Writings of the general word's body

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fela! opens

Here is the massive stage set for the Fela! Musical, as under construction at the Expo Hall of the Eko Hotel in Lagos last week. The cast also met with the press at a briefing where Iris Wilson (with Fela poster behind her in the photograph above) who plays Fela's wife Najite, brought tears to the eyes with her poetic, soulful words about being in Africa for the first time; and getting to play Najite because everyone including Carlos Moore said she looked like the woman. Maija Garcia the show's choreographer (also above) had a lot to say too and the fella with all the mics in his face is Sahr Ngaujah, who plays Fela.

Tonight is opening night. The show's on till April 25.

Photos by MW

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Introducing Ankara Press


Ankara Press, a fresh new voice publishing romantic fiction for the African market, is looking for writers. The press is devoted to publishing easy-to-read, purse-size books with African settings, storylines and characters.

Need for African Romance

Women of all ages have always enjoyed romance. They ask for it in their movies, their music, from their lover and in their books. But in Nigeria and indeed, much of Africa, they have had to find it in the pages of Western series like Mills and Boon, Silhouette and other Harlequin titles. It is time that the continent’s rising consumer class gets romances that reflect the complexity of their modern lives.

However, it is not enough to recreate these romances and relocate them to Africa. Many of them rely on dangerous notions of male dominance, control and manipulation that have done great harm to women all over the world. In many cases, women tolerate abusive situations because they wrongly believe that this is what romance should look like

Today’s African woman deserves a romance that reflects the full richness of her life. We want to showcase the modern African woman in all her strength and complexity while giving her the tools to shape her own destiny. In our stories, independent, capable women meet handsome, charming men who will respect their choices.

Seeking new writers

Ankara Press seeking strong, original voices who can tell fast-paced and engaging stories. We want scenarios that discard dangerous notions of male dominance, control and manipulation. Above all, we want writers who will allow African women to see the best version of themselves in print.

The novels should be fast-paced and entertaining. They can feature international locales, but a real African city should be where the primary story takes place. The story should focus on the development of a romantic relationship while the heroine struggles to realize her ambitions.

What we are looking for

The main character should be an African woman between 20-30 years old who comes from a middle or lower-middle class background, and who because of her intelligence, ambition and hard work has a bright future ahead of her. Her career is important to her and is central to her identity.

She must be realistic - with both good and bad qualities - but not so complex that the reader won‘t be able to relate to her. The heroine should be wholesome, likeable, assertive and ambitious. She should not be shown to be helpless, or wholly dependent on anyone. Even when she finds herself in situations beyond her control, she should always have an optimistic and proactive attitude.

The heroine’s love interest should be an African man. He is attractive and successful in his own field. While standard careers such as doctors, lawyers and businessmen are welcome, alternative careers such as mechanics, carpenters, taxi drivers and artists should be explored. He should be sensitive and realistic without being domineering, arrogant, and dismissive. Above all, he should be likable.

He and the heroine should have something in common beyond their physical attraction. While they may have differences which may be the source of the story’s conflict, they should always remain respectful of each other.

No matter what else goes on, the novels should end on a positive note. The heroine should be or about to be in a promising love relationship, but not by giving up her ambitions or her values.

For more information, contact Chinelo Onwualu at:


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yinka Shonibare in Lagos

The latest in the CCA's Art-iculate Lectures series features Yinka Shonibare and it holds at Terra Kulture at 4pm on Wednesday, April 20.

According to the CCA, the Trafalgar Square London's Fourth Plinth artist "will discuss his artistic trajectory over the past two decades, presenting key themes from his vast and diverse artistic practice." Not to be missed.

Ulli Beier

Concerning the epochal passing of Ulli Beier on April 3 at the age of 88, I feel the words are better left to those who can say it best. Many rose to the challenge, and there was an avalanche of writings in the Nigerian press in the first few days, perhaps reaching an apogee on Sunday, 10 April (the man having been cremated the Friday before).

Among the pieces published last Sunday, Muraina Oyelami, the man who broke the news of a death in Australia from his base in Iragbiji and something of a living authority on Beier, wrote the moving tribute, 'Ulli Beier Akanji. Sun're O'. Mufu Onifade introduced a new weekly column with the piece, 'Ulli Beier: Unfulfilled dream of a true Africanist'. And Canada-based poet, Amatoritsero Ede, recalled meeting the man also known as Obotunde Ijimere in Germany circa 1996, in his piece, 'Ulli Beier: A Pagan Yoruba Man in Christian Bayreuth'. All the relevant pages are reproduced here. Toni Kan's piece is also here, although I don't think it's available online. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke also wrote something in ThisDAY on April 10.

I was struck by the dearth of photographs of Beier, precious few available, for a man that did so much to document the works of others - artists and cultures, especially the Yoruba. Very rarely must he have had cameras focused on his own face. Which gives the ring of truth to John Martin's words on Beier: "He is one of the great unsung heroes of art and I think his significance will only be really understood in years to come. Partly it is the fact that he took a back seat and was, rightly, prepared to duck out of the limelight in favour of the artists he nurtured, encouraged and promoted."

