Writings of the general word's body

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Reads

Extract from A. Igoni Barrett's novel in progress

Daoju Abrakasa--who until she came to depend on it for the courage to face up to each day’s challenges had steered clear of even the whiff of alcohol--had taken to the bottle not long after she and her three children were forced to abandon the comfort of her husband’s house. Prior to her removal she had for five long months been engaged in a tooth-and-nail battle to secure what was hers by right of marriage. Pa Abrakasa, eighty-two years old but still hale and hearty enough to drain five calabashes of palm wine at a sitting and then make the bedsprings squeal every night as he played house with his fourth and youngest wife, had one day thrown a quizzical glance at his chest, scratched his grizzled chin, and died. His death struck his household like a thunderclap: no one had seen it coming.

~ * ~ * ~

And courtesy of 'The Binj', a new story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, My American Jon, exclusively on Binyavanga Wainaina's blog. A narrative of 'race, writing and difference'. Oh, plus sex and romantic love. Amaka has been with white Jon for 2 years. Are they headed for the altar, or will 'complexity' get in the way? Put another way, will Amaka do something to shake that 'certainty' with which Jon regards everything and everyone? Here's an excerpt...

Who says we were not lying all those times we clung to the comforting idea of complexity? It wasn’t about race, we would say, it was complex – Jon speaking first and me promptly agreeing. What if the reasons for most things didn’t require blurred lines? What about the day we walked into a Maine restaurant with white-linen-covered tables, and the waiter looked at us and asked Jon, “table for one?” Or when the new Indian girlfriend of Jon’s golf partner Ashish said she had enjoyed her graduate experience at Yale but had disliked how close the ghetto was and then her hand flew to her mouth after ‘ghetto’ and she turned to me and said, “oh, I’m so sorry” and Jon nodded as if to accept the apology on my behalf. What about when he, Jon, said he hated the predatory way a black man had looked at me in Central Park, and I realized I had never heard him use the word predatory before? Or the long weekend in Montreal when the strawberry-haired owner of the bed and breakfast refused to acknowledge me and spoke and smiled at Jon and I was not sure whether she disliked black people or simply liked Jon and later in the room, for the first time I did not agree that it was complex, at least not in the way I had agreed all the other times. I shouted at Jon – the worst thing is never being sure when it is race and not race and you’ll never have this baggage!

Sorry is the hardest word

You always kind of knew that if a major public figure in Britain would do it, it might be someone like Ken Livingstone. "It was the racial murder of not just those who were transported but generations of enslaved African men, women and children. To justify this murder and torture black people had to be declared not human. We live with the consequences today." And Ken wept.
If you read certain major newspapers the next day you'd have never known it happened, because they completely ignored it. But no matter. Reassuring, to know that man can think upon slavery and weep, regardless of race, creed or colour.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In the Review

Miles Davis famously baffled adoring European audiences time and again by turning his back on them as he played. Turned out the mean, moody persona he cultivated was deliberate, at least some of the time. "Whites love it all too much when we blacks monkey around," he believed, so the turned back was a kind of racial protest; and a refusal to 'monkey around'. No need to wonder about the protest in Strange Fruit, the heart wrenching anti-lynching song immortalised by Billie Holiday. In Review of 18th August, writer Caryl Phillips took another look at 'the greatest song of the 20th Century'.

My love affair with 'the book' - Derek Walcott's first book of poetry that is. VS Naipaul first heard of it as a school pupil in 1949, laid eyes on it in 1955 and met its author in 1960. Walcott at 18 was already a legend of the islands. In a rhapsodic 2-page spread (and an extract from his forthcoming book, 'A Writer's People - Ways of Looking and Feeling'), Naipaul writes about his fellow islander, Walcott.

