Writings of the general word's body

Monday, January 22, 2007

Trop Belle Pour Toi

Too beautiful for you...

The Bollywood film star Shilpa Shetty. Too beautiful, too graceful, too classy, too well brought up, too successful and too rich - for the trio of ill educated and pig ignorant coven of witches in the Celebrity Big Brother house.

And apparently, too INDIAN.

Danielle Lloyd (a disgraced 'beauty' queen and all round ugly human being who dates footballer Teddy Sherringham - poor him);

Jade Goody (uneducated daughter of a disaster-mother. Jade made her name and fortune (£8m) from parading her stupidity, first as a contestant on Big Brother back in 2002 and came back into a Celebrity BB House (other occupants included Jermaine Jackson, Dirk Benedict of The A Team and Ken Russell who made films like Women in Love) as Britain's most prized representative in the house, which says a lot about the country. Jade boasted about being the "25 most infulenshal person in the world" - she meant 'influential'. Big Brother turned the notion of celebrity on its head, turning 'real' celebrities who became famous for doing things, into 'servants' for the lowest form of humanity that is Jade's family. The family includes her abhorrent boyfriend whose dimness and total void of personality is without compare.

Concluding the trio was Jo O'Meara, formerly of the now defunct manufactured pop band S Club 7. Jo, probably the plainest pop star you'll ever see ("hatchet-faced" & "boot-faced" are some of the descriptions of Jo in the papers this last week).

So Danielle (a WAG), Jade (a reality TV creation) and Jo (a manufactured non-star) held themselves high and persistently bullied and racially sniped at Shilpa - a superstar in the world's biggest film industry and to one billion Indians.

The horrific show started with Jade's mum, Jackiey, who in SKY News-speak, "was unable" (she was "unwilling" would be more accurate) to pronounce Shilpa's name. Jo made one of the most unforgivable comments. Complaining about chicken which they alleged was undercooked and made them go to the toilet, Jo suggested that must be how they cook in India, adding: "That's why [Indians] are all so thin, because they are sick all the time."

Yet, Britain chooses to debate whether the vicious attacks on Shilpa was racism, with some saying it's only bullying. In the words of Channel 4, no "unambiguous" or "overt" racism had taken place on the programme, by which one may conclude that they agree that 'ambiguous' and 'covert' racism had occured. It seems that unless someone spits an out-and-out racist abuse at you to your face, or they kill or beat you while at the same time declaring (for the avoidance of doubt!) that it is because you are of so-and-so colour, it is not racist!

But these 'ambiguous' and 'covert' racist attitudes/comments are what ethnic minority people put up with in Britain everyday from people who don't consider themselves racist - because they don't belong in any extremist far right groups.

That Jade got voted off the show was a reaffirmation of the decency of most Britons; that her career will be salvaged by the media manipulation that kicked into gear on her eviction, means nothing really changes.

In tormeting Shilpa so savagely, Jade and her pack have handed the Bollywood actress the biggest gift of her career. The so-called unpronounceable, name (Shilpa; what's so difficult in that?) is now known in every household in the Britain and the news-watching/reading world. It's as well-known as 'Cindy' now. She is on the way to becoming an even bigger star than she could have imagined, and the beautiful thing is, she is blissfully unaware of all this, for now.

Reassuring things about Celebrity Big Brother

  • Jermaine Jackson has shown that - in the words of one British journalist - "you don't have to be a fruitcake to be a Jackson." Jermaine has been a tower of strength to Shilpa in very trying circumstances, forming what may become a lifelong friendship.
  • The row provided a coup for the Indian Tourist Office who placed full page adverts in newspapers inviting Jade & friends to come and experience the "healing" powers of 'Incredible India' where they can learn to eat with their hands - "half of the world's population does."
  • Controversial Race chief, Trevor Phillips (once accused of making statements better suited to the far right BNP) spoke up straight this time, declaring that there is no doubt what happened to Shilpa was racism, demanding that Channel 4 must act on the controversy. For once, Phillips and Mayor Ken Livingstone agree on something.
  • Shilpa will most likely win Celebrity Big Brother (I for one will vote for her) and when she comes out of the house, her fame will go through the stratosphere, extending to the Western World to compete with the Madonnas and Angelina Jolies, and she will deserve it.

Both Jade and 'covert' racism are mentioned in an article of mine about Big Brother, published on Nigeria2Day Online on 5th August 2003. I wrote then that Big Brother would run and run; I have changed my mind. I would be happy to be rid of this "racism presented as entertainment" [to quote Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell].

Excerpt from my 2003 opinion piece, below...