More images from Women Rule!

Here are my own pictures Women Rule!, which was attended by quite a few brave men. Shown above are Toni Kan, Simi Dosekun and Bibi Bakare Yusuf. Karen Patterson held the house captive for some 30 minutes, playing on a 274-year-old cello.

Writer and radio personality Wana Udobang (who read a poem during the open mic session) and musician, Ade Bantu in the Life House garden.

Olajide Bello, Oyiza Adaba and Kaine Agary at the event.

Kaine Dosekun and others listen to the oldest attendee, who gamely participated in the open mic by doing a reading.

Photos by MW.

Happenin' at The Life House

Courtesy of The Life House, here we are - Victor Ehikhamenor, Olajide Bello, Ugoma Adegoke (who manages The Life House) and that's me holding a copy of 'A Life in Full' - in the garden of the place, ahead of our Women Rule! reading (featuring Bibi Bakare Yusuf, Simi Dosekun and MW) on March 12.

Meanwhile, here's the programme of what's happening at The Life House next week, to coincide with the Fela Musical in Lagos:

19th April - 24th April FELA FESTIVAL "FELA in The Life House" A weeklong mini-festival celebrating Fela Kuti and marking the arrival of the acclaimed Broadway show FELA! in Lagos.

  • 19-30 April - ART EXHIBITION "Art of Rebellion" Works by Lemi Ghariokwu & Weyinmi Atigbi. Opening night on 19th April @ 7pm.

  • 21 April - FILM SCREENING "Music is the Weapon" and "Ginger Baker in Africa" 7.45pm.

  • 22 April - READING The Fire Dance Readings by Sola Olorunyomi followed by Open-mic poetry, spoken word and music. 5.00pm.

  • 23 April - LIVE MUSIC Tribute Afrobeat Jam Session featuring Vincent Ezelle, Wura Samba & Afro Prestige Gate:N1000 7pm.

  • 24 April - LIVE MUSIC Fela Rehearsal & Karaoke Sing Along session


Cash Daddy goes to Germany

A German television crew was in Lagos recently for an interview with Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, for a programme, 'Kulturzeit' on 3SAT, which we understand is shown in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The documentary should familiarise the programme's audience with the author, as the German edition of her novel 'I Do Not Come To You By Chance', to be titled 'Die Meerblauen Schuen Meines Onkels Cash Daddy', to be released next month.
Photo by MW

Death of Cleopatra

I was not blogging at the time of her passing on March 23, but the death of Elizabeth Taylor cannot go unremarked on Wordsbody, just as I could not but write a tribute, 'The Most Beautiful Star in the World', published on March 27.

In my tribute, I touched on my first real awareness of Elizabeth Taylor the cinema legend, whose persona in A Place in the Sun was perfection itself. That film stands forever, as a homage to youth, beauty and love undercut by their destructive impact on a tragic hero, played by Montgomery Clift - who would go on to live his own tragedy for real, a tortured genius to whose memory Taylor remained devoted for the rest of her own life. In the case of Taylor, my tribute, along with innumerable others, mentioned the ups and downs of a life lived for nearly 70 years in the blinding glare of white-hot fame. The thing about Taylor and others like Brando (Kirk Douglas is still ticking along, even making a touching appearance at the last Oscar ceremony, despite the debilitating impairment of the years) is that age does wither them. They don't live in the eternal perfections of Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, who died young.

As news of Elizabeth Taylor's death broke, there were some subtle shifts in Vanity Fair's definitive statement as to the famed beauty of the departed legend. First they wrote "No one has been more captivatingly beautiful". By the next day, it was "No one before or since has been more captivatingly beautiful". Yet sometime later, VF had settled on "No one was more captivatingly beautiful". It occured to me that Vanity Fair, which relies on the cooperation of still-living movie stars to feed the magazine's monthly Hollywood-worship, got a bit jittery and did not want to annoy current celluloid queens who would want to aspire to Elizabeth Taylor status in looks, if nothing else. But as Vanity Fair well knows, the jury closed on Taylor's violet-eyed beauty decades ago.

The gift given to Elizabeth Taylor was always an unfair one to which no ordinary Hollywood siren could aspire. That's why she was so perfect as the demi-goddess in 'Cleopatra'. In the hallway of my London flat, I still have on the wall a large framed poster of Taylor (acquired during the Elizabeth Taylor photography exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2000). In the black and white image, she is photographed during her Cleopatra period, judging from the hair, make-up and accessories. The tracheotomy scar on her neck is in full view, and she wears it with some defiance, like some badge, which adds an unexpected gravity to the picture perfect visage on display. The invincibility of an audacious beauty. Her face is implacable and her eyes remote, like an aloof goddess looking down on a mortal. Visitors sometimes observed, rightly, that the image on the poster made them feel small.

