Slum Party: community empowerment through dance

Sunday Obiajulu Ozegbe (he/him) is an artist, activist and dancer from Lagos, Nigeria. As part of the Inspired Flight series, TQTB talks to Sunday about Slum Party, an initiative that tackles social issues by bringing his community together through performance.

This article was first published in print in Journal 002 and released in December 2022.

On 24 July 2023, police and Lagos State Task Force officers came to the Idi-Araba neighbourhood of Oworonshoki. The homes of over 2,000 families were demolished without notice. These forced evictions have taken place during Nigeria’s rainy season. Idi-Araba‘s residents have not been offered compensation or alternative shelter.

Support the displaced community of Oworo today – donate via GoFundMe.

Growing up in Oworonshoki, Lagos, Sunday Obiajulu Ozegbe (also known as Valu) witnessed first hand how art can be used as a tool for activism and driving positive change. He followed this path to establish his own company, Ennovate Dance House, using movement and performance art as a tool to empower and stand up for his community. 

Dance was Valu’s passion from a young age, enabling him to channel his energy. 

“I was very hyperactive and energetic as a kid so in my free time I’d just go on the street to dance. They gave me the nickname ‘Sunny Makossa’ which was a popular dance style in Africa back then.”

His first big inspiration in terms of art and activism was Fela Kuti, who used his songs to call out the authorities and talk about the socio-political situation in the country.

“Fela was a major influence. Even though we were still young, we already knew that he was calling out the president. His music was beautiful, we knew what he was talking about so it really resonated with me.”

Photo: Bankole Dami

At 18, he was accepted into the QDANCE CENTER, kickstarting his professional career.

“It came at a very important time in my life. If I hadn’t met them then I probably wouldn’t be dancing right now. QDANCE showed me what was possible with performance. It had a big impact on me because, before that point, nobody in my community believed in the power of art.”

The mentorship he gained at QDANCE led Valu to hone his skills in movement and performance. From there, he started to develop his own projects including Ennovate Dance House which he started in 2018. The mission was always to give back to his community.

“I decided to come back to my neighbourhood and start mentoring kids. I created Ennovate and auditioned local dancers who I also mentored. We became a hub for dance groups and companies in the community.” 

Photo: Bankole Dami

Helping local talent to thrive eventually resulted in one of the dancers being awarded a scholarship to study dance in the Czech Republic.

Through Ennovate, Valu also used performance art to highlight issues in the community which had long been neglected.

“There is a road in Oworonshoki over a kilometre long. It was in a very poor state for over twenty five years. One day, when it was raining, I called the dancers and we did a performance, calling out the government for neglecting the infrastructure of our area. We were on this road, swimming in the mud – people took pictures and filmed and it went viral. The performance caught  the attention of the Lagos state government. It was really embarrassing for them – the road was renovated two weeks later.”

Ennovate won the trust of the community who began to see their activities had a direct impact on everyone’s lives.

Photo: Rosheed Akinyele

Over time the performances helped tackle a lot of serious issues.

“In 2018, our community faced security challenges. There were many killings. We performed in the most affected areas to highlight the problem and the need to go back to being the peaceful community we used to be. When we heard someone had been killed, we went to that spot to perform and pour out our frustrations.”

In 2019, Valu and his collaborators developed Slum Party, their most recognised initiative. At the time the situation was very intense and many young lives were lost to violence. Having received mixed feedback on their performances, with some people saying they were showing only the bad side of the community, they decided to take a new approach.

“The name was intentional because when young people hear ‘party’ they are sure to come,” explains Valu.

Photo: Adehin Clinton
Photo: Bankole Dami

The team decided to host the event in a dangerous spot in the community locals normally avoided.

Slum Party brought in many young people – Valu and his team also invited youth from different parts of the area, policemen and local councillors and had artists perform from all over Africa and even the diaspora. 

“This was our first project to get everybody involved. We didn’t have to worry about security. Nobody lost their phone, nobody got robbed… everybody was involved, including some of the ‘bad guys’.”

The turn out for Slum Party grew and grew.

“About 700 people came to the first edition in 2019. The last Slum Party in November 2021 had a turnout of 3,000 over the course of four or five editions.”

Looking back, the event brought the change they all wanted to see. 

“Presently, the community is really peaceful. The residents are working with the police and local security outfits. Now we are in a better place.”

Photo: Bankole Dami
Photo: Bankole Dami

As well as empowering his community on the ground, Valu represents Oworonshoki worldwide and has been touring with the QDance Company with Re:incarnation, a production from Qudus Onikeku. The performance blends ancient Yoruba philosophy with modern Nigerian youth culture. The show was featured internationally at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Lyon Biennale and FTA Montreal, Canada amongst others.

He explains the piece is an invitation to the diaspora to adopt a new perspective.

“Re:incarnation is a proposition of what the future can be like, speaking globally – not just culturally. As Africans we also have our own say in global issues. We aren’t waiting for the West to come up with all the ideas and solutions to move humanity forward. We have ideas and solutions that we’ve been creating on our own as Africans. Re:incarnation is, amongst many things, saying that we can go back to those ways.”

Receiving a Prince Claus Seed Award in 2021 gave Valu the resource to facilitate building solutions locally to support his community: access to the right people to build with, train and teach. He also used his Seed Award to expand Ennovate’s activities to other parts of Lagos.

As a firm believer in “growing where you’re planted”, Valu hopes his work will motivate people to reflect and look for their own solutions to build their community or country – and share hope.

“I had options to stay anywhere in the world but it is very intentional that I choose to stay in my community and create these structures.”

He believes that strengthening communication and collaboration among local residents and authorities can be achieved at different levels of society. To him, this means building a home. A place where he can fully be himself, listen to his favourite music on Sunday morning and find peace.

Photo: Bankole Dami
Photo: Bankole Dami

This article was first published in print in Journal 002 and released in December 2022.

On 24 July 2023, police and Lagos State Task Force officers came to the Idi-Araba neighbourhood of Oworonshoki to demolish the homes of residents without prior notice, compensation or alternative shelter. Over 2,000 families have been displaced.

Support the Oworo community whose homes have been destroyed via GoFundMe:

Photo: Bankole Dami

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Follow Sunday: @oluwavalu

Follow Ennovate: @ennovated

Slum Party: @_slumparty

WORDS: Nina Camara
IMAGE CREDITS: Dele Adeyemo, Banokle Damilola, Adehin Clinton + Rosheed Akinyele
IMAGE EDITS: Dele Adeyemo, Banokle Damilola, Adehin Clinton, Rosheed Akinyele + Simon Roberts