Excerpt - "The competing empires of Europe had beaten fiercely on these islands, repeopled after the aborigines had gone, turned into sugar islands, places of the lash, where fortunes could be made, sugar the new gold. And at the end, after slavery and sugar, Europe had left behind nothing that could be called a civilisation, no great architecture, no idea of local beauty, no memory of style and splendour (the splendour created by the sugar wealth would have occurred elsewhere, in Europe), only the smallest small change of civility. Everything that remained was touched with the pain of slavery: the brutalities of the popular language, and the prejudices of race: nothing a man would wish to call his own. And when, in the 1940s, middle-class people with no home but the islands began to understand the emptiness they were inheriting (before black people claimed it all) they longed for a local culture, something of their very own, to give them a place in the world.

Walcott in 1949 more than met their need. He sang the praises of the emptiness; he gave it a kind of intellectual substance. He gave their unhappiness a racial twist that made it more manageable."

And let's not forget this profile of the Booker winning author of The Famished Road, Ben Okri, whose new novel, Starbook will (as is the wonderful fad these days) be published in Nigeria almost the same time as the UK.

About the new book - This book, he says, was "the fruit of a personal transformation through fire and suffering, and eventually through humility". He admits a link to a period of bereavement, when his mother, Grace, died in 1996 (an "appalling, emptying experience") and his father, Silver, in 1998. "It's Mum, it's Dad - it's Africa," he says. "Africa's pain, invisibility, misconception. One's living it all the time. Not just the media perception of it, but in terms of individual lives - the stuff you see in people's eyes. How Africa's perceived; how we perceive, and fail to perceive, one another."

Pure Joy - Coming your way

The buzz is on for AYO's album, 'Joyful' - out next month. Her name means 'Joy' in Yoruba. She was born in Germany to a Nigerian father and a gypsy mum. Fela's music played in the house as Ayo was growing up, and Keziah Jones' is her preferred guitar technique.

You can watch a video of Ayo's single, Down On My Knees on YouTube.

Little Gambia

This is Gambian hip-hop artist Dr Olugander, one of the opening acts of the 2nd International Sable Litfest in Bakau last month. His track, 'Little Gambia' played so many times during the litfest it almost became the theme tune. He does wonderful collaborations with traditional musicians like the Kora group, The Promised Land, who took the stage with him at the litfest. Visit Dr Olugander on MySpace and have a listen to 'Little Gambia'.
  • Images by MW

On Black Beauty

Aside from obvious relief in learning that Naomi Campbell can be in the news these days for something other than accusations of bashing the help, why do I care about the above? I guess this whole issue of black models and the mighty odds stacked against them in the beauty/fashion business is one that's always irked me. I wrote a short story (unpublished) predicated upon it, in which a model in London heads US way because she believes she'll have slightly better chances there. A number of people questioned whether I was not simply scare-mongering; if things were really that bad. Things were that bad, I always replied. I was very much in the mindset of 90's UK in the story. Now Naomi confirms that, in the new millennium, things are just as they were, if not worse. Just as I suspected. The supermodel pointed out (in case we'd failed to notice) that black models who occasionally get featured in ad campaigns are more often than not the 'less ethnic', more racially neutral kind. Naomi is looking to set up agencies in places like Kenya and it seems like she will be paying more attention to the welfare of the black model from here on. Here's hoping Ms Campbell can stay on track with this, and keep out of the courtroom. Some things really should be beneath a perennial supermodel after all.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Save the National Theatre

Protests @ proposed sale of the National Theatre

From A CORA communique - On Tuesday August 21 at 10am, a conference of stakeholders in the Arts, Culture and Tourism sectors will hold in the Banquet hall of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. The main objective is to further deliberate on the proposed Sale/Concession of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.The Conference is sequel to a meeting of heads of sectoral bodies of Nigeria Artists, which met on August 11 on the platform of the Coalition of Nigerian Artists as convened by Mr. Mufu Onifade and Mr. Biodun Abe among others (see communique below). You will recall that same Coalition of Nigerian Artists (CONA) had staged a massive protest few weeks back in the precinct of the Theatre complex, to protest the announced Concession/sale of the National Theatre.

