Spent the morning watching Funmi Iyanda interview Obi Ezekwesili (Minister for Solid Minerals) with Q's from the audience. There is something about her which is compelling: her direct, practical approach, communication skills etc. If ever a woman should follow in the footsteps of Johnson-Sirleaf and be the second African woman President, she should be. She looked and sounded great. "I love being Nigerian" was my favourite quote - she looked resplendent in her Adire/tie-die boubou.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Spent the morning watching Funmi Iyanda interview Obi Ezekwesili (Minister for Solid Minerals) with Q's from the audience. There is something about her which is compelling: her direct, practical approach, communication skills etc. If ever a woman should follow in the footsteps of Johnson-Sirleaf and be the second African woman President, she should be. She looked and sounded great. "I love being Nigerian" was my favourite quote - she looked resplendent in her Adire/tie-die boubou.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
This beautiful looking book has just landed on my desk - it looks great:
Some of my posts may indicate that I'm an enlightened progressive chap. I like to think I am, but I have to admit things have slacked on that side (at least domestically) since I've been in Nigeria. We used to have a cook and cleaner (now we have just a cleaner) - so there was no need for me to familiarise myself with the kitchen. Plus I have no culinary talent or imagination (I have lazy default meals and get stuck presented with a limited range of stuff in the fridge and store), whereas Bibi is a talented cook with nutritional creativity aplenty.
So the days when I am to be seen in the kitchen doing stuff are few and far between. I havent washed a plate in ages (apart from once or twice as a guest back in London recently) - so much so that other friends I stayed with in the summer complained bitterly about my laziness around their house. And I have got used to people bringing my food to me (not even bothering to get up and fetch from the kitchen).
All of which might sound like false self-criticism; Jeremy gets to eat his food without contributing to the process, and then affords himself some whistful appraisal; however I do think its problematic when people (especially men) don't contribute to the running of the household. Power structures and forms of expectancy start to coalesce and reproduce themselves. Patriarchy begins with subtle moments of expectation like this. But its difficult to know what to do when there are others who can do kitchen stuff for you. I resolve to spend one day a week doing stuff in the kitchen...
I had this letter from the Head of Global News at the Beeb today (I'd complained about lack of coverage of the change in Nigeria):
Dear Dr Weate
Thank you very much for your E Mail to Helen Boaden of 24 November, which has been passed through to me. I completely agree with you that Nigeria is going through a very interesting stage of development politically and economically at the moment. It is also a very important market for the BBC World Service with over 21 million weekly listeners in Hausa and English.
I am not quite sure which part of the BBC’s coverage your complaint refers to. Our dedicated English output for Africa, particularly Network Africa, Focus on Africa and Africa, Have Your Say cover Nigeria in detail every week. Just to give you a few examples of our coverage on Focus on Africa over the last week – we have reported on Governor Alamieyeseigha’s expulsion from the PDP, the controversial carnival in Abuja and the court finding against the former Head of the Nigerian Police. We have interviewed the Bayelsa Governor himself about his return to Nigeria, the Chairman of the Judicial Committee of the Nigerian House of Representatives and Nuhu Ribadu, Head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. We have also talked to Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Charles Soludo, Governor of the Central Bank recently on debt forgiveness and the recapitalisation of banks. Africa Have Your Say was presented from Abuja last week.
The Hausa Service of course pays even more detailed attention to Nigeria including economic stories and has covered the privatisation of Nepa and the recapitalisation of Nigerian banks in detail. Last week for example they focussed on the Bank of the North with the outgoing Managing Director insisting they would meet the Central Bank’s deadline to recapitalise.
The Africa/Middle East Region has strong reporting teams in both Lagos and Abuja working to Jamilah Tangaza who is responsible for output in both English and Hausa. Jamilah and her team are in the process of moving to a larger office in Abuja which will enable us to do more live production from Nigeria as well as be co-sited with the BBC World Service Trust which is working on a number of projects focussing on media for development.
As for the wider BBC, a search on the BBC news website on the word Nigeria produces over 200 stories which were filed recently and we have plans for both our Newshour team and our Religious Programmes to go to Nigeria in the next few months to record programmes.
However there is no doubt that our coverage has suffered as we have been without a Lagos correspondent for several months this year. The situation will improve when Alex Last starts early in the New Year with a brief to get stories from Nigeria covered across all BBC news outlets. We are also due to open a new West Africa reporter post in Accra shortly in order to improve our coverage of West Africa as a whole, including of course Nigeria. Nigeria remains one of the minority of countries in the world where the BBC maintains a permanent bureau and this will remain the case.
Once these two key posts are in place, I am confident that our coverage of Nigeria will improve across the whole of our news coverage. If you would like to visit our Abuja office I know our Editor Jamilah Tangaza would be delighted to talk to you about our coverage in more depth.
Director, Global News Division
One of our favourite countries, Morocco has everything: style, design, climate, scenery, lovely markets etc.
Our friends in the UK have just set up a holiday house in the medina in Essaouira. Its nicely done up, inexpensive and the city is a great holiday destination (beaches, Marrakesh nearby, great market etc.)
Click here for more info.
A friend of my parents contacted me today. She is British - her partner is writing a book on corrugate iron's use in architecture. They have found out that a company in Liverpool shipped the roof for King Eyambo's palace in Calabar in 1843 (picture below). Does anyone know if the building is still standing?
I ran out of credit on my phone early this morning and something that happens all too regularly then took place: MTN's network buggered up, stopping me from being able to load more credit onto the phone. So I can't make calls. After 3 years of being in country, MTN (which should be rechristened Made to Trash Nigeria) still cannot get its backbone infrastructure sorted out - even though they have made more money in Nigeria in this short space of time than they have made in South Africa the whole time they have been running.
While the rest of the world (including other African countries) are now enjoying 3G network power, and are able to send video messages etc. Nigeria is many years behind the curve. Most people use a prepaid voucher system (like me) which means your finger nails get dirty with having to scratch the card. Those people I know on post-paid complain of continually getting cut off and having problems (hardly an incentive for switching). Technically, I think some of the networks here have some GPRS capability, but none of them (save Globacom) are making use of it for data services. Or perhaps they are, in which case, the marketing departments of the telcos are doing a terrible job.
All of which is madness - because Nigeria is a place where lots of money could be made out of data: very few people have internet access at home, people would love to send each other picture messages etc. Blackberry would make a killing here.
So quite why the telcos are dragging their feet is a mystery. One of the reasons must be that because there is no coordinated backbone infrastructure strategy from the Government, each company is having to build their own. So exactly analogous to power in Nigeria, where no one shares their generator, meaning that all the generator power in the country easily exceeds national requirements, so too, Nigeria will end up having surplus infrastructure leading paradoxically to connectivity deficits. The country's telecom network suffers from a lack of coordination, strategy and planning - so the buck must stop with the regulator - NCC.
Right now, I can't even make a phone call, let alone send data!
Monday, November 28, 2005
The past few days I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to return to reading literature; to have my being filled with acute observations from elsewhere lives, to nourish the vegetation that populates the landscape of my imagination. If we stop reading literature, we attenuate. I have been attenuating..
So I’m now going through the Somalian writer Nuruddin Farah’s Blood in the Sun trilogy (Maps, Gifts, Secrets). The first text Maps is difficult to begin (as with many of Toni Morrison’s works) – the language is treacle thick, and the time is non-linear, cycling and spiralling back on itself. But something remarkable is unfolding: the story of the geography of conflict (the war between Ethiopia and Somalia) and how it plays out and tears the seams at the most intimate level.
