Writings of the general word's body

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Writers at 'Bring Back The Book'

Usual suspects you don't get in a police line-up everyday. L-R: Reuben Abati, Fatima Akilu, Jahman Anikulapo, Ayodele Olofintuade, Molara Wood, Sefi Atta, Ololade Otitoloju, Jumoke Verissimo, Toni Kan, Ken Wiwa Jr, Helon Habila and Lola Shoneyin.

Pushers of the pen all, we were at President Jonathan's 'Bring Back The Book' campaign at the Eko Hotel on Monday, December 20. Round about 7.30pm, Charles Okolo of The Guardian lined us up as above, and snapped.
The image was published in The Guardian of Monday, December 27 (The Guardian folks demurely cropped themselves out). Click on image for larger view.

Photo: Charles Okolo

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ikhide Ikheloa's explosive review of Ahmed Maiwada's 'Musdoki'

Ikhide R. Ikheloa cries foul about what he describes as the bigotry and misogyny of Ahmed Maiwada's debut novel, 'Musdoki'. The reviewer also reckons the novel is a pretty shoddy production all round.

At some point in the book’s journey, Musdoki is in a car filled with Northerners, fleeing the South and an alleged pogrom. This is Maiwada at his best, or some would say, at his worst. The reader is taken by Musdoki’s trip home to the North away from the vengeful Yorubas. It is harrowing and moving indeed, except that this is fiction. It did not happen. The dialogue in that car houses some of the worst bigotry against Southern ethnicities that I have ever heard or read in my lifetime. In any case, someone with a good grasp of the events of 1993 should educate me: What exactly did M.K.O. Abiola the presumptive winner of the elections say against the North after the annulment that was meant to incite Southerners into war?

This book is an inelegant expression of lingering resentment by Northerners against Southerners, a book that is almost dismissive, perhaps a rousing defense and justification, of the pogrom of the sixties against the Igbo, one that is curiously silent on the genocide that was the Nigerian civil war. It also seems devoted to glorifying T.Y. Danjuma’s counter coup, that bloody response to Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu’s 1966 one (p100). Hear one of the characters taunt the Yoruba. “They are indeed white hyenas. Otherwise, why have they deserted their towns and villages for their dogs and goats? See for yourself! How can white hyenas ever have the liver to declare a war, like Ojukwu did? (p99).” ‘Musdoki’ is a bipolar organism moving swiftly between narcissistic self-absorbent musings to a sweepingly false vista of Nigeria’s history, relentlessly blurring the border between truth and fantasy. It comes across as a partisan attempt to rewrite a most unfortunate portion of Nigeria’s history.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tonight: Shoneyin reads Baba Segi

“For a first novel, ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ surprises as a powerful, mature and absorbing work of fiction… This novel will continue to haunt the reader’s imagination with suggestive ripples of wonder, sadness and delight long after the last page has been turned.”
– Biodun Jeyifo

“Politely defiant Shoneyin bends every cultural artefact and taboo in her brainy sensual path. This is a soap opera between the covers. I love the author's bold use of language and imagery. She teases, she taunts, she soothes with her words.”
– Ikhide Ikheloa

Lola Shoneyin reads the travails of Bolanle in Baba Segi's household in Lagos, tonight. Details below.

Abule Café
33 Sinari Daranijo St
Off Younis Bashorun
Off Ajose Adeogun
Victoria Island, Lagos.
Time: 6.30pm
Entrance is free. RSVP: 0703 403 0683
Author's photograph: Habie Schwarz

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baba Segi in Lagos, Tuesday December 21

Plans are afoot for Lola Shoneyin to read from her novel 'The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives' tomorrow in Lagos.

Venue is The Life House, 33 Sinari Daranijo Street, Off Ligali Ayorinde, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Time is 6.30pm.

Come one, come all. More details shortly.

Meanwhile, it's off to Eko Hotel now. President Goodluck Jonathan launches his 'Bring Back The Book' campaign there today.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nwaubani, Ngugi and the Nobel

The literary event of the last week has to be not so much the op-ed piece written by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for the New York Times, but the reactions to it, of which there are many, the tones of which have been of the almost universally aghast kind.

My own reading of
Nwaubani’s ‘In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse’ was predictably complicated. I am a great admirer of Mario Vargas Llosa (a worthy 2010 laureate) and many other Latin American writers, people in whose works I’ve found a world closest to that of the Yoruba, from among whom I’ve sprung.

That said, I wanted Ngugi to win the Nobel, it meant a lot to me. He has written great, visionary works. He’s an ideological writer, and without ideological grounding, a writer is just piffle, in my view. He has also demonstrated great courage over many decades and suffered terribly for his art and convictions. Ngugi’s ‘Decolonizing the Mind’ is one of the great theoretical works of African literature, or any literature for that matter. After reading it, you cannot be indifferent; you must take a stand, either you are for or against. I have always had great sympathy for Ngugi’s insistence that we should write in our mother tongues, controversial though the larger body of African writers say it is. And one cannot take from Ngugi the fact that he has put his writing post-1986 where his mouth is: writing first in Gikuyu then translating into English (he’s written his latest memoirs in English, but that is a matter for another day).

Ngugi has produced indestructible works in many genres: drama, novel, essay. ‘The Trial of Dedan Kimathi’ was a memorable playtext in my secondary school days. And what of ‘Weep Not Child’, which apart from introducing Njoroge and co, made me want to discover Walt Whitman’s ‘On The Beach At Night’ for myself? These are among the foundational works of my formative years. We used to chant the titles of Ngugi’s books as though they were mantras. I once thought that if I ever saw Ngugi, it would be like seeing man on the face of the moon. Great, almost mythical writer, who one later had the privilege of seeing in the flesh; and to see the radical writer so human, so aged, almost frail (from the detentions and cigarette torture burns). A beautiful mind surpasses the limitations of the physical body.

And to later discover 'A Grain of Wheat', ‘Petals of Blood’, ‘The River Between’ and of course, ‘Decolonizing The Mind’. Had Ms Nwaubani read enough Ngugi, she would never have written the following: ‘There’s actually reason to celebrate Mr. Ngugi’s loss.” There’s nothing to celebrate about Ngugi missing out on the Nobel, and it’s difficult to see how the prize going to someone else becomes a “loss” for Ngugi.

