Saturday, 13 June 2015
These Lines Must Survive by Nurudeen Lawal A Review of ‘An Autobiography’, ‘Cut’, and ‘Death is not the end’ by Kelechi Nwaike, Tonye Willie-Pepple, and Adeyinka Elujoba respectively
The Land is Large
“An Autobiography” by Nwaike is a poem of 15 stanzas with irregular lines. It is a poetic reflection by an orphaned young man. The poem flows smoothly from the ‘stuffy room’ of the poet persona in the north through the sky resisting the fearful faces of the witches flying ‘by at night’ to the South where he, and his brother, has come in their pursuit to keep riding on with life even after the demise of their parents. Aspiring to survive.
Then the Holy Spirit beckons. Music invites. The persona is recruited ‘into a church choir’ singing to the glory of God. Survival continues. Then. Another aspiration sets in. It’s now love; the mover of the world. Being an action-packed August guy, he starts pursuing the girl of his dream. With vigour. Unfortunately his love is unrequited; disappointment, but not resignation. As the candle light burns on, his passion fires on. And the spirit propels him, again, to go north. Again. Since the land is large; if it’s not here, it may be there: north, south, east, west.
“An Autobiography” is a word-snapshot of a young man (and his brother) passing through life in stages, witnessing sharp and blunt downfalls, changing places with keen observations, and rising every day with a zeal to survive.
Trees: A Symbol of Resilience
“Cut” by Tonye Willie-Pepple is presented with a pictographic uniqueness: short lines, words written erect. ”Cut” engages the theme of survival from a significantly symbolic stance. “a tree” is written ‘erect’ to show the tallness of the tree and its resilience in the hands of the human cutters who “Cut/Cut/Cut…real good.” The tree boasts of “his” resilience; his re-forming power giving credence to the Yoruba proverb: “To the tree cutter is the stress; the tree will surely sprout again.”
This tree is irrepressible, confident of survival, not only in the mouth of a machete but also in the face of fire! Tonye scores high here by introducing a suitable sexual imagery; the one I call regenerative imagery, further entrenching the theme of survival. Though burnt to ashes, the tree promises to make love, through its ashes, to the earth. He regrows, this time, in twins: from a tree to forest!
Whether in the hands of the blade, or in the face of fire, the tree is resilient; confident of his survival.
Survival in Death
In Adeyinka Elujoba’s “Death is not the end” the poet persona addresses Iya Oba not to give up in the after world and charges her to:
Practise the feel of the earth
and how to loosen aerolites
and be strong underground to withstand men’s ‘soles, tractors, armoured tanks…foundations, huts, skyscrapers'. So, the dead should not resign as “death is not the end.” To survive in death, there is the need to be firm, resilient, and more importantly, to adapt. In four stanzas, seventeen lines, “Death is not the end” stretches the elasticity of creativity to a high point and can best be appreciated if read from a symbolic perspective.
“An Autobiography”, ”Cut”, “Death is not the end” write and paint the theme of survival with utmost simplicity, loaded lexemes, fitting imageries, pictographic uniqueness..
Download the www.sarabamag.com/the-survival-issue/Survival Issue of Saraba Magazine to read the poems.
Friday, 15 May 2015
Crime is part of everyday life, affecting us viscerally, contributing to the dynamic of our relations. The fear of theft, of assault, builds up walls we often do not see slowly rising up. In this issue, we hope to explore the intricacy of crime. Not as a news headline, or as sensationalism. Crime is the life we have been living, and we live.
Consider submitting poetry, genre fiction, literary fiction, essays, criticism—writing of any sort that helps articulate and problematize crime, lawlessness, even jurisprudence.
Our publications reflect and represent the best of emerging writing mainly from Nigeria, but also from the rest of the African continent. Our goal is to give emerging writers the opportunity of having their works published. “Emerging writers” is defined loosely, to spark useful dialogue—but we are interested in writers whose work show tremendous promise but have hardly been published in a major literary magazine.
Please submit via www.saraba.submittable.com/submit
Deadline: June 28, 2015.
Thursday, 14 May 2015
In 2015, we are calling for stories on the theme of Water.
