Thursday, March 30, 2006

condoleeza: the motherhawk has landed

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has arrived in the UK for a controversial visit that has already been dogged by hiccups. Protests are planned by the Stop The War Coalition and Moslem Groups. A poet in Liverpool who was to compere a gala concert in her honour pulled out. Now a mosque she was due to visit in Blackburn has cancelled.

Now all that's left is for me to recall Spike Lee's words about the Bush Administration's - and Condoleeza's - response to Hurricane Katrina, as reported in one of the weekend papers.

"I don't think they cared about the poor citizens of the United States of America. Look at the Secretary of State, shopping for a fine pair of shoes that day and seeing Spamalot on Broadway that night. She was booed when the lights came up in the theatre. A woman came up to her in the shop and started talking to her about what was going on. She was pulled away by secret service. We're trying to find that lady... I know this stuff happened. It is documented." - Spike Lee

Welcome to Britain, MotherHawk....

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

esiaba irobi reads in london

Esiaba Irobi, playwright, poet and professor of International Theatre & Film at Ohio University, Athens - reads in London on Saturday.

In the first Sentinel Poetry Live Event, Irobi will be the main attraction and will read from his new collection of poetry, Why I Don't Like Philip Larkin.

He will be joined on the night by other writers performing their selection of Irobi's poetry as well as their own pieces. The event is at the Waterloo Gallery. It starts at 7pm and entry is free. Come one come all.

Event Details
Waterloo Gallery
14 Bayliss Road
London SE1 1AA

Saturday 1st April / Time: 7 to 9pm
(The nearest station is Waterloo, and the gallery is diagonally across from the Old Vic theatre).

vs naipaul shoots off again

2001 Nobel Prize winner, VS Naipaul is at it again - this time attacking some of the greatest writers in the English language.

Thomas Hardy is "an unbearable writer" who "doesn't know how to compose a paragraph.

Henry James is "the worst writer in the world"

Ernest Hemingway "was so busy being an American" that he "didn't know where he was"

Naipaul said all this to the Literary Review... Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy weren't let off either. And Charles Dicken was 'repetitive'. English writing, according to Naipaul, "is very much of England, for the people of England, and is not meant to travel too far".

Naipaul found time to moan, saying: "England has not appreciated the work I have done." Sir Vidiadhar must have forgotten that he is a knight of the British Empire. The 73-year-old did have some kind words though, for HG Wells, Mark Twain and Harold Pinter.

Born in Trinidad of Indian parentage, Naipaul has not been very kind about his place of birth, or Indian writers for that matter, once attacking them for their supposed 'obsession' with colonialism and oppression. "My life is short," he said, "I can't listen to banality."

"And this thing about colonialism, this thing about gender oppression, the very word oppression wearies me. I don't know why, I think it is because banality irritates me." The man was shaking with rage all the while, and Vikram Seth had to calm him down, without much success! To Naipaul, " If writers just sit and talk about oppression, they are not going to do much writing. And my difference on that kind of attitude is that I have to make a living by writing."

"Naipaul is fantastically rude," said an observer. When Naipaul won the Nobel in 2001, his contemporaries from the Caribbean were happy, though they not exactly dancing in the streets - the man makes such unbridled joy difficult. He once described India as an "unimportant" dot on the map lacking in creativity. In fact, it was him that saved the country from fetishism and ritual - or so he said.

Fellow Caribbean great Derek Walcott won the Nobel earlier and said of Naipaul's honour in 2001: It's long overdue, even if he's written some very harsh things about the Caribbean... I think his judgement of the Caribbean is erratic and strange, and often vicious in some cases." Walcott finished off with a statement that was bound to displease Naipaul: "He is a Trinidadian, he grew up there and he's a West Indian, though he may want to deny it."

Considering that Naipaul has abused nearly everyone/thing there is to abuse, those on the receiving end of his latest tirade are in good company.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

african writers' evening

Poets Nick Makoha and Inua Ellams are performing on Friday 31st March at the Poetry Cafe, in the first African Writers' Evening (AWE) this year. Both have featured on the AWE open mike before they became published writers. Host of the evening is writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes who will be reading some of his favourite poems from Dance The Guns to Silence - the anthology of 100 poems in memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa, published last November. A fiction writer will also join the line-up on the night.

AWE on Nick Makoha
Nick 'urbanspirit' Makoha is an immensely talented poet of Ugandan origin. On stage he drops a succession of interwoven one-liners so deep that every longitude ever imagined begins to shiver with insecurity. The original poet-in-residence with London's revered performance showcase, Kindred Spirit, urbanspirit catapulted himself to legendary status by disappearing off the poetry scene for two years. He re-emerged in early 2005 with The Lost Collection of an Invisible Man. He has now begun to reclaim the territory he haunted for many years.

