Unbound: Outriders Africa

We meet Donna Ogunnaike, one of the writers taking to the stage as part of the new Outriders Africa project

Feature by Beth Cochrane | 01 Jul 2019
  • Unbound 2019

In shifting, disorienting times, a writer can make a unique contribution to our understanding of the world. This is the basis of Outriders, which saw five Scottish writers and five international writers journey the Americas and offer a creative work in response. In 2019, phase two of this launches, bringing writers to embark on journeys through Africa to engage in new discussions. At Unbound, we get a sneak peek into the project before they embark. 

It’s not often you come across a woman like Donna Ogunnaike, one of the leading names in the project. An oil and gas lawyer and partner in the Nigerian law firm ACAS-Law, she was awarded Outstanding Professional of the Year in the 40 Leading Lawyers Under 40 Awards and ranked as a leading lawyer in oil, gas and energy in 2017 by the IFLR 1000.

But she’s not just a leading law expert. Ogunnaike is also a poet and theatre practitioner whose accolades span across the globe. She has been awarded Queen of Spoken Word Poetry across many years and was the only Nigerian published in National Poetry Month: Uplifting Verses From 11 Strong Female Poets, alongside Maya Angelou, Carol Ann Duffy and Kate Tempest.

Ogunnaike will be descending on Charlotte Square for an evening of music, performance, dance and readings, a celebration of Africa and preview of the journeys to come. Those attending can see Zimbabwe’s Tsitsi Dangarembga and Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor, plus a string of musical delights. And that’s just for starters.

"I believe that it was on the basis of the event last year that I got recommended to be a part of the Outriders Africa Project, 2019!" begins Ogunnaike. "I could not believe it when I got the email. I closed it, shut my eyes and told myself that I was dreaming… until I woke up and the mail was still there. It is all so amazing!"

Her journey to the Outriders Project began back in 2017 when Ogunnaike wrote, produced and directed an experimental art installation called Strelitzia… An Experimental Journey to Self. "With Strelitzia, I sought to explore human vulnerabilities using nostalgia as its premise for an intimate walk through a physical box, with the aim of unburdening at the end of the journey," she explains. "To achieve this, I fused poetry, dance, music, film and visual cues into a swirling, emotional journey through the past, present and future."

The performance proved incredible, as shown by its remarkable run over several stages. Its first was hosted at the British Council’s Lagos Theatre Festival in 2017. Strelitzia then found its home in the World Cultures Festival, Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing Theatre in November, 2017, and in the Lagos Theatre Festival, 2018. It was here that Scotland first crossed paths with her work, leading to further international opportunities.

She continues, "I then got invited to visit Scotland to see if opportunities to bring Strelitzia to the Festival exist; it was in the course of these discussions that a further invitation was given for me to perform poetry at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and at the BBC Arts Hour on Tour. I am still chuffed! It was such an honour performing at both shows. The experience at the Book Festival for me was pure joy!"

Ogunnaike performed her poetry to an awestruck audience at last year’s Book Festival, where she was accompanied by folklorist, guitarist, musician and producer Tonie ‘The Emperor’ Akinola. She fondly remembers the warmth of the audience, and goes so far to say that the experience felt like home.

It’s fair to feel the excitement brewing at the prospect of another incredible Outriders project, more so to see Ogunnaike accompanied by such an esteemed and vibrant line-up. The thrilling fusion of poetry, dance and music that Ogunnaike and her team have created is sure to leave the Spiegeltent inspired, moved and invigorated to engage with more international poetry and conversations.

Outriders Africa, Edinburgh International Book Festival Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square Gardens, Wed 14 Aug, 9pm, free and unticketed