Deadline 31 July. Submit to firstname.lastname@example.org
1st Prize R10 000
| 2nd Prize R2 000
| 3rd Prize R1 000
| Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Prize winners will also win an online creative writing course from All About Writing. 1st Prize Sponsor to be announced. 2nd Prize Sponsored by Books Live. 3rd Prize Sponsored by SSDA Staff.
Terms and conditions below:
Terms and conditions of entry
1. Any African citizen or person part of the African diaspora, as well as persons residing permanently (granted permanent residence or similar) in any African country, may enter.
2. Writers of all ages are welcome to enter.
3. Only writers 18 and over are eligible to win cash prizes.
4. Writers may only submit one story for the competition. Repeat entries by the same writer will be disqualified.
5. Writers are welcome to submit stories in any fiction genre.
6. Stories must be between 3000 and 5000 words in length.
7. Stories must be submitted in English. While you are free to incorporate other languages into your story, the story must be able to be understood fully by its English content.
8. Stories must be submitted as a .doc (or similar) attachment to email@example.com, subject line WATER, by 11:59pm CAT on 31 July 2015. Late entries or stories not attached in an appropriate manner will not be accepted.
9. To facilitate easy reading and judging, please format your stories according to the standard manuscript format stipulated below. Stories not formatted in this way are at the risk of being disqualified.
10. Stories must not have been previously published in any form or any format.
11. Simultaneous submissions are not welcome. Any story entered or published elsewhere during the course of judging or publication will be disqualified.
12. You are welcome to enter under a pseudonym or nom de plume, as long as you also include your real name along with your entry. (Guidelines on how to handle this in your entry can be found in the standard manuscript format below.)
13. All entries will be judged anonymously, i.e. with names removed.
14. The judges' decision is final.
15. By submitting a story the author attests that it is their own original work and grants non-exclusive global print and digital rights to Short Story Day
Africa; non-exclusive digital rights to Worldreader to publish individual stories on Worldreader Mobile; and non-exclusive global print and digital rights to Short Story Day Africa and BooksLive for publicity purposes.
16. By entering, the author agrees to allowing Short Short Story Day Africa to include their entry in an anthology should it be selected by the judges; and to working with editors to get their story publication ready.
17. We will not share your personal information with anyone. We will, however, add you to Short Story Day Africa mailing list for the sole purpose of informing you of next year’s event. Standard manuscript format
If you submit manuscripts to publishers or agents, you've probably come across the demand that you use “standard manuscript format” (or “SMF”) for your submissions. It isn't always spelled out what this means, however. Generally speaking, the term indicates that you should format your document with the following guidelines in mind:
Type your document, using a single, clear font, 12-point size, double-spaced. The easiest font to use is Times New Roman, or a similar serif font. Include your name and contact information at the top left of the first page. Put an accurate word count at the top right. Put the title of your story halfway down the page, centred, with a byline underneath. Start the story beneath that. If you write under a pseudonym, put that beneath the title – but remember to include your real name in the top left of the first page. Put your name, story title and the page number as a right-justified header on every subsequent page, in the format: Name/Title/Page Number. Generally, you can also just use a keyword from your title and not repeat the whole thing on each page. Left-justify your paragraphs. Ensure there is at least a 1 inch or 2 centimetre margin all the way around your text. This is to allow annotation to be written onto a printed copy. Indent each new paragraph by about 1/2 inch or 1 centimetre, except for the first line of the story or the first line of a new scene. Don’t insert extra lines between your paragraphs. A blank line indicates a new scene. Put the word “End” after the end of your text, centred, on its own line. If you are printing out your submission (rather than submitting it electronically), print on plain white paper, on only one side of each sheet. Don't staple your pages together or bind them in any way, but package them up well so that they won't get damaged and send them off. It’s always worth checking the exact requirements of any publication or competition you submit to, but if they don't specify any formatting requirements, or just say “standard manuscript format”, follow these guidelines. Click here for further details.