AWE on Inua Ellams
An incredibly talented writer, Inua Ellams lacks long legs yet he manages, inexplicably, to straddle the divide between hip hop and Soyinka effortlessly. He rains poems and images so fly that migratory birds that visited his Nigerian home have refused to leave. Inua is the author of 13 Fairy Negro Tales and a winner of several poetry slams.

Event Details
The Poetry Cafe
22 Betterton Street
Covent Garden
London WC2

Friday 31st March 2006 at 7.30pm

Sunday, March 26, 2006

colours of spring - aliyu & azuonye

The Colours of Spring, a joint exhibition by artists Chike Azuonye & Hassan Aliyu, has opened at the Waterloo Gallery, London, and displays until the 1st of April.

Chike Azuonye talks about Faces II, one of his pieces in the exhibition.

Quite the performer, Hassan Aliyu discusses The Head That Wears The Crown (pictured below) - a painting he's passionate about.

Colours of Spring - until 1st April at:
Waterloo Gallery
14 Baylis Road
London SE1 7AA

Photos: taken at the Waterloo Gallery, 23 March

tapfuma gutsa's renje sandanga

The Miracle of Moses (2002) by Tapfuma Gutsa

Tapfuma Gutsa’s work, both as artist and workshop leader, has transformed art practice in Zimbabwe and beyond. In this, his first solo UK exhibition, he explores the physical and metaphorical possibilities of a range of natural materials, from granite and oak, to horn, egg shell, bone and clay.

The above is part of the October Gallery's introduction to the Renje Sandanga ('vast dessert'), Tapfuma Gutsa's first solo exhibition in the UK.

My piece on Tapfuma Gutsa is published today (please note that this link is only active for 7 days).

Renje Sandanga, an exhibition of sculpture by Tapfuma Gutsa is at: the October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1n 3AL. It opened on 2nd March and displays until the 1st of April. So those in the UK, should go see.

Tapfuma Gutsa in the Salon Afrique, Royal Festival Hall, March 8, 2005

snap judgements - depth of field

5 of the 6-member photographers' collective, Depth of Field (DOF) are here pictured. L-R: Toyin Sokefun-Bello a.k.a TY Bello, Amaize Ojeikere, Uchechukwu James-Iroha, Emeka Okereke and Zaynab (Toyosi) Odunsi.

TY Bello being interviewed.

Zaynab (Toyosi) Odunsi talks to students of the Charles Ilderbrook School, at the opening of DOF's exhibition during Africa 05.

2 members of DOF were in New York earlier this month for the opening of Snap Judgements: New Positions in African Photography. Curated by Okwui Enwezor, it is the first major US exhibition of African photography in over a decade. DOF are among 35 artists from a dozen countries presenting more than 200 works.

The show is at the International Center of Photography (ICP), New York - until May 28.

Photos: Taken at the South London Gallery, Peckham, London, on March 10, 2005

baba ezekiel's lot

My recent 'Africa by Okada' post about Fabrice Dubesset, the Frenchman riding through Africa on motorbike - got me thinking about the above picture. Showing a row of commercial mopeds waiting for passengers, it was taken in Abeokuka, Ogun State, Nigeria on 22nd August 2004. The men were not even aware of my presence. But a conversation between 2 market women behind me about the scene has stayed with me, and makes this picture special.

"Ah, won ma n ya awon Baba Ezekiel ke?" - mocked one, surprised that Baba Ezekiel and his lot were worth photographing.

"Ehn, eniyan saa ni won!" admonished the other. I could translate her words into: "And why not? After all, they are people too." Amen to that.

seeing double

We encountered this pair of identical twins walking towards us on a street in Surulere, Lagos, in August 2004. The sight was a bit surreal, especially as they dressed alike and had the same gait, walk, the same everything. My brain was still trying to get round it when my companion blurted out the rather obvious question: "Ah, se ibeji lawon eleyi ni?" - meaning: are these twins? Duh?!

My camera was out in a flash. Photographing in Nigeria, I normally encounter a lot of resistance when I turn my camera onto people. There is this belief that you will use their image for voodoo, and this gets in the way of getting images of people.

These twins were very cool. Yes, I could take their picture, they agreed without hesitation. "I'm not going to use it for anything untoward," I said by way of assurance. "It doesn't matter," said one, "you can use it for whatever you like." And so here they are. What sports.

english canal

The Basingstoke Canal in Woking, Surrey
Taken 23 January 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

mother courage, marie fatayi-williams

Mother Courage... Marie Fatayi-Williams, GuardianLIFE, March 19, 2006

My piece on Marie Fatayi-Williams was published last Sunday (19th of March) in the LIFE magazine section of The Guardian. Here was a piece I'd been meaning to write since July last year, but somehow, I let it slip. My not writing it immediately after the events was a regret of mine and would have remained so, if not for Sokari of the Black Looks blog, and Mshairi. Both these ladies came up with the wonderful idea of having many bloggers writing to honour African women on March 8 - the International Women's Day. I thank the two of them for finally dragging this tribute to Mrs Fatayi-Williams out of me. As it happens, the article, though late, was timely. I guess after all, that it was meant to appear this month and not earlier.

