The Boundary Between Appropriation & Plagiarism. Booker Novel Comes to Question.
International Booker prize nominee Willem Anker has made use of Cormac McCarthy’s fiction – but is this sufficiently acknowledged?
Writing in the Observer in 1980, Martin Amis took to task a young New York-based writer, Jacob Epstein, for plagiarising him. In Wild Oats, Epstein had taken not just plot structures or character ideas from Amis’s debut, The Rachel Papers, but had duplicated whole sentences. “The boundary between influence and plagiarism will always be vague,” Amis wrote – but Epstein had “decisively breached” that “hazy” line. Rather magnanimously, Amis went on to praise Epstein as a writer of talent; he simply believed that the similarities ought to be made public.
That boundary remains hazy. Among the 13 novels longlisted for this year’s International Booker prize, announced last week, is Red Dog by Willem Anker, translated from Afrikaans by Michiel W Heyns. It tells the story of Coenraad de Buys, a seven-foot agent of war who lived and died in the violent, fractured Cape Colony. When I reviewed the novel, unfavourably, in the Times Literary Supplement, my objections lay not just in what I found to be a derivative, repetitious and at times deeply unpleasant book, but in a few sections that bore a striking resemblance to those in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which raised – as I wrote then – “some discussion about the nature and justification of plagiarism”.
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Text excluding Title courtesy: The Guardian
Afro Nation Founders On Uniting African Diaspora
With Afro Nation Puerto Rico around the corner on March 18-21 (and a second Afro Nation Portugal in July), the fast-growing new music festival is bringing its vibrant energy to the U.S. for the first time. The first-ever American iteration of the fest—taking place beachside at San Juan’s Balneario de Carolina—will be the third event in total since its launch last summer.
Nigerian superstar singers Burna Boy and WizKid, American rap kings Fabolous and Rick Ross, Jamaican reggae act Chronixx, Nigerian Afropop songstress Yemi Alade and Trinidadian soca hero Machel Montano are among the headliners for this month’s event. Those are just a few of the names within the epic lineup, which has been rolled out in waves over the past four months.
Each Afro Nation fest highlights the biggest players—and up-and-comers—in Afro-fusion, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, soca and other black-led musical movements. As cofounders SMADE and Obi Asika share, the idea for the event came from what they saw as a lack of representation in the event space for Afrobeats artists they worked with.
We caught up with the two Nigerian-born, London-based music industry powerhouses over the phone recently to discuss their groundbreaking Afro Nation movement. Read on to learn about the story behind this successful partnership, how they’re learning as they go, their hopes and vision for the future and more.
The next Afro Nation fest is coming up soon, the first-ever Puerto Rican event. What are you most looking forward to with this one?
SMADE: We’re on our third edition now. The first one was in Portugal in August, and then we’ve just finished the second one in Ghana in December. We’re moving on to Puerto Rico next month, which I’m excited about. I’m looking forward to enjoying the beautiful sandy beaches in San Juan and having fun, as we always do. I’m also looking forward to seeing people from different races and cultures coming together to celebrate African music and seeing the unity that Afro Nation brings to people.
Obi: SMADE and I are both Nigerian, so obviously we do these events to give a platform to artists from the African diaspora. We’ve done Portugal and it was a lot of the European diaspora. Then, we’ve done Ghana which is more like the brand coming home. But for me, I’m really looking forward to seeing America because we sold so many tickets to Americans interested in the brand, the music and culture, and the diaspora there.
Also, Puerto Rico is a really interesting place because it’s America, but it’s also the Caribbean. I can’t wait to see how people are going to vibe there and what’s going to happen. Every festival we’ve done so far in different places, they all have their own feel. I think that this is going to be a really interesting one. We’ve literally got people coming from every part of America. I think it’s going to be super interesting and really cool.
Wave 1: Afro Nation Puerto Rico: Patrice Roberts, Beenie Man, 2Baba, Afro B & More
You’ve been announcing the Puerto Rico lineup in several waves, and it just keeps getting better! How did you choose who to work with?
Obi: When we kick off the lineup, SMADE and I always have a chat and go, “What do we think? Who do we think our crowd’s going to be? What are they going to want to see and be interested in?” One of the reasons why we don’t announce everything at the beginning is that we want to read the crowd. We read a lot of the messages, we get a lot of the DMs, have all our team telling us what they hear and we do adapt things on the fly. We say, “Okay, let’s add that.”
These events are something that haven’t been done before. We have such a complex and layered culture in terms of from the east, to the south, to the west of Africa, and obviously all the diaspora as well. SMADE and I were saying, we need to go and do a trip to Angola and go and hang there, understand what’s going on, so we can understand what the Portuguese side is at.
SMADE: Also, we research and see the best acts to be on the stage. The platform is a huge one. Our stage is one of the biggest stages in the world for the acts, to be honest. What we try to do is research, look out for people that deserve to be on that stage, both from Africa and the diaspora and everywhere really. There’s so much talent.
