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Fusing Music, Dance and Drama into Performance: The 'Zulu Sofola Experiment.

Fusing Music, Dance and Drama into Performance:


The 'Zulu Sofola Experiment
Felix A. AKINSIPE, Ph. D.
Department of the Performing Arts
University of Ilorin
Ilorin, Nigeria.
Email: felisipe@yahoo.com Tel:
08055259374,08080384058

ABSTRACT
Theatre practice in Nigeria had shown a fusion of music, dance and
drama in a holistic nature. From the traditional to the modern theatre
practice, music, dance and drama have remained highly inseparable
in their performance context. Over the years, however, attempts have
been made by theatre practitioners of the literary genre to retain this
symbiotic nature of performance practice. Their attempts have failed
because most of their works have only made one arm of the performing
arts to be dominant and the others just supportive. This paper,
therefore, examines the unique approach of 'Zulu Sofola to the holistic
nature of African Nigerian performance practice. Her approach gives
each arm equal space to communicate as an independent arm, as well
as maintain simultaneous symbiotic relationship with the other arms
within the same play. The paper concludes that the 'Zulu Sofola's
experiment is a unique dimension to the existing integrative
co-existence of the performing arts in Nigeria and that is worth the
effort pursuing and developing in this 21st century.
Keywords: Music, Dance, Drama, Performance practice.

INTRODUCTION
The performance practice of music, dance and drama in the
traditional African society can be said to be that of a total theatre
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Fusing Music, Dance and Drama into Performance: The 'Zulu Sofola Experiment.
Felix A. AKINSIPE, Ph. D.

because it is holistic in nature. The performing arts freely enjoy the Akinsipe holds that the traditional Nigerian! African art,
company of one another so much that when one is being performed the
others are significantly present and well articulated too. This is why is a fusion of music, dance, drama and other related
Omojola(1994: 147) posits that arts. Indeed these elements are so interwoven in the
traditional performing arts that the absence of one
Music in traditional Nigerian societies is generally renders the whole performance incomplete and, in most
conceived as part of a multi-media, total theatre cases, unacceptable to the people. (Akinsipe
.~
experience within which different aspects of the 2008: 76)
performing arts such as Poetry, Dance, Drama, often
combine for effective communication: It can therefore be concluded from all the above that a typical
Nigerian traditional performance is made up of an active and perfect
Euba (1982: 225) expresses the same opinion on music fusion of the different art forms of music, dance, drama, etc, towards
thus; effective communication. Thus the independent nature of each of the
arts of the theatre in the performances of the Western world is not the
One of the important characteristics of traditional
same in the traditional Nigerian/African performances.
music is its integration with other arts (to a degree
The Nigerian university system, however, taking after the
which often approaches the concept of total art) and the
British educational system inherited this autonomous nature of
realization of the resultant multi-art complex within the
Western performance as music and drama departments exist separately
framework of social events.
in the system and where dance is done in any, it comes as an
appendage. Most attempts to maintain the traditional African holistic
This is to say that there is a strong unbroken cord between music, dance
performance nature by the modem and academic theatre practitioners
and drama in the Nigerian traditional societies, such that even when one
have not been successful as they usually lack the meaningful balance
is created separately and independently, it is no longer recognizable as
attained in the traditional performances. In the first instance, the
such in performance practice. Dance scholars like (Enekwe, and
performing arts are studied under the umbrella of theatre or dramatic
Akinsipe,) affirm the same:
arts in a situation where dance and music are mainly used as supportive
arts to drama. Where it is a Department of Musk, dance and drama
The Nigerian dance is characterized by a formalized
become appendages.
rapport between musicians and dancers. There is active
Most playwrights from the universities only write straight
interaction between them. The music does not merely
plays which give little or no room for music and dance or give
accompany the dancer. Both encounter each other,
insignificant roles to them. After a study of a modem playwright's
sometimes, in a dialectical sense (Enekwe 1991:26-27).
work in the year 2000, Akinsipe concludes that;

