FUGEE by Hawa Jande Golakai

A piece by HJande Golakai. I really do have a thing, perhaps it's an incurable affliction, for writers that have mastered lacing serious topics with humor. For some, as in this writer, one wonders if they intend to share heartfelt pieces or just aim to impress readers with their storytelling talent, or both. (I'm already sounding like an overzealous new fan).

(I'm also surprised the writer has been my friend on this Facebook Street. One wonders the amount of potentially great connections that have remained inactive, or not pursued, on this street. (And this is coming from someone who woke up one day and realized that he has amassed about 5 million Facebook friends, or so, and only maintains strong connections with a ridiculously small fraction of that number). I should edit my New Year resolution to include actively pursuing Facebook friendships).

There are several quotable sentences in the piece and some are worth returning to for mere pleasure. I'm going to mention only this one because I intend to steal its pithiness for a future piece about Lagos (not Abuja). I will replace Monrovia with Lagos and Liberia with Nigeria:

"Monrovia is the Liberia that matters most, and this has always been so, shamefully elitist as that is; until something unsettles our tiny capital, it will never cause a stir.

- FUGEE by Hawa Jande Golakai

 

About J.M. Coetzee

As in most of my favourite authors, I discovered J.M. Coetzee via a roadside bookshop, in Maryland, Ikeja. It was the same day I bought Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, one of my all-time favourites, and which I've bought more copies for people more than any other book.

It was probably 2008, and before the Lagos State government embarked on an environmental effort that retired most of the roadside bookshops. And my friend, let's ignore the alaba cancer of piracy, the best and rarest books were on Lagos roadsides, freely displayed in makeshift corners, without the uppity of neatness and posh bargaining. (It's never funny these days when my only choice to scan books are that expensive bookshop in Ikoyi and its Ikeja Shopping Mall branch, and sometimes Terra Kulture).

I discovered J.M. Coetzee through his work - "Elizabeth Costello". It remains my favourite work of his. His sentences sometimes exhibit Hemingway's type of sparseness, sometimes cold, sometimes overly surgical. His essays, mostly. I've come to associate overly surgical polemics to South African authors with apartheid literary experience. Gordimer, especially.

This essayist dissects Coetzee charmingly.

"If Foster Wallace is a patron saint of imaginative and expansive self-expression, Coetzee carries the banner for the relentless artistry of subtraction — a skill that, in these days of social media–induced oversharing, is surely slipping from view."

 

The Writing of Life By Martin Woessner

 

 

The Most Important Piece on Nigerian Feminism

This may be the most important piece on Nigerian feminism, and it might rankle the author, Yemisi's, if I extend its importance to Universal feminism. She doesn't believe such exists, as argued somewhere in the piece. (This is not - NOT! a piece to savor Yemisi's devotion to well-crafted and spellbinding sentences. It's easy to figure she writes her prose with the temperament of a poet, and being omnipotent about the human condition).

The article challenges popular notions on feminism, dissecting its many contending and complimentary sides. It's contrarian as contrarian can be, particularly taking the agitation to the front door of evangelical and populist feminism, within a Nigerian reality. (There's a charming reference to Adichie and Beyoncé). Most telling is how it evokes the influence of civilization, filial relations and in fact social status in shaping the concept called feminism. Very curious and worth attending to.

If one can guess the political affiliation of a non-fiction writer from the writer's article, Yemisi, from this piece at least, might be a cross of a radical leftist with a bit of rightist extremities. No time to exhibit the political-correctness of a centrist.

But I believe the article suffers from an omission, perhaps deliberately. While stressing there can't be a universal definition of feminism (a point that might anger some close-minded evangelicals) but it should at least admit a universal agitation for an ideal in gender equality, as part of a human imperative. It also almost makes patriarchy look like an unfortunate recipient of females with too much time on their fist-y hands. Patriarchy is real and has been made stronger by the same social, filial and, if we may add - civilization, factors that the writer believes give credence (or confusion) to the new wave of feminism. To ignore patriarchal motions is an unforgivable negligence and a terrible risk. And holding matriarchy to a sole responsibility is as sweeping as sweeping generalization can be.

Again, this is an important addition to the discourse on feminism, or put in another words, an important addition to moving our society to a civil level of gender equality, (or maybe impossibility). With pieces like this, maybe Nigeria is enjoying an intellectual growth than one may admit.

Just like I did, I'd say to you, my friends, pull a chair, ignore the popcorn, put your phone on airplane mode and witness the dissecting of Nigerian feminism and its many nuances. (And try not to laugh when you get to the generator and tree doctor references).