The tributes by mainly women bloggers to African Women were published on Global Voices on March 8 - see links below.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

the dilemma of a ghostwriter

With the rise in celebrity ghost-written bestsellers, I found this piece below in The Observer quite interesting. This excerpt is about Jennie Erdal who spent 15 years writing everything in the voice of Naim Attallah including some 12 books, speeches and love letters!

Recently when searching for something else on her computer she came across a series of files that were early drafts of the novels she wrote for her former boss. 'I must admit,' she says, 'reading them I got myself into a very bad state. I just had an overwhelming sense of having squandered so much of my creativity for this man. And then I wondered if there was some use I could put some of the material to, but I suppose I might be accused of plagiarism if I did so ... - continue reading here.

shooting dogs... insult upon genocide?

I knew there was something up this morning when I saw the actor John Hurt, a co-star and director of new film Shooting Dogs on SKY News. They did not have the usual confidence of people publicising a new film, but seemed like they had come to defend the movie instead. Shooting Dogs is about a massacre that took place in a school in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Part-funded by the BBC, the film places the broadcasting corporation's journalists in the centre of the action and in the words of some, portrays them as the heros. But those who were there at the time remember things differently, and that's just the beginning of it.

Makers of the film hope the fact that they filmed on location in Rwanda gives them an advantage over other movies like Hotel Rwanda for instance, which was shot in South Africa. During the making Shooting Dogs, some survivors of the genocide suffered flashbacks and were so traumatised that they had to be sedated. The cast replied that this happened only on one occasion, a defence that doesn't really help matters all that much. Oh, and the "Rwandans asked us to come and shoot this story in their country" - was another soundbite. You couldn't miss the euphemism... replace 'Rwandan people' with 'Rwandan government' that was obviously tempted by the money such filming would generate.

The more makers of Shooting Dogs defended their film, the more uncomfortable they looked and the more concerned I got. It turned out they'd been forced to come on television because The Observer newspaper (UK) was going at them on two fronts in today's paper. Opening the paper a short time later, I saw why.

The first piece - on page 6 of the new-look paper - is Anger at BBC genocide film by Alice O'Keefe. Even more forceful is the piece by Linda Melvern (who wrote the book Conspiracy to Murder. The Rwandan Genocide, published by Verso) on page 32. Melvern is damning. History? This film is fiction - she declares.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

ehikhamenor & oduobuk on million writers' list

Who Will Bury The Dead? by Victor Ehikhamenor - Wasafiri vol. 21, March 2006.

Two Nigerians are on the Million Writers Award longlist of the best online stories of 2005. Among four named judges of the award is Sefi Atta. The list will be wittled down to 10 stories on April 1 and then the public vote for the top places will begin.

Visual artist & writer Victor Ehikhamenor is on the list with his short story, Passport to Heaven.

Crispin Oduobuk is also in the running with Petrovesky and Polarbywall.

*You can read another story by Oduobuk, Maiduguri Road - in the current issue of Gowanus.

* There is a link to Ehikhamenor's humourous take on the 78th Academy Awards in the post below. His artworks and photography can be viewed online. He also has a story, Who Will Bury The Dead? which can be read in full in the new edition of Wasafiri.

my take on the oscars

Crashing Into The Oscars
By Molara Wood

Brokeback Mountain was supposed to go for broke at this year’s Oscar ceremony. Perhaps the most talked about film of the year, it broke new ground with two male lead actors in a tale of forbidden gay love. Directed by Ang Lee who gave us cinematic feasts like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain also had perfect timing, coming as it did with the ‘gay marriage’ wave.

Flush with it’s successes at other Award ceremonies, the film arrived at the 78th Academy Awards with six nominations including two for acting in the Leading and Supporting categories, as well as a nod for its director and the most coveted prize of all - Best Picture. Described as "the elephant in the room," the film's expected triumph was not to be. Other films and performances gatecrashed the Oscars and pulled off stunning coups - with plenty of unintended but wonderful puns.

The anchor of the Oscar show was television presenter Jon Stewart who made a joke alluding to the infamous ‘swan’ dress worn by Icelandic singer Bjork at the 2001 ceremony - and the US Vice President’s recent gun accident. "Bjork could not be here tonight - she was trying on her Oscar dress when Dick Cheney shot her."

Talking of dresses, one returns to Brokeback Mountain in which Michelle Williams plays the wife passed over by Heath Ledger’s character for the love of another man. Ms Williams made up for the cinematic upset by winning his love in real life and is now the proud mother of his baby daughter. They came to the Academy Awards as a couple, both nominated for their roles in the film. When asked what he treasured most about making the film, Ledger looked at his lover and said: "The best thing the film gave me is this lady - and the little lady waiting at home." Michelle Williams looked ravishing in a stunning canary yellow couture gown, carried off with fiery red lipstick. There was a wonderful ‘Cinderella’ aspect to Williams’ Oscar night, proving perhaps, that life can sometimes compensate for art, providing the happy ending fiction occasionally denies.

