The Arts

February 20, 2024

I plan documenting Nigerian traditional arts, culture – Sanu 

By Prisca Sam-Duru

Bukola Sanu is an actress, dancer, singer, acting, and dance coach who has made a significant mark in the entertainment industry. In an interview, Sanu who is also a cultural producer, arts manager, and marketing communications expert, shares her experience as a multidisciplinary artiste.

Her journey as a thespian began in Primary and secondary school where she took part in every dance, drama, or poetry presentation.

“I got admitted into the University of Lagos to study Creative Arts when the intention was to study Mass Communication and the plan was that I would process a change of course to the desired course at the end of the first year. By the end of my first year as a Theatre Arts major, I was so immersed in the performing arts that I discarded that initial plan. I got cast for a role in the production of ‘Roberto Zucco’, produced by the French Cultural Centre and directed by Felix Okolo during my first year in the university and that marked the beginning of my involvement in numerous professional productions.”

Apart from other productions she was involved in at the time, she was also a key member of Segun Adefila’s ‘Crown Troupe of Africa’. While in the university, Bukola was involved in a number of professional productions by notable directors. “I was a member of the Guild of Nigerian Dancers attending workshops and training, and had been in a production with the National Troupe of Nigeria for the commemoration of World Aids Day by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). And by God’s grace, I just keep going on. I can say that I’m a product of what we call the ‘Gown and Town’ having undergone formal and informal tutelage in the Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos and under exceedingly talented directors and performers.”

Having worked over the years as an actress, it’s difficult for the talented artiste to say which role or performance is most memorable.

“I have acted in a number of roles and every one of them has been unique in their different ways. I really wouldn’t say there was one in particular as I pay the same level of attention to every role or performance I am involved in, and work on the characterisation and delivery with the same vigour and dedication. I put in a great deal of effort to understand the role in relation to the whole plot of the performance, the directorial approach, who the character is, and what the director is trying to bring to life. Have I played really tasking roles, yes I have. One that comes to mind was when I played the main male character Balogun in a Stage play, Olu-Aiye. It was not easy to achieve but I worked very hard on the characterisation and delivery of the lines. I did enjoy playing that role.”

Regarding what she likes most about teaching African arts and culture, she has this to say.

“I enjoy the process of transferring any sort of knowledge as much as I love learning too, formally or informally. So, every time I get the opportunity to do something structured, I put my all into it. The most satisfying part for me is the finished work – when everything is put together and you can see what the participants have learned either when they do a presentation of what they have learned, on a feedback survey, or when they apply it to their works.

“I worked with Lufodo Productions on a project to teach acting and dance as after-school activities and I worked in a number of schools at the time including Corona Schools and Vivian Fowler School for girls. The same goes for Meadow Hall School. I also work with Osun Arts Foundation in Liverpool, coaching African traditional and contemporary arts and cultural practices in schools and community centers across the UK and Europe. These projects are not aimed at imparting knowledge alone but focus also on the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of the participants.”

On her plans for the future, she says, “One thing I have always wanted to work on is the documentation of Nigerian traditional arts and cultural practices. I am sometimes worried about how much and how well they have been documented for reference now and for future generations. I’m concerned that a time might come when we will no longer be able to see unadulterated traditional performances from the various tribes and people may no longer know or understand the background of some of our cultural practices. I think we need to pay more attention to the content we have in the archives already and figure out how to get some more materials that can be added. Go through the existing archives, brush them up, and beef them up! If nothing, a good starting point might be figuring out what state the existing archives are in and working towards improving on the content and how they are stored. Posterity will be glad we did it. This is one thing I would like to work on at some point.”

She offers insight into her job in different capacities in major theatre and film festivals.

“I have worked on a number of festivals – theatre festivals and a film festival as well.

Lagos Theatre Festival is one project I am always proud to talk about. I joined the team as a Customer and Production Associate when the festival was launched by the British Council in 2013. I have worked in different roles over the years – Co-Producer, Front of House Manager, Box Office Manager and I have been the Festival Coordinator since 2017 till date. As the Festival Coordinator, I am responsible for the coordination of the festival programme, ensuring logistics and requirements are managed effectively and all festival events run smoothly. I was the Box Office Manager for Lagos Fringe Festival from 2018 – 2020 and a Strategy and Administration consultant for Eko Theatre Carnival for a few years. In 2020, I was the Festival Director for Quramo Festival of Words (QFest). I have also been a college member of the Africa Academy Movie Awards (AMAA) College of Screeners member at different levels over the years.”

Bukola shares her experience as a vibrant member of the Crown Troupe of Africa. “I am definitely and absolutely in love with the arts and I really love performing. Being part of Segun Adefila’s Crown Troupe of Africa at the time was a joy. I joined right from when I was a student at the university and we were creating scores of good theatres – traditional, modern, social, and impactful. We were more purpose-driven than finance driven and all we really wanted to do at the time was to perform at every opportunity we got. We had performances so often that we lost count. We performed traditional dances from the different parts of Nigeria like Bata, Apepe, Akoto; and also created dance-theatre performances like Aluta, Exodus and so many others, and drama productions such as Wole Soyika’s ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ and ‘Lion and the Jewel’, Bode Osanyin’s Omo Odo amongst others.

“I was also a member of Isioma Williams Gongbeat Productions at some point, learning and performing more traditional dances and percussions from Isioma Williams.”

As for difficulties or hurdles she has faced in her multifaceted career, Bukola says, “There have been loads of challenges along the way but there was never a time when I wasn’t involved in the creative industry and practising the Arts in some form or the other – as a performer, trainer or a manager. Once I am involved in anything, I make sure to put my very best into it and no matter how difficult it might be, I get things done even if I have to overextend myself. I tend to be very determined and focused and when there is something to be done, I get it done. I am a multi-disciplinary performer, an arts manager, and a marketing specialist.”