Sunday, June 25, 2006

bayswater... a poem

By Emman Usman Shehu


I looked for the bay
I searched for the water,
surfacing from the tube station
a stop away from Paddington
the place of my first initiation,
and found a neighbourhood
of cold stares
even for the broken
Sally at the edge of the alley.
One of their own,
at the wrong end
of fortune,
clinging to her sad smile,
clutching the nearly empty
McDonald’s pack,
next to her ragtag
in a Marks and Spencer bag.
I pay her for the smile-
this generous welcome-
remembering our own forgotten
tribe of the broken
from the fringes of the desert,
to the shorelines of the ocean,
clinging to an inspired doleout.

*BAYSWATER is taken from the collection Open Sesame, by Emman Usman Shehu. Reproduced with permission.

you talkin' to me?

You talkin' to me? Street sculpture in Dusseldorf, Germany.

*Taken 17 April 2006

muthoni garland

In the running with Nigeria's Sefi Atta for this year's Caine Prize are 3 African women writers. One is Kenyan Muthoni Garland who is short-listed for her short story, Tracking the Scent of my Mother.

Garland on being shortlisted...
"I felt so empowered and inspired by this and it has given me the confidence to continue with my writing. I am now working on my first novel."
--Read the interview
On why she wrote the story...
"Tracking the Scent of my Mother was inspired by the climate of private fear in which many children and women in our part of the world exist. Not because of disease or war or famine, but because of men who abuse them. Statistics point to a shocking increase in rape and defilement in East and Southern Africa. In Kenya, where it is widely accepted that these crimes are under-reported, it is said that a rape occurs every 30 minutes. But numbers alone are not enough to reflect the pain and suffering caused to affected individuals, nor do they serve to increase understanding about why it happens or how to address it.

"Our parliament is currently debating a Sexual Crimes Bill. The debate, unfortunately, seems to pitch men against women, and the diplomatic and NGO community against locals. I pray our leaders rise above this and soberly reflect on the personal, social and economic ramifications of sexual violence. It diminishes and debilitates all of us. I pray that they go beyond issues of punishment to issues of education and socialisation. I pray the day will come when women in my world will be free."

Excerpt from Tracking the Scent of My Mother...
Because seventeen-year-old cousin Wangui's stellar KCSE results punctuated her mother's every other sentence, nobody complained when Wangui slipped a cassette into father's player. She tied a khanga around her hips, and wriggled to the spiky notes of Congolese lingala as though attacked by red ants. Of course, I joined her, and discovered that even at six, my limbs were looser than hers.

My mother hovered on the fringes of the group, and her darting eyes kept lighting on me. She laughed that afternoon for all of Karatina, but the hollow in her tone confused me. I didn't realise then that my mother was only four years older than Wangui. I didn't understand that a woman who gives birth is like a tall and leafy banana tree that breaks under the weight of its own fruit... What nobody could have foreseen was the extent to which the visit affected my mother.
--Read on


Another short-listed writer, Moroccan Laila Lalami of the popular lit-blog Moorish Girl - has been talking about the first time she discovered a Chinua Achebe novel...
A Man of the People was a revelation for me; it spoke to me like few books had until then (or since, for that matter.) I went back to the store and bought the other works of Achebe's that I could find, including, of course, Things Fall Apart.

sentinel poetry live! 4

Waterloo Gallery
14 Baylis Road
London SE1 7AA
Saturday, July1, 2006
7PM - 9PM

Munayem Mayenin (pictured) - poet-in-residence for Southwark Libraries, editor of Poet's Letter Magazine, and author of Geography of Time, The Son Of Eternity & Command The Moon.

Durblabh Singh - painter & writer, Singh has exhibited his paintings worldwide and has published his poetry in several international literary journals. His books include Chrome Red, The Bats, Neo-Expressions and Spaces of Heart.

Also on the bill is John John-Lewis who returns by popular demand after his appearance at Sentinel Poetry Live 2. There will be Rap interlude by Kid Illicit, who apparently keeps it clean. More acts to be confirmed.

Nnorom Azuonye hosts and reads some poems too.
Tickets: £4 / Concessions £2

new reads on war

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently wrote for the New Yorker on the subject of war - excerpt below

My mother often shouted at Fide. She was creative with her Igbo insults. “You are a fat millipede, nnukwu esu!” she’d say when he took too long with a task. “Look at him, ike akpi, with the buttocks of a scorpion,” when he forgot yet another thing she’d asked him to do. Or, “May dogs lick your eyes!” when he didn’t tell the truth. She asked Fide to start dinner in the afternoon because it took him so long—jollof rice alone kept him busy for four hours. One afternoon stands out in my mind. Fide was at the Formica-topped kitchen table, scraping the scales off a tilapia with a knife. He worked with slow, deliberate motions—scrape, pause, scrape, pause. There were transparent scales on his chin, on his arms, on the floor. “You’re taking forever to do that!” I said. “It’s like preparing a body for a funeral,” Fide said. “You take your time to do it well.” It was a joke, and he was laughing. But, after he died, I would think about this, too.
-- Read on

In the same issue, you can also read Tony D'Souza on the war in Cote D'Ivoire...
I was in Abidjan in 2000, shortly after General Robert Guei’s bloodless Christmas Eve coup, which eventually helped to usher in the bloodshed of the past six years in Ivory Coast. At the time, there was a small contingent of United States Marines in the city—the U.S. Embassy Guard. They were housed in a spacious apartment in a downtown high-rise in the Plateau district. I was in my first year with the Peace Corps, and whenever I was granted a break from my posting in the bush I’d travel to the city, to a Peace Corps-run hostel that was always crowded with volunteers. Now and again, eager to spend time with the white women among us, the marines would invite us over. They were well provisioned: alcohol, air-conditioning, and all the latest magazines, CDs, and DVDs. When they called, we’d round up a couple of cabfuls of the willing, and then happily dig into the marines’ top-shelf goods. The women needed little coercing—they enjoyed the Snickers bars, People magazines, and Bacardi as much as anybody.