In an effort to get a clear sense of the frame of events, I read the interview with the author at the back of the book. From what he says, what drives him is depicting strong women (in homage to his mother, a well-known Somalian oral-poet). He is the archetype of a male feminist writer. It’s worth quoting a slice of a paragraph of his strikingly refreshing thoughts:
“I’ve said elsewhere that everything I’ve written is a tribute to the strength and wisdom with which my mother inspired me during my young years. Besides I tend to be attracted to strong women who can take the authority of their voice and use it effectively in order to defend their position, if only because I see women as a symbol of the subjugated self in everyone of us. I take it as given: that in every man there is a woman, and that in every woman there is a man, that there is a child in every adult. And that it is necessary to create the space in which everyone is free. I take it as given, too, that the society as a whole cannot be described as “democratic” until every man, woman and child is liberated from the constraints of male-stipulated system of subjugation, especially of women. To achieve this, you need strong women.”
What a beautiful hymn to emancipation..
Went to the Demas Nwoku event at the Sheraton on Sunday. The event is to mark the opening of the new culture centre in Ibadan - in a building designed and built by Nwoku, there will be Nigerian cultural resources and various programmes aimed at a reorientation around differing Nigerian cultural and aesthetic traditions.
The event was billed to start at 12. This being Nigeria, it didn't start until 2.30 - all the dignitaries being ushered in by talking drum and the usual pomp bs. Finally, around 3pm, Demas got up to give the opening address. Unfortunately, the PA system wasn't working properly (nor were the chandelier lights - they kept strobing on and off). Worse still, Demas talked in a whisper. So much so that we left early.
Fortunately, we'd had a look around the exhibits of paintings and sculptures while we were waiting. His paintings are mediocre, but the sculptures are gorgeous. I'll paste some pictures below.
I was struggling with a slow connection writing my last post. I wanted to add that anyone black, white or brown getting into politics now may be tempted into the Tory camp on the basis of 8 years of neo-Labour. Blair's rule has hardly been inspiring for youngsters, and there is always something tempting about underdogs. On some issues, the Tories are now to the left of Labour anyway - witness their resistance to the 90-day detention of suspected terrorists that came up recently. Older folks (mid-30's and above) have all too keen a memory of Thatcher and her many disasters (sinking of the Belgrano, denial of society, privatisation of the railways etc etc), so we could never switch to Blue.
As someone brought up in a politicised, left-wing environment and a Primitive Methodist family background two or three generations ago, it is hard to see Blair's years as anything other than a complete failure, morally and politically. It used to be said that devolution was an achievement, but what, apart from wads of cash burnt on a new building in Scotland, has that achieved? Blair came in on an Education Education Education ticket, but from what teacher friends tell me in London, so many children are wild and out of control. Nothing has been done with A-levels apart from nervous tinkering at the edges - when wholescale reform was clamoured for by those in the know. But the thing that History will damn him for is the Iraqi blood on his hands. We now know that around 500,000 children died during the sanctions (and the sinister oil-for-food programme) - Blair was around when this happened. And Blair's subsequent collusion with the Bush morons and all those dodgy dossiers will sink his reputation for good. Just as Bush is now seen as the worst President in living memory, so too, Blair's premiership will be seen as one of the weakest in modern history - giving in to every last neo-con whim.
The hope is that when Brown comes in, some kind of rapprochement will take place with traditional socialist values: the importance of Unions, limitations on Corporate power (such as a strong definition of Corporate Manslaughter), as well as a build up in the renationalisation movement (making the railways fully nationalised again), as well as a less interventionist foreign policy.
But beyond all this, climate change is surely the biggest issue that faces us all. It looks like the greenhouse effect came too quickly to be mitigated by peak oil. Something drastic needs to be done, and Europe can lead the way. America needs to be isolated by the world in its refusal to sign up even to Kyoto. There needs to be more investment in new solar technologies (especially the new printed sheet tech). On these issues, none of the mainstream parties are facing up to realities.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Well that is the last time I'm recommending to anyone to read a Murdoch rag for any reason. I was told by someone in the BBC that there would be a big spread so I duly passed it on (even got my folks to buy it, and they gave up buying the ST about a decade ago - after my nagging). But it was worth getting MW to buy it for her forensic examination of the way in which it is subtly (and not-so-subtly) racist. There is an all-pervasive white supremacy in the UK that is incredibly subtle but always there. It is hard to detect because oftentimes it doesn't take place at the level of language or discourse - its more in the way events are framed. While London is one of the most multicultural cities on earth (visually) one should not be fooled into think all is well under the House of Windsor.
Unfortunately, as with feminism, our times have moved away from radical contestive discourses on race. White people think all is well because there are equal-opportunities policies in place. Let me give an example of how crass race can be: a son of a close Nigerian friend in the UK started going to a famous Catholic school (previously attended by the Blair's sons). They have a regulation at this school that boy's hair should not be too short - at the least it should be about 1 and 1/2 inches. Now this might stop white boys looking like skinheads, but it obviously spells disaster for the parents of a black child trying to make their son look all neat and natty. In this example, nothing is said that is racist, however the policy itself does not cater for difference, and is therefore inadvertently racist. Of course, black people could give thousands of similar examples. The sad thing is that unlike the 1980's, there is no radical challenging voice forcing white folks to wake up.
Young Nigerians and the Tories
I've recently met some young (20something) Nigerians in the UK, some of whom are Tories. This is somewhat discombobulating. It's always been hard to swallow that some black people could vote for this smug bunch of Rotary club racists. Of course I'm aware that this is a bit of a problematic attitude. You could also say that there is very little difference between the main parties these days, so what does it matter? But a little bell inside me keeps insisting that if only 24 year olds had experienced Thatcher and her disasterous policies, they would change their mind. Oh well. To each her own.
gets in on the blogging tip. She is a self-confessed contradiction and dramaqueen, so this one is going to be interesting...
Check Aye Toro's new blog - good place to catch up on contemporary afrobeat trends and interesting contemporary African cultural stuff.
Article on Alama in the UK Sunday Times. As I dont have access to the paper, I'm not sure if there's other stuff on Nigeria elsewhere. A contact at the BBC said there was a 'spread'. I continue to push for more positive news on Nigeria from the UK press..
As the year is coming to a close, I was thinking about what will happen in Nigeria next year. Although there is sure to be the usual turbulence, I think Nigeria is going to surprise the world. Here's why:
1. Banking consolidation will stabilise the economy. The new big banks (First Bank merging with Ecobank, UBA-STB, Oceanic-Stanbic etc) will add more ballast to the economy and engender trust. With a much larger shareholder base to satifsy, the banks will turn to internal investment opportunities. Foreign capital should flow in more steadily than before.
2. The reform process will gather pace, in the final push before 2007. Tafa Balogun, Alama etc are just the beginning of the good work the EFCC are doing. This should mean there is less money swilling around to swing elections unfairly, leading to a fairer election in 2007. The focus on State-level reform based on activity-based budgetting should mean more money ends up where it is needed. Of course, none of this is going to be a smooth ride, but it looks like Obj is pushing the boat strongly in the right direction.
3. The telecoms sector should strengthen. I'm not sure about the impacts of the Universal licence regime coming in, but it should be the equivalent of banking consolidation: fewer and stronger telcoms companies, which should lead to better customer service. The eventual privatisation of NITEL and SAT-3 will be a major catalyst for growth and development..
