Thursday, February 20, 2014

Muson centre, Immigration boss, Samodun festival

Muson Centre: Braving the odds In the last two decades, the serene ambience of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre at Onikan in the heart of Lagos has remained unpolluted. The centre is a unique brand in top-flight events hosting and a model in sustaining standard and quality in service delivery in the private sector. Its General Manager, Mr. Gboyega Banjo, reflects on dwindling support from corporate bodies and the increasing challenge of funding the centre’s flagship programmes, among other issues. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports. When it started 31 years ago, the founding fathers of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) were resolute on their vision-taking the best classical, folk and popular music from Nigeria to the rest of the world. Also, they were committed to the performance of serious music with emphasis on classical ones. Driven by these desires, the society established the Muson Centre that literarily became one of the leading event venues in Lagos. Twenty years on, the vision to sustain excellence has not changed. But, what has changed is the quantum of funds at the disposal of the centre to run its flagship arts events. The establishment and running of Muson choir, Muson Music School and Muson Symphony Orchestra and the annual Muson Festival are among the centre’s landmark objectives. At inception, some corporate bodies such as Shell, Agip and Mobil committed huge resources into the construction of its facilities, especially the recital halls that earn the society regular income. Till date, it thrives on hosting top flight events. Like an oasis, the architectural elegance and serene ambience of Muson Centre stand out among other event venues on the island. The tall, luxuriant royal palm trees that provide shade at the car parks and walkways, and the refreshing cool breeze from the love garden fountain are soothing balm to every guest at the centre. However, there seems to be a downward slide in the centre’s earnings from corporate bodies’ supports. Little wonder, it is getting increasingly expensive to fund the annual Muson Festival. “The festival was designed to broaden the music for Nigerians to include jazz, drama and literary competition. We have performances by Nigerians and African musicians. We are largely fulfilled by our objective, but it is getting increasingly expensive to fund the festival. Though shorter, we still succeed in touching wider audience,” Banjo said. He said corporate supports these days are limited to sponsorship of concert and the annual festival, adding that the stream of income for staff emoluments and maintenance come from internally generated revenue. “Muson is a membership society with wide range of categories, and there is an inflow of income from that,” he said. What percentage of the centre’s budget is derived from hall charges and membership subscriptions? How has the centre managed the cost implication of its maintenance culture in the last 20 years? According to Banjo, Muson Centre at the beginning got massive donations for the construction of the recital halls, but that since then, ‘donations have been for concert and funding of emolument for Artistic Director of the centre. However, it is getting increasingly difficult to get funding.’ He said the founding fathers knew that much money would not be realised from gate takings for arts events, which was why they approached the corporate bodies for supports. “We have a strong link with the corporate Nigeria. But in running a regular event, we let out the halls to raise such income. All these are used to fund the concerts,” he said. He said no efforts have been spared to sustain the maintenance culture at Muson but that it requires discipline of staff. “At the outset, cleaning of the facilities was contracted to cleaners, who work 24 hours every day. It costs money and yet we don’t cut corners. Adequate budgetary allocation is provided for maintenance of space, generator, clearing of the lawns and cooling system. It requires putting aside a substantial amount of money to do that. I don’t think I can give out the figure,” he added. Muson is an example of an institution that thrives on collective efforts of private individuals; a society that encourages classical music and training of youths without a dime from the government. Its music school has moved from a basic class in music to a two-year diploma course accredited by the Ministry of Education in 2005. This has deepened Muson’s involvement in music education in the country. Telecommunications giant, MTN, is a major partner that picks the bills- tuition, allowances and books for the students. What separates Muson Music School form the regular music departments in the universities and polytechnics? According to Banjo, training at the Muson Music School with an enrolment of 60 students is unique because its performance based. “We are extremely proud of our students and it has proven that Nigerian youths are talented,” he said. Banjo however noted that there is need to expand the school’s space to accommodate the students adequately. He disclosed that the centre is supposed to have a major concert hall. “We are looking at the possibility of having a larger hall and a multi-purpose building in future. But the school’s expansion will look beyond the walls of the centre,” he said. Like the Music School, the Muson Symphony Orchestra is the second dream, which is an offshoot of the Muson choir. Banjo, who returned to Muson Centre after serving as General Manager between 2001 and 2006, said his satisfaction at Muson is that the standard is still being kept. “Again, the management members are young and that gives me satisfaction too as they will sustain the dream,” he said. On the seeming challenges from other emerging events centres in Lagos, Banjo described it as a healthy development adding that ‘when City Mall located opposite the Muson Centre was coming up many thought it would drive us out of business.’ “But today, Muson Centre, located on 1, 666 hectares of land in a quiet leisure and cultural zone of Lagos, ‘has remained an icon with loyal clients. In fact, the Muson brand is uniquely different,” he said. Immigration boss backs domestic tourism By Ozolua Uhakheme “I am happy that you have discovered what is necessary and needed to unlock the hidden potentialities of this sector. You will discover that most countries reaping bountifully from tourism today, first of all, looked inward, took tourism inventory in their countries, drove the consciousness in their own people, developed the sites, enhanced them and invited foreigners to see. “This is exactly what Nigeria needs to do and it gladdens my heart that you are not only talking it but doing everything practically possible to bring it to be. This is good.” This remark was made by the Comptroller-General of Nigerian Immigration Services, Mr David Parradang, when the Director-General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs Sally Mbanefo, visited him in Abuja. The Immigration boss assured NTDC of his support, especially in evolving a sustainable vision to kick-start the blossoming of the tourism sector in Nigeria. Parradang said he was particularly happy that Mrs Mbanefo has been living up to expectation and spreading the gospel of domestic tourism in Nigeria, which he described ‘as the magic and a potent instrument capable of jump-starting and kindling the zeal of tourism consciousness in the nation’. He noted that statistic within the agency revealed that foreigners love to visit Nigeria tourism sites but informed that some of them are skeptical about the status and facilities available in these sites adding ‘these are the areas which your organisation needs to work on.’ The CGI used the opportunity to highlight what the agency has put in place to further the cause of tourism and tourists saying that ‘the focal points of his administration, which is hinged on capacity building, robust border patrol, deployment of appropriate technology for monitoring and statistical analysis of foreigners and tourists in Nigeria.’ Mr. Parradang disclosed that “the Federal Government has made Nigerian visa procurement easy and smooth. “The Operation getting visa at point of entry has kicked off. There are facilities on ground now, where you can renew your visa in a day and there is no room for delay in obtaining Nigeria visa any longer.” He reiterated the desire of the agency not only to partner with NTDC, but to collaborate in any way that could add value to the domestic tourism vision of Mrs. Mbanefo. “Whatever the case is and may be, just be assured that the Nigeria Immigration Service is not only in alliance with your vision of promoting domestic tourism but ready to support and collaborate with your corporation for the lifting of Nigeria’s tourism status among the comity of tourism states.” Mrs. Mbanefo commended the immigration boss for having a good grasp of the tourism sector saying, ‘I am impressed by your brilliant overview and suggestion about the tourism sector, which revealed the fact that you are not only a thoroughbred immigration boss but one with informed global perspective of tourism trends. ‘This is a good sign for us at NTDC. NIS is a very important stakeholder to NTDC and it will be unwise if I did not pay respect to you and seek collaboration and advice. As partner in progress, we want a strong partnership with Nigeria Immigration Service, in the area of easy Visa regime for the entire tourists that will attract foreign investors. She disclosed that ‘we are here to strengthen and lubricate the chord of relationship and collaboration, which should be between the Immigration Service and NTDC, the two Siamese twins of the travel and tourism sector.’ Mrs Mbanefo said no tourism agency can make any meaningful impact without a strategic partnership with the immigration service. “Our paying you this visit is to tell and show you our respect and appreciation of your import and essence to the tourism sector and the domestic tourism vision. We are happy that we met a man who is well grounded in what we are about to sell to him. This has made my work smooth,” she said. She disclosed that no serious tourism driver of a nation would undermine the position and essence of Immigration service because “statistical data and effective border control is essential to the growth of tourism and protection of the nation’s security and integrity” Mrs. Mbanefo commended the Immigration boss for his sense of duty and the warm reception accorded her delegation. “We commend you for your warm reception, enlightenment and assurance of collaboration and support, we are leaving here re-energised, re-invigorated and with the assurance of having a productive partner in Nigeria Immigration Service,” she said. With Samodun Festival, Oyo raises bar for regional integration No fewer than eight states’ delegates converged on Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, for the second Samodun Festival last weekend, reports Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME . This year’s valentine day celebration took a different dimension in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital at the weekend. Instead of flaunting the usual red and white colourful dresses, balloons and gift items in commemoration of lovers’ day (February 14), delegates from seven other states in Southwest including Kwara and Kogi States, converged on Ibadan to feast on the rich cultural heritage of the people. It was the celebration of this year’s Samodun Festival, which has as theme, Asa Parapo. For two days at three venues (Lekan Salami Stadium, Civic Centre and Oyo State Cultural Centre) Yoruba language, music, art, dress, food among other intangible heritage took centre stage. Apart from security operatives, who wore uniforms, almost everybody at the festival venues wore traditional dresses such as Buba and Sokoto, Sanyan Dansiki and Buba and Iro with good head tie or hairstyles such as Suku and Kojusoko for the women. Participants were drawn from Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun Lagos, Kwara and Kogi States to celebrate the second Samodun Festival initiated by Oyo State Governor, Senator Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi as a tool for regional integration. The festival, which featured cultural parade, oleku night and food fair was