Saturday, 30 July 2011

Nnena Omali

Nnena Omali is an Afrocentric singer. The Nigerian songstress writes her own songs and also writes poetry and prose. The first video with the song: Palava - is her latest offering. Her single Oluchi was once nominated at the Sound City Music Video Awards in the best female video category. Kissed is another single that has caught my attention. Nnena Omali has that world music vibe with an afro-fusion edge that has found its voice in other contemporaries like Freshlyground and Nneka.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Friday Beats: 'Old' but Nice

What's old music? These days anything more than a year old appears to have that tag. Old or not, here is one track I would not archive. Nneka Egbuna (stage name Nneka) is a Nigerian German singer songwriter. I don't like all of her music. But this is one of hers that I love: Come With Me. Her voice is flawless in this video.

Freshlyground is a South African band. Their music is as fresh as it comes. Inhale the feel and savour like freshly ground coffee. Their music is Afro-fusion. I like very much. Pot Belly is one of my favourites of their songs. Lead vocalist Zolani Mahola is so compelling to watch and listen to.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Voice of America - A Review

Book: Voice of America
Author: E.C. Osondu
Publisher: Granta Books, 2011
Source: Amazon

Voice of America is a collection of eighteen short stories in a book. I love the art and colours on the hard back cover and this in itself was enough to get me opening the first page. Most of the stories are told in first person narrative which adds to the humour and vibrancy of the book. One of the short stories – the last one - happens to have the same title.  ‘Voice of America’ – the short story - is typical of the ironic tone that sweeps the length and breadth of the book. We are told the story of a young man, Onwordi and his American Pen pal Laura Williams. Goaded by his drinking pals, Onwordi sees the promise of a world of opportunities in the pen pal relationship between himself and Laura. We soon find out that what Onwordi sees and what Laura wants are two separate things. Both have the gift of sight but only one possesses the 20-20 vision to get what they want. America can make gains in Africa and shift her sights when it suits her while Africa is left dreaming and nursing her wounds. It is a story of realistic expectations versus unrealistic expectations, a theme that is also evident in some of the other stories in the collection.

‘Waiting’ – the first story is another story where the longing for America leaves a sad note. It is the story of the aftermath of war, of boys in a refugee camp. Each time one of them is adopted by an America family, the others are wistful for their time to come. There is appreciable humour to counter the depravity of poverty in a camp where the children are known by inscriptions on their Red Cross donated t-shirts as narrator Orlando Zaki tells us:

Paris’s T-shirt says “See Paris and Die” When she is coming toward me, I close my eyes because I don’t want to die.”(P.1)

The sense of hope versus hopelessness is immediately conveyed to the reader. Again this is a thread that runs through the book as seen in other stories like ‘Going Back West’ and ‘The Men They Married.’  It is always the individual’s choice to choose what adaptability they would have to their circumstances. There is a sense that despite the fact that some things are a given, what colours the totality of our experiences lies in our attitudes to and our actions on those experiences. Another theme that runs through the book is the idea that appearances can be deceptive and that this can in part be due to ignorance or unrealistic expectations. This comes to light in ‘The Men They Married’, 'Voice of America', and ‘Janjaweed Wife.’ 

Voice of America is a collection of stories – stories that make statements and what I consider to be a critique of Africa as a continent in her present state. It is not big on characters and master plots as short stories by their very nature are not usually big on these features. You will not remember many of the characters because the stories are not really about them. The stories are about Africa, her current mindset and the need for change.  That mindset is best conveyed with humour such as that in a letter written by an Igbo mother to her son in America asking that he send some money, in ‘A Letter from Home’: 

“Remember your promise to buy me a car and get me a driver, so I can proudly sit in the owner’s corner… I am sure you remember Obi’s daughter. She went to Italy to work as a prostitute…she came back with lots of goodies for her parents…the priest said that…she has been washed clean by the blood of Jesus (after she made a huge donation for the repair of the church roof)…now no one remembers that she was once a prostitute in Italy” (P.46)

I enjoyed reading every single one of the eighteen stories. In my experience of reading a collection of short stories, this would be the exception rather than the norm. This is a testament to the skills and vision of the writer. I admire the use of oral African tradition – storytelling by the characters in first person, as well as the use of the African folktale within the stories - evident in ‘the most handsome suitor’ folktale in ‘Voice of America’.  The apparent juxtaposition of two opposite concepts in most of the stories is also an interesting device: Hope versus hopelessness, etc. There is definitely a coherent message: the grass is not always greener on the other side. Africa has a lot to learn by appreciating what she has – What she has is too much to squander, under-appreciate or ignore while looking for greener pastures. Perhaps Africa will appreciate herself when she stops fighting the war against herself. In ‘Waiting’, Acapulco asks Zaki:

