Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Africa

I was invited so kindly by Kulutempa to attend the free screening of the award winning documentary film, This is My Africa; a project released in 2009 as part of a trilogy to introduce the rest of the world to Africa by Africans who have an accurate understanding and awareness of the continent's true identity.

The 50 minute fare presented commentary from UK based Africans like Yinka Shonibare, Mpho Skeef, Nana o Anyim, Chiweitel Ejiofor and Mazzi Binaisa; just to name a few. The participants answered questions in attempts to describe what Africa meant to them.

As an introduction, the film served its purpose but would not be sufficient to stand as an encompassing portrait of Africa, possibly because the voices are incomplete or that the continent itself is so diverse and complex that such an attempt might be impossible. Still, being that This is My Africa was described by the filmmaker, Zina Saro-Wiwa as part of an intended series, I am excited at the prospect of projects that celebrate the continent continuously as Africa's image is dynamic.

Borrowing from the handouts that were given at the screening, I will tell you some things that represent Africa to me...

1. Eze goes to school
2. Koku Baboni
3. Mine Boy
4. Sugar Girl
5. Purple Hibiscus
6. Violence

1. Naijablog
2. Bella Naija
3. 234next
4. Timbuktuchronicles
5. SABC Africa

1. Any African fabric

1. Hugh Masekela
2. Eldee
3. Tiny
4. Koffi Olomide
5. Awilo
6. Kaysha
7. Femi Kuti
8. Sunny Ade

1. A reasonable man
2. We are together (Children of Agape Choir)
3. Beauty
4. White waters
5. Owo Blow
6. Ti Oluwa Nile
7. Tsotsi

1. Tailors
2. Tiffany Amber
3. Mudi
4. Sofisticat
5. Idia
6. Headties

What is your Africa?

Thursday, June 25, 2009


She speaks of places
my heart desires
my imagination torments
I smile and I nod
She thinks I am quiet
She does not know that I am not there
I went away a long long time ago

The line was too thin
The thread to bare
To preserve
I had to go
covered in silence
She does not know that I am not there
I went away a long long time ago.

Do you want to know?
Even if you did
You cannot change
I have tried to do so
I have tried to find proof
It eludes
That is why I am not there
I went away a long time ago.

I went away a long time ago

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thursday meetings

I met my father's mistress on a Thursday. Contrary to what my mother had so bitterly said, Fouzia was not an ugly, spineless witch with a face pockmarked like a diseased gourd. She was tall, pretty and with skin so smooth, it almost looked like settled dark dust. Her smile was small but pleasant. She was on her guard and so was I.

"I don't want to go with her." I said simply. No, I did not think she was the evil woman that my mother said she was, but the fact was that she was not his wife. That woman was probably curled up in her bed, sick with worry of what similar poison her youngest child was being fed against her. That woman was my mother. And she was very unhappy.

Rekiya, my older sister had slapped me when I told her I would make the trip.

"Fool" she spat in my face, "how can you betray Mama?"
I did not cry, even as the stars swam before my eyes and the pain ricocheted across my face.
"He told me I should come", I said proudly. She was jealous. Papa had told me to come and not her. And I had. And he was passing me off on Fouzia.

"What did you say?" he asked in his soft quiet voice, a voice I remembered being read to with which now dripped with disappointment. I tried not to flinch.
"I will not go with her. I will not go with your whore." I told him.

He slapped me. For the first time in my thirteen years, he raised his hand against me and slapped me. Right there, on the front steps of the balcony where he lived with his mistress. My head was knocked aside and I held it there, lolling to the side, resting on my left shoulder while he stood over me, his hand raised as if to strike again. He didn't.

"You can go back to your mother." he said simply. Years later, I would marvel at how his voice remained steady. I couldn't speak. My heart was racing so fast that had I opened my mouth, my tears would have washed it out of me.

He left me there, hurting, his mistress only a few feet away, standing outside infront of the house. The sun was suddenly so hot that my skin prickled.

"Come out of the sun, " Fouzia said, simply.

I looked up then from the place on the sand where my tears had fallen and immediately disappeared within its heat.

"This is your fault." I said to her. I tried to spit but all my saliva had fled with the slap and my mouth was dry.

