An Evening With Dike Chukwumerije

In describing an excitement, especially one caused by a creative or spiritual experience, one is not short of hyperbolic descriptions. I’ll save the hyperboles that fit the performance of Dike’s spoken word performance (#MadeInNigeria) at The Muson Centre yesterday, for later. It was here I go, I can’t save myselfa creative triumph of an improbable proportion!

The night, as advertised, was about spoken word. In turns out, the night, as inadequately advertised, was more than spoken word.

I towed behind my friend as an usher led us through an already attentive audience and a dark overcast. We got there late but were lucky to have a corner with a good view of the stage.

Dike was performing a monologue. Costumed in 70's disco regalia an over-fitted top that advertised his biceps, bell-bottom trousers better described as giant paddles, an aviator shades that reminded of Sani Abacha and a head heavy with Afro, his voice blared through the hall. Behind him was a backdrop illustrating some of Nigeria’s cultural and political elements and which through perfunctory glance looked like a version of a Lemi Ghariokwu’s cover design of Fela Kuti’s album.

One of his monologues evoked the good old days when morality and sanity were relatively part of the Nigerian makeup. For those who lived through those days, these nostalgic evocations are easy references. But it is nearly incomprehensible for Nigerians in my age bracket to entertain the idea that Nigeria was once relatively prosperous, at least by socialist standards. Dike alluded to vestiges of a once economically flourishing country the groundnut pyramids of old Northern Nigeria, the touristy scenery of old Maiduguri etc., and, as one still experiences these days in incidental encounters with older peoplein beer parlors or danfos or marketplaces or grandma visitations, they reminisce about a past when the Naira was at a shoulder level with dollars and pounds. Dike modulated his voice to mimic a mother in pains of the loss of her children and repeatedly stressed “Bring Back… “, undoubtedly riding on the popular hashtag about kidnapped northern school children. This was not poetry for sentimentality.

The performances were interspersed with old Nigerian music some I know, some I don’t know, old advertising sound bite“Who get this condom, I say na who get this rain coat?”. I can’t recall now but I think there was Sunny Okosun’s, Evi Edna Ogholi’s, Francis Agu’s etc.

Then Christy Essien Igbokwe’s “Seun Rere” cued in and Dike launched into some cool dance steps. One wondered what he was up to until he invited the audience into the most humorous episode of the night a parody of a typical Nigerian mother. It’s best watched than any attempt to describe it. It was funny… because Nigerian mothers, in their melodramas, are funny!

Soldiers matched in to some music. Shoki dance got a feature. Same as a popular kegite chorus. Dike led a school protest and the soldiers, true to character, attacked and disbanded them with sticks. He launched into aluta chants, with a repeated soprano stress“I want to elucidate…. ” The poem alluded to Nigeria’s glorious educational past and how the government has since invested in ruining it.

The evening thematically was set as a discourse to query the country’s existential problems and threats. Firebrand words were aimed at Nigeria’s moribund development and elites, the latter, especially worried him as he struggled to reconcile how they enjoyed first world conveniences which they deny their third world fellow citizens. Dike sermonized and satirized with the gusto and articulation of a political activist. His materials were suggestive of robust knowledge of Nigeria’s history and political skirmishes.

There were kids performers too. A girl recited the full stanzas of the Nigerian national anthem and a boy recited a poem. The boy’s articulation got in the way of my comprehension of whatever he was reciting. The young dude’s articulation and confidence is the stuff of a potential child voice-over artist.

The last performance was a panegyric for Herbert Macaulay, Nigeria’s father of nationalism. The late guy peered from the backdrop, watching Dike reeling his political party credentials. I wondered if future reprisals of the panegyric would feature hologram appearance of the dead man. That would be cool.

The show ended. The audience gave a rousing applause and a standing ovation. If it were an aluta-kind of audience, I suppose there would be chants of encore. But some things don’t happen among Nigeria’s middle class art enthusiasts.

Hyberbole. #MadeInNigeria was made for epic evocation of Nigeria’s history and moribund existence. Hyperbole. #MadeInNigeria is spoken word served raw to nudge consciences and to nurture a national awakening. Hyperbole. #MadeInNigeria is Dike in his creative finest employing words as vehicles of social awakening.