Monday, 11 May 2015
Good day, Lagosians. If you have not, I guess you have to do it now: revisit your schedule, to accommodate the 14th edition of the Nigeria International Book Fair. The 14th edition of the Nigeria International Book Fair is scheduled to hold from Monday, May 11 through Saturday, May 16, 2015 at the Multi-purpose halls of the University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos state. Click Lagos International Book Fair for more details.
Wednesday, 6 May 2015
Not all stories I have read made me feel this way; very few did: I felt I had the penetrative power which logged me into the authorial privacy of Damilola while reading through his new short story Ireti—featured in the Survival (17th issue) of Saraba Magazine.
Ireti is the story of a young woman (Durosinmi) who suffers the pains of miscarriage allegedly attributed to a generational curse placed upon her family (Orimogunje) by her great grand-father’s adopted wife. All of them—the female children—will suffer this misfortune four times and only those who could dare or survive to try the fifth will have the joy of remaking themselves.
The reason for my feeling: I am very familiar with the traditional belief in generational curse, and stories woven around it. One of the most familiar grand narratives—from which I felt Damilola sourced his story—is this:
In the distant past, a wealthy man owned slaves punished a woman slave for getting pregnant by ensuring she was given ‘saltless’ meals throughout the pregnancy period and after delivery. The slave, feeling humiliated, placed curse on the man’s generation of female children to suffer still-birth and other related misfortunes if they did not get similar degrading treatment.
Nonetheless, the most impressive thing about Ireti is how Damilola reworked the narrative to problematize the concept of generational curse; fit in the story with the theme of survival, and carefully eased himself out of falling into ‘nollywoodian stereotype’.
The curse? takes another direction in Durosinmi’s life. Instead of waiting for the fifth time to get her remake, it takes her just three times. The joy though doesn’t last long as the baby dies not long after his birth. Thus, Durosinmi’s dissimilar experience throws up a big question for Orimogunje family—and indeed every individual that believes in generational curse—to answer: this cyclical experience, is it really the case of generational curse or genetic inheritance?
Note: To read Ireti and other interesting stories and poems about survival, download the 17th (Survival) issue of SarabaMagazine here:
Thursday, 30 April 2015
Listening to the Postcolonial Singer in Tejumola Olaniyan's Arrest the Music: Fela and His Rebel Arts and Politics
The seriousness with which scholars of African popular non-literary cultures have approached the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti reaches its high point in Tejumola Olaniyan’s Arrest the Music because this is the first book that locates the meaning of Fela’s life, art, and politics within the larger intellectual milieu whose contours the musician himself helped to shape. The book also stands out for its adamant refusal to accept on face value the many received truisms, many of them self proclaimed, about Fela; his patently radical political statements, for example, are shown to lack ideological coherence or philosophical depth. To the question why is Fela important, Olaniyan responds that the body of work captured the essence of the “postcolonial incredible” (2) in ways no other African popular musician did. Fela became the force he was because he read the Nigerian postindependence situation very accurately and transmitted his observations in musical and verbal idioms most suitable for comprehending them. In all pitches possible and at every performance forum presented to him, Fela never missed the chance to articulate that which in the African postcolony “cannot be believed; that which is too improbable, astonishing, and extraordinary to be believed” (2). All thinking Africans listened to, sang along, and wondered with Fela about the sheer illogicality of how things could have been so wrong. Indeed, without the sustained musical attention, lyrical and percussive, that Fela paid to the senseless incongruities of life in the African postcolony, he would not have made much sense to many people, especially given his relentless willful violations of middle class, Western educated, social norms.
Fela’s mediation of the “postcolonial incredible,” in musical idioms that always punctuate a call to dance with a call to listen, to act, and to transcend imposes a difficult burden on his audience. The call in “Noise for Vendor Mouth” takes the form of a shout, the mock complaint in “Lady” is set to a heavy “funky rhythm,” the rumination in “Water E No Get Enemy” is wrapped in contemplative horns and vocal, the“sprightly drums and other percussion” in “Shuffering and Shmiling” raise the heart’s pulse and lift the feet as its words prick the brain, the endearing “exuberant horns” of “Eko Ile” evoke sweet images of the home. Belaboring the audience, in my reading of Olaniyan, secures the other platform on which Fela’s importance rests. Fela not only identifies the regime of the incredible in postcolonial Africa; he also rebukes the condition with an obvious relish that cannot but convince his listeners that this is an“interregnum” that will definitely pass. He betrays the hidden“vulnerabilities” of African postcolonial anomie with tongue wagging lyrics and suggests in fist clenching themes how they will be supplanted. In record after record, the constantly grave critique of the songs always insinuates (and sometimes yodels) the return of a savory norm; at the end of the savage percussion of the song “Zombie” rises the calm pitch of a saxophone riff that bespeaks a dawn.