- Sister Outsider by Yemisi Ogbe

The Video of Obama, Buhari & Justin Trudeau

I want to talk about a video making the rounds, of about Obama giving Buhari's performance report to Justin Trudeau, in a quick informal encounter. One can ignore the fact that such encounter is a normal ritual of cordiality but the response miles away and through social media has been curious. Except one will be accused of been overly sensitive towards a rather insignificant diplomatic exchange, or even called out for raising dust where none existed, the response from fans of Buhari (and most Nigerians, in general), ascribes premium to Obama's estimation of Buhari's performance. And right there are questions and exclamation marks.

Beside the Buharian (I prefer the word to "Buharist") opportunists who have entertained themselves by using the video to score political points - perhaps deservedly, or in fact used the video to affront the opposition about an "American" endorsement of their principal's performance, one is rankled by the hysteria ("histrionics" might be considered offensive) that a 21st century Nigeria manifests what seems like a neocolonial submission of home performance to foreign approval. It's bewildering. One only needs to flip the actors in the encounter to understand the extent of the weirdness. Imagine Buhari said that about Obama, or, on the extreme, Putin says that about Obama to... Xi Jinping.

It reeks of big brother badge-ing of honour, a form of passive consent you expect from America in demonstration of its political and cultural superiority. But let's excuse America, for America will be America! Only a few days ago, Raul Castro "castrated" Obama's arm in an awkward handshake encounter. Observers who are nerdy about body language know well what Raul was up to, at least to the extent which people use the body as prop to demonstrate power and presence. And those blawdy American politicians know how to use their body to command presence and to subtly make their interlocutors feel smaller. It may not mean much to most folks but such h-armless acts are as h-armful as they are sometimes passive forms of assertiveness. One could say short man - Raul, subdued America's towering excesses by that simple act of resisting Obama's arm, even if for just TV. Whoever said Napoleon Complex isn't a thing... lol.

Well, this is not one of those cases that place blame on Buhari's handlers. And Buhari, given his susceptibility to gaffes, cannot be trusted to outwit Obama & Trudeau, or anyone sef, in a friendly comeback. Say, just after Obama finished saying, "He's doing a good job", Buhari, acting stunned but with a smile, just replies Obama, "Oh, let's just wish the young prime minister well in his new government", and gives Obama a left hand pat with, "Hey Barack, it's nice to see you perhaps for the last time, or would you consider rigging yourself for a 3rd term?". Then, the rest of the world can watch the rumbles of the clap-back.

The big African question remains how to free ourselves from subservience to foreign endorsement or to stop equating America's approval of performance to actual approval of performance, and especially when we are in search of actual performance and not hysterics masking as performance.

About Sam Harris

I like this piece. Its subject is about one of the contemporary thinkers of our time, and written by another fine thinker, the type that one wishes to have a debate with, at least for sheer pleasure and for a fascination about the workings of a rich and discipline mind.

I know Sam Harris as one of Horsemen of New Atheism, which includes Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. Sam always seem to me, among them, as the hippest; maybe because he's the youngest. He also seems like a charming demagogue that builds followership around an insularity that hurts than enriches. He ranks closely to Dawkins on intellectual arrogance that only proves their white privilege than anything that confirms their scientific open-mindedness. I know this because I've read most of their books and articles, and it's easy to come to this conclusion. Dawkins, especially, seems to hide some chronic insecurity by being deliberately feisty and bullish. I respect his elevation of science over theism but I'm easily disgusted by his arrogant dismissal of dissenting points of view - very unscientific. (But "The God Delusion" is still a classic). I prefer Hitchens' type of reasoning - leftist, centrist, and sometimes extremist - even though he does throw some harsh polemics at unreason but he does it with some sense of refinement that Dawkins or Harris can only aspire to. (Continue to rest in the Lawd's bosom, Hitch. ;))

I'm not surprised about the encounter that the writer of this essay narrates here. It confirms the intolerance that afflicts those who enjoy putting down other people and will not entertain anything that affronts their supposedly superior positions.

After reading this, I concluded that Sam, having failed to demonstrate tolerance and give room for "free speech", he should just stick to his version of Zen which he brilliantly explored in "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion", probably the richest spiritual & contemporary work from a non-religious mind.

The writer of this essay though:

"It intellectually excoriate religious creeds while defending rather than vilifying the actual human beings who belong to it. This is the tradition of Thomas Paine and Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. Sam Harris does not deserve their company."

Ouch!

- My Secret Debate with Sam Harris: A Rvealing 4-Hour Dialogue on Islam, Racism & Free-Speech Hypocrisy by Omer Aziz

 

My African Music Fantasy

 

I just discovered that Eddy Kenzo did a song with Patoranking. Cool. Somewhere in my African music fantasy is a strong musical connection between Nigeria and Eastern/Central Africa. (I'd argue that the Naija-South Africa experiment, yes, experiment! didn't quite produce much. I'd thought the track between 2Face and Zara was gonna be so big to the point it will become African Union anthem. Nope! Same as those hip-hop tracks between Naija rappers and SA rappers.

