Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lemi Ghariokwu

Ghariokwu Lemi, is a self taught Nigerian fine artist, graphic designer, Illustrator and songwriter, well known for his captivating and intricate record sleeves. He is best known for creating the cover art work for many of Fela Kuti's records. He has also designed the cover of Cassava Republic's republication of Fela: this Bitch of a Life - the authorised biography of Fela Kuti.

His work involves a variety of styles, often using vibrant colours and unique typefaces of his own design. Lemi has designed more than 2,000 album covers in the last 36 years, including covers for Bob Marley, E. T. Mensah, Osita Osadebe, Mandators, Orits Williki, Gilles Peterson, Sony Okosuns, Oliver De Coque, Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Antibalas, Akoya Afrobeat, Dele Sosimi, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, 2face Idibia...etc.

You might say his art is rebellion, comical, political, even erotic but most of all he is a genius in pictorial narration. Observer Music Magazine (Guardian, UK) called him “King of Covers” in 2004.

Many of Ghariokwu's cover images echo and sometimes comment on the work and politics of the recordings that they accompany, serving a consciously integrated meta-textual function. Ghariokwu's approach to his work with Kuti involved listening to and digesting the music and then expressing his reaction in his paintings, design and comments which provide a high level of detail on the many album covers he delivered.

Lemi's relationship with Fela Kuti was very cordial. Fela gave Lemi total freedom with his work and thoughts to the level that he just did as he pleased, albeit responsibly, with how and what he wanted to express. Lemi had the rare privilege of putting his photograph and comments on some of the covers and was treated like a son, friend, adviser and comrade by the Afrobeat legend.

Ghariokwu's work has attracted much attention in the West and is the subject of various retrospective exhibitions. He is on Phaidon Press’ list of 100 emerging and influential graphic designers in the world. His painting Anoda Sistem, created in 2002, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA). He holds a dual lifetime membership of the museum.

Lemi Ghariokwu is surely one of Africa’s best-kept secrets. Art lovers who wanted to meet this amazing character travelled far and wide to meet him. Professor Wolfgang Bender from Mainz University, Germany was so intrigued with Ghariokwu’s style of art he created a Art Project/Thesis at the Institute for Ethnology and African Studies for his students.

In July 2003, he participated in "BLACK PRESIDENT: THE ART AND THE LEGACY OF FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI" in New York, contributing 13 pieces of work all originals. On this trip, the President of MTV, commissioned Ghariokwu to paint his first painting on American soil, “EVERYBODY’S GOTTA BE SOMEBODY” which then inspired film maker Aaron Koenigsberg to follow Ghariokwu around New York and document the trip.

Ghariokwu is constantly exhibiting and holding workshops around the globe: he sees the world as his oyster and aims to leave a lasting legacy in his own style of art.

In June 2010, Lemi was commissioned and successfully branded FELA-BUS, a sort of marketing mural-on-wheels, for the producers of the hit Broadway musical “FELA!” in New York.


Carlos Moore/Fela: This Bitch of a Life tour

Carlos Moore was a close friend of Fela.  His republished biography, “Fela: This Bitch of a Life” is a moving account of Fela, told from the inside.  During his stay in Nigeria, Carlos will read from the book, discuss Fela and his times with Very Special Guests and give several public lectures. Guests will also have the opportunity to kick back and listen to Fela favourites sung by the hip and the new.  Attending these events is your only chance to own a copy of this collector's item book this year.

Tour dates:
Saturday 9th October, 4pm: Centre for Contemporary Art, 9 McEwen St, Sabo, Lagos.  Featuring Special Guests.  Click here to register for the event on Facebook.

Sunday 10th October, 4pm: The Life House, 33 Sinari Daranijo St, off Younis Bashoroun St, off Ajose Adeogun, VI, Lagos.  Featuring Keziah Jones and Guitar Man.  Click here to register for the event on Facebook.

Monday 11th October, 10am: The New Africa Shrine, NERDC Road, Agidingbi, Ikeja. Lecture "Fela: Music is the Weapon" (Symposium titled The Fela Debates - part of the annual Felabration).

Wednesday 13th October, 11am: UNILAG, 4th Floor, Faculty of Arts Boardroom (in conjunction with CBAAC). Public lecture, "What is Africa to me? Fela Kuti and the reshaping of the Pan-African Dream in the post-colonial era."

Saturday 16th October, 4pm: French Cultural Centre, 52 Libreville St, Wuse, Abuja.  Click here to register for the event on Facebook.

Note that for the events on the 9th, 10th and 16th October, there is a N2,000 entrance fee (which includes a copy of the book).     Fela: This Bitch of a Life will be on general release in January 2011.

Carlos’ tour takes place in the month of the annual Felabration.  Events include music concerts from Tuesday 12 - Sunday 17 October with various international and local artists, International Music workshops, Dance troupes performances, The Felamatrix quiz show with up to N100,000.00 to be won daily, and a street carnival procession in Ikeja.

