Bolaji Alonge is a journalist who has taken the medium of photography to project the world. In this interview with EDOZIE UDEZE of The Nation at the Artmiabo International Festival held in Lagos recently, he took time out to emphasize on the timeliness of Afrobeats and what the music has done to give positive image to Nigeria and lots more.
BOLAJI Alonge is a journalist, a renowned photographer who has toured almost all parts of Nigeria taking pictures of epic scenes. He uses his art not just to talk about the society but to also correct some misplaced concepts about the entity called Nigeria. At the Artmiabo International Festival which took place in Lagos recently, Alonge featured as one of the foremost artists. He came with lots of his works; works he has done over the years that give symbolism to afrobeats, to the Nigerian scenic views, cultures, traditions, institutions, name it.
He said simply, “I use my art to represent Nigeria, to say good things about our society, the whole environment. It is not that we do not have bad sides, but my emphasis is usually on the good and bright sides. There is no society that does not have bad sides, ugly scenes, lopsided development. I present our society in a beautiful way because often we get carried away by what does not work in our society”.
He went on; “By this it diminishes our reputation. For us, the afrobeats music represent our identity. Outside, even when people abuse us, they still go back to dance to our music. So, our music speaks for us. So, it is a good thing. We now relate that to our art, to the photographs we often take. Our music is now the in-thing. We have stopped or rather reduced the time devoted to listening to foreign music. And that is why part of what we do in this festival is to resonate or rather give more attention to afrobeats, to this genre of music that is our own through and through”.
Alonge is ever ready to also use photography to overcome bad ideas people have about Nigerian. From North to South, East to West in Nigeria he has travelled and traversed to capture glorious scenes, some epic, some ancient, others modern and efficacious in the Nigeria developmental levels and stages. “Our music is our art and we use it to relate to who we are. Now this is how we communicate. This is how we live. It comes in naturally for us to communicate with our type of art. You see the works over there. They all show afrobeats in action. I am also an apostle of the Africa shrine which is where the afrobeats is totally enmeshed”.
In ensuring that he promotes all the good ideals that help for a new Nigerian art, Alonge indulges those who have the same goals as he has. His works are spellbinding, authentic and highly spectacular. “I try to also encourage young Nigerians to always focus on the good and not on the bad. Or spend time on the internet insinuating and talking nonsense. We should take it upon ourselves to promote our society, our people generally. It does us no good if we are the ones destroying our country before the international community”.
According to him, people should desist from celebrating only the ills, the bad. “You won’t even hear or see the British or an American, for instance, talking about the bad aspects of their society, their social life and so on. So, my art is to eulogise Nigeria. Nigeria is a beautiful country, yes, it is a good place to be. There are a few bad things that need to be corrected. But that does not make it a very bad place. For me, art is one of those ingredients we can use to correct some of the wrong impressions about our people, the society and art itself”.
A thorough-bred professional, Alonge is rugged on the job. Tall and dashing, he appears too macho in an impressive way. His frame as a person showcases Nigeria as a society full of the best in human and material resources. He exhibits life, life to the fullest as he strides along with his camera. There is this pride and air of importance about him that shows that he lives what he preaches. His strong belief in the authenticity of the Nigerian project is infectious. All the pictures he showed to this reporter represent the best of the beauties of Nigeria. “I go about looking for such pictures”, he teased, his eyes full of pride.
For a queasy instant, you would think Alonge is exaggerating. Then suddenly he began to open and flip through his collections. You are now taken temporarily through his amazing collections that traverse the length and breadth of Nigeria. He looked up, grinned and continued. Of course, how seldom one meets such an enthusiastic and gregarious photographer. He attaches great importance to impressionistic photos that lift the spirit, that make a dull day, a bright one. These are the sorts of pictures you cannot easily or readily encounter in libraries or galleries or museums. He has them, he cherishes them and he exhibits them whenever the occasion calls for it. In all these, he is quintessential, outstanding, tidy. He produces the best there can be.
“I document Femi Kuti and now we have Made Kuti. I document all of them. I have been very close to the Kuti family in the last twenty years or thereabout. I am an ambassador of the shrine. I was 20 years when Fela passed away. And so, I couldn’t have been going to shrine at that age. Afrobeats is big. It is done all over the world now. People are conscious of it; people listen and dance to it. If you open the internet, you see me all over the place promoting the afrobeats”. Where necessary also Alonge helps the younger ones in the act of photography. For him, this sort of mentoring goes a long way in keeping the legacy on and on and on.
First Published on The Nation Newspapers 2 July 2023