Tribute to Biyi Bandele, the “fabu master” – Toni Kan

Death is rude!

It is especially so in the finality with which it coats everything.

In preparing to write this tribute, I referred to the internet to confirm a book title and imagine my shock at the first line – Biyi Bandele (born Biyi Bandele-Thomas; 13 October 1967 – 7 August 2022)[1] was a Nigerian novelist, playwright and filmmaker.

The “was” represented a poke in the eye, the internet flipping me the middle finger.

The last time I saw Biyi was on Sunday 8 August 2021 at the Radisson Blu hotel in Victoria Island. I was there to meet a newly arrived German culture ambassador. I was sitting in the reception when I saw Biyi get up, shake hands with a white lady and then depart. I wanted to get up and say hello, but the woman looked up, exclaimed my name and in the time it took to say yes and share a hug Biyi was gone, bag and muffler flapping  in tow.

For many, he was the director of Half of a Yellow Sun. But long before that novel and film and Chimamanda, we had known him as Biyi Bandele Thomas the Kafanchan-born “fabu master” who dropped out of the University of Ife after winning an award in London.

His books, The Man Who Came in From the Back of Beyond’ and The Sympathetic Undertaker: and Other Dreams, both published in 1991 were dreamy and magically realistic books filled with fantastic tales and so the “fabu master” appellation. His critically acclaimed novel, Burma Boy (The King’s Rifle) which was about the experiences of African soldiers in the Second World War showed Biyi at the height of his storytelling abilities.

Aside novels, he also wrote plays, successfully adapting Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to the stage but it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun that brought him to the attention of a whole new audience and who came to know him as Biyi Bandele sans Thomas and not as a novelist or playwright but as a film director.

His filmography includes MTV Shuga, Ebony Life’s Fifty, and Blood Sisters. His new film, Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman, his screen adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death and The King’s Horseman is set for a September premiere.

Biyi Bandele, restless and shape shifting creative, who was at the core a story teller, is survived by his children, Temi and Korede.


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