I was at Ake Arts and Book Festival 2016 yaaaaaaaaaaaay!
The Ake Arts and Book Festival 2016, which took place from 15th to 19th was an intense five days of information, education and entertainment. I can only share but a few thoughts from eight book chats, thirteen panel discussions, a movie show, festival of short films, tour, interview and wonderfully packaged daily evening entertainment. Come along…
“When you read the likes of Soyinka, Shoneyin, Helon Habila… there’s always a character riding Peugeot in African stories.”
Eric Maydieu. While giving Peugeot’s goodwill message at the opening/welcome ceremony on Thursday morning, the 17th of November, 2016 . Kicking off with a solo rendition of the National Anthem by Falana, the ceremony had in attendance the Alake of Egbaland , several other notable personalities, celebrated African writers and representatives of partners and sponsors bringing goodwill messages in turns while the singing group Adunni Nefretiti serenaded the audience with appropriate music interludes, and of course, a rendition from spoken word poet Titi Shonuga What a grand way to set the ball rolling. AkeFest16 was proudly supported, partnered and sponsored by Peugeout, Park Inn, Etisalat, Miles Morland Foundation, FCMB, Coca Cola, Marine Platforms, YorubaName.com, Lafarge amongst others.
“We lose culture when we lose language”
Jowhor replies a question from Ngugi Wa Thiong’o on the attitude of authors for the very first book chat of the festival, Jowhor Ile and Odafe Atogun towards African Languages in writing? Dami Ajayi takes us through their books ‘And After Many Days’ and ‘Taduno’s Song’ respectively. Jowhor’s own native language is spoken by less and less people by the day and he claims it will soon be extinct if nothing precise is done to prevent it. Both writers are however open to translations of their works into African languages. From this point forwards, Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s relentless advocacy for the use of African languages by African writers in their literature is made manifest. There’s a little debate over a review of ‘And After Many Days’ as to what should be considered a misreading of an author’s work from a reviewer’s perspective between Dami Ajayi and the audience and it is agreed that there is no misreading, only reviews from differing points of view. Odafe Atogun reiterates that fact that reviews do not make him want to change or wish he’d written differently whatever he has written anyhow whatsoever.
‘I have never seen the four walls of a brothel in my life…’
Leye Adenle’s replies inter alia to a question from the audience that tended to inquire if he had written ‘Easy Motion Tourist’ from firsthand experience with prostitutes. The crime novel set in Lagos features as protagonist, a female prostitute and her ordeals for survival. This is the third book chat for the festival featuring Toni Kan and Leye Adenle and their books, ‘The Carnivorous City’ and ‘Easy Motion Tourist’ respectively moderated by Tendai Huchu. Like the latter, ‘The Carnivorous City’ is a crime novel about a Lagos big boy. The amount of research done and the personal involvement of the lives of the writers in their plots is one issue that keeps popping up throughout the festival. While some plots require extensive research spanning years, some are merely products of the creative imaginations of the writers.
‘I have cried so much my heart is dry. There’s no more tear to be shed…’
I paraphrase the words of a beaten woman who lost her husband and daughter to Hissein Habre’s tyranny. The film is ‘Hissein Habre: A Chadian Tragedy’ by Mahamat-Sal Haroun. Hissein Habre ruled Chad from 1986 to 1990, a reign characterized by injustice and human rights violations which included sexual slavery, torture and the killing of over 40,000 Chadians. This woman gives a doubtful response to the reassurance by Clement that God will bring Hissein to justice. The documentary recounts the concerted efforts of Clement Abaifouta, chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Crimes of the Hissein Habre regime and others at seeking legal justice against Hissein while he tries to make peace between the remnants and their own people who allowed themselves to be used as instruments of oppression by the government. Watching the documentary makes us cry and laugh at the same time as survivors recount their ordeal. On 30th May, 2016, Hisseine Habre was sentenced to life imprisonment. The struggle continues as Clements explains in the conversation with Olaokun Soyinka after the film, because the incumbent government is a friend to the old one and the lives of the likes of Clement are not particularly safe yet; in Chad.
‘If you want to read a story and can’t find it then write it.’
Sarah Ladipo Manyika quotes on Friday morning as Emma Shercliff takes us through ‘Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun’ and The Woman Next Door’ written by Sarah and Yewande Omotosho respectively. Sarah brings the book to life by acting out a portion of the book off hand to our delight, switching from American English to Nigerian English with so much finesse we’re wowed! The two books are about ageing, friendships and loss. The two authors shine the light on some very private emotions and desires in older women, older people generally, things usually overlooked and more often than not paid little or no attention by a world that thinks the aged have already seen it all and done it all.
‘Mayo mayo o lori Olumo…”
I believe the song means, ‘I’ll rejoice on the Olumo…’ This is the song the tour guide leads us to sing when we reach the peak of Olumo rock after climbing countless stairs- some did make it through the old rocky ‘dangerous’ route. Respects to them. It’s an exciting tour and the guide very informative as we take pictures, ‘gist’, eat and drink and enjoy the history recount of the Egba people. We have to pass through the hollow war time hide out, en route the temple where some priestesses permanently reside, we’re asked to give them something at will and ask for blessings, after which we proceed to mountaineering proper.
