Nigeria: Celebrating Ben Tomoloju At 60

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Multitalented artist and pioneer of Arts and Culture Journalism in the country, Benson Omowafola ‘Kasta’ Tomoloju (fondly called Ben T) clock 60! Today, December 18. Admirers, friends and proteges of the former Arts and later Deputy Editor of The Guardian have lined up series of programmes to honour the writer, critic, culture activist and communicator, composer, theatre director, playwright on occasion of the birthday. Major highlight of the three-day celebration (December 19 to 21) is the 60th birthday lecture on Saturday, December 20, 2014 at Afe Babalola hall, University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos. With Thoughts on the Nigerian Media in a Deadly Season as theme, the lecture, billed for 1p.m., will be delivered by Prof. Tony Afejuku of English and Literature Department, University of Benin. Books on/by Ben Tomoloju will also be presented at 3p.m. on the same. In this tribute, BENSON IDONIJE underscores the strength of Ben T as a unique arts and culture personality.

THE art and culture community of which he is a prominent part, is gearing up to celebrate renowned dramatist, theatre director and culture journalist Ben Tomoloju on the occasion of his 70th birthday. And he truly deserves the gesture. But how I wish that the Great Highlife Party powered by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) was still kicking and swinging; and that all the major players are still alive. It would have been an appropriate platform to round up celebrations with tributes and the best of vintage highlife. A multi-talented artist, Tomoloju is very well known as a playwright, dramatist, producer, director – areas in which he has registered indelible impressions with a deserving accolade. He served professionally as a cartoonist, broadcaster and journalist and was pioneer Arts Editor of The Guardian, a foremost Nigerian newspaper where he demonstrated his ability as a creative writer, setting a new pace and agenda for art and culture journalism in Nigeria. He left in 1992 as Deputy Editor.

Since 1980 when he founded the Kakaaki Arts Company, he has spear-headed the articulation of the Nigerian cultural heritage. Towards this end, he has participated in various capacities in the evolution of national programmes on culture such as the management of the National Arts Theatre, National Cultural Policy, National Troupe of Nigeria and Copyright Law implementation. He was a member of board, National Commission for Museums and Monuments; chairman of the ad-hoc committee that brought into existence the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP).

Tomoloju has also participated in a good number of international cultural activities. He was the guest of the Giffoni Film Festival, Italy, in 1984; covered the Afro-Arab Festival of Popular Arts, Morocco, in 1986; led Kakaaki to the Festival of African Theatre, Turin, Italy in 1987 and Chieri in 1992. And he also became the consultant to the Goethe Institute Africa Project theatre programme. Quite an intimidating profile!

However, a side of Ben T. which has remained untapped and unknown to the public is his talent for music: he demonstrated this ability in 2004 when he recorded Songs for Nigeria, a highlife album replete with compositional power, melodic inventiveness and commendable vocal delivery. The entire repertoire is rich in lyrical content while also sounding fresh and vigorous in terms of message.

Listening to Songs for Nigeria which was recorded in 2004, Ben T. does not sound like a new comer to the music scene, but an established hand, grappling with utmost ease, all the intricacies of performing and producing, even exhibiting star qualities. Essentially in the highlife idiom, the message of the album is that of patriotism and good governance, an appeal to all and sundry to help in building a viable and stable Nigeria.

Tomoloju’s musical focus has been determined to a great extent by a creative exploration he started at the age of 10 with the masquerade cult of the Ilaje riverine people. This experience has come in handy in his treatment of music and drama. But his musical imagination was greatly stretched by his five-year stint at Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti, his alma mater, with the school band for which he played bass guitar from 1968 to 1972.

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Birthday Highlights

DAY 1: FRIDAY, Dec. 19

Dance Drama @ Amphi Theatre, Freedom Park, Lagos.

5pm: Journey So Far: A Dance for Ben T, by Guild of Nigerian Dancers (GOND).

Drama Presentation @ Amphi Theatre, Freedom Park, Lagos.

6pm: Cataclysm, directed by Oluwafunmilayo Olubukola: featuring Theatre Students, Lagos State University.

7pm: Jankariwo, directed by Victoria Adeniyi; feat: Theatre Arts students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife)

DAY 2: SATURDAY, Dec. 20 @ University of Lagos, Akoka

1pm: Birthday Lecture: Thoughts on the Nigerian Media in a Deadly Season, by Prof Tony Afejuku (University of Benin)

Chaired by Prof. Niyi Osundare (University of New Orleans, USA)

Venues: Afe Babalola Hall

3pm: Books Presentation — Jankariwo; Flowers’ Introspect & Ben Tomoloju: Essentials of a Culture Communicator

Special Guest: Baba Fred Agbeyegbe

Venues: Afe Babalola Hall

5pm: Cocktail Reception @ Arts Theatre Foyer

7pm: Drama Presentation @ Arts Theatre, UNILAG

MujeMuje directed by Michael Ajimati featuring Creative Arts students of UNILAG

Special Performance:

7pm: Jankariwo, directed by Victoria Adeniyi; featuring Theatre Arts Students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife)

Venue: Freedom Park, Lagos Island

DAY 3: SUNDAY Dec. 21 @ Freedom Park, Lagos

4pm: Arthouse Forum by Committee for Relevant Art, CORA

(Special: Screening of 60th Documentary Interview with Ben Tomoloju)

6pm: Concert & Poetry, by Seun Olota & Extasi Band; Segun Adefila & Crown Troupe of Africa.

7pm: Flowers Introspect, directed by Bayo Adesewo; featuring Arojah Royal Theatre Company, Abuja.

8pm: Iphigenia Finds Aiyelala; directed by Sina Ayodele; featuring Theatre Students of Lagos State University, LASU.

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