Trisha Shetty

The Mbari Club

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The Mbari Club was a centre for cultural activity by African writers, artists and musicians that was founded in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1961 by Ulli Beier, with the involvement of a group of young writers including Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. Mbari, an Igbo concept related to "creation", was suggested as the name by Achebe. Among other Mbari members were Christopher Okigbo, J. P. Clark and South African writer Ezekiel Mphahlele, Frances Ademola, Demas Nwoko, Mabel Segun, Uche Okeke, Arthur Nortje and Bruce Onobrakpeya.

Contents

The Daily Telegraph in an obituary of Beier noted that "the Mbari Club became synonymous with the optimism and creative exuberance of Africa’s post-independence era. Fela Kuti made his debut as bandleader there, and it became a magnet for artists and writers from all over Africa, America and the Caribbean." In the words of Toyin Adepoju: "Coming to birth in the flux of the preindependence and immediate postindependence period in Nigeria, it brought together a constellation of artists whose work embodied the quality of transformation embodied by the aesthetic of creation, decay, and regeneration evoked by the Mbari tradition."

Closely connected with the literary magazine Black Orpheus, which Beier had founded in 1957, Mbari also acted as a publisher during the 1960s — considered to be the only African-based publisher of African literature at the time — producing 17 titles by African writers. Mbari published early works by Clark, Okigbo and Soyinka, poetry by Bakare Gbadamosi (Okiri, 1961), Alex La Guma (A Walk in the Night and Other Stories, 1962), Dennis Brutus (Sirens, Knuckles, Boots, 1963), Kofi Awoonor and Lenrie Peters, as well as translations of francophone poetry.

History

Founded in 1961 by a diverse group of writers, visual artists, musicians and actors, and active throughout the 1960s, the Mbari Club was originally located in Ibadan's Dugbe Market, on the site of "an old Lebanese restaurant that was converted into an open-air performance venue, an art gallery, a library, and an office."

While celebrating the creativity of Nigerian talent in the newly independent nation, Mbari "was an international environment, attracting artists from across Africa and beyond". The premieres of Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero and Clark's Song of a Goat were staged at Mbari, and internationally renowned artists were also invited to play or exhibit their work, including Langston Hughes, Jacob Lawrence, Pete Seeger. The club also initiated writing competitions.

As recalled by Lindsay Barrett, secretary of the Mbari Club from 1966 to 1967: "We were in a historic, literary setting ... when the civil war [1967–70] broke out and disintegrated everything."

Mbari Mbayo

In 1962 a similar club based on the same concepts, called Mbari Mbayo (the name this time reflecting a Yoruba phrase meaning: "Were I to see, I would rejoice" or "When we see it we shall be happy"), was developed in Oshogbo — about 50 miles northeast of Ibadan — by dramatist Duro Ladipo together with Beier and Mphahlele. Ladipo converted his father's house into an art gallery and a theatre, where he produced his plays. Artists who emerged from the Mbari Mbayo Club in Oshogbo include Twins Seven Seven and Jimoh Buraimoh.

Mbari-Enugu

The Mbari-Enugu Club of Eastern Nigeria was established in 1963 and like Mbari Mbayo was particularly a platform for sculpture, painting and literary performance.

Legacy

In June 2016 the Ibadan Literary Society (IBS) was launched, modelled after the Mbari Club.

References

The Mbari Club Wikipedia


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