Oscar winner Chalize Theron, nominated again for North Country - was expected to triumph in the fashion stakes. Bows are coming back into style, but the actress overdid hers with a giant bow on one shoulder in a high octane dress that is best described as an architectural disaster. When the ‘Best Actress’ category was about to be announced the camera lingered on Theron’s beautiful face looking like ‘Brokeback Mountain’ above that bow, and this writer suddenly feared she might win. "Oh God, not again!" Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar for her role in Walk The Line was perhaps the only predictable thing about the night. But it was difficult to begrudge the ‘All American Girl’ her triumph. "I’m just trying to matter," she said.

A biopic about country singer Johnny Cash, Walk The Line was an attempt to recreate the success of the film on Ray Charles’ life, for which Jamie Foxx won Best Actor last year. Jon Stewart echoed this when he quipped: "Walk The Line - it’s ‘Ray’ with white people, hey Jamie, I know!" Foxx laughed knowingly from the audience. Nominated for playing Johnny Cash, Joaquin Phoenix could only manage a discomfited smile. In the end, the Best Actor winner (for Capote) was the excellent character actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman who in the International Women’s Month honoured his mother for raising four children all by herself. "She’s here tonight and if you see her I’d like you to congratulate her… she did a good job."

In the early 90’s, films like John Singleton’s profound Boyz N The Hood raised the bar of black cinema in America. But the sub-genre is now mainly drivel populated by ‘rogue models’ instead of ‘role models’. Hustle & Flow, a film about a pimp and Hip-Hop, could have gone the same way. But it did the opposite and grabbed attention largely because of the riveting Terrence Howard who played his part in the film like his life depended on it. Coming right after his noted appearance in Crash (and we will come to Crash yet!), Howard’s nomination for Best Actor proved that he had finally arrived, after countless turns playing second fiddle to the likes of Taye Diggs.

Hustle & Flow also had the actress Taraji P Nelson playing the pimp’s wife with an affecting innocence. Whatever one may think of a pimp, no one who saw the film could stop singing its song, ‘It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.’ Some critics were stubbornly unimpressed, turned off by the inherent misogyny of the film. One UK critic sniffed: "Personally, I don’t’ care if it’s ‘hard out there for a pimp’."

But the Academy nominated Hustle & Flow for Best Song, making it the first Rap track ever performed at the Oscar ceremony. The group Three 6 Mafia performed the song with the B word replaced by ‘witches’ and singing the chorus as she did in the film was Taraji P Nelson herself, dolled up ‘ghetto fabulous’ style. At the end, she was the only one left in the spotlight as she ripped the heart out of the now famous hook: "It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp." It was an Oscar winning performance and when Queen Latifah (a Rap icon before she was a movie star) opened the envelope, the audience erupted in shocked delight that the song from Hustle & Flow had won.

In the audience, John Singleton was so joyous at the win that he took a while to sit back down. Terrence Howard gave a raised fist salute to the Three 6 Mafia as they went onstage to collect the Oscar. Crowding round the microphone, they reminded one of Hip-Hop crews at the Grammy Awards. "Thank you Jesus!" said one, in a distinctly ‘music’ and ‘black’ winning speech; Jesus hardly ever gets a mention at the Oscars. Another thanked the Best Supporting Actor winner: "I’d like to thank George Clooney, he showed me a lot of lurve when I met him!"

Also featuring in the ceremony was the actress, Lauren Bacall who first rose to fame as a beautiful 19-year-old in the 1944 film, To Have And To Have Not, alongside her future husband, Humphrey Bogart. On hearing the press describe Nicole Kidman as ‘a legend’ some years ago, Bacall corrected, rightly, that the Australian actress would have to do more and be older, to be a legend. A class act, Bacall is an undeniable legend and 62 years after her first film, her latest movie has just opened in London. On the Oscar stage, the still impressive looking Bacall walked with a slight limp, shook a little, and struggled with the autocue. And it was sad for the viewer, finally, to acknowledge the march of time on an ageless star.

Maverick director Robert Altman won the honorary Lifetime Achievement Award, having been overlooked at all previous nominations - a burden Martin Scorsese knows only too well. Performers who have passed on in the last year were brought to remembrance, including: Richard Pryor and Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita of the Karate Kid movies. Noted too was the passing of Brock Peters who played the wrongly accused black man opposite Gregory Peck in the great humanist film, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Like the Hustle & Flow song, Africa also gatecrashed the Oscars - with a win in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Sadly, the Academy lost its courage, listing nominated film Paradise Now as being from the ‘Palestinian territories’ - instead of Palestine. South Africa won for Tsotsi. "Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika! Viva Africa, Viva!" director Gavin Hood chimed, punching the air. He asked the cameras to show his two leading performers from the movie - standing up in the audience. The Academy may call films like Tsotsi ‘Foreign Language Films’, but "our stories are the same as your stories," Hood declared.