Fouzia chuckled. It was a slow and mirthless sound.
"Of course. It was me that slapped you ba?"
It could have been mocking but for some reason, it wasn't.

Then I started to cry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Envy is a dangerous thing because it usually comes along with its more destructive alter ego: Jealousy. Born of Vanity, raised with Lust and trained in Spite, Jealousy invites in Anger, the fuel of catastrophe

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nnena Okore's first exhibition in Nigeria

Friday, June 12, 2009

What dark nights bring

I reached out of my cloud of depressed gloom, set off by the exhaustion of a less than convincing performance, to lift the curtains I had borrowed from my aunt's house to let in some of the last rays of the evening's sun into my dark room and there he was. Black as night. Skin shining and with eyes so grey, they shone like flints of light. Eyes that were now focused on me with an intensity that was almost unnerving.

He did not move and neither did I. I wondered what he was doing there and if in some way he had been sent by forces unbeknown to me to send a message. I wondered if I should let him in and immediately chastised the lack of wisdom in that idea. What was I to say to this dark stranger, resident to the back streets and dark alleys of the neighbourhood. I had seen many times, skulking away with graceful strides.

I blinked and then he was gone. Just like he had come. His stay was brief. His presence much more lasting. I was left to wonder.

His name, his history and his destiny.

My alley visitor.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Funke Akindele, you and I need to have a talk!!!!!!!!

As an aspiring filmmaker myself and seasoned storyteller, I have made it a point of duty to pay close attention to any person(s) whom I believe to be standouts within our craft and thus, you have been on my list of artistes to watch for quite some time now. However, I must say that I am becoming increasingly disappointed with the quality of material that you put out there.

Granted, compared to your colleagues in the industry, your work is above average and I am not going to make this open letter to be about technical issues like using techniques better suited to the theatrical stage in scenes,grammatical errors and misspellings in subtitles, excessive dialogue, improperly handled boom mics and poor scene blocking that results in crew shadows being visible to the audience. I am more interested in the content of your work and the fact that though I get excited when I hear you have come up with a new project, I am barely into the story five minutes and I am left deflated and disappointed.

I mean:
1. Representing your sisterhood: There are very few women writers, producers and directors and so far there is no one that is at this point really presenting any progressive thinking for women. Women are simply portrayed in stereotypes and misinformation. The only type of woman that is celebrated is one that does not challenge the traditional roles which place her as secondary to the man and define her solely by her marital status and reproductive abilities. As a member of the sorority, I always find very little that caters to the modern woman. And your stories don't.

In Jenifa, all the girls that were fashion conscious were promiscious. All the sexually active girls either ended up dead, diseased or with a reproductive defect. As someone who went to Unilag, you cannot tell me you don't know of females who keep up with trends without the sole purpose of securing an older and irresponsible man to financially support them. Also, you cannot tell me that all the sexually active girls that you know end up with the same results listed above. Do a bit of research and you will find thousands of females with stories to inspire and encourage and not endorse stereotypes that objectify or demean us.
In Aye Olomokan, all I hear from the beginning of the movie till the end, despite the supposed twist at the end is that, if a woman cannot cook and clean, this is reason enough for her man/husband to sleep with the maid or any other woman who figures that she knows how because she can mix pepper, locust beans and spinach into an edible concoction.
If you believe the stereotypes you portray, then you, Funke Akindele, are not an artist or complete as a woman. I mean, where is your husband and children, if that is all a woman is defined by? Your life and work are an antithesis to the embedded messages you present.
Are you then saying to your fellow sisters, that all we are to be are cooks, maids and breeding machines? Really? With a university degree under your belt?

2. Over exaggeration of humor at the expense of the plot: Exaggeration is a technique better suited to the stage because the person at the end of the room cannot clearly see the facial expression of the actor beneath the lights and thus the thespian has to employ over emphasised gestures and extended dialouges to explain what is going on.

It is only in Nigerian movies that one would find characters conducting a monologue with no one else in the scene. And yet, we are from a culture where such an action is considered a sign of lunacy. Gatemen/hired help will spend almost five minutes saying nothing important, even though it is funny. Characters have quirks that don't correlate with their image:I mean,in Aye Olomo kan, why would a woman in her twenties be watching Hannah Montana? Fifteen year old Americans don't watch Hannah Montana and for some reason, a character in your story does? Okayee. Humor must have a point or it is a waste of reel, editing and audience time.

