Oseloka obaze reads to the audience
By Obiora Aghadinuno
The arts and entertainment scene in Awka, the capital of Anambra State got off to a promising start at the weekend when a tribe of young poets, storytellers and singers held the audience spell-bound with dazzling performances in the first ever Open Mic show in South East Nigeria.
The event which was timed to exploit the mood of the Valentine Season cackled to life in the early evening of Saturday, February 13 as the Awka Literary Society (ALS) sought to mine the depth of artistic talents that the region has in abundance.
Setting the stage with his Welcome Speech, a co-founder of the Awka Literary Society, James Eze, explained that the Open Mic show was a bold effort by the group to create a platform for artistic expression for the South East region, using Anambra as the entry point.
He recalled with nostalgia that there was a time when musical and literary creativity flowered tremendously in the region with Onitsha and Aba as the epicentres of musical excellence in the 70s and 80s while the sprouting of writing talents found expression in the publishing outlets in Onitsha which were the oldest in the country, thanks to the Onitsha Market Literature which influenced writing in the early 40s and consequently publishing.
"We thought that it was time the South East joined the rest of the world in the growing art form called the Open Mic. We thought it was time the city of Awka joined other cities like London and New York where the Open Mic phenomenon has since become a part of the urban culture. And why not Awka? Why not Anambra? Why not Nigeria? We thought that the home state of Olauda Equiano, Cyprain Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo and Chimamanda Adichie and many more should also be part of this evolving culture," Eze explained.
Arguing that Anambra State had always played a prominent role in Africa’s literary and cultural movements, Eze further explained that the state was ripe for artistic and entertainment explosion because under Governor Willie Obiano, Anambra had become a very peaceful and enchanting state.
"Obiano has solved the problem of insecurity in Anambra. The business sector is thriving. The manufacturing sector is growing with Innoson Vehicle Manufacturers in Nnewi producing the first indigenous automobiles in West Africa. The agricultural programme of the government has created the Anambra Rice brand. The only thing that is missing in Anambra is a thriving arts and entertainment scene. And that’s the vacuum that the Awka Literary Society is trying to fill," he further explained.
The event soon flared up after Eze’s speech with Nwankwo Benneth reading a short story to the audience. Nwankwo’s performance drew a round of applause as he ceded the stage to Kemi, a poet who also gave a good account of herself. But it was Emmanuel Okoye’s short story on Breast Cancer that drew bouts of laughter from the audience because of its hilarity and the topicality of the subject matter. Okoye left the audience pinning for more when he exited the stage for yet another Okoye Emeka, a Christian novelist whose work is steeped in rhetorical questions with a bold hint of philosophy. The first segment of the show came to an exciting end when Nkiru Ani who looked like a fairy, brought the audience to its feet with a tingling rendition of Chiquitita by Abba. Her choice of song and riveting performance evoked the mood of the season and reminded the audience that love was in the air.
There was a brief period of pep talks and glancing reviews of the works shared by the writers by Odili Ujubuonu, a co-founder of the Awka Literary Society before the second segment of the show ensued. Ujubuonu praised the writers for daring to tell their stories and urged them to keep perfecting their works until they felt confident enough to share them with the world. He revealed that his first novel took thirteen rigorous drafts before it assumed a publishable shape and advised the young writers to feel free to express themselves in any language the felt comfortable in.
The second segment of the show began when Hon Oseloka Obaze, a top diplomat, formerly with the United Nations who recently retired as the Secretary to the Government of Anambra State took to the stage. Obaze read from his new collection of poems - Regarscent Past, and hypnotised the audience with his masterful delivery and enchanting tone. His poems – An Ode to my Origin and The Blind Minstrel resonated with the audience who rewarded his offerings with a resounding applause. Obaze who also doubled as a Special Guest in the evening further sustained his spell on the audience during a Conversation with Uche Nworah, the MD/CEO of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) who himself is a published author. Their exchanges on the Creative Industry offered snatches of crucial insight into the huge potentials that exist in the arts and literary sector in the South East if conscious efforts were made to grow it. It also offered insight into the young and aspiring writers of the night the challenges and opportunities that writing and indeed good writing offers.
However, the evening came to a standstill when the Drama Troupe from the Theatre Arts Department of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka finally mounted the stage. They mesmerized the audience with perfectly choreographed movements and drama skits that interpreted the highlights of current progress that is being witnessed in Anambra State and other relevant social themes. The troupe showed so much confidence and harmony in their representations that the audience was amazed at the fact that they were all undergraduates.
The next segment of the show revealed a cast of artists whose works showed a lot of promise. Izunna Okafor read some pages of his Igbo novel which he said he was working on. Chiamaka, a poet from Ogbaru stirred the audience with a piece that evoked nostalgia, titled – The Days of Yesterday, while Mike Ogbuekwe, an engineer who is a senior special assistant to Governor Obiano on Agriculture shared two seamlessly rhyming poems with the audience. Ifeanyi Aniagor, another engineer who is also a senior special assistant on social media to Governor Obiano also read his poems to the audience. As it turned out, both engineers are love poets and the works they shared were love poems which they hoped would remind the audience that it was a season of love. But Akin Samuel gave the audience what actually came close to performance poetry. His opening was attention-grabbing and he sustained it with a smooth performance that set him apart as a poet to watch out for. Uche Nworah read a draft of his engaging work in Pidgin English and redirected the attention of the young writers to a different mode of expression that might interest some of them. Nworah also read from another work in Standard English which was well received. Chinelo Obi, a young fine artist from the University of Nigeria at Nsukka also exhibited her inspiring painting of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and shared a love poem with the audience. Obi’s poem showed a lot of promise with remarkable imageries and polished metaphors.
Interestingly, the musical talents that performed at the show did not allow the writers total ownership of the night as they deployed different tricks of their trade to announce themselves to the people. Young Tee, the only rap act in the show was mesmeric in his word-play as he free-styled to the amazement of the audience in a rap genre that made Phyno and Da Nigga Raw before him household names. A singer known as C.I also dropped two songs from his upcoming CD. Both artistes came from Enugu to show what they had. But the audience was back again on its feet when Nkiru Ani returned to the stage with the classic All of Me by John Legend. Ani’s cover of this song had the audience reeling like waves stirred by a passing ship. The audience joined her in the chorus and allowed itself to be drawn into the vortex of her performance. She beamed with smiles and returned the favour in manifold and when she left the stage, there was a pervading sense of fulfilment that made the evening look like time well spent.
But the show wasn’t over yet. Almost without warning, the DeeJay known as Kelvin Nelson took the microphone and showed himself as the revelation of the day. He performed a highly experimental song that was his own work and left the audience shuddering in wonder. Kelvin sang like someone with a lot of soul and crowned it up with a frightening stage craft. When he sank on his knees in a magnetic interpretation of the lyrics of his song, the audience lost its footing. His performance was so stirring that my friend, Odili Ujubuonu quickly nudged me from behind and spoke excitedly about the prospects of opening a record label in Awka.
When the audience finally recovered its footing from Kelvin’s awesome performance, Odili picked up the microphone and urged everyone to look out for the next edition of the Open Mic show, promising that there would be two more before the close of the year. He also reminded the audience about this year’s edition of an annual poetry festival tagged The Return to Idoto 2.
He thanked the various organisations that co-sponsored the maiden edition of the Open Mic show, naming organizations like the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, Brande Aristortle Ltd, Little Drops Media, Ifeadinmesi blog, National Light and Havila Suites as being supportive of the outing. The house almost came down when the audience rose to its feet to belt a hearty rendition of the stirring Anambra Anthem; The Spirit of Anambra. It was indeed a night to remember