4. Chinese and South African investments in Nigeria will increase apace. The mooted national rail network would dramatically alter the business potential of the country.
So I think as we look to 2006, we should focus on these very positive opportunities for the country. All the negative stuff is just friction along the way..
Saturday, November 26, 2005
There's going to be a big spread on Nigeria in the UK Sunday Times tomorrow - those living in the UK please check out. I hope it doesn’t focus on the negative too much.
Meanwhile, we went to the Abuja craft fair this morning. It was ok, except the only people there were people selling stuff and the odd troupe of people (probably remnants of the march I saw on Thu). It’s a shame - Nigeria has huge tourist potential, but they don't seem to understand the basics here – marketing, publicity, presentation, attention to detail etc. Why not have a heritage day (public holiday) like they do in South Africa? That way, if you are going to have a celebration on a weekday, there'll be people to attend. Perhaps they could do this next year.
Meandering round the craft fair, I realised something else. We Westerners can't help ourselves and the way our desire is constructed - when we want to buy stuff (unless we're tacky people from Essex or equivalent) we want stuff that looks as authentic as possible. We want masks that look fetishistic and old (even if they are not). The trouble is, many Nigerians are in some way embarrassed of too many masks (and spiritual forces that may lurk). So the Western tourist doesn’t get to buy an old-looking mask, and no sale is made. Such a contrast to Ghana, where they know exactly what we want and sell it in droves.
The two other things tourists/Westerners want to buy are ceramics and textiles. There were one or two okayish pieces from the Bwari and Marabara (Kaduna) potteries, but they were way overpriced (its much cheaper to buy pieces at source). The same went for some interesting woven mats from Taraba state – N1500 for a 6ft by 3ft mat (which you could pick up for 1/3 the price in the village. We also picked up a brochure from Bauchi State – it looks like there is some beautiful scenery on the way into the State from Jos, as well as Yankari National Park, loads of elephants etc etc. The States need to employ people who understand the Western mindset in order to pull the tourists in and give them what they want. Nigeria should be able to attract more tourists than the East/South Africa safari crowd. I offer my services as a tourist consultant - but be warned: I'm not cheap..
Friday, November 25, 2005
Abuja is no longer safe. In the past two weeks, I know two people who have had their hands shot (resulting in serious injury) in broad daylight. A house on our street got hit last night, as did some consultants I work with. Someone who works in the ministry lost her car at 2pm in the afternoon last week. Given that I have all these stories, how many armed assaults have happened in Abuja in the past few weeks...
The president is playing a clever game by staying quiet on the Alama/Bayelsa fiasco. The reality is, he doesnt have to say anything. Slowly but surely, Tummy-Tuck is going to be forced out of office (by impeachment, or by appeal to the gross misconduct section of the Constitution).
Once he's turfed out, the EFCC will want to put him on trial. But I imagine the more pressing issue will be extradition back to the UK proceedings. Jumping bail will mean that the chances of another escape will be reduced to zero. He has nowhere to run or hide. I'm sure Nigeria will breathe a collective sigh of relief when he gets extradited. With Tafa doing bird and TT back in the UK, confidence will be restored in the anti-corruption drive..
forget Nicon or the other places. The best place to stay is the Meridian. Its cheaper, less hectic, the rooms are nicer, and they have free wireless internet in the hotel. The management are doing a good job (and no one paid me to say this!)
How hypocritical that some people are shunning the carnival on moral grounds. Why is there such scorn for nudity in certain quarters (not that there is any during the carnival)? What is wrong with the naked body? And why in Africa, where it is mostly warm and many cultures have a tradition of partial or total nudity, is there now such a taboo? Carnival is a time for release of the stresses of life, for wine, women/men and song. But even those who dont desire wine, women/men and song can enjoy the music and the spectacle. Or do we have Taliban-esque elements in our midst?
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Ive got hold of some details about this carnival we're having here. So those in Abj, come along. Those not in Abj or even Ng, try and be envious:
The ABUJA CARNIVAL 2005, the first ever carnival in Abuja and a showcase traditional African Carnival of Music, Dance and Arts has begun (as you may noticed from the road closures) and will continue until the 27th November 2005.
The schedule of events is 24th Thursday: Opening ceremony (carnival will be declared open by President Obasanjo) at 10am at Eagle Square. Children's carnival will be declared open at 3pm at Millennium Park.
25th Friday: Durbar procession from 9am -1pm along the Carnival Route (starting at Carnival Office and proceeding along Shehu Shagari Way, Eagle Square, Ahmadu Bello Way). Durbar at Royal Equestrian Club (opposite IBB Golf Club, Asokoro) at 3pm.
Cultural drama and dance at Zuma Hall, Rockview Hotel at 7pm. 26th Saturday: Masquerade Fiesta at 9am along Carnival Route. Boat Regatta at Lower Usman Dam at 3pm. Children's Carnival at Millenium Park at 3pm (some reports say that this might start at 9am), and cultural drama and dance at Zuma Hall, Rockview Hotel at 3pm. 27th Sunday: Closing ceremony and awards Eagle Square at 9am.
The Craft Village (thatched huts opposite the Sheraton) will be the venue for the craft fair (crafts from around Nigeria including a large selection of pottery at the FCT tent) and food festival from the 24th-27th of November. The Craft Village should be open from 9am-9pm. This info is correct to the best of my knowledge, hope it helps you to enjoy the carnival! For more info contact the Abuja Carnival Office, 173, Kumasi Crescent. Tel 09 6726005.
Things arent exactly going swimmingly with the Western press either - especially when it comes to representations of my adopted country. Why did the vote on the new constitution in Kenya (which failed miserably) get so much airplay, when recent events in Nigeria got none? Nigeria is way more significant geo-politically and continentally than Kenya (what has East Africa got except a few lions and giraffes?)
But rather than just fuming on my blog (my suspicion is there are powers out there who don't want and have never wanted Nigeria to be too powerful), I've tried to do something about this lazy attitude. If it gets anywhere, I'll let you know. My motto is always: if not now then when? If not you, then who?
The carnival started this morning - floats representing each state of the Federation. At 9am in the morning, people in magnficent costumes, face paint etc were singing and dancing. All the sonic complexity of Nigeria was on display - beguiling Northern snake-charmer-esque flute music, the skittering rhythms of fuji etc.
Trouble is, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture has done the usual balls-up on advertising the event. So there was no one watching this morning as the dancers sweated their way along Shehu Shagari way. And no one seems to know what the programme is, or why there is a carnival in the first place (what are we celebrating?)
Some groups are anti-festival: a Northern muslim group who does not want "fetish" practices to be associated with Nigeria (as if hausa culture has no such). Meanwhile, the musicians union is boycotting the event because some anti-copyright govt person was sacked recently.
The Tourism minister defended the event (which has cost many hundreds of millions of naira) by saying that it is the centrepiece of Nigeria's tourist calendar. He boasted that "several families from America" are travelling over. Should we laugh or cry?
Its a real shame because the floats and costumes and music were quite something this morning, as cars whizzed by. The only spectators were okada drivers (pics to follow later)
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Im beginning to have an inkling about what it must have been like to have lived in Nigeria during the times of Shagari/IBB/Abacha and all the other thieves and fools. On the Monday, a Governor sneaks back into the country dressed as a pregnant woman, evading money laundering charges in the UK. On the Tuesday, the former Inspector General of the Police gets less than 4 months in prison after stealing over 16 billion naira from the people of Nigeria. What a complete indictment of the legal system in this country that criminal activity on this scale gets so lightly rewarded. How can anyone rebuild faith in the system when such travesties take place?