Furthemore, it’s baffling that, nearly 25 years after Nigeria bagged her own Nobel through Soyinka, a Nigerian writer saw nothing wrong in suggesting that a Kenyan should not get the prize. Ngugi, Soyinka and Achebe have since the 60s formed the great tripod of the humanising literature of Black Africa. Soyinka has his Nobel, Man International Booker winner Achebe has been celebrated to the heavens for ‘Things Fall Apart’, and suddenly it’s a Nobel for Ngugi that will spell the death of African writing?

Nwaubani’s argument is deeply flawed; and it is regrettable that someone with a platform like the New York Times to postulate about Africa, chose to use her new-found international voice in this manner. The author of ‘I Do Not Come To You By Chance’ must realise that it will not be by chance that her argument will play into Western prejudices about Africa and African writing. ‘Oh, let’s not give another African a Nobel because, knowing no better, they’ll only copy themselves.’ Might as well go the whole hog and cite Shakespeare’s Iago: “These Moors are changeable in their wills."

Arguing for the emergence of new styles of writing, Nwaubani lumps Achebe, Soyinka and Ngugi into a questionable sameness, purveyors of what she calls “an earnest and sober style”. But what is so “sober” about Soyinka’s plays, or his prison memoirs, ‘The Man Died’? Or indeed Achebe’s ‘A Man of the People’? Have the likes of Helon Habila, Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Lola Shoneyin and Uzodimma Iweala come to prominence simply because they ‘copied’ Achebe and Soyinka? And which of these two has Nwaubani herself copied? Of the supposed sobriety of the triumvirate, Kinna says on the blog,
“Soyinka is far from sober. And what of Ngugi’s ‘Wizard of the Crow’, which successfully mixes humour, satire and fantasy and is, in my opinion, one of the most entertaining books by an African author. Is sober the new word for old?”

The part of Nwaubani’s argument that has provoked the most consternation, is the suggestion that literature in the indigenous languages serve only to exacerbate “tribal differences”. She declares, “This is not the kind of variety we need.” Chielozona Eze issued an early rebuttal to Nwaubani’s “cowardly ideas, the core of which sought to suggest that it is separatist for a writer to write in his native language or even to claim that he is a writer from his ethnic group.” As for Carmen McCain, a Hausa literature enthusiast, writing in indigenous languages “is exactly the variety we need.”

My own imaginative universe has been formed to a significant extent by the works of D.O Fagunwa, which I devoured as a child and still marvel to read today, novels that form the bedrock of Yoruba literature, books which might not have had the same power written in English. And what of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and others, whose immortal works were not originally written in a Western European language? What of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and other works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Their initial publication in Spanish has done nothing to prevent them being read the world over through translation.

I suspect Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani could not have intended to be understood as saying a writer should not identify with an ethnic group. The bio on the UK edition of ‘I Do Not Come To You By Chance’ informs that the author “grew up in the eastern part of Nigeria, among the Igbo speaking people” – a construction that reads more like an ethnography citation from 70 years ago, but which nonetheless serves the purpose. But if Ngugi must be denied just so we don’t write Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba literature, it’s fairly standard that Nwaubani’s New York Times piece is a hard sell.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sikiru Ayinde Barrister

The news broke today that he's off to Fuji heaven. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, one of the greatest names in Fuji music, died this morning in St Mary Hospital in London. News now confirmed by a close family source. He was 62.

This piece of news has sent me back to my London days. How my generation of then young Nigerians raised on Juju and Western music back in Nigeria discovered Fuji as part of the hip crowd in London as we flowered into womanhood and in the case of some, manhood. Early 90s, we suddenly became proud wearers of iro-and-buba and gele, going to owambes in Hackney and Brent Park, Brixton Recreation Centre and Dalston and all sorts of other places. Fuji, which when I was a young lass in Nigeria I only ever heard in cars when I passed through some neighbourhoods, cut across class and background massively in the early nineties, such that we took great delight in playing Ayinde Barrister, Ayinla Kollington, Wasiu Ayinde; and at parties, we danced to them like there was no tomorrow, with what can only be described as excessive joy. We came fully into our Nigerianness; Nigeria 'found' her children in England; our worlds were expanded, and Ayinde Barrister was part of that wondrous transformation. Golden times. I remember a serious 'disco' party in Willesden in 1995, ladies in hot dresses and guys looking fly. Me, I wore an above the knee A-Line Karen Millen number; my hair (in my pre-natural hair days) was a bouyant bob. We danced to Hip-Hop, RnB and the usual usual.... We were Yorubas, Urhobo, Edo and what have you. Then, someone whispered Ayinde Barrister to the deejay, like some social experiment, just to see what would happen. And what do you know, all these hip, English-spouting, arty-farty people started to sing along! And boy, did we dance!

"Hiii Hiiii, ladies and gentlemen
Come and dance to Fujiii
Fuji sound is better for you
Because, Fuji sound is beautiful

E je ka jo ko [let's sing it together]

A a aaa.....
A a aaa....
A a aaa....
A a aaa....

All sung with the infectious 'YorubAmericanised lingo of that record, cut by Barrister as a tribute to a successful tour of the United States. It's a long album, the tracks all rolled into one, as was the norm in the indigenous music of the time. Serious joy-inducing music. Meaningful at the same time. Different parts of it speak to me at different times. Here's one:

Ti mo ba r'omobinrin to ni'se lapa
Ise lo'ogun 'se
To pretty pupo
Omoge agunleyinju Omoge eyinfunjowo

It goes on in playfully amorous fashion:

Je ka'jo wo yara ka mo'ra wa o [let's go into the bedroom and 'know' ourselves]
Je ka'jo wo yara ka mora wa.

But the bit about 'Omobinrin to ni'se lapa' (a young woman who works for herself) appeals to the feminist in me. 'Independent Woman' before Destiny's Child even knew what was what.

And that's the song playing in my brain today: 'Hi hi, Ladies and Gentlemen'. I don't even know if that's the correct title. We knew these songs in our souls, not as facts on paper.

