Seven Reasons To Visit Nigeria ASAP

It’s not often that artistic genius seamlessly meets serious political commentary.  But it seems to happen all the time in Nigeria.  There’s no less-dramatic way to say it so, in a nutshell, Nigerian artists have changed my life.  I’ve never been there, which is perhaps why Nigerian storytelling has not just captured my imagination, it has demonstrated the boundless possibilities of literature. Over the years I’ve heard so much about Nigeria from (admittedly annoying) patriotic Nigerians that it’s long been number two (reasons to visit, number one, Ghana can be found here) on my Must-See West African Countries list (you have one of those right?) nobel_treeplantingIt may well be true that stories grow on trees in West Africa.  I love Nigeria for gracing me with an abundance of stories that are at once 100% rooted in a specific locale, embroidered with such detailed analysis of the universal, and told through fully-formed African characters. I frequently lose myself, investing totally in outcomes which are fictional creations based on somebody else’s reality.  If there’s any one country, where a lot of my favourite novels come from, it’s Naija.  A fiction festival in Nigeria would look a lot like heaven to me. With no further ado, here’s seven reasons to be ridiculously excited about going to Nigeria: 1)  Chimamanda Adichie.  I teach on ‘The Danger of A Single Story’ aka  The Most Viewed Ted Talk Ever, given by Adichie in 2009.  The first time I constructed a listening comprehension around it, my students responded so well that’s it’s wormed its way into every course I’ve taught since.  They either like it, or love it. Some have had quite emotional responses to it, others have done that quiet-but-sage nod that acknowledges that a truth has been revealed. That talk alone is enough to merit a spot here, but then there are her novels: Purple Hibiscus was great.  Half of a Yellow Sun turned me into a believer.  ‘The Greatest Love Story Ever Told’ I evangelise to anyone who approaches my bookshelf.  If you liked Love + Basketball (the film), you will love Half of a Yellow Sun (the book). I then read Americanah and was bitterly disappointed.  Given how great a writer Adichie is, it’s probably ‘just’ a highly anticipated good novel.  However I had come to understand that her books would always be produced at the Earth’s core by God’s order of literary angels, and given to publishers who would then transcribe such precious creations for the enjoyment of mere mortals like myself.  Turns out she’s a real person, just incredibly gifted and hard-working, and human enough to punch below her weight on occasion. chimamanda-ngozi-adichieThat Thing Around Your Neck is Chimamanda’s short story collection.  Although it took me a long time to get to it, partly cos I don’t generally read short story collections, partly cos I don’t buy them,  TTAYN has made me reconsider my feelings about the whole genre.  Each story is a teaser of a tale of the human condition which sometimes felt resolved, sometimes left me wondering thirstily what happened next. If you think she can’t possibly be as good as I say, That Thing Around Your Neck is a great brief introduction. For students learning English, they are perfect; short but compelling and thought-provoking. I love Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (the public persona, I don’t know her personally!) because she introduced me to her world with panache. Admittedly, stories which featured black people I could relate to (as opposed to stereotypes I rolled my eyes at), in the centre as opposed to the margins of the story, in a place I’d never been to, were always going to appeal to me.  But doesn’t that make them any less fabulous. chimananda-adichie-dress-afroIn all her work Chimamanda describes a country which she obviously loves deeply but sees clearly – for better and for worse.  And people, Nigerian people, from various social backgrounds – but mostly educated, middle-class folk like herself – who, like all of us, are just making their way through life.  Adichie vividly portrays communities and people who as black people and human beings, are at once familiar, but live in a different world from my own.  Her stories are filled with engaging, complex, fully human African characters; people who love it and hate it at various intervals, but mostly stick with Nigeria come what may.  If New York was the fifth character in Sex and the City, Nigeria is ‘the sidekick’ in each of her tales, and Chimamanda Adichie’s stories are engrossing, unforgettable must-reads. 2)  Chinua Achebe arrow of godThere’s a bit in her TED talk, where Chimamanda Adichie paraphrases writer Mourid Barghouti.  She says a story can dispossess a whole people simply by telling their story and beginning that tale with ‘secondly’.  