~ * ~

From ANA Lagos -All creative writers, especially those resident in Lagos, are hereby invited to a special reading organised by the Lagos Branch of Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA Lagos, to express our collective anger at the Federal Government’s resolution to cede the National Theatre, Nigeria’s national cultural centre, to private investors albeit through “concession”, despite the protestations of the major stakeholders in the art and culture community.

All participating writers are enjoined to bring placards, and write-ups, including poems and other creative works on the subject for presentation at the special reading, which takes place next week, Thursday, August 30, 2007, at the main entrance of the National Theatre, from 4. 00 pm.

Dress Code: Red

This demonstration is one of the activities lined up by the Congress of ANA Lagos to appeal to the Federal Government of Nigeria to review the ill-advised undertaking. Writers are also implored to write and publish (via the Internet and other media – print and electronic) strong articles, poems, plays, stories, etc. to underscore the implications of selling off national monuments.

Folu Agoi

0803 725 7165 / 0802 116 8565

Chairman, ANA Lagos

Meet Foluke Taylor

Foluke Taylor, photographed in Tendaba Camp, The Gambia, on 7th July 2007.
Foluke Taylor is a writer based in The Gambia, where she relocated with her family some years ago. Foluke has had an interesting life journey to the self. To identity. Born in the UK to a Nigerian father, she was never given a Yoruba name. Things changed when she met a Babalawo in London over a decade ago. He 'claimed' her, did a Yoruba naming ceremony for her, and gave her the name she bears to this day - Foluke.
From Banjul to a writing workshop in Tendaba to the Sable Litfest in Bakau and to Serekunda, I did get to spend precious time in Foluke's company - like reconnecting with a sister.

New Read

Excerpt from a romp of a story by Hari Kunzru, Magda Mandela, published recently in The New Yorker. A lusty portrait of a riotous female who claims to be the daughter of none other than - you guessed it - the Madiba...

"One of the younger and less experienced constables has obviously asked her to accompany him to a place where, as an agent of the state, he will feel less exposed. A police station, perhaps. Or a hospital. Anywhere that will tip the odds a little in his favor. Magda has met this suggestion with the scorn it deserves. She knows that she outnumbers these fools. YOU KNOW ME, she says. Then, with a sinister leer, AND I KNOW YOU.

Being known by Magda is a messy and unavoidably carnal experience. All of us neighbors have been known by Magda. Last time she knew me, she pushed me up against the side of my car. I know you, she breathed huskily. And I knew I’d been known."

Owo Eyo

  • Buying cowrie shells in Serekunda Market, The Gambia - 18th July 2007 (Cowrie shells are known as 'Owo Eyo' or 'Odowo' in Yoruba).
  • [Cowrie shells - 'owo eyo' or odowo in Yoruba]
  • *Images by MW.

Jude Dibia Reads

Association of Nigerian Authors
ANA Oyo State Chapter

cordially invites you

to its LiteraryLAUGHTER

LiteraryLAUGHTER is comprised of readings, performances, interactions, jokes, munching etc.

Host/Guest Writer: Jude Dibia

(Novelist, Visual Artist & German Language Expert)

Venue: Educare Trust Exhibition Centre, Goshen Superstores Building, beside Coca-Cola, Sango, Ibadan.

Date: Saturday August 25, 2007 Time: 4: 00 P.M


Ebika Anthony

Chimamanda in Ile-Ife

When the Orange Lady Came to Ife
Words & Images by Adedotun Eyinade

Not even the organizers expected the massive turnout that the event witnessed; perhaps that was what informed the recourse to the thespian venue. Examinations, though winding to a close, were still very much in the air and students were already exiting the campus for the weekend. In spite of these odds, students, lecturers and art enthusiasts in general, trooped out in their hundreds to watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Orange-prize winning author read from her acclaimed works.

