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Arts, Theater and Film

Duro Ladipo, Hubert Ogunde, Contemporary theater, Modern theater, Wole Soyinka

Contemporary theater in Nigeria grows out of a long tradition of masquerades, festivals, and storytelling. Masquerades, which emphasized costume and dance rather than dialogue, were a key instrument of social control and political commentary, especially in traditional southeastern Nigerian cultures. In the southwest, Alarinjo, a court masquerade and professional popular theater, was common, especially in the 14th century Oyo kingdom. The traditional Ozidi dramas of the southern Ijo took three days and nights to perform, after several years of rehearsal. The theatrical traditions of the northern Hausa, still practiced today, include the performances of traveling minstrels known as ‘yan kama and public ceremonies of the bori spirit possession cult. Kwagh-hir, an amalgamation of traditional masquerades, puppet theater, acrobatics, dancing, and music, is a modern adaptation of traditional Tiv theater arts.

Modern theater is especially well developed among the Yoruba. Hubert Ogunde, considered the father of modern Yoruba folk opera, created the genre by combining music, dance, and mime. In 1945 he founded a professional theatrical group to perform his own plays, including Tiger’s Empire (1946), an attack on colonialism. Other notable Yoruba theater troupes were founded by Duro Ladipo, whose work explored aspects of Yoruba myth and history, and Moses Olaiya Ademujo, known for comedies that parody social pretensions. Today several professional theater companies thrive in Lagos, Ibadan, and other major cities. Additionally, many performances reach audiences via television, in English as well as in the leading Nigerian languages.

Filmmaking is less developed in Nigeria than in other African countries such as Senegal, and motion pictures are generally less vibrant than Nigeria’s other arts. This is due to poor funding and distribution, the popularity and availability of television, and state censorship. Nigeria’s leading filmmakers include Francis Oladele, Eddie Ugbomah, Sanya Dosunmu, Ola Balogun, Sadiq Balewa, and Bankole Bello. One of the best-known Nigerian films is Oladele’s Kongi’s Harvest (1971), a political drama about an African dictator’s abuse of power, based on a Wole Soyinka play by the same name. The Rise and Fall of Dr. Oyemusi (1977), which tells the story of an armed robber in Lagos, and The Mask (1979), which is about a plot to rescue African artifacts from the British Museum, are the best-known films by Ugbomah, Nigeria’s most prolific filmmaker. Since the mid-1990s Lagos has become the center of a thriving industry producing low-budget dramas for video, aimed at the home VCR market.

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