As British as they are, BBUK's Black and Asian contestants have not stood a chance of winning. In series one, black Darren helped prove beyond doubt that the machiavellian Nick was cheating. Nick got his just deserts and was sent packing but Darren became the fall guy and caucasian Craig - who spent most of the series in blissful sleep - won. That same year we had mixed race Mel, a graduate of Psychology and arguably the most intelligent girl ever in BBUK. She was entertaining and stayed true to herself, only to be derided by the great British public as a slut. True enough, she inspired the first erection ever on terrestrial TV in the UK, albeit seen only through the veneer of a pair of shorts. Mel, nevertheless, was no more sluttish than many of the other girls in the house.

It is therefore difficult not to detect a covert racism at work in the UK show. Then there was America, where the race issue blew up in an explosive way during the first series. Big Brother Africa therefore has the possible advantage of a level playing field where race will not be too negative a factor.

BBUK has helped highlight how British society worships the mediocre and rewards stupidity. British newspapers and magazines are full of celebrities who are startling in their ordinariness; exemplified by the vacuous Victoria Beckham who, despite being the most devoid of talent in the now defunct Spice Girls, has become a superstar. The shambolic state of British education is also laid open in BBUK, most notably by Jade in the third series. The daughter of a one-armed lesbian and a father behind bars, Jade passed through the British school system knowing nothing, but came on Big Brother thinking she was the bees knees. Try getting your head round the fact that she has made more money out of the show than that year's winner.

While the ordinary is too highly regarded in Britain, the sad fact is that it is not celebrated enough in Nigeria, or the rest of Africa for that matter. The $100,000 prize money on offer in BBA compares favourably with the UK's £70,000, and represents the kind of extreme good luck that the ordinary African does not normally come across. Part of the lure of the West for Africa's youth is the possibility it affords the individual to seize upon the dream chance. Big Brother offers such a chance, within reach, on African soil. This big break, fostered neither by power nor privilege, is long overdue.

BBUK series 2 has been the most satisfying so far. Its winner was the mass of contradictions that was Brian: sensitive, gay, catholic, childlike and insecure - with a god-given talent for making people laugh. Then there was Helen, a blonde hairdresser unencumbered with much by way of brain matter. A Welsh Marilyn Monroe, she was guileless and adorable, prompting one of her housemates to tell Big Brother memorably: Helen is full of uncomplicated goodness.

Helen came into the house talking of her boyfriend on the outside, Big G, but gradually became drawn to another housemate, Paul - in a romance that gripped the nation. It was love and it happened in front of our very eyes. Two years on, Helen and Paul are still together. The last word goes to the unwanted Big G who observed pathetically: I have been shat upon!

The finale was a nail-biting finish between the two babies of the house, the runaway favourites, Helen and Brian. We watched live as they held hands and told each other how lucky they were to get this chance, and how it didnt matter anymore which of them won. It was beautiful television, as only Big Brother knows how.

Who knows what moments of transcendence may yet come out of Big Brother Africa? Who knows what the mirror it holds up to our society will reveal? We may not like what we see but much of it will be the truth. A great hue and cry greeted the first series of BBUK, most of the sceptics have since joined up with Big Brother's happy band. Come next year, the Big Brother fever will spread again. I cannot promise that I will not succumb.

Stardom Naija Style

Nollywood actress Rita Dominic being kitted out for the recent Calabar Festival. Photo © 'Mildred'.

And another Nollywood star steps out with her family. Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde poses with her husband and 4 children. Photos by permission from Bella Naija.

Writers on their Books of Last Year

Compiled by Molara Wood

Diran Adebayo
American Professor Tommie Shelby's new book We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Harvard University Press, 2005) is a strong, timely, radical critique of black identity politics in the States; its history, its philosophic rationale, and its usefulness (or not!) for present and future times. It's very relevant to black and other diasporic minorities, particularly in countries like Britain, where, lacking the social and historical particularities that bound black Americans, we're moving, at least partly, towards 'post-black' times.

Beyond that, in terms of imaginative writing, I've mainly been into 'short' this year, and a lot of novels could be shorter. Many lack urgency or freshness in their way of telling; seem too hidebound for a cine - and pop music - literate age. I'm reading the Booker short-listed, Libya-set, In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar, which is nicely cinematic, but too soon to give a final verdict. Have also been reading a number of vignette-minded writers: some of the short stories of American William Morris, Cuban Guillermo Infante Cabrera's View of Dawn in the Tropics; a novel by Ray Loriga called My Brother's Gun, and poet Gwendolyn Brooks' sole fictional foray, the very fine Maud and Martha. All are skilled at deploying fragments to tell you what you need to know about a character and his situation without supplying the full, orthodox-rendered background. There's often a poet's conciseness, a poet's feel for texture, to their prose and - hardly surprising - poets have been among my reading too. I'm enjoying a collection by the Jamaican/American poet Mark McMorris, The Blaze of the Poui, his third. Mark belongs to a new generation - nothing as tight as 'school' - of black experimentalists who are writing work that is only very loosely narrative-bound, and he shares with many of the writers I mention above a certain distinctive stance towards the matter at hand. The Blaze of the Poui is to a large degree about conquest/exploration and Eros, and numbers For the Love of Women amongst its standouts. Plenty of felicitous verbal mishandlings, a la Kamau Braithwaite, here.