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Exploring The Mirror Motif In An Appraisal Of Choreographic Education In Nigeria like Ifure UFFORD-AZORBO, Ph.D

most contemporary Nigerian playwrights, DIu


This shift is informed by the philosophy of the Department of the
Obafemi belongs to the category of playwrights who
Performing Arts she joined. According to her, in the department
use dance more as an aesthetic feature in their works
with considerable dependence on mime and the three areas of the art of performance the art of
pantomime. (Akinsipe 2000: 198) Drama, the art of Music and the art of Dance - exist in a
holistic symbiotic manner peculiar to the African
But 'Zulu Sofola in her play, "The Eclipse and the Fantasia" definition of existence as dynamically expressed in
presents an exceptional dimension that effectively brings together a African perception and practice of the arts. For the
meaningful balance between the three arms under one umbrella. This academic programme in this department brings the
experiment is what this paper examines and concludes can be pursued three areas of the art of performance together under the
as modem form for realizing of the African traditional concept of same roof in a harmonious and cross-fertilising
: performance in the present day theatre. relationship with each existing as an entity yet
recognising the natural relationship that exists among
'Zulu Sofola and the African Concept of the Performing Arts the arts of Music, Dance and Drama (Sofola 1993: 1).
'Zulu Sofola had been described as the matriarch of the
Nigerian theatre because of her many successes in the discipline. For The idea in the department therefore is to have performances
example, she was the first female professor of theatre in Nigeria and a . that incorporate all the three areas with a meaningful balance (Sofola:
renowned playwright with many theatre honours to her credit. She 1994), (emphasis mine).
obtained her masters' degree in drama (playwriting and production) The focus of this paper is the meaningful balance which she
from the Catholic University of America, Washington, D. C., U.S.A., achieved in the plays she could not publish before her death in 1995,
in 1966. She wrote and produced many plays for the stage and "The Ivory Tower" performed for the 1992 convocation of the
television before her demise. University of Ilorin and "The Eclipse and the Fantasia" performed for
A quick survey of her earliest plays like; Wedlock of the Gods the Committee of Vice-Chancellors' Seminar at the University of Ilorin
(1973), The Wizard of Law (1976) and The Sweet Trap (1977) shows that in 1990.
'Zulu Sofola wrote pure drama scripts with little or no space for the "The Eclipse and the Fantasia" is a play "which looked at the
other arts in them. But with her 'encounter with the Department of the state of the academia in all its ramifications" (Sofola, 1994: 20). The
Performing Arts, University of Ilorin, in 1983, Sofola who has been play centres on the need to find solution to the problems in the Nigerian
described as "a playwright who is ready to move along with changing University system. The problems include government's incessant
tide" (Ugolo 2011: 9) moved along the concept of the African holistic orders to the universities to increase the number of intakes before fund
performance in her plays. would be released to them and to give priority to admissions into
So, from her play Song of a Maiden (1986) to later ones we Sciences against the Humanities. Others are the problems of
begin to see the injection of music and dances at a larger percentage. debasement that are facing the universities, sexual

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Fusing Music, Dance and Drama into Performance: The 'Zulu Sofola Experiment.
Felix A. AKINSIPE, Ph. D.

followed by a dramatic scene between Dejo and Hugo two robotic


harassment, mental derailment, lack of spaces and hygiene in tae hostels
characters representing the mind of the playwright as regards the
and classrooms.
dehumanization of human beings on the Nigerian campuses. At the end of
In the play, the meeting scheduled to discuss and take
the scene, the two characters "exit, blackout; music renders a tearful cry:
decisions on the problems itemized above was postponed at a short notice
duet dancers in agony enter ... " (Sofola 1990: 2). Again the progression
when members had already arrived. While some of the delegates wait for a
from drama to music and dance was achieved by the playwright.
new time, they discussed the problems and the causes. The non-academic
Drama opened the second sequence where some of the
staff that came to set up the meeting venue also took time to discuss the
delegates arrive for the meeting and begin to discuss among themselves.
problem from their own perspectives. By the time the academia eventually
They recall good times in the universities before gradual movement to the
had the meeting, it ended up being "blowing of grammar" as the
state of rottenness now been experienced. While not in agreement on the
non-academic staff had envisaged. No meaningful conclusion was reached
matter among themselves;
and so the problem continues.
(choral music is heard approaching from a distance. They
The 'Zulu Sofola Experiment gradually sense the direction of its approach and focus on
Zulu Sofola in her later plays, effectively fused music, dance them. Students process, distressed, despaired and worn
and drama together in a balanced way. This can be seen from, the out. They are showing in their song and more mild
instructions at the opening sequence. rumbling which might get out of hand if not controlled ...
the point having been made, they exit Hinging upstage as
(Under a dimmed spot, the choir enters from the backstage
voices fade gradually to silence ... ) (Sofola 1990: 6-7).
in a single file, takes position ... Dovetailing the
conclusion of the renditions, an explosion is heard with its
Having witnessed that scene, Prof. Dike could only say "This is
smoke filling the stage as the singers burst into dance
grave" and Dr. Daura agrees with him; "It is dismal!" (Sofola 1990:I).
movements ... dance formations are created to anticipate
This fusion continues throughout the playas 'Zulu Sofola
the entrance of actors.) (Sofola 1990: 1)
intentionally blended music, dance and drama in unique artistic forms of
The above summarizes the manner in which she interweaves
expression. At the end of the play, another fantastic blend was achieved
music, dance and drama throughout the play. In that same first sequence,
as;
she portrays the harmonious state of the university in music through the
renditions of the choir, while the chaotic state of the campus life was Lights fade to a dim. The dancer representing the
shown in dance. "The dancers reflect the students and staff, academic and academia dances on and ascends the revolving riser. Nene
non-academic, in distress." (Sofola 1990: 1) leads" Ekene to her and offers her to the dancer .
Thus, music and dance play their roles independently to pass
228
across different aspects of the unfolding story. This scene was