Obi: It is a bit of a voyage of discovery for us. There’s so much talent and we want to include everyone, and we want to include everyone for each destination, but it’s a process even for us. We are constantly learning about new music and new artists. One thing that we’re very fortunate in what we’re doing right now is that there’s just so much talent. It’s a constantly evolving process.
Our crowd is very active on social media. You have some people like, “Why can’t we have this person?” and it’s always the same names. But we try and give other people opportunities. SMADE and I were laughing the other day because we can’t wait to see a performance, I won’t say who it is. We wanted to put these two acts together because when we know when they get on the stage, it’s just going to be crazy and make new fans. They might be overlooked on social media, but we know that they will be one of the highlights. We try not to make it about booking the same people at every show. We really want to give a focus for everyone. Particularly in Puerto Rico, we are going to add some local acts but expect that year two, there’ll be even more local acts.
It’s funny, year one of Portugal, everyone was like, “All you guys are about is West Africa.” We are West African, so we’re understanding things as we go along. SMADE and I spent a lot of time in France this year, because a lot of French people are coming to our show and we didn’t even push it for France that much. It was organic. Then we had a couple of shows in France. It was crazy. We realized the market is massive. So, we were like, “We’ve got to include more French acts next year.”
Sometimes we need to push our customers to new things. You don’t have to worry about maybe someone doesn’t speak the language, because with music you can feel it. When people are on stage, even if they’re singing in Spanish or Portuguese or French, we don’t actually see an issue in mixing everything up. It can be quite powerful. It’s not a worry for us if we think it breaks those barriers.
It sounds like it really keeps growing naturally as you meet more people and explore different scenes. Do you have any plans or ideas for future locations this year or next?
Obi: Yeah, it does. We’ve already confirmed another location for this year that will be announced in another month or so. We want to always let people focus on what’s next. Right now it’s Puerto Rico and Portugal, but yeah, we’ve got another really great location.
Looking back a bit, can you tell me a little more about what inspired you to start Afro Nation together?
SMADE: I think Obi and I, we noticed a lack of representation of our acts. We know how talented they are and how much work they put into their music, but we weren’t seeing them on the big stages. So Obi and I came together and we were like, we’re just going to do it ourselves. We didn’t even think it was going to be this big.
Obi: It’s exactly what SMADE said. I’m a talent agent and he is a promoter. One of the things you do as a talent agent is headline shows in order to get your artists on big stages at the festivals. We struck up a partnership quite quickly, because SMADE is incredible. He was selling tickets for Afrobeats where all the big promoters weren’t able to do it. We both obviously had a passion for this music, this genre, the culture because of our background. We struck up a partnership and we started having real successes, selling big tickets in London.
It wasn’t really translating to the major festivals booking the acts. They wouldn’t give them what we perceived as the respect they deserved, and I know a lot of these guys, they’re my friends. It was like, “Obi, man, we just got our heads around hip-hop a few years ago, and now you’re telling us to put these Afrobeats acts and give them serious, high up billing? We started off as a rock festival.” They were also like, all those Afrobeats fans, they won’t come to the festivals. They don’t buy tickets. Everyone said it’s not possible and I was like, how can we be selling out the O2 Arena with WizKid or SMADE selling them out with Davido, and then you’re telling me that they can’t play this?
“At our events, all the fans are very passionate. It’s more than just going to a festival. I feel like it’s the pride in their heritage and their culture and in their identity.” – Obi Asika
We were just like, “Look, we’re just going to do ourselves.” And when we did it, it just felt—we weren’t expecting it. We just wanted to prove a point, and within 24 hours, all the tickets were gone. People decided to buy a flight, buy a hotel, buy the ticket and go to another country, all for their love of Afrobeats. That’s not small, it’s a real commitment. I think that’s why at our events, all the fans are very passionate. It’s more than just going to a festival. I feel like it’s the pride in their heritage and their culture and in their identity. It’s driven us to keep going. We’re having so much fun with it.
It’s a very unique situation. Our people are everywhere in every part of the globe and the fans are everywhere. The biggest thing is if you just went on the norms of our industry of music and you say, “Oh, this person isn’t on the charts or that person isn’t signed to that label,” but Afrobeats doesn’t actually move to that. One of the things, obviously the success of Wizkid, Burna Boy and Davido, all the younger guys coming through is now shining a light on that in the records world. In the live music world, I think Afro Nation has shocked a lot of people that this crowd will buy tickets in advance and [pauses] I don’t know many festivals that most of the crowd are female. In Portugal, we had 85 percent female.
The crowd at Afro Nation Portugal 2019 | Photo Courtesy of Afro Nation
That’s so cool.
Obi: I tell you, they are really amazing. Watching, I felt, “This is girl power going on.” It was crazy. We’d never seen anything like it. It’s a very powerful statement. It was a very unique festival. [Afro Nation] is such a positive event and is very special to us. We’re very proud of it.
When you think of Afro Nation, what song comes to mind?