Folu Agoi
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu's God of Poetry (The New Gong Publishers, Lagos; 2006) is a piercing poetic dissertation based on the severe realities of the chequered history and erratic contemporary circumstances which seem to be moving the world, especially Africa – the focal spot of the pungent collection, towards a cavernous abyss. Africans, especially Nigerians would readily connect with the publication, which effectively presents Uzoatu as an audacious activist, agitator and campaigner for social reconstruction.

Araceli Aipoh’s No Sense of Limits (Magicword Ltd, Lagos; 2006) features a colourful mélange of associated characters, whose intrigues – based on varied intrinsic dispositions, draw attention to some common human innate traits, which are fated to attract catastrophic consequences. The novel is a picturesque narrative established on the colourful dais of opulence, utter poverty and squalor – the contradictions which account for the complex, enigmatic character of Lagos, its setting. The great strength of the novel lies in its simplicity; in the immense power of the language: lucid, limpid and blustery.

Ike Anya
My first choice unsurprisingly is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Farafina; 2006). Painting in broad brush and fine detail on an astounding sprawling canvas she deftly and ambitiously continued to tell our story - picking up all the various little stories and anecdotes about the war that we grew up hearing from our parents, our grandparents, our uncles and aunts. In doing this she eloquently answers the question that I have often been asked and been unable to answer adequately - Why does Biafra matter? It’s a stunning achievement.

Kalisha Buckhanon's slim offering Upstate impressed me with its lyrical, gripping insight into the lives of deprived inner-city African- American youth and the choices thrust upon them, while Salman Rushdie’s evocation of the unravelling of peace in Kashmir in Shalimar the Clown reaffirmed my enthusiasm for his writing.

Finally, The Next Gulf - London , Washington and Oil Conflict in Nigeria (written by Andy Rowell, James Marriott & Lorne Stockman; published by Constable & Robinson) made for disturbing reading as it explored the power games in which many of my country men and women are mere pawns.

Chris Dunton
Terry Eagleton’s After Theory. He’s never been as searching, as challenging and as funny. Let the White House tremble. Ngugi’s Wizard of the Crow—again, he’s rarely been so audacious, so bitingly funny, and the characterization is brilliant. At 800 pages, it ought to win him a prize for stamina, apart from anything else. And I must mention Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go. Unbearably painful—I know that as long as I live it will never let me go.

Jennifer Ehidiamen
My favourite book of the year: No Sense of Limits by Araceli Aipoh. Reason: It is one of the few novels I have read this year that really excited me. A good storyline with lively characters. The book was well written with good use of imagery. I love the way Lagos came alive on those pages. Most importantly, its qualitative print is highly commendable, no fear of the pages falling out with every flip. I will recommend it to any good reader. Thumbs up to the author for such a creative work.

Helon Habila
Both books I am selecting are by female authors. The first one is Tsitsi Dangaremba's second novel, The Book of Not (Ayebia, 2006), a sequel to her first book, Nervous Conditions. I reviewed it for the Guardian (UK) recently and what's most memorable about it is the prose style - I can't remember another book which has deployed the flashback and the first person point of view the way they are done here. Though the book sort of lost momentum towards the end, it is still one of the best works I've read this year, especially since the Zimbabwean situation is of particular interest to me.

The second one is the Booker Prize winner, The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton, 2006) by Kiran Desai. I read her first book a long time ago so when this one came out earlier this year I bought it. I love its relentless, realistic depiction of poverty and its grasp of the unequal global relation between north and south, between the powerful and the powerless. She does violence very well, and she writes without letting unnecessary emotions intrude. Though I never thought it would win the Booker, I am glad it did.

