Yoruba Renaissance at the Ake Arts and Book Festival
The first thing that hits you is the heat, a welcome relief after the beginning of winter in England. I feel the weight of my body as I relax into the heat and slow down. But here it is again, the paradox of being in Nigeria: adjusting to the heat, moving into a slower gear, I adapt simultaneously to the immediate intensity of hustle and fast-moving-bustle that appears to be insane only because the heat says stop, slow down, chill out, take it easy and the economy says no, speed up and survive.
Driving through the dark, yielding to the inevitability of one diversion after another, I arrive finally to the scent-laden tropical night-air of Abeokuta, the capital city of Ogun state. Here is the cultural centre and humble lodgings that will be my home for the next week as I play my part in the Ake Festival of African arts and literature. Over the course of a week, I am increasingly envious of the audience members who can take their leisure and soak up what the festival has to offer – poetry readings, book launches, writing workshops, panel discussions and music performances. People from all over the world have come in their thousands to explore a renaissance in the African arts scene. This is a scene that treats the revival of cultural traditions as a new and lucrative way to navigate the synthesis of self that a modern sense of belonging requires.
Not necessarily nostalgic, and critical of the idea that authenticity is self-evident, I am proud to be part of the Yoruba renaissance in London and Nigeria that sees young people in particular exploring the roots of their often neglected cultural past. They do this in order to craft the routes of a future-focused way of inhabiting an increasing globalized world. I am here as a cast member and musical director for the wonderful Yoruba interpretation of the Duchess of Malfi – Iyalode of Eti - staged by the Utopia Theatre Company. Next year, I would love to return, to recite the poems of Ifa, offer percussion workshops and join the musical conversation with my band – Critical Mass.