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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Farad-ising Nigerian storytelling

Nigerian writing is best known for its intensely beautiful storytelling, wrapped on personal journeys and narcissistic tales. It has so many challenges, from generation to generation. Now, a new generation of writers is making its mark, from poetry to fiction.

Much has changed since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote Purple Hibiscus. Helen Oyeyemi captured the world with Icarus Girl and made lots of money. A number of ambitious young Nigerian writers began to appear on the scene keen enough to experiment with new storytelling techniques – and practically reach as wide an audience as possible. They started writing beautiful prose and spinning words to recreate, to imagine a new world.

Emmanuel Iduma is one of the most challenging voices in Nigerian literary scene, writing a book that is convoluted, but looks very slim. He has written the novel to engage and enrage audiences. His novel, Farad is about the world: it tells stories about people. It is completely peopled with mad men, lovers, politicians, teachers, musicians and people that Iduma loved. His arrival onto the scene is at once, charming and intimidating. His voice is solid, but what he lacks, however, is the power to keep the reader awake. Sometimes, when I read Iduma’s prose, I sense a show-off, a degree of arrogance from the writer’s part, trying very hard to convince the reader that he is very intelligent. I slept once, reading Farad. Or even twice, but I continued, because the prose charmed me from the beginning. What works for him is his total control over his language and diction.

There are dozens of novels published in Nigeria all the time. Many of them don’t get read. Many of them are trapped in a dozy world, where the writers are completely focused on filling up pages with words and not completely concentrated on telling stories. For the most part, a novel is practically a journey of tales. What makes Farad more beautiful is the voice, the tension and the tenacity with which the words are spun. Just like Jose Saramago, whose beautiful prose could be found in Iduma’s voice, Iduma tries very hard to make people laugh, but he completely lacks a sense of humour. If his job is to be a comedian, he totally fails. This does not mean that he has not written a magnificent tale about the world. It amazes me how he could, at such a young age, be able to capture the world the way he does in this novel. It appeared to me that an artist was painting on a canvas; scattered but beautifully scattered.

I had a tough time trying to keep track of the characters, although it justifies the fact that fiction is life. It is like a train journey. You don’t get to end your journey with everyone. There are stations and people get off and others join. This is just the way Farad reads. Just like notes in music, it goes up, up and down and down and then up. You miss the characters, as they jump into different characters and you find more characters emerging. If there is nothing good about Farad, it is the musicality in the voice. It reads like something from the heavens, yet, there are many issues with the book. In totality, the author needs to understand that storytelling is a different game; that experimentation is very hard. Whatever way, there is joy in his voice, which is appealing. Yet, the book lacks that solid appeal that will readily stage the writer as a storyteller, which is the most important thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Open Letter to the writer, Tosin Otitoju

Dearest Beautiful Tosin Otitoju,

On the morning of 26th June, 2012, I stepped out of my hotel-room on Calle Diputacio in Barcelona, waiting for a taxi. I was thinking about you. Why? Because that morning was a defining moment in the history of my life as a writer. I had arrived Barcelona a night before that morning, waiting anxiously, to meet Anna Soler-Pont, the founder of one of the biggest agencies in the world, Pontas Literary & Film Agency the next day. Pontas represents some of the most famous authors in the world, including Jonas Jonasson from Sweden. The moment my taxi arrived and I jumped in and slammed the door, thoughts of you raced through my head.

Both of us alone know what I’m writing about. For a long time now, I’ve stayed away from attending public events for so many reasons and finally, moved out of Nigeria. Could it be shame? Could this be guilt? I have decided to address you in the open and say these few words to you.

In 2010, I was invited to attend the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. I am a budding author from Nigeria, so I was supposed to fund my trip to Hong Kong partly, because no one knows me. I was going to be on the same panel with South African writer, Andre Brink.  It was a rare opportunity that I was not going to miss. Many great writers like Nury Vittachi already started heralding my arrival in Hong Kong. No one could come to my rescue. It was you, Tosin Otitoju that ‘funded’ my Hong Kong trip.

By the time I arrived Hong Kong, I was already broke. Tope David, my publisher’s friend from university lives there. He gave me a couch to crash in. That same night I arrived, you Tosin were worried about me. You sent a message to your Indian friend who happens to be a BIG man in Hong Kong. Your Indian friend invited his fellow Indians, who happen to be Professors. They took care of me. To confirm that they met me in Hong Kong, they sent you liquor, which I carried carefully down to Nigeria for you and you appreciated it so much. Do you know that sitting in that taxi, reminded me of that day I came to Lekki for you? I am not an ingrate. It is just that things don’t work as I always plan them. So, I stopped planning.