SMADE: For me, it’s Fela [Kuti], any sound that comes from the legend Fela. Because a lot of these new acts now and the ones that have done great, from Wizkid to Davido to Yemi Alade to Burna Boy, when you see them on stage, that right there, for me, is Fela. That reminds me of Afro Nation. It’s not just in West Africa alone. If you look at the highlife artists or the dancehall artists in Ghana, Shatta Wale, Stonebwoy, the way they present their performances and all the stuff that they do on stage just reminds me of Fela.
From your perspective, what you think real diversity and inclusion looks like in the music event space?
SMADE: Honestly with this, it’s hard to define because everyone’s got a different perspective of what equality looks like. However, right now in the music industry, I think we are heading in the right direction although we still have a long way to go. There needs to be more recognition of all types of genres.
That’s the beauty of Afro Nation. Even though the most [focus is on] Afrobeats and African music and the culture, we also infuse the Jamaican acts. Like in Portugal, we had Busy Signal, Buju Banton. And there’s the different genres, there’s your Afroswing, soca, bashment, reggae, and then Afrobeats. There’s also hip-hop. We bring everybody together as one on our stages. We had acts from the U.S., the U.K. and then also from the Caribbean and Africa. Bringing them all together to celebrate the African culture and music in Portugal was a great experience and feeling. The way everybody just connected, I felt like it was part of it.
Obi: I really agree with what SMADE said. To be honest with you, as we said before, it’s ever-evolving. As an event and as a brand, we are constantly learning about new genres and what different parts of the world are listening to. It’s just about trying to push the envelope. There’s a lot of people involved in Afro Nation, from all different parts of the world, putting the show together. We’re a very diverse brand and company, but we’re always trying to do more. We all have to strive to include everyone and just give everyone an opportunity to do their thing. I think we’re a very diverse event. I don’t think there’s many events that have French, Portuguese, Spanish and English speaking artists.
At our first couple of events, we were very aware that we didn’t have enough female acts. There’s a lot more female acts for Puerto Rico, and that is something that we have to check ourselves on a little bit to make sure. You just can’t be lazy with it. Sometimes, you have to just take your time and find new acts. Maybe if your first choice wasn’t available, take a risk on a younger act or newer act. It’s important.
Read: Beyonce Shares Epic Track List For ‘The Lion King: The Gift:’ JAY-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Eazi, Shatta Wale & Many More
What is your biggest hope, for the next five or so years, in connecting the African diaspora through music and entertainment?
SMADE: My biggest hope is to connect and to use this platform to unify not only the Africans in the diaspora but also for other races as well to also experience and know the African culture. I’ll give you an example. We just finished Afro Nation Ghana, and we had people from different races and different culture come down to Ghana. We had [Jamaican act] Popcaan buy a house in Ghana, and shown interest in Africa. We have people that never ever thought they would be in Africa celebrating, leaving their homes, or coming with their families to celebrate in Africa during the festive period.
Obi: Yeah, you were right, SMADE. It was crazy, wasn’t it? We’d see the tickets sales and be, “Russia?” Russia, Australia, Ukraine…
SMADE: Right. It was amazing. This is what Afro Nation is doing. This can bring unity amongst everyone, every one of us. I hope the generation coming behind can also be inspired by the growth of the industry, and we can have many more superstar talent like Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade. And even the French-speaking and the Portuguese—there’s Afro Portuguese now. From Afro Nation Portugal there are people trying to connect with the [Portuguese] culture, people going back home to check their DNA and all that stuff. This is what we’re doing. This is what Afro Nation stands for, unifying.
Obi: I know for me, to be honest with you, I’ve got two real hopes. I want more, like SMADE’s saying, of all these young artists coming through. I just want them to get through and become superstars, so we can have more headliners to keep pushing the industry forward. Now, in Europe anyway, every festival is booking Afrobeats, so half of our job’s done. We want to see more commercial festivals booking Afrobeats. Those like Coachella, Reading and Leeds, Lollapalooza, we want to see them booking these acts. That helps the whole machine of it.
We got Ghana done and we’re very proud of all we achieved because it’s very difficult, as there’s no infrastructure of the industry. Ghana is an amazing place. A lot of things work in Ghana like the roads, the airport. It’s a safe place, it’s super cool, but the entertainment industry, they’ve got lots of artists but there’s no festival. You can’t just call up someone and say, “Oh yeah, bring me this fence in and bring me this sound.” It was really tough and we really put ourselves on the line because it’s very expensive doing these events. But, we came through it, we produced something that we’re proud of but we want to build it. We want to help keep building the African entertainment industry, because there’s so much potential, there’s so many acts.
Why South African Folk Artist Jeremy Loops Is Pushing For International Collaborations.
Jeremy Loops discusses his strategic moves towards global domination.
South African folk musician Jeremy Loops is an international star. He packs venues and performs in major festivals in Europe and other parts of the world. His music has millions of streams on Spotify.
Jeremy Loops’ domination started with the song “Down South” which he released in 2014 and appears on his debut album Trading Change, released in the same year. “Down South,” which featured the Cape Town-based rapper Motheo Moleko, topped most of the country’s radio stations in its prime.
