Spreading the Lagos state of mind

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Back in the day, I was part of a touring theatre production that highlighted many issues affecting Lagos and its inhabitants, long before pundits started describing that metropolis as a “megacity”. This production was born out of collaboration between several international partners and comprised of performers from a variety of backgrounds and heritages. When we arrived in cities in German speaking parts of the world, such as Switzerland and Germany, we were often surprised to discover the small communities of Nigerians who would come to see the show and socialise with us in our spare time, before we moved on to the next port of call.

Some of those Nigerians had built new lives for themselves in cultures that are very different to anything that most of us who share elements of that heritage might have encountered in our upbringings. I often wondered what it would be like to have grown up from childhood with the unique blending of a hybridised Middle European and Nigerian sensibility.

We met one or two people with that sort of background, particularly in Berlin. They spoke of growing up in the Eastern part of that city, before the Berlin Wall came down. One can only hope that some of those people will find ways to document their experiences, so the rest of us can benefit from knowing the feeling, even if it is only based on hearsay evidence.

There were others who had grown up in Nigeria and had skilfully adapted to the cultures of the places they had moved to. Were these people looking for nostalgic experiences in coming to see our show? I think they wanted to remember their pasts, but also get updated knowledge about the evolving ways of our people.

One fellow said to me “I accept that the life I lived in Nigeria is part of something that no longer exists and I’m not looking back. Travelling to Lagos would probably be too much of a culture shock for me. If I want to get a taste of Nigerian life now, I would go to London”.

Believe it or not, London is the capital city of Nigeria outside of the country itself, due to the large population of Londoners of that heritage. Hopefully there will be a time when artists and storytellers emerge from the Aladura Churches and Mosques of Homerton and Peckham to define the boundaries of that particular cultural hybrid for the rest of us.