Saro the Musical is Nigeria’s first Broadway-style musical theatre, a production of Terra Kulture, Lagos. It will premiere from October 25 at Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Lagos to enthusiastic audiences in its grand scale as never seen before in indigenous Nigerian theatre production. In this interview with the Executive Director, Makinde Adeniran and one of the cast members, Diana Yekini, Nigerians’ love for the theatre is about to be revolutionised in a new way. Excerpts:
Could you throw light on the project Saro the Musical?
It is a musical production with Terra Kulture. It is another challenge in my career. Saro the Musical, being a large cast and musical in this part of the world is not common. Even though we have a lot of people mouthing ‘I am doing musical’ but the nitty-gritty of knitting up a musical is a different ball game in terms of finance and artistry, in terms of psyche, everything; it is a different ball game. So, if you found yourself within this leverage of opportunity, you just get to be happy and be honoured to do this.
In what way do you think this new play would impact the general public, especially theatre practitioners and the theatre scene?
For the theatre practitioners, it is about learning. Like I said, we learn new things. So it is about learning; all of us learning a new way to do certain things. Because, that is the vision of the project; if possible stop our moneybags from going abroad to bring entertainment into the country. There are people who can do it here. All we have not been able to do is to act. We keep talking and talking and not doing but the opportunity has been provided now by Terra-Kulture to do.
Until you are able to do, you don’t have a mouth to say anything to the government. Now we are able to do. We have done enough of talking, the opportunity has been provided to do. And that is what this project is affording theatre practitioners and the country as a whole to do. And if the government cares to see, they will see the value. The government has said they are looking for how to change the Nigerian economy from oil-based economy; entertainment is one sure way. But they need to look deep and set the structures right.
What is happening to the entertainment industry in the country is: individuals are getting richer because the structure isn’t set by the government because they really don’t know the wherewithal and the so called experts who could show the way are busy getting into politics and enriching themselves.
Until we get to that point where we say… ‘look, enough of talking!’ You see, Terra Kulture is doing something by exhibiting this and if we have run this place for nine years, we believe that the entertainment industry needs propelling for diversification of the economy. It is one potential you can’t take it out, one potential because it carries people.
Entertainment thrives only on people’s culture.
We have got the people. 160 million people; you know what that means? Entertainment can cut down unemployment if there is the proper structure because creativity is about everyday regeneration. There is a lot. And to the general public, it reduces the tension in the country; it can tame hostility. People are afraid of everything from Boko Haram, general insecurity to even government itself. We need to see the other side of life. Psychologically, we don’t have the other side of life. We only know one side of life, which is — fear! Nobody succeeds in the atmosphere of fear. I have never seen the person. Even in the Bible fear is the first thing God is warning you about.
We’ve got a lot of issues that we need to see as a country whether as a people in government or as ordinary citizens. We have coloured ourselves so much that we are losing our good culture. Everyday a culture emerges — regenerate. We need to be able to document it through drama, musicals, music and even in our dances. This is one of the ways. When we let all of this fly by saying – they have done it, no proper way of documenting it; no proper way of keeping it; who is losing?
What makes Saro- the musical of international standard?
When they brought Fela-on-Broadway here, with foreign cast, it was disheartening! Is it that we didn’t know we could do that? No! We are negligent! We knew we could even do better but we are negligent. Same way we are negligent about several other things. Until the western world will come and show us, we neglect that which is us! We really need to wake up. That is why this project cannot but get to that level of exportation.
If you are doing anything now that can’t be exported, any entertainment package that is not fit to be exported, that means the person has not started because Nigeria is getting big everyday. Even in entertainment, you can see; the artistes are getting big every day. Unfortunately, it is the finance and security that constitute major challenges. Because where there is no policy that secures your creativity, what do you have? You are afraid. You would rather take it out to a place where there is security than staying here.
Corporate sponsorship is one thing that is lacking and it is because of lack of proper policy. Security is lacking for entertainment packaging. So, those who are not investing into it, what they are running away from unconsciously is the security of it. Nigerians are vast! But they don’t know how valuable they are. That is the problem. I don’t know. God has created us differently and I say that very boldly. I say it with confidence. But we don’t value ourselves.
So, there is a problem. How can somebody be so golden and doesn’t know he is golden? We have a lot of good cast members both experienced and inexperienced but potentially all right. From beginning to the end, the cast is all Nigerians!
You mentioned Fela-On-Broadway, a musical where the promoters had to import artists to play the role of Fela. And is Saro the musical indigenous like the name – Fela? What is the history behind the name?
