Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The giddy years

Jos, September 2001 (c) talatu-carmen
This morning, I glanced at the date at the bottom right hand of my screen and jumped a little. It has been 12 years, and there have been hosts of other heartbreaking tragedies since then. But it is a date I will not forget. 12 years ago it felt like the world was exploding, with the riots that had begun in Jos and then the crashing down of silver towers that pushed Jos out of the news. While rummaging around in my laptop today for old memories to commemorate a happier anniversary this week--25 years since my family moved to Nigeria--I found this piece. 

How young we once were.

I thought I should post it today. 

for R.


Those were the giddy years in Brooklyn where the light stretched long and we danced out in blizzard-thick snowflakes in our platform clogs and socks, dragging Ladi’s duffle between us like a sled. “Will you take a picture for us,” we asked the man, grinning lunatics, the three of us, by the deli, snow turning our hair white.
“Why?” he asked, a native skeptic. We nudged Ladi.

“To capture the moment,” we trilled.

“Some moment,” he said. “Whadaya from Florida or sumthin?” He snapped us there, the snow floating big before the lens—the two of us in our summer sandals and coats, and behind us the Methodist church and the old Ford on the curb under heaped snow as if we were on the set of some old movie.

“It’s perfect,” we told Ladi as we hugged her goodbye on the steps to the subway. He was a perfect New Yorker. We went home and drank hot cocoa and celebrated the New Year, and Ladi came trudging back when the planes wouldn’t fly out of JFK.

Dust motes float in the sunlight over gold parquet floors and the glow of vines is like emeralds. Ella Fitzgerald croons, “We’ll make Manhattan an Isle of love.”

That night after dancing we met the Californian visitor under the city at 2 am, while the subway ran haywire. We explained the system to him—we savvy New Yorkers in our black dancing clothes. We went to Harlem and swing danced with the Germans and one night tried to meet up at an artsy party in Fort Greene, where we both nearly froze to death trying to find the party and each other—you walking for hours through dark deserted streets and me forging over an empty bridge holding my umbrella like a sword and trying to walk heavily in the dark like a man.

You never found the place and went home and when I got there I knew no one except for the bizarre European with the bowler hat who had come to our party. I stood alone in my tight red shirt, sipping wine, barely escaping a kiss by a mad Romanian painter before running away in a taxi with five Korean women from lower Manhattan who only spoke to me in English when I figured the fare.

We strode down canyons silvered in afternoon light, buying amber jars of honey at the Farmer’s Market, passing guitarists in Union Square. We lived a song and daydream of life

Until that Tuesday morning when you went to work on the subway and I ran to the water to watch the skyline like a movie—an avant garde performance piece of silver and black and red and white drifting across a sky the colour of Mary’s veil. I remember in colour with no sound—a jerky old hand-tinted movie in garish colours with captions and black flecks shimmering across the screen. “No,” in quotation marks

I would see you again. I knew I would. I lay on the futon in the sun, the light moving across me. Hot tears wrung out of my eyes, wetting my sheets.

It was a week after that I began to pack my life into boxes. Each item packed away was a part of myself.

NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names makes Booker shortlist

I have been going off social media during the weekdays the past few months as I try to finish writing my dissertation, so I only just remembered to check the Booker shortlist to see if NoViolet Bulawayo's brilliant debut novel We Need New Names: A Novel, which was longlisted, had made it. It has been. I'm so delighted.

I had the rare pleasure of reading the novel in one sitting in the Atlanta airport back in June of this year, as I waited for 7 hours for the British Airways desk to open so that I could change my ticket back to Nigeria for a longer layover in London. (A long story involving British Airways ridiculously refusing to let anyone make ticket changes over the phone or internet on tickets to Nigeria. I caught a ride with my aunt to a MARTA train station at 7:30am. I got to the airport by around 8:30am, and then discovered that the British Airways desk would not open until 3:45pm. I was pretty annoyed, but after a day with We Need New Names, I was grateful for the guiltless time to just sit down and read. The airport was a perfect place to read a novel places itself between two worlds.)

