Archive for entertainment

Going digital: the future of the Nigerian book

Going digital: the future of the Nigerian book

The 10th annual
Nigerian International Book Fair (NIBF), which opened on May 9, kicked
off with an international conference the next day at the Afe Babalola
Auditorium, University of Lagos.

Themed ‘Technology
and the Future of the Book: New Digital Publishing for Africa’, the
keynote speaker was Robert Baensch, president, Baensch International
Group, USA.

Oye Ibidapo-Obe, a
former vice chancellor of the University of Lagos, was chair of the
forum which had in attendance veteran actor Segun Olusola, Yemi
Ogunbiyi of Tanus Communications, Yinka Lawal Solarin, former chair of
the Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT), and publishers and booksellers
from across the country.

Samuel Kolawole,
chief host and current chair of the NBFT, described the book fair as a
milestone in the history of the publishing industry in Nigeria. “We
believe there is no better time to talk about this issue than now. The
developed world has moved far away from where we are in Africa
regarding publishing,” Kolawole said.

“Technology has
impacted on the process of publishing the book and the book itself.
Today we have chosen two speakers to throw light on what is going on in
the developed world.

“Some years ago
mobile technology was something we never thought will grow in Nigeria,
but the story is different today. Infrastructure affects technology but
we should not let that deter us. Let us take something away from here,”
he added.

e-Books

Baensch’s address
was illustrative and he revealed some current trends in contemporary
e-publishing. The international publishing specialist discussed the
history of books, the early e-book, its initial success and how those
who made positive forecasts about its future were eventually
disappointed. Baensch, who also distinguished between extractive and
immersive books (books from which the reader pulls information and
books that one reads from cover to cover), offered some tips to
Nigerian publishers.

He told them that
they have to define their customers to maximise the benefits of digital
publishing. Defining new distribution and retail channels; developing
new goals which will demand new strategies and new technologies and
good management of people and publishing programmes were also
highlighted by Baensch. But most importantly, he told the publishers to
focus on quality content because “it is the real value for long term
success.”

No hiding from technology

Ibidapo-Obe, who
gave a short speech after the keynote address, noted that technology is
a product of globalisation and we cannot run away from it. “We must
find a way to harness technology to our future otherwise we may once
again be enslaved,” he stated. “Students have difficulties in using the
library. Publishers should make online versions available to students.”

The current
president of the Nigerian Academy of Science and vice chancellor at the
University of Ebonyi stated that he has a personal preference for books
but has come to terms with technology. “Whenever I go to a city, I like
to visit the university bookshop there. But we cannot run away from
technology,” he stated.

Samuel Eyitayo, a
librarian at the U.S. Consulate General, who delivered a paper titled
‘Book, Technology and Infrastructural Development: What the Future
Holds for Nigeria’, predicted that, “in the near future book production
is likely going to move almost exclusively onto the digital platform.”

He also made
recommendations to help push the growth of digital publishing in
Nigeria. “There must be an arm of your organisation that is researching
and monitoring what is going on in the industry as it relates to the
use of technology.”

He added that,
“The Nigerian Copyrights Commission should be well funded, staffed and
equipped to effectively tackle copyright infringements especially
within the new realm of technological realities.”

Reward for excellence

The conference was
also an opportunity to give awards to those who have consistently
exhibited since the inception of the fair 10 years ago and those who
have contributed to the success of the NIBF.

Dayo Alabi, the
first chair of the NIBF, revealed how the body was created during the
presentation ceremony. “It was in August 1998 that we were invited to
the Zimbabwe International Book Fair which was the only viable book
fair in Africa at the time.” Participants at the fair decided to form a
similar association in Nigeria when they returned. “The federal
government gave us 10 million (naira) when we started and Professor
Chukwuemeka Ike convened the first meeting of stakeholders in
publishing in Nigeria,” he added.

The award
recipients included individuals, publishers, and booksellers.
Recipients of awards for consistent exhibitions included: Macmillan
Publishers, Mosuro The Booksellers Limited, Academy Press, Literamed
Publications, Africana First Publishers and HEBN Publishers Plc.

Awardees in the
second category included: Segun Olusola, Yinka Lawal Solarin, Repro
India Ltd, sponsors of the book fair and University Press PLC.

We‘ll get there

Kolawole shed more
light on digital publishing, challenges that would likely beset its
proliferation and its effect on the existence of printed books after
the ceremony.

“The challenges
are in terms of infrastructure. We know the state of electricity supply
in Nigeria today. You need access to internet broadband. The level of
broadband deployment in Ghana is higher than that of Nigeria. We’ll get
there someday. Those are the challenges we are facing,” he said.

“Someone raised
the issue of piracy. If the hard book is being pirated, what will
happen to the digital content which you can see on the internet? A lot
of things can happen when you put your book in digital format
especially in a country like Nigeria. But we can’t say because of the
challenges of today we won’t prepare for the opportunities of
tomorrow,” he added.

On whether digital
publishing could lead to the extinction of physical books, Kolawole
asserts: “It’s not going to go into extinction, especially in Nigeria.
Students in our primary and secondary schools will still need to have
access to these hard books.

“You can talk
about the cities that so many schools are now using e-learning, but
what is the percentage of those schools compared with those that are in
rural areas that don’t even have chairs and tables to sit and write,
and you are talking about Kindles and Amazon.com? It doesn’t mean
anything to them.” He added that, “Until we reach the level of making
provisions for all those people, the hard book will still continue to
exist in Nigeria but of course technology too will have its impact. I
believe the hard book will still continue to exist especially in the
textbook segment.”

Kolawole also touched on the effect of digital publishing on the
Nigerian economy. “We should bring out books on our culture, on our
history, on our ways of life in the format that the international world
will want to read. If we are able to do this, we’ll be able to bring
foreign exchange into Nigeria.”