Anietie Isong
Minaret by Leila Aboulela (Bloomsbury) - This is a brave and challenging second novel. It is the story of Najwa, the daughter of a government official whose home is a grand house run by six servants. Things fall apart when the army seize power in Sudan, and she flees to London. The characters are very convincing. Najwa's brother, Omar becomes an addict in London, and he receives a long prison sentence. Her mother, the only link with her former existence, suffers a long illness and dies. Aboulela does not preach to the reader. She reveals, through her characters, that not all Sudanese are bigots. An example is Najwa’s lover, Anwar - a man of the future, a radical socialist who has nothing but disdain for the faith of the devout hijab-wearing students.

A Father’s Affair – Karel Van Loon (translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett) This is a startling novel that kept me awake most nights. The title itself is ironic. A man suddenly realises that he is not the father of his thirteen year old son. The revelation is frightening and the woman who could have easily solved the riddle is dead. Amir, the unfortunate father takes the reader along a mazy journey of discovery. He is suspicious of everyone who knew his wife. 'A Father’s Affair' is tragic, and reveals the torturous and humorous moments of adult relationships. I love the plot and the diction that is spiced heavily with wit.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o - At risk of sounding hyperbolic, I must say that Wizard of the Crow (Harvill Secker; 2006) is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It had all my favourite ingredients: Sorcery, politics, audacity, an African setting, strong female characters, a master storytelling garnered by great life experience and the book had weight (over 900 pages long). Ngugi wa Thiong’o is one of my favourite authors and I knew this book was going to be good, but I didn’t dream it would be this good.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon - This Pulitzer Prize winning novel centred on two Jewish comic book creators was a real joy to read. The novel is about immigrants and their need for and role in art, escapism, magicians, the holocaust, the creation of comic book characters, oh, and there’s a golem in it (that’s a traditionally Jewish monster made of clay). I love this kind of stuff.

Celebrating John La Rose

"Rarely has anybody come into contact with him without being affected by his generous, searching, modern renaissance spirit' -
Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

'The most remarkable human being I have ever known' - Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Celebrating John La Rose & 40 Years of New Beacon Books

A year after his death, a day of readings celebrating the life and legacy of John La Rose - writer, publisher, cultural activist and founder of New Beacon Books - a central figure in Black British history, culture and politics.

It's on in the Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London, on Saturday February 3 - details below.

2.30pm - Poetry Reading by Kamau Brathwaite ['In 1966 John La Rose, Kamau Brathwaite and Andrew Salkey co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement in London. This groundbreaking association of writers and artists was publicly launched in March 1967 at a poetry reading by Kamau Brathwaite of Rights of Passage, which is now seen as a seminal poetic statement on the past and present of the Caribbean – its history, its values, its people. 40 years on, Brathwaite re-reads the long poem that awakened London to the beauty of the Caribbean word.']

5.30pm - Dream to Change the World. Director Horace Ové introduces his film on John La Rose’s life and influences, and his ideas on culture and politics.

7.45pm - An Evening of Celebration with Caryl Phillips, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o et al. [Join a global cast of writers to celebrate John La Rose and New Beacon Books. This unique event mixes readings, music and personal stories, including poetry readings from Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dona Croll, music from Keith Waithe and the Buru Drummers, and key contributions from Caryl Phillips, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and a host of others.]

[New Beacon Books was founded as a publishing house in 1966 by John La Rose with support from Sarah White. From 1967, New Beacon also went into bookselling, supplying all kinds of books about the Caribbean, Africa, Africa America, Black Britain and more. The publications and bookshop on Stroud Green Road have been an inspiration to countless people. Join just a few of them – writers, artists, musicians, comrades – to pay tribute to the man and the publisher that brought colour into the literary life of Britain.]


Association of Nigerian Authors
ANA Oyo State Chapter

cordially invites you

to its
LiteraryBASH is comprised of readings, performance, interactions, jokes, munching etc.

Host: Abdulsalam Mubashir (Vice-chairman, OYO ANA)

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

Date: Saturday January 27, 2006
Time: 4: 00 P.M


Ebika Anthony


Curated by Raul Zamudio
January 19 - February 16, 2007

the:artist:network presents the exhibition AMERIKKKA - the title taken from an Ice Cube CD - here used as a foil for exploring the notion of America, by artist who work within the US, wherever they originate from.

The artists, including Nigeria's Ghariokwu Lemi explore the theme via media including video, photography, sculpture, painting, works-on-paper.

424 Broadway 6th floor
New York, NY 10013
Tel+ 212 431-1625 / Fax+ 212 431-1626
Email: contact@theartistnetwork.org

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ali @ 65

Muhammad Ali (b. January 17, 1942) is 65 today. See photo galleries commemorating the life and times of "The Greatest" - Photo Galleries 1; Photo Galleries 2; Photo Galleries 3.