The artists billed to perform over the six days include:
·       Gangbe Brass Band
·       Dbanj
·       Goldie
·       KWAM1
·       Nneka
·       Ade Bantu
·       Ayetoro
·       Seun Kuti
·       Femi Kuti
·       Ara
·       The Talking Drum Band
·       Keziah Jones
·       Awilo Longomba

All music concerts and events will take place at The New Africa Shrine and are free to the public apart from Friday Night Gala and the Grand Finale on Sunday 17th which will both attract a gate fee. 


Nnimmo Bassey wins Right Livelihood Award

Congratulations to Nnimmo Bassey of Environmental Rights Action Nigeria for winning the Right Livelihood Award.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Nigeria's 50th Independence Anniversary

We asked eight writers to respond to this image.  Find out what they wrote here.


Getting girls into Nigerian classrooms


Nigeria's 50th

Good piece by Al Jazeera on Nigeria's 50th anniversary of Independence with great archival footage.  Thanks to the ever excellent Max Siollun for the link.  I'd love to know where the "250 languages/tribes" idea actually comes from. Of course, it sounds like a nice number, but its 50% of the reality..

Watch the clip here if the video above doesn't work.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani on the BBC World Service this morning

She comes in at 4"30.


Monday, September 27, 2010

On Ejagham culture...


Nigeria at 50...

The BBC is slowly ramping up content on its Nigeria birthday page. There are some nice archival clips - I hope that they raid their vast library to put some more up in the next few days.  Am I being a fussy old fart by pointing to the inaccuracy of the "Nigeria at 50" tag?  Nigeria is of course 109 years old, or 96 years old if amalgamation is your starting point.


A new chapter in Nigeria's literary history

Nice piece on CNN's site about the upcoming literary talent in Nigeria and the Nigerian diaspora.


Enter the zero kobo party

Soyinka's speech at the Democratic Front for a People's Federation here.  Am I the only one who hears the name of this new political party and can't help thinking of the celebrated Monty Python sketch?  


Sunday, September 26, 2010

How Indonesia overtook Nigeria

An interesting comparison between Indonesia and Nigeria in a personal account of his time in both countries by Peter Cunliffe-Jones here.  Both countries were created by European powers just over 100 years ago; both countries were rich in palm oil and in recent decades have amassed wealth from the discovery of oil and gas.  And yet, the developmental difference between the two is now stark.  For instance, in Indonesia, life expectancy is now 70; in Nigeria it is 47.

The former bureau chief in AFP's Lagos office and current Asia editor puts the difference in development down to stronger resistance by Indonesians to those in power.  This may certainly be part of the explanation.  However, I'd also suggest that a different model of corruption has long been in place in Indonesia.  Government contracts have long been awarded on the basis of performance in the South-East Asian country, whereas in Nigeria, performance has clearly not often been a de facto requirement.  In Nigeria, corruption was non-productive and cascades down to every level of bureaucracy; in Indonesia, there has long been bottom-up pressure and a circumscribed context for corrupt practices.  In a way, it comes down to the prevailing format for commercial contracts and the negotiating power of government buyers.  

There are other differences too to take into account.  While Indonesia only had one dominant military dictator, the Nigerian military since Independence has been multipolar in terms of its power bases, hence the number of military coups, which are now firmly a part of Nigeria's history.  

A final obvious difference to mention is of course the predominantly Muslim character of Indonesia, which offers a unifying context for development.  I'm surprised that Cunliffe-Jones doesn't mention this.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, the difference in models of corruption and commercial contracts boils down to a stronger civil society in the archipelago state.  In which case, the lesson Nigeria can learn from Indonesia is the importance of building up a healthy civil society, which includes non-governmental organisations, the media and religious organisations.  The work is still all ahead..


Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Black Sisters' Street

“They often talk about it: the standing and waiting to be noticed by the men strolling by, wondering which ones are likely to tip well, and which not.  From their glass windows they watch the lives outside, especially the men’s.  It is easy to tell those who have stumbled on the Schipperskwartier by mistake.  Tourists with their cameras slung around their necks, mostly Japanese tourists who do not know Antwerp, seduced by the antiquity of the city and deceived by the huge cathedral, wander off and then suddenly come face to face with a line-up of half-dressed women, different colours and different shades of those colours.  They look and, disbelieving, take another look.  Quickly. And then they walk away with embarrassed steps. Not wishing to be tainted by the lives behind the windows.”

I lived in Liege for over a year in the early 1990s.  This city in francophone southern Belgium is apparently unremarkable; a European urb that has yet to recover from the soot of its industrial past.  The Belgian equivalent of Stoke-on-Trent.  When my pal and I were trying to organise our Erasmus year studying philosophy in Europe, we had had something a little more glamorous in mind, and definitely something francophillic. Tours perhaps, or Strasbourg. Lyons at least. But Belgium was the line of least institutional resistance, and Liege was where we found ourselves.

