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Hear Oluwaseun and Busayo talk about the background, and the many layers to the film.  The symbol of the mask and skeleton have been around a long time, but here these young men make it their own in a sobering, serious message and reaching out about the web of political corruption, history, lies, identity, inner and outer conflicts.  We spoke about young people rising and coming together, the importance of freedom and democracy and the urgent need for a rooted identity in the global community. 

This is a transcribe of our conversation, originally part of ROOM 2022.


“They have banned twitter here in Nigeria... It's a way of trying to stifle our voices and choke us and just shut us off from the rest of the world. But because we are not our parents you can't keep us quiet. You can only delay, you cannot deny.”



“Simply speaking, I would say enlightenment and awakening is what is causing the shifts. The shift towards the dawn of a new era. Not even dawn, the new era is here already.”



Oluwaseun Usman + Busayo Olowu

recorded 17.11.2021 

How come you created 'A Lucky Generation'?


It has really been a very interesting one meeting Sheun [Oluwaseun]. Myself and Sheun got connected since high school, I guess. This particular piece we created together. This young, young choreographer called Qudus Onikeku is an international choreographer and dancer, and also a curator from Lagos who right now is based in the United States of America. He is based in Florida, he is a visiting professor in Florida at the moment. So there was this call out from this guy, Qudus, in celebration of the anniversary of Chinua Achebe. Within a short period of time we shot the video. The idea for this piece actually is, the opportune birthday of this man, to celebrate this man’s archive. So, just to celebrate his life. So I'm going to read out Chinua Achebe’s phrase, an excerpt of something. He said. “An Igbo proverb tells us that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him, cannot see where it dried his body.” What does that mean in Europe, or in Ningbo concepts?  He says that, if you don't know where you're coming from, if you don't know how things end up, the progression of how things happens to you, probably you might not even know where you are at the moment. So to just, you know, to interpret that in my own knowledge, you know.


So I started to read so many things about, so many short stories about Achebe’s work. So I was fascinated with ‘A New Generation’. So, A New Generation was the book - it's just a short story - that was written by Chinua Achebe. And all of this collection of poems that I knew that we, the both of us, like, we got fascinated with. Because he's actually talking about us, this new generation outlaws who we are. Because, you know, like, last year 20th/10th/ 2020, there was these riots in Nigeria, the protest.



So it was, it was really a response to all of the police brutality we were still seeing, especially as youths here in Lagos. It wasn't just in Lagos alone, it was in a couple of other cities across Nigeria. So it started with one person's case, you know, where there were so many Trigger Happy policemen killing youth. But then the police system, you know, some arms of the government were trying to cover all of this up, and everyone got so fed up. And because you know, a large amount of people, victims affected by this were youth. And because the youth are, obviously they make up the most part of this society, we all had to come out and stage peaceful protests in different cities across the country. And as of 20th of Oct 2020, all of us here in Nigeria remember it as 20.10.20, the Nigerian Army actually opened fire on these protesters. It was hideous, it was terrible, it was quite disappointing... The military still turned off the lights at the toll gates, they turned off all of the CCTV cameras, so obviously, there couldn't be evidence. Even the people that came out in the day, we were shot, we were injured. Look at the blood, look at the dead bodies. The government's simply just labelled, labelled all of those videos and pictures as “doctored”. He said those weren't real. It's still an issue until today that nobody wants to say who gave the order. Nobody wants to take responsibility for any of those actions.


So it's, it's we have come a long way. In this, aside from the identity crises in trying to understand the community and society we live in - how it has been, how it is and how we plan to move forward. It is quite chaotic trying to think about it. But then, you know, we can't complain too much. We just have to be solution oriented and look to the future.


So, in my own opinion, A Lucky Generation simply just highlights ‘One’. He uses the Nigerian youth - that's one of us - to represent everybody. When we see, you know, at this point, we don't know who we are anymore. Both as youths, both as a country, both as individuals, both as a society, both as a system… We really don't know who we are anymore.