Errrm, I got into the car, this time with my friend and another friend of mine I ran into at the event. She sat at the back. Dude sat beside me and I was hoping to start a cordial conversation about the evening; you know, just a chit-chat! I mentioned loudly in the car that I wonder how Dike reconciles his creative preoccupation with the fact that his father was once a prominent politician in a country where politicians are far from angels, and here, his son takes a creative-activist posture with the country’s leadership and development.

My friend shut me down in the presence of a babe o, “And so, what has his father’s legacy got to do with his art? Abegi, so the boy won’t have a life now because his father was…. please, forget that thing… Chris, you know you’re an empath that’s why you think these things matter!” Shit! Empath! That word. He charged some privy information about me into a mere harmless conversation.

I entertained the thought of driving him through 3rd Mainland Bridge so I can drop someone’s husband in the middle of the bridge. But I thought if it made the news, it may inspire Dike for #MadeInStupidity.

 

You Should Watch ’76 (This is not a spoiler)

(via PRWeb.com)

(via PRWeb.com)

You should watch ’76. I’ll repeat thatyou should get yourself to the cinema and watch a gorgeous piece of storytelling. A friend suggested we go to the movies to see the film. She was insistent. I wondered what the fuss was about. I’m not the biggest follower of Nollywood, and watching movies these days has become a drag. But I’m glad that I’m gradually building a taste for Nigerian movies, at least, if not for a need to follow Nigerian pop culture and storytelling forms, but to save myself from frequent embarrassment when foreigners ask me about Nigerian movies. I usually look lost and awkwardly wriggle myself from the conversations. (From my experience, foreigners ask more about our films than our books. I suppose the cognitive biases of social media and an echo chamber of the culture-intelligentsia suggest folks out there are into our books than our films. Well, I don’t think so).

You should watch ’76. I hadn’t seen the poster or anything that could hint at what the movie is about. I, in fact, looked confused when my friend said, “Let’s go and watch ’76.” (I thought my born-again, no-dirty-talk, Jesus-is-the-love-of-my-life friend was tryna joke about that glorious sexual position named after a number ;)). So, I didn’t make the connection that the story is about the skirmishes around the Dimka coup of 1976. In fact, it’s hard to decide what the movie is about. The coup is an obvious guessthere’s an enactment of Murtala’s assassination, but, as the story continues, one sees that it’s even more about a love story backdropped against a military event. It’s a triumph of storytelling how the coup became a canvas for a love story.

You should watch ’76 if you ever doubted the brilliance of Nigerian actors and production team. I’ll be quick to mention this the story revolves around Ramsey Nouah whose performance is mostly sterling but his accented Nigerian-English, in some scenes, gets in the way of his performance. I don’t recall the name of the officer that prosecuted him but that man, that actor, is a brilliant man! All the actors are spot-on, even the extras!!!

(Ramsey Nouah, as Dewa)

(Ramsey Nouah, as Dewa)

You should watch ’76, if you haven’t watched Rita Dominic in action. I haven’t, until now. This lady is superb. Easily my favourite actor from the movie. She is everything a supporting actor should be, carrying the weight of a movie from the side with tamed gusto. Though she mostly plays the frustrated wife but she controls her performance far from the exuberance and overacting that one associates to Nigerian emotional scenes. The silly director or costume director, perhaps, noticing that there’s no sexual suggestiveness or kissy-kissy scenes decided to make it up by cupping Rita’s fine boobs somewhere towards the end of the film. They nicely showed up from under her ankara wrapper. You can’t miss them.

You should watch ’76, at least to see women’s strength when siding their husbands and their weakness in solidarity to themselves. There’s a contrast to Rita’s character, a neighbour’s lover who I think is supposed to be a hooker or a spoilt chic or whatever. She had sided her husband in a domestic brawl against Rita and Ramsey but when the story took a dark turn of both women confused about their husbands’ fates and Rita having a baby, they quickly bond on compassion. Don’t put men in that scene!

You should watch ’76, if you’re in love with the arts and culture of the ’60s and ’70s. In my opinion, those were the glorious decades of Nigerian arts and culture. It’s a triumph of production how the movie’s picture toned into nostalgia and the panoply of the era’s cultural elements. (About the coolest production of similar epic quality is the Star Beer commercial featuring Victor Uwaifo’s “Joromi”. Epic ad!!!).

If anything should be said about the movie’s costume and picture team, it is that the team suffers from a perfectionism that makes them attend to every cultural element to the T! I even noticed a yellow, horse-patterned ankara fabric that my mum owned and that is older than me, same as some china plates with the thickness of a fitness tool.