“My aspiration was that ‘Down South’ was a number one South African hit,” recounts the musician during a Q&A session with Sheer Music Publishing founder David Alexander during the Midem African Forum held at Bridges for Music in Langa, Cape Town towards the end of February.
“It was just getting played everywhere and that was kind of as big as a song down my musical lane could get. But it didn’t touch sides anywhere else. Despite the fact that my team and I had a hit on our hands, we had no way to get that hit further than the South African borders really.”
Loops realized that that shortcoming was part of a big problem faced by many South African musicians. “There are amazing songs coming out of the South African market every day, but how many of those songs are going global?” he says. Loops then decided to try a different approach.
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Source: Okay Africa
South African Rapper, Patty Monroe releases her latest EP, ‘Fill Ya Cup, Vol. 1’
The first installment of the two part release, has Patty playing around with her signature versatility, embracing Afro Pop and Hip Hop while further exploring the more alternative sound she found on Reminiscing.
YBDCareless starts the EP off with a whopper, an anthem for redemption and healing. Fill Ya Cup Vol. 1 is a showcase of her self love journey, with Patty oozing confidence and sass. Love has always played hard to get with Patty until she realized she can make her own happiness, right at home.
Patty Monroe is the epitome of New Age charisma, priding herself on show stopping performances every time she takes the stage.
In the short space of three years she has solidified her spot in the South African music industry. Not one to rest on her laurels, Patty is set to take her performance on another run through Africa and also for the first time introduce new audiences in West Africa to her stage presence.
2Baba Kicks Off “Warriors” Album Tour.
It’s been a hectic week for Afrobeats pioneer 2Baba who just released his brand new album ‘Warriors’ to rave reviews from listeners all over the world.
Currently in the US for a media tour, his first stop was at OkayAfrica on February 28, where he did an Instagram Live takeover and discussed the album which premiered the same day.
Following that, the music legend has been a guest on AfroFlava radio show in NYC, hosted by Sana Kibs and DJ Jonquick and V103 in Atlanta hosted by Ossei the Dark Secret and Cassius Clay in Atlanta.
He also had a hangout with journalist Ivie Ani, Christine Imarenezor and William Ketchum at Vibe in NY and also shot on an episode of My Drive on CNN.
The eventful week also featured meetings with executives at Tidal, Sony Music, Roc Nation, and the iconic Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
“Warriors” pays tribute to dogged and resilient champions everywhere who keep winning through ever-changing trends and circumstances.
The 13-track thriller captures the hunger, work ethic and fighter mentality that has earned 2Baba 20 unbroken years of trailblazing and industry dominance – a feat he celebrated with yearlong #20YearsAKing project.
“Warriors” currently tops the iTunes chart in Nigeria and has produced 2 top 10 singles “Opo” featuring Wizkid and “We Must Groove” featuring Burna Boy with a potential for more top 10 hits as fans continue to gush about the amazing body of work and pick their favs.
The vibrant visual for “We Must Groove” shot by award-winning video director Patrick Elis was first previewed at the well-attended album listening party held at The Artisan Lounge in Lagos Nigeria on February 25, it was finally made public upon the release of the album.
M.I. leaves Choc City, Drops ‘Judah’ EP Under New Label
Twitter has been buzzing with questions since former CEO of Chocolate City, M.I., announced his exit from the record label after 13 years.
The rapper has dropped a new EP titled “Judah” under his new label, Incredible Music.
He made the announcement on Instagram with a video which has people wondering what he meant about the statement he made “my best wasn’t good enough… but it’s alright”.
Text excluding title courtesy Bellanaija
Segilola Ogidan Debuts “Tainted Canvas”; Premieres at Sedona International Film Festival
“Tainted Canvas“, a film directed by Segilola Ogidan and produced by Orwi Manny Ameh premiered at the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona.
Featuring a stellar cast of Segilola herself, Kehinde Bankole, Tina Mba, Efa Iwara, Nonso Bassey, and more, the film explores mental health and motherhood, and the psychological effect of the sexual exploitation of children in adult life.
It follows the life of the unresolved issues Rayo, a first-generation British girl who has to face up to from her childhood in Nigeria. Her quest for healing brings her back to Nigeria and forces her to confront painful family secrets. This is a story of courage, forgiveness, but most importantly love.
Sharing her excitement on the premiere of the film “Tainted Canvas” on Instagram, Segilola wrote:
NB: Epistle loading…Part 1…
I finally did it. My first feature. My Directorial debut. A story close to my heart that has been in development for many years because it kept evolving because I kept evolving. It’s not sensational in any way. But it is a rollercoaster. Of emotions. That range from pain, to anger, to love, to hate, to love again and then to hope. It’s based on my own experiences over the years from when I was 5 of sexual exploitation in different forms by men and women and how those events shaped me as an adult.