Rest in peace, Chief Sikiru Ayinde Barrister.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Photography Exhibition by 'Kayode Adegbola

From the 23rd to 31st of December 2010, ‘Kayode Adegbola will be exhibiting his debut collection of 20 photographs, hosted by The Address 21 - a boutique hotel in Bodija, a residential area in Ibadan, Oyo State.

Adegbola has earned his reputation as a promising new generation photographer - the 20 year-old was winner of the 2008 "Fifth Element of Bar Med" and the 2009 "Reflections of Queen Mary" Photo Contests, both in his University - Queen Mary, University of London where he is currently in the final year of a bachelor’s degree in Law.

His areas of specialization include portraiture, street, cultural and travel photography, political and music photo-documentation. He has worked on several projects such as covering political rallies and protests in Nigeria and England, documenting the growth and development of the Nigerian Music Industry - video shoots, live performances, backstage and behind the scenes - with artistes like Femi Kuti and Ayo on stage at the London Jazz Festival 2007, Dr Sid on the set of his “Something About You” video with the Mo’Hits all stars, and R. Kelly at the Thisday Music Festival in Lagos in 2009.

Some of his other personal photo projects presently being developed include “The Polo Diaries” - a photo-documentary on Polo in Nigeria and the rest of the world; and “Vagrants” - a series on homeless people around the world, as well as other cultural and travel photography projects.

Adegbola is presenting a collection of 20 limited edition prints for viewing and sale in his home base, Ibadan. He describes this collection as one in which every piece means something special to him, and says that he is proud to finally be presenting it for viewing and sale and will be happy to provide a private viewing of the collection to some of his clients.

The exhibition will begin with an opening ceremony and private viewing of the collection at 12 noon on the 23rd of December 2010, with His Excellency, Governor Kayode Fayemi, The Executive Governor of Ekiti State as special guest; at The Address 21, situated on number 21 Oba Olagbegi Avenue, Old Bodija, Ibadan. Thereafter the collection will remain open to the public at the same venue between 10 a.m and 6 p.m until the 31st of December 2010.

For additional information: e-mail info@adegbola.com, kayode@adegbola.com, visit http://www.adegbola.com/ or call +2348033245564

Baba Segi's welcome party

So here it is, folks! Lola Shoneyin’s flagrantly titled debut novel ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ is here in Nigeria at last. The book is already available to buy at Quintessence (Falomo Shopping Centre, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos) and other places. Shoneyin launches ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ at a Book Party organised in collaboration with the French Cultural Centre on Friday December 17 in Abuja. Details below.

The French Cultural Centre
Libreville Street
Off Aminu Kano
Wuse II, Abuja
Date: Friday, December 17

Time: 6pm.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Snapshots from AFRIFF 2

Here's Pakistani actor Adnan Siddiqui in the departure lounge of the Port Harcourt airport on December 5. He's in an upcoming film with Morgan Freeman directed by Clint Eastwood, 'The Athlete', coming out in the new year (great to hear of another onscreen partnership between Eastwood and Freeman, after 'Unforgiven' and 'Million Dollar Baby').

There were lots of actresses in the hall but most kept a low profile, leaving Rita Dominic to play the belle of the ball in the front row. At one point, P-Square came down from the stage to sing to her alone. And she was game, getting up to dance. After that, she hardly sat down. Although P-Square was so good, the whole hall was up dancing by the end of their set.

Here's Nollywood actress Dakore Egbuson, co-host on the night, dancing to P-Square on the side-aisle.

Here's me and African American actor Rockmond Dunbar at the AFRIFF award gala on December 4. Dunbar was the festival's special guest along with Malcolm Jamal Warner (I couldn't look at him without thinking: Theo!). Both were seated way in front with Rita Dominic, and presented an award as well as being featured in many of co-host IK's wisecracks, and Dunbar was very good at playing along. IK said he hated Dunbar because his wife was totally into the man. So later when IK asked if Dunbar was married, the actor replied to much laughter in the audience: "I'm not married, but tell your wife I said Hello" - to which IK had no comeback. It was a long night and Malcolm Jamal Warner made a quiet exit almost an hour before the end of the show. But Rockmond Dunbar totally got into the groove (he wants to collaborate with Nollywood filmmakers and everything), left his special seat and joined the AFRIFF group (Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, Chioma Ude, Ilaria Chessa and co) on the front side aisle, dancing the night away as P-Square brought the house down. I went up to take his picture and ended up posing for a shot with him. The next day I sent a text to my son to ask: "Do you know the actor Rockmond Dunbar from 'Prison Break'?" The reply was swift: "Benjamin a.k.a C-Note". And so because some young man somewhere thinks it's cool, I'm posting this picture.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Snapshots from AFRIFF

3 outstanding scripts from Tyger Williams' lab were selected for AFRIFF's Script-to-Screen project. Pictured here with Williams (in white) are, from left, Adeyemi Ayoyemi Adeniyi (for 'One Window'), Abiola Hameed ('Task') and Iliyasu Kassim (for 'Tsangaya'). They will be assisted with funding by the festival organisation to turn their scripts into short films that will be shown at next year's AFRIFF.

Tyger Williams wrote the script for 'Menace II Society', a fact that made me go 'Wow!' when I discovered. In the background is Soledad Grognett, Technical Director of the First African Film Festival. Along with Sandra Obiago and Jahman Anikulapo, I was on the Scriptwriting Advisory Board for AFRIFF. Our task was to select the 12 short scripts that made it into Tyger Williams' scriptwriting lab, which he taught for 3 days.

Actress Omoni Oboli, last seen in Kunle Afolayan's The Figurine, is out with a new film, 'Anchor Baby'. She's seen here with the film's director, Lonzo Nzekwe. 'Anchor Baby was shown at AFRIFF. It premieres in Lagos on December 9 and opens to the public on the 10th.

After the screening of the festival's opening film 'Relentless' on December 2, its stars, Gideon Okeke and Nneka Egbuna sit down for a Q&A with Kunle Afolayan and the film's director, Andy Amadi Okoroafor.

