An interview with, Sada Malumfashi, Arewa literary star – Abdulrahman M. Abu-Yaman
In 2016, I received an invitation from a friend via Facebook to attend an art exhibition in Kaduna. It was, in the main, a literary event organized by Purple Silver with another collaborator at Gusau Institute. This friend of mine writes poems and prose, just like I do. But beyond that, he’s an art enthusiast, something I also do apart from writing. I guess these common denominators attracted us to each other.
The art exhibition was part of the program too but on the sidelines. So I went with all my artworks. The paint works of beautiful landscapes, my monochromatic sketches of Ladi Kwali, not forgetting the colourful Arabic/Islamic calligraphy collections too. That was my first art exhibition which propelled my artworks to bigger events like the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST) and Minna Book and Arts Festival (MINNABAF) in Kaduna and Niger State respectively.
That friend is Sada Malumfashi, one of the biggest voices in the literary community from Arewa (northern Nigeria) and fastest rising names in the African continent.
Recently, I had an interview with him, and we discussed about his literary works and social crusade on some contemporary issues in northern Nigeria.
Here is a quick introduction of who Sada is and some of his works, followed by my comprehensive interview with him.
Sada Malumfashi is a Kaduna based writer. His works of fiction have appeared in Transition Magazine and New Orleans Review’s African Literary Hustle Issue. His essays and creative nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in The Africa Report, Saraba Magazine, Enkare Review, This Is Africa and Music in Africa amongst others. He was among the participants in the Goethe Institute Nigeria-Cameroon Literary Exchange Program. He is an awardee of the Goethe Institute/Sylt Foundation Writing Residency through the Literary Exchange Program. He is interested in the intricacies of languages and works on translations bilingually in Hausa and English. His poem and translations from Hausa appeared in the National Translation Month Issue of 2017.
Abu-Yaman: Hello Sada, it’s a pleasure to have you around once again.
Sada Malumfashi: It’s my pleasure too.
AY: I guess it is never too late to congratulate you on being awarded the scholarship for the Goethe Institute/Sylt Foundation Writing Residency in Germany. How did you do that? I mean, many are called but few are chosen, right?
SM: Being awarded the residency was a culmination of a year long process of workshops, writing, and exchange of ideas. I was among the participants at the Goethe-Institut Literary Exchange Program between Cameroon and Nigeria with 9 other amazing writers and excellent tutors. At the end of the program I was excited to be selected for the 3-month’s residency in partnership with Sylt Foundation in Germany.
AY: Can you tell us how your journey into writing began?
SM: By reading, I will say. Constant and voracious reading together with my imagination made me explore writing. By combining my experiences, my imagination and my environment, I began producing works.
AY: As a child, you were quite obsessed with Hausa literature because of your love for the language. What was the X factor responsible for that and how did it influence your transition to reading literatures written in English?
SM: I grew up with a library filled up with Hausa books. Naturally, Hausa is my mother tongue, and I learnt to read in Hausa very early too. I write predominantly in English but I believe reading Hausa literature from as far back as the 1990s while growing up shaped my writing style to what it is today. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a transition, as our educational system is instituted in English, it was very easy for me to write in English.
AY: You are the author of ‘Zata Iya’: A History of Hausa Feminist Writings, can you tell us more about the work?
SM: This essay explores the feminist champions of Hausa literature who have with pens ready, full of fire, energy and imagination, are emitting hidden truths through their words, and steadily reinventing the narratives of women in Northern Nigeria.
AY: Being a literary bilingual translator is not very common. Only few writers have been able to do so. How did you develop the passion and skills to do this in Hausa and English?
SM: I translate works from Hausa to English as I am interested in bringing into theworld view the marvelous literary works in Hausa, which I grew up reading, and which have continued to develop over the years. I do not have a formal training in translation, as suchso it’s not easy maneuveringbetween languages, but I derive pleasure in rendering Hausa works into another form in English.
AY: You also write creative non-fiction, a genre of literature that is gradually becoming popular. Any particular reason for this awakening?
SM: Creative non-fiction allows me to play and bend with genre more than any other field. It allows me an extensive means to explore with creative process and the fact that I derive my material and process from my own experience makes it even more exciting.
AY: Your work FINDING BINYAVANGA was published in the renowned Transition Magazine and also in Afro Anthology Series of SELVES, it was a beautifully written piece about sites and sounds of northern Nigeria, Kaduna in particular. How proud are you about writing something like that?