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Workshop for romance writers

Workshop for romance writers

Ankara Press, a new
outfit dedicated to publishing romantic fiction, has invited entries
for participation in a one-day workshop holding on Saturday, May 27 at
The French Cultural Centre in Abuja.

With the theme
‘Writing Modern Romance’, the workshop is designed for aspiring writers
who have a passion for writing love stories similar to the
once-ubiquitous Mills and Boon novels, but with African characters. It
will teach participants the techniques of writing engaging and original
romance novels.

How to develop
original story ideas; preventing common writing mistakes; bringing
characters to life; creating and developing memorable dialogue; and
learning how to tie it all together, are some of the techniques
participants will be introduced to at the training.

A release from the
company said the aim of the workshop is to ensure that participants
learn how to write modern romance novels that will appeal to today’s
editors and the publishing outfit.

“Modern romance
novels now feature independent female characters who are assertive and
ambitious and male characters who are strong, honest and not afraid to
emote. Writers must be able to identify and recreate such characters if
they want to be published by Ankara Press.”

Interested applicants should send, as a Word document, a one-page,
double-spaced sample of their best romantic fiction of no more than
1,500 words, typed in 12 point font to ankarasubmissions@gmail.com.
Entries should include applicant’s real names, the title of the story,
and a phone number and e-mail address. The subject line should read
‘Workshop’.

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Reflections on an altruistic life

Reflections on an altruistic life

The public presentation of ‘Reflections
on the Events of My Life’, the autobiography of Samuel Olatunde
Fadahunsi, took place on May 5 at the Agip Recital Hall, Muson Centre,
Onikan, Lagos.

Since it isn’t everyday that a
91-year-old gets the opportunity to tell his story, family, friends and
associates of the former president of the Nigerian Society of Engineers
came out en masse to listen to him.

Doyen of accounting in Nigeria,
Akintola Williams; former military administrator of the Western Region,
Adeyinka Adebayo; and chartered surveyor Hope Harriman, were among
those who came to celebrate with the retired engineer.

Unique book

As is often the
case with accomplished professionals who value time, there were no
frivolities at the event. The reviewer, Reuben Abati, promptly got down
to business after the chair of the book presentation committee, Dupe
Olatubosun, introduced the guests.

Abati, the chair
of the editorial board of The Guardian, disclosed that he didn’t
hesitate to accept the task because of the uniqueness of the book. He
said that, unlike other autobiographies, ‘Reflections on the Events of
My Life’ doesn’t dwell on the author’s personal life, marriage, family,
chieftaincy titles or philanthropic activities. The reviewer said the
book offers useful insights on “the makings of Nigeria, the Nigeria
that seems to be lost in antiquity.”

Abati, who went
through the book with a fine-toothed comb, added that, “‘Reflections on
the Events of My Life’ is a story of Nigeria through the eyes of Mr
Fadahunsi. This, to me, is humbling. The author, though a family man,
did not dwell much on this; he went to describe Nigeria as it was in
the 30s, 40s and 50s.”

The reviewer
further described the author as a patriot, noting that instead of
remaining in the UK after completing his studies in civil engineering
at London University, he joined a group of others who returned to
develop Nigeria. “Despite the fact that Nigeria was not as developed as
it is now, these patriotic Nigerians saw it a responsibility to come
home and build.” The author’s principles and qualities, including love
for family values, loyalty and a stance against corruption, did not
escape Abati’s attention.

Great family man

But the reviewer
wasn’t the only person who commended Fadahunsi’s effort. The chief
presenter, Folorunsho Awomolo, who was represented by his daughter,
also had great things to say about the man who dedicated much of hisl
ife to the civil service. Other commentators also praised Fadahunsi’s
spirit of contentment.

One of his
children described her father as a “great man, who will do anything to
protect his family. Grandpa, as he is fondly called by his
grandchildren, is a wonderful man.”

Born on March 17, 1920, Fadahunsi studied civil engineering at
London University and returned to Nigeria in 1955. His first
appointment upon his return was as district engineer in Osogbo with the
Western Region government, where he eventually rose to become a chief
water engineer and a chief adviser on water supply. He also worked with
the Lagos Executive Development Board, now the Lagos State Property
Development Corporation, before retiring in 1971 to establish his own
firm, Comprehensive Engineering Consultants. He belongs to several
professional organizations and has a foundation named after him.</

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Defining Nigerian popular music

Defining Nigerian popular music

In the run-up to
planned celebrations of the arts and culture sector of Nigeria, 50
years after her independence in 1960, there was public discourse
instigated by academia as to where the timeline should fall in
identifying any art form as Nigerian. Quasi-academic arguments proposed
that ‘Proto-Nigeria’ become the designated term for art forms and
genres that were developed before Nigeria was officially declared one
country by the colonial administrators in 1914.

By this
definition, it was argued, the Benin bronzes, Igbo Uku and Nok
terracotta, as well as the photography of Jonathan Adagogo Green in the
1890s, did not qualify as milestones in defining and celebrating art
forms and genres that can truly be categorised as Nigerian. All the
same, at the risk of incurring the academic wrath of the progenitors of
this school of thought, I will attempt a preliminary examination of the
roots and development of Nigerian contemporary popular music.

Nigerian folk
music, which evolved to create and shape Nigerian contemporary popular
music, is a much older genre of music than Nigeria itself. Folk, or
indigenous traditional vocal and instrumental, music predates the
British colonial efforts to create the geographical territory now known
as Nigeria. Interactions and manipulations within the colonial process
resulted in creating regional and national centres for administration
and commerce. The drift from rural areas to these new centres in turn
created a new urban culture and music that can best be described as a
melting pot of various indigenous rhythms and folk tunes. Out of this
mix came highlife, which is unquestionably Nigeria’s first genre of
contemporary popular music.