African Time, an exhibition

Victor Ehikhamenor and I are recent returnees into the ever churning vortex that is the metropolis of Lagos. How he manages to stay so prolific as a visual artist, is a neat trick that I as a fiction writer have not mastered. Ehikhamenor's last exhibition, 'Roforofo Fight', held as recently as October, as part of Felabration. Now he's back with another exhibition, this time exploring Nigerians' complicated grasp of time, their invention of 'African Time', which necessitates a perpetual lateness.

African Time opens at 6pm on December 11 and runs till Christmas Day. It's at The Life House, 33 Sinari Daranijo Street, Off Ligali Ayorinde, Victoria Island, Lagos.

3rd Garden City Literary Festival, December 8 to 11

The third Garden City Literary Festival starts in Port Harcourt tomorrow and goes on till Saturday, December 11. Two Nobel laureates, Wole Soyinka and J.M.G Le Clezio, will hold a historic conversation in front of a festival audience, in what promises to be the golden ticket of the GCLF.

Helon Habila, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Zainabu Jallo will hold workshops, there'll be a book fair, photo exhibition, role models will read to children, and 50 writers will be honoured as a special gala for their contribution to Nigerian literature. There are 2 stage plays, including Odia Ofeimun's dance drama 'A Feast of Return' which will be performed at Government House, Port Harcourt on the 11th. It's a packed

something I wrote ahead of this year's festival. And my reports from last year's festival are here and here.

Festival organisers have also released information about a Literature Conference taking place during the GCLF. See below:


Key note speaker: Prof. Olu Obafemi, University of Ilorin

In keeping with our vision to create a forum where great minds converge to deliberate on pertinent literary topics, we would be organising a literature conference to be facilitated by the Rivers State chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) which will feature a cross-section of seasoned writers specialising in different genres. The conference will be one of the opening events of the Garden City Literary Festival and will take place on Wednesday the 8th of December at the Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt. Participants at the conference will examine how Nigerian writing has evolved in the post-colonial era; looking at the highs and lows of the last five decades, while also looking ahead to what the future has in store for the next generation of writers, publishers and indeed readers.

The focus of this one-day conference will be the vast and varied genres of Nigerian writing; from fiction to non-fiction, poetry to drama, children’s literature to works written in local languages and literature that has sprung out of the Niger Delta region.

This conference will be a veritable melting pot of knowledge and ideas and the audience will have the unique opportunity to debate on the issues raised by speakers in order to form a consensus on the way forward for Nigerian writing based on lessons learned from the challenges and triumphs outlined in the discussion.

Experts who would be delivering papers at the conference are:

  • Convener; Miesoinuma Minimah Chairman, Rivers State Branch, ANA
  • Chairman (paper panel): Dr Wale Okediran, immediate past National President, ANA
  • Dr Chima Anyadike of OAU (fiction)
  • Prof. Sam Ukala of Delta State University (Niger Delta literature)
  • Prof. Abdu Salleh of Bayero University (poetry)
  • Prof. Ahmed Yerimah of Kwara State Uni. (Drama)
  • Prof. Ibrahim Malumfashi of Uthman Danfodio Uni. (Hausa literature)
  • Prof. G.G. Darah of Delta State Uni. (Pidgin literature)
  • Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo of the University of Lagos (Children’s literature)
  • Prof. Innocent Nwadike of UNN, (Igbo literature)
  • Dr Jare Ajayi, Author, Association of Nigerian Authors Oyo Chapter (Yoruba literature)
  • Rappporteur: Prof. Martin Bestman, French Department, University of Port Harcourt
  • Di. Dennis Ekpo, French Department, University of Port Harcourt
  • Mr Seiyifa Koroye, English Department, University of Port Harcourt

UPDATE J.M.G Le Clezio will not make it to Port Harcourt after all. His doctors advised against the trip, after he fell ill in Mexico. So there you have it. But we're all here, as are tons of other writers. And the Great Soyinka will still make it.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Blogging as a bourgeois pipe dream

Hello, patient blog readers, who have watched uncomplainingly while Wordsbody took a long snooze.

The failure to update this blog is never intentional. It's just that Lagos life throws a lot of challenges in one's way, like you get home and there's no light and you have to power your generator, which breaks down sometimes, leaving you clutching in the dark for rechargable torches or candles. Other times, there's no fuel because you've exhausted your supply or there's a fuel crisis. At times you get home very late at night after battling through traffic. Or you've paid for a month's unlimited internet supply and it just won't connect or it will take till tomorrow morning to upload the smallest file. At times like this, the furthest thing from your mind is the updating of a blog.

What am I trying to say? In the unending struggles of day-to-day existence in Nigeria, blogging can become a bourgeois pipe dream...

Lagos is an amazing city and there's always stuff happening on the arts scene there. One never has enough body or legs to make all the events. Like last Saturday I attended two art exhibtion openings: Resurgence, a two-man show by artists Gbenga Ajiboye and Ayoola Mudasiru at the Wangbojes Gallery in Ikoyi; and Ablode by Beninoise artist Midahuen Yves (known as Midy for short) at Quintessence. After the exhibitions I caught a play, Ahmed Yerima's 'Little Drops', produced by Lufodo Productions in collaboration with TW Magazine (Tosan Edremoda-Ugbeye, Joke Silva, Ropo Ewenla and Kate Henshaw-Nuttal gave their all in the play, which is about the plight of women in the Niger Delta crisis). Earlier in the week, November 22, I was at the ArtHouse Contemporary auction at the Civic Centre when Demas Nwoko's sitting wood sculpture of 'The Wise Man' went for a cool 9 million naira. Gotta love it. There was a hush as the bidding went into 5, 6, 7 million; and we all clapped when the hammer went down. Exciting stuff, and it happens in Lagos every day - pity one can't blog it all.

For a fortnight however, it seems many are going Rivers way, myself included. I'm posting this from Port Harcourt and my internet modem is cooperating. Above is the view of Port Harcourt from my sixth floor balcony at the Hotel Presidential.

I'm attending the Africa International Film Festival, which started on December 1 and ends tomorrow.
Taking over will be the Garden City Literary Festival which will have in attendance Wole Soyinka, J.M.G Le Clezio, Helon Habila and scores of others (December 8 to 11).
After that will be the CARNIRIV, Rivers State's own carnival, from December 13 to 18. I'm here till the close of the Garden City Literary Festival at least. I'll have to read about the carnival.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ojeikere's photographs at the CCA

Opens tomorrow, Independence Day, at 3pm - displays till October 14.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Julien Sinzogan at the October Gallery, London

Julien Sinzogan: Spirit Worlds
29th September – 6th November 2010

October Gallery presents Spirit Worlds, a bold new series of works by West African artist, Julien Sinzogan, in his premiere UK solo exhibition.