For years I saw myself as ugly and unworthy of true love. I’m a painter. And so the best way I knew to rid myself of some of that pain was to paint. But those paintings which I ended up burning were tainted because I felt tainted. I tried to end my life a few times. But God had other plans. However now as a woman with my own beautiful kids, and surrounded by so much love from my friends and my stunning family, I am able to flip the narrative and instead of see myself as ‘ugly’ because of the taint, I am beautiful because the taint makes me a wonderful and unique masterpiece.
This is the reason I made this film, to encourage anyone doubting their unique beauty because of other humans’ limitations. I am grateful to everyone involved in this. It was not easy but I found my tribe in the making of this. And for that I will be forever grateful.
I present to you TAINTED CANVAS which premiered yesterday at The Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona. I hope it will touch people’s lives and encourage forgiveness of self and others. I look forward to the day I can bring it home to share with you all. And maybe you can share your stories too over many bottles of wine at mine perhaps.
Ladies in Sports 2020 International Women’s Day Event With Omawumi and Adekouroye
2020 International Women’s Day for Olympic athletes in Nigeria
Ladies In Sports International, a non-governmental organisation that works to promote women in sports and improve the quality of life for women athletes, will host a celebration on the 2020 International Women’s Day for Olympic athletes in Nigeria. The celebration will take place at the Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island on Sunday, March 8th, 2020.
Date: Sunday, March 8th, 2020
Venue: Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island
With the theme “Enhancing the Value of Women’s Sport in Nigeria” in line with the 2020 Olympics taking place this year, it will be co-hosted by sports management company, Integral.
Former long jumper Chioma Ajunwa, winner of Nigeria’s first Olympic gold medal in 1996; former 400m runner and winner of a bronze medal also in 1996, Falilat Ogunkoya and Folasade Olumide Ayo, who set a new World record in Para-powerlifting will all be honoured for blazing the trail.
There will also be a meet and greet with medal hopefuls going to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to get fans and sports lovers acquainted with the stars that will represent the country. The expected athletes are Odunayo Adekouroye, Ese Brume and Joy Udo Gabriel.
The event will feature mini music concert with performances from chart-topping, Nigerian artiste, Omawumi and an all-girl band called Banditude.
International Women’s day is a day set aside to celebrate women all around the world.
M.I. Drops New EP ‘Judah’ Under New Record Label “Incredible Music”
It’s the end of an era. M.I. has released his highly-anticipated 10th body of work titled “Judah“, and with it announced his exit from Chocolate City and the creation of his new label, Incredible Music.
M.I. joined Chocolate City in 2007 and became the CEO in 2015, and has so far dropped five albums, three mixtapes and one playlist (nine projects in total).
His new body of work, “Judah” houses nine tracks featuring artists such as AQ, Buckyraw, Nawe, Alpha Ojini and Kauna.
The rapper who ended his 13-year association with Chocolate City made the announcement on Instagram. He wrote:
There is a lot of truth in my new EP the “Judah EP”
I had a dream that CBN would be the greatest group the world had ever seen.. it was on me… and today I announce my decision to finally let go and move on to something new!
Thank you for your support and love for 13 years.. and if your still with me!! Let’s go… please follow @imthetribe
Talking African Literature With Chigozie Obioma
African literature has attracted immense international interest in recent years, and a number of “Afropolitan” icons and rising stars have won acclaim from critics and literary festivals.
Yet most reading lists released by major newspapers and journals are still disproportionately Western-centric, and African literature lacks enough media attention. Despite this, more avid readers across the globe are getting to know names such as Nuruddin Farah, Alain Mabanckou, Ben Okri, Aminatta Forna and Chigozie Obioma, marking the diversification of the literary taste of millennial bibliophiles.
Literature originating from Africa often delves into the legacy of colonialism, sheds light on the tyranny of capital over labor, recounts the identity crisis that many Africans battle with, and represents the unheard voices of ordinary people and unsung heroes.
Naomi Wolf Talks Homophobia, Feminism and “Outrages”
Chigozie Obioma is a 33-year-old Nigerian novelist and writer who has earned global recognition after publishing three books at such a young age. In 2015 and 2019, he was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Time magazine described his novel “An Orchestra of Minorities” as a “mystical epic” that confirms his “place among a raft of literary stars.” The Guardian referred to him as the “heir to Chinua Achebe” who is “a good writer whose work has a deeply felt authenticity, combined with old-fashioned storytelling.”
Obioma is currently an assistant professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US.
In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Obioma about his career, novels and the representation of colonialism in African literature.
The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Kourosh Ziabari: In “An Orchestra of Minorities,” you depict the ordeal of an unassuming poultry farmer who falls in love with a pharmacy student hailing from a prosperous family. In order to impress the parents of his beloved woman, he sells his entire belongings to take up a position at a northern Cypriot university and fund his studies. Shortly after arriving in Cyprus, he realizes that the middlemen who had promised him a university placement had tricked him and that there was no position available for him at the college whatsoever. Is this suffering a situation that many young Nigerians go through? While crafting the novel, was it your intention to raise awareness of this challenge faced by Nigerians?