Nnorom Azuonye is also thinking around the subject of war in his essay, Democracy and the Lottery of Haunted Hours...
The idiocy of the rationale for war and invasion of sovereign nations to deliver a brand of government is confounding: drop a few bombs, kill men, women and children in their sleep, destroy the environment for those that survive. In a scenario like that, what has been delivered is not democracy, but a death demon. Recall the words of Phillip Frazer in ‘What NATO's Bombs Did to the Environment’ (; “NATO's bombs not only destroyed Serbia's military machine; they also devastated the region's land, air and water. After several months of Serbian forces' burning villages and NATO's flying over 40,000 sorties that dropped powerful explosives on Yugoslavia, massive damage has been inflicted on the Yugoslav environment and neighbouring countries”

expose yourself to art

*Image: Source Unknown

ana oyo, azuah, poetry potter...

Oyo ANA Short Story Writing Retreat/Workshop
(With support from Spectrum Books, Ibadan)

As part of improving writing skills for its members, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Oyo State Chapter, with support from Spectrum Books, Ibadan, will hold Oyo ANA Short Story Writing Retreat/Workshop.

Friday June 30 to Sunday July 2, 2006,

Venue: African Heritage Research Library Complex, Adeyipo Village, Ibadan.
Interested members are expected to pay N500. This amount covers transport to and from Adeyipo.

Oyo ANA will take care of feeding, accommodation and other exigencies.

All interested participants are expected to converge at the Educare Exhibition Centre, Goshen Superstore Building, beside Coca-Cola, Ibadan, from where we shall move to Adeyipo Village at 4.00 p.m promt

This Retreat/Workshop is ANA Oyo State Chapters attempt to uplift literature and encourage book development in Oyo state in particular and Nigeria in general. Without any iota of doubt, Oyo ANA is setting another pace with this Short Story Writing Retreat/Workshop.

Ebika Anthony
Chairman, Oyo State ANA
Unoma Azuah reads from her book, Sky High Flames in Abuja on Thursday June 29 (4.30pm) @ Reiz Continental Hotel, behind Nicon Insurance Plaza and adjacent to the National Library, Central Area, Abuja.
Sadly, lack of funds has scuppered this month's edition of Poetry Potter, but it should make a return in July. See the release below...
Dear Folks,

Kowry Kreations Media, a literary organization that is committed to the revival of the lost verve in the African arts, culture, values and heritages started its itinerary with a programme tagged POETRY POTTER, which is the combination of Poetry(oral, scripted and performance poetry), folktales and folksongs in January of this year. And last month marked the firth edition of the programme.

Poetry Potter, although a babe literary event in the heart of Lagos that is known as the centre of literary and entertainment events, has within a very short period of time gained attention and kept ringing like a colonial church bell in the mind of every literary lovers in the state and in the Diaspora at every last Saturday of the last five months aided by the unending e-invitation notes and invitation card distributed at virtually literary events in the state.

Since its commencement, it has paraded many writers, artistes and artists in the country. Among whom are Folu Agoi, Lekan Balogun, Akeem Lasisi, Lanre Ari-ajia, Yemi Adeyemo, Dele Osawe, Yemi Adeyemi, Ropo Ewenla, Segun Adefila and his troupe, the Crown Troupe of Africa, Awoko, Steve James and troupe, the Ivory Ambassador, Edun Production, Edaoto, the vibrant and energetic afro singer, Cornerstone, Are and many others. The media houses are as well close to us at every edition of the programme, these are, NTA, Chennels Television, Galaxy Television, The Guardian, Vanguard, The Comet, National Interest and National Mirror and many others.

National Library, which accommodate these host of literati and thespians at every last Saturday of the month, will be unable to do so this month for logistics reason that is not far away from the issue of money. We’ve been unable to meet up with the payment of the hall ever since March and the management said that we’ll not be allowed in from this month onward if we’re unable to pay for the past months we’ve used and the subsequent one.

We are indeed sorry for this inconvenience and we plead to anyone who is in position to salvage this situation to do so. However, we have gained Akeem Lasisi’s consent as the Guest Artiste of the Month for July.

See you in July.


Aderemi Adegbite
For: Kowry Kreations Media

Sunday, June 18, 2006

spinning odialetics

After all the ‘lurve’ in the posts below on Idonije and Osofisan, how about we stir things up a bit, and offer you something a little different? Here goes…

Chiedu Ezeanah
The Spinner of Dialetics

“If you want to know the sex of the lagoon
Jump, jump into it, and you will suffer
The swollen silence of rebirth...”
(The Poet Lied - Odia Ofeimun)

He spits virulent tirades against everything,
Because he must meet a vituperative need.

His supernal sense of human solidarity endures
In sundry fixations, and in his pet slogan-

Everything is political. The end justifies the meanness.

He dabbles in every discourse to sell his hit.
He spawns treatises even on the dialectics of silt.

Tons of dusty manuscripts celebrate his sagacity.
Like the undertaker, he beats his chest in triumph
For dispatching an older poet to his “literary tomb”.

He would gossip and meddle in another's young matrimony.
He would suck the bliss in every wench, but won't dare marry.

Blind to the funny image rambling in the mirror
He harasses the air in self-ballooning anger…

The above poem by Chiedu Ezeanah, was published along with other works by himself and other poets in the current issue of the Sentinel Poetry Online. But on reading the above, The Spinner of Dialetics, some would have been forgiven for thinking that Ezeanah is indulging in what we might call ODIAlectics.

Ezeanah gives the piece an intro taken from The Poet Lied, possibly Odia Ofeimun’s most famous work. Then he goes on to talk about someone who “spits” “tirades against everything”; whose slogan declares that “Everything is political”; who despatched “an older poet to his literary tomb”. Well, the poet John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo was the persona treated in The Poet Lied… to state the obvious.

And many, no doubt, have been reaching the somewhat obvious conclusion that the ‘Spinner of Dialetics’, as presented us by Ezeanah - is none other than Odia Ofeimun.

