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Reviewed by:
  • Duro Ladipo: Thunder-God on Stage, and: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Drama and the Kamĩrĩĩthũ Popular Theater Experiment
  • Christine Matzke (bio)
Duro Ladipo: Thunder-God on Stage. By Remi Raji-Oyelade, Sola Olorunyomi, and Abiodun Duro-Ladipo. 2nd edition. Ibadan: IAS (Institute of African Studies), University of Ibadan & IFAnet Editions, 2008 (2003); 207 pp. Nigerian Naira 1200 paper.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Drama and the Kamĩrĩĩthũ Popular Theater Experiment. By Gĩchingiri Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2007; 308 pp. $29.95 paper.

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If you are based in the Northern hemisphere and looking for English-language works on African theatre and the performing arts, choices are limited, but not dismal. First, you might examine what Africana publishers with a good humanities program have to offer: James Currey, for example, Bayreuth African Studies Series (BASS), or Africa World Press. Then you might consult academic publishers with African studies and/or theatre series: Indiana University Press, Cambridge University Press, Routledge, or Rodopi, to name but a few. If you are interested in African theatre scholarship published on the African continent, however, material is much harder to come by. The most obvious source to consult is the African Books Collective (ABC), a UK-based nonprofit marketing and distribution outlet owned by a group of African publishers. Yet despite covering some 119 publishing houses in 19 African countries, their drama and theatre section is extremely small. In June 2008, ABC only featured three full-length studies in their catalogue—a drama handbook and two single-author studies, all of them published in or prior to 2002. I am not trying to say that there is little contemporary theatre scholarship in Africa. Last year's IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) conference on "Theatre in Africa—Africa in the Theatre" in Stellenbosch, South Africa, is proof of the contrary, with roughly a quarter of the 300 participants coming from longstanding African theatre departments, such as those at the University of Ibadan, the University of Dar es Salaam, and the University of Botswana. The statistical makeup, however, is quite indicative of the resources available to local theatre scholars. Often, the dissemination of their work is hampered by lack of funding and/or affordable publishing outlets, and a dearth of wider-than-local distribution channels. Publishers often demand printing costs upfront—hardly affordable for your average theatre person—while distribution beyond the national academic market is habitually difficult. Much of the theatre material generated by colleagues in Africa thus never makes it into print; and that which does, often does not make it beyond the local campus library or the author's immediate circle of colleagues and friends. The first book under review here, a sourcebook on the Nigerian theatre artist Duro Ladipo, thus came to me by chance rather than choice—hand-delivered by a Nigerian colleague attending a conference in Europe. It is often these personal contacts that keep knowledge about theatre scholarship in Africa alive, via former or ongoing research collaborations, alumni networks, and conference contacts. It goes without saying that such links remain selective. And to bring the story to full circle, many [End Page 158] academics at African universities face similar problems. Often they cannot get hold of theatre books published abroad, partly because of the cost, partly because marketing, payment, and delivery arrangements leave much to be desired.

This somewhat haphazard movement of people, performance, and knowledge between the South and the North is also reflected in the lives of the two artists under discussion. The late Duro Ladipo—performer, musician, dramatist, and director with a permanent base in Oshogbo, Nigeria—frequently toured the world, spreading the word about his highly acclaimed Yoruba "folk opera"; Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Kenyan novelist, playwright, scholar, and essayist, was forced into exile in the US after his involvement in a local, highly politicized community theatre project, and has been operating from there ever since. Both artists have been very influential as theatre practitioners; both were "popular" in Africa, though in different senses; and both produced plays...


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