Sunday, 6 March 2011

Tunji Sotimirin Consolidates in London

Sunday, 06 March 2011 00:00 From Lookman Sanusi, London Sunday Magazine - Sunday Magazine
THE  fifth instalment of Olatunji Sotiminrin’s one-man show piece finally came together on  February 19, at the George Wood Theatre auditorium, Goldsmiths College, London.
The show dubbed Mofobale (Consolidation) was presented as a one-off in a double-bill performance organised by the Sociology of Theatre and Performance Research Group in its 2011 conference; NOW, Legacies and Amnesia, an interdisciplinary colloquium for postgraduate students.
The two-day conference co- chaired by Scheherazaad Cooper and Phillipa Burt, PhD department of Drama, featured paper presentations by Frauke Surmann’s (Freie Universität Berlin) ‘The Torture of the Now: The Body as Scene of collective Jurisdiction in contemporary Russian Performance Art”‘; Moustafa Menshawy’s (University of Westminster) ‘Egypt: Culture and the collective memories of Wars’  to Verónica Rodríguez’s (University of Barcelona, Spain), ‘Amnesiac Legacies? Cognitively Mapping Traumatic Experiences in Ashes to Ashes and Mapping. Time: NOW’.  It also witnessed a panel discussion and two special performances on the last day; Scheherazaad Cooper’s The Lament of the Reed and Olatunji Sotiminrin’s Mofobale (Consolidation).
The Lament of the Reed was performed first to a sizable audience on a bare stage with dim lights accompanied by India classical music. The dance examines why human beings express themselves through art, acknowledging the deeply spiritual and mystical undertones of art as devotional practice, art as lament, and art as expression. It is a piece meticulously performed to space as Cooper moved from one end of the stage in calculated steps to another with the jingle bells around her ankles accentuating her fluid pace.
According to Cooper, The Lament of the Reed, employs “the Odissi and Kathak Indian classical dance vocabularies, with their own idiom and layered meanings, to elucidate, visualise, and embody the tale of the reed.”
Scheherazaad Cooper, currently completing her PhD in the UK is an Odissi Indian Classical Dance practitioner who has performed in many countries including the United States, Canada, India, Australia and UK.  She is a recipient of the Canada Arts Council Grant for Dance Professionals with which she travelled to India for further training and research in 2009.
Mofobale (Consolidation) the second performance for the evening started with Sotiminrin storming on stage with the Bata drum and synching to the staccato of a sound track. The set is delicately balanced with a portrait of Wole Soyinka to the left and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to the right. In between these portraits are maracas, drum percussion, microphone on a stand and a mannequin head wearing the famous fluffy grey-wig hairstyle of “Wole Soyinka”. He had a clothe-rack full of costume at the far back to change into different characters. The set reminds of the  Bertolt Brecht’s theory of Theatre of the Poor.
In one sweep, Mofobale (Consolidation) is dedicated to four human right activists in postcolonial time who have been audible voices for the helpless. These characters who found an actor in Sotiminrin are: Nelson Mandela, the symbol of apartheid in South Africa; Wole Soyinka, the first black man to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and a thorn in the flesh of dictatorial government in Nigeria; Martin Luther King Jr. a social right activist and leader of civil right movement in the 60s in the United States of America and Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a social commentator who used his music, Afrobeat as a weapon against tyranny in Nigeria.

Mofobale (Consolidation) is a show off of Sotimirin’s incredible talents as a total artiste. He displays his music skills through his rendition of Fela Anikulapo’s water no get enemy and got the mixed audience singing along and playing his improvised musical instrument. It is not surprising the audience got a kick out of the act because Tunji Sotiminrin is the exponent of konkere fuji, his brand of music with a penchant for percussion.
Sound tracks are used as transitional mode between the four acts and they are clearly suggestive of the act to follow while Sotiminrin changes costumes. We shall overcome, sets the mood for Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech; I Have a Dream, which was succinctly delivered with most of the acting done through the actor’s voice dexterity.
Sotiminrin’s depiction of Nelson Mandela is a bit questionable. His portrayal of the South African struggle hero came across as a comic character from Ijebu Aiyepe, Sotiminrin’s hometown in Nigeria.  Sotiminrin himself is a comedian and it only takes discipline to play different roles without some of your personal traits and or nuances interfering. For a moment there, Mandiba was delivering a powerful speech with a comic stance, but the Nkosi Sikelele anthem, which played as background sound transported the audience back in space to South Africa.
The act that generated a heat debate during the post-show discussion was an excerpt from Wole Soyinka’s Death and The King’s Horseman. Dr. Osita Okagbue of Goldsmiths College, London wanted to know the relevance of Eleshin Oba, the key character in the play and the theme of emancipation which Sotimirin was serving the audience, as Eleshin Oba failed the people whose tradition he had sworn to uphold. To this Sotiminrin said this portrayal was deliberate and experimental. He submerged the character and traits of Soyinka in Eleshin Oba believing that the audience would see the strong, fearless and articulate voice of Soyinka as opposed to the weakling Eleshin Oba. Since the whole show is a work- in- progress, he agreed to take a second look andrework that aspect.
In all, the Double Bill performance was a welcoming relief to the drab weather in London and the audience look forward to the full package of Mofobale (Consolidation) from “Otunba” Tunji Sotimirin.

Olatunji Sotiminrin no doubt is a resourceful performer who has made a mark as a soloist right from the late 80s in Nigeria. It is not surprising then that he is gradually making an incursion into the British Theatre space with his act.
Popularly referred to as shadow by friends in Nigeria, the self –acclaimed ‘Otunba’ (Chief), with his unique designer chieftaincy cap is a product of the department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan. His foray into the world of theatre started way back in his secondary school during the LIT days (Literary and Debating Society, a forum where secondary schools come together to debate topical issues) in the 70s’. Young Tunji Sotiminrin would infuse comic and satire in his debate.
Sotiminrin’s path as a solo performer was validated when he performed to the admiration of the audience his first solo act Molue at the late Bode Osanyin’s Writers Resort, Ojoko, Ogun State in 1987. Again, the same year the late John Chukwu, a master performer and stand-up comedian commended Sotiminrin’s remarkable show at an event marking the 25th anniversary of Steve Rhodes Voices. At both events, Molue was presented as a work-in-progress and filler to the main programme.
About this time, another soloist whose act started as a fluke was Ehi Omokhuale, the ‘Ewole sun mon’bi’  (come in and move in closer, please) exponent who did not, however, (and unlike Sotiminrin)  bother to develop further in this endeavour. The late Funsho Alabi, an actor, one-man act,  and chief proponent of solo act held sway in the middle 80s’ with his sketches on Martin Luther King Jr., Drug Abuse and HIV/AIDS until his demise in 2006.
Sotimirin persevered until he got the attention of Renate Albertsen-Marton, the then director of Goethe Institut, Lagos to give a full performance of Molue in 1989 at the University of Lagos, Arts Theatre. Molue is a series of comic sketches depicting the typical chaotic situation in the notorious ram-shackled Lagos city buses. It featured several “characters like bus driver, the conductor, the evangelist and a couple of quixotic characters that add colour to the hum-drum in the mainstay of Lagos transportation”.
From then on, Sotiminrin devised other solo acts like: Gboromiro (1990), Ojoro  Kansulu (1999) and Tribute to Gani Fawehinmi (2009), a foremost Nigerian activist and human right lawyer who died September 5, 2009.

Sanusi, a theatre producer, writes from London