You should watch ’76 because it is about strength and honour, and watch it because it is fine storytelling.

Or you should watch ’76, with a born-again friend so she or he can hear the unadulterated version of Victor Olaiya’s classic, “Baby Jowo”, not the equally cool but censored remix featuring 2Face. Abeg, if you must sing about oyàn, sing about oyàn!

Watch ’76 because it is history.

Arriving Dubai and a Silly Poem

 

I got to the arrival session. I joined a horde of people of different nationalities and different hair textures on a queue to enter Dubai. I entertained myself with the observation that Africans are relatively taller than other people, or maybe it's the nature of the batch that I was on the queue with.

The network carrier on my phone changed from my Nigerian one to Etisalat (Dubai). There was free data and so I chatted with whoever was up in Nigeria that night. One of my siblings who had caught me googling “Owning a Dog in Dubai” asked if I had seen any dog. I told him it was still night.

Right there, a poem started to form in my head. I resisted the urge to pay it attention. Rather, I began to have telepathic discussions with the pre-pre-premature poem. I damned it first, “See, stupid poem, I'm not in Dubai to form literary. You'd better find another outlet, preferably through another human being, of more welcoming interest in the mischief of words.”

The silly poem lumped in my neck, pressed harder and harder, and nagged like a girl destined to be an ex-girlfriend. But it wasn't the poem's fault. I had stirred up the urge to write by a fascination of the hues of people around me. Wait, Hues! The poem wanted to be titled, Hue-mans! The metaphors of colours started to arrive. I'm stumped between a choice of conceptual vehicle to use or to just damn the whole mental struggle and enjoy the sights of Dubai.

An Emirati attended to me. In fact, all the arrival attendants were Emirati males, men with well-trimmed beards and sideburns that look sharply different from the common stereotypes of Middle Eastern men with bushy and scruffy beards, and with deadpan looks of psychopaths. My attendant smiled while he adjusted the camera to my height. I smiled too and lowered my head to help his effort. My first encounter with an Emirati was with a smile, probably a promise of what was yet to come. Only a few weeks in the country, I started to look forward to seeing Emiratis stroll the streets in their easy mien and impeccable white robes (I later figured the name of the robes as dishdasha).

I noticed a gentleman holding a small cardboard with my name written on it. I acknowledged myself and made him and his cardboard pose with me for a picture – my first Dubai picture. He works in my host company.

We exited the arrival section and moved towards his car. And then, geez, the heat of Dubai, a sliver of what may be the biblical hellfire of my Christian childhood, hit me. The heat made Lagos heat, which I complain about every time, seemed like child’s play. I couldn’t mention it to my host so he wouldn’t take offense on behalf of the country and send me back into the plane to be returned from wherever I was vomited from. I knew about preparing for cold. I didn’t know about preparing for this type of heat!

After exchanging pleasantries and asking a few questions about each other’s countries – he’s a Filipino, we drove to my hotel. I had noticed some sights that I would have loved to photograph but I primed myself for a decent first-time-impression than appear as an overly enthusiastic guy from Africa reaching orgasm at mere fanciful spectacles of another country.

From a distance, amidst glints of night lights, I recognized some sections of Dubai that feature in cityscape photographs and camera pans on television.

I got to my hotel room and all I was occupied with was the thought of meeting my creative team!

The gentleman that drove me from the airport gave me my first Dirhams to use as contingency backup. I tried not to look embarrassed. In my mind, I was like, “Oh yeah, is this unsolicited kindness a Dubai behaviour?” I thanked him and let him know that he gave me my first stash of the UAE currency. I told him I would see him when I visit the agency.

The silly poem decided to show up again. I launched my laptop and pretended as though I was going to bring it to life. Instead, I relieved myself from the poem’s agitation by reading a few travel poems and essays, ogled at Instagram dogs, set my wristwatch and continued obsessing about meeting the creative team, until I slept off.

(Next post will be about visiting the agency)

 

Leaving Nigeria

(This will be a series of stories about a recent travel experience outside Nigeria)

Sometime this year, my email was flooded. A company that had once contacted me in 2013 reopens negotiations, this time with what seems like a thrilling urgency and itinerary. 

As in most of my personal decisions, I weighed the offer against the prospects of soaking new cultural experiences and forming new bonds of friendship. Everything else took secondary consideration. This tendency, admittedly, usually proves silly to close friends who I burden with the responsibility of dealing with the nitty-gritty of my contracts while I settle into obsessing over my next cultural immersion.