Pit Theatre, venue of the book reading, was on Friday August 3, 2007 filled with an enthusiastic audience who had started trickling into the venue hours before the arrival of the author. The author, clad in a snazzy light-green top on a black skirt, sauntered into the venue at about 4.00pm in company with Binyavanga Wainana, the Kenyan founding editor of Kwani?, the literary magazine that has produced other Caine-prize winning authors like him.

The duo who had recently facilitated a creative writing workshop in Lagos were the guests of the Faculty of Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

In his opening remarks, Dr Chima Anyadike, lecturer in the Department of English said the hosting of the author was in sync with the tradition of the Faculty in creating a platform for celebrated authors to showcase their works. He reeled out a list of revered literary figures- Amos Tutola, Nadine Gordimer- who had been hosted in the past. He expressed delight that the audience trooped out in throngs to grace the event.At exactly 4.40pm, Chimamanda Adichie mounted the soapbox to read from her two books. She commenced with Purple Hibiscus, a novel that launched her into literary reckoning, regaling her listeners with the haunting tale of Jaja and Kambili. The audience, many of whom were attending a reading for the first time, equally followed with keen attention, the reading of the rave-making Half of a Yellow Sun. With a voice that throbbed with passion and vim, she read snatches of the house-boy story, connecting with a responsive audience that did not allow the riveting details of Ugwu, and other larger than life characters of the book elude them.

The sublimity of her work was brought closer to her audience whom could not help but be immersed in her reading. Binyavanga Wainaina, who wrote the seminal satire, How to Write About Africa, was invited to read excerpts from his forthcoming novel, Discovering Home. Binyavanga, whom Adichie described as “a writer for whom I have deep respect” took the audience through memorable moments of growing up in post-independence Kenya. Discovering Home, a mini-biography, is a novelistic adaptation of the short- story that won him the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002. The magazine Kwani? which he established after winning the prize has also produced another winner, Kenyan Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, who won in 2003.

Binyavanga, who was in the news recently for rejecting the World Economic Forum’s “Youth Global Leader” award commented on the aesthetic beauty of the University. “I am happy to be in Nigeria. Everything here is beautiful.”

Everything was not all books and literature, the event was interspersed with a dance performance by the dance troupe of the Department of Dramatic Arts. In an entrancing performance, the graceful dancers thrilled both the guest writers and the audience. Binyavanya appeared particularly enthralled by the dexterity with which the drummers beat the drums.

The enthusiasm with which the audience embraced the writers’ works was reflected in the myriad of question directed at them during the question and answer session. Binyavanga was asked why he rejected the WEF award. To this he replied that “I didn’t know what the initiative was about .The letter announcing my nomination was extremely vague.” He further added that he got to hear about the nomination in the press before he got the letter. In reacting to why he made his rejection a public issue, he reasoned that he didn’t send the letter to the public “but to my mailing list.”

Chimamanda Adichie on her part didn’t shy away from the issue that has been raised as regards her obsession with the colours. ”It is not a deliberate thing.” She credited her editor with coming up with the title “Purple Hibiscus” while Half of a Yellow Sun stemmed from the Biafran flag. “I don’t know if I will set my future books in Nsukka. My work is informed by my background. Nsukka will always influence my writing,” she added, when she was asked about her fixation with the university town of Nsukka.At about 6.33pm, the Faculty of Arts added a fresh award to the growing list of her laurels. The award was presented by Professor Remi Sonaiya of the Department of Foreign Languages. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, beaming with her trademark smile, thanked the Faculty for the warm reception accorded her.

Members of the intelligentsia who graced the occasion include Professor Y. K.Yusuf, Head of Department, Department of English, Prof. Adebayo Lamikanra, convener of the Ife Festival of Poetry, Dr Lere Oladitan, author of Bolekaja and other stories, Dr Funke Ogunleye, head of department, Department of Dramatic Arts.By the time the programme wound to a close, literary enthusiasts filed into a queue to have their copies autographed by the author. It was indeed a yellow day for Ife’s literati.

