Saturday, April 29, 2006

sentinel poetry live! 2 - may 6

The Sentinel Poetry Live! readings will now be a regular event holding on the first Saturday of every month. Poets who will perform their works on the night include: Lola Shoneyin, Paul Iyalls, John John-Lewis, Chinwe Azubuike, Lula M & Naomi Woddis.

It's shaping up to be quite a line-up!

"If you are going to be a useful poet, you have to increase your nuisance potential all the time."
Esiaba Irobi at the 1st Sentinel Poetry Live!

Event Details
Venue: Waterloo Gallery
14 Baylis Road
London SE1 7AA
Date: Saturday May 6, 2006
Time: 7 to 9pm; Tickets: £4/£2 (students/concessions).

More info on the Sentinel Poetry Live! blog
  • Read my piece on the 1st Live! event here - *link active for 7 days only*.

southern african theatre @ the oval

The Oval House Theatre in London is laying on a lavish 6-month season of theatre from Southern Africa. Athol Fugard's great play from Apartheid era South Africa, The Island, kicks off the season. Performed by the legendary Market Theatre of Johannesburg and featuring John Kani and Winston Ntshona, it runs at the Oval House from Thursday 4 to Saturday 6 May.

The Oval House is offering those who pay to see The Island free tickets to see Some Mother's Sons, a new play by Mike Van Graan, which runs at the venue from 10 to 27 May. Please phone 020-7582-7680 to take up the offer.

New South African playwrighting will be getting special rehearsed readings in the Diamonds in the Rough series, running from 9 to 13 May. The plays to be read are:
10 May - Green Man Flashing by Mike Van Graan
11 May - Salaam Stories by Ashraf Johaardien
12 May - iVirgin Boy by Peter Kurmmeck; and
13 May - Madiba Street by Hans Pienaar

Another production, Qabuka: Adventures in Exile, about the lives of Zimbaweans living in the UK, will be on from 28 June to 15 July (some start times even take account of World Cup fixtures!)

On 7 July at 8pm, there is the one-off Queen of Africa, with Zimbabwean drag-performer Kudah Samuriwo, exploring his life, love and gender in a story spanning international borders. A work-in-progress, it is part of a collaboration with Nigerian playwright Dipo Agboluaje.

All through, there will be talks and seminars featuring the likes of John Kani and Janet Suzman.

And this is just Part I of the season. Details of Part II, running from October to December, coming soon.

oml - once more, with feeling

OML - Onitsha Market Literature, that is.

Here on the left is a page from the pamphlet, Life Turns Man Up And Down, Money And Girls Turn Man Up And Down by Okenwa Olisah. Available to view or download at the University of Kansas digital library

See previous post on OML.

storyville - May 4

Cordially invites


To its
A reading performance of
Written by Wale Okediran
To be performed by Ebika Anthony

Venue: Educare Centre, Goshen Superstore Building, beside Coca-Cola, Ibadan.
Date: Thursday May 4, 2006
Time: 5:00pm

StoryVILLE is produced with support from Dr. Wale Okediran

mother idoto - for christopher okigbo

Invites you to a fundraising gathering featuring cocktails, poetry, readings and art exhibitions in honour of Christopher Okigbo
Date Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Venue: The Penthouse, Nigeria House
828 Second Avenue, (44th Street)
New York, NY 10017
Time 5.00PM – 8.00PM
Obi Nwakanma
Excerpts from forthcoming biography of Christopher Okigbo,Thirsting for Sunlight
Obiageli Okigbo
Readings from Okigbo's “Labyrinths & Paths of Thunder
Dubem Okafor
Readings from Don’t Let Him Die by Chinua Achebe & Dubem Okafor
Amaechi Okigbo
Obiageli Okigbo
Audio excerpts of interviews with Christopher Okigbo including Langston Hughes and Lewis Nkosi - Courtesy of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Also, never before seen copies of Christopher Okigbo manuscript
Benefit Auction of the following autographed books:
Labyrinths and Paths of Thunder by Christopher Okigbo
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Purple Hibiscus (Hebrew & Dutch translations) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Trial of Christopher Okigbo by Ali Mazrui
Memoirs by Wole Soyinka
Donations (suggested minumum of $50.00) by 23rd May - cheques payable to
“Ms. Obiageli Okigbo”
6 Highland Avenue,
Montclair, NJ 07042
Please include your name, email address and contact phone number.
Okey Okuzu. (973) 626 0928
Chudi Uwazurike.
Patrick O. Okigbo. (347) 886 6412

chinua achebe's collected poems

Reviewing Chinua Achebe's Collected Poems, Maya Jaggi writes:

Much of Achebe's poetry reflects both the searing disillusionment of this era, and his own peculiar wisdom and transcendance. Several poems, Achebe writes by way of preface, "surged from the depths to bring pain-soaked solace in the breach and darkness of civil war" - a fact underlined by two of the book's sections: Poems About War, and Poems Not About War. His failure to persuade others against violence is reflected in "1966", written just after the quelling of Biafran secession, in which he sees the "absentminded" descent into war as a "diamond-tipped drill point" delving towards the "rare artesian hatred / that once squirted warm / blood in God's face / confirming His first / disappointment in Eden". The wartime death of Achebe's best friend, the poet Christopher Okigbo, is reflected in a haunting poem in Igbo, translated here as "A Wake for Okigbo", which elaborates an Igbo dirge.

Jaggi is a judge of this year's Caine Prize. Read the review here.

looking kongi in the eye: ikheloa reviews soyinka

You may by now have read, amongst others, the Los Angeles Times review of Wole Soyinka's new memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn. And now, Ikhide R. Ikheloa has done his review, observing that, "Soyinka is a brave man." Well, I'd say Ikheloa is the brave one, going where many a reviewer would fear to tread, and looks the literary lion - the great Kongi himself no less - right in the eye. Ikhide Ikheloa writes about Soyinka's own "tyranny of the pen", arguing that the Nobel laureate should have refrained from personal attacks (in the book) on fellow activists who disagreed with him during the struggle to free Nigeria from the dictatorial clutches General Sanni Abacha. He also highlights inconsistencies and omissions in Soyinka's account - even noting the illustrious one's "cutely atrocious" use of Pidgin English!

It all makes interesting reading, especially next to those of Western reviewers who - knowing little or nothing about the events covered by the book - can only drool at Soyinka's genius, smacking their lips in the process. Ikheloa drools too, but asks vital questions. In so doing, he has thrown a gauntlet to subsequent Nigerian reviewers who might have been constrained from pointing out the flaws in Soyinka's book. They might yet surprise us. But for now, Ikhide Ikheloa's is the review to end all reviews. Read it below and enjoy...

On Kongi’s New Book: You Must Set Forth at Dawn

"Far too many details in personal memoirs are not even slips of memory but self-serving fiction."
Wole Soyinka, You Must Set Forth at Dawn

I have just finished reading Professor Wole Soyinka’s new book, You Must Set Forth at Dawn. My first thought is that it is an important book for various reasons and I would encourage those with an interest in learning about the struggle for the heart and soul of Nigeria, albeit from Soyinka’s perspective, to go buy the book and read it. Soyinka has a lot to say in this book and I suspect that he is not finished yet despite this hefty tome (exactly 500 pages, if you count the Acknowledgments page). Age has not slowed The Man down one bit.