Wave after wave of absurd levels of corruption must have been like 20 rounds against Mohammed Ali in the late 1970s. No wonder the press is so weak here.
I resort to repeating the following phrase, which speaks of the law of Karma:
"There are no gifts. There is no cheating."
Work it out for yourself.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Whether its true or not, this is the word: Alama promised N77m to a juju guy to bring him back home. The guy visited the Stomach in London and was promptly given his advance. The witchdoc told him to dress as a woman etc. From the time he arrived at Heathrow he vanished, magically appearing in Port Harcourt the next morning (presumably out of a fog of ectoplasm)..
which dont use insecticide. Read this interesting article published in today's WorldChanging.
Monday, November 21, 2005
A Song for the woman who..
I look for man for up
I look for man for down
I look till I tire for waka
From Naija to Bahia.
We should sing a song for the women who have learnt to say no and how to sing yes.
The women who don't follow the least resistant path.
The women who don't take what comes when it comes as it comes.
We forget as we stride through life that there are so many hidden spaces around us where unknown beings suffer with bold delicacy, saying no, yearning for the day when singing yes will be a song for what will be the right yes.
We forget the value of solitude, and the difficult striving to value solitude, and how solitude can calmly turn its back on us for a thousand nights and leave us with its blunt hollow: loneliness.
Our lives are so full of interfaces and yet so empty of meaning. The glow of the laptop lights up a room full of shadows. Poetry and a poetic existence recede into the corners, tamed by the electric glare.
And yet the woman who says no and yearns for yes continues in her struggle, as others indulge themselves with their lack of meaning, reaching for the fridge or the remote.
We crave the image of being with someone, of following that easy path, and in our craving we miss out on the suffering that is necessary for a life etched into contours with rich emotion. The landscape of our desires flattens in the process, and we are pushed along a familiar narrative like a box on a conveyor belt.
When what we should be doing is stopping, shutting down movement for a second and glancing in wonder at a life which casts a matrix of meaning out into the world like a spider, just as we find it so easy to wonder at the just-born child. We have much to learn from the stillness of this silent way.
We should then always sing a song for the woman who creates life, for life is all we have. But we should also always sing a song for the woman who searches for meaning beyond meaning, for the woman who says no but can sing the most melifluous yes, offering life in an equally wondrous way.
[click here to go to the original post]
Now how did he manage to shift his fat ass to Nigeria? He will surely face the wrath of Ribadu. There is going to be one hell of a powerplay in the next few days. Will Obasanjo allow him to return as Governor?
Went to see Macbeth @ the British Council on Saturday. Out-of-Joint, led by Max Stafford-Clark, is a leading UK theatre company (Stafford-Clark ran the Royal Court theatre for years - London's leading experimental theatre company).
The performance was a site-specific promenade around the British Council's lush gardens, creating a real sense of intimacy between audience and cast. The play was African-themed, with Macbeth and cohorts cross-dressing like Charles Taylor's henchmen, as well as with child soldiers. The sound engineering (sounds of crows, owls etc) blended well with the tropical night sounds of cicadas and other insects making their nachtmusik.
The one mistake was to get the witches speaking in French - everyone waits to hear the Fair is Foul Foul is fair lines. Apart from that, the performance was excellent, with Bibi's old friend Danny Sapani excelling in the lead role.
I was chuffed that the company came to Nigeria (the only African country) as part of their world tour.
Borrowed this image from Black Looks' blog (she in turn borrowed it from the Pilgrimmage to Self blog.) The serious question it raises is this: Ipods cannot become fashionable accessories on this continent unless there is an IT infrastructure in place (no infrastructure = no cheap speedy internet access for all). One of the huge problems in Africa is that most leaders are old men who have no clue about the significance of IT, or even if they appear to, it is empty rhetoric. If there ever was a good use for post-colonial guilt money, it would be in helping to build a trans-continental fibre backbone. That way, this poor chap could have a slim white object in his pocket instead..
Sunday, November 20, 2005
View of the dereliction in front of the mosque on Amino Kano..The FCT minister El-Rufai has been demolishing buildings built illegally in Abuja. The problem for many of the landowners was that they thought they had bought the land legitimately..
That's the thing about Nigeria - it doesnt allow you to be depressed for too long. Minutes after posting my blog, I received an email from the author of this fantastic blog on African architecture.
I woke up this morning and had the familiar sense of lack: missing the UK quality Sunday Papers (I used to read The Independent and The Observer - although the latter has increasingly irritated me, especially on Iraq and Neo Labour). Its not quite the same buying the Sunday This Day or Guardian in Nigeria.
Even if you can cope with the page-by-page spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and disastrous journalism (overlong articles without context or any kind of critical overview, all badly printed), the self-reflexive mentality of the content is depressing.
If we take the world-view of Nigeria as represented by the papers, Nigerians have no conception of the world outside of Nigeria itself, or of its role in the geo-political scheme of things. What we see represented in the papers is the skewed mindset of the elite: the elite at pray, the elite at owambe parties, the elite doing what they do: provide poor leadership and perpetuating class war. As someone said in an earlier comment on this blog, calling them the 'elite' is a misnomer in itself. They are simply a group of people who have access to resources in Nigeria (and abroad) that other Nigerians don't.
This mild depression was compounded when trying to engage with Bibi's younger sisters this morning (both are in their 20's and staying with us at the moment). I find it hard to understand people in their 20's who have less energy than I. I expect 20 somethings to spend Friday night partying, experimenting with drugs, or ideas, or something. Anything! 20-year olds with no curiousity or a desire to challenge the previous generation is a scary prospect for the future.
It is sadly all too common amongst 20 something Nigerian girls to aspire to having four children. As our driver's wife has just had her 5th, and someone in our compound has just had her 4th, I find this attitude completely repulsive and nihilistic. The idea that a woman should define herself by wanting to have a litter of children is some kind of sick misogynistic joke. Apart from being selfish and indulgent (and based on a completely bovine intellectual laziness and an inability to think of one's potential in any other way than biological), it is also a disaster for both Africa and the planet. Let me explain:
We know now that most oil territories are at or approaching peak-oil. We also know that oil was a fantastically cheap source of energy which enabled the population of the planet to multiply in the previous century. It also looks like humans will not find a suitable replacement that will be as cheap for as many. In which case, the mother of all global resource wars will hit the children of 20 somethings today, if it doesnt hit the 20 something generation themselves, unless there are much stronger controls on population increase around the world. In which case, the vapid desire to become a baby-factory is more than just a revellation of the empty, diseducated head of the typical young Nigerian woman: it is also a threat to the future security of Africa and the planet itself.
What we have in most 20 something Nigerian girls (and boys) is a lost generation, succumbing to mythic fantasies, pathetic notions of what it is to be a woman, pseudo religious claptrap and without a direction in life apart from ineluctable mass-procreation. African feminism has a mountain range to climb to challenge this desperate situation!
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Friday, November 18, 2005
The fantastic news that at last Africa has a female president thanks to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's resounding victory over the ball-kicker in Liberia should give Nigeria pause to think. What gender are the politicians and public servants who are effecting most positive change in Nigeria at the moment?
Whether its Dora at NAFDAC, Ngozi upstairs from me at the Finance Ministry, Obey at Solid Minerals (formerly at Due Process) etc etc - all are women. So why is the question not being asked: should the next President of Nigeria not also be a woman?