3. Depth of characters: There is never depth to your characters. They are always one dimensional and have linear expressions within the plot. You have in Jenifa, a girl who seeks to define her identity within an environment that is superficial ending up with HIV (that one is even a post for another day) and you have your main character in Aye Olomokan loosing her husband because she can only boil water, make tea and custard.
I know that just because a woman is bad at one thing does not make her a bad person or a total write off. Maybe she cannot cook, but she is good with making money. Maybe she is not good with money but she had great people skills that come in handy with the relationship. Maybe she is lazy with housework but a gifter writer. Maybe she can sing and write songs. Maybe she is fashionable and that is a way for her to changer her life and the lives of others.
A woman is multi faceted. Have you not seen women athletes, braving it all. How about market women who have to rise before dawn to get to the depot to meet with trailers coming from the north; negotiating sales, customers with dreams and aspirations for themselves or for their kids?You are multi faceted. Why is that never expressed in your stories?

Also, the men in your stories are always old fashioned and playing by stoneage manuals: Man comes in and says to wife "Go into the kitchen and fix my food." I thought to myself, is she a maid or "bone of his bone". There are men who don't base their relationships with their wives on whether or not eba is hot, or if they ate pounded yam. I feel that constantly presenting men in that light sets low standards for them. A man, who will walk out on a marriage because of vegetable soup is not worth his oxygen. What will he do in the event of a huge test from God? Disappear?

I am not calling out anyone else on this because frankly speaking, I don't expect them to do any better that what they have and I am don't care about what they do. Most of the other producers are men, and frankly speaking, you think they are going to advocate for the woman? But you can. You are a woman too and you appear to be enlightened. I know that you are much better than what your work implies you to be. I sense it in your attempts and presentation but don't see it in the delivery of your subject matter.

I know that our styles of storytelling are different and you most likely will totally disagree with me; afterall, if I have all this to say, where is my own film portfolio? I guess without one at this point, you might give no credence to my observations. Still, as a soror of the arts, I expect more of a mind like yours because these are the standards we should be setting.

So, you and I need to have a talk.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Twitter twitter, little tweet

Every third Sunday afternoon, after the hustle and bustle of carting family to and from the morning's service, the Daughters of Obasa meet in one of the homes of its members. When the group was just three people, they would meet in Anna's house on Oluwa Close on Allen Avenue but as the group grew and thus the distance some people had to travel to make the meeting, the need for the venue to be rotated arose. Also, there was the fact that some women felt uncomfortable around Anna's clearly amorous husband but that was not something that was shared with the tiny woman. Instead, it was cited in the minutes to be unfair that she had to bear most of the responsibility of hosting the event and thus, the rotation began.

That Sunday, it rained. It had been drizzling all through Saturday before and when dawn broke that morning, even before the cock had the chance to draw enough air into its breast to belt out its horrible morning greeting, the skies opened up and dumped its gallons upon the city of Lagos. While some people were running helter skelter to save their neighbourhood's from flooding, the Daughters of Obasa, securely ensconsced within securely and properly planned neighbourhoods prepared for both the morning's service and the meeting after.

Unlike other Sunday mornings, they would all take seperate cars from the rest of the family; the kids and their father--if present in the picture--would either pick up lunch at one of the eateries or head home to waiting arms of well trained maid. The Daughters however, would shed their church hats or hand woven silk scarves, put their luxury vehicles into gear and head for the day's meeting.

The evening before, they would all have paid a visit to the hair dresser who would have coaxed imported human hair into sculptures atop their hair; a clear sign to their husbands upon their arrival at home that there would be no action that night. Not that there was that much. The Daughters had resigned themselves to the fate that their spouses found entertainment elsewhere. For one, two Daughters were the entertainment of other men. Those kinds of things were not important. What was important, was the inclusion in an exclusive club of women with disposable incomes and enviable luxury lifestyles. Lifestyles that if profiled would make even Jackie Collins, the western author whose career had grown on her ability to write scintillating exposes on the lives of the rich and famous, sit with her mouth open. Jackie would not be able to fathom the kind of lives the women of Lagos society lived. The Daughters of Obasa did not keep up with the latest trends; they set it.