But Naija-Ghana experiment produced some good songs. And still does.

Tanzania's Diamond Platinumz has some decent songs with Nigeria acts but I'm not big on him.

I hope for a P-square and Kenya's Sauti Sol collaboration.

But my ultimate ultimate fantasy is a Naija-Burundi one, featuring 2Face and Kidum. The unity of Africa will depend on that song!

Seun Kuti's Black Woman

I love this!

But here's the thing - I've always struggled to appreciate Seun Kuti's brand of Afrobeat. Yes, struggle! I believe his brother, Femi Kuti, succeeds in crafting his own conceptual identity from their dad's, just like Damian Marley is distinct from Bob Marley. Ziggy Marley too. But Seun's Afrobeat still comes off as an evolving dilution of the original, a musical idea still seeking its own form and structure but already carrying itself as "formed". It's just what I always think. But there are few songs that show promise of "maturity".

For every time I hear it, I'm curious to know what informed the lyrics, and also the attendant mood of the period the song came out, towards women. On the one hand, it sounds celebratory of a "modern" African woman. On the other, it sounds mocking of a new and assertive African woman who "now" exhibits a somewhat cosmopolitan and European-type confidence. I don't know.

Seun's craft seems like an adventure to define a distinct path for himself, as gleaned from his songs. I don't think he strives, in a conservative sense, to maintain Fela's style. Maybe a bit of its content. (After all, Afrobeat owes a lot of its existence and sustenance to political content and ghetto storytelling form). If he likes Fela's style, that's fine but if he wants to maintain that style, I bet he isn't pretty close to it. Also, as much as I don't see anything wrong in maintaining a musical form and content, I personally subscribe to derivative arts that push a known form to new terrains.

I almost cynically dismissed this video when I saw it on my timeline but I decided to watch it. And it's a good video and a beautiful song. The song is made even more compelling as it contrasts well with his father's popular "Lady" - a song that one doesn't know the extent which it celebrates the African woman or if it exhibits Fela's misogynist tendencies or one composed in response to feminist agitation. 

Seun is good on his one; the lyrics, the composition, the name-calling, everything!

(Maybe he should just stick to feel-good, celebratory music. Political agitation may not be his musical calling).

About Orijin Zero

My current BBM status reads, “Orijin Zero is simply agbo jedi jedi!”, a comparison of the new product from Guinness Nigeria to a Yoruba herbal concoction for pile. A friend on my BBM contact responded with a sneer — “On top of all the hype!”. I wondered how she came about the scornful response since I didn’t intend it, until I realized she works with a carbonated drink company, one that, as I later figured, must have been calling war-room brainstorming session in response to the launch of Orijin Zero.

I put more dots together and found that Guinness Nigeria has cleverly positioned Orijin Zero as a healthy and sugarless alternative to sugar-based carbonated (read as — Saccharine) drinks, as opposed to positioning the product merely as a non-alcoholic version of its 6% ABV senior family member — Orijin. My friend’s sneer is therefore justified — her salary is from selling sugary drinks and the rulebook of petty corporate competitiveness states that one’s competitor’s product remains shitty even in the face of obvious merit.

Its communication didn’t make claims like “Introducing Origin Zero, Enjoy Orijin Without Alcohol” or “The New Orijin Without Alcohol” “Origin for Everyone…” or something drawn from a copywriter’s chest of glibs. But it packs a punch (no alcoholic pun intended) — “Rethink Your Soft Drink”, a clever proposition intended to stir up the carbonated drink market and to stretch its turf from alcohol/bitters drinkers to health-conscious, sugar-loathing, saccharine-hating, and even alcohol-despising consumers.

I belong to the last group. My teetotaler career is in its 4th year, after it had staggered on-and-off in incidental social settings. I am close to being the patron saint of teetotalers but still struggle with passive aggressive social settings where alcohol intake is part of the social (and sometimes business) contract. (But I’ve mastered how to rock alcohol glasses without sipping and without giving myself away). 

Orijin Zero might as well be targeted at people like me, who may find its non-sugar and herbal component appealing and also because the product is from a renowned brewing company. (But of course, one cannot entirely claim there isn’t some “additives”, even if harmless; anything that passes from nature through industries can hardly be free from add-ons).

Only time will tell if Guinness has a homerun with Orijin and its spinoff. The company’s history in Nigeria is marked with innovative products and brilliant spinoffs but not so much on sustaining innovation. The list of innovative but flailed or flailing market launches includes Gordon’s Spark, Guinness Extra Smooth, Harp Lime, etc.

This product is an incursion into the soft drink market. Or maybe my imagination is on overdrive.

It also looks like a deliberate attempt to make me lose any chance of being considered for a business (or job) opportunity with my friend’s soft drink company, because of a misconstrued BBM status. That leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. ;)