The perspicacity of Fela’s observations and the audacious way he proclaims them are precisely the reasons his Yoruba speaking fans called him abàmì èdá, or the incredible creature. But we need to distinguish that epithet formulated by overawed admirers from the sober contextualization Arrest the Music does. Olaniyan’s reading of Fela aligns the musician’s genius with the tendency Emmanuel Obiechina has identified in African fiction as the poetics of disillusionment which shows the African ruling classes at work doing their self serving inept best to misappropriate the fruits of independence. The recognition and analysis of Fela’s vision of the inevitability of a better tomorrow, provided the practice and theory of trenchant critique continues, also corresponds very well to the type of cultural advocacy which the Ghanaian novelist, Ayi Kwei Armah, makes in Two Thousand Seasons. Fela, like Armah, simultaneously declaims Africa’s loss of “the way” and signposts the recovery of the same, refusing “to be mere mirrors to annihilation” (Armah xiii).
Whether he is a struggling “‘apolitical’ avant-pop hipster”who hung on to jazz tenaciously or the brash and self-confident “Afrobeat moralist,” the city is Fela’s forte. There Fela locates, unlike fellow nationalists to whom the essence of African being resides uncontaminated in the village, the most vibrant spot in the symbolic geography of African postcolonial life. The city harbors the most outrageous episodes of gargantuan abnormalities; if order is to begin to prevail, it will start there. In the African metropolis, Fela notes, mass transit buses operate as if the owners have the official permission to make more room for standing passengers than for seated passengers and still charge both groups the same price. In Lagos specifically, motor drivers act as if traffic signs mean the exact opposite of what they instruct: “Turn Right” is normally taken to mean make a left turn. But despite its maddening chaos, Fela always sings of a homey Lagos (literally so in Fela’s endearing Yoruba term, Èkó Ilé) as a difficult place whose irresistible charms cannot be spurned by any right thinking person. Good or bad, the city seems to be home!
At any rate, the hope of betterment subsists still. People who suffer and smile on the cramped city buses will one day, if they listen carefully to Fela’s lyrics, realize that their condition can be remedied if they move in certain political directions. When those Lagosians who bleach their black faces heed Fela’s admonition and live comfortably with the skin into which they were born, the crowded bus might be less smelly. When Fela sings about “go slow” or traffic jam, the city lover’s regret shows both in the dragged out words and in the deep voiced inflection. In the excoriation of the shocking stupidities of the overseas trained African postcolonial intellectuals, bureaucrats, and technocrats no trace of malice can be detected. Even when the objects of ridicule are named evil agents of transnational corporations and their collaborating perpetrators of misrule, the scorn is aimed at the witless acts of self hatred and not the individuals. Although Fela might have believed, Olaniyan notes, that he stopped singing amorous songs after his discovery of Afrobeat highmindedness (29), his tenacious optimism indicates that he never ceased singing about love; he only refined the art and channeled all his affection towards Lagos, his symbol of the African motherland.