My favourite pictures of Ali are those taken by Flip Schulke in Miami in the early sixties - probably the first to define in images the legend that would become The Greatest. Schulke captured some of the most poignant moments of the civil rights era with his camera (
see Schulke's images of Martin Luther King - whose birthday was earlier this week on Monday 15th - here) - and photographed a young Ali training underwater. An image of sublime beauty, in which Ali resembles a god or a discus thrower from ancient Greece. The book has pride of place among my books on Ali, and I was lucky to have seen Flip Shulke's exhibition held at the Photofusion Gallery in London from October to December in 2000.

Monday, January 15, 2007

To the Reader

Zadie Smith has written her tips on how to be a good writer & reader - or rather, how to 'fail better'. More tips to come next week. She ends for now with a word for the reader: gotta work.

10. Note to readers: a novel is a two-way street

A novel is a two-way street, in which the labour required on either side is, in the end, equal. Reading, done properly, is every bit as tough as writing - I really believe that. As for those people who align reading with the essentially passive experience of watching television, they only wish to debase reading and readers. The more accurate analogy is that of the amateur musician placing her sheet music on the stand and preparing to play. She must use her own, hard-won, skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift she gives the composer and the composer gives her. This is a conception of "reading" we rarely hear now. And yet, when you practise reading, when you spend time with a book, the old moral of effort and reward is undeniable. Reading is a skill and an art and readers should take pride in their abilities and have no shame in cultivating them if for no other reason than the fact that writers need you. To respond to the ideal writer takes an ideal reader, the type of reader who is open enough to allow into their own mind a picture of human consciousness so radically different from their own as to be almost offensive to reason. The ideal reader steps up to the plate of the writer's style so that together writer and reader might hit the ball out of the park. What I'm saying is, a reader must have talent. Quite a lot of talent, actually, because even the most talented reader will find much of the land of literature tricky terrain. For how many of us feel the world to be as Kafka felt it, too impossibly foreshortened to ride from one village to the next? Or can imagine a world without nouns, as Borges did? How many are willing to be as emotionally generous as Dickens, or to take religious faith as seriously as did Graham Greene? Who among us have Zora Neale Hurston's capacity for joy or Douglas Coupland's strong stomach for the future? Who has the delicacy to tease out Flaubert's faintest nuance, or the patience and the will to follow David Foster Wallace down his intricate recursive spirals of thought? The skills that it takes to write it are required to read it. Readers fail writers just as often as writers fail readers. Readers fail when they allow themselves to believe the old mantra that fiction is the thing you relate to and writers the amenable people you seek out when you want to have your own version of the world confirmed and reinforced. That is certainly one of the many things fiction can do, but it's a conjurer's trick within a far deeper magic. To become better readers and writers we have to ask of each other a little bit more.

Read all the tips...

Update 22 January
Fail better, read better...
"I have said that when I open a book I feel the shape of another human being's brain" - from the concluding part of Zadie Smith's tips.

New Reads

Poems are not usually included in the 'New Reads', but when it's Tanure Ojaide's To The Janjaweed, exceptions can be made. Click on the above excerpt to read Ojaide's divine curses heaped in poetry upon the Janjaweed - in the current issue of Per Contra.

In Jude Dibia 's Among Strangers, a young man goes to the funeral of the father from whom he has been long enstranged. He has to confront his stepmother, his past and his own sense of isolation. The story is published in the 2nd issue of
Black Biro Online.

Mother had confronted them, but I knew nothing of what they said. Grandma spoke rapidly in Igbo, and so did father. And mother, in tears, responded in Igbo – even though she was not one of their own. Many times they all pointed at me and I just sat still, listening to all the strange words being hurled about and feeling so out of place and helpless. I didn’t share their language with them. It was the language that bound them together; the same language that severed me from them. Even at that age, I worried that there was no place for me in their world or this world.
Read on...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Have you read...?

This is Farafina vol 7, guest edited by Okey Ndibe and with a pack of contributors including Ogaga Ifowodo, Patrice Nganang, Marcia Kure, Helon Habila and Patrick Wilmot. And there's myself in there too (with my story The Beaten Track).

Published in Lagos, Farafina (meaning 'Africa' in Bambara) is doing from West Africa what the journal Chimurenga ('liberation struggle'/'revolution' in Shona) does from South Africa - and which Wasafiri ('Cultural traveller' in Kiswahili) has been doing from London for over 20 years. And let's not forget Kwani? (meaning the equivalent of the Yoruba/Nigerian 'bawo ni?' - how is it?).

Interesting names, all - but must reads. Definitely.