Here's what Chiedu Ezeanah has to say…
"The very idea of writing and art, to advert to Tolstoy's words, "is about communicating a feeling". This process is not complete until it reaches reception point. Feedbacks are a boon of a bonus!

Seriously, since last Sunday in Lagos when I was informed that there was a big hoopla being made of one sonnet out of the four or five I sent for publication in the Sentinel On-line Journal, I have been rather amused that the work is being so personalised.

Let me state clearly here that I truly revere Odia Ofeimun, but that fact does not imply that I censor myself from my creative responsibility. Just as no one man-mountain can hinder Odia from writing his work.

For the first, and I hope the last time, The Spinner of Dialectics is not about Odia, even though one grants every reader his/her right to read/misread the work. This poem is just one out of 100 Sonnets (in 25 Quartets) that make up Song of Songs (soon to be published by the poet/publisher Nengi Ilagha, hopefully before next month.)

So please, I think readers should simply read and enjoy the poem. I consider the big noise being made out of this a big distraction."

Well folks, you heard it here first; Chiedu says it's not about Odia. That settles it then. Or does it? Watch this space.

* The Spinner of Dialetics (a) Chiedu Ezeanah. Reproduced with permission.

review: the estate

The Estate is absorbing theatre. And Ellen is a wonderful character, as written by Agboluaje and as played by Thomas - with plenty of West African panache. When the property deal goes against her, she reveals with a knowing smile that all is not lost. Hardly surprising, she had saved "for a rainy day" during her husband's life. It is the turn of the scheming pastor to marvel: "Nigerians!"
The above is from my review of Oladipo Agboluaje's play, The Estate, which was at the Soho Theatre, London - from 6 to 17 June. The play returns by popular demand to the same venue during August/September.
You can read the review online (archived in 7 days).
*Production Image: Yvonne Dodoo as Sola in The Estate.

afam akeh on osofisan @ 60

Cleansing Song
(for Don Mattera & the six musketeers of a memorable German Summer, 1992)

I'm travelling with fine and lovely men
I go as one travels with dreams

past rivers and castles and waterfalls
I'm travelling with such a lovely group

we share all that we brought to share
our memories of loss and betrayal
and we link our hearts and we smile

along great rivers and ancient ruins
I'm travelling with dreamers and dreams:

six men from a shattered continent
share pain, and share compassion: we
shall salvage hope yet from our land's wreck

I'm travelling with fine and lovely men
past rivers and healing waterfalls
and I ride as one travels with dreams

On the shoulders of each other's song
we lean our famished souls to drink, and
oh, how soothing are the fountains of poets!...

we bring the ears of our compassion
to the windows of each other's pains, and
now all our derailed wagons are rolling again

and I shall forget losses, the promises broken.
I shall pledge to start my journey afresh
with the wings my brothers have given me:

For the continent will never die now.
I know, because of such men and their dreams

© Femi Osofisan

Such personal memories as evoked by his poem above, in the 1993 collection Dream-Seeker on Divining Chain (Kraft Books Limited), are what I mostly attach to the notable public and literary name Femi Osofisan. That "memorable German Summer" of the poet's evocative personal outpouring above, we had been travelling through a post-Cold War German nation, still much pained by the challenges of East and West unification - six of us, Osofisan and myself included, others being Ken Saro Wiwa and writers from East and Southern Africa among whom was the South African poet Don Mattera. The International Conference on Literatures of the Developing World at Bayreuth University was our destination. I was some kind of debuttante in distinguished literary company and acutely aware of my inexperience. I think that Osofisan, Saro Wiwa and Mattera were, perhaps, also aware of my difficulty, and, especially in the earlier part of the journey, found ways of being attentive and pulling me into that brotherly love the poem speaks of without making me feel patronised. Mattera was the Clown King of our Happy Company. He was also the oldest. Saro Wiwa was frequently absent from the officially organised group tours, even then already engaged with the personal projects of the environmental struggles that would eventually claim his life. He did not even return home to Nigeria with us but flew from Germany to some conference on the environment and displaced peoples. But the prevalent satirical humour of Wiwa's work was in evidence when he was in our company. I remember him mocking Osofisan (and I suppose myself) over repeated helpings from what seemed to me then an inexhaustible breakfast offering. Saro Wiwa drew a funny analogy about the scarcity mentality of poor nations and their politicians, which forces a grab-it-all attitude to wealth so that whatever is available to be shared never quite goes the distance.

For Mattera's earthy clowning and Saro Wiwa's satirical wit, there was Osofisan's endless run of myth-making and mischief-making. Highlighting our moments with imagined incidents, humorous anecdotes and characterisations was uniquely the province of Osofisan. I think it is that ability to sometimes sound really serious when he is being very funny, or to sound very funny when he is being very serious, that I find most engaging in Osofisan. Ever heard him tell a few about Okigbo? Or, just about any other writer? Wole Soyinka, in perhaps a despondent moment, described his generation as "wasted" by the land of their birth. Osofisan was also once similarly uncertain about his generation of writers - and he was being serious that day, many years ago, or was he? He said it was not so difficult to see that Nigerian writers were not really committed to the Nigerian struggle because not a lot of them were locked up in prison by the then military government! I am paraphrasing him, of course. But this leaning to the dramatic even in discourse is classic Osofisan - often on stage and at play even in what some consider 'real life'. Among the major Nigerian writers, it had to be Osofisan who would take the early sacrificial decision to publish all his work locally in encouragement of the fledgling publishing industry. For him, this decision would prove costly, quite painful though some may say also hilarious as he soon became the nation's favourite playwright, performed by so many eager enthusiasts and professionals in schools and in the broadcast media without the due returns in terms of royalties or even official acknowledgement of rights. Last year at the British Library ceremonies for the Noma Award for African Publishing won by Werewere Liking, I decided to trouble Osofisan, who was one of the judges, with a question from the floor on this vexed matter of his experiences in local African publishing. He is now publishing abroad also after many years of losses through poor marketing and other adverse business practices of some local publishers, a period in which there were also unlawful prints of his books.