Fela’s wicked humor and his rhetoric of ironic familiarization sweetens his harsh criticisms and makes his cataloged abominations easier to follow. One of his earlier songs about Lagos says:
Bi mo ba wa moto ni London o/ Even if I drove in London
Ma tun sese wa ko tiwa nile/ I would have to learn to drive anew when I return home Bi o ba wa moto ni New Yorku o/ Even if I drove in New York
Wa tun sese wa ko tiwa nile/ You would have to learn to drive anew when I return home
Tori Turn Raiti l’Eko o, la’ju e/ Because “Turn Right in Lagos, open your eyes
Turn Leefu lori o . . ./ Turn Left it really is
Tiwa tun yato si tiyin o se e ngbo o/ Ours is different from yours, you hear
Ka to tun sese so tawon obinrin wa/ Let’s not even talk about our women
Ledi ni won o. They’re Ladies
Except for the gratuitous snide remark about “ladylike”Lagos women, the contrarian nature of things in Lagos—like that of the postcolonial nation in general about which he sings in “Opposite People”—evokes bemusement and not tragedy. Lagos is home, the chorus insists, its oddness notwithstanding. Pronouncing “Turn Right,” “Turn Left,” and “New York” with the epenthetic vowels characteristic of Lagos pidgin English makes the words sound as if the peculiarities observed nationalize road sign rules. The articulation also renders believable the singer’s declaration of undying love for Lagos.
Fela’s unsurpassed understanding of which direction the wind of culture is blowing in post-independence Nigeria, Olaniyan shows, accounts for his sustained commercial success. In the dwindling numbers of the high society that defined taste in the concluding years of direct colonialism Fela noted correctly that the historical circumstances that sustained the prominence of Highlife music were fading. The teeming children of the newly empowered elite, in defiance of the genteel tastes of their parents, were raising themselves on African American popular music and not jazz, Fela’s preferred high art style. To tap into the trending developments, Fela rechanneled his energies and invented a genre that blends the tastes competing for superiority, fusing “indigenous Yoruba rhythms and declamatory chants, highlife, jazz, and the funky soul of James Brown” (32). That concoction, which he christened Afrobeat, found an eager audience among diverse taste strata that include the urban working classes, college educated youths, and curious holdovers from the Highlife generation. Olaniyan periodizes the transformations in Fela’s intellect, politics, and art into distinct musical styles and matching ideologies; the Afrobeat moralist that most Fela admirers know developed out of the Highlife journeyman, and the“’apolitical avant-pop hustler’” who favored jazz. In other words, the radical Fela did not drop out of the heavens, nor was he born with iconoclasm in his genes. In order to explain contradictions of Fela’s avowed radical nativist politics and his shallow understanding of critical African cultural history, particularly as it concerns women, Olaniyan also suggests we need not look too far beyond the musician’s circumstances, part of which are created by Fela. The book’s analysis of the well calibrated use of non-musical elements—photography, jacket illustration, costumes, and even marijuana consumption—in the packaging and delivery of the records isolates for the reader’s understanding Fela’s acute awareness of music as a commodity. The artist successfully stages for his public the aura of a selfless ideologue by shoehorning the musical and non-musical into one unrelenting mode of criticizing the norm. By reading within and against the grain of Fela’s rhetorical self and product fashioning, Olaniyan’s study outlines some new methodologies for understanding African popular expressive cultures.
After having spoken of the distinguished innovativeness of this work, the very little room left uncovered by Olaniyan’s comprehensiveness ought to be remarked upon. This reader wants to know, for instance, why the Afrobeat moralist’s imagination never strayed out of the city. Fela “quotes”extensively from the life of those who do not live in cities in his early highlife-jazz incarnations. “Water E No Get Enemy,” for example, consists entirely of an elaboration on a Yorùbá proverbial saying repeated many times in the song’s refrain, and “Alujonjonkijon” is based on the sung chorus of a folktale. Except in few and scattered saxophone and keyboard reproductions which listeners not familiar with Yorùbá lore will not be able to decode, the quoting acts gradually disappeared in the Afrobeat moralist records. The ostensibly nativist Afrobeat’s poignant lack of interest in the African “interior” is even more pronounced in Fela’s cultivated avoidance of native instrumentation. It may be true, as Olaniyan argues, that Fela replaced the “talking drum” traditions of the Yoruba with the prominent mimetic use of horns in many songs. But the African percussive ensemble is far more varied than mimeticism. As jùjú and fújì musicians have shown many times over, the so-called talking drum does more than respond to the verbal call in Yorùbá drumming ensemble. I want to suggest that Fela’s eschewing the interior of Africa—the laboring peasant figure and native instrumentation being two examples—reflects the shallowness of his understanding of modern African modes of being. Like the scriptocentric many on the African“classical” left, Fela was not at home with artifactual nativism probably because he did not know, and probably did not try to learn, the workings of these “pagan” artifacts which, in the mindset of an alákòwé (the literate) like Fela, belong to the ará òkè (the upland hick) . On a larger continental scale, it ought to be noted, it was not until Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s famous break with English language in 1977 that the possibility began to occur to the African left that artifactual nativism is not necessarily reactionary and that behavioral nativism could be linked to progressive politicking. Ngugi repudiated the church, stopped calling himself James and found wisdom in material Gikuyu verbal aesthetics; musically, Fela never left the church, although he dropped his “Christian” name.
