Last updated on October 6th, 2017 at 10:21 am
by Dunmoye Fagesi
If you expect that the first thing anyone “visiting” an arts and book festival requires is a brain, you expect wrong, very wrong. All you need a brain for is to stay alive and when comment/question time comes, to maybe add –ness in front of an everyday word, to give your meandering submission/question a sheen of erudition (e.g versusness = opposition). The jokes are pretty easy to catch, social media has normalized shit like “shit” and “fuck” so much that they are like Che Guevara shirts, and if poetry not about pounding ngalame drums is read, you can simply let it out the other ear till you encounter it on the page, where contemplation may require much more than trying to catch what the fuck the reader is saying in the first place.
In the run-up to the Ake Festival, someone tweeted that the most important requirement at such a festival was the condom (the tweeter is obviously male), as writers can be very “expressive” people. I dismissed it at the time as an idiot aiming for humour. Boy, was I wrong. And given that literary festivals conglomerate literary groupies (easy prey, in the grand scheme of things), I wonder why I dismissed in the first place.
And the girls don’t even have to be literary groupies. They could be groupies merely for the smell of money, chartered, three on a bike, wearing the cheapest “sexy” clothes to be found in Abeokuta, and bundled off in a Toyota Camry to what hopefully was a ménage a quartre. My God, I want to be a writer!
It is only when I’m a writer, like Olufemi Terry, that I can, using a microphone, declaim against bourgeois values and technology, in a place resembling South Africa in its visitor-guest apartheid, although in this case, you can’t even be found in “Guest” areas, pass or no pass! But this is merely grilled beef. When I become a writer properly so called, I will Michael Jackson my vitiligo, and exit this bantustan of wretched longing.
But the Ake Arts and Book Festival 2014 was mad fun. Hey, Michael Peel was mad fun. From grabbing power from the Oil Politics panel for some two years, to fizzing about like a deflating balloon on the dance floor, Michael Peel (dictator in the making) was mad fun, even refusing to step down after Nigerians (who else?) applied international pressure by clapping him off mid-sermon. Soyinka was Soyinka: dignified as conscience; mischievous as a wink. Obasanjo was ever the rambunctious rent-a-joke. Amaechi was good PR for Redbull.
On the dance floor, photographer Vera Botterbusch did her sideways, jogging, slashing oyinbo woman dance, which strangely was on time with Shoki as it was with the bata drum two days earlier. Kei Miller (respect) ‘longside his lock-shorn head, reputed bringer of moistness to female nether regions, moved like his poetry: a Junot Diaz story. But what *mumble* *mumble* *more mumble* me expect of a Jam-iay-can? Oh to be a Jamaican writer!
Finally, to delve ever so slightly into the world of ideas arising from Ake this year:
1. I too, like Olufemi Terry, believe in a post-iconoclast Nigeria, never mind what Richard Ali and a few others think. Everything is for sale these days, and so the system normalizes dissent into a commodity for sale, thereby subverting subversion itself. Take for instance, Soyinka, whose work takes to task the same degenerate society that venerates him, or Fela, who is now being diluted for popular use. While these two are or were at least sincere in their motivation, today’s excuse of an iconoclast simply wants to sell you a product. End of story.
2. I have been calling (mostly to the four walls of my room) for nuance in the apprehensions of homosexuality and society. Too often, apprehensions involve camps at the extreme of a yes-no continuum, with little appreciation for the coral reefs that have to be navigated before an agricultural society such as ours can be brought into an age of understanding. And Wole Soyinka (who else?) did the subject justice on Azeenarh’s copy-paste prodding.
An individual has the right to her sexuality. We often mistake mainstream values for culture (ask the parents whose twins were killed if they regarded themselves as part of a twins-killing culture). Because of a lazy penchant for prescription, we completely misunderstand the evolution of cultures, and wonder why America is still racist mere decades after racism was legislated out of existence. And if we can’t handle the relatively simple notion of religion, how the fuck are we gonna handle wholesale the sophistication that is sexuality? And as Wole Soyinka said (not verbatim), what happens post-acceptance? How do we confront the definitions of marriage, of adoption, of divorce? Who protects the child’s sexuality? These are the discussions we need to have, discussions currently being subsumed by the lucrativeness of versusness.
Taken on the surface, there is some truth to Ayo Sogunro’s assertion that here in Nigeria we seem to believe “we” represent the final frontier of the war against the untrammelled liberalism of values. But if history tells us anything, the places we imagine are conquered territories have taken, and are taking, their good time to evolve out of these spaces. This is not mobile telephony; we can’t simply hustle people into a new psychosocial reality… except of course you’re the Khmer Rouge. As a dead Chinese man (whose reincarnation I am) once said, “to fill a cup, fire first must become water.”
*The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of nantygreens.com*
Photo credit: @AjalaYemi (Alashela Photography)
Submitted via nantygreens submissions
Interesting read. Personally, I think this year’s Akefest was not true to itself. What do I mean? There was, for me, too much emphasis on what I call literary elitism: whites more than blacks; foreigners more than indigenes; upper middle class more than lower middle class; the political more than the cultural/literary.
Why, for instance, was the debate on liberal values held in such a non-neutral (western-oriented) context? The lady from the Caine Prize, for instance, abused her moderator status to push her atheistic, pro-diversity views on the audience. How would she have liked it if someone with strongly religious values had chosen to do the same?
Why was the greatest attention given to the blazer-wearing schools like Whitesands, etc, rather than the not-so-rich schools in the neighbourhood? Why was the festival yet another occasion for Soyinka-worship? Why was a discredited adulterous politician like Obasanjo first given top billing, then NOT interviewed on the basis of his status as an author? Why was there so little discussion across boundaries of race and class? I kept on seeing old friends talking to old friends, on the same subjects, in the same tones.
Akefest is on its way to becoming yet another exclusionary site where the privileged get to relate only to one another. If it is to change, it needs to be more honest and less pretentious: in other words, more truly Nigerian.