Does anyone else find current blog platforms (Moveable Type, Blogger, WordPress etc) really limited? Apart from Audioblogger (which allows you to upload audio clips to your blog - but only via a US phone number), its difficult/impossible as far as I know to upload audio or video to your blog. Obviously, there is a storage limitation going on here. But then I'm sure quite a few people would pay for the extra storage needed. I guess the various companies will get their act together one day. I look forward to audio-visual blogs - which will begin to threaten tv as the preferred medium of entertainment and news gathering. Or perhaps there is a conspiracy at work which is halting the progress of blog tech?
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Check this out - a nicely designed Jand site. I'm quite sure I know who's behind it. Its interesting to look in on the whole Jand phenomena and how its refiguring UK black culture and identity away from an historically Caribbean bias. Brief jottings on a blog like this can't do justice to the complexity of the topic but never mind:
The combination of second-generation Nigerian get-up-and-go mixed with a form of diasporic enquiry is generating a new form of black identity that does not align itself with the "black-british" mold. A different set of identity-conflicts present themselves based around the following:
1. Relationship with Mothership Nigeria
2. Relationship with historically black-british culture(s)
3. Relationship with white culture which differs from that of the inherited black cultural context.
4. Internal class relationships (often based around differing London postcodes - Peckham or Tottenham vs Hendon or NW London for instance).
5. Internal ethnic conflicts (often at one remove for second-generation Nigerians and therefore at risk of being idealised)
I'd like to hear more from second-generation Janders about the above - I'm sure we'll hear more about it from cultural theorists in the academy in years to come.
I'm also sure that just as British culture since the late 1950's has been immeasurably enriched by caribbean infusions, so too we are witnessing the beginnings of an Africanisation of that wonderful mongrel: British culture.
1. Go to www.google.com
2. Type in "failure"
3. Then click the "I'm feeling lucky" button.
Quite a lot of interesting stuff on the musician Lagbaja's site.
One factor that is seldom looked at in the way Nigeria is represented and branded is the influence of foreign journalists based here. Without naming names, my experience meeting people that work as the Nigeria rep for large well-known media organisations is not a wholesome one:
1. They regard themselves as heroes for coming to a place like Nigeria
2. They only report bad stuff
3. When quizzed about this, they respond by guffing on about how difficult it is to achieve "balance"
4. Once their one or two year stint is over, they go back to the UK and lord it over everyone with their "insights" into Africa, joining organisations such as Chatham House or doing that posh MA at the Institute of War Studies or whatever its called
5. Most of them have lived cossetted lives (from Home Counties upbringing to public school etc). Their idea of going to Africa is on a par with the Karen Blixen ideal
6. The upshot: nothing changes - the image of Africa as a land of helpless victims continues.
Without wishing to tar everyone with the same brush, these people are in general the sink estate of the 4th estate and are to be avoided. If you read their stories in the papers, please sprinkle lots of salt on top. Part of the point of my blog is to counterbalance all the stuff they write.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
As much as I like to be as optimistic as possible about Nigeria, its hard for this attitude not to take a dent when you hear stories like the one that hit the local press today: Senate President Ken Nnamani ordering a N40million armour plated Lexus. All one can do is hope that the outcry in the press will put pressure on the Legislature to avoid this happening. There is only one word for the kind of mindset of a politician that would opt to spend so much taxpayers' money on a car of that expense when so many people go by from day to day without enough to eat: sick.
I blew quite a bit of dosh on music while in London – partly because I’ve just discovered Sounds of the Universe – the record shop of Soul Jazz records on Broadwick St in Soho – which quite possibly doesn’t sell an album I wouldn’t love to own. So far, I’ve listened to the new Osunlade compilation, Ibara, which is excellent: his trademark syncopated soulful house producing various artist’s tracks. Last night I played the Pharoah Sanders anthology which has also just come out. The first few tracks are majestic – showing the influence of late Coltrane but with that laidback Sanders’ afrolilting cadence.
Meanwhile, Abuja has hit the heat and dust of harmattan, when the Sahel dust rolls in and creates a mazy atmosphere around the city. My projects with the EU have been treading water in my absence – its time to give them all a good kick up the backside before the Christmas shutdown. I’m looking forward to the end of December – we’ll spend Christmas with friends in Lagos, then we’re off to Calabar (for the first time) – to the famed Obudu Cattle Ranch (a piece of Scottish landscape and climate) on the border with Cameroon) and to the Monkey Reserve. Can’t wait..
Monday, November 14, 2005
think I may have ruptured myself again after hulking my suitcases about to the airport yesterday. At the airport, exactly as last time I left Heathrow for Nigeria in the summer, the place was crawling with Plymouth Brethren (a christian sect recognisable by the fact the women wear headscarves). Also, a senior minister was on my flight (she was on my flight last time). Weird, random, meaningless coincidences..
Now my body is getting used to the 35 degrees heat (after 8 degrees average in London the past couple of days). Back to 280 emails and a whole bunch of fires to stamp out. So this will have to be short.
Its good to be back.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Yesterday was my last full day in the UK in 2005. I schlepped to Islington to see The Constant Gardener - starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Wiesz. The film is set in Nairboi, and explores a conspiracy between a big pharmaceutical company and the British Government in testing new drugs on shanty town dwellers. The film has been lauded by the film press and in the papers - the Director Fernando Meirielles' last movie being City of God.
Apart from being overly melodrammatic, the main problem of the film is a common problem in films with white people set in Africa: the black characters are all incidental bit parts. The only major black character's role (a doctor friend of Weisz' character) smacks of being woven into the film to avoid having a completely obvious white-foreground, black-background bifurcation. All we see of African Nairboi is a Kibera-esque slum with corrugated roofs into the distance and thousands of kids everywhere. Ultimately, Kenyans are represented as having no agency or any form of resistance to corporate power. The film is therefore racist, with that subtle brand of racism the British excel at.
This morning I did some last minute errands in Clerkenwell, stopping to admire the beautiful autumnal colours of fallen leaves in a nearby churchyard. I'm glad to be going back to Nigeria, and to warmth and to see Bibi.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Had an interesting conversation with Uncle P last night about African dance and its relations to spirituality. In contrast to Western Dance, which is simply a set of physical forms, African dance tends to be one aspect of a more holistic cosmological schema. In other words, African dance is never just about dance and physical movement. The example of the Yoruba drum ensemble (the beginning of the dance) beginning with the 'mother drum' is a case in point - the mother here referring to the ground of all rhythm being a maternal principle (the mother drum is often mistranslated into being the master drum, losing cosmic relevance). Just as the mother brings the child into the world, the mother drum brings the dance into being.
The two examples Mr P introduced were dances of possession with the Bori (hausa) culture of northern Nigeria and Sango devotees in Yorubaland. In both cases, devotees can fall into a trance-like possession state, where the body is said to be being 'ridden' by the spirit. The ways in which the body moves in these states of possession is not at all random writhing; rather, formal patterns and motifs can be witnessed (eg, the Bori leap into the air and can fall in a sitting pose from a great height). Although we associated spiritual possession with a kind of epileptic movement, in fact possession can be seen as a form of dance, with bodily patterns and techniques involved, stemming from a kind of native or collective genius of movement.
I asked whether there could be any possible rational explanation for these phenomena: perhaps there is a kind of bodily archetype (an incorporated version of Jungian philosophy) that the body can draw upon in deep-consciousness states. Just as there are broadly different forms of movement in different cultures (an emphasis on hip movement in various Latin cultures etc), these different forms could be motivated at a deeper level by primal patterns of rhythm which in certain contexts can also be associated with spiritual manifestations. Peter had little time for my rationalising: "it is a mystery that cannot be explained in western terms."