You Must Set Forth at Dawn is a dizzying tour de force in many ways; Soyinka has led a very busy and charmed life. There is hardly any road he has not taken and his international passport must be an immigration officer’s nightmare. Soyinka is a renaissance man who comes across as extremely comfortable in the company of fine wines, fine women and generally the good life. Despite his travails and they are many, he has been treated well by an adoring world and deservedly so. And boy is he busy! Soyinka manages to situate himself in every major event in Nigeria’s troubled history. I mean, this man is everywhere. He was actually at Dodan Barracks the day Gideon Orkar’s coup rattled Nigeria; indeed he had met with Nigeria’s Dictator Du Jour, Ibrahim Babangida shortly before the coup started. For Soyinka, roads are everywhere and they open up for him and take him everywhere, sometimes to places he has no business being in the first place.

The book is a celebration of Soyinka’s indomitable spirit. This was an intimidating display of his power of mental recall from the deep recesses of his memory. Age has not slowed Soyinka’s brain cells one bit. Either that or Kongi keeps a detailed journal every day of his life. He seems to remember verbatim whole conversations that happened decades ago. People would be interested in his re-telling of many escapades of his that have attained mythical status - the hijacking of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola’s speech in place of his at the radio station in Ibadan, his role as emissary in various seminal events in Nigeria, and I might add all over Africa. The book is a fascinating story told chapter after chapter. The language is not as dense as I am used to which is nice. Soyinka’s pen is getting gentler in the dusk of his life; one can actually be engaged in the book for the most part.

I liked Soyinka’s inclusion of maps of Nigeria that were really time stamps of her changes over time beginning with the regions and then the genesis of the states. There is also a useful chronology of important dates in our nation’s history. He also narrates his escape from Sani Abacha through Nigeria’s borders and there is a chapter on Kenule Saro-Wiwa’s murder. My favorite chapter is By the Waters of Babylon, where he tells with the deft use of robust prose and powerful imagery his final escape from Abacha’s Gulag (through Nigeria’s border with Benin). His description of his friendship with the late Femi Johnson was genuinely moving, a poetic ode to the strong bonds of friendship.

Those with an interest in Nigerian history should read this book. Those with an interest in the January 1966 coup and the ensuing civil war would be extremely interested in Soyinka’s narrative in the chapter titled Uncivil Wars: The Third Force and the Midwest Incursion (Strangely, Soyinka dispenses with the use of numbered chapters, making the book a challenge to follow as it wanders all over the roads, waterways and airways of the world).

Soyinka says of the January 15, 1966 coup. "Several of the killings, objectively considered, were not remotely essential to the success of the coup." And then he goes on to say:

"In the West, however, the "wild, wild, West," where the people had inhaled nothing but flames at close quarters for most of the preceding years, the coup was a hand of salvation, and they did not care by what means or how bloodstained it was. Mostly there was jubilation to the South - in the East, West, and Midwest - while the North was plunged into mourning and a deep, visceral distrust of the South, The Eastern Region earned the greatest loathing from the stricken North, since it soon became noticeable that the leadership of the coup was mostly Igbo, the dominant population of the East. In addition, the Eastern political leadership had been left untouched."

Of Biafra’s motive for secession he says:

"The discovery of oil in huge reserves in the East, largely in the Niger estuary, played a role, unquestionably, in the propulsion of the Biafran leaders toward secession, but it would be a distortion of history and an attempt to trivialize the trauma that the Igbo had undergone to suggest, as some commentators have tried to do - that it was the lure of the oil wealth that drove them to seek a separate existence. When a people have been subjected to a degree of inhuman violation for which there is no other word but genocide, they have the right to seek an identity apart from their aggressors’."

He talks about his trip to the heart of Biafra and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment. He talks about meeting Christopher Okigbo in Enugu for the last time before Okigbo perished in the war. He talks of meeting Odumegwu Ojukwu and Victor Banjo. And he talks of Banjo sending him back to the Federal side with a message the crux of which was this:

"Let them understand in the West that I am leading not a Biafran army but an army of liberation, made up not only of Biafrans but of other ethnic groups. Make the governor of the West and other Western leaders understand this. Urge them not to be taken in by any propaganda by the federal government about a Biafran plan to subjugate the rest of the nation, especially the West."

This is heady stuff. It gets even more intriguing. Soyinka talks of his role in the war, his relationship with Banjo, his serving as an emissary between Banjo and Olusegun Obasanjo asking Obasanjo for easy passage for Banjo’s troops through his command and into Lagos. He talks about the existence of a "Third Force" of populists and he asserts a solemn pledge in stating Banjo’s true motive for his role in the civil war:

"I owe it to the memory of Victor Banjo to contest such dishonorable, even unsoldierly, distortions of his motives and conduct; to testify, above all, that he had not acted to promote Biafran secession or aid Ojukwu’s takeover of power in Lagos. If anything, Banjo felt that he himself should take over power, and, confronted with the two discredited combatants who were propelling the nation toward a bloodbath, those of us who were self-described as the Third Force had no doubt whatsoever that Banjo represented the most viable corrective."

In summary Soyinka provides some important and new insights about his relationships with almost every key player (civilian and military) in the experience that has been Nigeria to date. For example, he reveals that after the death of Sani Abacha, the Abubakar Abdulsalami administration wanted him to run for President (yes, of Nigeria, not of a theatre company!). He wisely declined after thinking it over (Soyinka as President! That would have been something!).

Unfortunately, from my perspective, there are whole chapters missing from Soyinka’s story. There are key players missing who do not feature even in Soyinka’s shadows as he tells his version of the struggle for Nigeria. They will have to write their own books. One key player missing in Soyinka’s book is the Internet. Too bad. Whatever were the strengths of the pro-democracy movement, the Internet amplified them with startling force. The Internet was a leveler; you did not need a boat load of money to "fight" the enemy. Suddenly one could create a one-man army and suddenly Nigeria’s conventional forces of evil found that they had no choice but to fight these new rag-tag armies of strong-willed individuals. And the term "Internet warriors" was born. Unfortunately, whatever were the weaknesses of the prodemocracy movement, the Internet also amplified with startling clarity. The prodemocracy movement did fritter away its energies in high decibel bickering while Nigeria burned. Meanwhile its numerous and frequent communiqués confidently proclaimed to the world the coming end of Abacha’s dictatorship. I used to half-joke that Sani Abacha would die of old age and the prodemocracy movement would claim credit for his demise. Regardless, the Internet does not get credit in Soyinka’s book for a lot of the work that went into fighting the dictatorship. A lot of people did not get credit for their contribution to any attempts to free Nigeria from her harvest of locusts. Rather Soyinka treats them as if they were mere props in a badly written play or if they were unlucky, hapless sidekicks in Soyinka’s restless quest for what seems to elude him each time he charges out on yet another journey of search and rescue.

