Category: Media & Marketing

Open letter to the anti-TV brigade and my Nollywood people

A black 4 x4 rolls down a driveway to the sound of D’banj’s Oliver Twist and stops outside the palatial triple storey residence. The cast’s names unfold: Desmond Eliott. Rita Dominic. Mike Ezuruonye. The driver turns off the engine. As he opens the car door, D’banj declares:

I have a confession
See, I like Beyonce!
I like Rihanna, she dey mek me go gaga
I like Omotola, cos people like her….
…Oliver, Oliver Twist!  

The young man — played by Mike Ezuruonye — steps out of the car. With calculated chill, he adjusts his trendy aviator sunglasses. The camera zooms in on the Gucci logo, then lingers on the trendy haircut that would get a nod of approval from the Kinshasa’s sapeurs; those gentlemen whose renowned stylishness is encoded in their very name: Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (Society of Ambience-Makers and Elegant People). A beautiful young woman in impossibly high heels emerges from the passenger side, as D’banj declares his liking for Genevieve. Her makeup alone is worthy of a Vogue magazine cover. The man puts his hand around her waist, and looks into her eyes with a loving enchantment that would be perfect for a John Legend video. The couple walks into the opulent lounge, boasting the requisite plush lounge suite, thick carpets, huge flat-screen TV, and artworks on the walls. Seated alone is a well-dressed older woman, her turquoise head-wrap intricately folded like an origami. “Good-morning mama,” the young man greets cheerfully, arm still around his lover.  The camera zooms in on the origami head, as she gives him ‘The Look.’ We sit back and wait, knowing what is coming seconds before it is delivered: the multi-syllabic Nolly-sneer….

*         *        *

Hi. My name is Grace and I own a TV.

As a lapsed Catholic, I know a thing or two about confessions. You know what they say: Catholic guilt, like Catholic marriage, is truly a for-better-or-worse situation. You can take the Catholic out of mass but you cannot take the guilt out of the Catholic. So, like D’Banj, I have a confession to make: I watch the news and sports, but my main TV viewing diet is soapies and Nollyflicks. Yes, including 7 de Laan, Rhythm City and Nollyflicks with titles like Adam’s Apples and Daughters of Eve. I realise this is a dangerous confession for a wannabe Kleva Black, because we are supposed to have our noses perpetually buried in Slavoj Žižek’s or Cornel West’s latest thoughts, as fantastic jazz plays in the background. Naturally, we are not supposed to know who Sarkodie is; never mind the latest ghetto kids’ choreography of Ugandan hitmaker Eddy Kenzo’s Jambolee.  And we definitely aren’t supposed to be pondering how to transcribe that trademark Nollywood sneer-and-click combo, which has inspired an entire range of memes.

Look atew 2

Look, in my defence, in between trying out these Jambolee moves and Nollywood sneer-clicks, I read books and listen to jazz, in the interests of keeping peace with the jazz snobs and literati in my life. I am currently bonding with Ahmad Jamal and reading Kenyan Caine Prize winner Yvonne Owuor’s Dust. But I remain guilty of owning and watching a TV. This is a serious indiscretion, which might explain why a few second dates never materialised in my dating past. Perhaps I should not have betrayed such enthusiastic knowledge of Jason Malinga’s marital problems on Generations, or such passionate irritation at Gita McGregor’s perpetual scheming on 7 de Laan. Or maybe it was my sincere puzzlement at the murder mystery in Thathe, implicating the Great Warthog of Luonde, He-Who-Says-Die-and-I-Perish.