It is my strict instruction to myself to avoid any discussion of Osofisan's work in this personal tribute but I may note that whatever the comparative appraisal may be the Osofisan theatre is reputedly an audience-pleaser. Drama is spectacle in Osofisan, the active engagement of form or performance with the people of its spatial reference. In this, Osofisan is closer to the Yoruba language theatres of Hubert Ogunde and Duro Ladipo than Soyinka. But as I said at the beginning the personal connects are what I mostly attach to my experience of Osofisan. I retain a note dated 6 April 1993 from the Britsh Council in Oxford informing me that Osofisan had been in the city for some conference and was disappointed we could not meet. He had, however, left the parcel which was being passed on to me. The parcel contained his second book of poems Dream-Seeker from which the poem above is chosen. There was a kind note on the title page "to Afam and our hopes for the future - warmly Femi Osofisan (Okinba Launko)." So in saying thanks for all the lovely memories, for the many entertaining theatre moments of A Restless Run of Locusts and other plays, for that eternal Summer in Germany captured in poetry, I am also reminded that the past is not all we are. Yes Okinba Launko, we do have "our hopes for the future" and believe that even at sixty you will continue to be an influential part of it even as you have been a pivotal part of that recent cultural past we all celebrate in celebrating you.

Happy birthday.

Afam Akeh

At the NOMA Awards - L-R: Osofisan, Luli Callinicos (one of the winners) with the rest of the Judging Panel - Peter Katjavivi, Peter Bgoya, Fatou Keita & Mary Jay.

*Taken at the British Library, London, 15 October 2005 - by mw;
*Cleansing Song (c) Femi Osofisan - Reproduced with permission.

celebrating osofisan @ 60

Playwright Femi Osofisan (in blue) at the 60th Birthday tribute held in his honour - at the Jazzhole, Lagos, on June 14.

Festivities marking Osofisan's birthday have continued since the 14th, with drama, exhibition, lectures, readings and the launch of a new book of essays on his work, edited by Sola Adeyemi. Osofisan hosted a birthday party yesterday in his residence at the University of Ibadan (see pictures on Wole Oguntokun's blog: U.I party; 1, 2, 3 / Jazzhole tribute: a, b, c).

The celebrations continue with, amongst other events:

  • Tuesday June 20 - Symposium: “The Social Context of Femi Osofisan’s Drama” Organized by Department of Theatre Arts, U.I. 4:00-6:00, Arts Theatre, U.I.
  • Friday June 23 - Arthouse Forum: Directors In Conversation with the Dramatist; National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos (see post below).
  • Sunday June 25 - Great Highlife Party (Elders' Forum), 5.30pm, OJez Restaurant, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.

Uche Nduka on Osofisan...
My encounters with Femi Osofisan at Ife (first) and Ibadan were rewards enough, in themselves, for having remained a writer since. I send my enduring gratitude, radiant wishes and homage to him on his 60th birthday. May his creative portals remain busy, profound and humane.
--Uche Nduka
  • Related Posts: I & II

*Photo: Jahman Anikulapo

cora on osofisan

All hands on deck for the cutting of the cake: (L-R) - Writer Promise Okekwe, Biodun Jeyifo, actress Joke Silva, Osofisan's brother, the man himself, Prof Folabi Ajayi & poet Odia Ofeimun.

Professor Biodun Jeyifo (left) pays tribute to Femi Osofisan on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

Ademola Adetunji said...
Ten years ago I played Digbaro in one of Osofisan's plays Twingle Twangle a Twynnig tales… and it was to commemorate his 50th birthday. Suprinsingly, Okinba Launko is 60. How time flies? I can’t say much about him because so much has been said already; his literary ingenuity, his passion for humanity, Femi Osofisan is a combination [of all that every] good human being aspires [to]. My short time of apprenticeship with him has seen a dramatic influence in my life. Thanks Elereko for always giving us your pocket of generosity to steal from. Ase’yi s’amodun o, Emi yin a se pupo odun laye. Ase
--Tribute left on this blog.

.... and CORA Questions Okinba Launko
Osofisan For Questioning: FEMI Osofisan, professor of theatre arts, is to appear before a panel for questioning on June 23. Nigeria’s most performed dramatist will be facing a round table of theatre directors who have performed his plays over the last 20 years. The event, which is the third in the monthly series christened "Artists’ Forum", organised by the Friends of The Arts, Lagos (FOAL), an affiliate of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), is part of the series of activities to commemorate the 60th birthday party of the prolific poet, playwright, essayist and short story writer. "We thought that the forum this time should take the form of conversation between directors and this peculiarly prolific playwright for one key reason," says CORA spokesman, Chris Ihidero. " Most often, theatre performances are the interpretations of the director, and they don’t always come out as the authors saw them. In this conversation, the public would be seeing the working of the minds of the author and directors and will be able to determine how and why some plays have come outthe way they did". The Artists’ Forum will take place at the National Theatre at 2pm on the said date. Osofisan is author of over 50 plays, many of which are routinely performed on the Nigerian stage. He will be hosted to the usual highlife party at O’Jez in Surulere on Sunday, June 25.
--CORA Press Release

*Photos: Jahman Anikulapo

arts stampede in cape town

CORA Takes ‘Stampede’ To Cape Town
THE 61st edition of the Art Stampede will hold at the Cape Town Book Fair, in the most beautiful city on thecontinent, in June. The event is scheduled for June 20, from 10am to 11.30 at the Olive Schreiner Room 1.52 at the Cape Town International Conference Centre,where the book fair is taking place. The discussions will be led by Harry Garuba, associate professor of English and African studies at the University of Cape Town and Muhtar Bakare, publisher of Farafina. The theme of the stampede is Nigerian Literature, anevolving story, 20 years after Africa’s First Nobel. It will be the second time in 10 years that the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) will move the "artstampede", its flagship programme, out of its Lagos base and present it to an audience far removed from its comfort zone. In 1996, CORA took a conversation onpublishing to Demas Nwoko’s studios on Mokola Hill in Ibadan. "With this Cape Town stampede, CORA is making the statement to the world that Nigerian literature is alive, robust and growing, even if poorly marketed," according to a statement by Jahman Anikulapo, the committee’s programme chairman. The idea for a discussion on Nigerian literature at the Cape Town Book Fair came from the South African author, Antjie Krog, who visited Nigeria last year, saw the country’s vast range of literature output and suggested that Nigeria must take a space at the Book fair to show the South African audience how much is happening in the Nigerian literary scene.
*Text: Press Release

ana oyo litfest - june 24

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

Guest Writer: Akeem Lasisi (Poet & Journalist)