Before seeing on British television in the mid-80s The Love Goddesses (1965) documentary that called her "probably the most beautiful love goddess of them all" - I'd had some inkling many years before in Lagos, through a family member, then a Theatre Arts undergrad at the University of Ife, who spoke in superlatives about the beauty of one Elizabeth Taylor. I was deep in Marilyn Monroe et al by this time, but Taylor - I was like, who? He replied that if I didn't believe I should watch 'The King and I'. He made a mistake, since Deborah Kerr is actually the one who plays opposite Yul Brynner in 'The King and I'. Still, my egbon's assertion as to Taylor's looks and cinematic presence, proved true.

A sometimes overlooked aspect of Taylor's life, was what a great mother she was. She clearly would have had more than 3 biological children if Mike Todd had not had her sterilised after the painful birth of their daughter, Liza. She adopted a fourth child with her great love, Richard Burton. Not one of the children has ever gone to press - as in the tradition of dysfunctional Hollywood families - to speak of any troubles with their mother. None ever wrote a Mommie Dearest expose book, as Christina Crawford did of her Hollywood mum, Joan Crawford. Taylor seemed to have a genuinely close relationship with all her children till the very end, one of whom, Michael Wilding, looks strikingly like her and gave a glowing tribute when she passed, surrounded by her offspring. When all the husbands had fallen by the wayside, it was the children that remained. And the diamonds, of course; the old trooper, whether standing or in a wheelchair, dripped with her diamonds to the bitter end.

When Taylor launched her White Diamonds fragrance at London's Selfridges years ago, I noted one press report on her retort to an intrusive question about her love life (this was during the era of Larry Fortensky, the seventh husband and eighth marriage). "'That is a contrived little question,' she sniffed" - said one British newspaper. I also remember a much circulated appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show in the late 80s. To a personal question from the talk show host, Taylor had exclaimed and blurted out, with good humour, a decidedly British humour, "You cheeky burger!" Or was it "bugger"? Oprah squirmed a little and urged Taylor to answer the question "so we can all go home." I don't remember what the question was, or if Oprah got an answer.

Postscript to a scandal: Oft recounted in the days after Taylor's death was the scandalous beginning of her marriage to Eddie Fisher, who left 'America's Sweetheart' Debbie Reynolds and their children for his best friend's widow. Reynolds and Taylor were friends in later life and even appeared in a film together, the former paying tribute on her one-time love rival's death. As for Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher, she was quoted as saying last month, that if her father had to leave her mother in order to be with anybody, she was grateful it was for Taylor. Wow. And Eddie Fisher, when asked in later years about a contentious incident at the end of his marriage to Taylor (who he lost to Burton), replied, "The past is one son of a bitch." Aint that the truth.

I was a keen observer of Elizabeth Taylor's legend for most of my adult life. I watched the glorious 'flop', Cleopatra, up to 20 times - in one scene, an adoring Roman tells her, 'I have always loved you," and she, unmoved, replies, 'I have always known' - and whenever I caught A Place in the Sun on late-night British TV, I forgot about sleep and watched. I knew so much about Elizabeth Taylor, but I did not know her middle name was Rosemond, until she died. Goodbye Cleopatra, it's been grand.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Aminatta Forna on Orange shortlist

And so Aminatta Forna's 'The Memory of Love' continues its onward awards march. The novel, already winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, Africa Region, has made the shortlist for the 2011 Orange Prize.

Also on the shortlist: Emma Donoghue for 'Room', Emma Henderson for 'Grace Williams Says It Loud', Nicole Krauss for 'Great House', Téa Obreht for 'The Tiger's Wife', and Kathleen Winter for 'Annabel'. UK Guardian has done a series of intros to the competing novels, here.

Winner will be announced on June 8 in London. Lola Shoneyin's 'The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives' was on the longlist but hasn't made it to this stage. Oh well.

'City of God' at the Life House

Life House on 33 Sinari Daranijo Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, is fast becoming the place to be. The folks at the Life House are doing amazing things. There's a Ghariokwu Lemi exhibition next week, as well as music by Fatai Rolling Dollar and Fela collaborator Duro Ikujenyo to coincide with the Fela Musical bursting onto the Lagos stage.

The Life House hosted the Women Rule! readings for International Womens Day, featuring Toni Kan, Simi Dosekun, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and myself - event held on March 12, photos later.

Lots of programmes to interest the artistic and cultured. Among the most exciting weekly events at the Life House are the free film screenings on Thursday evenings. Ousmane Sembene's feminist wonder Faat Kine, 3 short films by Chika Anadu and the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose - are among the lovely films that have been shown.

And tomorrow, it's City of God. Film lovers should arrive early for the 7.45pm screening.

Fela! crew arrives Lagos

What a difference Broadband makes. Wordsbody's enabled and back in the groove - apologies for the long absence. Here are images of the 50-strong crew of Fela The Musical! arriving at Murtala Muhammed Airport. Fela! in Lagos is at Eko Hotel Expo Hall next week, from April 20 to 25.

Photos: Inspiro Productions