While we are at it, what’s the deal with the duplication of stories across South African soapies? I see now the missing Malaysian plane that first resurfaced on Rhythm City with Siyabonga Twala’s stylish character, DH Radebe’s private jet disappearing, has now reappeared and disappeared again on Isidingo. Yes, it is another stylish black businessman’s private jet: Vusi Kunene as Jefferson Sibeko, disappeared somewhere off the Angolan coastline. I am guessing the scriptwriters don’t know this, but some of us are equal-opportunity viewers (to borrow a phrase from my friend who once defended his polyamorous tendencies by explaining that he always made it clear to the women in his life that he was an equal-opportunity lover). Unlike my bank which recently demanded financial monogamy from me, by declaring they wouldn’t handle some of my transactions unless I stopped ‘seeing’ my other bank; some of us  have dispensed with LSM monogamy, and we are now equal-opportunity viewers who gallivant across SABC and DStv’s audience Bantustans.  And I can tell you this much: when you start on an amnesia and stolen identity story-line in Diepkloof at 18h30, by the time you get to the Thathe flavour of this amnesia on Muvhango at 21h20, you have just about had it with the amnesia angle, in all its manifestations. While we are at it, I am this close to organising a Red October campaign in protest against Paula van der Lecq’s (Diaan Lawrenson) use of the word ‘phantasmagoris’ on 7 de Laan, and KK Mulaudzi’s  trying-too-hard-to-be-hardcore  robotic laughter on Muvhango.

But I must distance myself from The Bold and the Beautiful. There is a way in which if you started watching The Bold from episode one, when you were six sizes smaller, the sight of Brooke Logan Jones Forrester (x7) walking down the aisle with her daughter’s husband’s father for the umpteenth time is harmful to your health. It is not so much the many tribes of primary, secondary and tertiary incest involved, but the deep shame that you ever nursed a committed teenage crush on Ridge Forester. As did half your school. The other half was busy ogling the NBA’s Dennis Rodman and his peroxide-blond head. I wasn’t a Rodman fan, but I supported the San Antonio Spurs with the same passion I now dedicate to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the Ghana Black Stars, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, the Desert Foxes of Algeria and the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire. What? Too many teams? No, friend. When it comes to soccer, I am an equal-opportunity Pan-African. Sure, I got that memo about all my Foxes, Eagles, Elephants, Lions and Stars being whipped out of Brazil before they even finished unpacking.  This, despite the fact that many of Europe’s soccer leagues would have a crisis of SA platinum-belt proportions if all their players of African descent decided to go on a prolonged strike.  Like all matters Pan-African, supporting African soccer is not for part-time Africans. It takes the loyalty of an Arsenal or Bafana fan, and the patience of biblical Job.

So, you can see why I have no energy for an anti-TV brigade which has somehow convinced itself  that not having a TV makes it a special breed of really clever, studious, intellectual people. I am generally able to ignore this lot with the same indifference I reserve for those who think my Christianity is questionable because their limited imagination cannot process the idea of a dedicated Christian who does not go to church and is partial to Windhoek lager. What I can’t ignore though, are people who build careers studying popular culture or producing content for these platforms while simultaneously holding TV, radio, and magazines in such contempt. What brand of dishonest schizophrenia is this?

But I digress. The moral of this open letter is really an appeal to my people in Nollywood. Listen: That situation of sunglasses indoors? E no fine oo. E shady.  Abeg, mek we stop this nah.


A TV-owning equal-opportunity Nolly-fan

Grace A. Musila is a Kenyan who studied in South Africa.

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ to premiere in Nigeria

The Nigerian civil war movie Half of a Yellow Sun will finally premiere in its home country in August, the film’s producer announced on Tuesday. The move came after Nigerian censors had earlier refused to approve it, saying the movie could undermine national security.

The censors had demanded cuts and it was unclear on Tuesday what changes were made to satisfy the National Film and Video Censors Board.

The movie is an adaptation of a novel by award-winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that has been read by millions since it was published in 2006. But many more millions of Nigerians will be able to appreciate it now through the movie.

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Pic: Reuters)
Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Pic: Reuters)

The movie is partly set in the 1960s during Nigeria’s civil war, which remains a subject so sensitive that it is not taught in Nigerian schools. Many commentators on social media suggested the censors were afraid that the film could inflame tribal rivalries.

The movie also comes as Nigeria is confronting an Islamic uprising that threatens to tear the country apart as tensions increase between Muslims and Christians, who make up almost equal parts of Nigeria’s 170-million people.