“When will the war end?” (P.4)

©Adura Ojo - July 2011

Monday, 11 July 2011

There's Something About Goldie

Found her on this blog. There is something about Goldie Harvey that I like, though I'm not a fan of Lady Gaga - the person she is often compared to. The first video - 'Don't Touch' is Goldie's latest offering on the music scene. The second video - 'You Know it' (featuring Eldee) tells the story of two rivals with one warning the other. The lyrics are so funny:

"Ifoti to gbona lo ma je to ba misbehave" (you will get a hot slap if you misbehave).
We're not the same o
I'm in my lane o
Igimu jina sori (The bridge of the nose is far from the head)
O ye kan ki lo fun e. (They should have warned you).
...Mo le gboko lowo e" (I can take your man)

The third video is another catchy tune - 'Jawo Jawo - about a gold digger diva.' It's not a new thing - Nigerian artist 9ice was one of the first to do it but I'm loving the creative use of the Yoruba language in Goldie's hip-hop tunes. What do you think? Is Goldie Nigeria's Lady Gaga?

Monday, 4 July 2011

In Dependence - A Review

Book:                   In Dependence
Author:                Sarah Ladipo Manyika
Publisher:            Legend Press - 2008
Source:                Amazon

In Dependence is the story of two lovers Tayo Ajayi and Vanessa Richardson – but it is more than that. The book spans four decades of Nigeria and its socio-political history from 1963 - 1997. As the reader gets to grips with the bittersweet love story of Tayo and Vanessa and the strength of it over four decades, they also become aware of Nigeria’s struggles with its colonial past, corrupt leaders and repressive regimes. Tayo is caught in the repressive system due to his ‘activist’ writings and he suffers for it.

Tayo is a young Yoruba man who wins a scholarship to Balliol College Oxford in England. There he meets Vanessa, the beautiful white daughter of an ex-colonial officer. The rest as they say (to borrow that old cliché) is history. And there it is. Just like Nigeria never did get its act together over those four decades (and we are still waiting), racism, indecision, fear, stupid rows and that same old male brain located ‘somewhere not inside the head’ all conspire to keep the two lovers apart. Life happens in between and the realism is well done. The inter-racial relationship is so well portrayed that if one had no clue how racism could impact on a relationship, the enlightenment is here. But of course it is not just about the wider racism in British society or the disapproval of Mr Richardson – Vanessa’s dad – to a potential union, it is also about unpredictability of the impact of cultural differences. Another issue is to do with Tayo’s indiscipline around women and this comes across quite strongly in the book.

My favourite thing about this book - apart from the interplay of the lovers’ struggles with Nigeria’s struggles – is the characterisation. I love the portrayal of Tayo and Vanessa. Although the book is about more than their relationship, it is easy to keep sight of them as the central focus. Tayo is a particularly complex character. Manyika does get under the skin of liar-liar-pants-on- fire-Tayo,  a man who always means well but ends up hurting the women he loves.  From Modupe to tragic Christine to Miriam, and of course Vanessa.  Tayo is aware that this is one of his flaws. He is also aware of his indecisive bent. In one of his letters to Vanessa in 1995, he says:

“I am like one of your Forster characters that never seize life” (P.223)

I am conflicted about Tayo as a character. I spend equal amounts of time loving and hating him. Here is a man who is so principled and brilliant on one hand – he loves his country Nigeria and despite the danger to his activist life and somewhat reduced livelihood refuses to leave for less troubled climes, and shuns the brain drain of the mid 80s to early 90s. On the other hand, he is so unprincipled in his relationships with women and lies to Vanessa several times about his relationship with Christine. Vanessa also delights and annoys me in equal measure as she spends practically half her life pining for Tayo while he gets on with his life and his women. But she is brilliant at being a mum and also at her career as a journalist and writer. 
The flame of incredible humanity that burns in this impenetrable crust of unconditional love is quite heart-warming. The message is clear that in spite of our circumstances and the decisions we make that may have particular consequences; love always finds a way. It may not be how we envisaged it when we started out on the journey but the journey of love and of hope is always en-route should we choose to stay on it. As Tayo and Vanessa remain dependent on each other over four decades and Nigeria remains dependent on her colonial past, the irony, interplay and symbolisms are evident. In Dependence would make you dependent on every page until the end.