The few days I spent in Hong Kong and in Doha inspired a great story, which I started in Hong Kong, discarding the first draft of my second novel, Orchard of Memories, a story about a Chinese man living in Lagos. If I hadn’t gone to Hong Kong; no, if you hadn’t sent me to Hong Kong, I would not have started that story, I would not know about the superstitions the Hong Kongers cherish; I would not have seen Chungking Mansion and I couldn’t have used the ferries, at which station I met a group of Ghanaians who already knew me before I came, because of the reports of my encounter with the Hong Kong Immigration Department. If you hadn’t given me the support I needed, the Nigerian Consulate wouldn’t have organized that extravagant party for me at the ‘only revolving’ restaurant in Hong Kong. I would not have written Orchard of Memories and I would not have been signed to Pontas today in a way.

I am writing this to you, because everyday, Anna Soler-Pont sends me messages that show that I am finally a happy writer whose fortune is hanging by the staircase and he may just have to pick it himself.

I love and appreciate you so much, Tosin.


Onyeka Nwelue

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Breathing in Barcelona

This very morning, I left Lisbon and was an EasyJet flight to Barcelona. Our flight departed by 11.45 and I got to Barcelona by 2.36, Spanish time. It was an enjoyable trip, I must say. There was enough comedy in there, as the passengers happened to be heart-warming people. I had the entire seats in my row to myself. I don't know why, but I felt everyone wanted me to have it all to myself. Nothing attached to that, really. And if there is, none of my business. So, the moment we touched down in Barcelona, I felt something reeling in the inside of me. I would say the only differences between Lisbon and Barcelona are: Obrigado and Gracias. That is to say, Thank you. In other things, the two cities resemble itself in its complexities and beauties. I love them both, but Lisbon has some magic yet. A big magic that I can't fathom to understand.

I'm in Barcelona to meet Anna Soler-Pont, the founder of Pontas Film & Literary Agency. We had been in touch for a very long time and this was getting interesting as we even signed a contract for her to represent me. Yet, the connection needed to be made solid.

Tomorrow, I am very excited that I will meet my agent in person. Lovely, ah?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

This night in Lisbon

Back in the seminary, I was the Head Boy. I had a deputy. His name is Ikechukwu Mbonu. I left the seminary back in 2005 and the next year, I flew to India, to write. I came back a frustrated gentle man, waiting to get admitted into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, while in my aunt's house in Lagos, receiving slurs and insults. People thought I was crazy, having chosen to be a writer. I thought they were crazy too.

Today, Ikechukwu arrived Lisbon and he is staying with me for a bit. It's a cool thing.  A good feeling in a way. We don't want to talk about the seminary years. We just joined other Portuguese and lovers of Portugal to watch the match between Portugal and Czech Republic. After the match, the streets went on fire. There was serious jubilation on the streets. In our company, we had Angela Cunha, my amazing beautiful friend from Guinea Bissau and fellow poet and writer, Mamdu Bade also, who was hungry and weak (maybe because he was supporting the Czech?). We went to Ali Baba and got some kebab for them and water for me and Ikechukwu, then, we took the taxi back to our base.

It was an incredible night. Goodnight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Muslims in Nigeria

Dear Muslims,

I didn’t think before writing this letter to you. I will not apologise for anything I say here, either. For so many times now, I’ve kept quiet. I have been silent over things I should scream about. I was quieted, not because I am not fit for your violence, but because I know nothing about your religion of ‘peace.’ I do not sincerely understand the concept of peace you all claim to have. What I’ve realized from your Way of Life, is the mentality of going against anyone that doesn’t agree with you. It is distasteful that you have chosen to unleash terror and fear upon Christians in Nigeria every Sunday. This has become a tradition and when things turn ritualistic, they begin to bug me. I am very troubled, dear Muslims.

You are very good at inflicting fears into the souls of people. You are also very quick at calling your religion a religion of peace. You are very good at calling anyone that does not buy your ideology, an infidel.

I am not a Christian and will never be. Yet, I do not believe these gentle and sober Christians deserve all these bombs you throw at them every Sunday in Nigeria. I used to think that all of you worship the same God? Now I know better. I assume your God is a very sadistic one, who pardons you when you spill the blood of an infidel? For just yesterday, jokingly, I made a prediction to a friend that there would be another bombing today. Just look at it, more lives have been wasted, for no reason.