There is this constant battle of, you know, colonization from the British, that's in Nigeria's case, and how we tend to accept, you know, this western acceptance, when we feel that, okay, when we do things that white people applaud us for, we think that's the best, that's the standard. We forget our own cultures, we forget our own roots. We sort of neglect all of those foundations that we initially built our, our cultural systems on. So A Lucky Generation just tries to, you know, it's sort of a contrast in the reality. You can call it a sort of irony. The title, the current situation of, you know, of we as children, we as Africans in general, you know. I’m pretty sure this cultural crisis and misplaced identity also affects a whole lot of other cultures around the world, but because this is our immediate society, this is the best platform for us to use our artistic voices to speak about it.


The symbolic meaning of the mask

If you notice the prevalent prop, yeah, decorative slash costume prop in the entire video was the mask. You know, it is to show how faceless we are, how big and how empty we can be, or we are, at this point. Because it's like, okay, once this world power says everything has to be white, we have to believe and, you know, fall in line with that ideology of there has to be white. Whoever is the strongest can dictate for us and we are sort of forced or brainwashed to, you know, feel that we have to listen to that person. We don't know what our voice is anymore. We don't know who we want to be totally, or we don't know who we’ve been because we've lost so much touch with history. So that mask is two ways, asides from the faceless identity we try to create, is also saying “this is your past”. We know you, you see him at the point you wear the suit trying to, you know, this is us trying, just symbolizing the west. But then “this is your past”. Everybody. Everybody, by books and by factual - by books and by history, we can see that civilization started from Africa, Egypt and everything. But because we have lost it through so much cultural corruption and the there's been too much, the saturation has been so, so, too much now. So it's like there's a lot of mix. There's a lot of that's why I just said it's chaotic, to want to even think about it. So we had to use a mask to say this is where you've come from, do not forget. This is where you could go to when you remove the mask and say “okay, I have accepted the west”. Yes, but you see his hair dropping down - is a Nigerian, is an African thing to have your hair. “Okay, he still on the hairstyle”. Now you can see him - is an African thing to uh, you know, this is just saying, “I want to embody my African-ness.” So we are saying yes, we would love to embrace all of that modernity. So that we can also move forward, culturally, technologically, scientifically, religiously as well, you understand? This is us saying: as much as we know, we can move forward with the trends and the norms that you are providing. Our ideology should not change.


In Africa, here, the head. The Elédàá it’s called the Orí or the Elédàá is quite significant. You know your head, it's where you go to pick your destiny, your path. You understand? So, a lot of times, you know, people try to forget. And where you go, this is where the mind is. What the brain dictates is what you will do. So there's a lot of emphasis on your head. That's why he's wearing the mask. At the very beginning where we had all of the subtitling, the mask was behind him. That's also trying to say we know those subtle messages of don’t forget, although we know you are looking forward, but also, people try to look back. Look at where they came from. Look at the mistakes our own predecessors made. How can you correct this, how can you better, you know, the templates they have provided? And how can you use all of these western ideologies? Better yourself. Because I believe, personally, I'm a strong believer of hybridity. You know, there was a workshop I attended, where there were like 10 different instructors. So, one of those instructors told me that if you are coming here with one idea, you have your own experience, your own knowledge and everything that is one. If you can relax to just pick one trait, or one skill, or one, one lesson or whatever it might be, but just try and pick one, get an impact from each of all of these things. By the time you are leaving this workshop, you have eleven different experiences to yourself, as against the one you initially came with. So ever since then, my ideologies as to work, as to creation, as to life generally has been to say, okay, I will take from here, learn from here, adapt from here, copy if I need to, duplicate if I need to,  just so everything I'm doing cuts across everybody, and he stands up as better. Although not extremely better, but slightly better than what I would have done originally, if I restricted all of my experiences, to what I know. Thank you very much.