Looking back, Liege sur Meuse has become a phantasmagoric city of the mind.  I’m grateful for the time I spent there. Hidden dreams and desires lurk still, beneath the threshold of my consciousness.  An infinity of stone steps reaching up, via occluded gardens, to medieval palaces where talented Belgo-Italians play bebop deep into the night in louche bars. Restaurants designed like swimming pools in deserted factories, with cultivated men playing huge board-games in surreal side rooms. A chiaroscuro pall cast over cobbled streets.  Piss swilling into drains from a thousand alfresco penises. Liege was and still is an unheimlich city, where mittel-Europa catholicism sprinkles its ritual powder like snow: in hidden corners, shrines to the Virgin, forever fresh with flowers; Paques celebrations that last for days, resolved only by alcohol, the sound of the drum and mistresses spent in the arms of mistresses. Between the cracks in the mottled seminarial stone, catholic yearnings forever sprouting forth.

Prostitution was part of it all.  There were two red light districts in Liege, one near the Gare Liege-Guillemans and the other, at the back of the Rue Leopold near the footbridge to the Outremeuse.  The one near Guillemans was the upmarket option: young European women in catalogue lingerie, with plastic stickers of accepted credit cards near the doors.  The other place was far more gothic; haggard vixens draped in leather and torn fishnet, idling for an impoverished cash-only clientele.

And so it all seemed to my innocent eyes.  Something in the place haunted me as the years passed.  The memories folded in each other: parallel love affairs with a woman and with jazz; the genesis of arcane philosophical detours; the design of Lucky Strike cigarette packets and sex for sale, behind glass. As the years passed, a gathering desire to be back in the depths of Europe, chimed intermittently, like the quiet bell in the far-off village.  There is a specific type of nostalgia for the foreign cities of youth which threatens the bounds of velleity: to wander once again to the place where vivid memory was set becomes an irresistible impulse.

And so, over a decade later, I headed back, on the pretext of visiting a friend in Maastricht.  The first thing I noticed at Guillemans was the red light district had gone.  Or maybe it was never in the place my memory had allocated it: a shear wrought by time on the mind’s cartography.  The second area was now populated with young black women, dancing and beckoning from behind the neon lit windows.  They were signs of a shift in the economy of desire.  I walked quickly on. The city had also developed; yawning cavities of rubble had been filled with glass and glitz. I struggled to find my way about and had no way of finding anyone that I had known.  The jazz club which soldered my ears to Miles and Coltrane was no more.  I was bereft in the primal scene of youthful departure.  The dissonance had added another layer to my strange desire for Liege. I must return again.

A few years later, in quite another part of Europe, I found myself, at a later stage of philosophical development.  I was bound for the Collegium Phenomenologicum, a philosophical retreat held each year in Citta di Castello in Perugia.  It was a thrill to go at last; I had never had the funds during my years as a doctoral student. Many of the celebrated “continental” philosophers participated, one year or another.

The getting there would be part of it: from Stanstead to Rome airport and then the train to Arezzo, with the final leg by bus.  As Tuscany skidded by from inside the metal and plastic interior of the train, it felt like a journey to the heart of things, or to the heart of thought. An English woman told me about her vineyard on a hill close by.

By the time I boarded the bus at Arezzo, the delight of travel had receded; I was by now keen to just arrive, find the hotel and meet my fellow penseurs.  As my mind began to slumber, the bus stopped in some forgotten village and about ten young black girls got on.  I was immediately perplexed: who were they?  Where did they come from?  Where were these girls going and what were they going to do?  They were about fourteen or fifteen at most.  They sat around me.  One had a Walkman and danced to the music.  They all wore jeans and had pink bags and chewed gum.  Their talk was girlish, their perfume garish.  I tried to listen, to understand what they were doing there, but the scene refused to be set.  They spoke in a mixture of fast pidgin and an African language I was yet to recognise. I turned back in my seat.  And then, as the bus sped on, out of the window I noticed girls in laybys, standing, staring up as we passed.  And the shock of what it all meant finally drenched me with ice-water.  Young African girls, a long way from home, selling their bodies, deep in the Italian countryside. 

But these girls are too young! The thought-protest repeated itself.  As the bus twisted and turned on its way to the historic town of Sansepolcro, each widened space would feature a young girl, advertising herself.  Always alone, always black, precipitously vulnerable against a stunning renaissance backdrop.  Sex and the shadow of death amid the cypresses.  And then, the road widened, and a man on a bicycle in racing gear, shaking hands goodbye with two young African women, emerging from behind a bush, a post-coital grin on his face.  Stop by stop, the girls alighted.  By the time we arrived in Citta di Castello, I was alone on the bus, shocked by had transpired.  Back then, I had no idea of the thriving sex trafficking of young Nigerian girls to Italy.

These are some of the capsules of time that flood back to me as I read Chika Unigwe’s devastating novel, On Black Sisters’ Street.  Unigwe’s second book follows the lives of four African sex workers, Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce, as they hustle their lives away in Antwerp, in Flemish speaking north Belgium.  Language and diamonds aside, a town probably quite a bit like Liege: ancient and industrial and solemn and leery.  The four women dream of glamorous futures while swilling beer and falling in and out of friendship.  As the narrative progresses, the cat-fight between them quells, for a specific reason.  Sisi has died and no one knows how or why.  The event brings the remaining trio together.  Their Madam gives them the day off.  Unigwe deftly weaves the back-stories together on that day of mourning as they sit on the black sofa in the unlovely living room. All the girls have been trafficked by Dele, a bear of a man with scant command of English and a shag pile carpet in his cavernous office on Randle Avenue in Lagos.  The stories the girls tell each other in those desolate hours after the death are knives sharp enough to slice into any human heart; Ama running from sex abuse at home, Joyce fleeing from Janjaweed ultra-violence in Sudan via a failed relationship in Lagos, Sisi and Efe from the gloomy horizons of impoverished destinies in the slums of Lagos.