The novel builds on Bulawayo's Caine Prize winning short story "Hitting Budapest." While, to be perfectly honest, I had not loved that story, I thought the novel, with its attention to detail and form, was brilliant.  I could not help comparing it to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Americanah,which I had read a few weeks earlier. I also like Adichie's novel a lot and thought it was very honest, but compared to We Need New Names, it felt like cardboard. In part that is because the novels are doing two different things. Americanah is partially a satire--another reviewer I read compared Adichie to Jane Austen--and in satire there are a lot of flat characters. But, while I thought the elite Ivy League America Adichie describes feels very familiar, the America where immigrants become stuck may be more representative. We Need New Names was very deep. Almost every person, place, and event had multiple meanings. Sometimes, I felt the symbolism was a bit too heavily encrusted, but the irreverent funny voice of the protagonist Darling, who describes Zimbabwe with a child's eyes and America with an adolescent's angst, lifts the novel from any over-literary fustiness. The book, when I first read it, took my breath away, and I am delighted it has been honoured by the Booker. I highly, highly recommend.For more of my thoughts on the novel, check this link.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Maybe the sun will rise, Maybe the stars will shine....

I'm on a huge Asa kick right now, and this song "Maybe" has been on replay for probably the past two hours, as "Jailer" and "Subway" from her earlier album were last night. "Maybe" begins:


The rest of the lyrics can be found here.

You can buy the entire album, Beautiful Imperfection on Amazon here:

And her debut album, Asa, here:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Moofy's "Sauti na" feat. Buzo Danfillo

My friend, rapper Buzo Danfillo just sent me this video of singer Moofy's "Sauti na" that he features on. I haven't heard any of Moofy's music before, but I love her voice. It's a really fresh sound, quite different from the usual auto-tuned "nanaye." Enjoy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mo Sabri - I Believe In Jesus (lyrics)

Here is a song I have been completely obsessed with tonight, after I read this article "Muslims who Follow Jesus" by Carl Medearis. He highlights the music video "I believe in Jesus," by Muslim Pakistani-American musician Mo Sabri, which points to the many similarities in the way that Muslims and Christians think about Jesus. The most important thing, he says, is not the differences in belief but that we are following him.

I was so touched by this song--seriously, I am filled with joy whenever I watch it--that I transcribed the lyrics, which you can find below the embedded video.

You can follow Mo Sabri on Facebook and on Twitter.


Mo Sabri: “I believe in Jesus.”

“The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary.’” Surah Al-Imran, Verse 45

Verse 1:
This ain’t a song about bottles in the club
This is about a role model filled with love.
A teacher, a preacher, with guidance from above,
Sent to represent a message of peace, like a dove.
In the West, they call him Jesus, in the East they call him Isa,
Messiah, Christ, the same person that you speak of.
Ask me why I wrote this song, and I will tell you because
There’s too many people silent, it’s time for me to speak out.
The son of a virgin, they say it is illogical, probably improbable, but God made it possible.
Gabriel told Mary that her son would be phenomenal,
His voice was always audible, the opposite of prodigal,
He overcame the obstacles, people attacking him. He was a walking hospital,
with heathen he was compassionate.
He healed the sick, raised the dead. Shout out to Lazarus.  I’m talkin’ about Jesus of Nazareth.

If we don’t have peace, we’ll end up in pieces.
Treat people the way that you want to be treated.  
If you do believe it, sing it and repeat it.
I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Nananananana, Nanananana, I believe in Jesus. Nanananana, Nanananana I believe in Jesus.