I imagine she had in mind at that point Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s first and most famous novel internationally. Things Fall Apart follows the story of Okonkwo, a great warrior in his region and a self-made man at the start of the story.  However the slow encroachment of the British, not with guns blazing nor spitting hate, but with their small, constant incursions, disrupts the world as Okonkwo knows it gradually, yet profoundly.  So much so, that Okonkwo comes to question whether it’s a world worth living in. A mon avis, Things Fall Apart has in common with Hitchcock’s cinematic classic Psycho that the scariest bit isn’t the fear, confusion and impending doom felt in the unfolding action itself, but the epilogue-like ending.  The intensely emotional, psychological war we spend the whole novel witnessing Okonkwo losing, is but a chapter, we discover, in a book entitled ‘The Pacification of The Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.’  Chinua Achebe is not revered as the Father of African Literature for nothing. thingfallapartAfter this devastating critique of British imperialism in this his first novel, Achebe continued to write about Naija, his beloved homeland; the other books in his ‘African trilogy’ trace the fates of Okonkwo’s descendants over several generations.  All the Nigerians I knew at uni talked about Arrow of God with the reverence that non-Nigerians seem to reserve for Things Fall Apart.  Including those students I never saw touch a book that wasn’t on their reading list. Whichever of Achebe’s works is ‘best’ (and he wrote prolifically), Things Fall Apart was the only novel my book club ever read that everyone agreed unanimously was incredible.  We read a relatively wide range of great and less-great (in our opinions) novels from all over the world, and we liked most of them.  But Things Fall Apart, we all simply loved.  It’s deceptively small, ‘the biography of a wrestler’ one of my students summarised, but it will have you flat on your back. 3)  P Square Universities across the UK have an ‘ACS’ and mine was no different.  The Afro-Caribbean Society or African-Caribbean Society is the place where black students gather; even the least functional ones can hook you up with a good local hairdresser and the best parties in town. At my ACS, Nigerians formed a solid 90% of the members.  Thus their musical tastes had to be catered to keep a party jumping.  As such I was soon introduced to a musical genre I’d never heard of called Afrobeats, and two of the biggest tunes of first year were by some group called P Square. That was a while back.  Afrobeats is everywhere now – remember how D’Banj’s Oliver Twist took over the radio but a few summers ago?  Or that Alingo track (another P Square hit) last year?  Rightly so, because everybody needs Afrobeats; Nigerians produce choons!  Play this in a good mood and try to not dance Couldn’t manage it?  It’s okay, it’s afrobeats, it’s good for you.  My love affair with Nigerian music began with P Square.  P Square played at St Lucia’s epic black music festival last year, and they performed in London frequently when I was in London.  But despite a love of live music, and access to these shows, I’m waiting because I dream of seeing P Square live in Lagos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3mHMWO_-mM 4) Wole Soyinka and the new Nigerian writers A writer who, before he was the first African to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, took over a state-controlled radio station at gunpoint because he felt so strongly that they were not telling the people the truth? Book-Review-Secret-Lives-Of-Baba-Segis-Wives-Lola-Shoneyin-FAB-Magazine-11Despite a brief fling with is poetry as a teenager, this is my over-riding image of Wole Soyinka.  A man who tested the theory of whether the pen was truly mightier than the sword personally.  And somewhat comically the way I heard it.  If I’ve got the story wrong (and the internet does not seem to be corroborating), the image I have at the time of writing is of a young Soyinka momentarily bringing down the system with an epic pirate broadcast in an inimitable act of bravery and youthful idealism.  Awestruck, I wonder what kind of a place Nigeria is to produce such people, and curiosity piqued, I want to visit. Soyinka’s daughter-in-law is also an author.  The feminist in me was horrified when a good friend passed me The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, as I presumed that it was some sort of polygamy apology novel.  Wrong!  It’s a brilliant tale of the many ways women negotiate their circumstances, which drew me into the drama of one village’s most prominent compound. Most importantly, for me, it centred the women’s voices.  You should read it cos whatever you’re thinking, it’s not like that.  Prepare to be delighted and surprised.Idonotcometoyoubychance Another Nigerian novel which has me itching to explore Nigeria is I Do Not Come To You By Chance by  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani.  