Sinzogan originally trained as an architect and his use of painted pen-and-ink displays the astonishing, technical sophistication of a master draughtsman. His work is as much about the transmigration of African ‘soul’ – the persistence of her dreams, visions, ideas and unique cultural identities - across the Atlantic to the New World beyond, as it is about the return of the spirits of slaves to the African shores.

To understand Sinzogan’s work requires a certain familiarity with ideas characteristically found amongst West African groups such as the Yoruba and Fon peoples of Nigeria and Benin. In “vodoun” – one of the chief religions of Benin, it is understood that there exists a permanent link between the visible world that we inhabit and the invisible world of the spirit ancestors; a link with those who have gone before us.

Sinzogan’s vision, like his complex interpenetrating portraits, is both subtle and extensive. The result, however, even given his uncompromising regard for the grim realities of those darkest times of history, is both affirmative and - somehow – incredibly uplifting.

Events: Across Boundaries
In October, St George's Bloomsbury and October Gallery will join forces to stage workshops and events.
Across Boundaries is in conjunction with the Bloomsbury Festival (Oct 22-24), the 'Big Draw' and Black History Month. For further information about the workshops go to www.octobergallery.co.uk/education

October Gallery: 24 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AL
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7242 7367 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 1851
art@octobergallery.co.uk www.octobergallery.co.uk

Mega Independence Exhibition in Abuja

The mega show known as 'The National/Historical Exhibitions' is on at the Velodrome, in the grounds of the National Stadium, Abuja, until October 31. Worth seeing.

Collage by John Okosun from photos by Molara Wood

Yeepa! Solaarin Nbo

Satirical Comedy Play
Written by Femi Osofisan
Translated by Dotun Ogundeji
Directed by Niji AkanniProduced by Tunde Kelani and Mufu Onifade
WED SEPT 29, 2010
5.00 P. M. DAILY
This is a special collaborative play between Mainframe Productions (Opomulero) andNational Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (LagosState Chapter)Sponsored by The Lagos State GovernmentIn celebration of Nigeria's 50th Independence Anniversary.Come with your friends and loved ones to LAUGH and LEARN.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Penguin Prize for African Writing - the winners

Congratulations to writer and scholar, Pius Adesanmi, who was unveiled as the winner of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing in the Non-fiction category on Saturday September 4 in South Africa. Adesanmi won for his manuscript for a book of essays, 'You're Not A Country, Africa!'
Here's what the organisers said about Adesanmi's manuscript, which will now be published by Penguin South Africa:
"In this groundbreaking collection of essays Pius Adesanmi tries to unravel what it is that Africa means to him as an African, and by extension to all those who inhabit this continent of extremes. This is a question that exercised some of the continent’s finest minds in the twentieth century, but which pan-Africanism, Negritude, nationalism, decolonisation and all the other projects through which Africans sought to restore their humanity ultimately failed to answer. Crisscrossing the continent, Adesanmi engages with the enigma that is Africa in an attempt to make meaning of this question for all twenty-first century Africans."
Winning in the Fiction category is Zambian Ellen Banda-Aaku (left), who's also part of the Ghanaian writing community because she lived there for a while, although Penguin citation now informs that she lives in England. She won for her novel manuscript, 'Patchwork'. She was the 2007 Africa Regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story competition.
The winners were announced at the Mail & Guardian Litfest in South Africa. See more photos from the award ceremony here.
  • Photos: Penguin Books SA

Friday, September 03, 2010

Ebedi opens to writers

Ebedi International Writers' Residency, the first of its kind in Nigeria, was officially opened in Iseyin, Oyo State, earlier this week, Wednesday 1st September.

The first beneficiaries of the programme, Abiodun Adebiyi and Lola Okusami (pictured left, by Akintayo Abodunrin) were there, as were the town's king and the chairman of the occasion, Femi Osofisan.

The next session of the residency starts in October. Interested writers can send their applications by email to Alkasim Abdulkadir: alkasim.abdulkadir@yahoo.com or

Below is Femi Osofisan's speech delivered at Iseyin.



I cannot begin to tell you how delighted, and honoured, I am to have been invited to preside over this ceremony today. Delighted, because what we are celebrating is the birth of a dream, an uncommon dream, a vision of one man’s generosity and benevolence, and of enviable insight.
Writers, as you all know, are dreamers. But the significance of that will only be appreciated when you come to remember that much of the world we live in today is the outcome of dreams. As history teaches us, the movements which eventually shake the human race, the actions which become so momentous that they re-map and redefine the destiny of a whole community, or a nation, or even of an individual life, all commence from the spark, at first so little, of one person’s dream. Then the dream grows and expands, and transforms into a consuming conflagration.
All the same, we must acknowledge that it is seldom the case that a dream is able to come to a concrete fulfilment in the life of the person that gives birth to it. That is why our host today, Dr Wale Okediran, deserves the warmest congratulation for this occasion today, which formally marks the establishment of one of his babies, the Ebedi International Writers’ Residency programme in Iseyin, Oyo State. I make bold to surmise that, of all the milestones in Okediran’s glittering career, this will prove to be the most significant.

Okediran, as you all know, has been many things, driven no doubt by a compulsorily restless spirit. Here is a successful medical doctor whose competence I at least can attest to, having been one of his former patients. Then he ventured into the writing vocation, and established himself there as one of our well published and popular writers. He even rose to become the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors. Then, not satisfied with all that, Okediran decided to take a daring plunge into politics, that dangerous field of activity in our country in which many hitherto promising men and women constantly meet their waterloo, as they get sucked into the prevalent mire of corruption and sleaze that is now so sadly characteristic of our legislature all over the place.