Verse 2:
Ah, I’m just a follower of Jesus.
What that means is I follow what he teaches.
I’m not the type of person that just wants to give speeches.
I’m trying to be the person that will practice what he preaches.
Yeah, cause I’ve observed people just say the words.
But faith in him now is more like a verb. That’s why I wrote this verse.
To remind us to serve. Cause if you haven’t heard, faith is dead without works.
How can we say we believe that God exists when we always act the opposite.
It’s ominous, how we only care about our own accomplishments,
and we’re quick to break our promises. We got to put a stop to this.
We all sin. I know that we are human.
But we cannot keep  on using the same excuses.
Now is the time  we need to prevent the abuses.
Listen up, I got the solution.

If we don’t have peace, we’ll end up in pieces.
Treat people the way  that you want to be treated.  
If you do believe it, sing it and repeat it.
I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Nananananana, Nanananana, I believe in Jesus. Nanananana,  Nanannana, I believe in Jesus.

Verse 3:
Why does our religion always have to cause division?
In reality, we’re all more similar than different.
Jesus wanted unity, but nowadays it’s missin’. 
We gotta use our vision if we want to do his mission.
Can’t you see we’re all children of Adam, brothers and sisters.
If you don’t agree, you haven’t read the scriptures.
Picture when Jesus comes back to Jerusalem.
Will he be happy with the way you’ve become?
We’re livin’ wrong. But today’s a new dawn.
So sing along to this song like David singing the psalms.  
Now raise up your arms to give alms with open palms.
Cause Jesus brought a message, let’s follow it till we’re gone.
Shout out to my dad and mom for blessing me in my youth.
God’s insistent proof that his message is the truth.
This song is just a lesson to remind me and you,
to ask ourselves this question, “What would Jesus do?”

 If we don’t have peace, we’ll end up in pieces.
Treat people the way  that you want to be treated.  
If you do believe it, sing it and repeat it.
I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I am not afraid to say that I believe in Jesus.
Nananananana, Nanananana, I believe in Jesus. Nanananana,  Nanannana, I believe in Jesus.

Mo Sabri: Hey man, you forgot your wallet
Man (that looks like Jesus): Wow. Thanks. Why did you come all this way to give it to me.
Mo Sabri: Man, I just want to treat people the way I want to be treated. What made you do all those good deeds earlier?
Man (that looks like Jesus) : Man I just try to live my life according to the way Jesus lived his.
Mo Sabri: That’s awesome man, I believe in Jesus.
Man (that looks like Jesus): That’s tight man, I had no idea. Tell me more.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Chika Unigwe's novel On Black Sister's Street wins the NLNG Prize

The Nigerian Liquified Gas Limited (NLNG) Prize has just announced that Chika Unigwe's novel On Black Sisters Street: A Novel (Modern African Writing Series)
 has just won the $100,000 literary prize.

Premium Times writes: 
Chika Unigwe,  a Nigerian writer based in Belgium, has won the NLNG  sponsored Nigerian prize for Literature, 2012.
Ms. Unigwe was announced winner of the literary award on Thursday 1 November at a world press conference held at the Ocean View Restaurant in Victoria Island, Lagos.
Chika won for her novel, On Black Sisters Street.
“What is striking about Chika Unigwe’s novel is the compassion that informs it,” Abiola Irele, chairman of Judges for the prize said.
Chika Unigwe was born in Enugu, Nigeria, and now lives in Turnhout, Belgium, with her husband and four children.
She is the first foreign based Nigerian writer to win the NLNG prize which was hitherto reserved for locally based Nigerian writers.
I have not yet read the novel but just ordered two copies on Amazon (one for me, one as a gift!). The novel describes the lives of  four African women who are lured to Belgium in hopes of a better life but end up working as sex workers in Antwerp. 