Host: Oyida Ige (Founder, The Storyteller)

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

Date: Saturday June 24, 2006
Time: 4: 00 P.M


Ebika Anthony

arts writers salute idonije @ 70

Never mind the date on this photo... I can confirm it was taken at the birthday do for Benson Idonije last week. Here he is being congratulated by his wife; another well-wisher looks on.

On Idonije...

Steve Ayorinde...
I acknowledge all other celebrations this season, but i would like to scream, holler and shout on top of my voice in congratulating uncle Benson Idonije at 70. Without any airs, with an absolute and thorough wealth of knowledge of his vocation, and with the kind of never-say-die spirit to matters of the arts, especially music criticism, Idonije represents a true icon of our time.

It's saddening that we are only able to do but little for this great, yet humble mind. I would have thought that this is the time to write the story of this man who has written the stories of every conceivable jazz/music greats in the land. He represents to me what Fabio Olanipekun is to sports, and it is sooooo refreshing to appreciate the amount of knowledge these men are blessed with and the rare gift to impact same on the public, in bits and pieces every week.

Uncle Ben deserves our utmost, and I celebrate him.

Azuka Jebose Molokwu...
I am privileged to witness this day and to know Uncle BenJay.....Baba Ben Jay, I salute you today, honour your contributionsto music and art everyday and appreciate your immense humility tothis generation.Happy Birthday, Benson Idonije.

Pelu Awofeso...
I know of a broadcast journalist who was writing something of herprofessional autobiography last year; it is still in the drawers,though. I remember reading a section devoted to her encounter withand training under Mr Idonije (on Interviewing techniques, Isuppose).

I read some of Mr Idonije's reviews in the Guardian. They were packedwith facts and figures that could only be the result of painstakingrecord keeping and research. I took a cue from that. I don't knowmany writers that passionate about informing their audiences right.

Olumide Iyanda...
...I join those who have said such great things about Uncle Ben. It'salmost impossible to believe he is 70 with his quiet disposition and unusual show of respect even to toddlers. That is one archive of information about the art bigger than any I have met. One wonders howmany gigabytes you'll need to store all he has in his head.‘Ben Jay’ is a wine of the rarest vintage and one would be hard pressedto find another like him.

Tunde Oladunjoye...
I have not come to talk about Uncle Ben's management prowess that saw him manage Fela who later became the greatest artiste that ever came out of Africa, his commitment to highlife music or the simplicity of his beautiful prose that is a delight to readers of the Guardian. What impacted on me most is the rare humility of this legend, his modesty and his readiness to uplift younger ones. Nigeria is in dire need of people like Benson Idonije.

*Photo: Jahman Anikulapo

benson idonije @ 70

Benson Idonije, Nigeria's best known music critic and former manager to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti clocked 70 on Tuesday of last week. Here below, Kabir Alabi Garba and others at the Arts Desk of The Guardian, Lagos, make presentations to the veteran, for his services to Nigerian music.

Popularly known as 'Uncle Ben', Idonije (in blue) writes extensively for The Guardian on Nigerian music genres - especially Highlife. He also writes a weekly Jazz column.

Managing Director of The Guardian, Mr Emeka Izeze (1st from left), is surrounded by the editors including Jahman Anikulapo (2nd left) - as he pays tribute to Idonije.

Benson Idonije... Seventy notes for 'the music man'
By Chuka Nnabuife

SUDDENLY, bottles of beverage drinks and packs of sandwich filled the tables in the newsroom. And it was only noon on Tuesday. Before many could get an answer to there question: "Who is celebrating?" a big specially designed card passed from hand to hand. Only as reporters and editors paused to write down their paeans and remarks did they realise whom the celebrant was. The expressions were almost unanimous.
"Ah! Uncle Ben!" "You mean Mr. Benson Idonije, has reached 70?" "The man does not look the age."

For the moment the newsroom was agog with comments on the agility, youthful mind, intellectual depth, affability, resourcefulness and other qualities of the man who has for about five decades served Nigerian music both from within and inside, offering what many followers of his career, which spans through the broadcast and the print media simultaneously, has described as the about the best analytical service.

From the newsroom the celebration went to The Guardian on Sunday editor's office where the celebrating 'old folk' of Nigerian music and grand father of neo-highlife awareness campaign and two of his friends, Odion Iruoje (ace music producer), Odafe Oghoghome (singer and music activist) joined members of staff of the Arts Desk, Life Magazine and the Sunday Desk to a short session of tributes, gift presentation and songs in commemoration of the veteran art columnist's advancement in age. Dressed in a marine blue long dress (Buba), Idonije sat with Jahman Anikulapo (editor The Guardian on Sunday), Jewell Dafinone (deputy editor The Guardian on Sunday), Kabir Alabi Garba (assistant arts editor) among other senior journalists in attendance as members of the gathering recalled some highpoints of his incisive art critique columns in The Guardian. As Mr. Anikulapo noted the venture started exactly 10 years ago. Idonije, then newly retired from the service of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), was a quiet source to journalists during inquiries on vital issues relating to contemporary Nigerian music. He also had a big repertory of his own writings on the art.