I will say this about Professor Wole Soyinka: In his own inimitable way, Soyinka has put a lot of his own time and resources into the struggle for the heart and soul of Nigeria, most especially in terms of the pro-democracy struggle of the nineties. And in his own inimitable way. All of Nigeria ought to be forever grateful to this giant of giants. However, his book comes across as mostly all about his exploits in the struggle for Nigeria and oh there was a supporting cast of hangers -on and side-kicks. Even by his own admission, he is not a team player, Kongi. There is a quixotic streak to his adventures and he unwittingly reveals himself as a brilliant, perhaps eccentric loner with little patience for disciplined processes. In a revealing part of the book he derides Chief Anthony Enahoro as fixated on processes and procedures and so on:

"Chief Tony Enahoro... thrived on endless meetings, copious minutes, points of order, standing orders, and the moving and seconding of motions, counter-motions, and amendments to motions.... I began to avoid meetings that should normally have enhanced our collective efforts, since they led nowhere and only ate up scant time and resources - flying across the Atlantic Ocean or the American landmass deserved some concrete justification in planning and results!"

Chief Enahoro will not be amused at Soyinka’s unnecessary roughness but it is hilarious and when you stop laughing you go, this is one cat that doesn't like a leash! My own analysis is this: Soyinka's strength, Soyinka's allure lies primarily in his stature as an international figure and in the eloquence of his powerful voice. He also has access to powerful people and places. All these attributes were precious money in the bank for the pro-democracy movement. But when it came to organization, even in his book, you come away dizzy wondering what all that drama was all about. Everything is long on high drama and poetic license but short on follow through. There was a lot of thunder but rain hardly came.

Soyinka is brutal in his treatment of those who accepted assignments with military dictators but attempts rather unconvincingly and awkwardly to rationalize his controversial relationship with Ibrahim Babangida, arguably Nigeria’s most evil dictator; a man Soyinka once termed the listening president. Babangida gets a good, well-deserved dose of abuse from Soyinka’s pen but the uninitiated reader would not know the full extent of his relationship with Babangida. Similarly, the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola was no angel. However, Soyinka’s treatment of him in the book was basically a hagiography. It would have been useful to briefly explain the context in which Nigerians decided to support en masse this generous-hearted but flawed leader.

His description of the disarray within the prodemocracy movement in the Diaspora is spot on. The pro-democracy movement did great things with whatever limited resources were at its disposal. But it was certainly an odd gathering of odd fellows who seemed to relish the fine art of bickering while Nigeria burned. The bickering was high decibel and largely unnecessary. Sadly Soyinka clutters his analysis when he resorts to personal attacks and ridicule against those who disagreed vehemently with him and the movement. A lot of people, some very young folks who incurred Soyinka’s wrath have now paid for it by having their names immortalized in unflattering ways in his book. Sadly, in at least one instance, in Soyinka’s re-telling of the incidents that earned his detractors his fiery wrath, some facts got lost in the translation. The personal attacks did not belong in Soyinka’s book. He should have stuck to issues and left these folks alone.

The book could have used several edits by other people who were in the thick of things with Soyinka, people he rarely mentions in the book. In talking about the book with my friend Professor Bolaji Aluko, he vigorously disputed Soyinka’s version of many events that happened during the pro-democracy period, as well as much earlier in his father Professor Sam Aluko’s house on at least two occasions in Ibadan and Nsukka. Bolaji would know; he was there at the time. Indeed, Bolaji points out that Soyinka’s latest version of the stories have changed remarkably from the first narration in Soyinka’s Ibadan: The Penkelemesi Years. Bolaji intends to fully read the book and respond in his own memoirs. One thing is for sure, Soyinka’s new book is going to get him a lot of attention from his friends and detractors - which is probably his intention in the first instance.

Yes, the book could have used a different set of critical eyes. For one thing, a book of this size and complexity should have been indexed. There are some errors that should have been caught. For example, he locates the making of the brew pito in Sapele (not true - every Nigerian worshipper of Bacchus should know that. He does footnote it correctly as beer made from millet. Millet and Sapele, an unpardonable contradiction in terms!). In his telling of it, gwon gwon, that delectable dish of the gods made of animal intestines becomes "ngwam-ngwam" and he footnotes it as "an Eastern Nigerian delicacy made from the chopped up head of a sheep or goat." Our revered Soyinka was probably referring to isi-ewu. During the war, the name Gowon was turned into an acronym for "Go On With One Nigeria"; Soyinka remembers it as "Go On With One GoWon." Finally, I cannot resist but comment on his awkward use of Pidgin English; it is cutely atrocious, as if written by a white man and it exposes Soyinka’s privileged upbringing. A pet peeve of mine: Soyinka faithfully footnotes every Nigerian word with detailed explanations but neglects to footnote his lavish use of French words and obscure English terminologies that tend to show off his erudition and worldly sophistication (those French wines!). I guess when it comes to Western culture the Nigerian reader has to do his research!

Taken together, these errors as sloppy as they are are not fatal and they do not diminish the book. In my estimation, what diminishes the book, and Professor Soyinka, are the relentless personal attacks on those he happens to disagree with. And they are legion in the book. The tyranny of the pen is just as devastating as that of the gun. As Soyinka would probably say, it concedes power to no one but the owner of the pen; it assigns wrongs to everyone except the wielder of the pen. Also, Soyinka’s tendency to employ unflattering character sketches and caricatures on the unsuspecting (for example on Professor Sam Aluko) is unnecessary, rude, and mean-spirited. Most of these people are still alive and I suspect he will be hearing from them. Soyinka is a brave man.

The legacy of our dysfunctional society has introduced a cultural pathology - a perverse culture of abuse which manifests itself in a debilitating inability to engage in civil discourse. That is a serious problem that needs to be fixed before we engage in any serious talk of nation-building. The book is an unsettling reminder of the complexity of the Nigerian problem, of constantly changing relationships among powerful brokers, relationships that are at once mutually parasitic and symbiotic, each one seeking the ultimate prize - power. It is a soupy, sweaty mess - of greedy, thieving, conniving self-serving agbada-clad politicians, academicians and soldiers, all aided and abetted by a populace long accustomed to the art of survival by apathy. And the beat goes on.

Ikhide R. Ikheloa

  • Ikhide R. Ikheloa is a writer and Farafina Magazine columnist whose Essays On Exile are available on the net. He famously declared that "the book is dead" but, judging from this review, he keeps reading them. Evidence, as though one were needed, that the book is very much alive!

party for steve rhodes - tomorrow

The Committee for Relevant Art, CORA, wraps up its celebration of the Elder Artsman, Steve Bankole Omodele Rhodes tomorrow (Sunday, 30 April) with a feast of Highlife music at the 56th Great Highlife Party (Elder's Forum) at the O'Jez Restaurant, National Stadium, Surulere.
Time is 6pm.

Steve Rhodes was 80 on April 8, 2006, and since then various programmes have been held to honour the arts impresario (see some images here).

On the Bandstand will be ex-Fela's sideman, YS Akinibosun-led Classic Band, with guest appearances bythe tenor saxophonist, Sir Maliki Showman, ex-Roy Chicago vocalist and composer, Tunde Osofisan, and thesensational highlife singer, Titi Oguntoyinbo.