One notable result of Fela’s rejection of the musical practices of the African hinterland could be seen in his successful rebuff, as Olaniyan correctly observes, of the panegyric impulse that dominates modern musical genres derived from Yoruba traditions. But Olaniyan did not account for the fact that the praise singers did not leave Fela alone and freely borrowed musical arrangements and lyrical directions from him. Indeed, the trademark “busy instrumentation” (29) that defines Fela’s most popular dance records filtered down to àpàlà, the normally leisurely genre in Yorùbá language popular music. Olaniyan notes that Haruna Ishola, an àpàlà maestro, once advised his fans to discountenance the mad motions that Fela’s music induces in dancers. But this is not the only kind of reaction Fela provoked. The rise and popular acceptance of the Afrobeat moralist made it possible for Orlando Owoh to sing a passionate praise for ganja. After Fela, Omowura and Adeolu Akisanya, like Fela’s one time employer and Highlife superstar, Victor Olaiya, sang against skin bleaching. Even Haruna Ishola, the anti-Fela, embraced Fela’s humor in his own criticism of skin bleachers whom he called “sóòyòyò adìyẹ abólọ́rùn” or blistered skin chickens. Just like Fela in “JJD”, Adeolu Akisanya ridiculed the Western educated man who has lost his ways through miseducation.
The praise singing Ayinla Omowura, who drew followers from the same urban lumpen that Fela courted, reinvented àpàlà music by borrowing Fela’s “sprightly drumming”. Omowura also took a trope or two from Fela’s style of irreverent lyrics. No Yoruba language musician will, before the emergence of the Afrobeat moralist, direct invectives at his detractors with the stark vulgarities Ayinla Omowura used against those who started the rumors of his being kidnapped. After asking which “ears have ever heard of the Olumo rock being stolen,” Omowura curses the rumor mongers, saying: “It is your mothers that will all be kidnapped!” In this song, Omowura turns himself into an immoveable ancestral rock and, in a very “un-Yoruba,” but definitely Fela, style directly curses out other people’s mothers! Omowura lived out the Fela script in one more critical way by adopting a matronymy, “Wura’s Child,” for his public last name. Of course, Wura being the musician’s mother’s name, “omo Wura” (Wura’s child) is the colloquial reference those in the Yoruba section of the Nigerian interior would have called Ayinla the singer. However, the normative thing to do is to change into the family’s patronymy in public forum, especially official documents. Ayinla’s refusal to change his full public appellation from the matricentric colloquialism of “Ayinla-who-is-Wura’s-child” is a radical public gesture which Fela himself never accomplished in spite of his avowed love for his mother. We know that Fela refashioned himself by rejecting his “slave” name, Ransome; however, he never repudiated the idea of patronymy to the extent that the unschooled Ayinla Omowura did. The African interior is not that closed up towards progress, after all.