The Lost Black Hope

Now, this is where I didn't know I was going with my Muhammad Ali post of last week, but I don't mind continuing the boxing thread in the slightest. Especially when an illuminating article comes along in the shape of Joe Queenan's brilliant piece in The Guardian's Guide section of yesterday. With the sixth instalment of the Rocky series of movies coming in its star, Sylvester Stallone's 60th year, Queenan examines the racial insult the movie has been to African Americans for 30 years - and it was like scales fell off my eyes. I knew the cinematic defeat of Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV was a deal a blow to America's cold war enemies in Eastern Europe. But Queenan now tells us that those on the receiving end of Rocky's most hurtful blow have always been closer to home. The critic unravels the racial politics of Philadelphia when the first Rocky was released. The film's Best Film Oscar also began the decline of American cinema. But to return to the racial concern, Queenan points to the significance of Apollo Creed in the early Rocky movies:

Cheerfully moronic, imbued with an almost infantile racism to which Stallone and the film's enthusiasts have long purported to be oblivious, Rocky lionizes a small-time South Philly hood who somehow manages to wangle a bout with the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, and thereupon gives him the fight of his life. The champion, Apollo Creed, is a motor-mouthed African-American punk who shows no respect for America, much less the flag; he is transparently a stand-in for Muhammad Ali, who, though sainted and adored now, was in those days reviled by a substantial percentage of white Americans, particularly old school Caucasian fight fans. The character of the talent-thin but gutsy Rocky Balboa is based on a thuggish New Jersey club fighter named Chuck Wepner who once spent an evening in the same ring as Ali, getting smacked around, before returning to the obscurity he deserved. Because there is no cliche African-American athletes despise more than being told that their talent is God-given, rather than the result of their own hard work and perseverance, the first Rocky said exactly what White America wanted to hear: They're gifted but we work harder.

So there you have it: Apollo Creed was Stallone's lampooning (on behalf of white America) of the 'loudmouth' Ali.

Central to Queenan's piece is the question: "Why is a fictional Philly boxer still getting more respect than a living black one" - thirty years and counting? If the character of Rocky Balboa is based, as we are told, on "a thuggish New Jersey club fighter... who once spent an evening in the same ring as Ali, getting smacked around" - then we can conclude that in Stallone's mega successful movies, the undeserving hoodlum gets his own back, and smacks Ali around.

But that's not the half of it. What hurts the most is Joe Frazier (a man I never thought would could inspire racial hurt in me); the boxer lies at the heart of Queenan's central question. Hear him:

When I was in my teens, I worked in a clothing store owned by a tough ex-Marine who used to referee fights in North Philadelphia gyms. One day he told me that he had joined an organisation called Cloverlay, which would provide funding to a young man so that he could quit his job in a slaughterhouse and train for a career as a professional boxer. The young man knocked out Buster Mathis and became heavyweight champion of the world. Three years later, he would crown a majestic career by defeating Muhammad Ali in one of the most famous bouts in history. The prize fighter in question, like Ali, was young, gifted, and black, not old, talentless and white like Rocky. His name was Joe Frazier. A real-life, flesh-and-blood heavyweight champion, Frazier was long vilified as the white man's champion by fans of Ali and by Ali himself, and never, ever got the respect he deserved. If you go to Philadelphia today, you can see the statue of Sylvester Stallone at the foot of the Art Museum steps, where it has temporarily been relocated as a fundraising gimmick. But you will not see a statue of Joe Frazier, a working-class hero who fought his way to the top but who is now down on his luck financially, anywhere in the tri-state area. This is not just an insult; this is a disgrace.

So there you have it. If you go to the cinema to cheer on Rocky Balboa's antics in 'Rocky VI', pause a moment to think upon this and if you will, spare a thought for Joe Frazier.

Who is a 'Nigerian' Artist?

This on the left is a page from the OM (Observer Magazine) of last week whose cover profile was Kele Okereke, a musician born in England to Nigerian parents.

You can't get a more unlikely black musician than this, playing as the only non-white member in what in England they call an Indie band (I can't claim to know one piece of music by this band, and that's saying something) and of an indeterminate sexuality. This last bit (the sexuality, that is) has raised a bit of an interest among some bloggers. The ensuing mini-debate (involving myself, Sokari & Kym Platt) led to a consideration - not about sexuality - but about identity. To put it another way: who is a 'Nigerian Artist' really?