SM: Finding Binyavanga was published in Enkare Review and Selves. At first I didn’t go about writing about Kaduna, or northern Nigeria, it was primarily about meeting another writer I idolized. I am so glad with the reception this work had, and how so many people related to it, and how so many others got a glimpse of this place that has shaped my writing journey.
AY: Sadly, your friend, Binyavanga Wainaina, (the Kenyan writer and 2002 Caine Prize Winner) who was the subject of the piece passed away in May 2019. How did you find out about his death and how did you feel?
SM: I was with Binya for three days during his visit to Kaduna. But those three days meant a lifetime to me. And that was how I continue to mourn Binyavanga, it will be a mourning for a lifetime.
AY: Now you have to tell us about your extraordinary love for Kaduna city. It’s so obvious even though your last name—Malumfashi (a place in Katsina) always competes with the former. (Laughs)
SM: Haha. Yes, I get a lot of that. When I’m asked where I am from, it’s so easy. It’s Kaduna. It’s what I call home. It’s a city, I wonder about, talk of, listen to, and fall in love with over and over. My friend Pwaangulongii Daoud in his piece “Portrait of Kaduna City, a Half Completed Story” expresses that perfectly, where he says: The places we love contain elements of ourselves. Sometimes, these places, be they cities or rural areas, are expression of our dream.
AY: In your work titled A CITY’S PILGRIMAGE, you couldn’t hide your unconditional love for Kaduna. You even said: “Kaduna is not just a city but a conglomerate of many. You can’t write Kaduna. It writes itself. It is like a mob without direction. You cannot measure its mood. Unpredictable.” With the recent killings going on in Southern Kaduna, what do you think can be done to bring a profound solution to these recurring massacres?
SM: I think it’s going back existentially to the very root of the crisis. There can never be a solution without justice. Justice needs to be served to perpetrators before we begin thinking of moving on.
AY: On your part, in what ways can you use your pen and voice to pacify the tension and mood in your beloved city? Any project towards that direction?
SM: I use my role as an arts curator to amplify voices for empathy and justice. I believe it’s all our role as individuals in the society to pacify tension.
AY: Sada you’re also a freelance journalist with special focus on sexual abuse, gender-based violence and feminism in northern Nigeria. Please illuminate us on that aspect and your progress and experiences so far.
SM: My work focuses mainly on sexual abuse, gender-based violence, and feminism in Nigeria’s conservative northern region. I was the first journalists to cover the #ArewaMeToo movement in northern Nigeria. I also report on pleasure and sex, as depicted in Nigeria’s Hausa-language literature.
AY: Professionally, you are a Pharmacists, do you still practise it? Or have writing and journalism overshadowed and influenced your career?
SM: I think I am all of these in the wider aspect of a person, as well as just myself as a single entity. Pharmacy is what I studied in my academic pursuit; journalism is my natural instinct, my subconscious drags me to it, anywhere and everywhere; writing is what I am, my route to living a wholesome life, to being human, and all of these, maybe, makes me the person I am.
AY: I think you wrote an article on Ebola ‘The African Disease?’, will you also do the same for the Coronavirus disease anytime soon?
SM: I have some works on the pandemic that have appeared in The Africa Report as well as Konya Shams Rumi.
AY: Let talk about your poetry. What kind of poems do you write and who are your favourite poets?
SM: I write poetry to express my innermost thoughts in a clearer way. I read poetry over a wide range, from posts on Instagram and Facebook to classic and contemporary collections. I am terrible at having favorites also.
AY: Your poem BUHARIYYA (written in Hausa) and BUHARISM (in English) published in Jalada Africa is quite political. How has politics influenced your works and what do you think of Buhari’s performance so far in Nigeria?
SM: As a writer, as an individual, the politics of my surrounding always affect me, and I translate it into my work. The poem was relevant at that period, and constitutes my thoughts of the political process. I believe in always holding our political leaders to account. I only support and defend a candidate during the election period, once a winner emerges, I believe it’s our collective role to hold them to account and not be divided into supporters and defenders. They are there to serve and not receive lavish praise.
AY: Another of your fiction CRACKED HORIZON in Bombay Review appeals to me more like non-fiction. You detailed many childhood experiences therein, of course Kaduna was the setting, and you said alot about your dad and other fond memories. Want to tell us more?