Also the 'palmwine highlife' style guitarist,vocalist Alaba Pedro will be on duty.

Baba Agba of Kokoma Highlife, Fatai Rolling Dollar,who has been on world tour with Tony Allen's 'Lagos No Shaking' album project, is also expected at the showas the topmost bill.

Chris Ajilo, a contemporary of Steve Rhodes who was part of the NBC Orchestra founded by Rhodes in thelate 50s is making a special appearance.

Special Guest appearances -- specially dedicated tothe latest musical industry and adventure of SteveRhodes -- will feature selected key members of the SR Orchestra including Fela's Egypt 80 band leader, Lekan Animashaun aka Baba Ani and Ayo Soyinka.

  • Compered by the veteran music broadcaster, writer Benson Idonije, the show initiated in 1999 by a few highlife enthusiasts with the former director of Goethe Institut, the late Renate Albertsen Marton - is designed to quicken the revival of Highlife Music as the prime musical product of the West Coast of Africa. It has held last Sunday of every month since October 2001 in conjuction with the management of the O'jez Nite Club and Restaurant. It started at the Iwaya, Yaba. Lagos branch of the Ojez until October last year when -- for want of a bigger space -- it moved to the Surulere restaurant of the O'Jez Group.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

kurt thometz & onitsha market literature

Page 60 - Vanity Fair, March 2006.

It wasn't difficult getting past the cover of the March edition of Vanity Fair (designer Tom Ford snuggles up to Keira Knightley - all she wears is a silver stud on her pierced belly button, he's fully clothed - whilst a second nude, Scarlett Johansson sprawls in the foreground). The above is one of the real gems hidden in the inside pages of that edition. On the left is a snapshot of just a section of Kurt Thometz's private library, stacked full of rare editions of Nigerian literature.

Thometz is the proprietor of Jumel Terrace Books, and the author of Nigerian Market Literature, Life Turns Man Up and Down: Highlife, Useful Advice and Mad English (published in 2001). He is a great enthusiast of Nigerian literature, especially the Onitsha Market Literature variety.

This book is intended to help the readers who have been asking me to give them advice in order to be free from some troubles of this world.

Since the people can not tell the truth and since Money, lack of sense, enemies and bad friends kill a man, it is wise to know how to live and know yourself.

Many people have been asking to know why some people are rich while others are poor.

If you want to get money and know how to save it, buy a copy of this book. It will help you.
  • From No Money, Much Expenses, Enemies and Bad Friends Kill A Man (The Way to Avoid Poverty) by R. Okonkwo. Onitsha: J.C. Brothers Bookshop, New Era Printers, [1965?].

Kurt Thometz boasts among his collection 21 original titles by Okenwa Olisah, who he describes as "one of Onitsha's greatest existentialists." Olisa wrote many pamphlets including: No Condition Is Permanent, Money Hard to Get But Easy to Spend, Man Has No Rest In His Life (Since the world has broken into pieces, truth is not said again), About the Husband and Wife Who Hate Themselves and Trust No-Body In Time Because Human Beins Is Trickish. Writing as The Strong Man of the Pen, and Life Turns Man Up and Down: Money and Girls Turn Man Up and Down. Olisah's title was M.L (Master of Life) obtained "at the commonsense college, where he passed very hard lessons in money mastery and life problems."

Kurt Thometz, who has had a mention in the New York Times, recently told the Nigerian press: "I am mad about Nigerian Literature."

  • The University of Kansas has a digital library of Onitsha Market Literature, with at least 21 original pamphlets in its archives.

doreen baingana profile

Doreen Baingana photographed at the Africa Centre, London, 6 July 2005.

In a profile published in Uganda's The Monitor newspaper, writer Doreen Baingana discusses, amongst other things, the extent to which aspects of her short stories are sourced from real life. "The thing that is important is not whether it's true or not," she says. " I want to get at the emotional and psychological truths about certain social situations. The point whether it happened to me or not is irrelevant. Is it true to life? Does it make people reflect on their own lives and the decisions they have made?" Read the profile online.

Baingana is the author of a collection of linked short stories about the lives of three sisters growing up in Uganda, Tropical Fish: Stories Out Of Entebbe. Read the title story online.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

ana abuja on the move

The Nigerian writers' body in Abuja, under its new chairman, poet Emman Usman Shehu, is forging ahead with new and exciting initiatives that should enrich the literary scene in the city and beyond. There are plans for a 5-week Short Story Writing Workshop in July. The branch is also reaching out, in a bid to establish closer links with Nigerian writers based abroad. Details below.

ANA Abuja would like to notify Nigerian writers, critics, scholars, artists and cultural activists living abroad that as part of the ongoing re-engineering, the chapter would gladly have the aforementioned do a reading, give a talk, participate in a workshop or stage an exhibition in Abuja whenever they are visiting the home country. Already Unoma Azuah has kindly agreed to kick-start this collaboration by doing a reading here in Abuja when she visits in June.

We are also starting a library for the chapter and would like donations of books published abroad by Nigerian writers, and subscriptions for quality journals including Sentinel Poetry Quarterly.

We also welcome any other forms of collaboration and suggestions which have not been mentioned. Our desire is to provide innovative service with integrity and improve the lot of the Nigerian writer in our little way. Feel free to share this information with others.

Kindly contact if you would like to collaborate with us.


ANA Abuja is pleased to announce that in collaboration with the Abuja Literary Society, a five-week Short Story Workshop will take place from July 1 -29, 2006.

The five- week workshop is designed to teach participants the craft of the genre through close exploration of character, plot, point of view, description, dialogue, setting, pacing, voice, theme and other related techniques in developing a short story from conception to conclusion and publication.

The workshop will use a balance of lecture, exercise, and feedback on work from the instructor(s) and classmates to ensure the participants get a firm grounding in all the basics of fiction writing, especially the short story.

Those who wish to write novels will find this course essential before taking the Fiction Workshop. Material developed in this course can eventually end up in a novel in the Fiction Workshop. By the end of the Short Story Workshop participants will be more knowledgeable and skilled as short story writers.

Participants are expected to bring a set of biros (blue/red/black & green), a spiral bound notepad, a notebook and a copy of their favourite short story.

A list of recommended reading texts will be made available.

On each day of the workshop, there will be two sessions lasting two-and-a-half hours each, with a 45 to 60 minutes break in between.

Contact for more details.

literary fiesta in oyo - april 29

Association of Nigerian Authors
ANA Oyo State Chapter
cordially invites you
to its
is comprised of readings, skits, jokes, munching etc.

Guest Writer: Ayo Akinwale (Playwright Actor, Dirrector & Scholar)

Host: The Director, Distance Learning Centre, U.I., Ibadan.

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

Date: Saturday April 29, 2006 Time: 4: 00 P.M


Ebika Anthony

orlando owoh, from the kennery's mouth

A crack team of artists-cum-journalists interviewed ailing musician, Orlando Owoh, at his home in Ipaja-Agege, Lagos, earlier this month. Main interviewee was playwright Ben Tomoloju; others included Tunde Oladunjoye, Ropo Ewenla, poet Akeem Lasisi, and playwright Wole Oguntokun (see a picture of Orlando Owoh taken on the day - on Oguntokun's blog). Footage from the interview should end up as a 2-hour documentary on Owoh whose plight is now getting some media coverage.