“Do you like my flower?’
The Iyalode asks Oguntade, her love interest cum servant in ‘Iyalode of Eti’ a stage play. Toasting line on point! This beautiful adaptation of The Duchess of Malfi by Debo Oluwatumininu opens with a dirge and mourner’s procession for the late husband of the Iyalode after which the Iyalode emerges in beauty and grace. She is forbidden from remarrying by her brothers and so she has to devise a way around them to get her wishes and marry her heartthrob. With music, poetry and dance, we are transported into pre-colonial Yorubaland with its sights, sounds and colours. It’s a long night as there’s an intermission and buffet break before the second part, the bloody and revengeful wrap up of the story.
‘Achebe’s genius lay in his economy of words, his laconic style.”
Okey Ndibe remarks as he recounts his journey to America chiefly facilitated by Achebe’s invitation for him to come work as editor of a now defunct magazine. It comes not as a surprise that Achebe finds his way into the discussion as always being one of the foremost pacesetting African writers. Kola Tubosun takes us through ‘Never Look an American in the Eye’ and ‘The Lights of Pointe Noire’ by Okey Ndibe and Alain Mabanckou examining the personal lives of the writers vis a vis their sojourn in foreign lands and their campaigns and advocacy against oppressive governments. ‘Never Look an American in the Eye’ derives from what Okey had been told by an uncle before going to the U.S that Americans got angry when looked by a black man square in the eye, a belief he holds so sacrosanct it actually leads him into avertable trouble. ‘The Lights of Point Noire’ a French work translated into English, is a memoir about Alain’s home country Congo as it used to be when he was much younger and as he found it upon his return from exile, with a picture in each chapter to illustrate the message. The old fashioned method of putting pen to paper as against the use of computers wherein you can delete, copy and paste is debated for a while, Alain insisting he prefers to have all drafts of his manuscripts, revised and edited filed and kept.
“I discovered my voice as an African writer in Prison…One morning I was Prof, the next, I was a prisoner without a name… That’s how I discovered my connection to my language”
Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o tells us during ‘Prison Stories and Literature of Resistance’, a panel discussion between Ngugi and Kunle Ajibade, an ex military man and veteran journalist. Moderated by Molara Wood, both writers chronicle their prison sojourn, Ngugi for a year, Ajibade for three in their fights against oppressive governments and dictatorships, the effect their incarceration had on their relationships, their struggle and most importantly, their writing. It is a general consensus that both men and indeed many people find solace in voracious reading and soulful writing while behind bars. In Ngugi’s words, paper, any piece of paper is the most precious article for any political prisoner, especially for writing. According to him, he had to write on toilet paper at some point.
“While you have the right to write anything you want, you must also recognize the freedom others have to also write whatever they want”
Teju Cole answers a question about the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Africa as it really is by non African writers and African writers in diaspora. The solution to getting the real picture out is to aggressively put pen to paper as to the true situation of things as you cannot deprive them of their writing freedom in any way, he explains. So, maybe African writers are not writing enough? It’s a panel discussion on ‘Defining Home: Place and Displacement in African Writing.’ The panelists are Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Teju Cole and Yewande Omotosho moderated by Wana Udobang.
A laughter evincing interjection from the Yoruba translation of Ngugi’s short story/fable- ‘Upright Revolution’. It means ‘hungry folks!’, a retort by a part of the body in the fight for supremacy over other parts. The play which has been translated into over thirty languages is read at the ‘Interview- Life and Time Series’ on Saturday. Writers from across the world read out a selected portion of the story in different languages including Yoruba, a translation that had been done that very day and read by Kola Tubosun. Interviewed by Okey Ndibe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s preoccupation remains the importance of African languages in literature by African writers. This session gives an insight into the writing journey of Ngugi himself till date and measures that have been employed so far to include African language in African literature. The fable about the fight between the parts of the body for supremacy is a simple narration that has each person enjoying the selected rendition in their own language.
“You die slowly making life easy for that which is killing you…”
Lebo Masile. The last but not the least event of the festival, before the party of course, is Palm wine and Poetry. Opened by Chika Jones, a spoken word poet and volunteer at the festival, we are served glasses and calabashes of palm wine and different dishes of poetry from the awesome Titi Shonuga, the witty and hilarious Dike Chukwumerije, the calculated Michael Kelleher who did something wonderful with numbers in his long poem, the venerable Ogaga Ifowodo and Lebo fire! We shan’t forget the fervor with which Lebo’s rendered one of her poems written in honour of the late Khwezi , victim of the much publicized rape scandal involving president Jacob Zuma of South Africa. And Okinba Launko himself closes us with a comical stand up- ‘Who wrote Macbeth o? If you know the man o say so…’
Party! Party! Party!
Give it up for the more than efficient and effective volunteers, the crew, the supporters, partners and sponsors, the writers, guests and visitors… Give it up for Lola Shoneyin! Give it up for AkeFest 2016!
This was first published on 12/20/2016 at http://www.bukrepublik.com/blog/2016/12/20/twelve-thoughts-on-ake-festival-2016/