The censors’ board confirmed it has cleared the movie for viewing by people over 18.

It stars Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, the lead actor in 12 Years a Slave, and Thandie Newton and was supposed to premiere in Nigeria on April 25. The day before, the censors said it had not been cleared.

Half of a Yellow Sun already has been shown to audiences in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

A statement from producers Shareman Media and FilmOne Distribution announced the August 1 premiere and thanked Nigerians for their patience.

About 1 million people died in the war for an independent Biafra for the Igbo people of the southeast. Many Igbos starved to death because food imports were blocked. At the time, leaders of the Igbo, who are almost exclusively Christians, accused the federal government of failing to protect them when Muslims from the Hausa tribe in the north slaughtered about 30 000 of them.

The ethnic tensions and mistrust that led to that war remain strong.

Today, some northern leaders accuse the federal government, led by a Christian southerner, of orchestrating mass killings of Muslims by soldiers in the northeast. And thousands have died in ongoing conflicts over land and resources across central Nigeria that pit mainly Muslim Fulani herders against predominantly Christian farmers from other tribes.

British-Nigerian director Biyi Bandele in May defended his movie, telling The Associated Press it is not a war film.

“This movie is a sort of love story, a love letter to Nigeria’s very complex and complicated history,” he said. “It was meant to be a cautionary tale to say we can disagree as much as we want but war is never the answer.” – Sapa-AP

Sex in African literature: More, please


Every once in a while, stories come along that surprise critics and readers who claim to know African literature. Jalada’s recent compilation about sex strikes me as that kind of work.

Jalada Africa is a literary collective committed to reshaping the way writing is published and circulated within the continent.

Their recent collection titled Sext Me Poems and Stories proves their open and risk-taking approach to literary projects. I spent the last few days browsing through the collection, floored by how delightfully raw and honest most of the pieces are.

The project is also a small but bold step towards filling a gaping hole in African literary culture. To the annoyance of readers like myself, African authors are not always keen on what their characters do in the bedroom. Under pressure to write about things of world historical importance like colonialism and poverty, African writers have always made short shrift of sex. Sex is perceived as indulgent.

But a projects such as Jalada’s Sext Me Poems and Stories tells us why sex is not superfluous in narrative.

Sex is the true story of the body told from a place of pleasure, pain, and radical uncertainty. Sex is about putting the body in a place where traditional ideas about gender, shame, violence, and loss are interrogated.

Besides, this collection is not just about sex. It’s about how Africans do sex.

Scrolling through the collection is like walking through a sex-toy shop, dazed by the sheer inventiveness put into assembling a world built on pushing the limits of sexual pleasure.

Akati Khasiani’s Coming Down and Aisha Ali’s The First Time are vignettes sketching out a scene of female masturbation. Both stories put the female body up on display, but as something capable of generating the most profound experience of pleasure, entirely on its own.

The language in both pieces is as raw as it is lyrical. Sex in these two stories is not about conquest or consuming bodies but about exploration and discovery. Ali’s character speaks of the vagina as “that small wet place” that the “fingers” go “searching, exploring, looking for answers.” Pretty intense and exciting stuff.

The first of two parts closes off with Orem Ochiel’s Miss Fucking You. Odd, but the title does not prepare you for the obscene goodness of the story. It’s framed as a man asking a woman, pleading more like, to have another go with him. To make his case, he recounts all the impassioned and kinky sexual encounters they’ve had without sparing the dirty details. Every other word in the story is “fuck” or “fucking.” Don’t click on the story while you’re in church!

The Oink in Doinker by Tuelo Gabonewe is a comical tale about a “half-widow,” Haroldette, who encounters a penis cut off from its owner.  She takes it in, bathes its, feeds it, and names it Phineas McPhallus. Unlike many of the other stories in the collection, this one is not strictly an erotica. It is something you’d imagine Gogol or Kafka would write. In fact, I couldn’t help noting the striking resemblance between Gabonewe’s story and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Runaway Fingers.