I want to close these remarks occasioned by Olaniyan’s study of Fela with a word on what is shaping up to be the most enduring impact of Fela on the intellectual understanding of contemporary African condition. The signs are emerging that the generation that grew up on Fela’s music is beginning to take charge of things in Africa as taste makers and delineators of how African affairs should be understood intellectually. For illustration, I will use only Anglophone novel writing in Nigeria. Chris Abani’s 2004 best seller, Graceland, is about the misadventures of a slum dwelling Nigerian young dancer for whom the soul-deadening and utterly blighted material circumstances of his society are relieved only by his love for the music of Elvis Presley who, like Fela, is another incredible. The physical and aesthetic response to music saved that young protagonist whom the cauldron of existence in postcolonial Nigeria would have dissolved completely. The author of Graceland himself claimed to have suffered from the knuckle spikes of Nigerian political life that Fela chronicled so unforgettably in his music. Indeed, Abani pays homage to Fela’s precedent setting artistic response to tyranny in the title of this collection of poems about prison experience, Kalakuta Republic. Abani’s book and Fela’s famed residence are both eponymous with a notorious cell at the old Nigerian police headquarters in Lagos.
Perhaps the best index of the presence of Fela—and an attestation to the correctness of Olaniyan’s evaluation of his work as monumental embodiments of the postcolonial incredible—in the intellectual unconscious of Nigerian life today, is to be found in Chimamanda Adichie’s novel about the agonistes of the will to live freely in spite of the murderous designs of the African postcolonial potentate. With her gripping depiction of the tyranny that governs intimacy in Eugene Achike’s household, Adichie reiterates the extent of the “postcolonial incredible” which Fela chronicles memorably in his songs: the benevolent father is a heartless disciplinarian, the public philanthropist rules his wife and children with a maniacal tyranny, the man honored by his people as Omelora, “the one who does for his people,” detests, and never misses a chance to punish, his father’s free choice of religion, the financier of free speech advocacies and agitations for democratic governance will not countenance his own father’s free choice of religion! Although he operates mainly in the civil society, Eugene Achike resembles very closely the potentates Fela criticizes all the time in his songs.
Fela’s Afrobeat moralist—and optimistic—outlook on the“postcolonial incredible” is amply present in Adichie’s novel. In Purple Hibiscus, the mind boggling antinomies and oddities of life in the Nigerian postcolony are presented as events that shall pass ultimately. After all, the homely tyrant is poisoned by his meek, long suffering wife! The Afrobeat impulse of the novel is most obvious in the literal references to Fela’s music. In Eugene Achike’s house, Fela is unknown, and only the Catholic hymnal reigns. But Achike’s tyrannized children have a cousin, Amaka, who knows Fela inside out. Amaka’s family lives on campus at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the island of reasoned democratic dissent within the novel’s sea of public and private despotism. After a visit during which Amaka infects her cousin with her love for Fela—and other “culturally conscious” “indigenous musicians” like Osadebe and Onyeka Onwenu—Kambili begins to imagine the possibilities of life beyond her father’s severe manhandling of her mind and body. Amaka, the novel’s agent of proper cultural education and political reawakening, is, like Fela, sharp witted and states her opinion fearlessly. Amaka learns from her mother, just as Fela is believed to have imbibed his iconoclasm from his own mother, that “’Defiance is like marijuana—it is not a bad thing when it is used right’” (144). Amaka remains a devout Catholic but refuses to make herself available for the holy sacrament of confirmation because she would not adopt an “English name” for the rite. She asks the very liberal Father Amadi, the family friend they all love deeply: “What the church is saying that only an English name will make your confirmation valid. ‘Chiamaka’ says God is beautiful. ‘Chima’ says God knows best, ‘Chiebuka’ says God is the greatest. Don’t they all glorify God as much as‘Paul,” and ‘Peter” and ‘Simon’” (272)? Listening to such Fela-like sacrilegious statements and observing acts of defiance at close range gradually began to influence Kambili’s view of the world. The emergence of this new person shows when one day Kambili is caught “singing along” Fela with Amaka (247). Her growing freedom to think and act independently is further marked later in the story on her return from a trip to Nsukka when she reports herself to have “laughed loudly above Fela’s stringent singing.” She finally learns, among other things, that “Nsukka [the university] could free something deep inside your belly that would rise up to your throat and come out as a freedom song. As laughter” (299).
When Fela proclaimed that “music is the weapon of the future,” many critics probably dismissed the declaration as an exaggeration. In Olaniyan’s book we have a clear outline of how to begin to understand the relationship of popular music to the practices of enlightening cultural and political critique in postcolonial Africa.
Professor Adeleke Adeeko
Ohio State University