People think I’m a ridiculous person by calling on Christians to take up arms against you Muslims in Nigeria. Someone will suggest I be tried for saying such.  Yet, I stand by what I say. I have seen unseen fears in the eyes of Christians. The kind of fear I saw in my aunt’s eyes last Sunday in Lagos troubled me. When will you stop this nonsense? I have also got to a point in my life where no one will be able to deceive me and say these bombings are not religiously motivated. There are no political detractors involved. This is a state of total religious repression.

I will not blame you for bombing churches. I will blame it on how delusional all you religious people are. It is laughable that a Christian would suggest that ‘Jesus Christ doesn’t want Christians to retaliate.’ It is as laughable as any stupid thing anyone would say. I am not writing you to beg you to stop bombing churches; I am only asking that you abstain from killing Christians. If you want to make a caricature of Christendom, there is another way to do that. If you want to show Christians how violent and religiously fanatic you are, there is also another way to do that. To bomb churches on Sunday and kill these innocent, demented and delusional people who are under the cover of their Unseen God? I do not agree. I do not favour you on that. I do not respect any of your ‘peace’ balderdash.

If there is a political war, we’d know. This has nothing to do with politics. It is about you Muslims trying to overshadow the Christians and make them understand how more powerful you are. But it is a shame that you do all these things for your God. I pity your God, the bloodthirsty King who sits on the throne in the clouds, like a pervert and watch the world destroy itself. The world that you presume he created? How strange!

May the souls you have wasted already, please rest in peace, while I urge Christians to come out, prepared, with violence for violence.


Onyeka Nwelue

Speech at SWITCH Conference

Back in the university, I had so many dreams. One of them, was to own a record label. I would sign contracts with young artistes and finance their music career. In my head, it was very simple and realistically easy. Yet, I couldn’t do it.

There were two boys I was interested in their careers: Luminous and T9. They are incredibly talented. They had dreams too. They wanted to become famous and rich. They wanted me to be their Godfather. Yet, I couldn’t be one.

However, that dream of owning a record label has not faded away. Each morning I wake up, I find myself controlling the kind of music that should play in my head. In the past few years, I slowly built some strong relationships with artistes of all generations – our friendship is based on the fact that I still want to promote their talents and make them live big. Now, this dream has taken me to Europe and Asia. I’ve been so consistently building trust with people in these two continents, palpably begging them to trust me; always trying my best to make sure that they listen to all the fine musical voices coming from Nigeria.

Back in 2006, which I can remember very well, I had bought so many CDs of music by Beautiful Nubia and Asa, two of Nigeria’s gifted performers and gifted those CDs out to participants at the International Writers’ Festival that took place in Haryana, India. I was very happy doing this. I coerced some of the participants to listen to the music when we settled into the Sikh temple in Paonta Sahib, where we were lodged in. They did. I started believing that my dream was coming true. Apparently.

Today, I return to Portugal, a country that has very strong colonial ties with Nigeria. This is very visible in everything we do, yet, Nigerians are not dramatically bureaucratic as Portuguese. This is not condemnation. What I am trying to say is this: that Nigerians don’t know the name of any Portuguese singer is because the Portuguese people don’t want us to know. For when I remember my last discussion with Portuguese actor, José Fidalgo, I glow with smile. Mr. Fidalgo is a huge fan of a certain musician with afro. Her name is Nneka. He didn’t know her nationality, so he put up her music on his website as background music. I told him that Nneka is a Nigerian and my friend. Ah, Mr. Filalgo is highly impressed and bewildered. He goes and buys Nneka’s music from iTunes. He loves all of them.

If I have to point it out here, I sincerely think that embassies of European countries are obstacles to the ramifications of the young Nigerian, nay African artiste, who knows that for him to survive from a society that believes that art should be free; he needs the audience in Europe so badly. He knows that this young artiste needs to make some money, so, he assumes he is going to stay back in Europe and never return to his home-country. I will say that this shows that Europeans don’t respect African artistes. We are not only a people who live large dreams, we also live large.

Before I digress, the point I am trying to make here is this: no matter how large our audience way back in Africa is, I mean, for the artiste, it is disgraceful that the Nigerian artiste prefers the audience in Kuala Lumpur, because we are a people who are obsessed with foreign things. It is not our fault. It seems, largely enough, that back in Nigeria, it is easy to think also that we have a large audience, yet, people find it difficult to pay for shows. If you are a show promoter in Nigeria, you will agree with me that the moment you put out posters for a show, family, friends and acquaintances will besiege your phone with calls, asking for FREE passes. How on earth will you survive in such mess? It is appalling that art is not in any way appreciated in the African continent, just the way it is supposed to be. I am not really angry about this, I am just concerned that the African artiste will end up dying in penury.