"I Can't Play The Guitar Anymore"
What's the cause of your problem?
Well, I thank God I'm getting all right. I thank God. I thank Him for restoring me. I realized that it was a spiritual attack, but I'm gradually getting better. I thank God.

Have you taken any treatment?
Yeah, I'm taking some treatments.

Any help from anywhere?
Well, nothing yet but I just want to get to my promoters like Jolaoso and Transworld. You know, right now I don't have the strength to play music.

PMAN, some time ago, through their insurance company, WAPIC was to pay you some money?
I was not given any money.

I've done all I'm supposed to do, register and allof that. Yet, nothing came out from them, and I've not seen anybody from PMAN.

You're supposed to be in the hospital for better treatment?
Well, my wives and family members are taking good care of me. My daughter here is taking care of me,very well with Tianshi products and some machines. Now that there's light, I'll have the machine placed under my armpits. And my manager here is also carrying me around to different places to get herbal treatments from some herbalists in bid to get me better and well again. Right now, I don't depend solely on Oyinbo drugs alone as I also use our native herbs. But I thank God.

How old are you now?
Em..em. I'm 74 years old now.

As a father, how would you advise the youths playing music today?
Well, my advice to them is according to Oyinbo people who say, work while you work and play, while you play. They have to be very serious and if they want to compose, they should compose songs that can teach people, even children knowledge. These days, some people would sing, as if they don't think at all. They should use better composition that can teach wisdom to little children.

And to the government?
Well, I don talk, talk, so tay I don tire. I talk so tay, dem carry me go Alagbon prison. Now, it's left to them and I know Nigeria is for all of us. If dem spoil am, dem own children sef dey there. We cannot run away; after all, this is our papa's land.

How would you want people to remember Orlando Owoh?
Well, in those days when we're doing those records,there was no disc or video; the disc and the video now available would be used to remember us. Things have really improved musically these days.

We know you have received so many chieftaincy titles. Can you mention some of the titles?
You see the chief...chief stuff, is just for merriment.

Where are you really from?
I'm from Ifon. My father is from Ifon, while my mother is from Owo and I'm Owomoyela, by name. I now shortened it to read Orlando Owo, but some people erroneously called it Owoh. I cannot deny it since my mother is from Owoh and I'm Owomoyela. Both mean the same to me.

So, should it be Owoh or Owo?
I prefer it as Owoh.

Are you the first in the Owomoyela's lineage?
(Laughs) Ah, no I'd say I'm number 25 among my father's children. My father had many children.

From how many wives?
They were many and in fact, I can't remember how many of them.

Can you still play music now?
I can still play and by the grace of God, Ill play next week Thursday.

PMAN now have a new president, do you recognize him?
I don't know anybody! My own is just to do what I can do for PMAN, as we have been doing it before these small boys. I don't hate them, and I still have them at heart. President or no president, I'm only interested in knowing that they're pushing the body ahead. If there were any way I could help them, even financially, I would not hesitate to do so.

One of your best instruments is the guitar, and right now, it appears you can no longer play it. Are you not disturbed?
I cannot play the guitar now because of my right hand - I have a problem with it. But I can still give good vocals. I can sing. Right now, if I meet any good guitarist, I'll teach him the key and the position. Nowadays, it's not like before when I did everything on my own. Time has changed.

orlando owoh - his life & times

The below is excerpted from The Guardian of Saturday 15th April.

Orlando Owoh: The Kennery is ill
Legend of Kennery highlife, Dr. Orlando Owoh, is very ill. The frail-looking musician spoke with CLETUS NWACHUKWU on his sick bed about his past, present state of health and his future.

STEPHEN Oladipupo Olaore Owomoyela, known to most lovers of music as Orlando Owoh belongs in the class of those great artistes who worked so hard at achieving their dreams.

The great Orlando who used to mesmerise the audience with his heavy romantic voice and energetic display on the stage is now so fragile that to walkhas become a struggle. He looks pitiable in the aftermath of tow massive stroke that has left him almost like a vegetable, even if he remains in very high spirit while talking to The Guardian.

Orlando needs help. That is the fact. And he said he was counting on the goodwill of his numerous fans andgood people of Nigeria to ensure he gets qualityhealthcare. Interestingly he wants to continue with his first love: playing music and creating happinessfor others.

For this legendary, but now seriously ailing musician, life from his childhood had been an arduous struggle for survival.

Born 74 years ago at Osogbo in Osun State to Jeremiah and Morenike Owomoyela, originally from Ifon town in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State, somehow, the musical adventures of his father never really rubbed off positively on the young Orlando Owoh. His father relentlessly admonished him never to play music, recounting his own sad experiences as a musician.

Having made up his mind to become a musician from age 12, Orlando Owoh, nevertheless, had to succumb to the overbearing influence of his father, who had now ventured into building construction, albeit a successful one. Showing early traits of a man with hismind, Orlando Owoh left Osogbo for Ilesha, in pursuit of greener and better life prospects immediately hecompleted his eight-year apprenticeship under his father. Working as a bricklayer, truck pusher,house-help, yet music was never far from his heart.

Armed with a Standard Six certificate, he returned to Osogbo and secretly began his romance with musicbuoyed by several music talents garnered during his sojourn in Ilesha. His budding musical talent caught the attention of renowned artiste, Kola Ogunmola who eventually invited him to Ibadan in preparation forthe First All African Games in Dakar. Yet, fate wouldplay a cruel one on him as few months to the event he was diagnosed with a bad eye problem that needed urgent surgery. As a result, he missed the opportunityto kick-start his artistic dream.

With a burning desire to succeed, Owoh did not allow the development to derail his dreams, as he quickly joined a music band called Chocolate Randies in Ibadan, due to his avowed dexterity on the Konga drums.

According to the veteran musician, Chocolate Randies was the toast of music fans in the old Western region.
Thus began a life full of controversies, vices andmusical legendary.

All through his time with Chocolate Randies,traversing Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lagos, Owoh remained steadfast in his belief in success musically, and of course, be his own boss. His hunger for successfinally culminated in his establishing his own band called Orlando Owoh and his Omimah Band in 1958.

The renowned artiste told The Guardian, after convincing his former boss at Chocolate Randies, he gained his musical freedom after paying the customary £5 and a coke.

Owoh's actual journey to stardom began with his debut album in 1960 under Decca Records. A greater achievement for him beyond having his music in themarket was the financial incentive of £15 that shockedand made him restless for several days.

The first album, Oluwa Lo Ran Mi was quickly followed by a very successful Alantere Ijo Oyege, which of course, actually announced his arrival on the music landscape.

Expectedly, more musical successes were recorded through his unique and rhythmic brand of music.

Owoh as Army Captain
The civil war in Nigeria further brought to fore Owoh's survival instinct. Despite his newly found fame and wealth, he decided to enlist in the Nigerian Army,without his family's consent. According to him, "itwas just for survival." With him went his first love-- music. He did not stop playing his music as he was later commissioned to entertain soldiers across thec ountry, during the war. He was to train and organisehis colleagues into what was then called the Garrison Band. The euphoria was not limited to the war zones,as he once came visiting his music fans in Lagos withhis army band. Four years later, Orlando Owoh was discharged from the army with the rank of a captain.