The narrative structure of On Black Sisters’ Street is simple but highly effective.  In the aftermath of the death of a friend, shared stories among the ‘sisters’ begin the prolonged work of healing and the transition from non-self to selfhood. Sisi’s sordid end, and the sorrows that led each to Belgium are the two points of trauma the three young women share that bring them together.  The stories they tell begin the work of redemption. At the beginning and on arrival, each woman had taken on an assumed identity.  The transition from Nigeria to Belgium created an existential void.  In a sense, each woman left their identity behind, and had not yet taken up a new sense of self along with the fake passport that got them into Europe.  Each exists therefore in a sort of limbo or hiatus being, between a horror that was and a prophecy that is not yet.  In the new world of Antwerp, each develops their own coping mechanism.  For instance, when Sisi is finally found a window and can move out of working the bar:

“She learned to stand in her window and pose in heels that made her two inches taller.  She learned to smile, to pout, to think of nothing but the money she would be making.  She learned to rap at the window, hitting her ring hard against the glass on slow days to attract stragglers.  She learned to twirl to help them make up their minds, a swirling mass of chocolate flesh, mesmerising them, making them gasp and yearn for a release from the ache between their legs; a coffee-coloured dream luring them in with the promise of heaven. She let the blinking red and black neon lights of her booth comfort her, leading her to the Prophecy.”

The agency of the sex worker is affirmed in passages like this, at the same time as the distance between active self and pleasure is maintained.  Pleasure or even happiness remains deferred, in the form of the dream of the life that will take place once the mortgage to the fat pimp in Lagos is paid off. The novel is all the more powerful for the crystalline dramaturgy of Unigwe’s language.  For instance, in the scene where Oga Dele decides to try out Ama before she is packed on her way to Antwerp, she writes,

“He pulled Ama close and she could feel his penis harden through his trousers.
‘I shall sample you before you go!’ he laughed. The sound that stretched itself into a square that kept him safe. Lagos was full of such laughter.  Laughter that ridiculed the receiver for no reason but kept the giver secure in a cocoon of steel.”

Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street is a shockingly powerful read, exposing the lives of women who are far from home and from familiarity, using the power of story to weave a sense of belonging amid the cold strangeness of northern Europe.  It shocks me just as I was shocked back on that bus in Perugia. There is however a form of therapy at work in the text, for both the characters, and for the reader. For the women, the tragedy of Sisi’s passing is the moment when the surface is broken: artificial identities and stories that cannot be told cede to narrative integrity: three selves meet and recognise each other in that tawdry red living room. 

“They do nothing.  They are in unknown territory here, having always had a relationship which skimmed the surface like milk.  They have never before stirred each other enough to find out anything deep about their lives…The territory they are charting is still slippery.  They are only just beginning to know each other.”

And for us, we think back to all those other windows we may have passed.  For the stagnight wolf pack over from England, or the Japanese tourist missing his way, or for the alienated divorcee, or for the trembling virgin, or even the young philosopher, these streets present a gratuitous street porn, good for a laugh or even for a quick release.  And yet, behind those windows there are shattered lives and fractured dreams resolving to mend.  And there, amidst the shadows and the death, as Unigwe reminds us, we may find solidarity and even love. 


Friday, September 24, 2010

Hottest Girl in Abuja 2010 - the entry form

Ahhh - the good old-fashioned non-refundable beauty contest form.  The Hottest Girl in Abuja form costs N3k.


Ladi Kwali, almost forgotten

Ladi Kwali is yet another scarcely remembered great Nigerian, with a presence on the 20 naira note and the name of the Sheraton conference hall the only vestiges of attention she is accorded.  

Its a shame to hear the story of what happened to the Abuja Pottery Centre, which was supposed to be a national monument.  The ceramics tradition around the FCT and in nearby Niger State is a real selling point for visitors, with Bwari and Ushafa being regular day trips for those on business trips with a Saturday afternoon to spare.  The story of the intertwining of the British and Nigerian traditions is a wonderful one, and anyone visiting Bwari will see they make absolutely beautiful pots which are worth many times their value overseas.  I wonder how visible this is on anybody's radar within the FCTA or the Ministry of Tourism...


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bavaria in Kaduna

Kajuru Castle - a German castle not far from Kaduna. Photo by Iris 9JA.


Ayetoro at the Oriental, 26/09/10


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere at CCA


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


This Day reports an alternative use of the 3D body scanners at Nigeria airports, here.


Bessie Head

Virago has just reissued Bessie Head's When Rain Clouds Gather and Maru. Helen Oyeyemi's (pictured) foreword is published in full here.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fela on Broadway..

Good review of the Broadway show here. I hope the show does come to Naija as is rumoured Feb-March next year...


Primary school education in Nigeria...