Unigwe did more than just library research on the lives of sex workers. In this interview with Black Voices, she describes the "participant observation" ethnography she did to be able to understand the lives of these women:
BV: You were so curious about the lifestyle that you bought clothes and thigh-high boots and spent two years among women in the red-light district. What was that like? Would you do it again and would you recommend it for others? 
CU: I spent two years researching and writing the novel. I went to the women because I had no idea about their lives as prostitutes, and because I wanted to know what it felt like to walk those cobbled streets of the red-light district. I wanted to feel what it was like as a woman to be on that street, and to be looked at as a possible worker. It was only by doing that that I could somehow, in a very small way, inhabit the skin of my characters and write them truthfully. It was awkward at the beginning. Would I recommend it to others? I think as long as one is comfortable doing it, that sort of research helps more than any literature.
On Black Sister's Street beat out two other novels on the short list: Olusola Olugbesa's Only A Canvas, which unfortunately, no one I know knows how to get a hold of, and Ngozi Achebe's Onaedo - The Blacksmith's Daughter

An NLNG press release on the short list (I have not yet seen a press release about the winning novel) describes the jury who made the choice:
The chairman of the panel of judges is Prof. Francis Abiola Irele, Provost of the College of Humanities at the Kwara State University and Fellow of the Dubois Institute, Harvard University.  Other members of the panel are Prof. Angela Miri, Head of the English Department at the University of Jos, Prof. Sophia Ogwude, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at University of Abuja, Prof J O J Nwachukwu-Agbada, Professor of African Literature in the Department of English, Abia State University and Dr. Oyeniyi Okunoye, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and a Section Editor of Postcolonial Text, a journal affiliated to the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies. 
Other members of the Advisory Board, besides Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo, are Dr. Jerry Agada, former President of Association of Nigerian Authors and Prof. Ben Elugbe, President, Nigeria Academy of Letters.

To learn more about Chika Unigwe, who writes in both English and Dutch, check out her website. She is the author of six other novels, and many other works of short fiction. You can also read her first reactions to the prize in several lovely interviews: Elnathan John interviews her for Daily Times. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim interviews her for Weekly Trust. And Uche Umez interviews her on her favourite books for his blog.

You can purchase On Black Sister's Street on Amazon here: 

A Kindle version of the book is also available here: 

Amazon also sells two other titles that include her short fiction:


If you are interested in the nine other books longlisted for the NLNG, I've copied a list (quoted from an NLNG press release) below, as well as links to those available on Amazon. I hope the longlisting will help give publicity to those books published in Nigeria and which are yet not available online. Maybe a publisher who has access to Kindle will buy the rights?
The list, in alphabetical order of the authors' surnames, is as follows:
1. Ngozi Achebe Onaedo: The Blacksmith's Daughter
2. Ifeanyi Ajaegbo Sarah House
3. Jude Dibia Blackbird
4. Vincent Egbuson Zhero
5. Adaobi Tricia Nwuban I Do Not Come to You by Chance
6. Onuora Nzekwu Troubled Dust
7. Olusola Olugbesan Only a Canvas
8. Lola Shoneyin The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
9. E E Sule Sterile Sky
10. Chika Unigwe On Black Sister's Street
Ngozi Achebe's Onaedo--The Blacksmith's Daughter. I have just started reading this, and it looks like the sort of historical fiction I devoured as a high schooler. I'm looking forward to reading more!

Ifeanyi Ajaegbo's Sarah House is available on Kindle, but I was not able to access a link to the cover. Ajaegbo was the winner of the 2005 African Region Prize for the Commonwealth short story competition.

I haven't yet read Jude Dibia's Blackbird, but it is currently sitting on my bookshelf, as one of my to-read books. I have, however, read his striking Walking With Shadows , one of the first Nigerian novels I've read that deals with LGBT issues (though there were a few that preceded it, notably Al-khamees Bature's Hausa novel Matsayin Lover that has a few lesbian charachters, and a story in Labo Yari's collection A House in the Dark (Heart to heart) "Cavalier of the Plain," which very obliquely presents several lesbian charachters. Lola Shoneyin's novel, The Secret Lives of the Four Wives: A Novel
 also longlisted for the NLNG prize this year also presents a charachter with same sex desires.