Ehikhamenor's Labyrinth of Memory
Victor Ehikhamenor 's first exhibition in Nigeria opened today in Lagos.
The show runs until Tuesday 16th January @
Didi Museum
Akin Adesola Street
Victoria Island, Lagos
Kowry Kreations Media …
shell of creativity
Poetry Potter
Venue: National Library Hall (beside NITEL office)
Opposite Casino Cinema
Alagomeji, Yaba, Lagos.
Date: Every last Saturday of the month (27th January, 2007)
Time: 3 p.m. prompt.
Admission: Free, Free; Free!
Guest Artiste: Dr. Ahmed Yerima
Playwright & Director General: National Theatre & National Troupe of Nigeria.
Highlights: drama: Oníléagbón Troupe, music: Àre, Àwòko, Cornerstone & others.
Dress Code: Endeavour to come in your Native Attire.
R.S.V.P: Aderemi Adegbite 08035149337 /
Ropo Ewenla 08032311574, Lekan Balogun 08027727751


The Dream that died: Robert 'Bobby' Kennedy in Detroit a month before he died.

These pictures, from the Weekend Magazine section of yesterday's Guardian, recall the tragedy Senator Robert 'Bobby' Kennedy's assassination. Seeing this image of his motorcade besieged by Detroit's blacks evokes the euphoria of the almost certain sweep to the White House after his slain brother, JFK. The sweep was never to be, ended in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles; and the famous of picture of Bobby's death mask as he lay dying. Seeing this street-full of blacks running after him underscores his standing within the African American community, most of whom would have had no problems voting him into the White House.

And this kind of adulation among the blacks was not surprising, considering he had been an advocate of civil rights. He also gave his 'A Tiny Ripple of Hope' speech in South Africa in 1966 - among the greatest speeches of the 2oth century.

When Diana died in 1997, the task of speaking to the moment fell to a fresh faced Tony Blair, still unsullied by his own 'axis of evil' (9/11, the war on terror and Iraq). When Martin Luther King was killed on April 4, 1968, the task of speaking to the moment and calming a shocked American nature fell on the shoulders of Robert Kennedy who had lost his own brother to the bullet, and to which he would soon lose his own life. About to give a speech on a podium in Indianapolis, someone whispered in Bobby's ear that King had just been killed. Kennedy abadoned whatever speech he had prepared and spoke instead from the heart about King's death. He broke the "sad news for all who love peace" to his audience, reminding blacks who might be filled with hate at the killing that he had also felt the same, having lost a member of his own family the same way, "but he was killed by a white man." It was also one of his greatest speeches.

There are those who say that Bobby Kennedy was a greater man than JFK - and I am inclined to believe them.

The Guardian Weekend's spread recalls in words and images the 'The Night Bobby Died', the recollections come straight from the memory of several among Kennedy's campaign team. "Where were you when you heard about JFK's death?" - is a question they say most people of a certain age can readilly answer. It would appear that many can also recall the same regarding Bobby.

We can expect a lot of Bobby nostalgia coming our way, thanks to a new film on the assassination directed by Emilio Estevez. Martin Sheen's son, Emilio reverted to his father's original family name, while his brother, Charlie, stayed a 'Sheen'. Emilio Estevez was one of the bright young things of Hollywood in the 80's, starring in St Elmo's Fire - which brought to the fore then new stars including Demi Moore, Judd Nelson and Rob Lowe. Estevez would later become known mainly for being (for a time) Paula Abdul's husband and was eclipsed by the tabloid antics of his brother Charlie Sheen.

Having contented himself in recent years with films like The Mighty Ducks, Bobby (starring the likes of Laurence Fishbourne, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone and Lindsay Lohan) may be a new high in Emilio Estevez's 'patient' career.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

On the left is Andrea Calderwood, producer of the The Last King of Scotland, the new film about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin starring Forest Whitaker. Calderwood spoke at the ICA on January 4 after a special preview showing of the film, describing her experience bringing Giles Foden's book of the same title to the big screen.

The Last King of Scotland had its world premiere at the London Film Festival in October 2006. The film also stars James McAvoy from whose Scottish Doctor's point of view the film unfolds.

By the time I left the ICA and went back into the tube station, huge posters of the film had been plastered all along the walkways.

  • It goes on general release in the UK on Friday 12 January.
  • Its African premiere is in Kampala on 16th February.

The King and I - Giles Foden who wrote the novel The Last King of Scotland from which the film is adapted - discusses his time spent with the film crew on location in Uganda (yes, film crews do not automatically film 'African' locations in SA anymore, so South Africa did not have to double for Uganda in this film, as it doubled for Rwanda in Hotel Rwanda).

Hisham Matar, author of In The Country of Men, also remembers a fleeting childhood encounter with Idi Amin in Tripoli.

