Arts + Culture

Ugandan Playwright Judith Lucy Adong Brings African Theatre to WorldPride 2014

Uganda's Judith Lucy Adong explores Uganda's anti-homosexuality laws with her play 'Just Me, You and The Silence' at WorldPride in Toronto.


Photo by Francesco Carrozzini

'Just Me, You and The Silence' is a new play by Ugandan writer/playwright Judith Lucy Adong that explores Uganda's anti-homosexuality laws by tracing the story of an ambitious politician who introduces a bill that divides his nation and family. Okayafrica contributor Anya Wassenberg attended a recent reading of the play during Toronto's WorldPride 2014. Read on for the full recap of African theatre at this year's WorldPride events in Toronto.

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"As an African living in Toronto, rarely do you see nine black actors on stage," remarked Mumbi Tindyebwa, Founder/Artistic Director of Toronto's IFT Theatre as the play reading began on the first weekend of WorldPride 2014. There were knowing laughs from the packed audience. The play reading project came together after the Kenyan-raised/Canadian-based Tindyebwa approached venerable voice in Toronto's LGBTQ community Buddies in Bad Times Theatre with the script and the vision of a play reading that would include the panel discussion afterwards. "Being part of WorldPride and bringing an African context to it was important," she said.

It was also important to Tindyebwa that Binyavanga Wanaina (who had worked with her previously on a theatrical project in Toronto) – 'half Kenyan and half Ugandan' just like Tindyebwa, as she noted – and who came out publicly as gay this past April, be part of the event. He added a reading from his memoirs at a pre-show reception and his voice to the panel discussion later on.

Just Me, You and The Silence, the latest play from Ugandan playwright, filmmaker and activist Judith Lucy Adong, came to life at the reading with the help of nine actors and guitarist Kobèna Aquaa Harrison. Set in Uganda, it follows an ambitious politician and his social-climbing wife in their crusade to enact a harsh anti-gay bill of the type that the Ugandan government has recently made into law. The politician's family life – including the bad son, a musician, and the apparently dutiful son who is secretly gay himself – intersects and then collides outright with his ambitions.

"At the forefront of my work is satire," Adong noted in her remarks. She uses satire and an absurdist sense of humor to highlight the cynical political maneuvering by elected officials, including the Minister for Culture and Appropriate Morals and the Christian church that puts the LGBTQ community in its crosshairs. Tragically some of the more absurd elements have truth to them, like the way gays are described and demonized in government propaganda as predatory pedophiles financed by white society to destroy the African male. One of the more hilarious scenes features the "Gay Recruitment Corps" and their quest to "steal" Ugandan youth from their parents and God. "Gayism," as it's called in the play, "isn't African." "This is the humiliation of the African male," one character proclaims.

The "good" son's journey from dutiful appearances at his father's political rallies to his public coming out parallels the father's push to see the law enacted, and things quickly spin out of control. Crowds get violent and the play offers no pat answers to the current situation. The satire also brilliantly spotlights the intersection that the LGBTQ community straddles between the personal, the public and the political, made all the more poignant by the actual state of affairs in Uganda.

In the play, pressure from the West (the EU in particular) only fuels the anti-gay fervor. During the panel discussion, Adong paraphrased a comment from her Facebook feed in noting that the West turns a blind eye to all sorts of atrocities and oppression – like the anti-miniskirt law that has also recently been enacted in Uganda – but jumps on board selectively, such as when the queer community is involved. In fact, morality laws and anti-gay laws are only part of the story when it comes to human rights oppression.

The panel discussion was directed by d'bi young, a Jamaican-Canadian dub poet and monodramatist, who posed one particular question about storytelling. "We lost the tradition of storytelling," Adong said. "I’m looking for African stories. At school one of my conference papers was looking at redirecting African stories in film." She mentioned the importance of telling stories within a cultural context – an example being the popularity of American films dubbed over by Ugandan veejays. "We need to focus on how we treat each other. Africa is a communal society."

"The biggest challenge as a Ugandan artist practicing in Uganda is self-censorship," Adong said. It's a challenge she faces head on, making her reputation by tackling the subjects no one wants to touch. An earlier play, Silent Voices, deals with the northern Ugandan war. "We hear about Kony but what about the government involvement in the conflict?" she asks. That play came about by happenstance. "I never planned to write any of them ahead of time," she said. After hearing the stories of child soldiers, she became passionate about the idea of writing a play about the war. "I dropped out of degree program because I was obsessed with the play," she laughs. Particularly poignant for her was the moment when she asked one of the former child soldiers how he could forgive his former oppressors and he said, "Because the teachers told me I would go to hell if I don’t, I forgive them."

"I'm coming from the country [where] it’s considered to be the worst place to be gay," Adong noted. In July 2011, she found herself the only African playwright at the Royal Court Theatre International Playwrights’ Residency in the U.K., where she developed the script for You, Me and the Silence. She also used research from Freedom and Roam Uganda, an organization working with Uganda's LGBTQ community.

When it came to this most recent play, even her students in Uganda questioned why she was "promoting this dangerous way of life." "If I was to produce this play in Uganda – how would I do it?" she asks herself. She reported consulting her lawyer, who told her, "I am your lawyer for everything except this play," explaining that his wife would divorce him if he was seen to promote gays. While the play has been read at various events throughout North America and in Europe, a Ugandan premiere seems a distant probability.

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Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio


The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.


Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th

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Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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