Rodney adopts and expands on the idea of capitalism as a system of domination in which the profit of the capitalist is based on the exploitation of the worker – Africa, both as place and metaphor, Rodney argued was the exploited in a relationship that privileged Europe, and the west more broadly.

Perhaps, the most crucial and enduring contributions of this book is the articulation of African development prior to the encounter with Europe in the 15th century, and the demonstration of the slave trade’s devastating impact on African social, economic and technological progress. In articulating this, as well as a roadmap for correcting Africa’s development through anti-imperialist struggle, Rodney contributed powerfully to the conviction that Africa’s underdevelopment was not an inherent quality of destiny and geographic, but of social and historical forces that could and should be overcome or overthrown.

A range of other books are in the tradition that Rodney established, even those coming from a very different intellectual direction like Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, and more aligned to Rodney, Ha Joon Chang’s 23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism.

How the Obamas expanded the language of American presidency – with dance

We’re all familiar with the language of American presidential campaigns, the symbolic rituals every candidate must make – kissing babies, high fives with joe average, and sympathetic listening to his wife. Even more familiar are we with the stump speech, and the 100 megawatt smile that communicate, pick me, I’m the best one to lead. Every successful American presidential candidate has had to balance the appearance of groundedness, being relatable, while conveying the gravitas expected from a future president of the United States. In the 20th century, the benchmark has been JFK, against whom every president is measured; after him, we had to wait another twenty years for that kind of liberal glamour, which Bill Clinton conveyed, though Raegan possessed a film star quality that was not easy to dismissed, despite being followed by a cold, conservative message. The Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison famously called Bill Clinton America’s ‘first black president’ saying “he displayed almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Albeit in a context of negativity, where Clinton’s was symbolically being lynched, Morrison also suggested this was the first president to emerge from a recognisably black cultural milieu, Clinton was cool, he played the sax. Morrison later rowed back from the precision of her statement but the point still stands. After the Clinton era, George Bush’s folksiness was a definite throwback to the era of the president as ordinary guy; Bush, you could also say expanded the language of the presidency, if only by a continuous innovation in buffoonery and inadvertent comic language. Obama’s candidacy was always going to be different – being the first viable black candidate in a country still riven by racial divides required a deft political balance; that balance was almost derailed in the first campaign with the controversy over Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s comments.

But Obama was not only the first Black presidential candidate, but also the first African-American president, equally important with an African-American spouse whose story of struggle was and is more emblematic than his. So when it came to the symbolic language of the campaign and eventually the presidency, Obama and his wife, Michelle have channelled one of the most powerful symbolic aspects of African and African-American identity – dance. Dance, throughout African-American history has been an important aspect of African American cultural expression, often serving as the only outlet for social, political and cultural expression when access to the mainstream of society was barred. Notably, cultural dances such as the cakewalk were as much about enjoying the dance as they were about mocking white slave masters, and in more recent times, dances such as the Charleston, the twist, have all signified the emergence of African-Americans as an increasingly powerful social and political force in American society. So it should be no surprise that the first African-American president and first lady would draw on this cultural tool to inform and communicate during their presidency. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be taken for granted, given the way in which black bodies and identity are frequently policed to conform in spaces predominantly occupied by white power, it was never a given that this couple would feel so free to express themselves. Drawing on the language and history of African-American cultural dance, Michelle Obama used dance to underscore a message of health, and subtly conveyed the arrival of an African-American presence into the language of power in America; we need look no further than the fact that Hillary Clinton, during her presidential campaign sought to channel this language. For Obama, dance was a signifier of his cool, one more signal that this president was ‘black enough’ thank you very much.