In the words of Thomas Southern, "Ambition is an idolon whose wings great minds are carried only to the extreme. It is to be sublimely great, or be nothing." This music icon refused to be what could be called a local champion as he went steps further. The septuagenarian recalled his first ever-musical tour of London, in 1972, when his astonishing musical displaysand prowess impressed his hosts and he was subsequently awarded a honorary doctorate degree in law by the University of London.

Unfortunately, a fall-out of his successful Londontour was that greed set into his band and some dissatisfied members left. He had to re-organise and rename his band from the Young Kenneries to African Kenneries.

The music veteran explained that his music was afusion of highlife and juju and that as aknowledgeable musician, he had to move with current trends to satisfy his teeming fans spanning several countries of the world. In line with his self-belief and ideologies, his music is to positively impact on lives and preach peace.
Most times his music and lyrics have been compared to that of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's fiery style, particularly, with controversial albums, like Ganja I and II, Dele Giwa and Money for Hand Back for Ground. He has recorded over 45 albums including the commercially successful Jobs Experience, Logba-Logba, Kangaroo, Iyawo Olele, Money palaver, Tribute to Fela, amongst many others.

Alagbon Experience
For many followers and lovers of music, particularly, of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Owoh, the two music icons seem to have quite a lot in common. From their music, love life, anti-authority beliefs, vices and ultimately life in incarceration. These two artistes have come out eventually from police cells to release commercial hits on their experiences at the infamous Alagbon Close (a police investigation centre).

Orlando recounted his bitter ordeal in the hands of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime's security agents. His out-spoken nature and the controversial album he released on the death of foremost journalist Dele Giwa, who was fatally wounded by a parcel bomb, got for Owoh, 18 months of humiliation and torture in police cell.

He bitterly related his detention to similar experiences of other musicians who were made scapegoats by various governments due to their criticism and anti-government stance. The album released upon his release from Alagbon was first hand experience of witnessing intimidation, humiliation,and oppression of innocent victims by the powerful inthe society. Truly, there is of course, little or nothing to choose between Fela and Owoh, two very unique, controversial and hugely talented artistes.

Life As Born Again
Remarkably, like Fela, Owoh's life and perceptions were hinged on African deities and strong conviction in the potency of different charms. This quintessential African music legend, it was recalledseveral years ago, reportedly destroyed and burntseveral charms and idols, preparatory to his giving his highly controversial life to God at a well-attended ceremony at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, led by Prophet T.B Joshua.

He received several broadsides and cynical remarks from many people who could not believe or would not see him in the new-garb of a true Christian. Overtime, the cynics may have been proved wrong, as Owohhas remained a steadfast and unwavering Christian.This staunch belief in God above all things wasfurther betrayed during an exclusive visit and chatwith The Guardian's Weekend Beats on Friday, April 7, concerning his state of health.

Looking frail, pale and very sick, the oncevociferous and fiery Kennery was barely audible andyet, he continually gave thanks to God Almighty for keeping him alive till date.

Present State
The septuagenarian, who is among the few living legends of Nigerian music alongside Chris Ajilo, Chief Osita Osadebe, Elder Steve Rhodes and Dr. VictorAbimbola Olaiya, St. Augustine, Sir Victor Uwaifor, is ill. The once-bubbly Kennery crooner is down.

When Weekend Beats visited Owoh, it was quite clear that his undisclosed ailment required urgentmedical attention.

He disclosed that he is yet to receive any financial and medical assistance from his immediate constituency - the music industry. He expressed disappointment with his promoters - Jolaosho and Trans-world. Furtherenquiries, concerning PMAN's assistance and the acclaimed insurance policy with WAPIC Insurance company by the music body, proved that the so-called policy was nothing but a charade. In his words: "I made several representations to PMAN concerning my health and even registered as required, yet nothing so far has been done to assist me." He, however, expressed gratitude to his wives, family, manager and particularly, one of his daughters, who has been treating and taking care of him.

Throughout the chat, Owoh showed his gratitude to God for a fulfilled life. "I thank God "I thank God."

With several musical awards, chieftaincy titles, fame, wealth and many of his children doing well, home and abroad, projecting the good name and image of the music icon, he has lived a fulfilled life. However, in one of his several interviews, he expressed a life-long desire to build a hotel where his fans can relax and be entertained.

Owoh simply wants to be remembered as the Kennery music king.

Friday, April 14, 2006

azuah's sky high flames

"Sharing one's work is like sharing a meal one cooked and having the pleasure of watching people enjoy the meal with you" - Unoma Azuah

* Related Post

unoma azuah's readings

Unoma Azuah has been busy doing readings of her debut novel, Sky High Flames, in the US. She's read to audiences in her base in Jackson, and more recently in San Antonio, Texas. Here, Azuah is shown at last weekend College English Assciation Conference in Texas with 'Lizette' (left) from Mills College MFA program, California.

Azuah poses with Susannah Childress, winner of the 2005 Brittingham Prize for Poetry.

Want to show lots of images of an author reading and autographing copies of her book for fans and you are not a graphic artist. What do you do? You get your son to help with a collage...

Images courtesy of the writer; collage by MW & Son.

jude dibia's 'walking with shadows'

Jude Dibia is the author of a new novel, Walking With Shadows. With a foreword by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, the debut novel deals with the inner demons of a Nigerian man who is gay. It's been described as "A thought provoking tale of denial and the politics of African male sexuality" that "doesn't beg you to make apologies for homosexuals nor does it preach the sanctity of heterosexual relationship but forces you question your own humanity and tolerance."

Dibia discussed Walking With Shadows on The Word programme on the BBC World Service earlier this week.

An excerpt
"I have come to learn," Adrian began. "That being gay has nothing to do with the physical action of sex nor a person’s sexual preference be it with the opposite sex or same sex. Sleeping with a man or woman will always remain the individual’s choice. I am gay because it is who I am. It is the way I see the world. It is the way I reason and live. It is waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. It is listening to music and loving it. It is watching a movie and wanting to see it over again. It is laughing when I am happy and crying when I am sad. It is appreciating the simple things life brings and not the act of sexual intercourse. Sex on its own is a physical expression of love or lust. I could love a woman because of the qualities she possesses and still be gay. A man can be gay all his life without actually sleeping with another man. Can you understand this?"

Can you? Read the excerpt - from chapter 10 of Walking With Shadows - in full, online.

seun anikulapo kuti and egypt 80

Seun Anikulapo Kuti, son of Afrobeat legend Fela, is playing new dates at the French Cultural Centre, Lagos. The first of the new shows took place last weekend. Seun & Egypt 80 are also in action tomorrow 15th April. Others dates are 22nd, & 29th April.

Here's what the French Cultural Centre has to say about Seun Kuti
For Seun Kuti son of late and legendary father who loomed large in Nigerian history, this is a particularly onerous task. Seun’s father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, was Nigeria’s most beloved popular musician and most acerbic social critic until his death.