In his interview
(published in 2005) with the then 86-year-old Ambrose Campbell, the
producer of the very seminal ‘Highlife My Life’ project, Osaze Iyamu,
asked Campbell about the roots of Nigeria’s urban music. “There was
juju music with Tunde King,” Campbell explained, “and then by 1939
Ibos, Itsekiris, Liberians (crew sailors) and we the Yorubas, the Lagos
boys, brought our own kind of song and they their own kind of song; we
used to jam together.”

Not surprisingly,
right from the beginning, there were noticeable varieties of flavours
and inflections of highlife music, characterized by the indigenous
culture and folklore of the particular musicians. It was no wonder then
that the first generation of Nigerian highlife musicians sang in their
indigenous languages as well as incorporating their indigenous rhythms.

According to the
late great musicologist and creative activist, Steve Rhodes, it was
this recognisable variety that distinguished Nigerian highlife as an
original, diverse and very creative genre of contemporary popular
music. The pioneer giants of highlife as a recognisable independent
genre of popular music who best exhibited these traits, not in order of
chronology or creative competence, were Victor Olaiya, E.C. Arinze and
Rex Lawson.

Origin of Highlife

But then was
highlife, per se, a solely Nigerian musical phenomenon? Benson Idonije,
Nigeria’s foremost researcher and radio presenter of early contemporary
popular music, has a satisfying take on the origin and creative roots
of highlife.

“Highlife, the
first fusion of West African indigenous music with western forms,”
Idonije explains, “is the sub-region’s popular form of music. Some
claim that it originated from Ghana; others say it was introduced by
sailors and crew men from Sierra Leone (and Liberia). The most credible
view is that highlife has been in Nigeria long before E.T. Mensah of
the Tempos Band introduced the Ghanaian version to Nigeria in 1952.”

Idonije cites
“King, Denge and Ambrose Campbell, Sam Akpabot and others from the
post-World War II eras as the Nigerians who fashioned Nigerian highlife
before Mensah. However, Bobby Benson was the first to create the
Nigerian highlife alternative and parallel.”

Bobby Benson,
musician, show business-man and hotelier, can be regarded as the father
of Nigerian contemporary popular music. His full ‘big band’ orchestra,
which played a variety of music from chacha to rumba, a bit of
jitterbug/jazz and of course highlife, was the training ground for many
musicians, including trumpeter Zeal Onyia and saxophonist Babyface
Paul. Benson’s (and Nigeria’s) first highlife megahit ‘Taxi Driver’
(1954) was a reaction to scorned love: “…if you marry taxi driver/I
don’t care.” Bobby Benson himself became the butt of another popular
highlife song in Yoruba, “Bobby has bought a car/but he has not bought
a house/There is no never-do-well like Bobby!”

Variants

Victor Olaiya, the
trumpeter, epitomised Yoruba highlife, though he was brought up in
Onitsha and speaks good Igbo. He introduced the drone-guitar effect as
played by Akanni, and his early hits include ‘Kusimilaya’ (Die on my
chest/breast) E.C. Arinze, also a trumpeter, epitomised Ibo highlife
and became legendary for his hits, ‘Nike Nike’ and ‘It’s Time for
Highlife’. Rex Lawson, an Ijaw trumpeter, took highlife to its golden
age, achieving national and international fame although he sang mostly
in the minority Ijaw language. Lawson introduced the three-membrane
Ijaw masquerade drum into highlife and the use of two electric guitars,
trends which were later adopted by other highlife and Afrobeat
musicians like Fela. Lawson’s numerous hits include ‘Love Adure’,
‘Yellow Sisi’ and ‘Jolly Papa’.

Yoruba highlife
musicians, naturally, introduced the talking drums. Popular
‘second-generation’ highlife musicians include Eddy Okonta, Crossdale
Juba, Roy Chicago, Adeolu Akinsanya, Erasmus Jenewari, Sonny Brown,
Apollos Fiberesima and a host of individualists and innovators.

Bala Miller, from
Kaduna North, and the Sahara Dance Band, based in Jos, were some of the
prominent bands in that sector. Mention must be made of Ralph Amarabem,
guitarist and leader of the Aba-based Peacocks who produced the
all-time hit ‘Eddy Kwansa’.

It would appear
that the vogue then was to have highlife bands led by
trumpeters/singers. Trumpeters Zeal Onyia (in whose early band Osita
Osadebe cut his musical teeth as a singer), Vicky Yemu Afumu (Vicky
give me my half-penny), Eddy Okonta (Bisi), Roy Chicago, Apollos
Fiberesima, and Sonny Brown were some of such leaders. It also became
fashionable for highlife musicians to sing in their indigenous
languages as well as in English, particularly Pidgin English, in a bid
to reach wider audiences as highlife gained prominence and acceptance
across Nigeria. Inyang Henshaw was proficient singing in both Efik and
English and set the tone for Etubom Williams and other musicians from
the Cross River axis.

Innovators

Victor Uwaifo and
Celestine Ukwu are two highlife musicians whose innovative use of the
guitar and xylophone, respectively, revolutionarily changed the sound
of highlife. Historically, Sam Akpabot had used the xylophone earlier
but the instrument became Ukwu’s trademark signature. Uwaifo remains
Nigeria’s first and true master guitarist and he has incredibly
creative and fluid, lengthy guitar solos on ‘Joromi’ and ‘Guitar Boy’
to convince any doubters. Celestine Ukwu, the xylophonist and
philosopher, remains legendary for his ‘Ijenu’.

Eric Akaeze
(Ayolo), Orlando Owoh (Canary), Price David Bull and his Seagulls,
General Boliva, Saint Augustine (Asewo no be work/na management) all
deserve recognition for their contributions to developing and
sustaining highlife music.

For many of the
same reasons, Nigeria’s highlife music deserves a comprehensive and
well-edited book of lyrics, much like Sam Charters’ famous book,
‘Poetry of the Blues’, published in the 1960s. Socio-political
commentary, sarcasm, humour, veiled abuse, sweet nothings, plain good
advice, doses of ego-tripping and macho posturing, and the intricate
emotions of love and relationships have all been addressed in
indigenous and English languages in over 50 years of highlife music.
Highlife has also had its rude boys like Reggae’s Max Romeo.

