7 January 2009

Nigeria: Dance Draws Young Into Museum

Kano — On any weekday evening in the heart of Kano's Old City, the sounds of a koroso dance troupe can be heard from within the maroon walls of the Gidan Makama Museum.

The museum is located close to the Emir's Palace. It is a traditional structure with thick mud walls keeping its galleries cool.

In the centre of the premises is an open stage. The Gidan Makama Koroso and Drama Group is the official name of the traditional dancing troupe that presents a daily performance here to entertain people in the city, especially the teeming youths of the Old City.

The dancers dress all in brown, with decorative beads round their heads and at their wrists and ankles. The dancers have beaded rattles tied to their ankles and wrists; these are the koroso for which the dance is named and the rattles bring forth their own music as the dancers leap about the stage.

Ranged along the lower side of the stage are four musicians. One plays the high-pitched kanzagi drum; another plays the ganga, its deep-voiced companion made from white goatskin. Others play sarewa flutes made from dried maize stalks.

On the stage itself, one performer tucks both his legs behind his neck, and then throws his arm behind his back, tying himself into a neat bundle. Another first cleans imaginary dirt from his eyes with his toes, and then moulds himself into an impossible position, shifting one loose limb like the gear stick of a car.

The dancers perform in pairs, sometimes assisting each other to achieve impossible shapes, sometimes striving individually to outdo the other.

The story goes that koroso music arrived in Kano in 1972. According to the records kept by Kano State's History and Culture Bureau, some Fulani pastoralists visiting Kano's old city taught a new-found friend, Mahmud Sarkin Busa, some new dance steps accompanied by a Fulani flute.

It caught on quickly, and those simple flute melodies were developed and enriched with the addition of other Hausa musical instruments.

The dancing too has changed over the last three decades. In 1987, a new choreography called marwalle -- drawing on a festive dance performed by youths performed during the harvesting season -- was blended into koroso for entry into Nigeria's National Festival of Arts and Culture.

Numerous small dance troupes have created their own unique versions of koroso by incorporating dance steps of musicians like M.C. Hammer and Michael Jackson, or Congolese makossa star Awilo Logomba.

According to an official at the museum, Danlami Sani, the group was set up by the museum to perform daily, so as to attract people into the museum. As many as 200 people attend the daily live show, coming from all over the city and elsewhere in the state.

The vice chairman of the Gidan Makama dance group, Malam Uba Uba, told IPS that although they charge the audience an entrance fee, the museum doesn't receive a penny from the troupe.

"We make as much as 31,000 naira (about 200 dollars) a day, which we share amongst ourselves, not equally but according to official ranking in the troupe. And we save some for the group 'in case of a hot day'."

He notes that most of the troupe's members are not otherwise employed, so they depend a lot on the money they receive from the performance. Though the daily pay is not enormous, it is enough to attract a steady stream of applicants from those who attend the shows; Uba maintains the troupe's size at around 18 members at a time.

Uba says his troupe is different from the early koroso groups, which included women as performers. Uba stated that for the past two years, women have not been welcome at the Gidan Makama Museum, even in the audience, in line with a directive from the museum management to comply to the shariah system in the state.

Special permission was granted to me as a woman journalist to attend, and most of the regular audience and performers were not comfortable with my presence and camera.

One of the few audience members who agreed to speak with IPS, teenaged Muhammad Auwal, said the show was a source of delight to him. He said he saves any money he can, to visit the museum whenever possible.

"I never let my parents know that I come here so often, because they may not like it. But I ask for money from my father, telling him that I want to buy something But I don't come here every day, I sometimes come on Thursdays and Fridays when I don't have Islamic school."

Ali Abubakar Bature, the director of arts and culture of Kano State History and Culture Bureau, told IPS he believed local government councils in the state should support such groups in order to promote culture and reduce unemployment amongst Kano youths.

The state's History and Culture Bureau maintains its own koroso troupe to perform at various national and international events. The state troupe involves women dancers as well. Ironically, most of them are not Hausa, but come from the southern and eastern parts of the country; they rarely perform within Kano state.

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