Sext Me by Aleya and Dorothy Kigen’s Inbox (1) are fun at the level of form. Aleya’s piece is entirely a dialogue that takes place via text messaging. A man and a woman set the stage for their sexual encounter by expressing what they imagine the encounter would be like – a textual foreplay as it were. People complain that it’s hard to convey complex emotional states via emails. Not so for Kigen’s character who details her illicit sexual experiences in an email message.

Sext Me Poems and Stories is titillating storytelling. Read the collection here.

Brittle Paper is an African literary blog featuring book reviews, news, interviews, original work and in-depth coverage of the African literary scene. It is curated by Ainehi Edoro and was recently named a ‘go-to book blog’ by Publisher’s Weekly. 

Q&A with Sudanese author Leila Aboulela, winner of the inaugural Caine Prize

Leila Aboulela.
Leila Aboulela.

Fourteen years ago, Sudanese author Leila Aboulela made history when she won the inaugural edition of the Caine Prize for African Writing.

She’s gone on to publish a short story collection titled Coloured Lights (2001), in addition to two critically acclaimed novels –  Minaret (2005) and Lyrics Alley (2011), which won the Scottish Book Awards.

In this exclusive interview, she takes us back to the first Caine Prize ceremony and tells us what it was like inaugurating what would become one of Africa’s most prestigious literary prizes. She also comments on contemporary African fiction and leaves the five authors shortlisted for the 2014 edition of the prize with sound advice.

Can you tell us what the inaugural edition of the Caine Prize was like? What was the general feeling about this new prize breaking into the global literary scene and being hailed as the “African Booker?”

In some ways the inaugural prize was low-keyed; hardly any attention, for example, was paid to the announcement of the short-list. It was only when the short-listed writers arrived in London, for the week’s events culminating in the award dinner at Oxford, that the excitement really started.  All the major UK newspapers reported the announcement of the winner and there was coverage from the BBC World Service. With few exceptions, African literature was marginalised in those years, perceived to be of niche or academic interest and not attractive to the general reader. The expectation was that the prize would break through these assumptions in order to widen readership and this was very much welcomed. A few days after the prize dinner in Oxford, we all flew to Harare to take part in the Zimbabwe Book Fair and there was large, official award ceremony and dinner hosted by the Caine Prize.

What was it like arriving in Zimbabwe to participate in this brand new initiative for African writing? 

It was hugely exciting. My husband and daughter came with me and she actually turned two the day after our arrival. Harare reminded me of Khartoum and I enjoyed my time there. The first person I met in the lobby of the Monomotapa Hotel as we were checking in, was Yvonne Vera. She had edited Open Spaces, the anthology which contained my winning story, and she was warm and encouraging. She gave me excellent advice which I still hang on to today. She said, “As a writer, you lead and your readers will follow.” There was a lot of excitement at the book fair about the new prize and it was especially apt and meaningful to be awarded the prize in Africa, during such a significant literary event as the Zimbabwe Book Fair.

Looking back, do you think winning the prize made an impact on your writing career?

It certainly did. It gave me greater confidence in myself and it gave my work more exposure. From a practical point of view, it speeded up the publication of my short story collection Coloured Lights which included my Caine winning story. It also enabled me to get a deal with a London publisher for the publication of my second novel. Before winning the prize, I was published by a small university press. Also after winning the prize, the Heinemann African Writers Series published an imprint of my first novel The Translator for sale in Africa.

Generally speaking, what do you think is the significance of prizes in a writer’s life and work? There is a ‘stamp of approval’ effect, for the public there is a highlighting of a particular writer or a particular work from among others and (so important nowadays for widening readership) there is greater publicity. The significance of prizes can’t be overestimated. They can make or break a career. Unless you are a best-seller, you are judged by the prizes you won or were short-listed for.

Your winning story is The Museum. Ben Okri, who was one of the judges, describes the story as “moving, gentle, ironic, quietly angry and beautifully written.” Do you ever go back to that story? Does is occupy a special place in your body of writing?

