OUR HERITAGE - Interview by Reflection Magazine

Introducing ADANTA - African Dance & Theatre Association

...Adanta is an organisation with members doing exactly what their name means. They dance to entertain and their dance is not a European one with an Irish or a Spanish blend, but an authentic African blend. They are a fascinating group to watch. They make an impression - an indelible one. Even our former colonial masters, who once thought we had no culture and civilization, would rewrite their twisted history books after watching their performance.

If you do not find them impressive, it is probably because you do not love African dances and generally African culture. You might or might not have watched them entertain audiences at weddings and community summer parties in London. If you have, you will agree with my conclusion that they are positive ambassadors of black Africa. Their energetic, rythmic, and acrobatic dances are so entertaining and often compel the audience to clap their hands for lengthy periods...

INTERVIEW WITH SUNNY NWACHUKWU
founder - ADANTA DANCE GROUP

Q: Many people might have watched your performances at weddings and other events but not all know much about the personalities who founded, lead and sustain the group. Tell us who you are. Tell us when and where you were born and raised.

A: My name is Sunny Nwachukwu. I was born in Jos, Plateau State in 1955. My father is Obieze Nwachukwu and my mother's name is Christiana Nwachukwu. Both are natives of Oyofo in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, Nigeria. My father was a businessman in Jos, Nigeria while my mother was a school teacher.

Q: In which towns and cities were you raised?

A: I grew up partly in Jos before the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) and after that in Enugu. My teen years were spent in Kaduna, Kano and eventually, Lagos all in Nigeria. Therefore, I was all over the country.

Q: Our readers will like to know more about you. Which schools did you attend and when?

A: I attended Fatima Primary School in Jos before the civil war and then St. Patrick's Primary School in Ogbette, Enugu. For my secondary education, I attended Nike Grammer School, also in Enugu. I completed my school career in 1975.

Q: Did you attend any other training courses after that?

A: Yes, I did a few accountancy and other job related courses prior to coming into this country.

Q: Tell us about your wife. Did she study Theatre Arts?

A: No, she did not. None of us actually studied Theatre Arts. The interest we have in the performing arts is what is sustaining our activities to date.

Q: Will you ascribe your interest to an innate talent?

A: Yes. You know that in performing arts it is a basic requirement. You must have that. Added to that is the passion and love for performing arts. I was lucky to meet someone (his wife) who shares a similar interest. I started dancing from the age of six. I started performing with ATILOGWU (a famed Igbo-Nigerian dance group) from that age.

Q: Were your parents stage performers at any time in their lives?

A: Not stage performers. My father was a good guitarist and a very good musician. He also played the conga and he sang as a hobby. He was a traditional dancer and very well known. He passed it unto us his children.

Q: You mentioned dancing from an early age. Did anybody direct you to pursue this as a career?

A: Yes. I have an elder brother who is a good ATILOGWU dancer. His name is Louis Ogbonna Nwachukwu. Now he is in North Carolina, USA. He is a good guiter and conga player like my father. He noticed my talent as a child and encouraged me to become part of the ATILOGWU group that performed in our compound.

Rose and SunnyQ: How was ADANTA formed?

A: It started when I tried to develop a dance group for a community organisation. I was frustrated because I had a vision of a need to externalise African cultural dance in the UK. There was an obvious gap in that area. Therefore, when the opportunity came to work with young children from a state in Nigeria, I took it. I felt that was an avenue through which I could realise my ambition. Apparently some of them did not share the same vision and passion. I thought it was a waste of my time. Therefore, I took a brave step to try to develop myself. This was in 1996, while I was with the BBC. I worked with the BBC in 1996, with the postproduction and graphics design department. It gave me the opportunity to see the need for cultural contribution especially from a Nigerian and African perspective. When that happened, I felt I should do this. I started ADANTA together with my wife (Rose), and my little daughter (Tania). She was 4 years old at that time.

Q: We learnt that other individuals were involved in its formation and earlier growth. Tell us their names. Why did they leave?