What remains is this: that African dance reveals how spirit and body were never cleaved apart from each other, as they have been since Descartes in the West. We westerners love to dance, but we have forgotten how our dancing has its roots in the spirit, and how are longing for trance-like possessive states are at the same time a longing to be ridden by the spirit.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Thrilled to realise that there is a Banksy right near where I am staying in Clerkenwell - this work of art to be precise. The Banksy phenomena cannot fail to fascinate: an anonymous graffiti artist from Bristol (home of graffiti art in the UK) who straddles the art world and radical politics - his piece de resistance being the work earlier this year on the israeli wall. His new book Walls and Piece is in the front windows of many London bookshops.
This is what the company says about Nigeria International:
Nigeria International is a weekly magazine-style television programme to be broadcast around Nigeria, and around the world to Nigerians. It aims to provide a realistic and up-to-date view of Nigerians' fortunes, challenges and opportunities at home and abroad.
You can watch the weekly Nigeria International tv magazine at these places:
Online at Nigerian Village Square
DSTV channel 155 (NTA) Fridays @ 7:30pm
Sky Digital Ch 184 (Ben TV) Fridays @ 9:00pm
We need loads more Internet-based tv from Nigeria. We're planning it for a future phase of www.lagoslive.com Thisspacewatch
Thanks for the book MW - I will surely pass it on to the poet while getting a sneak clean-fingered preview to boot. You spur me on ever further to learning your melifluous language. I'd wanted to go to the RKSW event last night but the South Bank Ticket Office woman told me it was Returns only - a long way to hobble only for the door to close in my face. I hope the event went well..
Public intellectuals: apply within
Thinking of KSW, Nigeria needs new public intellectuals to take over the tireless struggle of Soyinka and crew (they deserve to rest now and drink their palm wine and have their feet rubbed in peace) - perhaps some of the new forces were there last night? My friend Bolaji Risiji may be one of those to emerge onto a wider platform with his work with PRONACO and NNNGO.. but there needs to be many more sharpened tongues to point the way forward to social and ethical transformation in Motherland. With an economic boom coming next year post bank-consolidation, Nigeria doesnt want to go the way of China: economic growth + suppression of democracy - a recipe for disaster in the long term.
A theatrical proposal
Someone should write a morality-tale about the people of Lisa and the Bellview crash - doesnt it remind you of an Attic or Shakespearean tragedy: the fall of the Elder who orchestrated the looting of watches etc from body parts on that night; the way in which the police were alerted (only on account of a fall-out between villagers on who deserved what amount of stolen booty) and now the N1000 each villager has been forced to pay to avoid confrontation with the angry ghosts whose watches and money were pilfered). This is prime source material for dramatisation - reflecting back the moral depravity at work even in a rural Nigerian setting (rural Nigeria, as in Dele Olojede's speech, is often taken to be free of urban moral decay). Its time a dramaturgical mirror was help up on contemporary Nigeria, instead of relying on plays from twenty or so years ago. Only then perhaps will people be shocked into moral transformation and away from religious hypocrisy. Someone start writing now!
More on the constitution: State of Origin
Musing through the Ng constitution again, it strikes me you can argue that the divisive and pernicious State of Origin regulation (whereby legal proof of identity is traced back through the father's line - such that if you ask a Nigerian where they are from, they are conditioned to respond by saying that they are from wherever their father or grandfather is from, regardless of where they grew up) is actually unconstitutional, if you take section 15 in its entirety.
Although only passed into law in the 1970s, the State of Origin rule is now second nature to most Nigerians. It acts as a barrier to a more unified country with intermingling of ethnicities. Surely it must be challenged by PRONACO - it lies underneath all discussion about resource control etc as a key divisive factor. Here's an example to illustrate how it works: When my host Mr Badejo grew up (pre State of Origin) in Kaduna (as a yoruba boy), he had no sense of being different to the other boys he played with: all shared a Northern culture; all spoke Hausa (and other languages). His youthful equivalent today, thanks to State of Origin, would not be permitted to say "I am from Kaduna" - he would have to say "I am from Osogbo" (or wherever the father's line is traced back to). In this way, a common cultural heritage based around a common regionalised background is denied. It is against this legal backdrop that violent clashes between "settlers" and "indigenes" can flare up.
Believe it or not, there are powerful forces out there who believe the Nigerian constitution does not need to be reformed. My own personal beef is the sexism written into the constitution, such that only women marrying Nigerian men can become citizens. See article 26.2 (a) (Chapter III of the Constitution). It is blatant sexism that a Nigerian woman cannot confer citizenship on her non-Nigerian husband.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Hmmm - I hadnt realised that Osuofia's song could be taken seriously - it was obvious to me at least that the comedian was merely articulating a common feeling about 419ing: that those greedy and stupid enough to fall for it pretty much deserve to become its victims. Rather than a celebration of 19'ers, it is much more pocking fun at avaricious types who get swindled by it. Which is why the EFCC's attempt at banning the song was a little wrong headed methinks.
Perhaps the fact that a serious interpretation has been floating around the blogosphere proves what many people have said: that irony is often lost on Nigerians!!
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
419 atilogwu song
o se AAA for the link.
Hobbled to see De Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arrete, clumsily translated as The Beat that my heart skipped (why not My Heart Skipped a Beat - at least it scans!) by Jacques Audiard - director of the brilliant Read my Lips two or three years ago. Went to one of my fav London cinemas - Curzon Soho. Unfortunately, the reviews have been good and the theatre was full of people sneezing and munching on popcorn (ugh). I intensely dislike full cinemas and people troughing on buckets of popcorn with bovine content.
The film is as good as the previous one: the main character is a Parisian commercial real estate wide boy with a dead pianist mother. He bumps into his mother's former manager which gives him the idea to take up the piano again. He hires the services of a Chinese non-french speaking woman to train his fingers on the keyboard after 10 years of wheeler dealing. Their silent hours at the keyboard together slowly pull him out of the hardball underworld of property dealing (where hands get scarred) to a graceful world of fingers stroking keys. Its interesting that the film is a remake of a 1970s film called Fingers: the hands are the locus of transformation from a nefarious life to a life of beauty.
A simple enough plot. What makes the film is the acting of the lead, Romain Duris. He looks like a lither, meaner Daniel Day Lewis, struggling to recover all that was lost when his mother died. On a deeper level, the film is an exploration of the relationship between memory and value, and how the way our hands interact with the world to a large part prescribes what kind of world we end up interacting with.
My host is a newly qualified primary school teacher in London, currently doing supply work. She is sad to report that many Yoruba boys have behavioural problems (as do Sudanese boys). As a Yoruba woman, it is obviously distressing for her. There seems to be much less of a problem with other Nigerian boys. One wonders what the issue is: is there a stronger expectancy on the mother to rear and stear the Yoruba boy than with other ethnic groups (which leads to problems when both parents are forced to work)? Or is there a problem with Yoruba boys being spoilt and over-indulged more than others? Whatever the case, as with black children in general in the UK, it looks like Nigerian (and Yoruba) girls are doing much better than the boys. One consequence of which may be domestic abuse in later life (the frustrated, less successful male lashing out). Research should be done to understand more about this phenomenon.