As the MDG conference starts in New York tomorrow, this article in today's Observer reminds us that nearly half (19.2 million) of all Nigerian primary-age children don't have the opportunity to go to school. This quote gives a good picture of how poor the quality of teaching is for those that are lucky enough to get an education:

"Two years ago, the education commissioner of Nigeria's Kwara state revealed that nearly 20,000 of the state's teachers had been made to sit tests in English and maths designed for nine- and 10-year-olds, but only seven of the teachers could reach the minimum attainment level."


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Zombie - choreographed by Bill T Jones

Picked up on this from the ever excellent Africa is a Country blog. Glad they are back from the summer hiatus.


The new igbo script - examples


Estate Walls trailer: watch then book your ticket...


Naija cricket

Chinua Achebe was wrong.

The trouble with Nigeria is not a lack of good leaders, it is that far too many people (men and women, boys and girls, sadly) obsess about a funny game which involves an inflated leather ball being kicked about between two gateposts with nets at the back. A sport that heralds the end of summer and the death of light that is winter in the northern hemisphere. The sport is sometimes referred to as 'soccer' (by Americans, who like to pretend that what they call football is a global sport, which it is not) but more commonly known as football.

There is no real strategy to the thing, apart from minor worries about team formation (4:3:3:1 etc.) and buying and selling players. The captain doesn't really do anything except wear an armband. I suppose its popularity stems from its lack of depth and sophistication. It can be great to watch, but its basically coca-cola: the sugar rush of excitement is quickly forgotten. There is no scope for an epic contest. No one puts great achievements up in gold letters in oak-panelled rooms anywhere..

In massive contrast, of course, is the game of cricket: gloriously multilayered, with strategy, tactics and ordinary operations available in abundance. Cricket is collective chess for 22 people; a celebration of the earth and the sky; a one-on-one contest in a team setting. Cricket is the past and the future, with perhaps 2 billion adorers and growing (China is coming on board as we speak). Lest we not forget, cricket is an older sport in America than baseball.

Lagos-team Fegocowosa have an excellent website for those curious to mend the error of their ways. The Nigerian Cricket Federation site is not bad either. Did you know that Naija's Under 19 squad is in Africa's First Division? Did you also know, that thanks to the VP, cricket is now compulsory for schoolkids in Kaduna State? Alhaji Sambo is a man of great vision and accomplishment.

I have a dream: of hundreds if not thousands of teams, up and down the land; of commercial sponsorship aplenty; of superheroes of the bat and ball from Enugu, Kano and Lagos; of a 20/20 victory over Australia at the Wacca...


Friday, September 17, 2010

An open letter to middle-class Lagos parents

Just got sent this (I guess its gone viral):

If we want our children to bring about the desired change we have been praying for on behalf of our dear country, then pls, pls let begin now and teach them to work hard so they can stand alone and most importantly be content....not having to "steal"....which seem to be the norm these days.

Pls pass it on and you are welcome to join the group.

Subject: An open letter to middle-class parents in Lagos

To: [email protected]

“30 is the new 18”. That seems to be an unspoken but widely accepted mindset among the last 2 generations of parents in Nigeria .

At age 18 years, a typical young adult in the UK leaves the clutches of his/her parents for the University, chances are, that’s the last time those parents will ever play “landlord” to their son or daughter except of course the occasional home visits during the academic year.

At 21 years + or -, the now fully grown and independent minded adult graduates from University, searches for employment, gets a job and shares a flat with other young people on a journey into becoming fully fledged adults.

I can hear the echo of parents saying, well, that is because the UK economy is thriving, safe, well structured and jobs are everywhere? I beg to differ and I ask that you kindly hear me out.

I am UK trained Recruitment Consultant and I have been practising for the past 10 years in Nigeria . I have a broad range of experience from recruiting graduates to executive director level of large corporations.

In addition, I talk from the point of view of someone with relatively privileged upbringing. Driven to school every day, had my clothes washed for me, barred from taking any part-time job during my A-levels so that I could concentrate on studying for my exams?!

BUT... I got the opportunity to live apart from my parents from age 18 and the only time I came back home to stay was for 3 months before I got married!

Am I saying that every parent should wash their hands off their children at age 18? No, not at all. Of course, I enjoyed the savings that I made from living on and off at my parent’s house in London – indeed that is the primary reason for my being able to by myself a 3 bedroom flat in London at age 25 with absolutely no direct financial help from my parents!

For me, pocket money stopped at age 22, not that it was ever enough for my lifestyle to compete with Paris Hilton’s or Victoria Beckham’s. Meanwhile today, we have Nigerian children who have never worked for 5 minutes in their lives insisting on flying “only” first or business class, carrying the latest Louis Vuitton ensemble, Victoria ’s Secret underwear and wearing Jimmy Choo’s, fully paid for by their “loving” parents.

I often get calls from anxious parents, my son graduated 2 years ago and is still looking for a job, can you please assist! Oh really! So where exactly is this “child” is my usual question. Why are you the one making this call dad/mum?

I am yet to get a satisfactory answer, but between you and me, chances are that big boy is cruising around Lagos with a babe dressed to the nines, in his dad’s spanking new SUV with enough “pocket money” to put your salary to shame.