Seun grew up shouldering expectations that he would continue the work that his fathers had begun. But how can you emulate a lifestyle that may ultimately have been your father’s undoing? And how can you follow in your father’s footsteps when they lead straight to the gallows?" At nineteen, Seun is probably the youngest person on stage. Most of the band members, including Seun’s mother, who still sings backup, performed with Fela, and some look to now be in their fifties and sixties."As a matter of fact, Seun Kuti has been performing on stage since he was nine years old. He started his career as a backup singer in Egypt 80, the band fronted by Fela, the Afro beat king who had presided over Lagos’s popular music scene since the early 1970s. Seun says he started teaching himself how to play saxophone when he was eight, which is also when he started taking piano lessons. But on stage with his father he only ever sang, adding his child’s voice to the chorus of male and female backup singers that included his mother, the collective response to Fela’s persistent call.

Performing on stage with as many as twenty singers and musicians in regular sessions that sometimes went on all night was such an effective practical education that when Fela died in 1997, Seun, then just fifteen, was ready to take over. Since then, he has led Egypt 80 as lead vocalist and saxophonist, the focal point of a band that his father had forged into one of Africa’s most legendary ensembles. While Seun is the front man, a star in his own right who is routinely recognized by fans on the streets of Lagos, in many ways Egypt 80 is still his father’s band.

Fela’s Afrobeat was a pungent blend of funk and jazz with an African sensibility, reminiscent of James Brown but grittier, nastier and vaguely unsettling, like fermenting fruit. With Seun, Egypt 80 seem as explosive as they were under Fela, combining horns, keyboards, percussion, guitars and vocals in a sophisticated and overpowering blend that is at times discordant but always insistent. In the 70s the band performed almost nightly at The Shrine, a club Fela established, but these days they rehearse once a week and play three or four times a month at various venues around Lagos, sometimes alongside other artists.

In performance, Seun comes across as a perfect stand-in for his famous father. More often, he’s dressed like Fela in a ginger 70s-style two-piece paisley print outfit, the pants tight around his hips and the wide-collared shirt open at his chest. At 6’1’’ Seun is taller than his father and has a darker complexion, but his face has the same high cheekbones, impish grin and dark, mischievous eyes. Fela was a lewd prankster, and Seun seems equally outgoing, bold and playful, with a short attention span, a loud and ready giggle and a restless child’s energy. "Once you’ve met me, you can’t forget me," he boasts. "I’m crazy. It’s just the way I am. My father was too."His singing voice is deep like Fela’s, and his saxophone hits the lines and hooks his father composed with the same muscular style, although he tries to bring his own flavor to the obligatory solos on saxophone and synthesizer. And like Fela, on stage Seun lives up to a reputation as a sex symbol, shimmying, winding his hips and often discarding his shirt, to the delight of female fans.

Seun was literally born to do this, and seems unconcerned by the constant comparisons to his father, unlike his half brother Femi Kuti, twenty years his senior and a more established and internationally known performer. While Femi often seems to chafe under the burden of being his father’s son, Seun seems to embrace it. For Seun, taking up where his father left off is about building on Fela’s legacy, not trying to escape it. "If I’m in my father’s shadow then it doesn’t trouble me to be," he says. "If that’s all I can get, it’s a very good place to be. He was a very great man." He pauses. "But of course every artist wants to define themselves."Seun says he and his father were close, and Fela’s death at the age of 58 hit the teenager hard. Fela had other children by other women, but took a special interest in Seun, who is one of only two sons to follow their father into a career in music. But while Fela set Seun on a path much like his own, having inherited the leadership of Fela’s band, Seun can be more selective about what else he chooses to take from the example of Fela’s life. Although Seun likes to party and has a taste for Moët, he never smokes weed and appears monogamously devoted to his girlfriend Farida, a Lagos high school student.

In artistic terms he is also determined to chart his own course. Seun has just signed a deal with Virgin Records to record an album that will feature Fela songs as well as original tracks, and plans to innovate his own style, incorporating influences besides his father, including the hip hop (DMX, Wyclef Jean and Eminem are among his favorites) that comprises much of his own listening diet. And although he’s already a talented saxophonist, Seun hopes to refine his craft by pursuing formal musical training at the Trinity College of Music in London, where his father studied in the 1950s.

The prospective Virgin album will be the first time Seun records his own compositions, although he claims to have already written more songs than he can count ("My head is still hot," he says of his prodigious output). He’s never even performed his own songs, partly because he wants to perfect his own material in the studio before unveiling it for public consumption, unlike his father, who often debuts new songs on stage, recording them later.

"My father was stage to studio," says Seun. "I’m going to be studio to stage."

Seun once said "I have to play my father’s songs until I’m ready." With an album of his own creations in the works, presumably he’s finally set to stake his own musical claim instead of trading on his father’s name.In so doing, perhaps he can muster the kind of iconic voice and presence that made Fela one of his generation’s most politically influential cultural artists. It’s already clear that Seun’s name and music resonate with a new generation of Nigerians, many of whom are too young to remember his father’s heyday.

His songs sung in pidgin English, always retain a wide appeal for their humour and clever use of language, the music squarely dance-oriented and the lengthy on-stage polemics-haranguing captive audiences through a haze of smoke- is legendary. Talking of concert, we could mention just his very last concert in France during the 23rd edition of Festival Banlieues Bleues on February 25th 2006 where he thrilled fans of Afro beat for good six weeks that the festival lasted. Otherwise, we could just say the boy has performed all over the world. Seun promised to give a unique opportunity to concertgoers and lovers of Afro beat a solid dose of Baba 70 music.

The Afro beat message is as relevant now as ever and this show is the closest any audience will come to and witness the original Fela experience - expect a host of classics and an ‘unmissable’ night of West Africa's funkiest music.

Photos: Courtesy of the French Cultural Centre, Lagos.

along osun grove road

No, it isn't a scene from a monster movie. And this jutting out of the bush is not some mutant arachnoid threatening good folk. This sculpture is one of the many sights along the road that runs by the Osun Grove in Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria. More amazing things can be seen inside the grove itself, the heart of which is the sacred River Osun. The grove is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Taken in May 2003

poetry potter - april 29

Kowry Kreations… shell of creativity Presents
“Poetry Potter”
Venue: National Library Hall,
Opposite Casino Cinema, Alaogmeji, Yaba, Lagos.
Date: Every last Saturday of the month (April 29th, 2006)
Time: 4 p.m. prompt. No African time, please.
Admission: Free, Free; Free!
Dress Code: Endeavour to come in your native attire.
Details: Poetry will be taken to the highest level at the Fourth Edition of Poetry Potter as Segun Adefila, the choreographer of Crown Troupe of Africa is the Guest Artiste of the Month. And some poem like Yemi Oyewo, Akeem Lasisi and many others will be around to lit the hall with their poetry. Dances will also go alongside poetry and folk tale which will be done by Ropo Ewenla who is also the producer of the programme. Dress Code: Endeavour to come in your native attire. All lovers of Literary existence are invited. Be There!
R.S.V.P: Aderemi Adegbite 08035149337, Ropo Ewenla 08032311574, Lekan Balogun 08027727751 ALL