But being a seasoned airwave man worth with his natural gifts in the broadcasting art - a highly textured baritone, vocal articulation, sound command of English language and a deep ear for rhythms and note - the man whose became a household name a Radio Nigeria 2 music producer and presenter, 1960s through the early 1980s was not quite keen about writing newspaper columns. Yet once he took the challenge in 1996, he raved on. He became so comfortable and successful with it that it turned out another career and a revelation of his firm intellectual grip in the arts. He was also prolific, widely popular and authoritative given his in-depth personal knowledge of the turf. At a stage he maintained three vastly unrelated columns, Evergreen, Sound and Screen and All That Jazz.

Mr. Garba described him as an inspiration to young art writers. The septuagenarian's ability to respond to a heavy work schedule while still creating more avenues to express his endowments and still alert strength informed that appraisal. Notwithstanding his retiree status, the "evergreen man of music," has remained on the vanguard of the activism for 'real Nigerian content in Nigerian music.'

An example of such campaign is the reawakening of highlife music consciousness which he championed along with the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), at the turn of the millennium, drawing in such institutions as the German Cultural Centre (Goethe Institute), Lagos. He has been a member and recently headed the French Cultural Centre sponsored organising committee of the yearly World Music Day in Nigeria. He also co-ordinates the monthly Highlife Party dubbed Elders' Forum which O'Jez Club hosts at the National Stadium, Lagos.

Maintaining his broadcasting passion, Idonije produces and anchors, several highlife and jazz music programs airing on prime time belts in about five radio stations within Lagos metropolis including Radio Nigeria's Metro FM and DAAR Communication's Ray Power. One of his popular weeklies on radio is Highlife My Life. The program's title aptly captures the ideological thrust of the grey-goatee bearing veteran journalist.

Like an orbit, his life has revolved around highlife and jazz music genres. These art forms of his preference, he has not only served his listeners and readers with the passion and keenness of a committed follower but also the additional touch of an anchor who seems to know how to win converts too. In writings, he opts for common language. Spending ample lengths for explain slants, trends and terminology of such a very technical field as jazz and orchestra. Sometimes he opts for background stories, narrating incidences that sets his reader on the spot of the musical development in question even if the event took place several years ago.
In broadcasting, the man who spent the last eight years of his service in FRCN teaching the art of sitting behind the microphone to young presenter is equally scholarly, but his edge is in a high pitched baritone voice that has acquired the status of a signature tune for the brand of music better known as 'oldies' and for matured minds.

A good 'grooming in the turf' (his kind of expression) prepared him for the calling. Starting broadcasting in the 1950s as an engineering assistant the Edo State born grand father climbed up the ladder in broadcasting learning through the ropes, across various departments of the radio house. Though his mind from outset was in presenting music programs he never got the chance to get behind the microphone easily. At one time he was a record librarian. The experience therein helped him soak up all information available about the music of the time. At another dispensation his duty was studio producing, and that afforded him a close knowledge of the leading artists Nigeria's independence era. From Fela Kuti, to Rex Lawson, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Roy Chicago, Victor Olaiya, E.C. Arinze, Bobby Benson and many other stars of the time, Idonije saw them from their relative music infancy to stardom

It was only in 1968, that he got a chance to talk music on the airwaves. And he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The program, Big Beats became a resounding success and he anchored it until 1976 when Radio Nigeria 2 started and he became one of the foundation staff. Talking nostalgically about Big Beats, he said: "It was the programme that actually made me popular even though I did it along with the presentation of my Jazz programme."

He was a presenter and producer in Radio Nigeria 2 until 1985 when was posted to FRCN Training School to teach presenting and producing. From there he retired as the head of production department at the training school in 1992 though he continued to teach in the school on contract.

Beaming with smiles all through the period accolades were poured on him amid pops of corked drinks and flashes of camera shots, Idonije seldom spoke but nodded in affirmation of some stories or just laughed as many openly wished they could be as alert and young in mind as him at 70. To him, life just rolls on. The man who at the age still learns even such trivia as computer keyboard jargons and the hush slush of street rap sloganeering notwithstanding his reserves for that genre said he sees himself as quiet very young. And he is indeed.

The celebration moved from the office of The Guardian Editor, Mr. Debo Adesina. There the top management officials including, Editor in Chief and Managing director, Eluem Emeka Izeze; chairman editorial board, Rueben Abati; The Guardian on Saturday editor, Banji Adisa, Anikulapo; Dafinone and assistant editor of The Guardian, Paul Okunola feted the bald music man and his friends.

At 70, Idonije, physically appearing over ten years younger does not hint of any softening of pedal rather he hints of more action and seeks more frontiers to express the streams in his fount. He explains: "I just have to strive to these things down for people coming behind because one cannot be around forever."

--Culled from The Guardian, Friday 16 June, 2006

*Photos: Jahman Anikulapo

Sunday, June 11, 2006

on salawa

She brought down the house with her most famous song, the title of which very few women know, though they know all the words. With plenty of attitude, Salawa Abeni and the women in the house sang the lines: "Won l'asewo ni mi - they say I'm a loose woman" - in what must surely now be regarded as a Yoruba feminist anthem.

Second half of the show, and the Waka queen emerged surprisingly unchanged fashion-wise, save for a fresh application of lip-gloss. In the true Yoruba musical tradition of praising oneself as one praises others, Abeni sang of herself onstage as: "Oloro tutu bii ti Mandela (soft-spoken as Mandela)." After Carry Go and E ji jo mi came the most emotionally touching moments of the show.

The above is from my piece on Salawa Abeni's show of 28 May in London - available to read online for one week only.

Related posts: 1, 2 & 3

ws: wole & wole

Playwright Wole Oguntokun penned Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka and has directed stage productions of the latter's plays (the last being Camwood on the Leaves) - is definitely not afraid of the Nobel Laureate.

Oguntokun was hob-nobbing with Soyinka at the great one's retreat in Abeokuta recently.