Pirandello said something that I really like hold on to. He said that,

as human beings, we wear more than 1000 masks every day. So, I jotted something down that I wanted to read to us. Our generation was summoned. My generation, Sheun’s generation, our generation this time was summoned as it were, just to be a witness to two remarkable transitions. So the impressive economic, social and political transformation in Nigeria, into a myriad country, at least by third world standard, you know. Because right now, if we start to, if we start to look at the standard of things right now, we, as an African we are beginning to like, you know, negate our past where we come from.


Documenting history

So I'm so happy that Achebe was able to use this, to also like, to pass a message to the new generations, so that we can actually, like have constant conversation about all the things that we are used to, that we forgot to, to, to, you know, to evolve with. Because if you asked me, we, as an African, we don't document most of our things. We don't even know who invented mortar and pestle. But mortar and pestle is very, very important. If you want to eat pounded Yam at the moment, if you want to eat a good meal pounded Yam. But who made those things? We don't know. You know, and if we - this is why I so much like the fact that this meeting is being recorded. So that we can actually have a constant conversation about, around all of these things that we are talking about. So we can still bring this back in next years, next centuries, in next decade. So people will be able to like, you know, learn, or you know, have somewhere to go back to as an archive. So, basically, this is just what I would like to say concerning the mask that Sheun was talking about, and also about the piece A Lucky Generation. So I think, as an African, or as an Nigerian that we are, myself and Sheun, I think that we are lucky enough. Because if we don't talk about it, no one will know it. And we have to, we have to talk about it. Thank you, thank you.


After now we have to create something substantial again. Something, something that is… We have really be conscious about the space that we occupy right now. So, yeah, we are still hoping that we will dive into some more interesting stories coming from Africa, coming from Nigeria to be precise. And I'm also coming from Africa and also, like, using that as a way to relate to many things that is happening around the continent. And this will be like a very, this is actually like motivating us again to do something new. Yeah, and for me, this is just the beginning of a new piece to come. And I'm so happy, I'm so happy to share time with you. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.


Illuminate Theatre

My years of studying Theatre Art. I've been able to feed on them more to me like that, I have to work hard to get everything that I do. So with that I said to myself, anything that I'm going to be creating when I have independence, I'm going to make sure that it's something that affects the society or affects people around me. So this is what exactly brought me in collaboration with three of my guys, that we co-founded my company together. So I am a co-founder of the Illuminate Theatre Productions. And basically what we do is to change the status quo of the performance. What we do basically is to perform in unconventional spaces, we like to take a walk through spaces that are not conventional, like - not that we really do not have access to conventional spaces - it is deliberate. To take our work out there, to people who do not have the luxury to go into the theatre to pay maybe 20 euros or 5000 naira, 20,000 naira to go to the culture or to some spaces to watch to,  to get informed. So, these are the things that motivated us so. And our phobias for wounded, they are our theatre practitioners as well and come before us. This is exactly the form of art, taking the work, taking the act to the to the neighbouring spaces, like to the patios, to the Market Square, to to the Village Square, to the bus stops, you know, maybe to the the train station, you know, and because sometimes these people it is hard for them to get access to some savvy spaces. And then this actually is also, we are doing this also to inform these people. Because we do socio-political works. Most of our works talking about our ways of life, the things, the way we are being treated, the way that we think the future should be, the way that we think our society should be formed or should be like. We call different people into the lab, people are interested in research, like we come to the lab, we make body research, we experiment, then we try to look for spaces to you know, to go exhibit all of these things. So this is basically what Illuminate Theatre does.


Right now my partner is in Germany, is in Berlin for a residency. And that's Taiwo Ojudun, then Uche Enechukwu is also in one space like that in Ewaye, in a community in Ewaye, trying to recreate the community into something that is substantial, like trying to develop the youth, trying to give back to the youth. So this is how sometimes we will share ourselves to the society, to the larger society. So basically, if I'm going to talk about Illuminate Theatre, this is what we do. And this is how I think our walks can be very valuable to the to the community, or to the world at large.


