“The fight for feminism is not against men but against the society which include men and women”, this is coming from producer and Director with years of experience and an advocate of sustaining Nigeria’s History, Art and Culture – Ayo Ajayi (@AYDirector). He is a pianist, composer, arranger and choral trainer, who is producing the biggest theatre productions and events in Nigeria and internationally. He is the Executive Director at Declassical Arts and Entertainment Company.
Ayo is one of the foremost Musical director in the Nigerian Musical Theatre sphere. He has directed Saro the Musical (Lagos & London), Wakaa the Musical (Lagos & London), Midnight hotel, Flower the Musical, Obele and the story teller for the World book Festival, Port Harcourt, and many others till date. He is the Producer/Director of Legends the musical which is adjudged the best musical production to ever stage in Nigeria.
As a producer, he has produced Fela; Arrest the music for MUSON Festival 2016 and African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), GULA in partnership with Mr. Tunde Oduwole, Ununcha the Musical and Homecoming the Musical for the 2017 and 2018 editions of Face of Okija Festival, powered by the Obijackson Foundation in Anambra state and presently OMG the Musical.
In this tweetchat with Elsie Godwin, he shares the inspiration behind OMG the musical, challenges of theatre production in Nigeria, what the future holds for Thespian in Nigeria and MTN Nigeria Foundation’s effort at driving wider exposure of some of the exciting events happening in the Arts and Culture space in Nigeria and taking Nigerian Arts and Culture to the world.
Read the conversation below:
Q: You have produced and directed spectacular musicals. How did it start?
Ayo Ajayi: It all started with BAP Productions, I was the Music Director for all her productions for 5 years. That was after going through an MTN sponsored course at the MUSON.
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Q: What’s the inspiration behind #OMGTheMusical ?
Ayo Ajayi: I never had the opportunity of learning about our history in school but I love to read anything and everything. I discovered that the narrative out there is faulty, we have been boxed and worst still we are conditioned to accept the stereotype. A typical African man/woman is inferior to their counterparts with white skin, More so our ancestors are evil and of no good – That’s the narrative that has been forced on us for many years. In our little way, if we do not stand up, engage the narrative in a bid to change it, we’ll continue to play second fiddle even on our own land. #omgthemusical is a story that preaches love for all gender, equal opportunities for all, and the need not to segregate against men while fighting for women to rise.
The struggle of the three women under the spotlight inspired me and I said to myself, this is worth sharing and that was the birth of the phenomenal musical #omgthemusical. So I decided that my musicals will not only entertain but it will educate, inform and inspire my people. OMG The Musical is one of those Stories borne out of that resolve.
Q: What message does it hope to pass across?
Ayo Ajayi: The general message is that we can go far when we unite, other subtle messages are the need for sacrifice. These 3 women paid heavily for the struggle to liberate the women. Lastly, the fight for feminism is not against the men but against the society which include men and women
Q: What are the challenges you faced putting omgTheMusical together?
Ayo Ajayi: The major problem of any big production in Nigeria is lack of infrastructure. No functional theatre, the makeshift venues you’ll pay heavily to access. The owners prefer to give the venues out for weddings & other social events that have become our investments in this clime. So putting up a show of this magnitude, you’ve thrown out millions on infrastructure which include sound, lights, multimedia and so on. Then the problem of funding for an intellectual musical like the type I do is really scarce. People would rather put their money on very popular faces with little or no content at all. The role of entertainment in building and transforming lives has been relegated and replaced with mundane, popular, destructive forms. Performers for the musical genre are very few and this is also a challenge. Many fine actors just cannot sing to save their lives and vice versa. So most times we either have to train or we manage to write to the strength of the available hands.
Q: You seem to have great love for African and Nigerian legends, judging from your works; do you think telling these stories can help sustain our history and culture?
Ayo Ajayi: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey. I believe that most of the challenges we face today as a nation stemmed from not knowing our roots. We have lost our identity, We want to be American, Canadian, British. Unfortunately! the model that works in the USA might be a disaster here. We need to, as a matter of urgency, start to engage the narratives, prove to the world that there was nothing Zeus did that our Sango did not do. Why make one a hero and demonize the other. We need to teach the children our history in a subtle way like using the theatre, this way they know that greatness is not only the inheritance of the west. Our ancestors were great too at least history has it that Mansa Musa, an African is one of the richest men that ever lived. To sustain our history and culture, we need to change the narratives and the only way to achieve this is that we all continue to engage the narratives and tell our own stories.
Q: How would you predict the future of arts and culture in Nigeria and how do you see the future of musicals in Nigeria?
Ayo Ajayi: There’s being a renaissance of Arts & Culture and the awareness is fast spreading. 70% of Theater shows in Lagos this December are musicals unlike some 3 years ago when it was just @bolabap & @UcheNwokedi. This awareness does not however end with Lagos as Abuja is also not left behind and other states are joining the moving train. With Arts & Culture comes employment for our teeming youth, Tourism, exports and many more. Our diversity in culture is also a gain.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between #MTNArtsAndCulture and thespian in Nigeria?
Ayo Ajayi: The renaissance and the reawakening of Arts & Culture that we are undergoing presently is made possible by #MTNArtsAndCulture. Funding is a major challenge and MTN Nigeria has come to alleviate in great measure the problems of funding in the industry. Every brilliant show out there has the touch of #MTNArtsAndCulture and thespians now can sit back, put on their creative garbs knowing that a certain burden is been taking off by MTN Arts And Culture
Q: Are you ever worried about the acceptance of stage play in Nigeria?
Ayo Ajayi: Never!! This is where the spirit of entrepreneurship comes in, No one would jump at it at the word GO!! The world needs to see that you believe in your Arts and then they start to believe in you. Acceptance of stage plays/Musicals is growing because the producers of this shows have dogged determination & are consistent.
Q: Finally, what should people expect from OMG and anything else you want to share?
Ayo Ajayi: Brilliance in playwright, Spectacles, Magical moments, History and Culture wrapped in entertainment, Music that arouses emotions and sets varying mood. In all, OMG the Musical is an exceptionally brilliant theater that will linger in your memories for so long. It will equally send you back to history lesson, I always love it when our audience speaks about the loads of information and facts available in my productions.
“A child only educated in school is an uneducated Child” – George Santayana. We also try to reach out to children and adults respectively and through our productions, we educate, entertain, inform and inspire.
OMG the Musical is a thrilling story about 3 Heroines: Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba; how their past lives and deeds would influence a vibrant young lady who needs help in discovering herself thereby making meaningful decisions for her life and the Society at large. OMG is a beautiful story, intriguing, thrilling, emotional, it’s our history, our future.
I have FREE Tickets to give for those available in Lagos on the 31st of December of 1st of January. All you have to do is check this tweet out by Clicking HERE
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