Speaking of friends, I knew I had to announce it to them in a way that will distract them from burdening me with ngbati-ngbati or mischievous questioning. I composed a text in form of a riddle: "Hey Dude (or Babe), read this message backward from the end - .later you to Talk .SMS this from figure can you think I that world the of region a in role Director's Creative a accepted I've .tomorrow next Naija of out I'm"

(There was no later. It was immediate. The calls rushed in. The bants from my friends should make a new post. One asked if I've impregnated a girl and I'm escaping. Another threatened not to let me go since "we are all in this Buhari economy together". Another wondered if I had given up on my business in pursuit of a fuzzy promise of adventure. Another kept reiterating - "Chris, just be careful. You may not get away with some thing as you do here". Another, the most annoying and the one that scared me said, in a face to face, that he vacations annually in Dubai with his wife and, after reviewing my contract, yelled, "Chris, you're going to be working and living in the most expensive place in Dubai! He mocked my contract. I dismissed his intrusion on my adventure).

The Middle East holds some fascination to me. A few books and documentaries had explored some of my questions about the region, its role in civilization, its endless tension, the Abrahamic connections, the Israel factor, and in the case of the UAE and Qatar, - a new cultural sophistication that borrows the best aspects of other cultures and integrates them into an Arabic canvas.

Dubai will be my new home.

I survived the typical skirmishes of the Nigerian immigration staff and hopped on a connecting flight to Ethiopia via Ethiopian airline. Just at the sight of the plane, I figured I had committed the biggest mistake of my flying career. Here's the thing - I do not fly without a pack of chewing gum! A few years back, on a flight to Europe, I figured I suffer from "barotrauma" (or its less traumatic other name - "barotitis media"), a condition marked by extreme pain in the ear and feeling stuffed-up, especially when a plane is ascending or descending. It has to do with atmospheric pressure. It was so painful I describe it to people as having needles drilled into someone's ears and turned over and over like a wheel. On another flight in which I forgot chewing gums - to Abuja, a nice hostess, after observing my discomfort, created a makeshift solution whose efficacy startled me. It involved two pet cups, a tissue dampen in hot water and stuffed inside the cups. I cupped the cup over my ears - a weird sight to other passengers, while I endured the hot embalming of my ears as the heat fought the pain from whatever it was from. A white guy consoled me and said he used to experience it too, that I should form saliva in my mouth and swallow it repeatedly. This swallow-swallow part is the function of the chewing gum and the masticating action activates the muscles in resistance to the airplane pressure. During flights, I become a ruminant animal.

I fucking forgot to carry chewing gums! I have ruined this flight by myself. Everything was now evocative of the Yoruba expression of self-pity and self-flagellation - I-have-used-my-own-hand-to-do-myself. As I made my way through the aisle, I observed a Nigerian couple pecking themselves for a selfie and I took offense that their fellow passenger was about to be in pain as they, awon oniranu meji, were pecking and selfieing.

The plane took off and I sensed Lagos thinning behind. I didn't get a window seat but I didn't mind since an impending pain occupied my mind. Everything took a surreal quality - the fate of leaving Africa in pain and landing in the Middle East in pain. My ears began to twitch. The atmospheric pressure mounted. Fuck it! I flung my phone and kindle behind the pouch in front of me. I swallowed gobs of saliva and wished for a miracle. As I've once learnt from a Google search, I held my nose tightly and forced air through my ears. My ears snapped and I was relieved. I was back to normal and in between eating, drinking, and ogling at beautiful Ethiopian hostesses, I launched my kindle and flipped through pages of Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.”

We landed in Ethiopia and after about 45 minutes, we boarded the next flight to Dubai.

(Let me quickly go and write the next post. I’m using this to fight writer’s block.)

The Nigerian Absurdity of Figures-of-Speech

Some Christians and almost everyone online troll Soyinka on his “figurative” defense of “green card tearing” but accept literal interpretation of Sam Adeyemi’s “mental health” tweet.

Let's flip it:

Some intellectuals reject literal interpretation of Soyinka’s words on tearing his green card but condemn contextual defense of Sam Adeyemi’s use of Christian aphorism on the origin of diseases.

Let's keep it simple:

So, we should condemn Pastor Sam Adeyemi's words literally but accept Wole Soyinka's words metaphorically.

Well-done, Nigerian intellectuals.

(At the end of the day, we all rally around what validates our intellectual or religious biases and standpoints).