damola awoyokun on muri adejimi's exhibition

In this piece, Freedom and Subversion in the Post-Surrealist Works of Muri Adejimi, Damola Awoyokun assesses the artist's exhibition, ending today at the French Cultural Centre in Lagos.
Introspection: Inside, Looking Out, is an exhibition of 19 works of Nigeria's best Post-surrealist painter, Muri Adejimi in Maison De France, Ikoyi, Lagos (French Cultural Centre) from 31 March to April 14. It is powered by Glo. Like its grandparent, the Dada Movement, and parent, Surrealism, that quickly developed a reputation for content and formal revolt, sweet transgressions and authority-weakening provocation, Post-Surrealism continues this tradition here in Nigeria. Two works, Maiden Voyage and Baptism attest to this.
In Maiden Voyage (2001, oil on canvas) a wet condom-like, skin-clinging, see-through charitably introduces us to the central maiden's spellbinding hips that prefigures the element of surrealist transparency apparent in the head of a gorilla and lion far off on the rocks. This central lady on whom the viewer's focus proceeds and may voluntarily rest is just emerging from a swim with lips slightly parted perhaps gasping for breath. She squats on a rocky bank with thighs splayed like Halle Berry in the Catwoman movie, backing the viewer. Beside her to the left are two other maidens. In front, in the shallow river and to the rocky hills on the other side of the river are other maidens proud of their bodies so naked save for waist, hand, arm, calf, ankle or cross-torso beads. They are full of freedom. They are not enclosed. Their thighs are not joined together they are splayed. If their arms are not spread out towards the skies, they are extended towards themselves cutting poses that they chose for the convivial atmosphere.
The maidens jam-packed with movement seem to be unaware of any gaze at all even from themselves, from social taboos or unnecessary religious restrictions. They are so free and so happy as the painting tells us the two go together. Even the maiden that looks religious causally sits 'backing' the viewer, her thighs widespread, the neck of her pear-shaped hips playing host to the most exquisite beads in the painting. Her hijab is transparent, billowy and unwet. The maidens are profuse and exist far off diminishing to elf-like sizes on the rocky hills even to outside of the painting staking their claim on as much ground as possible.
The dramatic intensity and sensual electricity of the maidens almost belie an awe-inspiring talent of Adejimi expressed in the photographic replication of a basin lying among a glass container, calabashes, a comb, a bra, reckless jewelleries and more beads and pearls. Some of these sparkle as a result of an obscure sun which as well powers the glow strong on the central maiden's buttocks and on the back of her right calf.
Baptism (1983, oil on Barber board) also has images of an obscure sun(s) but with a glowing firmament, flying and standing white birds, a section of a river but only a stunning lady: the Black Mona Lisa (BML). If Muri Adejimi's Baptism is a subversion of the biblical baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan, so be it. The history of arts and science, the forward-march of progress and development is a sequence of subversions of received knowledge and perspectives. Though BML's hair is secured from public view by a sky-blue head tie, she too is fully naked save for the pearls and neck beads, cross-torso beads and ear beads.
From the elbows of her left hand, to her left waist to the base of right breast then to her right shoulder, there is an axial merger with an isolated rock chassis banking the river. Her cross-torso beads even encircle this rock as if it is an extension of her body. One is tempted to think that the BML is a sculpture like a sphinx released from the rocks by sculpting away everything that does not look like an alluring lady but the painter acts not like natural dreams or fantasies central to surrealism careless always with details. BML's skin and colour, her chubby cheeks, red lips, her thick eye lashes shaped as the two wings of a bird raised in flight, her well-informed breasts, firm and supple, up to the colour and the texture of the tip of her nipples are so real to dismantle the view that she emerged from the stone beneath.
Adejimi's forthright realism insists on fidelity to facts, his lines are crisply clear and elegant, his precise manner exudes a certain coolness that contrasts with the erotic emphasis of the subject matter. Surrealism is opposed to destructive urges but Adejimi goes further and glorifies procreative urges.
BML is more than a mannequin modelling pearls and beads. She is more than a figure with which Muri Adejimi illustrates he has taken the unsparing depiction of black breasts to the next level. She has personality, and her physical presence and grace are undeniable. Her poise and her sense of self-esteem partake in the ample space she dominates on the Barber board. Hers is a towering neck that supports a radiant face whose lips smile softly and her eyes fixed sideways on something to the northeast outside the painting without her head leading the way. The folds of her head tie are aloof and severe forming a disciplined pattern that is an outward _expression of her inner moderation, self-restrain and natural confidence. Warm and friendly, yes; but she is not down-to-earth, she is up on a rock and she is not accessible easily since unlike the central figure in Maiden Voyage, a river separates her from the viewer which perhaps explains why what is teasing her smile and to what she is looking up is very elusive. More than the face, her breasts that hold more glow are coloured like the sunny evanescent clouds behind her. It may be an invitation, perhaps, by Adejimi to where our attention should be most abundant, keeping fresh the painting's ability to haunt. It may also be like Salvador Dali's putrefaction philosophy represented as ants, that with time, like the clouds, this beauty, this lusciousness too, shall pass.
Muri displays a more thoughtful colour composition by which free associations could be vividly stimulated so that the eye moves with pleasure from the lemon green of the water ripples to a coarse surface of the rocks with a combination of gloomy red, dirty brown, Ibadan brown, reddish brown, to the variously coloured beads, and then to the sky- the theatre of possibilities, with its yellow stretch, golden clouds, blue patches and flying birds.
But Muri's chiaroscuro is debatable here except he is suggesting there are many suns creating the unfeasible shades. Like Authority (1995, oil on canvas) another painting in this exhibition, the lady stands in the way of the sun but rays still come out behind her making the skies brilliant in the style of Gustave Doree. If the sun is so low behind her it is not geometrically possible to have the reflection of just her head in water. So there has to be sun B behind her but above sun A. This may perhaps explain why her head and the irregular rock chassis have their reflections on themselves in the ripples. But these two suns cannot be responsible for the light cast on BML's forehead, cheeks and breasts. So there has to be sun C above her in front, which is to be assumed is not there because the lady looks up freely without squinting. However the painting may not be of an instantaneous time (t) because there is only one Holy Ghost and here there are many white birds hovering around which actually could have been one bird but seen, depicted over several times (t1, t2, t3…) in several motions. Similarly it must have been the case with the sun, it may be one sun but that its several movements in the sky cast several confusing shadows and glow.
Baptism, Maiden Voyage like all the paintings collected in this exhibition are a judgement on behalf of a Eurocentric conception of a beautiful woman since all the women are slim and/or have long flowing hair, and have breasts that are more of sex utensils rather than mothering comrades. Nonetheless the works are an epitome of Muri Adejimi's meticulous draughtsmanship and photo-realistic details, with responsive colour command and associations heightened by optical puzzles. Therein are tones of freedom in subversion and tones of subversion in freedom, which this exhibition proposes must be status quo in all of Nigeria.
  • Damola Awoyokun is the Managing Editor of Fawi Publications. He can be contacted at: