We found Segun Adefila (pronounce: Shay Goon), as happens so often within the ICAF network, in a serendipitous way. A colleague in Trinidad who had studied in Nigeria connected us with some theatre professors there and they, in turn, pointed us to Segun. We then had a few Skype conversations with Segun and suddenly, out of the blue, at the end of October 2019 he turned up in Amsterdam to speak about children and art at a conference sponsored by DutchCulture. Nelly, Anamaria and Eugene went to meet him and discovered an unassuming, gentle and very focused artist who has been working hard for the past 25 years to make a difference in the Bariga township of Lagos, Nigeria. Qudus Onikeku, a friend of Segun, describes Bariga as “one of the most notorious areas for cult clashes and gangland conflicts in Lagos,” but also as “a treasure land for all sorts of talents and creative expressions”.
Between the age 18 and 25, Segun himself could be considered ‘at risk’. He roamed the streets, sleeping outdoors or at friends’ places and leading a hand-to-mouth existence. In 1995, he responded to an add and joined a performance group. A year later he founded his own company with a few friends from the neighbourhood. They called themselves Crown Troupe of Africa, after Segun’s last name, which means ‘crown’. Since then, they have trained themselves – and sometimes with outside help – in all kinds of art forms, ranging from theatre and dance to music, circus and visual arts. They create indoor and outdoor shows blending traditional performance forms with urban arts and in which they address social and political issues. They also produce community festivals in a part of the city where there is little cultural infrastructure. More than anything, they offer an alternative to young people who might otherwise be tempted by more dubious career paths. Says Segun: “Art is a powerful way to help youngsters to focus. We practice every morning, starting very early before it gets too hot. We work our artists so hard that they are too tired afterwards to get into trouble.”
Crown Troupe is unlike subsidised community-based arts organisations in the West. It can be considered a mix of arts education, talent development, and cultural enterprise in the vein of community theatre in South African townships, where community art blends seamlessly with creating job opportunities for unemployed youth. Crown Troupe occasionally manages to generate funds by performing in sponsored events. They have also won multiple national awards for their energetic engaged performances. In the midst of all this, Segun and his company are staunchly independent and critical of those in powers. In the first video Segun introduces himself, his company and the place where they work. When he was filming, Lagos had been in lockdown for four days as the reality of the Covid-19 virus was just beginning to sink in in this enormous sprawling megacity of over 20 million inhabitants. In the second video he, flutist David Adebowale Erinjogumla and percussionist Michael Kayode perform ‘Letter to Corona Something’, which expresses the resilience of the Bariga residents and contains a few satirical jibes at the political elite. It also gives you a chance to brush up your Nigerian Pidgin English.