The puzzle is: how come the high-class/highlife music to which
Nkrumah and Balewa danced at state functions for the independence of
Ghana and Nigeria respectively, tumbled socially and dramatically to
become the low-class music of dingy ghetto nightclubs and dives? Is
highlife dead and buried? Idonije, who postulates that “highlife
stopped evolving in all directions in the mid-60s,” also offers a
lifeline. “Highlife music,” he says, “has become Nigeria’s basic
popular music form from which creative musicians can tap into other
perspectives.”

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Sound journeys of the lost and found

Sound journeys of the lost and found

The 16-track debut
by U’mau, a female musician of Nigerian origin, offers a reflective
collection of songs buoyed up by effervescent instrumental sounds that
borrow boldly from folk, jazz, calypso, Afrobeat, makossa, country and
highlife.

‘Sound Journeys of
the Lost and Found’ is a meticulously presented dose of refined talent
from this guitar-wielding, Goldsmith College University-trained
musician. Groovy percussion openings welcome one to sounds that,
according to the artist, “chronicle an internal journey most will
identify with.” And she is quite right, as with intuitive themes like
love, freedom, world peace, nature and spirituality, she provides music
that speaks directly to every idealist.

Soul fusion

Her message is
“There is a light!” Her music, according to her, is “an expression of
me,” made to encourage others in times of despair while also
celebrating “the good things in life and culture.” Songs like “This
Bird Has Flown”, “No Fear”, “Opportunity’s Call” and “Your Groove”
encourage a profound introspection only comparable to the soulful
lyrics of Asa.

But where Asa can
be labelled soul, U’mau is a bit of a conundrum, having created a
fusion of sounds from a melange of influences from Nigeria, Liberia,
Cameroun, Canada, Spain and Russia – places that she has called home at
different points in her life; as well as the heart of the Caribbean.
She however successfully betrays no particular identification with any
of these cultures, effectively promoting an identity of
“boundary-absent” universalist.

Her producer, Femi
Temowo, employs an array of contemporary, orchestral and native sounds
produced by a 15-member band to create vibes that bound along
energetically – contrasting interestingly with, while also keeping time
to and livening up her profound libretto.

More than the
vocal performances it carries, the instrumental sound engineering on
‘Sound Journeys’ is impeccable, an undeniable strength of this album.
And one is drawn in from the first vibrant calypso/highlife strains of
“Might as Well” until the last track, “My People”, on which U’mau
finally concedes a tribal influence, rendering some parts in Efik- a
doffing of her hat to the Efik highlife flavour of Inyang Henshaw,
which the singer says is an acquired taste from her father’s “broad
musical palette.”

Lowlights

Umau’s mellow
tones are a gentle accompaniment to the instrumental sounds, but as one
listens, one begins to hope for a stronger or more adventurous vocal
effort. The album instead draws to a close without this.

U’mau calls her
style ‘alternative fusion’. However, it could have benefitted from
collaborations with a few musicians or an employment of a greater
variety of vocal tones beyond only backup choruses. Also, while the
sound is engaging, the music seems, nonetheless, reigned-in and
tailored specifically to contemplative listenership. One or two
danceable tracks would have shaken things up and added much in terms of
style variety.

One hopes that
U’mau will employ more of the boldness she has exhibited with the
instrumental sounds of this debut in the style and vocal output of her
sophomore effort.

The album is available for purchase on iTunes

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Thrilling night of rhythms

Thrilling night of rhythms

The National Troupe
of Nigeria delivered a thrilling experience during a musical show
titled ‘Rhythms and Reminiscences’ at the National Theatre, Iganmu,
Lagos, on April 29.

Directed by music
specialists, Dapo Omideyi and Femi Ogunrombi, both graduates of the
Obafemi Awolowo University, the concert featured renditions of popular
tunes and folk songs in Efik, Ijaw and Itsekiri languages. There were
also songs from other parts of Nigeria and Ghana.

The opening
performances included traditional dances from different parts of the
country such as Igbo male dancers in leopard skin loincloths and
drummers that churned out energetic beats.

The Yoruba routine
was gay and energetic, after which the musical duo Zule Zoo, consisting
of Ibrahim and Michael, performed. However, the duo merely lip-synched
to the actual songs they performed and it was a bit of a drawback as it
paled in comparison to the vibrancy of live performance.

However, they made
up for it with a retinue of dancers, members of the National Troupe who
provided lively dances and captivating body movements in accompaniment
to the songs.

Zule Zoo performed
their popular hit “Kerewa”, complete with racy choreography. It is a
suggestive number about a woman who engages in a sexual romp with her
lover while her husband is away. The incident is narrated by the
woman’s son to her husband when he returns.

Songs of unity

After a comedy
interlude by SLK, director Omideyi and the troupe came on. ‘Aramotu’
producer and assistant director Ogunrombi played the keyboard as the
troupe rendered various numbers, including patriotic songs calling for
Nigerian unity.

The
well-synchronized troupe aided by a brilliant band churned out popular
tunes including popular Yoruba highlife/juju song, “Ara mi Ese Pele
Pele”; “Ene Dope, Ene Dope”, an Itsekiri number; and the late Rex
Lawson’s “Love Adure”, which sent the audience into raptures.

Curly-haired actor
and singer Bongo Lipso joined the electrifying performance of “Love
Adure” and drew shouts of delight from the audience for his act as he
moonwalked off the stage.

The well thoughtout
and rehearsed songs were brilliantly delivered by the 59-person band
comprising 48 singers, eight instrumentalists, one pianist and two
saxophonists. The beautiful lighting effects and overall stage lighting
aided the effect of the performance, which was an impressive ensemble.
The performance of the troupe was remarkable and evident of meticulous
preparation.