Instead of musings about the world and idle daydreams, today's entry is reduced to my body. I woke up to the bright purple bruises around where the incision was made on Saturday (I had a hernia operation). Just the site of so much pulped flesh makes me shudder. The surgeon told me I must not rest too much, so I had a test-walk this morning. I found myself shuffling at quarter speed, unable to step more than perhaps 1 1/2 feet at a time, people glancing at me as if looking upon an unpleasant spectacle. Perhaps they thought I was a smack addict, dressed in my tracksuit and baseball cap. I walked down Leather Lane market in search of a chemists to buy razorblades (I'm turning into a yeti just now). Everyone was darting about, a Brownian flux of motion. Leather Lane is a combination of chav street market and lo-brow series of eateries for the office workers who work around Holborn. Meanwhile, I walked in pain, ever more slowly. How frustrating to be in London and yet be so immobile. It reminds me of the experiments of my childhood: spending a week going to school in a wheelchair (I was 10) and being called 'spastic' by my peers, and then going to Birmingham and wearing a Jewish skullcap and being threatened and called a Yid by a mob of yobs.
Its obvious, and so obvious that most of the time we dont notice it: but the condition of our body, and the form of our embodiment (black, white, female, male, tall, fat, one-legged, blind etc) in part constructs the world we occupy. The physicality of our being brings our world itself into being. We occupy different worlds on the basis of bodily difference. How we engage with these forms of embodied difference in the context of a shared world is the beginning of ethical consciousness. Hence Franz Fanon's final prayer at the end of Black Skin White Masks: Oh my body, make of me a man who always questions..
Monday, November 07, 2005
Today I found myself in South London, venturing to a place near the Common. I discovered somewhere I'd never been before. There was an alleyway by the side of the station, draped in shadows. I found myself walking down the alley. There was something odd about the experience, which for a few seconds I could scarcely articulate. Then I realised: it was the smell. I caught something of Nigeria wafting from high above: the aroma of dried fish, sweet smelling fruit and the dry-musty odour of the red earth, pulling me to a new definition of home.
At the end of the alleyway, a door stood ajar. I pushed it open and stepped inside. There, there was laughter and a strange air of expectancy, as if someone had been waiting a long time.
But the room was empty.
A dark polished mahogany bar stood sleek and proud at the end of the room. I could see bottles of Cuban rum hanging upside down, waiting to be turned into a cocktail. A plasma screen beamed images of the city out from a wall. Stalks of lillies sprouted from an elegant tall vase. There was no barman, just the bottles, and a saucer of limes on the bar. I could smell Nigeria again, coming from upstairs. I left the bar to my left and mounted the stairs. What happened next was a mystery...
It seems that France is in trouble, and trouble deep. The apartheid the urban planners have created in the horrible concrete banlieux (suburbs) that surround so many French towns and cities is coming back to sting them where it hurts - in the urban centres the French love to dwell and drink their coffee and munch on their croissants. And with Nicolas Sarkozy as the man in charge of the problem calling the rioters 'yobs' and 'scum', it's hard to forsee a quick end to the violence. It seems that North and West Africans have no place in the fraternity and equality of la Republique Francais.
But one cannot anglo-mock too much: what is going on in France is only a more extreme version of what you can see up and down the UK at the moment. Disaffected youth with parents who dont care where they are, wearing hooded tops and amassing at night in large groups thanks to cellphone connectivity. On Friday evening as I waited in Finchley in a car I saw a confrontation between two gangs (about 40 people involved in total) - the average probably around 16 or 17. At least one kid was hospitalised a few feet away from me, for no good reason.
The West has managed to create a cold heartless and anonymous culture around itself; a whole generation of kids with no moral values or direction. Some might say this is what a largely atheistic society will always come to look like: directionless, random, violent, fearful. The last time I tried to intervene (a chap had his bike stolen by 12 year old urchins in Clerkenwell) I nearly got beaten up by a phallanx of malnourished estate-trash. The UK sometimes seems like it is falling into a Lord-of-the-Flies/J.G. Ballard hell: an anonymous landscape of retail sheds, traffic and violent yobs, with football the only vestige of a socio-cultural glue. Its not very loveable.
Check out the blog of Molara Wood, a UK-based writer often writing arts reviews etc for The Guardian Nigeria. I am fortunate to know MW through my wife and sis-in-law. She speaks the kind of Yoruba I would dream of speaking if I spent 3000 years of intense study and had also been born in Yorubaland; to hear her speak with someone of equal proverbial proficiency is to hear the most beautiful melodious music that human language has devised. She also has two lovely boys. Long may her voice echo into the universe.
Which prompts me to return to a familiar refrain of this blog: if only the politics could be taken out of culture and ethnicity in Nigeria, the world could begin to appreciate the incredible depth and richness of Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa et al cultures and how they have influenced cultural patterns far beyond Ng.
I only heard about Demas Nwoko about 3 months ago from a photographer friend who is working with him in preparation for the forthcoming exhibitions. Demas (whose work I have yet to see and whom I have yet to meet) sounds like one of those people you dream exist and are thrilled to discover they exist: an architect who loves mud, the vernacular, indigenous aesthetics, local tradition. A designer who rejects importation, who seeks autochtonous responses to the world. Check out this interview with him, better still, go to the Abuja or Lagos shows..
Friday, November 04, 2005
Excited to hear that Osunlade, the stateside-based soulful deephouse beatmaster, has set up his own label: Yoruba Records. The first album is called Ibara (River Crossing) and is a joint project between Osunlade and SoulJazz Records - my favourite UK label. Follow the link and you can listen to two of the tracks on the album. I went to Soul Jazz's site in search of Ethiopiques - the series of albums of Ethiopian jazz from the 60s and 70s (Ethiopia's equivalent of Afrobeat). I caught Jim Jarmusch's return-to-form masterpiece Broken Flowers yesterday (with the gorgeously deadpan Bill Murray looking resplendent in a Fred Perry track suit). But the thing that caught me most was the Ethiopian jazz soundtrack...
Next Thursday is the 10th anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni colleagues. Its inspiring that the Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa campaign is making more and more noise, at a time when Shell, Chevron and co are still despoiling the Delta region, raping the landscape with pipelines, gas flaring with abandon etc etc. What we need is a much stronger Saro-Wiwa based campaign in Nigeria, to challenge the dream of almost every mother and father: that someday their little Tunde, Chioma or Lekan will be lucky enough to work for an oil company.
The pariochial consensus I've gathered so far is that Gbosa is onomatopoeiac in origin (a word which attempts to replicate the sound of the thing itself). Gbosa imitates the sound of gunfire - presumably given its use as a celebration of someone/thing, it is the verbal equivalent of a military salute (rifles/canons etc going off).
Which makes me wonder: have there ever been any films looking at British colonialism in Nigeria? It suddenly struck me that there's a whole region of interchange and transactions that have not been represented in any detailed way, in comparison to representations of British colonialism in Asia for example. Surely the life of Lugard would make a fantastic film, as would Mungo Parks' adventures a century before. Just as how the word Gbosa may have had its origins in people watching a military salute, perhaps somewhere in Lagos or Benin..
I remember seeing a film on the amazon warriors of Dahomey a couple of years ago at an African film festival in London. It was completely without cliche, beautifully shot against a grasslands backdrop - a simple story of love and loss and female soldiers controlling the peace. Then again, Sembene's Karmen Rei (or was it Gei) - a visually gorgeous rerun of the Carmen story set on Goree Island. Which reminds me of yesterday: I always want to cry or hit someone when I go to places like Virgin Megastore and peruse the DVD racks. As I was paying for some stuff at the counter, the till girl asked me if there was anything she could help me with. I said in fact there is. Don't you think its a cultural crime, especially in the context of Geldoff et al making a noise about helping Africa, that there is only ONE african dvd amongst the many thousands here (it was Abouna Our Father). She said well the films we stock here are based on demand. To which I said yes but you and i both know that demand is not a natural given, it is always created, constructed and marketed.