The final and the most stunning gatecrashing, one that surprised everyone including the winners, was the clincher of Best Picture - the last award of the night. Brokeback Mountain was the expected winner but in an amazing feat, Crash pulled off a major upset and won. Members of the ensemble cast of the film about racial tension in Los Angeles had earlier endured Jon Stewart’s joke: "Raise your hand if you were not in Crash." Now the Crash stars including Terrence Howard and Sandra Bullock had the last laugh, with wild congratulations all round. Best Actress Reese Witherspoon was being interviewed backstage when she heard Crash announced as Best Picture. The moment was captured by photographers, and the open-mouthed astonishment on Witherspoon’s face said it all.

Posting my take on the Oscars as published on March 12 rather late - but it at least allows me to correct some of my typos in the original piece.

Meanwhile, I found Victor Ehikhamenor's irreverent take on the same Oscar ceremony. It's a hoot, read it here.

There's also Ore's blog where Annie Proulx's post-Oscar rant generated a bit of discussion between myself and notable others.

okorafor-mbachu on octavia butler

Author of Zahrah The Windseeker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu has written a tribute to the late Octavia Butler in the first edition of Proof Magazine. Excerpt -

Octavia’s fiction contained a lot of firsts for me: Black people and people of color featured at the forefront of stories set in well imagined strange worlds and situations. Stories where race and gender were thoughtfully factored and woven into the type of fiction that I’ve loved since I could read. The most memorable characters I’ve ever read.

Read the rest here.

on rk narayan

If you have a special place for the author of The Vendor of Sweets, RK Narayan, then the below by Alexander McCall Smith in Today's UK Guardian is for you. An excerpt -

Narayan is one of those novelists who commands universal affection. He led a relatively simple, family-oriented life, and he died more or less where he began, a member of the same community which he so lovingly recorded in his novels. And when he died, a whole world came to an end - the world of Malgudi, the town he created and peopled with a cast of characters who remain utterly memorable.

Read the rest here.

ali farka toure, the wizard of niafunke

The lyrical donkey: Ali Farka Toure; 1939-2006

His name may be known for a grammy winning album with Ry Cooder called Talking Timbuktu. He could have recorded in any location he desired; New York, Paris, London etc. He recorded his guitar work, that gave him the title of the "Johnny Lee Hooker of Africa", in Mali. The recording equiptment was sometimes primitive, compared to what could be found in Los Angeles or New York.

When he played guitar, he got sounds out of it like you never heard before. You were transported to his village.

There is a theory, that American blues, was influenced by Muslim slaves in West Africa. An example is the "Muslim Call To Prayer" compared to "Levee Camp Holler". That theory is strengthened by his music.

Touré used his money to better his people in the town of Niafunké, where he was mayor. He also helped young African musicians succeed.

- Renegade Eye on Ali Farka Toure

I got the above tribute to the recently departed Ali Farka Toure from my favourite blogger Renegade Eye. It's got me thinking about my memories of Ali Farka Toure, who died earlier this month. I recently posted a magazine clip about Malian music in which the writer commented about Toure "battling cancer with the obstinacy that earned him his middle name" - 'farka' is Songhai for 'donkey'. Next we heard, the 'Bluesman of Africa' was dead.

Not for nothing was Ali Farka Toure known as the Bluesman. Those who doubt it should please see Martin Scorsese's Feel Like Going Home, one of 7 films in the director's project tracing the history of the Blues - and released in 2003, the centenary of the Blues. In what is regarded as "the first cultural signpost of the 20th century", W C Handy, waiting at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi, heard a travelling bluesman strumming his pain away on his guitar. Handy recorded the encounter for posterity and history, and 100 years later, the US Congress designated 2003 as The Year of the Blues.

Of the 7 films in the Scorsese Blues project, Feel Like Going Home was the only one directed by the man himself. In it, he followed musician Corey Harris on a long journey tracing the origin of the Blues, travelling from the Mississippi Delta all the way through to Niafunke in Mali.

"This is a land of kings," Harris says on arriving in Bamako, Mali." As the journey and the feature film nears its end, he meets with Ali Farka Toure at the bend of the River Niger in Niafunke. These closing scenes with Toure have a magic about them. The River Niger as seen in the film is evocative and the Bluesman of Africa himself is like a musical oracle. I felt like Corey Harris had gone looking for the Wizard of the Blues and found that it was Toure all along.

"Thousands come to visit, but I have never experienced such joy as in these two days, " he told Harris when it was time for the African American to leave.

On his music, Ali Farka Toure said, "This is something that belongs to us. These tunes are neither made for whiskey nor scotch nor beer."

Ali Farka Toure's feeling for music, history and Africa - went deep as the Blues and shimmered like the River Niger itself even there on the screen. And this is how I will remember him.

tropic woman & other poems

My poem, Tropic Woman, is one of the many poems you can read in the 'Africa' section of the Winter 2006 edition of MindFire Renew.