Omideyi said in a
chat with NEXT that preparation for the concert was an eye-opener for
him and also for the troupe as they were exposed to potentials they
didn’t know they possessed.

He said, on the
choice of popular highlife tunes and folk songs for the concert, “We
wanted to go back to the olden days and perform numbers that people
could identify with and we had to do folk songs that cut across the
country.”

According to the management of the troupe, the concert which was
also staged the following day, was in fulfillment of the “promise of
the newly confirmed artistic director of the troupe, Martins Adaji, to
reinvigorate the music department.”

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EMAIL FROM AMERICA: Flashbacks: For the potter’s wheel

EMAIL FROM AMERICA: Flashbacks: For the potter’s wheel

Catholic boarding
school was a difficult experience. I felt like Charles Dickens’ Oliver
Twist most days. You never knew what the day would bring, other than
trouble. I remember severe punishments and I associate the Catholic
Church in Nigeria with child abuse. As little boys we attended church
at least twice daily. Our church was not a sanctuary from abuse; we
were required to confess in church. This was tough for little boys;
there was not much to confess to. We made things up so the fathers
would not be upset. Once our principal priest slapped my friend in
church and the blood formed a beautiful crimson arc from his nose to
the floor. Perhaps it was not the slap; my friend was prone to
nosebleeds. Boarding school taught me to negotiate every human being
very carefully. Each time I enter a church I remember my friend with
the nosebleed.

In terms of
academics, we were sorted like eggs; grade 1, 2, 3 and discards. If you
were not good academically, you were most likely beaten and humiliated
for, in essence, being wired differently. These days I live in a place
where advocates fight fiercely to ensure that all kids are given an
education that matches their aptitudes. Still, America has a long way
to go; children of color lag way behind white and Asian children
academically. It is still a struggle to find the right supports for
children with special needs. It is savagery to teach to the test of a
single intelligence. There are multiple intelligences and they should
all be nurtured.

There was a
library in our school. The library saved my life. I spent as many days
as I could inside that library and I read voraciously. In the books, I
travelled to other countries and met other restless boys like myself –
in places like India, England, and America. I read virtually all the
‘Williams’ volumes by Richmal Crompton, about an 11 year-old-boy and
his gang called the Outlaws. There must have been at least three dozen
of those books: ‘William the Bad’, ‘Just William’, ‘William Again’,
etc. Books are powerful; the first time I stepped foot inside London it
was as if I had been there before.

Many of our
teachers beat us up at every opportunity and I learnt that the human
being has an infinite capacity for administering punishment on others.
I also met amazing teachers. There was a Nigerian priest who put a
smile on our faces each time he entered the class. He was our English
teacher; he had travelled all over the world and he was a great story
teller. He never hit us, which was quite unusual. Our senior tutor
taught geography. He was a walking demon. He would walk in to our class
with a whip and growl at the victim of the day, “You! Show me
Saskatchewan!” Invariably, the nervous kid would point at the wrong end
of the map and the whip would descend on him. Many of us would wet our
pants from waiting for our turn. One’s turn always came.

I learnt to tell
the changing of the seasons from the church hymns. Certain hymns, when
they were sung, I knew meant soon I would be going to see my mother.
When the holidays came, I would get in a taxi all by myself and go home
to the waiting arms of my mother. It was not all bad.

There were social
events, dances and plays. My favorite teacher of all time was Mr V.O.
Thomas. He was my literature teacher. He absolutely adored me, he loved
playing tennis and during evenings while my peers were performing
manual labor, he would make sure I was at the tennis court with him,
picking balls. He called me Fat Head affectionately.

He would walk into
class and go, “Fat Head! Read! Read Abiku!” I did not like reading
Soyinka’s ‘Abiku’; it was too complex for me. I preferred ‘Abiku’ by JP
Clark’s (as he was called then). I understood it better. He knew that
and he loved to watch me start reading the wrong ‘Abiku’. I always read
JP Clark’s ‘Abiku’. They don’t make them like him anymore.

I have been reading Chukwuemeka Ike’s ‘The Potter’s Wheel’ again.
Ike is one of the most under-rated and under-celebrated writers in
Africa. In ‘The Potter’s Wheel’, a bright young boy who is doted upon
by his parents is sent off to a disciplinarian teacher in a faraway
village to learn some discipline and get an education. As a teenager I
enjoyed that book immensely; it is such a lovely book. Re-reading it
however has been painful: the scenes of physical, verbal and emotional
abuse against this boy Obuechina Maduabuchi (Obu) and other children is
just too painful for me to read. What makes me really sad is that there
was a time I thought what happened to me and boys like Obu was normal.
No child should have to suffer like that. Pray for the “child witches”
of Akwa Ibom.

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Denja Abdullahi: Poet of the city

Denja Abdullahi: Poet of the city

The notion that
writers are prophets appears true for Denja Abdullahi. Some 10 years
after he published his ‘Mairogo: A Buffoon’s Poetic Journey around
Northern Nigeria’, it is as if no change has occurred in that part of
the country.

“I don’t think
anything has changed. The north has always remained constant so most of
what I said is current. Some are predictive of what I thought will
happen in the north in future,” says the poet.

Ethno-religious
crises and oppression of the minority by the elite are some of the
issues Abdullahi uses the Yankamanci (roving poet) tradition to
highlight in the collection. The problems, he notes, have always been
present in the north and will continue unless efforts are made to
address them.

Shilashila dance

Apart from vividly
depicting northern Nigeria and predicting its future, Abdullahi also
touches on the ethnography of the region. He highlights the dances,
food, marriage practices and the history of Arewa land. One of the
seldom talked-about dances of the north he mentions is the shilashila,
an erotic dance.The artist from Kogi State discloses that, “I witnessed
the dance during the coronation of the deposed Mustapha Jokolo as Emir
of Gwandu. There was a night event on the eve of the coronation where
all the emirs from northern Nigeria gathered. It is the night during
which the emirs are entertained and many things come into the
entertainment that ordinarily would not be tolerated in the daytime or
in formal situations.