A: My wife, daughter and I formed ADANTA in 1997. We sustained this activity for a period of six months without any person participating in it. We invited people from our local community, especially the women, to be part of it. When people started joining, most of them joined to bring their children to the dance group, and eventually they became interested and started learning how to dance; I taught them. When we were preparing for our first performance, I requested members to make a financial contribution towards obtaining costumes from Nigeria. None of them agreed to it. I offered certain positions of authority to a few people but no one took it up. After our first performance, which was successful, people began scrambling for positions.

Q: What are the names of these individuals?

A: Ah! I will rather not mention the names of the individuals. It will be unfair to them because no matter what happened between the individuals and me, they made immense contributions to ADANTA. They were the first set of people to validate what we were doing. They also played a vital role in her development. I did not tell them to leave but they left.

Q: Why did they leave?

A: Because they felt uncomfortable with my wife and I being leaders of the group. They felt if I was the leader, someone else other than my wife should be the co-leader. I requested them to put down on paper contributions they will make towards ADANTA. If that was acceptable, then we would have had guidelines to work with. They did not do that. In the end they decided to leave and form their own group.

Q: Did you make further efforts to resolve the crisis and bring them back?

A: Yes, I did. I phoned them. I wrote letters informing that we should talk about it. When they left, it was more like a conspiracy. They did not tell us. 90% of members of the group were among those who left. When they left, only my wife, my daughter and myself were left behind. They did it in such a way that it affected a booking we had. We had a booking to perform but on that day they did not turn up. People were expecting a whole group to perform but we (my wife, my daughter and I) ended up doing it. After that performance, they called us to say thay have decided not to be part of ADANTA.

I tried to talk to each one of them but they held unto their decision. They said we should not use their names in anything relating to ADANTA. Prior to that, we had some money raised through our performances; it belonged to all of us. I called them and informed them of the need to meet and share the money but they said we should keep it. I reported the issue to a woman known to them, Mrs Ngozi Onah. She mediated but they still held unto their decision. Eventually she returned it to me and advised me to give it to charity. I tried to ensure there was no problem between the group that left ADANTA and me. It is sad that part of the history of ADANTA ended up in acrimony because these people had the same passion as me. I am not trying to apportion blame. This is just my side of the story; they are not here.

Q: It must have cost a fortune to purchase the costumes and instruments you use when you were starting! How did you raise the money?

A: I was paying for it from our saving. It was quite a sacrifice at that time. I was working as a civil servant here in London. It actually cost me thousands of pounds.

Q: We assume that planning and organising the group affects other aspects of your lives. Is this assumption correct? Is this a full-time job or do you have another job?

A: I had other jobs prior to forming ADANTA. You are right; it does affect every aspect of our lives. I have three children. I have dependants in Nigeria. As far as that is concerned, my commitment to ADANTA has eroded my capacity to fulfil those responsibilities and obligations. It has reduced my earning capacity. ADANTA is still in the process of development. We have a clear objective where we want to take the organisation to. Until we achieve this, I know that it will require self-sacrifice, commitment, and self-denial to a great extent.

I could well be doing a full time job. You know I am not doing that. I have delved into quite many things that I thought would fit into my commitment to ADANTA and most of it did not work. I lost quite a number of good jobs in the process. I have gone into teaching. I have done things to keep me going. Now, I decided to throw in the towel and make ADANTA my one and only employment. Therefore, I am not working at the moment. My life is tied to ADANTA. Economically and socially, it is affecting me but I am happy doing it. I feel privileged to be able to realise a dream and that is enough satisfaction.

Q: How do you survive?

A: I survive by dancing for people at social events. I survive by holding a few government programs, working for community organisations. I survive by the income generated by ADANTA.

Q: How do you combine these activities with your parental responsibilities to your children?