  • Images by MW - 4 January 2007

Selling Nigeria

I had to do a double take when i first saw this series of London Underground adverts promoting Nigeria. As a tourist destination! I took another ride up and down the escalators just to be sure I wasn't seeing things. When I saw them at another Central London station, it became clear this is to be a regular sight now. Proud as one is at being Nigerian in spite of the infamy that often accompanies such identification, I still had to wonder why the adverts. What's the use? They won't do much to counter the avalance of negative press and perception in the outside world. Besides, hell will nearly freeze over before the rest of the travelling world begins to see Nigeria as an attractive holiday destination. But a friend of mine who saw these ads with me the second time, is more positive. A little goes a long way, he says.

Update 8 January pm
Thanks to Imnakoya who provided the link to the 'Heart of Africa' website where all the bright ideas to whitewash (or will it be a blackwash) Nigeria's image are set out. Lots of pictures of smiling beauties, men in traditional costumes, a waterfall, the coat-of-arms and our National Theatre.

The project seems to be coordinated from the US. The only flag I see on the page on this day is not the green-white-green, but the American stars and stripes. How depressing.

New Year's Eve

Beers gulped into filled bellies
Rise from human gullies headwards
Fueling the gyrations of dancers, slick as eels.
Elsewhere, old men pour libations
Fluid to earth’s ancestral thirst
Liqueur and soil sound a sacred hiss.
With dawn’s hesitant light comes the first,
A new year of kisses to the lover's face.
And new beginnings for midnight masses,
Worshipful in solemn places of prayer.
Festive déjà vu bids dying year: ashes to ashes.
Rejoice, for He will many wonders perform
As cited texts float up in hallowed layers;
Litanies to an annual amnesia, same as before.

© Molara Wood


National Mirror Newspaper

Invites you to

National Mirror Labyrinth Cocktail

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Reading Encounter

Date: Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Venue: La Campagne Tropicana
Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja
Time: 4pm prompt

Reading by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Roundtable on
Half Of A Yellow Sun
Questions and Comments

Chux Ohai (08064955192)
Uzezi Ekere(08023929375)
Amara Ogbuokiri (08033307181)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ali in Retrospect

Asked in the January issue of Vanity Fair (page 164) which living person he most admires, the author Norman Mailer answers: Muhammad Ali.

Ali features again in words and images on pages 128 and 129 of the same issue, in an in-depth piece about the groundbreaking new journalism of Esquire Magazine in the 60s. The magazine featured on its December 1963 cover the former world heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston - as Santa Claus. Liston-as-Santa had been a very controversial decision on the part of Esquire magazine back in the day. An ex-convict whose links to organised crime were more than mere allegations and who was an embarrassment to the civil rights movement, is described by one Esquire staffer as "'the baddest motherf---er' ever kissed by fame". He would provide the publication with what they described years later as "the perfect magazine cover."

Even more famous, is the cover from April 1968 (VF regals us with images from the photo shoot) showing Muhammad Ali - fresh from losing his heavyweight crown for refusing to go to Vietnam - 'martyred' as Saint Sebastian. The cover was still on the stands when Martin Luther King Jr was martyred for real by an assasin's bullet in Memphis.

I bought The Observer today principally because the Sports Monthly magazine was going to list for us their 50 Most Heartbreaking Moments in Sports. Number 4 is Muhammad Ali's defeat by Larry Holmes on 2nd October 1980 in Las Vegas (I saw this match live on television as a kid in Los Angeles, and yes, it was like seeing a titan fall). Thomas Hauser, who wrote the piece, reminds that "Muhammad Ali in 1980 was the most recognisable, and possibly the most loved, man on earth."

Of the bout that proved the undoing of The Greatest, Hauser writes: "It was a horrible night. Ali was a shell of his former self. He had no reflexes, no legs, no punch. Nothing, except his pride and the crowd chanting, 'Ali! Ali!'. By the time Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the fight after ten rounds, "An era in boxing - and an entire historical era - was over."

George Foreman describes elsewhere in the magazine his own heartbreaking moment - and it again involves Ali. This time, it was his loss to Joe Frazier in March 1971. Foreman says he was offered a fight with Ali around the same time but turned it down because "I didn't want to see him lose" (to Foreman! a bit presumptuous of Foreman to say this, especially as we'll never know). Still, Foreman reports: "It felt like Alis defeat was a defeat for us all, boxers and fans. We had our hopes invested in him. I was so sad that he had lost his unbeaten record."

Talking of covers, this month's VF's features jiving Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and the inescapable Beyonce Knowles - in a promo of the movie, Dreamgirls. But we'll leave all that aside for now.

There are no Africans in The Observer's 50 most heartbreaking moments. If the death of Marc-Vivien Foe on the pitch during an international match in June 2003 was not heartbreaking, then I don't know what is.