“Some people came
from Borno with the dance and it was purely an erotic dance which
ordinarily the emirs, as religious leaders, should not sit to watch.
There are sub-cultures in the north, those related to the court, and
shilashila is done at the court or on very special occasions.”

He is however
saddened by the fact that some “people are trying to suppress some of
those sub-cultures.” And that it is “why the north is culturally
deficient because Islam has suppressed many of the pre-Islamic liberal
cultures of the north. This book is in a way an attempt to rescue some
of the cultures and bring them to the fore.”

Yankama tradition

To remove the sting
from his criticisms of northern Nigeria, Abdullahi, a deputy director
of performing arts with the National Council for Arts and Culture,
Abuja, hid under an ancient northern tradition. “The Yankama tradition,
that is a wandering jester,” he begins in explanation. “You find
itinerant jesters at the market performing and saying all sorts of
things to make people laugh. People abhor unnecessary amusement in the
north; it is frowned upon because of religious inclination so the
yankama speaks truths that people laugh at. That is the tradition I
used as a trope for the work. I am able to talk about the north in a
way that is not offensive and at the same time pass some truthful
messages.”

But Abdullahi’s
major motivation for writing the book is to bring the north closer to
other Nigerians. “There are things which need to be talked about
because people from other parts of the country lack information about
what is happening in the north. I feel that we must explain the north
to people in the north and those outside it.”

Though ‘Mairogo’
was published in 2001, Abdullahi started writing it in 1996 shortly
after writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by
the Sani Abacha junta. He reveals he started writing it in a bus after
an interview with Shell in Port Harcourt. “I wrote it up to the point
that I alighted from the vehicle. What made me to complete it was that
it was serialised in a magazine where I was the consulting editor.
After the serialisation got to the point where I had left it, I had to
continue and that helped me to complete it. It took me up to four years
to complete it.”

Vatsa’s influence

Abdullahi’s second
poetry collection, ‘Abuja Nunyi’ (This is Abuja), published in 2008,
arose from the British Council’s Crossing Borders project of 2006. He
chose to write on the city and his mentor Meg Peacocke didn’t object.
“Every city has its evocative nature. That’s why Lagos has been able to
generate a lot of poetry and I thought Abuja too can be written about.
Before I wrote, Abuja had generated a lot of poems. Mamman Vatsa was
here and being a poet, he was encouraged by the scenery but it’s no
longer the time of Vatsa.There are new developments: the modern Abuja,
the people, the history and towns in order to glorify the city.

“Poets have done
things about other cities. Simbo Olorunfemi did ‘Eko Ree’ on Lagos. A
soldier-poet in the tradition of Vatsa, retired colonel J.I.P. Ubah,
also wrote ‘Songs of Lokoja’. He and Vatsa were at the back of my mind
when I was doing the poems that comprise ‘Abuja Nunyi.'”

Though the poet
admits to Vatsa’s influence, he says it is “an influence in terms of
subject but not in terms of form. I responded to the Abuja of today the
way Vatsa responded to the Abuja of yesterday.”

On why he adopted
similar styles for ‘Mairogo’ and ‘Abuja Nunyi’, Abdullahi says, “I want
my poetry to be accessible. I subscribe to the tradition of Niyi
Osundare that poetry should be taken out of the classroom to the market
place. What I took away from ‘Mairogo’ to [Abuja Nunyi] is accessibilty
and showcasing different angles of the same thing. I also like to play
with humour; I believe that we should laugh at ourselves in writing.
Some of the poems in ‘Abuja Nunyi’ are on the problems of Abuja in a
way that will elicit laughter. I started it in ‘Mairogo’ and I have
also included it in ‘Abuja Nunyi’ but the forms are different.”

Unfulfilled dream

With three
collections in his kitty, Abdullahi’s joy won’t be complete until he
publishes his first manuscript, yet to see the light of the day. “It
would have been my first collection of poetry,” he discloses. “It had
been completed since 1995 but it has been suffering a lot of delays. It
has to come out because if it doesn’t, people will not know where I
started from as a poet. After it is published, I think I would have
paid my debt to poetry. I want to focus on drama as well as short
stories.”

ANA politics

A past general
secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abdullahi, who
is aspiring to become the body’s next vice president, says that he is
being persuaded to run by a group that feels ANA still needs him. He
then quickly adds that he and some others are not making a career out
of ANA as is being speculated.

“There are writers not willing to do the work some people are doing
for ANA. Nobody has prevented anybody from aspiring into an ANA
position. When you say people are making a career out of ANA, it is
that way because people are not coming forward for positions. I know a
number of Nigerian writers who want others to work for them while they
stay on the sidelines. People should stop saying some are making a
career out of ANA, they should leave their careers and come serve the
association.”

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Talking Nollywood at film corporation lecture

Talking Nollywood at film corporation lecture

The fourth annual
film lecture of the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), titled ‘Nollywood:
Reconstructing the Historical and Socio-cultural Contexts of the
Nigerian Video Film Industry’, was delivered by the scholar and author
of ‘Modernity and African Cinema’, Femi Shaka, at the Silverbird
Galleria in Victoria Island, Lagos, on May 5.

The lecture
afforded filmmakers and others interested in the country’s movie
industry the opportunity to discuss issues pertinent to its development.

The managing
director of the NFC, Afolabi Adesanya, reiterated the importance of the
event in his welcome address, saying, “Today’s lecture provides another
opportunity to rub minds and project a formidable vision that will
enable the film industry to be second to none.” Adesanya added that
Nollywood has grown so powerful over the years, that it is now used to
reach out to people. He noted that political parties had to “woo
Nollywood” during the recently concluded 2011 general elections to
highlight how Nollywood has been used as political and social tools.

