By Japhet Alakam
The event which according to the Secretary of CORA, Toyin Akinosho was the 7th Arthouse forum brought many art lovers especially lovers of Yeni Kuti to Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos venue of the occasion.
They include: Dr Sola Olorunyomi of the University of Ibadan, who was the lead speaker at the event and also the author of Fela and the Imagined Continent; broadcaster and first manager of Fela’s Koola Lobitos Band, Benson Idonije; Dr Koyode Ishola of University of Lagos, Arnold Udoka, Director of Dance, National Troupe of Nigeria ; Film producer, Teju kareem, Segun Adefila, of Crown Troupe of Nigeria, Yemisi Kuti, Chief Sammy Olagbanju and others.
The event which was a prelude to the birthday celebration took off with a special performance by a group of four girls who sang and prayed for the longevity of the celebrant and after that the speakers critically examined how the intervention of Yeni Kuti in Afrobeat dance changed the dynamics and culture of music band dance in the last two decades.
The Chairman of CORA, Jahman Anikulapo in his remarks stated that “the event is a celebration of Yeni and what the character of an artist means to the society” pointing out that the reason behind the whole idea was to keep something for posterity “if we don’t do such things, there will be nothing to document so we do it so that when these ones will be no more they will still be remembered.” He said.
The first part of the show which was an intellectual session was chaired by Arnold Udoka who took the celebrant on varied of questions that centered around her upbringing and how she joined the band.
Yeni who said that her interest in arts started when she was still in the nursery school told the audience how she learnt dancing from one of his father’s dancers, Dele Ohenhen and nurtured it until the time Femi formed his band in 1986. She stated that she did not join her father’s band because of the politics there was high but confessed that she and her late sister built on what they saw in her father’s music.
Yeni’s contributions to the Positive band On her contributions to the Positive band, she stated that Femi’s Positive Band gave her the opportunity to express her dance steps and that their dance also inspired Femi.
She also spoke about how the costumes and the make ups came about pointing out that the costumes were to emphasize the dance and the mood, while the make ups were tailored to bring out the real African heritage in them. In all, Yeni who is the Manager of the new Afrikan Shrine, Agidingbi, Lagos is happy that now, dancers are recognised as great talents.
In his contribution, the lead speaker, Shola Oloruyomi who started by saying that there is no way one can talk about Yeni and her exploits without looking at the cultural economy of the country, stated that Nigeria is not a productive society and that the cultural policies are not okay .
To him it is only when the cultural policies are good that one can get the likes of Yeni. He described Afrobeat as not just a music production or sexual music but a cultural reaction to the society. It provides an opportunity to say those things which the government will not allow people to say.
In his view Fela was a great Afrobeat master but that Femi’s Positive Force with its use of choreography was the greatest. According to him, what Yeni is doing is a cultural art of production and demonstrating the way of celebration that need to be studied.
He however disclosed that two students are currently doing their Doctoral thesis on Yeni and called for the establishment of a school of choreography in the country.
On his part, Benson Idonije, the first manager of Fela’s Koola Lobitos Band, narrated how he knew Yeni when she was just 2 years and that the way she hung around them then showed that she would be part of the entertainment industry and therefore wondered little that she was able to take dance to a high level with the Positive Force.
Koyode Ishola speaking on body gyration and choreography quoting Fela’s definition of music as not just a physical thing but a spiritual exercise, stated that if it is so whenever you have good music, the body must gyrate. According to him gyration is a natural or programmed movement of body to music and therefore not a sexual act as people tend to see it .
Lanre Arogodande who started by saying that “in the beginning was dance, dance was with Fela and Yeni was the dance” pointed out that it was the dance aspect of the positive force that made it a complete force. And commended Yeni for introducing that missing link.
One of the oldest dancers of Afrobeat, Yemisi Kuti thanked CORA for the honour and urged all to use what Yeni and others have done in music and go into politics so that the desired change that will provide the environment whereby the good dancers and other talents would be applied can come into the country.
The occasion also featured great performances from the Guild of Nigeria Dancers, Lagos chapter, which paid tribute to Yeni with their Gunboot dance and some bits from Jojo Body beats.