It is not at all strange to have a 28 year old who has NEVER worked for a day in his or her life in Nigeria but “earns” a six figure “salary” from parents for doing absolutely nothing.

I see them in my office once in a while.... 26 years old with absolutely no skills to sell, apart from a shiny CV, written by his dad’s secretary in the office. Of course, he has a driver at his beck and call and he is driven to the job interview. We have a fairly decent conversation and we get to the inevitable question - so, what salary are you looking to earn? Answer comes straight out - N250,000. I ask if that is per month or per annum? Of course it is per month. Oh, why do you think you should be earning that much on your first job? Well, because my current pocket money is N200,000 and I feel that an employer should be able to pay me more than my parents. I try very hard to compose myself...

Overparenting is in my opinion the greatest evil handicapping the Nigerian youth. It is at the root of our national malaise. We have a youth population of tens of millions of who are being “breastfed and diapered” well into their 30s.

Even though the examples I have given above are from parents of considerable affluence, similar patterns can be observed from Abeokuta to Adamawa!

Wake up mum! Wake up dad!

You are practically loving your children to death! No wonder corruption continues to thrive. We have a society of young people who have been brought up to expect something for nothing... as if it were a birth right.

I want to encourage you to send your young men and women (anyone over 20 can hardly be called a child!) out into the world, maybe even consider reducing or stopping the pocket money to encourage them to think, explore and strive. Let them know that it is possible for them to succeed without your “help”.

Take a moment to think back to your own time as a young man/woman, what if someone had kept spoon feeding you, would you be where you are today?

(Author's name witheld)


An Igbo alphabet - will it catch on?


In the Shadow of the Bush

Percy Talbot's text In the Shadow of the Bush is an absorbing read. Written in 1912, its his exhaustive account (642 pages) of travels among the Ekoi in Cross River State and his analysis of their beliefs and customs, centring around the Leopard soul and the Egbe secret society (and its system of Nsibidi writing). There are many beautiful illustrations, such as those of long-forgotten hairstyles among Ekoi women (pictured).

You can download the 30MB PDF (and other formats) of the book here.

From research elsewhere, I gather that Nsibidi was a performative language among members of the leopard society- a form of mime-drama, where the signs were danced out by movements of the arms, hands and head.

How fitting then to see Victor dance out his artwork in the previous post..


Victor Ekpuk Nsibidinalises in Amsterdam....

Victor Ekpuk's website


Thursday, September 16, 2010

5th century Nsibidi

Thanks to Pam for commenting at the bottom of the Nigerian languages post this evening. Its a wonderful surprise to hear that Nsibidi ceramics date back to the 5th century in the Cross River area. See here and here. (Frustratingly, you have to pay US$12 just to have 24 hours access to the article - don't you detest 19th century modes of academic intellectual ownership!)

I'm sure like me, other readers would love to know how much knowledge/practice there is in Nsibidi artworks/design today. This would make a wonderful PhD project/coffee table book. In the same way that Adinkra has been sustained in Ghana, so too should Nsibidi be researched and used in Nigeria.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Keeping Austin Weird

These days, the words American pastoral prompt us to think of the Philip Roth novel set in Newark, New Jersey. The words and the book came to me as we closed in on Liberty International, sliding past parking lots of gleaming cars and gas storage tanks, with Manhattan hazing in the middle distance and of course, the Statue of Liberty closer by. Nowadays, the spike in the belly, the Empire State Building, is the only obvious Manhattan landmark to partially attuned eyes. It gives New York a 1930s feel, pushing America back in time, while the steel and glass palaces of Qatar, Dubai and Shanghai stretch still higher.

And then Manhattan slumped from view as we hit the tarmac and were enveloped within the horizon line of New Jersey sprawl, beyond the airport perimeter. I felt the sorrow of knowing that dear friends were close by yet out of reach. Brooklyn seems to be a eudaimonic place. Close enough to Manhattan to be revitalised at will by the currents and energies passing through, far enough from the canyons of Capital to see sky, to dream and to be amongst good people from a thousand places.

In the arrivals hall, as we queue to show our passports, a flat screen TV emanates a Larry King type show. Something in the plasticity of the blather makes me suspect it is Fox News. The anchor is interviewing a crime expert who talks about Mexican gang activity in the US. I don’t catch where exactly they are referring. The interviewee recounts his experiences being followed by gangs and their brazen presence on the streets. The discussion meanders on in tones of alarm and panic. My ears tire of the discussion and I tune out. As we inch forward, I note two men in identical light brown gowns and matching turbans waiting ahead in the queue. The turbans are a distinctive shape: lifting high above the head like Greek orthodox priests, but still Sikh. It seems entirely appropriate that they are here in this moment, entering America, adding to its mix, part of the multikulti flow of things. The sartorial shock effect will diminish as they head towards the big city and are woven within a broader and deeper fabric. They are the only human interest in a numbing sea of jeans and t-shirts and bored Border Control personnel. As soon as my eyes and all fingers and both thumbs are scanned, I’m through.