  • Words & Images © Adedotun Eyinade

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Nollywood Or Bust

At the reading of his new novel Burma Boy on 21 June, Biyi Bandele disclosed that he was flying to Lagos in a number of days, to write a piece for the Observer on Nollywood. And today the result of Bandele's trip appeared in a 4-page spread in The Observer Film Magazine.
Bandele took a ride to the heart of the Nollywood industry, the suburb of Surulere in Lagos and interviewed 'prolific' directors who in just over a decade have knocked out 150 films; who talk of having stripped the 'excesses' of Hollywood (baffled at why a film takes 60 days to shoot when a Nollywood video-film takes far less) - who dream of attaining Hollywood standards regardless.
There's a brief run-through of the birth and ascent of Nollywood across Africa, and mention of a Nollywood classic, Living in Bondage. Bandele's piece is also very up-to-date, touching on a very public spat between Nollywood star Zeb Ejiro and an actress, Ibinabo Feberesima over a film titled - wait for it - "A Night in the Philippines." Bandele arrived for his pre-arranged interview with Ejiro to find the premises closed. A call to the star led nowhere, and then the line went dead. Even well known playwright-novelists can get the run-around in Nollywood.

Sunset on the River Gambia

Sunset on the River Gambia
- pictures taken last month in Tendaba
- The Gambia.
- ©MW

Binyavanga @ the Sable Litfest

Amran Gaye (a young Gambian writer who reminds me of Nigeria's Tolu Ogunlesi), is seen here in a post Sable Litfest discussion with Binyavanga Wainaina (right) who was quite the maverick during the festival. Every time a young writer wanted tips on getting published or how to become a better scribbler, someone always said: Go to Binyavanga. Fresh from the PEN conference in Dakar, the 2002 Caine winner was among a busload of us literary travellers (including Doreen Baingana, Mariama Khan, Dorothea Smartt, Maureen Roberts & Kadija George) who came down on a road-trip from Senegal to The Gambia for the Litfest, which opened on Friday 13th July.

Wainaina read from his work during the festival, and sat on a 'How to get Published' panel with writers including Courttia Newland (Britain), Fodeh Baldeh (Gambia), Rosemarie Hudson and many others.

After the Litfest, Binyavanga Wainaina was off on his first trip to Nigeria, where co-led with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writing workshops for up-and-coming Nigerian writers. The Kenyan also gave a reading @ Bookworm, Victoria Island, Lagos, on 28 July 2007.
More from the Sable Litfest @ the next update.

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka profiled in the Review section of yesterday's Guardian - excerpt...

"It was the influence of the African liberation movement, the anti-colonial movement," Baraka says. "We were very much impressed by that. And remember that, for a long time, to be called an 'African' was, for a black American, insulting. So we began to take pride in that, and to say, well, we don't want to have our slave names - that is, the names that had been given us." Baraka would not claim to have introduced the revolutionary tune into African-American literature. "The stream is quite clear, the insistence that black life was more precious than it was treated as in America. You see it in Richard Wright, even in Langston Hughes - that sensitivity to abuse. Go back to Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave writing some of the most beautiful prose in the 19th century - the determination to speak out is there. It just gets more directly rebellious. When you stand on these people's shoulders, you are obliged to move from criticism to defiance."