Bez Idakula has recently been tagged by the BBC as the next big thing. He is not joking with his music. He is not a lay-about. He is the sort of artiste who doesn’t wait for the heavens to help him before he helps himself. He does everything for himself; this is what I am realizing, even though he has a manager who is as hardworking as the artiste. What I mean is this, I have actually encountered a lot of these young artistes who are talented and yet, are crazily full of themselves. I’ve heard some tell me, ‘I am very good. I can rival WizKid.’ I don’t doubt their power of conviction. What I doubt is their angst, their eagerness to actually rival WizKid. For those of you who don’t know, WizKid is a big star in Nigeria, but he is just 22 years old. He has done incredibly well. I keep saying that he is leading the squad squarely well. This is no joke, either. If they really think they can rival WizKid, what is keeping them? Funny enough, you hear them say things like WizKid has someone who is pushing him. This is because they are lazy. Only lazy people say these things. For you to survive as an artist/e, you must pursue those dreams alone. No one will do that for you. And this is where Bez has taken the front seat. He recently travelled to the United States and on getting back; he was already signed to Universal Music Publishing. He has also indicated interest to go to schools and talk to students and pupils. He is not ready to charge anything. He is working his way himself and people like him. They have begun to appreciate him and his music. Which is more important?

There are huge talents back in the country where I come from. I am not here to represent them. I am here to represent myself. I am the man who wants to promote them and make money for myself. I am the man who wants to make them stars. But I cannot do this alone and I can’t force the kind of music that appeals to me alone on Europe when they don’t feel it. I am then assuming that the artiste needs to really work hard and make things work out for him, by making good music, keeping a brand that people would like to associate with. This is very important.

Nigeria has produced a lot of world-class stars, but it is strange and painfully funny to know that they were not made in Nigeria. They were made elsewhere. Especially in Europe and the US. Let us look at Sade, Seal, Asa, Nneka, Wale, Ayo, Tinnie Tempah and a lot of them. This is painful, but it is also a joy to our nation. What we don’t find funny is the feeling most of these musicians have that someone owes them, that someone has to carry their cross for them. I always tell them that they are delusional if they think that anyone is genuinely interested in their career without working on it to make some money for himself. Everything boils down to return on investment, which is more important.

There are so many risks in the business. There is also enough money.

Reading in Lisbon

On Saturday, the 16th of June, after making a rushed up speech at the SWITCH Conference, organised by 19 year-old Ricardo Sousa, I hurried down to ARTE & MANHA, where I was on a panel discussing the challenges of artistic creation in Africa. Different panelists are from Portugal, Estonia, Guinea Bissau and Angola. I had a nice time, really, talking about arts in the continent.

Later in the evening, I read to a small audience, which had Portugal's top actor and model, Jose Fidalgo as a guest. He had travelled all the way from Porto with his wife just to be there.

We really had an amazing evening. I am off to Brazil on Wednesday for Rio + 20.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A singer who lives the life he dreams

If you haven’t heard of him, you probably haven’t heard good music. Every young person in Nigeria at the moment – and probably, every young Nigerian in the United Kingdom, knows him. Or maybe heard of him.  He is getting universally recognized as a strong voice in the music industry. He takes his time to write, produce music and also sing what others have written. He is very melodramatic in a society where people continue to produce all sorts of music – strong and watered down lyrics that keep surprising us.

David Evans does everything when it comes to music. He is multitalented in that sphere. He studied Pop Music at University of Northampton and he practically understands the business of music. He lived as a young Nigerian trying to build a strong career in the United Kingdom; he became famous for recording in the countryside with his friends; he is a close friend of some of the great musicians of his day; he travelled round the world like the rich kid he is and has a broadened mind. When he speaks, there is so much wisdom gushing out. Along the line, he has written over 90 songs – and he will write more and more.

Most musicians sing of their experiences. As we noticed in For my Home Town, Evans might be reversing the process; he tries to experience what he’d already sang about. He began doing music at a very young age, before he fell in love, but he has written songs on love and affection. He wrote about marijuana, then sang out in Mr. Marijuana. We are yet to know if he smokes marijuana, but the joy we get in listening to Evans is something strange, something beery, and something amazing. He has the kind of voice no musician in Nigeria possesses and his style of music could simply be tagged different and absolutely afro-pop. For the most part, Evans continues to trail the blaze of modern music, suffused with old-fashioned beats.

Who is this young man?

Born in Imo State, in 1989, Evans is the second child of his parents. His father is an engineer who works hard just to make sure his children live a good life. “My dad is only concerned about our comfort and happiness,” Evans confessed when I visited him in his large mansion in Akabo village in Imo State. In that mansion, proudly situated in that bushy village, there is a standard recording studio built by his father for him. It is well-equipped and has everything a good studio should have. There is a funny thing too: his father built a stage for him in the compound. Would he perform for who? That is the question. The truth is that he has set aside his time to make his children happy. Few parents are like that, especially in this era where parents want their kids to become doctors and engineers.

“My dad is weird, because I’m not sure there are many fathers like him,” he boasts. And then, we will all get jealous and look for his head.

Evans’ mother is a tireless educationist who owns a very expensive school in Owerri town. So, when I visit the school, I realize something surreal about it: it is a school for the rich. The school-children are very neat, they stare at you shyly and they respond politely when you talk to them. They are well-trained. And they are beautiful children too.

Evans takes me to the music class and we sit there, talking about music and his life. He finds some serious joy in talking music. He is a happy man. His life is beautiful. He has little things to worry about. Maybe all that he worries about is his music – he has a long sheet where he pens down his plans for the future. He scripts his tomorrow. He will release songs, now and then, but an album should be out in 2013. And you want to know what happens if these plans fail?

“I prefer to plan,” he says. “That is how my dad brought us up. You just have to plan things out.”

He may not have said that he is a fan of Angelique Kidjo, Evans simply sounds like a male version of the African songstress, but both have different ideologies, as Kidjo sings in We are One: “As you go through life you’ll see/there is so much that we /don’t understand/And the only thing we know is things don’t always go the way we planned/” Yet, he plans all the time, which will amaze you. He has some willpower which he believes so much in. He sometimes knows what is going to happen to him. When he is scared of something that hasn’t happened, it happens.

The young musician is a budding celebrity who is also interested in filmmaking. He would love to be in some movies with good storylines. His humility to accept his weakness is what has endeared him to a lot of people. His mindscape is very broad. “I would love to be in good films,” he says and adds that he is not looking for major roles, as he needs to start from somewhere.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

José Fidalgo and wife are special guests at my reading

One of Portugal's top models and actors, José Fidalgo confirmed today, while we were chatting on phone, to make a special appearance at my book reading/discussion on Saturday, the 16th of June, at Arte & Manha, in Lisbon, with his lovely wife.

Funny enough, Mr. Fildalgo is a proud owner of a copy of "The Abyssinian Boy", which he got in April. As one of the finest actors of his generation, Mr. Fidalgo has gone on to appear in several productions alongside international stars like Italian Monica Belluci, yet, his humility will always amaze anyone that meets him for the first. While sitting with him at Colombo Mall in Lisbon, I realised that everyone that passed us, had something to look out for in him. They would smile and glare at him, but he definitely knows how to handle his fans.

So, on the 16th of June, by 6.30pm, he will be at Arte & Manha, and this is a great opportunity for those of you who want to meet him up-close, to come, as copies of "The Abyssinian Boy" will be available for sale.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paris welcomes Ishaya Bako

My good friend and 2012 Africa Movie Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Ishaya Bako, will be back in Europe, almost same time I will be roaming about in Europe, for the screening of his short film, Braids on a Bald Head in France.

There is a wonderful interview of him talking about him entering his film to compete at the awards. Finally, out of 88 short films, his student project at London Film School won and he went home happy.

It is amazing that young people are doing amazing things and that many organisations and awards bodies are recognising their efforts.

Have a blast in Paris, Ishaya!

Book reading at Arte & Manha

I am fully back to blogging and will be writing about the exciting new things I'm working on at the moment. I'm torn between screenplays, a novel manuscript (that is very hard to actually finish) and other materialistic pursuits. Yet, I'm beginning to realise that my path in life is really rough.

On the 15th of June, I will be speaking at SWITCH Conference, which is known as Portugal's number one entrepreneurship conference.

I will be talking about the 'exportation of African music to Europe and the colonisation of Europe with African music.' My talk will focus on the impact African music has made in the consciousness of the European mindscape - with strong emphasis on how to make our music very accessible to the European audience, without losing texture of what we really want to do.

On the 16th, by 6.30pm, I will be reading from my first novel, The Abyssinian Boy (as copies of the book will be available for sale) and talking about how the book came about at Arte & Manha, which is located at Av. Duque de Loulé nº22 B. There will be light refreshment and music.