Most of our politicians—the late, inimitable Bola Ige informed us—only go into the government “to eat”. They eat and eat, giving nothing back to the community they claim to represent. The astonishing thing therefore is that, out of this crop of self-serving parasites, our friend, Wale Okediran, has been able to emerge unsullied, with his reputation as solid and upright as before. Indeed, out of that experience in politics, he has just given us a most instructive book of faction, the award-winning Tenants of the House, in which he courageously bares in the open some of the sorry shenanigans going on in the caverns of our “respectable” parliament.

Now, instead of sitting back and basking in the glories of his achievements, and quietly enjoying the fruits of service as many of his fellow politicians are doing, Okediran chose instead to embark on another public-spirited venture, this writers’ residency programme, funded entirely from his own personal resources! I cannot thank him enough on behalf of all of us in the writing community.

As you are aware, such intense ventures of private sponsorship for the arts are very rare in our country. Our rich folks have other means of spending their wealth than “wasting” it on artists. I mean, what’s the value of a poem or a sculpture or a painting beside a cold bottle of beer?
As far as literature is concerned, I can only remember one similar gesture as Okediran’s in our literary calendar—and that was the late Bode Osanyin’s Writers’ Resort at Ijoko-Ota, which unfortunately ceased with his demise. Some other individuals have tried to help with hefty prizes, people like Dr Pat Utomi, who created the now-moribund one million naira (N1m) Utomi Prize; and the intrepid young woman writer, Promise Ogochukwu (formerly Okekwe), whose Lumina Foundation runs the one thousand dollars ($1,000) prize named after Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Wale Okediran is the newest addition to this thin list of benefactors. I salute you all.

But of course you may wish to ask me at this point—why do writers need such sponsorship anyway? The answer is simple—we need help because the business of writing, though arduous, is not yet in our country a lucrative affair. Writing does not sell because the bulk of the populace is still illiterate; and the majority of those that are literate consume only such books as offer instruction on how to make money and become instant millionaires, or how to make it to heaven. Business counselling tracts and religious pamphlets proliferate in the market; but works of fiction or of drama or poetry attract only the few addicted devotees.

Thus creative writing is not an attractive area of investment, even for publishers, who put their money instead on school books. Writers nowadays, or those who are determined to be writers, have little choice but to publish their own books themselves. As a result most of our books suffer from the absence of editing and come out immature and shoddily produced, sabotaged so to speak by all kinds of typos and avoidable grammatical errors.

Even so, how many of the young aspiring writers can find the funds for such self-service in our present economy, especially where almost all the equipment needed in the publishing industry is imported and expensive? This is why the budding creative talents among us live in anguish.
But this dearth of publishing outlets is not the only obstacle our writers have to surmount. It is not even, in my opinion, as serious as the one I will define here as the problem of space. Space—by which I am referring to time and location—can be a tearing agony. Where to do your writing, and when to do it, are the first and the most formidable questions that we all have to face all the time. Our society is the problem.

As you all know, creativity, artistic creativity, requires deep reflection and meditation, both of which require isolation and time. It takes time to work out a story; but even when you have a story, it takes time to shape it into a script. Particularly, as we all know, the story mysteriously takes over somewhere during the process of composition, and writes itself, in its own time. A poem may begin pleasantly—from a word heard in a book or a conversation, a sound snatched from the air, an idea that flashes suddenly through the mind, and so on—but it does not finish except after a prolonged and sometimes tortuous period of labour, of writing and erasing and re-writing, shaping and re-shaping again and again. A play must have a script, and the script must undergo an “outdooring” in the rites of rehearsals and production.

This is why the banal routine of everyday life is like a conspiracy against the artist. No artist can be fully productive when he or she has to cope at the same time with the domestic and social responsibilities that we all are required to satisfy as ordinary citizens. Going to work every morning in order to earn a living; going to different markets; coping with traffic, especially in a city like Lagos; caring for family and friends; all these routine functions we all go daily through can be frustrating for an artist anxious to get to grips with an idea swirling in his or her mind.
Add to these distractions the innumerable ceremonies that Nigerian life is replete with, in the form of wedding, burial, child naming, house warming events and so on, then you can begin to imagine the frustrations that could kill the artistic talent among us.

That is why the writer needs a refuge from these things; why it is vital to have a place of retreat, however temporary, that will provide a space to hide, and reflect. Okediran’s initiative is such a place: it will be immeasurably beneficial to all of us.

In the past, such a patronage was provided by the royalty and the rich. Thus the palaces of Ife and of Benin, for instance, were the haven of artists who have left us these spectacular terra cotta and bronze head pieces. Similarly the astounding works of Michaelangelo were made possible by catholic church, just as the spell-binding architecture of the Arab world came from the commission of Muslim clerics. In modern times in the civilized countries, it is the state that has taken over these functions. That is why you have state-funded organizations like the Arts Councils or the National Endowment for the Arts, or positions for Poet Laureates, which are established to render assistance to creative artists.

In Nigeria however, as we all know, such official organs are scant. As far as the state is concerned, art is no significance except where it serves the purpose of entertainment at public gatherings. When our rulers and policy makers think of art at all, they think only of dancers, and preferably bare-chested, scantily-dressed maidens with gyrating bosoms. Writers, except they become notorious by winning well-publicised international prizes are not known or recognized by community, least of all our legislators. And even when their names come to be known, such as that of Chimamanda Adichie, you can bet your card that our leaders would not know a single one of her works, not to talk of reading them! It is a sad truth for us that to look to the National Assembly for help and support for literary creativity is to indulge in self-deluding futility.
All this sufficiently underlines, I hope, the import of the ceremony we are carrying out today. Okediran has initiated a laudable programme whereby aspiring writers can take time off their daily routines and seclude themselves for a while in a serene environment, sheltered from the noise and bustle outside, in order to fully devote themselves to the tussle with their creative imagination. Here they will have all the infrastructural support they require; without distraction from family or friends, distant from the endless ritual of weddings and funerals and other ceremonies; and well provided against NEPA and water shortages. Here they will find all the equipment and atmosphere needed to encourage an imaginative faculty to infinite horizons; no writer can come here and leave without a bountiful harvest. Perhaps here, in this resort, will be nurtured the next Nobel Prize in literature!