Theirs was a strict code of appearances. Hair was to be long and cascading. If you were not blessed with long tresses or had lost them due to years of chemical damage, you improvised with the imported purchases from Asia. Nails were the shiniest of french manicures and on no account was there to be colour on your toes. Those too were to be clear and tipped in white. Your feet were subjected to warm, salt water pedicure every week and encased in slippers hand made in the workrooms of a major Italian brand name. Clothing was never repeated and if it was indeginous was to be sewn with nothing less than a five figure sum; the fabric being imported from the UK or Eastern Europe.

Jewelry, oh the glitter. Each woman wore only signature pieces. These were not women who adorned themselves with gold chains and huge earrings. These were not women who would be caught dead with anything other than their wedding bands and engagement rings on their fingers. These were women who shopped with the stores closed to the public. They would receive the international calls from jewelers in their country of preference to let them know that a new line was in circulation. These would not be the designs that one would find in a magazine. These would be designs that came pre-insured. For daily use, they picked up simple strands of spun gold, platinum or fresh water pearls.

The Daughters would never be found on the pages of the tabloids. The press would never be allowed at events that they attended. When they walked into the room, whispers circulated like the cloud of signature fragrances that enveloped their beings. These were the Daughters of Obasa; the women of unique definition and all Hera wanted was to be rid of them in her life.

In the beginning, she had been giddy with the notoriety of inclusion. Her induction into the club took three years and almost bankrupted her husband. The husbands or men of the Daughters belonged to their own and one group did not exist exclusive of the other.

Consoling herself with the knowledge that the Daughters were a philantropic organisation, Hera launched herself at them with such determination that it was all but a given that she would be allowed into the group. Barely eighteen months in, and she was done.

It never ended. The conformity. She was to arrive at exactly 3.45, after the woman who was to arrive at 3.30 and before the woman who was to arrive at 4.00. Many times, she had had to park up the street, biding time in her plush air conditioned interior because she dared not break the status quo. Heirarchy was everything and if you stepped out of place, you were dropped like a bad fart. Nothing was ever spoken to the effect but arriving at the meeting to find someone absent was a sure sign. No one, not even when Laide Marinho had just undergone a hysterectomy, missed a meeting.

There would be the perfunctory greetings which also served as a wardrobe assessment. You were all but finished if you arrived carrying a purse worth less than 2,000.00 pounds. Almost all the women had Birkin's and if they didn't, they were on waiting lists. The greetings were followed by light refreshments of champagne in signature bottles. No one, seemed to consider the fact that these women would need to drive back home. No one ever came with a driver. These were independent, modern women and everyone knew that a driver was only a spy for the husband.

The meeting itself was always about 45 mins long. Minutes would be read and would be brief. Checks would be proferred for the monthly donations towards whatever cause had taken their fancy and they got down to business. This was the time, when they kicked off their shoes and reclined in the comfort of the couches and day beds. This was when each one would artfully try to out do the other with whatever scandalous information they had.

It was in the Daughter's circle that Hera had first learned that a governor had a male lover that his first wife had had killed and that the governor had been so broken up about it, he had signed off on the wrong government and nearly dissolved the state into chaos. Hera had watched the news of the riots in the state capital like everyone else oblivous to the goings on.
It was in the Daughter's circle that affairs were discussed, paternity issues were solved, information on the best traditional medicine man was divulged, contacts to "correct" husband's mistresses that were over stepping their boundaries, schools for children, plastic surgeon referrals, fertility treatments, shopping concierge referrals and whatever else struck their fancy.

At the very head was Miatta Khosa. And she ruled with a fist so strong and judgement so deadly that it had been rumoured that she had once made the president shed tears. She made everyone understand the price of their membership and everyone always paid.

Miatta had told Hera what to do. Sunbo Majekodunmi had had to "leave" the group. Someone had to take her place. Miatta was confident Hera would do a great job. Sunbo had been the social secretary of the group.

And Miatta's lover.