Creative dialogue

The former managing
director of the Daily Times and chair of the occasion, Onukaba
Adinoyi-Ojo, reiterated the importance of this lecture and previous
ones. He explained that each was a platform for enlightened discussions
about Nigeria’s film industry and its contributions to society.

Adinoyi-Ojo also
noted the popularity of Nollywood across the world and its power,
adding that the industry has to portray Nigeria positively. “Power
comes with responsibilities,” he said, adding that there should be “a
more rounded and balanced portrayal of Nigeria,” rather than the
distorted image given to viewers to feed on. The writer further advised
that Nollywood should “engage other cultures in creative dialogue” and
be “a true representation of our cultural heritage.”

Avenue of escape

The high point of
the day was Shaka’s lecture, which focused on the conditions that led
to the emergence of Nollywood. “There is need to reconstruct this
social history so that we don’t fall into the trap of misjudging
harshly the popular film culture,” he said.

He, however, noted
that Nollywood arose from the need to provide relief to people from the
mass poverty associated with the political instability of the 1990s.
“The people also needed some form of escape entertainment that will
make them forget, even if momentarily, the mass poverty and sufferings
in the land.”

He noted that
movies produced then reflected prevalent social ills including
prostitution, ritual killings, violence and armed robbery. “Movies that
sold during the early years of Nollywood were tales exploiting the
themes of transgressive sex and violence.”

He added, “The
genres which helped to project Nigerian culture globally include the
ritual film, the epic genre, the Christian evangelical film and the
comic genre.”

The pioneers

Shaka, who is a
professor of film at the University of Port Harcourt, also recalled
that Nollywood took off commercially in 1992 when actors like Richard
Mofe-Damijo, Pete Edochie, Clarion Chukwura and Enebeli Enebuwa from
popular television dramas like ‘Ripples’, ‘Behind The Clouds’ and
‘Fortune’ began to play roles in movies. “It’s a transfer of television
actors to movie that helped to kick-start the movie industry,” he
reiterated. Shaka added that these set of actors were instrumental to
laying a solid foundation for Nollywood and that “stars are very
important in the film industry.”

He didn’t fail to
highlight institutions instrumental to Nollywood’s growth. “This
lecture will be incomplete without mentioning MultiChoice,” he said,
while highlighting the role of the African Movie Academy Awards.

The theatre arts
graduate of the University of Benin also acknowledged the role played
by Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in the emergence of filmmaking in
Nigeria. He noted that the drama club Soyinka established at the
University of Ibadan in 1960 has been a major contribution to theatre
arts and filmmaking in Nigeria.

The lecturer also
offered an insight into one of the major problems facing Nollywood.
“Part of the problems obstructing the growth of Nollywood is
distribution,” he said.

Imitation of life

Three panelists, Ezindu Idimah, Vivien Torbunde, and filmmaker Victor Okhai, later discussed issues raised by Shaka.

There was also an
interactive session during which Adinoyi-Ojo suggested that Nollywood
should pay attention to animation. “Our children grow up on ‘Snow
White’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Mickey Mouse’, ‘Hannah Montanna’ and ‘High
School Musical’.”

Fielding questions
from the audience, Shaka iterated that Nollywood is “a commercial
industry,” where movies are sold based on the featured stars.

On the dominant
portrayal of black magic, superstition and ritual killings that give
Nigeria a bad image, Shaka contended that filmmakers reflect what
happens in the society, hence such themes cannot be completely erased.

“It is not good
but people should not make the mistake that art is a replacement of
reality but [rather an] imitation of life,” he insisted. “It is a dream
factory. We manufacture dream, not what you are but what you want to
be.”

Shaka also allayed
fears expressed by some people in the audience that there seems to be a
clash of interests in Nollywood following the emergence of Kannywood,
the burgeoning movie industry in Kano. “Kannywood is a sub-culture of
Nollywood. As a matter of fact, all other film cultures are subdued
under Nollywood,” he said citing Ghana and, more recently, Kenya, as
examples.

“Kannywood isn’t a distraction, it is highlighting Hausa culture. which is hybrid and borrows from everywhere.”

Award winners

It wasn’t all talk
at the event, however, as two veterans of the movie industry, Ita
Isuaudono Okon and Aliyu Garba Kankara, were presented with lifetime
achievement awards.

The awards,
Adesanya noted, “Affirms that line in our national anthem that the
labours of heroes past shall never be in vain.” He added of all the
prize winners, “All these awards are in recognition of tremendous
contributions of veterans, essayists and corporate entities to the
movie industry.”

Anuli Agina, Vivien Torbunde and Jonathan Eze, the winners of the
2010/2011 NFC film essay competition, also received cash prizes and
certificates. Silverbird Distribution was given an award as Best
Nigerian Distribution Company while the Highest Box Office award was
presented to Chineze Anyaene for her movie, ‘Ije’.

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All things black and beautiful

All things black and beautiful

BlackBird
By Jude Dibia
Jalaa Writers’ Collective
233pp

I’ll cut to the
chase: trailblazing writer Jude Dibia has worked up a tour de force
with his latest offering, ‘Blackbird’. Coming after his debut, ‘Walking
with Shadows’, and the prize-winning ‘Unbridled’, this latest work does
well as a worthy addition to a steadily growing oeuvre.

The story is
gritty and even saucy in places, only fitting for a tale that pulsates
with the stuff of everyday relationships, one suffused with the
colouration of something ripened by the elements. It has the power to
work on the mind to see, for the first time, the rearranged prejudices
it had been fooled all along to take for thinking.

The writer did it
for me when he had the flustered oyinbo main character of the story
finally retort to his black interest of the moment, an unsung singing
marvel: “The real issue is that you Nigerians never let your guests
forget that they are foreigners.” It is he who, by this state of
things, is able to get at the hospital what she needs to save her son
from certain death.