Someone handed their copy to me, telling me it was about Nigeria’s notorious 419ers (the email scam chaps) but it was hilarious.  I will ditto that description, adding simply that it’s also a beautiful, brutal coming-of-age story which you’d be foolhardy to miss out on.  I’ve profiled these two, but without doubt there are hundreds more great Nigerian novels and authors I have yet to encounter. 5) Fela Kuti I have seen a few dance productions in my time.  Nothing prepared me for Fela! The Musical.  It was easily one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last 10 years. I’ve never seen dancers that Awesome – and with such a range of styles mastered – anywhere live.  The closest was the 3canal show I saw in Port-of-Spain which also managed the magic of having about 90 people move in perfect timing with never a limb out of place, but Fela! was just out of this world.   Given his contribution to music, that seems entirely appropriate.   I first discovered Fela Kuti because one of the characters who I massively identified with in Purple Hibiscus, loved his music and so I wanted to listen to what she was listening to.  Basically. Fela, I now know, was the pioneer of the aforementioned Afrobeats and is an iconic Nigerian musician. Fela Kuti was a jazz saxophonist who began mixing funk, high-life, and traditional West African chants and rhythms with his drummer to create a new sound.  He fused the music to relentless outspokenness in an era of such serious political repression that the government harassed him constantly.  Eventually they brutally and somewhat sadistically attacked his home and everyone inside it, inflicting the injuries that killed his mother.  It’s not often that artistic genius seamlessly meets political commentary, but it seems to happen all the time in Nigeria, and Fela Kuti is no exception. 6) Black British Theatre  One of the things I still miss about London is easy access to excellent affordable theatre productions.  While we struggle to find a feature-length films centring the black British experience, there was a new black theatre piece out every month or so it seemed.  Whether at the National (where I first experienced the grandeur of Fela!), the Young Vic, the Arcola, or the Tricycle, or on top of a pub in Peckham, black theatre in the UK is an unequivocal source of communal pride.  And the Nigerian section of the black community are ‘doing their bit’ ie part of the movement. headerWhile Kwame ‘the King’ Kwei Armah (er, I just invented that moniker by the way) of contemporary black British theatre is a Caribbean son, young writers like Bola Agbaje (Gone Too Far!) and Janice Okoh (Egusi Soup) are gifted storytelling Nigerians making impressive marks on stages across the UK.  Commissioned by British-African Theatre Company Tiata Fahodzi, Agbaje’s Belong, about a man whose renewed desire to ‘succeed’ is hindered by his ability to work in both the UK and Nigeria, with the action taking place in both was just brillant:  an intricate portrait of identity, opportunity and the power in and consequences of adapting to your location.  Often British-born, this generation of playwrights are loud-and-proud Nigerians whose work is often inspired by and provokes an interest in Naijaland and its people. 7) Nollywood 575047_nollywood_jpg0c329d43c4511d9d2c76a11bf3d2aabbConfession:  I’m not a huge Nollywood fan.  I’ve got nothing against it, I’ve seen some films and enjoyed them, but they’ve not left me hungry for more.  However, when I stumbled upon my proudly off-trend pensionable dad’s collection of 50-odd Nollywood DVDs, that had crossed the middle passage to get to his St Lucian morne, I knew Naija cinema had hit the big time. If you’ve been living under a mainstream media rock for the past 15 years, you may have missed the fact that Nigeria produces more feature-length films annually than the United States and is the second largest film industry in the world, second only to India’s Bollywood industry.  According to wikipedia, Nollywood generated $10bn in 2013 and is the second-largest employer in Nigeria.  With a population of 174m or so, that’s no small feat. Why’s Nollywood on the list when I’m not an avid fan?  Cos I like the ingenuity of it.  With an ever-growing canon of literature on the issues of misrepresentation of black people in Hollywood products, I love that Nigerians are busy developing a hugely popular homegrown alternative.  One which is creating employment and experience for masses of black film professionals and the subsidiary industries, as well as providing entertainment for and alternative imagery of black people. Why wouldn’t I want to visit a place like that? training

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3 thoughts on “Seven Reasons To Visit Nigeria ASAP

  1. Pingback: My Challenge: Composing Travel Narratives when Edward Said’s Ghost is Looking Over My Shoulder :( | movingblack

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