It meant a great deal to me that Ben Okri, of all people, was the chair of the judges and I very much appreciated his comments. The Museum has been more anthologised and read than any other of my stories. Ironically, it never was my favorite story. I never particularly liked the characters and I felt distanced from them. My favorite story at the time was The Ostrich, but it didn’t meet with the same success. I suspect that The Museum was artistically better developed and more mature.

Back in 2000, Okri could say to the Guardian readership: “I recommend a general interest in African writing to widen taste and see how other people live, dream, and overcome.” It appears to me that today African writing is so ubiquitous that it is hardly necessary to make such an exhortation. What do you think?

I wish I could fully agree. Within literary and academic circles, perhaps, but for the average reader in the West, an African novel can still means one written by Wilbur Smith or Alexander McCall Smith. Just a couple of months ago, The Telegraph newspaper listed the Ten Best Novels About Africa with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible making the list at the expense of anything by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o or Nuruddin Farah.

Which contemporary African novelists inspire you most?

I have always been inspired by Ahdaf Soueif. Her breakthrough novel In the Eye of the Sun is The Golden Notebook of the Arab woman. Soueif brought the North African novel firmly from the village into the elegant city apartments of the chattering classes and that was a breath of fresh air and a dazzling step forward. In completely different ways, Hisham Matar and NoViolet Bulawayo are exciting, excellent writers. I am also a huge fan of Sefi Atta, her work is always distinctive and unforgettable. The Sudanese writer Amir Taj Elsir writes in Arabic but he is a worthy successor to Amos Tutuola. His bizarre and delightful novel The Grub Hunter has recently been translated into English and published by the AWS.

More recently, there has been a lot debate about what constitutes an African writer. There are those who don’t want to be called African writers because, they claim, it is a reductive term. There are those who complain that certain individuals called African writers are not African enough – case in point: Tope Folarin, the Nigerian-American, who won the Caine Prize last year. What’s your thought on this age-old issue of the African writer’s ambivalence toward national identity?

We need to ask ourselves why is it that being an American writer, a European writer or an Arab writer is not reductive but being an African writer is perceived to be so.  If the market or the literary establishment is ghettoising or infantilising African literature then that is what needs to change rather than how African writers describe themselves.  As for being not African enough, I suspect that when people make this accusation they are trying to say something else, more subjective, as in not ‘my kind of African’. This is a denial that there are an infinite number of ways of being African, it is not a monolith and one of the exciting things about literature is just how much it challenges our assumptions of national identity by zooming in on cultures within cultures and exposing fluid boundaries.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie caused quite a bit of a controversy last year when she said: “I suppose [the Caine Prize] is a good thing, but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been.” What do you think of such a statement? If the Caine Prize is not “the arbiter of good writing in Africa,” what is it then?  Do you care to comment on what you think is the role of the Caine Prize, or any prize for that matter, in the contemporary African literature scene?

The Caine Prize focuses on the short story rather than the novel and, over time, it has developed a very effective process of discovering and nurturing new talent. At the moment there is no prize that is awarded to the best African novel of the year regardless of whether the writer is established or a first-time novelist. It would be a welcome thing if such a prize was set up. The Man Asian Prize, for example, shortlists writers such as Orhan Pamuk and Amitav Ghosh, sadly we don’t have an African equivalent. Most of the newly established prizes such as the Etisalat, the Kwani? Manuscript and the Commonwealth are dedicated to new writers. For unpublished, unknown writers this is excellent and African literature will benefit from all this energy and dedication by moving further into the mainstream.

Any words of encouragement to the five authors shortlisted for the 15th edition of the Caine Prize?

If you win, remember there will be another winner next year taking the limelight. So make the most of this year in terms of connections and publication possibilities. Push with all your might.

If you don’t win, go online and see how well previous Caine Prize short-listed authors have done. In many cases, they have had greater success that the winners.

The winner of the £10 000 Caine Prize will be announced at a celebratory dinner at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on Monday 14 July. 

Brittle Paper is an African literary blog featuring book reviews, news, interviews, original work and in-depth coverage of the African literary scene. It is curated by Ainehi Edoro and was recently named a ‘go-to book blog’ by Publisher’s Weekly.