A: My children come first in all that I do. I have an obligation to my children who are of school age. I have three children. Two are in primary school and one in secondary school. Their education is of paramount importance to me. Most importantly, is having time to be with them and passing on my moral values. I want them to grow up with moral values I approve. ADANTA has provided me with the opportunity to bond with my family because my wife and I are involved in it., and my children are part of the dance classes. Therefore, throughout the week we have the opportunity to pursue a common interest. Added to that, it provides me with the opportunity to make my children understand their culture and be proud of it.

Q: Does ADANTA give you the time to be with your children often?

A: It gives me the time to be with them quite often. It gives me time to know what they are doing at every time of the day. It gives me the time to see them develop. It gives me time to look at their school work.

Q: We have seen your children perform with you. They seem to enjoy it. Does it not affect their studies?

A: No, it does not affect their studies. My first daughter made an equivalent Straight A. Distinction in SSAT examination. She is an outstanding student, an exceptionally gifted child.

Q: How many dancers/performances do you currently have?

A: There has been a great turnover of dancers. Some left, not because they did not like ADANTA, but their social and economic commitments in the country made it impossible for them to sustain their interest. At the moment, I think I will say we are looking at about 25 members.

Q: Do you intend to increase or decrease this number?

A: ADANTA is always open to people. We are always requesting people to join because arts and culture cannot be limited. The more people enjoy what we are doing the better. The more they come, the more opportunities we have to pick individual talents and ideas.

Q: Looking at it from a financial point of view, if people or organisations hire you to perform at an event and you are 25 dancers, does it not affect the income per head?

A: It does. Many people who perform for the group are not doing it for financial rewards. First, most of the members are doing it for the love and interest they have for performing arts. Otherwise, they would not be doing it. It does not pay that much. What we give is just enough to sustain their interest in what they like doing best. It is a very difficult thing. Most times, I end up making sacrifices. Sacrificing my own personal income to pay people for performances in which they participated. We do believe that the more performances we hold, the more our profile will grow.

Q: Still looking at it from a financial point of view, is it not imperative to reduce the number of performers?

A: Yes. Even though we are up to 25, not all of us perform at a function. We look at the financial viability of a performance. We determine the number of dancers required by the amount of money paid. We have a minimum amount paid to a dancer for a performance.

Q: We observed and were amazed by the presence of Caucasians (white women) in your group. Tell us the history. When and how did they become part of the group?

A: Well, the white women in the group are Caroline Orme and Marvin Lenox. These two have been interested in African dance for quite a long time. They have associated themselves with a few performing groups before they joined ADANTA. We saw them rehearsing with a group. We realized they had immense talent and capitalized on the opportunity. They have been with us for the past two years.

Q: So they really had the ability to dance before they joined ADANTA?

A: They had the interest in African dance. They developed a few dance moves since joining ADANTA.

Q: So, what do you have to say about the belief that Caucasians (whites) cannot synchronise their dance steps to the rythmic beats of music?

A: They have...that is wrong. It is all about passion. If people are passionate about a thing and willing to learn, they will learn.

Q: Did it take a long time to train them to do so?

A: I have had Caucasians who found it difficult doing African dances but these two women stood out. They stood out because they had the rythmn and passion. One of them actually travelled to Ghana to live there for one year. Caroline Orme is hoping to go to Nigeria and learn the history of the dances. Therefore, it did not take long.

Q: How often do you have practice sessions?

A: We rehearse two times a week, on Thursdays and Fridays. On Thursdays we rehearse from 1930 to 2130 hrs. On this day of the week, we develop cultural dances from every part of Africa. On Fridays, we rehearse from 1630 to 1900 hrs, and practise a fusion of African and contemporary dance. Children mainly, attend the Friday classes.

Q: We learnt you have performed in various countries of the world. Who invited you?

A: We traveled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates on the invitation of the Dubai government in 2001. It was 10-day performance tour and a successful one. It was part of the Dubai Summer Surprises! We were highlights of the festival. They showed us on television for the whole 10 days.
In the same year, we went to New Jersey. We went on the invitation of my younger brother, Ejimah who lives in Atlanta. We performed at his wedding. We also performed for an African American organisation.