Still, that is not all that is commendable about this programme. Okediran has also factored in the needs of his community. The writers who come here will be required to give up a fraction of their time, and spend some two hours every week talking to students from the surrounding schools. This will undoubtedly lead to a process of cross-fertilization which, in my opinion, is vital to the fundamental purpose of writing itself. The children will no doubt gain from this interaction with creative minds; but so will the writers themselves benefit from the collision with fresh and bubbling minds.

I am also struck by the fact that the first beneficiaries of the programme are both female. This is a good augury I think. Women, as we all know, are the ones who suffer most from the social and domestic pressures that I spoke of above. They are the ones usually expected to marry early, to bear and take care of the children, to be primarily in charge of the home front, including the kinsmen, and so on. Most often, those of them who show early promise are forced to surrender their talents quickly and give up their ambitions to be creative artists as they assume their roles as wives and mothers. A retreat like this is thus an ideal asset undoubtedly for such women. With their husbands or boyfriends permitting, they can come to hide here for a while to realize their literary dreams. We cannot thanks Okediran enough for this idea.

But finally, a word of advice. From experience, the maintenance of an initiative like this is a powerful burden to any individual purse. This is why such places eventually collapse and turn to unwitting casualties. My advice to Okediran therefore is that, in order to avoid this ominous possibility, he should try to seek the assistance of international bodies, such as the UNESCO, set up precisely this purpose. Some local bodies can also be approached, such for instance as the local government council.

I will stop here. Thank you, once again, Wale Okediran, for this positive contribution to the progress of our country. Thank you too, the Board of Management, that have helped to make the dream a reality. And thank you, the people of Iseyin, for readily identifying with a venture that is bound to launch your community unto the map of international community. I hope this initiative will inspire other politicians as well as the wealthy of our society to also make their own affirmative contributions.


Young at Art Exhibition

Here are the children the Biodun Omolayo Gallery's Young at Art summer programme; Omolayo is first left. The kids were photographed at the Lagos International Art Expo opening event at the National Museum in Lagos, on August 21. Here's an invitation to a 1-day exhibition of the kids' works, holding tomorrow:

You are hereby invited to the 6th edition of YOUNG AT ART CHILDREN ART EXHIBITION and DRAMA on Saturday 4th September, 2010

Venue: BIODUNOMOLAYO ART GALLERY, National Museum, Onikan Lagos
Take off time: 12:00 noon
For further clarifications, please, call BIODUN on 08023118105 or Toyin on 07035475111
Thank you
For Young At Art

Badagry Slave Routes

One of the plenary sessions of the just concluded International Colloquium on Slavery, Slave Trade and their Consequences was 'Slave Markets, Routes, Monuments, Relics and Tourism'. It emerged that little is known among the general Nigerian public about Nigeria's slave relics, especially places like Badagry, and not enough people visit these places. It was a bit unfortunate when Dr Yusuf Abdallah Usman, delivering his paper, talked about plans for better preservation and presentation of places like Badagry, so that people could go there for, amongst other worthy things, "entertainment". Delegates promptly advised him to remove such a word from his vocabulary as far as the Transtlantic slave trade is concerned. No one goes to Auschwitz for entertainment.

But the message came out very clearly: we should see Badagry and other places to help us come to terms, if such were possible, with what happened to millions of enslaved Africans shipped across the Atlantic for several hundred years.

Which is why I'm posting this flyer for a tour of Badagry slave routes, setting off from Lagos tomorrow.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Osun Festival with/out the king

Well, see this. This is the royal stool of the king of Osogbo, left vacant by the monarch's death on August 4. The king normally has a role to play in the festival, and has to wear the crown in this picture, the Adeosun, once a year during the Osun river deity festival only. Oba Matanmi's passing so close to the festival made this the first edition ever without an Osogbo king on the throne. Word was that second in command in the ancient city would play the role of the king, still one wanted to see quite what would happen today in the Osun Grove.

I think a most dignified solution was found, and here it is. On the ceremonial stool in the Osun Grove, next to the state governor Oyinlola and other dignitaries, was the Oba's stool, draped in white, the Adeosun and the king's staff of office and the irukere - on the seat throughout the ceremony. I have often spoken to people about the sheer spectacle of seeing the late Matanmi transform into the Adeosun (a crown with 16 eyes embossed on it) last year. He had come to the grove with a regular crown but when it was time to go and pay homage at the riverside, his courtiers shielded him all the way round with their flowing agbada. Next thing you know, he was in this Adeosun. When he returned from the river, the agbadas shielded him again, and he was back in the regular crown. I thought nothing could beat seeing Matanmi in this crown, but that was before I saw this earlier today. Beautiful way to symbolise the permanence of the throne. The king is dead, long live the king and all of that.

This picture is by Tommy Adegbite courtesy Osun Tourism. My own images of Osun Festival, later.

Osun Osogbo Festival, today

Erelu Lola Ayonrinde saying prayers by the river

Like sirens by the water: Osun devotees

Robin Campbell (right) of the Adunni Olorisa Trust.

It's the day of perhaps the most famous and the most successful cultural festival in Nigeria, and let's not forget that for believers of the Osun river deity, it's a religious occasion. Osun State, Osogbo especially, is teeming with hundreds of foreign guests who have come in for two major conferences in this corner of the country, and no doubt some will be heading river way to witness the spectacle of Osun Osogbo for themselves, swelling even more the crowds in the ancient town. It will be hectic, but it will be worth it and Wordsbody will be there.

These pictures can only give a hint, as they were not taken at last year's festival but months before, at a rite of passage for Susanne Wenger in April 2009.

It's the first Osun Osogbo ever to hold without a king on the Osogbo throne. Oba Matanmi joined the ancestors earlier this month. The king is the custodian of the festival and has sacred rites to perform in order to maintain the town's ties to the Osun goddess. It will be interesting to see how it's played out this year, as Osogbo second-in-command, Chief Gabriel Oparanti, fills in the king's role. No doubt continuity is assured, just as it was last year after the passing of Wenger, the most famous person ever associated with the festival.

I was at last August's grand finale. Seeing the Arugba (Osun votary maid) enter the grove was quite something. And what an awesome sight seeing Oba Matanmi in the 'crown with 16 eyes', the Adeosun. Little did one know it would be the last....