See the following posts on Oguntokun's blog:

an orange night

When news broke that Zadie Smith had won this year's Orange Prize for her book, On Beauty, I suddenly kicked myself, thinking I should have been there. Can't be everywhere of course. It reminded me however, of this scene above. Zadie Smith's win was almost two years to the day when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie went up to the podium to pick up her bouquet for making the 2004 Orange shortlist. Her book, Purple Hibiscus has travelled far since, and her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, is out later this summer.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Orange Nite
*Photo: Taken in the Room By The River, South Bank, London, 8 June 2004

iweala, award winner

Iweala wins award for Beasts of No Nation
June 7, Uzodinma Iweala was announced as The New York Public Library's 2006 Young Lions Fiction Award for his debut novel about a child solider, Beasts of No Nation

Iweala, who beat 4 other finalists to bag the honour, said: "It's great to be in such good company. It's good to know that people are interested in the topic of child soldiers, which is a terrible thing happening worldwide. There are about 300,000 child soldiers around the world. The fact that my book, Beasts of No Nation, can raise awareness of this issue and bring this to people's attention is very meaningful to me." Read more...

And it was a Beaut @ The Orange Prize for Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith won The coveted Orange Prize at third try earlier in the week with her 3rd novel, On Beauty.

femi osofisan @ 60 - June 14


Femi Osofisan is a critic, poet, novelist, essayist, lecturer, editor, publisher, culture activist, the most prolific, most performed and the most enthusiastically received playwright in Nigeria. He has written and produced over 40 plays. Numbered among them are Midnight Hotel, Morountodun, Who is Afraid of Solarin?, Birthdays are not for the Dying, and his latest play, Ajayi Crowther. His poems published under the pseudonym, Okinba Launko are Minted Coins and Dream Seeker on Diving Chain. His writing employs a range of literary devices such as humour, irony, song, dance folktale and fables. No doubt Osofisan says one of his favourite books is Toyin Falola's A Mouth Sweeter than Salt. Reason being “the quality of its language, its extraordinary use of proverbs, its humour, its sense of history, and the robust and rippling picture it paints of the history and the politics of Ibadan at a time contemporaneous with my own life in the city.”

Femi Osofisan was born 60years ago in Erunwon Village in the old western region of Nigeria. He was educated at the universities of Ibadan, Dakar and Paris. He has held several posts and won several awards, the most recent, the 2006 Fonlon-Nichols Award bestowed annually on an African writer for excellence in creative writing and for contributions to the struggles for human rights. Osofisan is stationed as the President of Pen Nigerian centre and was the immediate General Manager of the National Theatre, Lagos. He is married to Nike Osofisan, the first Nigerian PhD holder in Computer Science and they have four children.

Speakers include:
Biodun Jeyifo; Ossie Enekwe; Akinwunmi Isola; Olu Obafemi
- and - Folabo Ajayi-Soyinka; Promise Okekwe; Olu Obafemi; Yakubu Nasidi; Reuben Abati; Sola Olorunyomi -- and - Odia Ofeimun

Moderator: Ohi Alegbe
Date: Wednesday, 14 June 2005
Time: 4:00 – 6:30pm
Venue: Jazzhole,
168 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi.

*TEXT: A Press Release
*PHOTO: Taken at Terra Kulture, Lagos, 7 September 2005 - by MW

abuja special reading - june 29

The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter, announces its special June reading session.
The Guest Writer for the event is Ms Unoma Azuah, of Lane College, Jackson,Tennesse, United States of America and author of the novel, Sky-High Flames – adjudged the Urban Spectrum best national novel of the year 2006. Azuah is also the 2005 winner of the National Black Book Award as the USA’s best African-born writer.
All lovers of the literary arts are invited to this event which takes place at Reiz Continental Hotel, behind Nicon Insurance Plaza and adjacent to the National Library, Central Area, Abuja.
Date: Thursday, June 29, 2006
Time: 4:30pm
We suggest the novel is read before the event. Contact the Secretary (08027433095) for a copy. Discount for the first 15 purchasers.
Uduakobong Kanico

lapofest 2006

The 3rd edition of the annual Lagos Poetry Festival (LAPOFEST) holds in July, 2006. This year's edition of the great festival promises to be much more elaborate and more colourful than the previous ones. For one, the Festival, organised by the Lagos State Branch of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA Lagos),in conjunction with Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, will take place on two days, at two venues:
Day 1 (Friday, July 7, 2006): the main Campus of Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo; and
Day 2 (Saturday, July 8, 2006): National Gallery of Art (Aina Onabolu Complex), National Theatre, Iganmu.
Time (each day): 10.00 a.m.
The highlights of the Festival include intellectual discourse, poetry competitions (in four categories),drama, music and dance. The special guests expected at the 2-day Festival,whose theme is OUR LIFE, OUR POETRY, include: Chief Segun Olusola, Prof. Niyi Osundare, Prof Femi Osofisan, Prof Akachi Ezeigbo, Prof Steve Okecha, Odia Ofeimun, Dr Promise Okekwe and Dr (Mrs) Shambhavi Gopalkrishna.
Other key participants at the Carnival include: Dr Emman Usman Shehu, Dr Tayo Ogunlewe, Dr James Tsaaior,Yomi Olusegun-Joseph, Akeem Lasisi, Toni Kan Onwordi, Dagga Tolar, Austyn Njoku and Tunji Sotimirin.
The annual Poetry Festival is one of the major projects and programmes embarked upon by the current Executive Council of the Lagos State Branch of ANA,with a view to stimulating intellectual activity and reactivating Nigerians' interest in literature and the arts. The maiden edition of the Festival, generally adjudged a roaring success, was held on December 11, 2004.
More details about this year's edition will be released within two weeks of this publication.
Folu Agoi
Chairman, ANA Lagos

Sunday, June 04, 2006

emman usman shehu

President of ANA Abuja, the poet Emman Usman Shehu - welcomes writers & literature lovers to the 1st Cross Border Reading - with music.

*More photos 1, 2 & 3 ... all courtesy of ANA Abuja.

ana abuja... more

Second day, and there was music... courtesy of Musa Gurmi and his group - being sprayed here on the left by a member of ANA Benue.
Some of the participants on the closing night of the Cross-Border Reading.

Front row & sitting: Folu Agoi, chairman of ANA Lagos - is 4th from right.