Q: Was it financially rewarding?

A: The Dubai performance was rewarding enough to sustain our being there but it was not something you will say you made a fortune. The trip to America was just about the same thing. Now, ADANTA is not that profitable as some people think, but the prospect is there.

Q: Tell us at least one experience you gained from those trips.

A: Those trips confirmed my belief that we have very interesting and beautiful culture. It is exciting to note how people reacted to our performance. It confirmed my belief that what we are doing has great potential, not just at a local British level, but an international one. It showed me that our culture is very rich and colourful. Those outside of our culture appreciate it more than us, the custodians of the culture.

Q: Was there something spectacular that they actually did, which indicated to you that they loved it?

A: Yes. In Dubai, after our first performance, we spent nearly 3 hours taking photographs with parents and children. They invited us to Television houses on a day-to-day basis. We had television interviews. Other members of the press were calling us and, bear in mind that we were not the only performing group there. To be singled out is a testimony to how the people appreciated our performance.

Q: Do you have any plans to internationalize ADANTA as the UMOJA group from South Africa?

A: That has been initial plan. That is one of the reasons why some of the people who have gone through ADANTA left. They saw it as something different. They did not share the vision, the initiative, that is, the fundamental objective we have for ADANTA. We have the dream to internationalize it. We started ADANTA with the aim of making it a theatre performing group and we are still working towards it. We know it has the potential of becoming one of the most sought after international performing groups. By the time we finish, I believe we will achieve this. As at today, we have held two productions. THE LAND OF A THOUSAND DANCES was one. Every year we hold dance productions, refining it, and making it a complete theatre production. I believe we are just a lot closer to that goal.

Q: At what stage and time can we look forward to going to the big West End of London Theatres to watch ADANTA perform?

A: A few people have told us we are at that stage. We believe that we still have a few things to do. We still have to polish our acts. We still have to add a few things here and there. I do believe that in the next few months. At present we have offers to perform within some local authorities outside London. We have an offer to travel to Malta. There are talks about going back to Dubai. We could see these as prototype events and watch audience reaction. After that we will know how soon to take it to theatres in West End of London. We are very close to that.

Q: Do you have a target date in mind?

A: My period as far as this plan goes, is nine months but prior to that, we will start holding low-key theatre performances.

Q: Tell us one unique (sad or happy) experience you had because of ADANTA?

A: Prior to our last production on 12 December 2003, I lost my mum on December 12. I had already invited people. There was no way I could cancel the show. Having to perform in the presence of guests while grieving for my mum was one of the saddest days of my life in ADANTA.

Q: We assume it has not been easy. Did you receive any significant assistance from individuals and/or organisations during your difficult times?

A: As I earlier said, everyone who has come through ADANTA has contributed in his or her own way, no matter how little. The development and growth of ADANTA is not completely my work. It is a shared contribution. Many individuals stand out in their support and contribution to ADANTA. The first person to come to my mind is Dr Ken Ife. He has been our rock since we started ADANTA. There are quite a lot of people and I cannot name all of them. We have Mary-Ann Chukwuekwem, Mrs Ebere Amadi (Achalugo), Mrs Ekeowa, who actually advised me to start teaching children cultural dances. I will like to use this opportunity to say thank you to all those who have been of help.

Q: What about organisations?

A: We had funding support from government agencies such as Brent Council, South Kilburn Community Trust and Enfield Council.

Q: How much does it cost to hire your group to entertain people in an event?

A: It does vary. We have two charges now and we are reviewing those charges. For a wedding where we perform with recorded music, we charge 350. It starts from 350 as a minimum charge. 450 for some performances and, depending on the requirement, goes to 600.

Q: Are you still happy doing what you are doing?

A: Yes. I am happy doing what I like.

Interview & Photos by
Obi Ikechi - Reflection Magazine 2004

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