Ola Aralepo’s Polyphony was an incredibly engaging piece of storytelling. Dressed in a traditional Niergerian agbada, he greets us all and begins to tell us his story. Aralepo, a clinical psychotherapist, was born in the UK to Nigerian parents but adopted by a white woman. He explained to us the difference between raising a child in Nigeria, compared to in the UK. While the concept of adoption doesn’t really exist in Nigeria, the idea of your child living with other members of the community does.
It wasn’t uncommon for young children to go and live with other people i.e. not their immediate family, for a few years. It was a way of ensuring that (new and often young) parents were able cope with the strains that came with having a child and providing for the family. Often the children would return home. There was complete transparency, everyone knew whose child was whose. This is what Aralepo’s parents believed would happen when they signed the adoption papers. Of course, they were in for a surprise.
Aralepo started by taking us through the first moment he realised he was black: when his mother told him he was not her son, she having white skin and him having black skin. At six years old, his story of realising his own race is similar to that of many people of colour living in the UK. His honesty and naturalistic style of approaching his own life story helped us to relax and enjoy the retelling of his childhood experiences.
While he has skill as a storyteller, he does not in the tech department. We were often waiting through awkward silences for him to unlock his phone and find the song he wanted to play.
However, in an intimate space in the evening, we were all nodding our heads in agreements and laughing at the jokes the comedian told. But this wasn’t just a show. Aralepo had warned us earlier, he wouldn’t just be talking to us, this was about starting a conversation. It would be like a workshop. We even got to write on bits of paper at the end of the show answering the question of what we did when negative thoughts entered our mind. He is, after all, a psychotherapist. Through his own life story he explained how he had coped with his own anxiety. Through the medium of song and chanting he managed to block out the bad thoughts and even encouraged us to try some of our own chants. Aralepo has attended events to boost his confidence and public speaking and it showed. The ease at which he was able to talk to us about his emotional experiences was awe-inspiring.
Aralepo, now a natural storyteller and comedian travels around the country speaking of how he overcame his anxieties. He is an inspiration to us all.
Polyphony played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.