Also in this edition:

E.E Sule - She Died Too,
Uduma Kalu - Answer For Me The Riddle of Silence,
David Diai - Happy Man,
Niran Okewole - Evensong
- and two poems by Jumoke Verissimo.

Others are:
James Eze - A Song For The River Nun,
Osita Obi - Seaside Palms, and
Ahmed Maiwada - Jos.

Unoma Azuah is also in there with her poem, Haunted. Azuah recently won the Urban Spectrum National Best Novel By An African Born Writer - for her book, Sky High Flames.

For good measure, there is a piece of short fiction in the same issue by Onyeka Nwelue, titled: The Poet Dies.

Photo: One of the many little breakouts at Erin-Ijesa Waterfall, Osun State - August 25, 2004

africa by okada

And five rode into town... Fabrice and fellow Okada riders

This is Fabrice Dubesset, a Frenchman who is riding through Africa on a Honda 125 motorcycle - popularly known as ‘Okada’ in Nigeria. Dubesset, who has left a comment on this blog before, worked at the French Cultural Centre in Lagos for the last year and half. But his time is up and thinking on his return journey to Paris, Fabrice hit on the idea to travel back back - by Okada.

Frenchman on Okada

According to the French Cultural Centre, Fabrice “never knew how to ride a bike before coming to Lagos. But when he got here the stress of ‘go slow’ became overwhelming, so he had to do something about it. So they advised him to buy a bike. He didn’t know how to ride a bike then. He has to learn it and spend some time to get used to it which he did not hesitate to do. Then while riding it, he has begun to realise the fun it entails. He has a close contact with the people, nice people in short. Sometimes at night, in the dark, people don’t look at his complexion. They just shout ‘okada, okada, okada! stop!’ But when they realise he is not one, they burst into laughter, and he will laugh with them and then continue his way. This is how he came about the idea of going on a tour across Africa on his bike. He didn’t attach premium to the idea at first and dumped it.”

The tour will take eleven weeks and will cover a distance of about 6000km across eight countries. The route will take Fabrice through from Lagos to Dakar through Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina-Faso and Mali. He will be able to catch a total eclipse of the moon in Cape coast on March 29. From Dakar he will ride off to Guinea and back with a friend. Fabrice hopes to depart for France aboard a cargo with his bike on June 1.The departure to France is scheduled on the 1st of June.

All things being well, the man and his beloved Okada will end up in Paris. You can follow Fabrice’s progress on his blog.

*Fabrice Dubesset blogs in French

africa by okada - fabrice

“I choose to go back by road because nothing is awaiting me in France, I mean a job, a test or even a wife, nothing”

“This bike represents my entire stay in Nigeria. It reminds me of the everyday life in Lagos, the ‘go slow’, people I talk with at traffic lights, and so on. I am so much addicted to my bike in a sense that there hasn’t been a day when I don’t ride it.”

“It has always been my dream since my childhood to tour some African countries such as Ghana, Burkina-Faso, Dogon, Mopti, Niger, and the gates of the desert of Sahara in Timbuktu.”

* Pictures courtesy of the French Cultural Centre, Lagos

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

how tsotsi was born

Opening to page 21 of last Saturday's UK Guardian was quite a treat. The paper published author Athol Fugard's original notes that led to the writing of the book that now gets the big film treatment in Tsotsi. And it was timely too, coming right after Tsotsi won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film at the 78th Academy Awards barely a week before.

To see the birth of a character, a novelistic and cinematic character, to see the birth of a story, someone else's story, a great author's one for that matter, there's something beautiful about it.

Here's an excerpt:

"The idea for a story - criminal: completely shrouded in darkness. At a moment - a stab of light and pain. This followed, developed, in the span of a short time leads to the full Christian experience after a meeting with a priest in an empty church....

Story (contd) - The kid is leader of a gang. Four members including him. The "change" as a positive force, outside of himself. Resisted...

The baby in the shoebox: it was small, and black, and older than anything he had ever seen in his life. Its face, lined and wrinkled. Left by a young girl, in a shoebox in the ruined house where he had crawled, wounded....

Looking for milk for the baby: "Mama, have you any milk?" Takes her back and forces her to feed the child."

Intrigued? Read it in full here.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

night @ the ashmolean 2

Austyn Njoku autographs a copy of his poetry collection, Scents of Dawn, for Afam Akeh.

It's blurry but I like it; L-R - Okonta, Njoku, Wood, Akeh & Azuonye at Oxford train station at the end of the evening.

Here's writer-in-residence @ the Ashmolean, Chuma Nwokolo, who made it all happen.

night @ the ashmolean 1

Invoke the thunder; Akeh & Azuonye perform Christopher Okigbo's Elegy for the Slit Drum

Slam Poetry; Lee recites Melody

Writer Austyn Njoku, visiting from Lagos, was in the audience - as was writer/academic/columnist Ike Okonta who was shortlisted for last year's Caine Prize.