Osun Osogbo Festival

Osun Grove World Heritage Site

Isale Osun, Osogbo.

Photos: Molara Wood

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Susanne Wenger

Here's Susanne Wenger's room in her house on Ibokun Road, Osogbo, Osun State, photographed by me 3 months after her death, on 12 April 2009

A new book on the late Adunni Olorisa, Susanne Wenger: Artist and Priestess, is significant for many reasons. One of these is the fact that it sheds like on the Osun priestess' marriage to an Osogbo man after her divorce from Ulli Beier. Little had been known about the second marriage. At the time of Wenger's death on 12 January 2009, obituary writers, myself included, had trouble pinning down the shadowy facts of this marriage. Some accounts said the local drummer she married was called Ayansola, others said he was Chief Alarape. It did occur to me that both names might be valid, that the husband was perhaps Ayansola Alarape. But beyond this, we knew nothing. It was generally assumed the drummer must have died and she lived the rest of her long life a widow. Now we know better, thanks to the new book by Paola Caboara Luzzatto, published in Italian and English, the story therein related directly in Wenger's own words. One fascinating chapter sheds light on the marriage to 'Ayonsola'. Tomorrow's Osun Osogbo day, so here goes...

My divorce from Ulli was by now official and I decided to get married to Ayonsola according to the local custom. It looked like the most natural thing to do. I was not discouraged by polygamy: I was aware that in a good traditional Yoruba marriage polygamy meant independence and respect, without jealousy and without possessiveness. Ayonsola had only one wife, she was the mother of the 9-year-old girl who used to come and play and dance with me. Jealousy was not an issue: we spent many afternoons together, myself and his wife, making batiks and cooking and talking about everything.

International Colloquium on Slavery, Slave Trade and Their Consequences

I'm blogging from the International Colloquium on Slavery, Slave Trade and Their Consequences, which opened at the Royal Park Hotel, Iloko-Ijesa, Osun State, on Monday 23 August.

The Colloquium is organised by the UNESCO Category II Centre of Black Culture and International Understanding, based in Osogbo, headed by Professor Wole Ogundele. Heading the organising committee of the colloquium is Professor Abi Derefaka.

Major scholars, writers and thinkers as well as performers are here: Toyin Falola, Bolanle Awe, Runoko Rashidi, Chinweizu, Edmund Moukala, Paul Lovejoy, Ivor Miller (who's doing major research into Calabar Efik culture in the Diaspora as a result of the Slave Trade), Doudou Diene (UN Special Rapporteur on these matters, who delivered a beautiful Keynote Address on opening day 23 August, in a speech that seemed to come straight from his soul), Ali Moussa-Iye (of the UNESCO Slave Routes Project), Sheila Walker (who's made a major film on the Slave Trade in conjunction with UNESCO), historian E.J Alagoa... The list is endless.

Osun Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola attended a session this morning, on 'Slave Market, Routes, Monuments, Relics and Tourism'. Other plenary sessions have included: 'Reconciliation, Reparation and Rehabilitation', Globalisation and New Forms of Enslavement', 'Women, Slavery and the Slave Trade' (see my report from one session), 'Regional Pespectives on Slavery and the Slave Trade' and 'Historiography of the Slavery and the Slave Trade'.

Last night Tiki Mercury-Clarke gave a performance on the role on Negro Spirituals during slavery and the roots of Gospel Music (I now have her CD 'Life Every Voice and Sing!). The foregoing URL shows Mercury-Clarke with a bald head, but here in Iloko-Ijesa she's got a locked hair flowing past her shoulders. There's a Gala Night tonight, with a performance by Orlando Julius, the great Highlife musician whose wife is African American.

The Colloquium is accompanied by an exhibition curated by the UNESCO Slave Routes Project (see photo above).

The colloquium had a joint opening ceremony with the Global Conference of Black Nationalities, holding right now in Osogbo. Both come to a close tomorrow.

Osun home of culture? This week it is

It's difficult to crop Ogun State governor Gbenga Daniel out of this picture, so he stays - but the people I'm particularly concerned with, are the men on either side of him. Reason is that these 2 signify for me the bridging of whatever gulf there might be between Africa and her Diaspora. Left is US Academic Runoko Rashidi who has undergone a life's journey to his African roots, and next to him is the king of 'The Source' which African Diasporans often come seeking, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade. Both graced the opening ceremony of the Global Conference of Black Nationalities in Osogbo on Monday 23 August and spoke. When King Sunny Ade started to chant the oriki (lineage praise) of the 81-year-old 'Oonirisa' as the ceremony drew to a close, the Ooni, clearly moved, rose from his seat on the high table and raised a fist in salute, holding the pose for nearly 5 minutes. It was quite something, and the gesture reminded me of the Black Panther salute of yore. As for Runoko Rashidi, I heard him say from the distant stage: "You're not African because you're born in Africa, you're African because Afrise is born in you" - and I thought, Wow! I was to meet the man responsible for that sentiment later in Iloko-Ijesa, Osun State, where we've been since Monday at another major conference, the International Colloquium on Slavery, Slave Trade and Their Consequences' (see Pelu Awofeso's photo of me with Rashidi, below; yes the CNN award winning travel writer Pelu Awofeso is also here, as are academics from all over the world). Rashidi, an electrifying speaker and persona, delivered his paper yesterday but I'm sad to say I missed it, having gone on another culture jaunt to Iragbiji, about which, more anon. Rashidi & Ooni's photo is by Tommy Adegbite, courtesy Osun State Government.

Osun State is the place to be this week. Three major international events are ongoing this week.

The week-long Global Conference of Black Nationalities opened in Osogbo on Monday August 23, with over 2,000 people (my estimate) in attendance. Name them, they were there - major Nigerian and Yoruba and international cultural and political figures. The crowd outside the WOCDIF Centre venue was nearly as large.
The International Colloquium on Slavery, Slave Trade and Their Consequences also kicked off same day at Iloko-Ijesa, Osun State and it's ongoing till tomorrow 27 August.
Tomorrow of course is the Osun Osogbo Festival.
These 3 major events also have smaller breakout programmes associated with them, some holding till Saturday 28th. So, if you're in Nigeria and haven't found your way here yet, it's not too late.