The departure gate for Austin is next to a flight to Boston. I hear the staff at the desk exchange irritated words that the rhyming places have been scheduled next to each other. Perhaps in the past passengers have become confused about where they really want to go. But, I wonder, what sort of person who knows how to board a plane could confuse the two? Or, perhaps, the choice between Austin and Boston is smaller than we might think.

Nearby the desk, a pigeon has found its way inside the terminal. People turn and stare, in collective apprehension of a sudden fury of wings. Hitchcock flutters through a flock of minds. The bird has nowhere to fly. There are no open windows in sight: Liberty International is a hermetically sealed transition capsule. How did it get here? The bird sits staunch with fear next to the conveyor belt, folding its wildness within itself. Blue-grey wings and a tiny beating heart against the robotically revolving rubber.

For most of the flight, the woman sitting next to me reads a book of poetry. I fancy she is a literature professor at the University of Texas. Around us, a group on their way back from Italy, with t-shirts and snatches of stories. Among them, there is a sense of opened horizons; the excitement of having-been blending with the imminence of home.

Bergstrom takes a few minutes to negotiate, my friend A waiting with a grin and open arms at the bottom of the escalator. We are soon on our way in, the iconic scapes of America around us – Interstate signs, huge cars, bumper stickers and retail sheds, the anonymous comforts of movement and materialism. The scene in Paris, Texas where Hunter and his father sit in the back of the pick-up truck with spirals of overpasses in the background is so imprinted in my mind that I cannot see them without being reminded of it. Austin, Texas. The minor thrill of travel: the recalibration of images and situations of existence.

Despite being the State capital of Texas hold ‘em and hang ‘em high, the liberal delights of Austin are plentiful. We spend the next few days sampling them. The informal motto of the city is “Keep Austin Weird”. Whereas elsewhere in the state, you might see Icthyus stickers attesting to the mighty word of Jesus, in Austin, the fish is more likely to have a cheeky “Darwin” in the middle. My entre into Austin weirdness begins almost immediately; that evening, A takes me to Casa de Luz. The house of light is set in a sylvan compound, with a yoga/meditation space and a vegan, organic, gluten-free and macrobiotic restaurant at the back. I’m not sure I’ve been in a space with so many virtuous adjectives conjoined at once. The set menu each day offers all you can eat for fifteen dollars. It seems somehow inappropriate to pig, especially when cold twig tea is on offer as refreshment and the other guests shine with a beatific glow. A few days later, I am taken to the Alamo, the cinema, not the site of the historical mission near San Antonio. It would perhaps be the planetary film-lover’s Mecca, had Mohammed access to celluloid. In front of each row of seats there is a ledge and a space behind it. One leaves ones food and drinks order on slips of paper and which get delivered during the film. Of course, I was served vegan fare – a huge platter of hummus and nachos. After two bottles of local lager, Knight and Day seemed like a work of comic genius. Oh the existential joys of America. I imagined a proximate sentiment across time and space: the Tuscan farmer sampling his first hypocaust in Imperial Rome.

Another point in the cartography of delights A shows me during those first few days is Wholefoods. Austin is where it all began of course, in the 1980s. I noted an ugliness filter in invisible place at the door alongside the shoplifting detectors. Alongside immaculate fruit and vegetables, everyone shopping in the store seems to radiate health and vitality. There seemed to be various social networks at play inside the space: I noted lesbians gathering by the dessert counter. They too were immaculate.

At various intersections across the city, I spot men carrying placards made out of cardboard. For some reason, I assumed they were Vietnam veterans. I couldn’t have been more wrong. One day, between places in A’s 4Runner, we come to a halt at traffic lights. A man walks towards us and comes close enough that I can read the scrawl on the front: "Not hungry, just sober". He catches us looking and moves closer. We wind down and listen. "I just need a dollar for a pint mate. I got two kids in college and my wife is over there. I'm Irish-American." It’s nearly 100 degrees outside, but that's no excuse for being loco.

A is keen to show me further forms the good life in Austin might take as my stay continues. We go kayaking on the Colorado River from Zilker Park (called Ladybird Lake in downtown Austin), drifting east with the tide, past the tall glitz of the city centre until the city starts to shrink back to green. Suddenly, it feels like we are on a tributary of the Mississippi, with herons taking flight, turtles plopping into the water and thick vegetation swarming at the banks. Then, an airplane glides across the sky, lowering into Bergstrom. Nearing A’s home, the current increases and we drift along effortlessly. We stop at a small island and swim. The water is cool and clean. Another day, we drive to Kreuse Springs, an hour or so from Austin. Here, there are emerald pools and waterfalls to loll in, and, best of all, two-metre huge wind chimes casting pentatonic vibrations through the trees, as we lie on hammocks below. An unforgettable joy.

