• Sunday, March 03, 2024
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BusinessDay

Kakadu and the Centenary

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It is most moving for me to be back in this affecting and overwhelming city by the lagoon, which has become such a part of my own experience. I arrived to find that the New Year had begun with an explosion of excitement around the show Kakadu the Musical.  This had already enjoyed great critical success when first put on at the Muson Centre in May last year, as a pioneering professionally staged Nigeria-originated musical show. This success encouraged the writer/creator of Kakadu, barrister Uche Nwokedi, SAN, to re-stage the show, after some modifications and improvements.

 This time Lagos was treated to a command performance for Governor of Lagos State Babatunde Raji Fashola, followed by a further five performances sponsored by Lagos State. This makes sense, as there is a strong Lagos content  in the show, as the Kakadu was a celebrated night-club in Yaba, which flourished above all in the years immediately following independence. This column already took note of it when Uche spoke of it last September at the Africa Centre in London (which readers will recognise as being close to my heart).

 To my pleasant surprise the column, which dwelt as much on the last days before the Centre departed from its King Street home in search of a new one, was featured in the revised and expanded programme. It recalled my own past connection with the club as featured in my own Lagos book. This was why for me to come here and see the show was an emotional experience as it took me back to the period when I visited the place late in 1965. This connection means I am one of those sharing Nwokedi’s preoccupation with the richness of the idea of Kakadu. In his own case it has been a four-year obsession, and it is a tribute to his determination and his ability to rally supporters that it has come as far as it has.

 I can now confirm that that it is exciting and innovative both in concept and execution, with a personalised story line behind the ambitious concept of the “metaphor for Nigeria”, with the club as a symbol of the “infinite possibilities” of the independence era. It concerns eight friends (four boys, four girls, in fact young adults) from different parts of the country, all meeting up at the Kakadu, and all divided by the civil war, which shatters the easy togetherness the club represents. The two main characters, Emeka and Bisi, are reunited after the war, but have changed and facing the problem of cross-ethnic marriage which war and separation have intensified.

 The war and the arrival of military rule also changed the club itself, which lost its innocence and special vitality, although it struggled on to the mid-1970s. This action also takes place against a musical narrative of numbers of the time, moving from international numbers like My Boy Lollipop and The Twist,  to most especially Highlife, of which Kakadu was one of the most immortal theatres. The first part builds up to a memorable scene set in the club itself. The series of old favourites (from Victor Olaiya numbers to Bobby Benson’s Taxi Driver and Sir Victor Uwaifo’s Guitar Boy) were powerfully affecting to an old-timer like me, not simply as nostalgia, but testimony to the rich legacy contained in west Africa’s musical tradition which clearly seems to resonate more and more with younger generations.

 There is a sharp change of mood in the second half of the show, as the sombre realities of the war and the damage it did to personal relations come to dominate and the harsh effect of military rule, and ills such as corruption and armed robbers all make an appearance. The change of mood is seen in the musical narrative, with powerful use of the Beatles Yesterday and Jimmy Cliff’s hauntingly appropriate Many Rivers to Cross, ending with the moving closing anthem (written by Uche himself) which asks “how do we build a nation?”

   What struck me forcibly was above all the way this show managed to engage passionately the audience in the Muson Centre, mostly probably because its theme is that of the future of the country  – the famous “Nigerian question” which is so much on the agenda of this centenary year. All the shows in Lagos were sold out to packed houses. This leads me on inexorably to examine the dominant figure of the manager of the club Lugard da Rocha, who has an invented persona, eventually exposed (cleverly using the song The Great Pretender). Is his own fakery also intended symbolism? Certainly the use of the name Lugard is deeply significant, bearing in mind the central role of the original Lugard in the making of Nigeria. Newspaper treatments of the amalgamation show how strongly this fateful figure from the past (with his country-baptising wife Flora) has penetrated the Nigerian psyche.  Absurd, but that is the nature of history, and it provides much food for thought.

 By: Kaye Whiteman