Chigozie Obioma: Yes, I always say that fiction is a medium that takes lived experience and molds it into something that can become so new [that] those who have lived the experience may not even recognize it. Even more so, this novel covers how African migrants are treated in the West quite a bit, but people rarely talk about how we are treated in countries outside of the west.
It is, of course, a shame that the selfish culture of African politicians leaves their states in catastrophic states, but when these migrants go to places like India, Turkey, Cyprus, Mexico and other places, they face inhuman treatments. I myself lived in North Cyprus for five years and the travails of Chinonso, the protagonist of the novel, are similar to what I and others experienced. I wrote about my own ordeal in an essay earlier this year for the Paris Review.
Ziabari: In an interview, you said you wanted to chronicle the landmarks of Igbo history and civilization in the “Orchestra,” including the encounter with the Portuguese in the 15th century and the Nigerian Civil War. Do you think your readers have been able to absorb the historical messages you planned to share with them or is it that this pedagogic effort has been overshadowed by the supremacy of the storyline and the ups and downs of the life of Chinonso, his quest for excellence and his love journey?
Obioma: I think that this being a work of fiction rather than non-fiction — I could, for instance, have elected to simply write a historical book — I had to layer the historical portions around a particular story. So, both of them, I hope, go together. The historical portions of the novel are organic to the narrator, for it is the voice of a god. Thus, through its testimony about itself and its host, it also describes the world as it has experienced it over these many centuries.
Ziabari: You consider yourself an ontologist interested in the metaphysics of being and existence. The themes of fate, destiny and sublimity are often missing in the majority of novels written today, but you explore these territories in your fiction extensively. Do you think this approach to existence is what is winning you popularity and helping your work stand out among hundreds of novels by major literary figures?
Obioma: I am not sure why my novels have received some recognition, but I agree that the themes I have focused on are mostly marginal and not often what many writers consider. One of the reasons why I have focused on fate and destiny is because my people, the West Africans, think mostly in these terms. I want to capture the essence of their common worldview.
It is also because Nigeria to me is a paradox. This is a country that could be rich but is poor. There are, of course, deep philosophical reasons why this is so. But on the surface, that paradox stings and stares at you in the face, and it haunts my mind. This makes one ponder things that are subterranean to the consciousness — things that seems to lie beneath the surface and have no easy answers. The meaning of life, the “metaphysics of being and existence” as I always put it, is one such quandary.
Ziabari: You’ve implied on a number of occasions that your relationship with your homeland of Nigeria is a capricious one. On the one hand, it is the home that sends you away because of its lack of provisions and opportunities. On the other, it is the home that embraces you when you return from the US. Is it realistic to say your novels are partly inspired by your own story and your special connection with “home”?
Obioma: Capricious indeed! But I am wedded to it. The truth is that I am a reluctant exile in America. I wish I could live in Nigeria, frankly. That is my home. That’s where I live untrammeled, without any fear of being an immigrant or a racial minority. It is where my ancestors lived and died, and the place whose food I love to eat. But yet, I feel I cannot live there.
There is a wall that has come between my home and me, and it is a wall I do not have the courage to scale. [In a recent interview, I talked of] how this shapes the tone of my fiction in that it often leads to a sort of “tragic vision” which comes about out of the sadness of writing about Nigeria. I said there that such writing is a masochistic act because “Nigeria riles me, wounds me, and heals me at the same time. I love it entirely and loathe it at the same time, and in that kind of relationship, a certain form of despair often gets hold of the mind. My writing is sometimes an effort to rid myself of that despair through the joy of artistic creation. The witness borne then, if I might say, is a witness to my own surrendering to a light that emerges from my own darkness, and in that light, I am refreshed and made alive.”
Ziabari: Why do you think so few prominent writers have shed light on chi in Igbo cosmology and that old African cultural heritage is neglected by the youth? Do you consider the postcolonial influence of the West on Nigeria to be a negative one?
Obioma: I think many African writers and thinkers have tried to encourage an embrace of our heritage. There was Chinua Achebe, for instance, but also, to some extent, Wole Soyinka. The purpose for me is to reassure our identity as people who had some culture and civilization prior to the coming of the West. I think because of colonialism and slavery, followed by the underdevelopment of most African countries, there has set in this self-damaging inferiority complex — the idea that we are no good.
I was in Abuja around two years ago and some people were debating on national radio whether we should be recolonized. Now, this is a mistake. We only need to learn history, to look back at the sophisticated sociopolitical systems we had, the economic systems, the egalitarian political structures to see that precolonial Africa was not one night from which the West rescued us. I think without this reassurance, this strengthening of our identity, this solving of our identity crisis, we cannot recover.
Ziabari: Your debut novel, “The Fishermen,” was acclaimed by critics and shortlisted for a 2015 Man Booker Prize. Why do you think the novel captured so much attention and elicited positive reactions globally, considering that it was your first novel? Many aspiring writers, who happen to write captivating novels, struggle for years to win publicity for their work. What was the key to the success of “The Fishermen” as a debut?