*Photos: courtesy of ANA Abuja

more from abuja reading

More pictures from the ANA Abuja Cross Border ReadFest. On the right is Ifeoma Chinwuba (author of Merchants of Flesh, Fearless and the forthcoming
Waiting for Maria) giving a talk of "The Challenges of Writing" on the
second day of the event.

Austyn Njoku (standing) was one of many members of ANA Lagos who travelled to Abuja specially for the event. Here @ the British Council on opening night, he reads from Drumvoices Revue Vol. 13 (2005) where he was one of the New Nigerian Poets & Writers - as presented in the journal by Remi Raji.

*Photos: courtesy of ANA Abuja

ana lagos special reading - june 10

Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos Branch (ANA Lagos) hereby invites all members and friends of the creative community to the Special June Reading/Meeting of Lagos-based writers, which holds on Saturday, June 10, 2006.
Guest Speakers at the Special Reading are: Femi Adesina (Editor [Daily], The Sun newspapers) and Ayo Oyoze Baje (Member, Editorial Board, Daily Times newspapers). They will make cerebral presentations on the theme: The Writer in Democratic Processes.
The highlights of the reading, scheduled to hold at National Gallery of Art (Aina Onabolu Complex), National Theatre, Iganmu, from 2.00 pm, include poetry performances, drama presentations, and readings from creative works of new and established writers, and of course, critical appraisals.Authors and publishers are advised to bring their publications for exhibition and sale at the Reading, which will also feature a review of Rex Odoemenam's Weeping Shadows.
The Executive Council of ANA Lagos will hold a brief but crucial meeting after the reading.
Guild of Editors & Proofreaders' Inaugural Meeting
The inaugural meeting of the Guild of Editors and Proofreaders, recently founded by ANA Lagos, holds at National Gallery of Art (Aina Onabolu Complex), National Theatre, Iganmu, from 1.00 pm. All members (and aspiring members) are implored to come punctually, as vital issues will be discussed.
New ANA Lagos Secretarial
The Secretariat of ANA Lagos has been moved from 9, Eric Moore Close, Surulere, to 31, Shomade Crescent (Babajide Bus Stop), Off Alhaju Masha Street, Shitta, Surulere, Lagos.
Folu Agoi
Chairman, ANA Lagos

e wa jo

E Wa Jo means 'Come and Dance'...

The E Wa Jo company brings its African Arts & Culture Festival/fair to major shopping centres in the UK this summer.

To find out about how you can participate, sponsorhips or exhibitions during the fair, contact E Wa Jo by email: /tel: +44-7712045796

the estate - a play

Inspired by Chekhov but set in contemporary Lagos,Nigeria, Chief (Mrs) Adeyemi is engulfed in burial arrangements for her recently deceased husband, an influential entrepreneur with an extended family scattered across the globe. His children arrive from abroad to hear their father’s Will. As they divide his estate an unnatural turn of events takes place and sparks begin to fly...

So goes the promo for The Estate, a play by Oladipo Agboluaje directed by Tiata Fahodzi's Femi Elufowoju Jr at the Soho Theatre. I saw a reading of the play back in March. Ovation Magazine, NEPA, ambitious pastors, incest.. it's all touched on as the family members tear themselves apart over the inheritance.

The Estate is at the Soho Theatre, London - from 6 to 17 June.

ana cross border event

The 1st Abuja Cross Border Reading event took place last weekend 25, 26 & 27 May. Shown above at the event are (L-R) author of the novel Flowers Kissed by the Sun, Guest Writer Dr Umelo Ojinma; Ken Ike of the Abuja Literary Society; and the president of ANA Abuja, Emman Usman Shehu.

Here's a cross section of guests and participants at the May 25th Special May Reading. In the foreground (R-L) Ahmed Maiwada and Yitayo Yobolisa.

*Photos: courtesy of ANA Abuja

i believe i can fly

Yesterday's paper was full of sweaty footballers, some with striking good looks, some with spotty skin - all overpaid. Not to be outdone, the Weekend Magazine pullout of The Guardian published many many lush images of well oiled and buffed footballers they probably wanted the women to drool at. It became a bit much for me, quite frankly.

But they are forgiven, because they provided an antidote with this photograph of pure genius. It's Michael Jordan 'flying' to slam dunking glory in 1988.

If you wonder why Jordan is great, click on the image and let your jaw go - just like the good folks watching him Fly.

che guevara

This photograph on the right, by Alberto Korda, still carries the crease from where I folded my newspaper yesterday. It's just like me to embrace little imperfections like that. But nothing can take away from the unspeakable perfection of this fiercely beautiful, iconic image of the revolutionary, Che Guevara. This, to me, is the greatest photograph ever taken.

And yesterday, The Guardian (UK) provided a boon for Guevaranistas, with a profile of this image also known as Guerrillero Heroico.

Taken in Cuba in 1960 at a scene of national mourning - a funeral for victims of an explosion in Havana harbour.

Here's the late Korda's recollection of how he snapped Guevara.
"At the funeral ceremony for the dockers... Fidel Castro claimed immediately that it was the work of the Americans. Crowded on to the improvised platform beside him were Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and behind, in a zippered jacket arriving late, was Che Guevara, the man who had invited them to Cuba. Alberto Korda, a photographer then working for the newspaper Revolución, snapped away at the celebrities, recalling the event years later to Jorge Castañeda, one of Che's biographers. "Che was not visible; he was standing behind the rostrum. But for a moment there was an empty space in the front row, and in the background the figure of Che appeared. He unexpectedly entered my viewfinder and I shot the photo horizontally. I immediately realised that the image of him was almost a portrait, with the clear sky behind him."

Here's what the writer of the article has to say about Che
"I have written many times, in this paper and elsewhere, of meeting Che Guevara and being struck by his magnetic physical attraction, comparable to the aura of a rock star. Almost everyone had the same impression, and journalists were particularly susceptible. I thought he was beautiful."

Beautiful indeed...

An exhibition, Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon opens this week @ the V&A in London and displays till August 28.