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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.