Obioma: If I knew the reason why anyone enjoyed my work, I would be very glad. I think, humbly, it is simply to work hard and believe in the vision you have for a particular project and to be true to that vision. I have always wanted to write a novel about siblinghood and that celebrates family and consanguinity. I think that is what “The Fishermen” does well above anything else.
In that sense, it has universal appeal and touches on aspects of humanity that are recognizable and relatable. I also often think that there is something profoundly human about the relationship between the four brothers and how, just by speaking words, a stranger could cause an irreparable fracture between them. I think this is what many readers — across the 30 or so countries where the book has been published — connect with.
Ziabari: You once said that you wouldn’t have written “The Fishermen” if you hadn’t moved to Cyprus to study. How did being based in Cyprus influence your understanding of Nigeria? Do you ascribe the creation of “The Fishermen” to homesickness that possibly invigorated your sense of belonging to Nigeria?
Obioma: An Igbo proverb says that we hear the sound of the udu drum clearer from a distance rather than from being close by it. This is very true of writing. When I am in a place or close to a place, it is often difficult to imagine it fully. But when I am separated from a place and have distance from it, I am better able to see it, to fully conceive it imaginatively. Since fiction is all about creativity anyway — the invention of the nonexistent — trusting in hindsight.
If I sat across from you at a cafe and I was to describe that moment on the spot, I would write about the obvious things you did. But if I lie down in my bed later that night and the light was off and I closed my eyes, the fine-grain details will trickle in. I will remember the unobvious things, the person scratching their wrist, or hawking into a napkin — those fine details that enrich fiction. It is when the person is gone and the meeting has ended and the day is forgotten that things become closer, clearer.
Ziabari: Many critics have compared you to the legendary Chinua Achebe and called you his successor. Does it make you feel proud to be compared to Achebe in the eyes of noted literati and authors? Do you personally admire Achebe’s work?
Obioma: In some ways, “The Fishermen” shares an affinity with“Things Fall Apart,” Achebe’s seminal work. Achebe wrote “Things Fall Apart” to document the fall of the Igbo civilization, the African civilization or culture. I am looking at a more specific fall of Nigeria — of our civilization, too, but in relation to Nigeria specifically. So, it’s a similar project. And in the ways in which Achebe tried to reveal the Igbo civilization to his readers, and “An Orchestra of Minorities” does a similar job.
Ziabari: A final question. Where do you think African literature, in general, and the literature of Nigeria, in particular, are heading? Should we expect more Man Booker and Nobel nominations?
Obioma: Ah, I hope so of course. I think African literature is in good shape. There are wonderful writers popping up here and there, and I won’t be surprised if we have more nominations and wins.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Children Books Writer, Ann Grifalconi, Dies at 90
Her books, notably “The Village of Round and Square Houses,” set in Central Africa, introduced young readers to stories from different cultures.
Ann Grifalconi in an undated photo. She drew on other cultures, often those of Africa, in writing and illustrating children’s books.
Ann Grifalconi in an undated photo. She drew on other cultures, often those of Africa, in writing and illustrating children’s books.Credit…via Lola Stanton
Daniel E. Slotnik
Ann Grifalconi, who drew on different cultures to write and illustrate dozens of well-regarded children’s books, notably the award-winning “The Village of Round and Square Houses,” set in Central Africa, died on Feb. 19 in Manhattan. She was 90.
Her niece, Mia Grifalconi, said the cause was complications of advanced dementia.
Ms. Grifalconi, who was white, often based her books on the traditions and experiences of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, especially Africans and African-Americans.
She said a trip to a remote hamlet in Cameroon had inspired her to write and illustrate “The Village of Round and Square Houses” (1986), which recounts a local folk tale describing how women there came to live in round houses and men in square ones after a volcanic eruption.
Harry Garuba to be Buried in Cape Town, 24 April.
Harry Garuba’s genius is incontestable. And as the news of his death continue to send shock waves across the globe, this great African scholar, poet and literary critic will be buried on 24 April, 2020 in Cape Town South Africa, where he lived and taught as a dedicated university lecturer before his demise.
An intriguing thing about this great man of letters, who passed on after a protracted illness, just about a month to his 62nd birthday, is that he will be buried barely two weeks after his first posthumous birthday. Garuba, who was born on 8 April, 1958 in Akure, South-West Nigeria, transited on Friday, 28 February 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. He was married to Zazi, a South African and they had two children, Ruona and Zukina.
Still, there has been no end to the tributes and accolades that the greatness of his humility, scholarship and intellect continue to elicit from friends, associates and colleagues across the globe. Of, course, this is not coming as a surprise, given his rich, scholarly oeuvre, his ingenious creative works, the invaluable role he played mentoring writers and scholars and the greatness of his modesty and self-effacement as well as his deep infectious smiles that are reassuring and speak volumes. The University of Cape Town, where he taught in the English Department and African Studies Unit before his death, released an official statement, in which it lauded Garuba as ‘a masterful writer and poet’, ‘a luminary in the field of African literature and a champion of postcolonial theory and postcolonial literature’.
