Image courtesy of Qudus Onikeku
Qudus Onikeku is a professional dancer and a social/cultural entrepreneur. Born and raised in the Surulere district of Lagos, Nigeria, he developed a love for acrobatics at the age of five and for dance at the age of thirteen. He is a graduate of the Ecole Nationale Supérieur des Arts du Cirque (2009) and now combines numerous elements to craft a singular and dynamic understanding of dance, art, politics, and “everything in between.” These elements include not only dance and acrobatics, but also traditional Yoruba philosophy, capoeira, and tai chi and other influences. He is passionate about initiating projects that inject “new life into the dynamism of arts and culture in France and beyond through the proactivity of African culture.” As an example, he is the co-founder of NollywoodWeek Paris, which held its first festival in Paris in May/June 2013.
One of Onikeku’s recent projects is AFRoPARISIAN Network, a social and cultural organization that he describes as a “kitchen” where members are invited to “cook” to satisfy their individual hungers and passions. He founded the organization as part of his examination of the influence that social-economic-political conditions have on the aesthetics and culture of people of African descent in the Paris region. The first meeting was held at the co-working venue l’AntiCafé on September 27, 2013 and by all accounts, it was a success!
Thirty people were expected but sixty turned up and no one else could be admitted to the event. The evening began with AKWAABA (a Twi word meaning “welcome”), where everyone got to introduce themselves, followed by a poetry and dance performance by Dagara Dakin and Aurelie Kung. Then the special guest of the month, film maker and writer Newton Aduaka, showed a compilation of some of his past films. There was a break, during which people engaged in casual conversation over tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks, and then the evening activities resumed with a dance and live music performance by Onikeku and Charles Amblard. Finally, the floor was opened for UBUNTU (“human kindness” in Nguni Bantu) Dialogues, a general conversation based on radical openness and respect. Onikeku reports that “the energy in the room was so inspiring and uplifting for the spirit,” and that “people were totally engaged.”
The theme of this first meet-up was “AfroParisian.” Onikeku describes this concept as embodying “peoples, creativity, and spirit,” with “peoples” being “from the continent, Parisians of Afro-Descendants, or simply Parisians connected or open to ancient or contemporary African aesthetics and reality.” It attracted a wide range of people of different races, genders, and native tongues (French and English), just as he had hoped.
Onikeku has chosen the motto "Unity in Diversity" for the group, based on the Yoruba philosophy of democracy – “all hands must be on the desk, every voice matters equally regardless your age, sex, profession etc.” He targets a wide range of “Afro-Descendants” but does not close the doors to others who are interested in the AFRoPARISIAN Network philosophy, saying “my father's house has no gate and no lock.”
With regard to outreach to the public via the Web, Onikeku acknowledges his challenges – he thinks first in Yoruba and simultaneously translates his ideas into English. It takes considerable effort for him to transcribe them into French, but he recognizes that because he lives in a French-speaking land, he has to make the effort to be bilingual. He says that this work to his advantage because it automatically emphasizes the international component of his network’s activities.
Regarding the “spirit” element of AfroParisian, Onikeku says that:
It is very African to know that no human person can be alien to another…We belong to the human family, and humanism itself has its proper abode within Africanist philosophy. To date, Africa is the only continent where people can be Black, Arab, Indian, Asiatic, White etc and still claim to be African without any further discussion. It is in the context of this basic philosophy, which you'll find in various cultures in Africa, that we have devised the AFRoPARISIAN Network.The element of “creativity” was evident in the poetry, dance, film, and music that were shared during this first event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnE9FteYA-A.
Onikeku’s Web site, YK Projects, describes AFRoPARISIAN Network as a “think tank.” It also says that the network has “chosen arts, creativity and dialogue as our navigating compass, because art and creation speaks the language of sharing and community.” When asked to reconcile the concept of a think tank with the group’s focus on creativity, he said the following:
…through art, dialogue, and social networking, we've created an almost invisible Social think tank, where the participants are at the same time performer and audience, producer and
consumer of the moment that we are creating together in the here and now. I think this gives people the ability to be completely engrossed in the present, without any thoughts or prejudice whatsoever…being completely in the moment is something relatively new to experience in this super fast-paced world.
AFRoPARISIAN Network meets once a month. The next meet-up is scheduled for October 18th from 7 – 11 PM. It will be held at:
41, Boulevard Saint Martin
Metro: Strasbourg Saint Denis (Line 4)
To keep abreast of the activities of the network, visit ykprojects.com, the AFRoParisian Facebook page, Twitter @afroparisian, or Onikeku’s personal website (in French and English) at qudusonikeku.com.
Photos by Estelle Fromentin and Hajarat Alli.
Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.
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