SM: It is a fictional story. Of course it might have had influences from my childhood, but it’s basically the experience of the character in the story published. I cherish the work a lot because it is my first published short story.
AY: So you are the Founder and CEO of Open Arts, tell us about it and its affiliation with the Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation.
SM: I founded Open Arts in 2018 to bring about more literary platforms in Kaduna. I believe the more we have literary and cultural hubs the more the society gets awakened to the positive role the arts can play in changing the society for the better. I work as a Program Officer also for Creative Writing at Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation where our mission is to awaken creativity and provide literary platforms and opportunities for children.
AY: Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST) started in 2017 and has since been organized annually. How has that helped in the growth and development of literature in northern Nigeria?
SM: I am a big fan of KABAFEST. It is our literary festival of dreams in Kaduna. My hope is to have even more festivals crop up everywhere across this region.
AY: More recently, you were invited as a guest to the Abuja Literary Festival (ALITFEST 2020) which was a Virtual Festival due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Do you think KABAFEST could do something similar this year?
SM: It will really be nice to have a feel of the KABAFEST spirit this year, but of course our health is the most important priority at this trying terms, so we continue to hope things turn out for the best.
AY: Not forgetting the fact that you appeared on the popular German TV Station Deutsche Welle (DW). What was the conversation about?
SM: It was a pleasure to be on DW with the amazing Christy. I discussed the intersection of Hausa literature and feminism.
AY: Tell us about your German experience, the life, environment, people, the literature and the favourite thing you like the place.
SM: During my residency I stayed at Rantum, a village on the island of Sylt. During winter, It is a cold, windy and flat place sandwiched between sand dunes and beaches facing the North Sea. The sky is blue; the island is sandy and moody. One of my favorite places in Germany is SAVVY Contemporary: The Laboratory of Form-Ideas in Berlin. It is an arts space that has become another home for me, housing books, history, art, colors and blend of a borderless people.
AY: In a nutshell, what do you think of contemporary literature coming from this generation of writers from Arewa (northern Nigeria)?
SM: The North has always boasted of literary voices. There is always literary gusto brewing in northern Nigeria.The problem I think is sometimes we do not appreciate ourselves. We do not give ourselves the accolades we deserve. We do not hype our literary prowess well enough. We do not create as much atmospheres and literary institutions as the teeming literary population in northern Nigeria deserves. We are doing our own quota in Kaduna with Open Arts; Poetic Wednesday; Purplesilver; and Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation. Of course, Creative Writers Club has always been in existence in Zaria, and it’s an institution we should continue to support and preserve. There is also, the Hilltop Art Center in Minna; Custodians of African Literature in Jos; new and emerging festivals like KABAFEST and the Minna Book and Arts Festival. In fact, in every nook and cranny of the North you find literary hubs and creative centres, and all they need, all we need is to work hand in hand and support these initiatives. We need to begin to appreciate the works happening in northern Nigeria, rather than always tagging it as an emerging literary space. Give it the hype and attention it deserves.
AY: If you’re to recommend five books for someone to read, which ones would make the list?
SM: Tafiya Mabudin Ilimi
One Day I Will Write About This Place
Akè: The Years of Childhood
Born on a Tuesday
AY: Any advice for upcoming writers and perhaps even the established ones?
SM: I think I would have to quote Kurt Vonnegut here “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.”
AY: When is a book coming out? I’m sure you must be working on some right now.
SM: I’m working on two books. So keep watching this space.
AY: How do you relax? Any extra-curricular activities?
SM: Netflix and Chill. (Laughs)
AY: Finally, what is that one question you wished I should ask but I didn’t?
SM: Actually, this is a thorough interview, and I really enjoyed the conversations
Abdulrahman M. Abu-Yaman is a writer, poet, artist and calligrapher. His artworks have been exhibited at Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST) and Minna Book and Arts Festival (MINNABAF). His short story entry (NIGxit) for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize was published in Kalahari Review (2017). He was among 25 writers selected for a Writing masterclass on poetry and prose organized by the Abuja Literary Society (ALS) in British Council during the Abuja Literary Festival (ALITFEST) in 2018. His poems have featured in national and international anthologies like Lunaris Review, Brittle Paper, African Writer, London Grip Magazine, Writers Space Africa (WSA), Ann Arbor Review, Daily Trust Newspapers and elsewhere. Also a member of Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation in Minna and a radio presenter and personality with Ultimate FM Campus Radio of Niger State College of Education, Minna.