Vincent Egbuson's Zhero  is listed at Goodreads here. I found it for sale on, but I can't vouch for the reliability of the vendor.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's I Do Not Come to You by Chance actually beat out Chika Unigwe's On Black Sister's Street in 2010 to win one of the Commonwealth Prize, Africa region prizes in 2010. I Do Not Come to You by Chance is a hilarious, though thought-provoking, novel that takes you behind the scenes of Nigeria's famous 419 scams. I highly recommend!

I couldn't find Onuora Nzekwu's Troubled Dust for sale online, but it was also listed on Goodreads. Tribune has an article about the launch of Troubled Dust, and you can read an interview with the author on Bivnze's Space.

Likewise, I could only find Olusola Olugbesan's shortlisted novel Only a Canvas, on Goodreads. His facebook page, however, describes where you can find the novel:
The book is one of the 15 nominees for The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa 2012 & one of the LAST 3 FINALISTS of the NLNG PRIZE FOR NIGERIAN LITERATURE 2012. Book Available @ MOSURO PUBLISHERS. 5 Oluware Obasa Street, Bodija,PO BOX 30201, Ibadan,Nigeria. Tel: 0803-322-9113. E-mail:

Without having read any of the shortlisted novels, I think Lola Shoneyin's stunning novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives deserved to make the short list. I just read this novel last week, and I had to sit down and just think for about two hours after I finished reading. It alternates first and third person narrative to tell the intertwined stories of a polygamous household. It's one of the best novels I've read this year.

In 2008, I had the privilege to read an early draft of E.E. Sule's novel Sterile Sky, a coming of age tell of a young boy growing up in Kano amidst ethnic and religious crisis. I just got a copy two weeks ago and am looking forward to re-reading it and seeing how Sule developed and polished it before it was published in the new African Writer's series.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Amazon-ing my blog

I have long resisted monetizing any of my blogs, mostly because the ads seemed to make the blogs look cheap and crappy. However, tonight I did a little bit more exploration and realized that I could link to Amazon for books and films I am already talking about on my blog and get a 4% commission from any book bought by clicking through my blog (as long as it was bought within 24 hours). As I am in the last agonizing year of my dissertation and on a tight budget, the idea of getting a little income for something I already do, whether blogging or freelance seems like a good idea to me. I've added what I find to be a rather attractive slideshow of some of my favourite books/movies/music at the top and bottom of this blog, as well as a "my favourites" widget. If you find the slideshow to be annoying, you can just click on pause and it will stop scrolling. And as I have time, I might go through and put in amazon links to books and films that I've reviewed in previous posts. (Update: I've also started working on a "bookshelf", that shows off some of my favourite books and provides links to them.)

I also run a wordpress blog, which i post on more often, but they don't allow advertising, so I might have to start posting more often here on this long neglected one!

Anyway, dear reader--if there are any dear readers left--I hope the monetization of the blog doesn't annoy you, and if you do see a book you have been wanting to read displayed here, clicking through and buying on Amazon will give me 4% of what you pay!

Cheers, T-C

Here is an experiment on linking to a book, African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory
, a really useful anthology I have been using a lot as I write.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lil Wayne - How To Love [Official Music Video]

sad, beautiful, it made me cry....

I often complain about the "NGO aesthetics" of what scholar Jane Bryce has called "donor films"--the sort of didactic "message oriented" films you see made on HIV prevention, VVF, and other social ills. I was speculating the other day, that the predominance of such films makes it very difficult to deal with serious issues like HIV in creative ways that don't turn off any audience who have seen and heard the message a hundred times before.

I don't know the background of Lil Wayne's music video, How To Love,
and whether there was any NGO involved in it. I doubt it, but I think filmmakers working with "donor" agendas could learn something from it. Perhaps there's something about the emotional punch of the short form of the music video, the expectation of sexy context from Lil Wayne, and the uncontrived sincerity in it that catches you unaware. There is a message here, but it feels more like "truth" than "propaganda", and I can watch it over and over again.