And yet. Austin is a bubble of sorts; a university town and hangout for old hippies surrounded by hard boot Texas. The Lone Star State, the rest of America and beyond, intrude in various ways. We spend a blissful day at Barton Springs, a valley of spring-fed pools and rocks curling close to the centre of the city. From rocks several metres in the air, two Texican lads make bold leaps into the water. Their accents are heavy drawled, their words one rung above the monosyllabic. Although they bask in the sunshine of the moment, I sense violence, under the surface. There is something gangster about their group on the bank. Fox News echoes at the back of my head, in the place where stereotype and body image converge into a politics of fear. I wonder where prejudice ends and reality begins. The next day, we go swimming on Lake Travis (the Colorado River changes its name more than once around Austin). We leave our towels and valuables and swim across the water. As we reach the other bank, we see a family arrive and settle down near our towels. The man walks slowly past our stuff, lingering a while. When we return, I notice my ring has disappeared. By this time, he has started to fish, staring fixedly at his float bobbing in the water. He looks like a Mexican gangbanger. His face is covered in tattoos, with a ferocious looking knife designed across his back. I ask him how the fishing is going and then make a retreat.

Later that day, we go for beers at the Lone Star Bar in nearby Jonestown. We shoot pool and are served beers by a curvaceous waitress who tells me she grew up on a Navajo reservation. Real-life hicks with ruddy faces ring the table outside. The shortest among them tells us he has Irish ancestry and a few years ago would have punched us immediately. We are less than an hour from Austin, and yet neck-deep in Hill Country living. These people are poor drunks, jibing their days away, seemingly unaware of the ways of the world beyond their ken. A woman among them tells me she lost 400 dollars trying to buy a dog from Nigeria. It is impossible to suppress a laughter response.

And as the days pass, and one scene of camaraderie segues into another (A is a charmer), a thought takes shape at the rim of my experience. As elsewhere in America (and many times when outside London), my racial antennae have lifted and are taking readings. In the midst of the well-tended weirdness of Austin, something almost Bostonian appears to be at work. I recall my various times in the Massachusetts state capital: the parks and the order of the city centre, the New England sheen, and then the off-grid deprivation after long walks along the bleak MLK Boulevard to Roxbury. I think of the invisibility of sorrow and of histories that will not resolve themselves, and above all, of parallel lives within the same sphere of existence. A shadow starts to cast itself down upon the cloudless sky. The Boston in Austin. Beautiful bars and restaurants, and white people. Locally-brewed IPA beer, organic nachos and a subtle, unstated, exclusionary principle.

I raise my anxiety tentatively to A. He dismisses the feeling, and begins to count the black friends in his circle. Others mention that the black population of the city is comparatively low, compared to the Mexican immigrant population. The African Americans seem to be confined to a sector of East Austin. The following evening, A invites one of his black friends for drinks. I hadn’t wanted to bring the issue up (wary of the unconscious association of race with blackness), however, by the time I return from the bar with my round, the conversation had started. A’s friend is an ex-professional footballer from south-east London who is now an academic at UT. He has dreadlocks and an easygoing understated charm. In response to the race in Austin query, he tells a story about a recent visit to a boutique in an upscale part of town. The day after his visit there, friends of his called to say that he had been seen there, wondering why he was there. After the story, no further explanation was needed, or so I had thought.

A couple of evenings later, A and I walk along 6th street, where out-of-towners and students go to drink and run amok. Partying on 6th street is a circumscribed experience: bouncers and police are highly visible, with muscles behind uniforms coiled for righteous action. A little online research reveals that there is a subtle code that the doormen on 6th street are asked to adopt, to ensure that the joints do not get too dark. A points out mixed groupings, but still my raciometer clicks at speed. Visual contiguity does not imply social continuity. I sense that his earnest desire to see good in the world threatens to add dust to the bottom of the carpet. Along the street, we bump into two young women, one black and one white. The African-American tells us she is from the valley in California and that she finds Austin quite strange. She mentions that in her vicinity there is a wifi hotspot called “ihateniggas”. We carry on in silence: the awkwardness of racial uncertainty between white friends.

And then, at the end of the evening, after margueritas at the grand old Driskill Hotel, tiredness creeps up on us and we decide to head home. We get to the crossroads at the end of 6th street, leaving the alcoholic thrum behind. Cars speed past, but none yellow. A woman stands on the corner, neck cradling her phone, looking out for her pick-up. I wondered how long our wait would be. I step out into the road to look further.

“Hey, you guys want a lift?” A dark blue-pick up truck screeches to a halt close by.

“I can give you a lift home guys. Where ya going?”

We look at each other and share the same conflicting thought. Getting home sooner rather than later would be welcome, but what kind of person would offer a lift for nothing and why? A approaches the window.

“I just wanna give you guys a lift home. Where you going? Are you going to step in?”

A pulls away, a look of uncertainty straining his face, offering me forwards for a verdict. I place my head inside the cab.

“Are you guys coming? I can give you a lift home dudes..”

His right hand grips the gear control and seems to be matched by an unlocated appeal in his voice. What could he do? He could have a gun. He could force whatever he wants to happen on us.

“Nah, its ok thanks.”

He accelerates away, leaving us to wonder who would fall for his offer, and what might happen. It might have been a scene from American Pastoral.

Austin is a fine city, surrounded by water and glades and hill country and the good life. And yet, the dirty secret of race and the harshness of America exposes itself, as it must, pushing against any pristine joy. The shadows upon Austin speak of America’s history (and future) on the one hand. On the other, Austin is just like any other space of freedom in the world: exclusionary principles are always at work, where humans build places to live.


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