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Felix A. AKINSIPE, Ph. D. Fusing Music, Dance and Drama into Performance: The 'Zulu Sofola Experiment.

Ekene is received and lifted up.' A song of hope is Civilization-CBAAC. pp.197-205.


raised as academia in full academic regalia, enter from ___ , (2008). "Dance Studies in the Nigerian University System:
backstage and flank the riser. (Sofola 1990: 5) How Relevant to TID?" In MUKABALA: Journal of Performing
Arts and Culture (Special Edition) Vol. 1. No. 1.
At this end, all dramatists, dancers and singers are brought together by
pp.76-84.
the playwright to conclude her work and the blend. Enekwe, Onuora. (1991). Theories of Dance in Nigeria: An
CONCLUSION Introduction. Nsukka:Afa Press.
Euba, Akin. (1982). "Introduction to Music in Africa". In: African
The propensity of music, dance and drama to independently
History and Culture.' Richard Olaniyan (ed.) - Lagos:
and jointly document, entertain and pass message to the audience was
Longman Group Limited. pp. 224-235.
highlighted and buttressed in the play, ''The Eclipse and the Fantasia"
Omojola, Olabode. (1994). "Music as the Epicentre of African Drama:
by 'Zulu Sofola. Where dance is employed as the medium of
The Yoruba Example". In New Introduction to Literature. Olu
expression, it does so in totality and the same goes when it is the tum
Obafemi (ed.) Ibadan: Y-Books. pp 147-158.
of drama or music. Sofola, 'Zulu. (1993). "The Department of the Performing Arts and its
It is also clear from the play that music, dance and drama
Vision". An Address Delivered at the Conference on Nigerian
were given an almost equal space in the development of the storyline so
Music, University of llorin, 26'h - 29 January, 1993.
much that if the dances or any other forms for that matter were removed
_____(1994a). (Programme note for "The Sailors" an opera by Sam
the play would become meaningless. Finally, very obvious in the play
Amusan for the 1994 Convocation Ceremony of the University
is the fact that none of the three arts of the theatre employed was used as
of Ilorin, June 2nd-4th, 1994.)
an appendage to another. Each picked up from where one ended to
____ , (1994b). The Artist and the Tragedy of a Nation. Ibadan:
further the course of the play.
I cannot but conclude that as we move towards the Caltop Publications (Nigeria) Limited.
___ :, (Unpublished) The Eclipse and the Fantasia. A play.
development of dance as an independent art in Nigeria, the 'Zulu
Ugolo, Chris. (2011). Zulu Sofola's Plays: ALook from the Womanist
Sofola experiment is worth pursuing and highly recommended to
Perspective. In A lore: florin Journal of the Humanities. Vol. 20.
playwrights, directors and theatre producers. pp. 1-12.
WORKS CITED
Akinsipe, FelixA. (2000) "The Communicative Indices of Dance in
Drama Productions: A Choreographic Approach to Olu
Obafemi's Plays", in: Duro Oni and Sunday Ododo (ed.s)
Larger than His Frame: Critical Studies and Reflections on Olu
Oba/emi, Lagos: Centre for Black and African Arts and
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