Abami Eda, 10 Years On

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti died in the same year as Diana, Princess of Wales. A million people people turned out for the Afrobeat legend's funeral in Lagos in 1997. 10 years on, and the irreplaceable Fela is much missed, by ordinary Nigerians and an ever growing legion of Afrobeat fans all over the world.
To mark the 2nd August anniversary of Fela's death, the UK Guardian published this piece. Each of Fela's 3 famous offspring gets a mention (usually with pieces written by European journalists, Femi Kuti hogs the whole space; but here, Alex Hannaford had clearly done her research). Seun Anikulapo is interviewed at the original site of Fela's Shrine, then it's off to Femi's base at the New Afrika Shrine.
And as for Yeni, here's what she has to say about her late dad
"My father was a very charismatic person," she says. "For someone like me, it was easy to follow his ideology because, as a black person, he made me proud. Fela's father - my grandfather - was a pastor, but he was still a radical; he was very outspoken. And my great-grandfather was responsible for taking Christianity to Abeokuta [a city north of Lagos]. He used music to get people to believe, so in his way he was a radical as well. And my grandmother was an activist. So we come from a long line of revolutionaries.
"I would love my father to be remembered for his words and his music. He was a brilliant man. If only the government at that time had listened, I doubt that Nigeria would be where it is today. We would be ahead of all the other African countries. The things he used to sing about are 100 times worse now, and religion in Nigeria is an epidemic - it is 7km from here to my house and I have counted 58 churches. Who are the congregation? Poor people. But the vicar's suits cost $5,000 to $10,000.
"Fela would have been disillusioned with Nigeria today," she adds, "but not surprised."
Yeni's eyes stray towards the tiny TV on her dressing-room table. It shows Obasanjo handing over the presidency to Umaru Yar'Adua, and various senators and governors being sworn into office. Obasanjo's daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, is being sworn in as a senator in Ogun State. "How did she become a senator?" Yeni asks rhetorically, incredulous. "It's like Chelsea Clinton taking office because of her father. We Nigerians are gluttons for punishment."
Nice to know Fela's offspring are still telling it straight. But we always knew that...
  • Fela Anikulapo-Kuti may still be relatively unknown in the West as the Guardian article says, but the Fela-thon held at the Barbican, London in 2004 certainly did its best to change that. Reproduced here are some of the programmes that accompanied the 2004 Felafest in London.
  • And the BBC has been remembering the Fela years too.


'Perf4ming his greatest hits 4 the last time' - or so the hype says. "You can't handle me," Prince reportedly told thousands of his fans in London's O2 Arena (formerly the ill-fated Millennium Dome) last week. It was the start of the musician's 21 day residency at the venue, and there's been nothing but blanket praise for His Purpleness in the papers. London's never seen anything like it. Prince played from 8.30pm till 3am, and he's charging only £31.21p for tickets - 31.21 is the title of his new album, which he's giving away free with newspapers. And this blogger can only watch in awe via the news reports. A historical Pop Culture event, and I've got no ticket!
And here's something that might interest the poet
Esiaba Irobi, whose recently published collection of poetry is titled, Why I Don't Like Philip Larkin. In today's Observer, a little snippet about just how much thought Larkin gave to his image. Published photos had to 'air-brush' him to achieve these desired results: "I am not bald, I have only one chin, my waist is concave." He who was all of the above!

In the wake of 2 great directors of European cinema -
Ingmar Bergman & Michelangelo Antonioni - dying on the same day(!) - a gently amusing little piece in Jasper Gerard's column about when the famous die all at once. CS Lewis and another famous fella were short-changed in death and didn't get the kind of obituaries they deserved in the immediate aftermath because they had the misfortune of dying on the same day as JFK. And very appropriate for funnymen, due hilarity about Frankie Howerd (of the Carry On movies) and Benny Hill dying at once. There is still confusion about which of the two actually died first. Enough about death...

This blog doesn't care much for Britney Spears, Robbie Williams or Courtney Love (Love says her mouth is 'wonky' but what did she expect, with all that needless surgery? Don't famous people get embarrassed? Some of them only vaguely resemble the people they were when they first started out) - but I have more time for Alec Baldwin right now perhaps than his ex-wife Kim Basinger does.
Still, since this is a blog, I didn't miss this piece (left) about how 'the other half blogs'.