That’s no spoiler
alert; I will not be giving away any thread of the plot of the story,
or even its arc. You will get the book and you will read it for
yourself. If I could enforce that, I would.

Dibia’s tale is a
variegated land populated by characters that are by no means
paper-thin. Rather, they are sufficiently nuanced by their maker to be
driven around by demons within and without. This they do almost
mindlessly to tackle the insufferables and ponderables of a society in
the grip of change, triggered by the lustful glare of the rich and
powerful who want more land on which to grow their tribe, even if (or,
especially) at the expense of the dregs at the neck of society.

A tragic study in contrasts

In the middle of
all the action are mixed marital fortunes caught up in the tension of
the moment. Take the white-weds-black marriage of the curious Mr Edward
Wood and the narcissistically ugly Mrs Nduesoh Wood. Each party in the
contrivance has a set of reasons for entering into the marriage,
mutually exclusive to the other. And what an institution it was for
each to live through!

It is the same
for the counterpoise couple, Maya and Omoniyi. Both pairs, taken
together, present a cocktail of a tragic study in contrasts.

Mr Wood is a
Briton with an insatiable libido and an uncontrollable weakness for
black women, whose skin he has taken liberties with to arrive at a
well-informed conclusion: They “glisten like ebony when wet.”

Very married, Mr
Wood, an hotelier, is wont to follow his nose in his quest for strange
– not pale, like his own, but hale – flesh as in of a vibrant hue; to
be had wherever it is to be found.

Reaching far
beyond the creepy blandness of contemporary portrayals of emotions in
relationships in fiction, Dibia instead works a blender with great
tender loving care to squeeze sweetness and tang from the “sour feel of
things left unsaid,” his take on the many marital tensions of the rich,
who are poor in ways untold, and the poor, who turn out to have been
rich in understated hues.

Also worked into
the canvas are the many unstated ways in which Africa has undersold
herself, both in colonial times past and the post-independence present.
Dibia gets ‘the other side’ to reveal how the bargain was struck to get
it institutionalised. ‘Blackbird’ even captures the irony of the
moment: though it has effectively told on itself, that and many more
tellings won’t get it undone.

And how that
state of affairs has morphed into the status quo: a master-mendicant
relationship between pale-skinned intruders and otherwise hale-skinned
ousted landowners, with the former finding they could very well wear
their pigmentation like a cloak of superiority, with which comes a
mounting sense of invincibility.

Chekovian stunts

‘Blackbird’ brings
home with startling clarity the force of newfound truths: displaced
hosts now treated by the scheming, usurping guests as invisible –
except when it comes to hands and legs to run errands and other body
parts required to keep the fancy of the new landowners tickled and
pleased.

‘Blackbird’ is an
authentic narrative of urban space as either utopia or nirvana, or
neither, for the hordes that throng in to either find worth in it or
give their worth to it; the artificialisation of everything on its path
as it is forced to slough off its skin to make it to a new phase.

Pregnant with
irony and the weight of the contradictions of life, love and the lies
that bind them all together, ‘Blackbird’ is proof that the writer has
an eye for intricacies and delicacies; his powers of description are
redoubtable. It is an understatement to say that this writer is one
from whom we shall be hearing for many, many more moons to come. It is
clear that he has many clearly important and ticklish things to say to
us.

His handling of
interior monologue is as cool as it is intriguing. I also found it
achingly accurate at many points. Even the prison notes are so
beautiful they would melt a heart of stone.

For one, he has
proven worthy of inclusion in our conversations by growing for us on
his patch a whole new array of definitions – of things like love and
kindness. But these are, really, not new; only pristine and human at a
rock-bottom fundamental level. His freshly baked similes and metaphors
– how they resonate with mere reality.

While at it, he
even pulled off many a Chekovian stunt with unassailable precision.
Don’t try to catch him placing a gun in Chapter 1 that proved handy in
Chapter 10. Just prepare to catch your breath along with their rhythm
in place.

His portrayals of
what a woman would do for love (and for her man to prove) and what she,
as a mother, would do just to keep her child alive, are almost
revelatory, even celebratory.

A celebration of ordinariness

Dibia’s blackbird
symbolism is a throwback to the use of the raven, a large black bird of
the crow family, by the trailblazing Edgar Allan Poe, the American
writer famous as the first master of the short story form, especially
the psychological horror tale, to which ‘Blackbird’ hints in places.
Like Poe, Dibia appears to also have an obsession with death, as was
the poet John Keats before them both.

Further, Dibia’s
singing, stinging prose is arguably on par with that of Khaled
Hosseini, the highly renowned and important American writer originally
from Afghanistan. Dibia’s writerly senses, honed into instincts, do not
miss anything: the clock stuck… at 9:11. It’s ominous, but so is his
treatment of time in the story with its cache of anti-serendipities,
like anti-matter. Not pat but poignant.

It is obvious:
Dibia is familiar with his characters, but he does not treat them with
contempt. He cares for them; hence they could not but trust him with
their atubotan, or end — which became his beginning.

The tale ends on
a dreary but beautiful note. But it is only a false bottom to a valise.
The author isn’t quite done, not without driving home, perhaps
literally, the symbolism that is the lodestar for his inspiration.

I think the
writers’ collective that undertook the publishing of this book deserve
the flack for the copious copyediting blemishes that abound in the
book. The awkward comma that cuts into the flow of the story, again and
again, betrays a practice of poor punctuation. The ‘winner’ is a sore
thumb on page 284, a mix-up in the names of two key characters who are
sisters.

Yet there is, for
the writer, a little matter of nomenclature that tells on his stylistic
finesse. One example is the use of back-masking for the name of a
place, which makes it unwieldy, rendering it everything but memorable.
Even now, trying so hard, I can’t recall the name.

Apart from the staccato of typos and formatting errors that flare
up occasionally as you move through ‘Blackbird’ country, the book
passes in flying colours as a celebration of the ordinariness that dogs
the heels of the dreaded life.

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