Sharing a joke afterwards; L-R: Azuonye, Akeh, Okonta & Njoku

Thursday, March 09, 2006

reading in oxford - march 10

Tomorrow I will be appearing with three fellow Nigerian writers at a reading in Oxford. Afam Akeh, Nnorom Azuonye and myself will form a quartet with Chuma Nwokolo Jr at the event. The theme of the evening is Memories of Stone, and it is the second in a series of literary evenings hosted by Nwokolo, who is the writer-in-residence at the city's Ashmolean Museum. Nwokolo is the author of the book, One More Tale for the Road (2003).

Akeh, Wood and Nwokolo Jr

Afam Akeh (author of the poetry collection, Stolen Moments) joined Nwokolo for the first literary evening in the series back in November. As for Nnorom Azuonye, he's a poet (poetry collections: Letters to God & The Bridge Selection), literary publisher and founder of the Sentinel Poetry Movement. My photograph of a Tie & Dye commune in Abeokuta accompanies the French translation of Azuonye's poem, Light and Sounds, online.

Nnorom Azuonye

You can also catch Azuonye in action on Monday 13th of March reading alongside other poets including Todd Swift and Munayem at The Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden, London - from 7pm.

But first, there's tomorrow (March 10th ) to get through (I hope I don't get the shakes on the stage!). The event is from 5-7pm @ The Headley Lecture Theatre, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK. If you happen to be in Oxford, please come along. The event free.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

honouring african women - marie fatayi-williams

Au Revoir Anthony - Marie Fatayi-Williams at her son's funeral, 23 July, 2005

"My son Anthony... has dreams and hopes and I his mother must fight to protect them!"

I photographed many outstanding individuals with my camera last year. Of all the pictures, I am most proud of this image of Marie Fatayi-Williams, taken at the funeral mass for her beloved son, Anthony, who died in the terrorist attacks on London - on July 7, 2005.

Over a thousand people of every race and creed attended the funeral mass at the Westminster Cathedral, London, on Saturday 23rd July. When it was over, I rushed out ahead of the deceased’s coffin at the end and was momentarily transfixed. Over 60 press photographers - not counting the ones inside - had formed a crescent outside the cathedral. Minutes later, I was in the thick of a media scrum, jostling with seasoned photographers - some with muscles rippled and toned from carrying heavy, sophisticated camera equipment - to snap Marie and to hear what she had to say. The photograph was the result of my own effort. The world’s press came to that place mainly because of a simple, heartbroken woman who in her grief had somehow managed to speak to the moment. She captured the imagination with her eloquence and became a symbol of light and beauty, a reminder of our humanity in this mad world.

Marie Fatayi-Williams first spoke to the press just days after the bombings, having flown hastily from Lagos on learning that her son had gone missing after the attacks. Dressed as many an African mother would dress and still clinging to the slim hope that Anthony would be found alive, Mrs Fatayi-Williams changed the tenor of those anxious days immediately after the atrocities. She spoke with a great intensity and urgency of feeling about her son that many who heard her on the evening news later confessed to having wept at her words.

"This is my son, Anthony, my only son, the head of my family!" she cried out, and we could not but be moved. And when it was later confirmed that Anthony had indeed died on the number 30 bus, we had a profound appreciation of the enormity of the loss to those who loved him. In an obituary published on August 3, 2005, the BBC website wrote: "No one could be left in any doubt about the passion with which Anthony Fatayi-Williams was loved by his family after hearing the deeply emotional speech delivered by his mother in the wake of the London attacks."

Marie’s face was splashed on the front pages of newspapers all over the world the morning after her speech. In a telephone conversation some weeks after, a friend from the United States told me that when he saw Marie in the American media he felt - yes, sadness - but also something odd, and that thing was pride. Pride, at seeing in spite of the terror, the vision of a remarkable woman who spoke with searing power and beauty. Thousands - Africans and non-Africans alike - were also proud of her and wanted to share in her grief. Marie became the human face of the London terrorist attacks, and this was what brought the world’s press to the door of the Westminster Cathedral on the afternoon of July 23rd. We had found a great communicator and for our own sanity, we clung to her, a great mother to her son - in life and in death.

After the funeral, friends of Mrs Fatayi-Williams confirmed that she had always been an exceptional individual. She is active in the Saint Rita Society in Lagos, a charitable organisation dedicated to feeding the poor. Marie and other members cook, then they take the food out in vans to distribute to homeless and hungry people on the streets. TV personality Julie Coker helped organise Anthony’s funeral; her own son's funeral mass (he died of Sickle Cell Anaemia) took place at this same cathedral the year before. Also in the gathering was Lagos socialite Mrs Taiwo Taiwo who lost her daughter, Aronke Abioye Taiwo, in a motor accident some years ago; she set up a charity (Aart of Life) in Abioye's memory. Another member of the Saint Rita Society, Esther Ogbeni, was on hand to provide support. How would the bereaved mother cope with Anthony's loss? I asked. Ms Ogbeni replied that Marie would find the strength to carry on, informing that, "Our patron saint, Saint Rita, lost two children during her lifetime." Altogether, I came away with a sense of the strength of women in times of grief.