African Wikipedia aims to preserve traditions and languages

Offline, off road and off the power grid, the forest village of Ndjock-Nkong in Cameroon is not an obvious choice for an online venture seeking to emulate the giant online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

It is, however, a perfect place for an online African “ark” that will collect and preserve the continent’s endangered languages and traditions, says a local man with a mission.

Gaston Donnat Bappa embodies the combination of old and new: he inherited the title of clan chief from his great-grandfather, grandfather and father but has 34 years of experience in computer technology. He hopes to bring the two worlds together in the user-generated African Traditions Online Encyclopedia (Atoe).

Gaston Bappa is keen to preserve Africa's heritage. (Pic: Terry Morris)
Gaston Bappa is keen to preserve Africa’s heritage. (Pic: Terry Morris)

“People think traditions don’t belong with information and communications technology (ICT) because traditions are so far behind us and ICT is so far ahead of us,” Bappa said. “But if you don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you are going.”

Bappa (56) is creating a site that he hopes will become the first port of call for African arts and crafts, food, laws, medicine, music, oral storytelling, religion, science, sport – anything that can be defined as tradition, dating back millions of years. A prototype is open for contributions, with early entries including Myths and Legends of the Bantu, and Concepts of Social Justice in Traditional Africa .

The idea grew from Bappa’s passion for beliefs and customs from a young age in his village, Ndjock-Nkong, where he has been chief for 22 years, as well as his travels to more than 20 African countries as a senior IT engineer and consultant and bank executive. Most urgently, he found in the web a chance to rescue a precious legacy on the verge of extinction.

“I saw that even in my tribe traditions are beginning to disappear. When I was going to other countries in Africa I saw it was the same. It’s not because young people don’t want to learn about them but because they don’t have the access in urban areas.”

Languages are a prime example, said Bappa, president of an association of 42 traditional chiefs. “Every week we lose a language in the world. Africa has more languages than any other continent – more than 2 000 – and every one has 30 to 50 tribes. If you lose the language it’s very difficult to know the traditions of your area.”

But the Atoe will guard against forgetting, he hopes. “ICT is the only way to store traditions for the next generations. Between now and 2100 there will be 4 billion people in Africa; if we don’t know our traditions, we won’t be able to manage our economic development. They can also be available to the African diaspora in America, Europe or anywhere in the world.”

The success of Wikipedia, whose English edition has more than 4.5-million articles, is a natural model. Similarly, the Atoe will use wiki applications for volunteers to input, change or remove content in collaboration with others. Noting that there are already more than 1 000 websites on African traditions, Bappa is adamant that content will be referenced and verified for accuracy.

“The Wikipedia format remains the best international standard for online encyclopedias: the entire software is free of charge and provides the best and easiest technology. But we will improve the format of content, by integrating more multimedia. For example, we will illustrate African traditional medicine with pictures.”

But unlike Wikipedia, born in 2001 and hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation in the tech hub of San Francisco, the Atoe’s headquarters will be starting from scratch. Ndjock-Nkong is 93 miles from Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, and 19 miles from the main road in thick forest, Bappa says. “To get there you need a very strong car.” There is no access to a phone network, the internet or the electricity grid for the dwindling population of fewer than 300. “Even radio reception is very difficult.”

Yet Bappa has a vision. He hopes to fit solar panels to generate power and install servers that will eventually host the Atoe. “Little by little, the government is starting to repair the road. In less than three years, we’ll have TV and radio. We will bring satellite internet to the village so it is connected to the entire world. When we have our own servers, we’ll transfer all the data.”

Until then, Bappa is operating from Yaoundé and working to raise worldwide awareness of the project, which he will formally unveil at next year’s eLearning Africa conference. He plans to approach Microsoft and other potential sponsors in an attempt to raise €400 000 (£323 000) for the initial phase. He also hopes to incorporate content from Wikipedia.

“It is not only for Africa,” he said. “It will be open to all worldwide, Africans and non-Africans. It is for the whole of humankind because Africa is the cradle of humanity.”