The university authorities reiterated the invaluable role Garuba had played not just in developing the UCT Centre for African Studies as a hub for research on the African continent, he was committed to developed thinking about what a decolonized curriculum would look like in Africa and the global south and what a multicultural curriculum would look like in the West. It also made reference to his intellection and commitment to students’ intellectual development and progress, a trait which everyone who passed through him at the Universities of Ibadan and Cape Town attests to.
“Professor Garuba was committed to teaching students to be analytical, to question, to engage, to ask difficult questions and to use their imagination in solving real-world problems. During his tenure as director of the School of African and Gender Studies, Anthropology and Linguistics and acting dean of the faculty, he was a strong leader who displayed wisdom and empathy and will be remembered for his warm personality and commitment to a truly transformed university centred around its African identity,” the statement reads.
Acting Vice-Chancellor of the university, Acting Professor Lis Lange, described Garuba as ‘a genuine person who dedicated his time to moving the university forward and supporting his students’. “Garuba’s scholarship was driven by a deep dedication to his students and to decolonizing the study of Africa … His passing is a great loss to the university and the transformation project, but we must continue this important work in his absence and build on the foundation he has left,” she said.
Jennifer Malec, Editor, Johannesburg Review of Books, who Garuba once taught African literature and philosophy during her MA at University of Cape Town, described him as an extremely kind, gentle man, with a wicked sense of humour and an extraordinary mind. “One of my earliest memories of Harry is when he failed almost our entire MA group for our first essay. We were all fairly shocked, because he was such a genial guy. Looking back I could see the funny side; I’m pretty sure he was trying to shock us out of our comfort zone. And it worked. He was a wonderful teacher and most of us ended up excelling in his class. He will be greatly missed,” she recalled
Professor Remi Raji, poet, scholar and former Dean of Arts, University of Ibadan, who Garuba taught at UI and supervised his doctoral thesis, described him as not only precocious and a compendium of knowledge but also raised in the best of the literary traditions, under Michael Echeruo, D.S. Izevbaye, Sam Omo Asein, Isidore Okpewho, Chiwenye Ogunyemi, Molara Ogundipe and Abiola Irele .
“In thirty-nine years of special connection, Harry G was my tutorial master, teacher, friend and supervisor, brother, confidante and mentor; he was my grants advisor, my phenomenal sparring partner; and he was a good man, the undisputable prince and bridgehead of (Nigerian) letters. He wore the garland of excellence comfortably and was generous to a fault. He was a truly talented poet who endorsed others while he sought little recognition for himself.
“Your legacy is assured. Apart from being a major voice and influence in the making of third generation Nigerian literature, you bequeathed the term ‘animist realism’ to readings of African literature and theory, an alternative critique of magical realism. You were the master of critical methods and theoretical procedures,” he averred.
Raji also said the late erudite scholar and creative had a weakness of virtue. “Harry G, you had a weakness, and it was the weakness of virtue: you could not think of hurting a fly or taking the pound of flesh from those who had hurt you.”
Unearthing the past, the academic described the emotional moment when Garuba revealed he had leukemia during their last meeting in Ibadan. “The day you dropped the word, we were together in your room at the University of Ibadan Hotels some weeks after your 60th birthday. Leukaemia. You dropped the word and searched for something in my eyes. I hid a fear and drew blank. I asked if the thing was curable; Carl Ikeme survived the horror, I said; you were a brave man, soft outwardly but made of steel inside. You sounded so positive about the treatment that we relegated the mortal matter to discussions on your favourite subjects, the edifying nature and the immortality of art. We had the choicest of wine till the lean hours of the morning. You asked me to keep faith, that you would fight it, and I should not weaken the resolve by telling anyone or worrying,” Raji reminisced.
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, journalist, poet and playwright, while reacting to Garuba’s demise described him as the finest of minds. “Your generosity of intelligence remains unmatched, and all I can do for now, amid my tears, is sing a line of Kofi Awoonor’s ‘Song of Sorrow.’ ‘Death has made war upon our house,’”
Amatoritsero Ede, poet, and scholar also said Garuba, who led the Thursday group of poets at the University of Ibadan, was at the bridgehead of a new wave of Nigerian literary culture and scholarship. “For over 30 years, he sponsored, mentored, taught, supported and befriended that new generation of academics and writers. Always self-effacing, he never took or sought credit for his intellectual, financial, and moral generosity, a palpable example of which was the 1987 poetry anthology, Voices from the Fringe, which he organized and edited.
“One of the greatest souls I had the good fortune of having lived with, eaten with, drank with and laughed with since 1986. He was teacher, mentor, friend and confidant to many scholars who are themselves now legends,” Ede said.
Gaontebale Nodoba, Garuba’s colleague at the University of Cape Town, while reacting to his death said “the big tree has fallen … This was a man of all season, a mentor, a role model, a teacher, a source of knowledge, a selfless man, a true African elder, one of our finest intellectuals, scholar, prolific writer and researcher par excellence.”