A new era of technology

I, when I was growing up, I do not have access to technology. But right now the kids that are born now the children that are coming to life right now, they have more access to technology. And with that, they lose essence of the cultural background or the cultural essence of where they are coming from.


So, so right now, right now, using what happened last year as a case study is to state that we're in a space or we are in an era where we ask questions, which were we ask questions, and we challenge the system. So this is one more reason why they would shoot the all of us, the all of us that died. And still, people are brave enough to come outside to question the system. So technology wise, I think this is a new era. Before now, the elders are the one deciding, the elders are the ones showing us the path. But right now the youths are so, they are so good to be in the space that we should be. So I think with that, again, we are in a new era and also sharing cultural lifestyle. I think right now, attention is being gained in Africa. There is a whole lot of attention on Africa, about our ways of life, about our cultures, about our new about our evolvement. About our, you know, I don't know the best word to use, but of course, culturally, culturally, a lot of thoughts have changed about us. And then you, the Westerners are actually like, curious, because whether you like it or not, the future is black, we have to go back to our, to our past. So I think right now, it is so challenging, and it's something that we as the youth most rise to, right now, globally, and also in Nigeria, to say that, okay, these, some things need to be, some questions need to be asked, or some things need to be done for the better future that we are craving for. So this is the space that we are actually like looking up, saying and knowing fully well, that this is the dawn of a new era. Because we are, we are literally and figuratively, you know, standing at the dawn of a new era.


Because this time, this 21st century that we are, they say, Oh, lots to be done. Because the future is just right there in our hand, and then we should know, we should try to bring like the common ground where everyone in the world comes together, then we can decide, or we can actually like, you know, create for a better future for the next generation to come. So right now, I believe that this is actually the new era, this timeout, this timeout is an new era for us. And also, maybe personally, personally speaking, it's a new era, it's a new dawn for me. This time is challenging, this time have been so, so really challenging that we need to like, you know, it is time now to think about the future, to start to project. This is time to project. So, this is why we said “this is the new dawn”. Thank you.



Simply speaking, I would say enlightenment and awakening is what is causing the shifts. You know, and the, yeah, is what is gearing the shift towards the dawn of a new era. Not even dawn, the new era is here already. Like Busayo said, there's a lot of Afro centricity, Afro- centrism, whatever that word is, you know, everybody is interested in African content.


Right now, everybody on our side of the world, they are questioning things now, you know, unlike before. You know, before now, up until 1999 - between I think the 70s and the late 90s, we had military rule here in Nigeria. So that's where, that period was when obviously they gave birth to our parents. And probably Busayo. So, they weren't built, they weren't conditioned to question the system. They weren't built to ask questions. It was just the military rulers who dictates, or decree rather. And they follow. Simple. That was it. So they have unconsciously brought.. Let me use the word daringly, poisoned the minds of a lot of youths that fall between the late 90s and the early 2000s. For now, because of especially from 2010, when we know, technology, us realizing that okay, we are black, and we can be proud of our culture. We don't need to hold ourselves to the shackles of colonialism and all of that. So everybody's open their eyes. We're all looking towards okay, we've been doing this thing the same way for the past 40, 50, 60 years. Why can't we try it this way? This is why… it's a lot like the evolution of screen dance now, it’s becoming a thing in the world now. Unlike about seven, eight years ago, I would never have imagined that you know, you can actually have a film genre of screen dance. It’s part of the awakening were talking about. If we had the same degree about 10 years ago we probably might not be as, as artistically or creatively fulfilled as we are now. Because now there are so many more opportunities we can explore as artists, and we do not need to climb the conventional stage and do all of the Shakespearian theatre, or start quoting Macbeth, or doing you know all of those things that they used to do before. So it is now a question of, brother it is not a question, is now a reality. We don't want to do what we used to do. We see what they used to do, we want to see how we can do things differently. But right now the world has moved. So that's just really it. I'll just call it cultural awakening, enlightenment, with the effects of technological advancements, and the increased use of social media. That has also played a huge role. Because, like he said, the whole Nigerian news might not be something you can easily access daily. But because you can search for it, probably through Twitter through Facebook… Oh, we did want to tell you, they have banned Twitter here in Nigeria. We have to use VPNs now if we want to tweet, or probably for any Nigerian that's out of the country, now you can't use Twitter freely anymore. Because, you know, it's no, it's all of those answers, those police brutality movements, and then an uprising started off Twitter. So you know, it's a will of trying to stifle our voices and choke us. And just, you know, shut us off the rest of the world. But because you know, because we are not our parents, you can keep us quiet. You can only delay you can’t deny. Thank you.