attended by Nollywood artistes such as Jide Kosoko, Dele Odule, Muyiwa Ademola, Saheed Balogun and Ronke Ojo (Oshodi Oke) among others. Traditional rulers from Ibadan, Oyo, Oke-ogun and Ibarapa areas of the state were present at the opening ceremony with the trio of Alaafin, Olubadan and Soun of Ogbomoso who pledging their continuous supports for Senator Ajimobi’s desire to promote Yoruba culture and change the face of Oyo State. Senator Isiaka said he was happy for the success of the festival, saying that through it he has scored another point in promoting the culture and tradition of Yoruba land while taking another fruitful step towards enhancing the regional integration agenda. He said: “The concept of Omoluabi’, which has been the major guiding principle of Yoruba people, is being restored through promotion of cultural festival and enlightenment programmes such as this, adding that, ‘everything about Yoruba is unique. Our dressing, food, traditions and everything about us is fantastic and that is why people from other parts of the world are coming to learn it, because they consider it useful and crucial to living a good life.” Governor Ajimobi, who lamented the retrogressive method of teaching Yoruba language and culture in schools, said the state government is taking serious steps in making people interested in learning the language. “We are worried about it and part of what we intend to do apart from encouraging the teachers, is to organise cultural competition where cultural events will be held and prizes given to those who excel. This, will no doubt, go a long way in making people to be interested in learning and developing positive attitude towards the culture and tradition. The parents, guardians and custodians of culture and tradition of Yoruba land not to relent in their efforts, but encourage people to develop interest in the culture and tradition. “Our culture is a free gift from God, it is a wonderful gift, which naturally must be flowing in us, but things have changed due to globalisation and infiltration of the western idea but we must not allow it to die,” he said. Oyo State Cultural Troupe demonstrated their pacessetting role when they entertained the audience with a drama sketch on the king and olori. The presentation reinforced the tales about the elegance and majestic life kings enjoyed in the ancient days. The mountainous installation displayed by the Ekiti troupe was another interesting part of the event. All through the opening ceremony, sweet melodious tunes from evergreen and contemporary Yoruba music rented the air. From the traditional dundun, sekere, bata and other drums were freely used to spice the melody. On hand to add colour was an American artist, Kelvin Berry aka Kayode Oyinbo, who tried his hand on Bata and Omele drums, which he did to the admiration of the audience. Kayode, who spoke passable Yoruba language said he has been an advocate of promotion of Yoruba culture and tradition, and has been in Nigeria for a while. “I love this tribe, their culture is the best in the world, the dress, food, tradition and everything about the tribe I love and I will want Yoruba people not to allow the culture to die by organising events like this. Today, I have learnt a new thing. I am happy to be here,” he said. A Japanese researcher, Dr. Satoru Muranaka of Tropical Agriculture Research Front (TARF) who was at the food fair said he loves iyan and efo or egusi, amala and gbegiri and ekuru, moin moin and akara. “I have been in Nigeria for ten years and what I enjoy most is Yoruba food. We are carrying out a research on yam and cowpea on how to preserve them,” he said. Oyo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Princess Adetutu Akhigbe Adeyemi who spoke in Yoruba, said Samodun Festival is a unique event that is organised to celebrate the goodness of God in the life of people of Oyo state and designed in a way that it encompasses events that will enhance the promotion of Yoruba culture and tradition. According to her, “as a pacesetter, we are determined to champion the cause of taking Yoruba culture and tradition to a higher level. It is obvious that we are losing the legacies of our forefathers through the overbearing influence of Western culture on our land. But we can no longer continue to fold our arms to watch it die, we are ready, more than before, to ensure that the dying culture is rejuvenated and promoted beyond the shores of our land.” She explained that the event was held to showcase the beauty of ‘our, music, dress, hairdo and everything associated with our tribe and which form the basis of our strength and unity, and we hope by the end of this festival the cultural integration agenda will be on another level.’ The Governor’s wife, Mrs Florence Ajimobi, who was the special guest at the food fair, said women should encourage their wards in preparing local delicacies, noting that ‘our delicacies and culture are far better than others. But we can only demonstrate it if we reflect it in our day to day activities. This kind of belief reinforces the confidence in the fact that Yoruba culture will not fade, and we are organising this food to showcase to the world that we are truly omoluabis with rich culture.’ She urged everyone to ‘encourage our culture, growth of language, our dressing and activities should reflect our tradition. If we lose it, it may be difficult to retrieve. But, I am sure it won’t.’ Oyo State emerged winner of the cultural parade, while Kwara and Ekiti took the second and third positions respectively. But the Oleku night held at the Civic Centre featured performances by acts such as Rashidi Ayinde aka Fuji Merenge, Musiliu Ishola and Tilaman. The performance by Tilaman at the Oleku night was not too homely. At a point, he invited the Oyo Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Princess Adeyemi, to the stage only to sing ‘vulgar and obscene’ songs. The same for the youths drama sketch, which was a far departure from the spirit of the festival. Organisers should ensure presentations at subsequent editions of the festival do not only celebrate the cultural values but also key into the omoluabi principle of the Yoruba people.

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