I also love this picture of Mrs Fatayi-Williams because in the background is her husband, Alan. It was at the funeral that many recognised him as the man who stood silently next to her as she made the moving speech that first drew the world’s attention. I believe it is a special kind of man that recognises his wife as a gifted and arresting individual, and so patiently and lovingly stands in her shadow. Furthermore, I am humbled by this woman who with her husband next to her, honoured her son as "the head of my family." At the funeral mass, we finally got to hear Dr Alan Fatayi-Williams. He announced the setting up of a charity - Anthony Fatayi-Williams Foundation for Peace and Conflict Resolution - in memory of their son. Then he handed over to the grieving mum, saying: "This is my wife, Marie."

Studying my photographs of Mrs Fatayi-Williams days after the ceremony, I realised that she had held on to her rosary all through - even in the media scrum. In a time of the testing of faiths, she was holding tight to hers. And really, here was an occasion on which one could not deny the soothing role of religion in people's lives. Watching Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor - the highest Catholic in the land - praying and 'incensing' all around Anthony's coffin; watching the time-honoured rituals commemorating a life come to an abrupt end; it seemed possible to extract some meaning from the violent death of a promising young man in a mindless act of terrorism. There seemed to be a balm over the congregation and we felt elevated, wanting to be strong in spite of the sadness. One of the poems read out was titled: Miss Me, But Let Me Go.

The main breaking news on that Saturday was that the man shot seven times by police the day before on a train in Stockwell Tube Station was in fact a Brazilian. They had killed innocent Jean Charles de Menezes in the mistaken belief that he was 'of Middle-Eastern appearance'. The killing encapsulates the utter confusion, the muddle over right and wrong, and the jumbled up morality of post July 7 London. In this atmosphere, the Fatayi-Williams family were keen to send out a message of love and tolerance across the faiths at the funeral, describing their son as a 'world citizen' whose father, a Moslem, was comfortable sitting in a cathedral next to his devout catholic wife. Anthony also had a white grandmother. His best friend - a young man some British police officers would describe as being ‘of Middle-Eastern appearance’ - gave a moving eulogy in Westminster Cathedral. It was clear that the family (Anthony was the grandson of Nigeria's legal luminary, FRA Williams and the nephew of Tom Ikimi, a former foreign minister) had resolved to articulate a powerful public message, in the face of their loss.

Marie's own strength was not in any sleekness of presentation, but in the fact that everything she did came from the heart. She spoke only briefly in the cathedral. "To God be the glory," she said in a voice resolute with grief. "I thank God for Anthony's life, I thank God for his death. He had promised that when I was old and grey his healthy arms would be there to soothe my pains, but it was not to be." She revealed that in the family home, French was her secret language with her son; and whenever they did not want the others to know what they were saying, French was their medium of choice. And since (in deference to tradition) she would not be able to say goodbye at his graveside, she would bid him farewell here in this cathedral - as they secretly communicated during his life - in French. So Marie sang. Like many, all I understood in the song were the two words: Au revoir - but the emotion was almost unbearable and the congregation dissolved into tears.

Later that afternoon, I found myself next to a young man, undoubtedly a member of the Nigerian elite who thought that privilege conferred special abilities on those lucky enough to belong. Hearing my views about Marie's admirable qualities, he shrugged, saying: "Yes, but she's exposed," by which he meant that Anthony's mother is educated, civilised and well-travelled - and so was bound to impress. But he missed the point. It is one thing to be 'exposed', it is another to be able to communicate feeling in a way that touches the hearts of others. I have met many members of Nigeria's privileged classes, but very few are like Mrs Fatayi-Williams. Anthony was raised in a life of privilege but there was nothing elitist about the manner of his death, and it is how his mother reacted to the terrible loss that makes her - and him - truly special.

Some hours after the funeral mass, I passed with two friends - a journalist and a photographer - outside the Westminster Cathedral and we were taken aback to see a pair of newly-weds coming out after their marriage blessing. How could this same place - the site of so much grief just a few hours before - be marking a new beginning for this happy couple so soon? But then, it occurred to me that Anthony Fatayi-Williams would have liked it like this. As for his mother Marie, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor spoke for many, when he thanked Mrs Fatayi-Williams "for the extraordinary witness... you have given to the world since hearing of Anthony's death. By your words and actions, you have set before us a beacon of light in the response to terrorism."

On this, the International Women’s Day, I celebrate a remarkable woman who in her grief channelled her love in such a profound way, so much so that she became a light in a time of darkness. This is my tribute to Marie Fatayi-Williams - Mother Courage.