But of course I was pissing in the wind. One of my dreams is that one day, all the classics of African cinema will be available on DVD. My life will have failed if this doesnt happen.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
thank you Chxta for giving me the correct spelling. Can you tell me where it comes from?
Its funny how when you get to Nigeria, its odd how Hip Hip Hooray (sort of the UK English form of gbosa) becomes Hip Hip Hip Hooray (introducing a completely different rhythmic pattern). And then after a while Hip Hip Hooray becomes the odd form. Living in a foreign culture is as much about acquainting oneself with a different rhythm as it is about anything else.
I noticed at the end of Osman Sembene's latest filmic masterpiece Moolade (about female circumcision in rural W Africa) that the women joyously sing Wasah Wasah (a beautifully powerful moment). I wonder if Gbosa and Wasah are connected? Sorry for being a complete ignoramus.
Just in case I was ever likely to delude myself into thinking I took a daring leap into the unknown by deciding with Bibi to up sticks from London to Nigeria and congratulate myself on what I am doing (call it the oyimbo development worker disease - a peculiar self-flattery syndrome), one finds out about people like Jasmine Chua, who are doing far more worthy, adventurous and risky things than me over here. Check her fascinating Abuja-based blog here.
I thank you: you are my most loyal commentator!
I thank you: in the past few weeks, I have grown increasingly annoyed with myself that my knowledge and understanding of the Yoruba language and spiritual pantheon and above all the Ifa chronicle has hardly increased, after two years living in your country. On my return in a week, I am going to do something about it: a) find a Yoruba language teacher in Abuja b) seek out a Father of the Secrets for mentorship. I am drawn to Eshu and need to begin to talk to him/she/it. Thank you for fanning the flames of my frustration and hopefully fueling a remedy.
However, I am not sure if I understand how you disagree with me, or whether it is that you must establish a platform of your own (set up a blog with www.blogger.com in 5 mins!). I am very realistic about the problems of the UK, and have no intention of glorifying how things are here compared to Ng. The problems here however are mostly psychological and spiritual, whereas in Ng there is little time for either of these in the sheer struggle to survive. The lost born again guff that those shiny suited big mouths in Lagos spout is simply a meaningless mind-drug to quell the pain of near unbearable living circumstances: singing and dancing for two hours on a Sunday is a free way for serotonins to circulate in the brain: a spiritual happiness of sorts.
I too completely agree that Nigerians problems need to be solved through internal means. People like the World Bank are part of the problem, dolling out fresh loans just when debt-relief has been secured. However, the work I do with the EU at the moment is almost entirely about finding internal solutions to internal problems. You may or may not know that the EU are providing major ongoing support to the EFCC and together with OBJ, are a large part of the day by day growing strength of that institution (you've noticed in the past few months its harder and harder to justify a cynical stance towards Ribadu). What we are witnessing is the empowerment of key Nigerian institutions after decades of decay in the civil service: NAFDAC, Due Process, EFCC, The Extractive Initiative etc. An enormously important missing piece of the jigsaw for me is a featherbedding strategy to win distinguished or younger scholars educated abroad to empower the universities (ie give them decent accommodation, guaranteed salaries, a car etc). I hope some of the oil reserve money is spent on this.
And your points about Damilola Taylor/Stephen Lawrence etc are well taken. However, you know that ceaseless acts of violence and extra-judicial murder are on far vaster scale in Nigeria than in somewhere like the UK. We are all looking for to Sunday Ehindero to slowly but surely build the police force up to tackle this. A State-based solution must be the way to go surely..
Above all, my contempt for the perversion of christianity that is the current pentacostal hogwash is that it is erasing local tradition and culture. Without a reconnection back to Ifa stories and to Sango et al (and their equivalents in other Nigerian cultures) I don't think Nigeria can give India or China a run for their money. Thinking of Eshu as the 'devil' shows just how perverse and destructive the pseudo-christian hermeneutic overlay has become. Without understanding his role as the master of interpretation between our world and the next, Nigeria will always prefer to import foreign forms of meaning, rather than stand internally proud with its own.
I'm rambling. Thank you Mr Close. I have much to learn from you. Please start your own blog!
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Anyone who thinks that London/the UK doesnt work like clockwork has a warped sense of how most of the rest of the globe works. Yes you find yourself waiting for a bus in the cold or getting stuck in traffic on the M6, and yes you can look upon the cityscapes of the North East - places like Redcar and Tyne & Wear, or the council estates on the wrong side of town and despair at what the Thatcher/Blair years have done to the country and working class values etc etc, but really, the problems in the UK are on a different magnitude to that of somewhere like Nigeria. People on the crappest sink estate in the UK can turn on the tap and water flows, plug in the plug and electricity is there, can get ill and access free medical care, can have kids and send them to school for free, can have a life expectancy over 50, can see their failed politicians (Blunkett) fuck up and face the consequences. You dont see headless bloated bodies on the street in the UK, or get a young boy set upon by a mob bloodlusting for street justice, and set alight, seeing the head explode on tv. So all those living in the UK moaning about how bad it is: get real and get off your sad arse. If you're a paedophile in the UK, they'll get you eventually. If you're a paedophile in Nigeria, you can ruin as many young lives as you like.
Although I adore my country (despite its awful colonial history) in all its eccentricity, and especially the encounters and experiences available in London (perhaps the most culturally and ethnically mixed zone on the planet), I've felt for quite a few years that the UK has lost its way to the semiotic monster of marketing and advertising: in politics as elsewhere. Its hard to be grounded in reality when corporate interests have sunk their teeth so deep into the warp and woof of everyday life; when kids 2 feet high have extreme opinions about what cereal they want to eat next week. Tony Blair is the leader we have come to deserve, and we are to blame. He can smarm his way through any disaster, and people will still back him. Blair is to the UK what criminals like Adefarasin and all the other pastor-gangsters are to Nigeria: a master illusionist who makes we the collective suckers come back for more.
There where the greatest danger is, lies the greatest hope. Nigeria is going to surprise the world in the next two years. The evangelical virus will dissipate if we can create wealth and jobs en masse. A transformation is happening and Bob Geldoff has fuck all to do with it.
Bosah! Bosah! Bosah!
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
In London, my favourite city, courtesy of BUPA (I have a hernia operation coming up). Arriving yesterday felt very weird. Not only did I feel un peut fragile, it was odd seeing all these people and cars busying about. It was like entering a huge machine where every part functions unconsciously. I think the slow and lazy dysfunctionality Nigeria is sinking into my bones: the slow charm of greeting people, linking smiles and all the playful interchanges that are a necessary part of the day. A couple of people have commented that my accent has acquired a Nigerian undertone to it. Can one avoid going native in such a powerful culture as naija? Nigeria is so complex it takes a long while for it to get under the skin, but when it does...
Its nice being here when the leaves on the plane trees are about to turn, and see at last the new-look Guardian in the flesh, and to eat chips and mushy peas, and to watch Jon Snow and Paxman holding forth and to shop a bit. But living here again? I'm not sure I want to fit in again to a machine that works so smoothly..