Saro the Musical is Nigerian. If you know the story of freed slaves that returned to Nigeria, the Sierra Leoneans, who returned during those days to Africa; any port that was black they entered. The same determination they carried to everywhere they went is the same determination we have in the four guys who are the protagonists in Saro… They came from the hinterland into the city in pursuit of their dreams. They were resolved that: ‘look, we will make it; with this gift that we have, no matter what, we will make it’. And they came into the city. We are simply saying to the youth, ‘it is not about signing off – ‘I want to be rich’… signing off your life over a meal of porridge. Your determination and your gift will make you to excel’.
In other words, what we are saying is, ‘the rebuilding of the Nigerian or African space is not actually on the land mass; it falls on the head of the people, especially the youths’. The reconstruction of any nation falls on the human capacity and then their determination propels it into manifestation. So, it is that determination of the Saros who first came into the port of Lagos, the same determination helped them to own a part of Lagos up till date. There is no way you want to talk about the history of cosmopolitan Lagos city that you wouldn’t talk about the Saros or the Brazilians, Portuguese and the original owners — the Aworis. There is no way you won’t mention the Saros!
So, it is that same determination they brought — that we are going back home, even though we can’t go back home anymore, because we don’t know the place, but we know that people here in this port are blacks. They came in and made names for themselves. Their names still ring bells up till date. That is the determination we are working on - the connecting theme in the play. The four guys in the play — Laitan, Obaro, Efeh and Azeez — who left their villages, came into the city to make names for themselves.
With that determination, they confronted all kinds of ups and downs. They were arrested, put in the cell, but their determination pushed them to the height of it. That is the connection, the beautiful thing. We are only projecting into the future that Nigeria has a future but that the youths have to open their eyes to see it.
How is it handling such an ambitious project?
For me, it is all about liberating people. My personality resonates all through in the play. For me, if this is the kind of play that will channel the minds of the youth towards a future and freeing themselves from economic slavery, from all kinds of slavery, you will see that it is still my fight. My fight is still on course. That is what the play hopes to do; that is what I hope to do. From here, I hope to go further about myself. I know the musical is not going to be one of those rehearsed for two months and then, performed for six days. No. We want to do this the proper way. What it should be. It can run as long as the opportunity lasts. That is what we are looking at for Saro the Musical.
It’s a must-see for all Nigerians, all the world…
‘SARO… will be game-changer for audience, artistes, Nigerian theatre’
How has it been rehearsing for this production, Saro the Musical?
It has been a lot of fun getting to know more people because I just moved here from London; and I don’t really know many people. It has been fun; it has been definitely a work on a lot of dance and music. It has been a great experience so far. I am looking forward to the rest of it. It’s been very lively! You can’t put that many actors/singers/artists and others… in one room and expect it to be dull. It is fabulous. Very lively. Much energy. If you are not in this world, you will be a little overwhelmed but still have a good time. More energy and more flair when it comes.
How would you compare Saro… with your previous experiences?
It is different, I won’t lie. Considering theatre in Naija is not theatre in the U.S. or theatre in the U.K. For me, it is a different experience, but it’s refreshing to know that we are getting there. We are definitely neck-and-neck with the international market. So, it is exciting. We are doing amazing things in Nigeria; the acting industry is getting better everyday. I am actually quite surprised, God forgive me, as to how good the theatre is here in Nigeria. I am sure the future holds amazing stuff for us here.
What role are you playing in Saro The Musical?
I play the lead role of Ronke. She is the daughter of Don Sito. Very outgoing, flamboyant, festive, unforgettable character, who is an attention seeker; always trying to be seen, expresses herself. It is a front role. I am enjoying it.
What do your fans expect from you in this production?
If there is anybody who sees my works and admires me, I would say, thank you. Everything is by the grace of God. Please, continue to support me on my journey. It is going to be a game changer. The show is going to be fabulous. There are so many talented people in the cast; behind the scenes, in the scenes, everything. Definitely, it is a show to be seen and not heard about.
I didn’t know Nigeria could do this! That is it, man!
Could you specify the films you have acted in?
I was in Ije, The Journey. If you remember a specific, crazy prisoner, I was by then chubbier, quite a funny role. That is the most memorable. But since then I have had other productions. We are currently shooting one in Ghana called The Refugees, directed by Frank Raja. It’s crispy, I believe; MMS Songs and other films called Lagos School Girls is coming up soon where I played a lead role too. A few songs coming up soon this year... Theatre is my passion; this is what I love; my background and my everything. So, I’m glad because I got my foot back in the door. Film is definitely still active for me.