Longing for freedom


So, so much to deal with, but then, we just have to keep doing, keep doing till it gets better. A lot of us, you know like, we have to travel abroad. We have to go… you understand? Some of us do believe that, you know, there's hope for the country. But for someone like me, I have tried. I'm not being pessimistic, but I'm saying I would like to experience things on the other side, you understand? First of all, so I can finally breathe in fresh air. And you know, taste what true freedom in you know, a demo, a true, a truly democratic system. I want to know what that looks like? I want to know what it feels like to, you know, talk to the police and sit down and have a drink with a policeman while asking for directions? Not feel like because he has the gun close to his pocket, I need to walk in a certain way. Or I need to cover my head. Or I need to not wear black clothing, or I need to not look in a certain way because he might apprehend me and call me a criminal, or shoot me down. You know? That's, that's, that's one of the challenges we face here, as creatives, as youths, and as Nigerians, and as individuals. We are looking for freedom. We are looking for platforms to express.


That is why, as long as there is breath in me, I will push my socially relevant works to the ends of the earth. Everybody has to see what is happening. Everybody has to know what is happening. I want to travel around the world and preach this message. This is where I'm coming from. You are lucky you can stand outside the road at 12 midnight and not feel like nobody's going to harass you. It is weird enough that the people, that's the police, people that are supposed to be protecting us are the ones that are harassing us. They're the ones killing us. They're the ones choking us. They're the ones you know, hurting and harming us. So right now I can't feel safe. Once it's eight o'clock once is 9PM I can stay in the confines of my house, else, my parents will start to bother. Else, I'll start to feel like you know, something might happen anytime soon.


I don't know who I should feel safe in the hands of: armed robbers or the policemen, at night. Is that crazy. Is that crazy? Is that crazy. So that's just it, man. We try to question what we can question, so they don't shut us out. The lucky ones can do all of that from over there, because they have a freer voice, but we that are, let me say stuck here have to do it in the way that we can. Art is the only way we can point fingers without directly pointing fingers.


The good thing about it is, although it's sad that we're calling it a good thing now, but, we just had so many coping mechanisms we put into place. Naturally now instead of us, you know, see ourselves as free, as people who are actually existing, we're just trying to survive. We're trying to live day by day. The economy's frustrating. You know, the creative space is becoming more and more and more choked and suppressed, because you can’t face so much. Because they're like, not so much support in terms of financials. Even in terms of, even in terms of moral, yeah, morally, there are not so many people that will support you. Because they feel like what's the need? What's the point? Everybody's down. Everybody's depressed. So it's like, it's a whole lot we have to deal with, but mostly has to be survival. For the country I was born into I should be proud of. I should, you know, wave the Nigerian flag. And sometimes I just get ashamed looking at the contents of our national anthem and looking at the reality of today, it's a whole shitload of nonsense.


So it's a nice thing to show people here. Yes. To be inspired. And know that you know, in as much as you know, probably our works resonated well and our messages were clear. You know, you can also aspire to do things like this, or even bigger, you understand? And it will be nice to also see, you know, all of this nice work from the other artists as well so that people here can see and know there is something like this. You can also invest your resources and your creative energy to this, you know. It doesn't have to be you are on the stage or you're in the studio. You can also try this. You know, we recorded all of this with just a mobile phone as well. A mobile phone. Because at that day we did not have access to cameras or any of the fancy equipment that you would naturally, you know... We just had to, we just have to make it work.