Very sad to say goodbye to one of the greatest musicians in one of the greatest musical traditions. Tabu Ley Rochereau, 73, passed away November 30, 2013. Here’s some old footage of him with another of my favorites, his partner Mbilia Bel. (Via Africa is a Country)
Archive for the Arts in Africa Category
It can be hard, as a writer, to watch your stories slip into the past, particularly the ones you love because there is a piece of you in them. So if I can steal a page from Teju Cole, in a vain attempt to rescue a few from the flow, here are the ones with the most sweat and blood on them, the ones I will miss most from last year:
1) The Crossing (Nowhere Magazine, Djibouti, 5,494 words)
This story is about a tiny, desolate county where humanity took its first steps out into the world, about my traveling to that place, about Bruce Chatwin, about restless genes and ultimately about what pushes us beyond the horizon.
2) The Reunion: After teaching there nearly 15 years ago, a man learns new lessons about change. (Washington Post Magazine, Tanzania, 2,954 words)
A sort of bookend to a piece I did years ago called Test Day, about teaching English in Tanzania. For this story, I went back to Tanzania and caught up with my students to see where life had taken them. I was as surprised as anyone to find out.
3) Inner Space: Clearing Some Room for Inspiration (Poets & Writers Magazine, Portland/Cyberspace, 3,167 words)
This was a story about my own struggle to find a quiet place to let new thoughts be born, and about the nature of creativity.
4) Fall of the Creative Class (Thirty Two Magazine, Madison/Minneapolis, 3,743 Words)
This story caused the biggest waves of any story I’ve ever done, taking aim as it did at Richard Florida’s so-called Creative Class Theory. It even evoked a defensive response from Florida, which I addressed here and here.
5) Time Travel (The Rotarian, Kenya/Tanzania, 1,074 words)
An essay about something that has vexed me all my life: The feeling of time as it unfolds before us, and how the so-called “timescape” differs from place to place and affects us all.
6) A Very Particular Place: Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (The New Republic, Nigeria, 1,109 words)
A look at Noo Saro-Wiwa’s book about Nigeria, and about the aspirations of the diaspora.
7) Notes on the Affairs of Man (World Ark, Kenya, 1,282 words)
A short piece on my struggle to understand how to deal with the many things beyond our control.
My review over at The New Republic:
NIGERIA HAS AN unsavory, and largely undeserved, reputation in the United States: the home of scammers trying to bilk Grandma out of her life savings. Yet across Africa, Nigerians are also loathed and feared by their neighbors from smaller, more unassuming countries—states without Nigeria’s surplus of bravado. These passionate responses are no doubt partly because Nigeria is itself a place of strong passions. Nigerians—so the conventional wisdom goes—tend to be brash, confident, loud, and warm (the Italians of Africa, you might say), and they have fanned out to every corner of the globe. Surely these overstatements regarding Nigeria’s national character have to do with something fundamental: very little has been written about the country in a straightforward, nonfictional but personal way—which is why the publication of Noo Saro-Wiwa’s new book (the first book of travel writing about Nigeria in a hundred years) is welcome and overdue.
There are few people in the world with reason to have stronger feelings about Nigeria than Saro-Wiwa, the daughter of the Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged in 1995 by the dictator Sani Abacha for agitating against pollution and injustice in the Niger Delta.
Last fall I got to spend some time in Nairobi, a city that has changed much since the last time I’d been there. Today the streets pulse with people and it has the energy of a megacity, which it might be by now. Like all the great urban centers of Africa, it also has a growing community of writers, artists and photographers who are defining the city on their own terms. One of the best examples is a book I picked up called Nairobi: An exploration of a city by photographers and writers, put out by the literary cadre at Kwani?
It’s a gorgeous collection that evokes almost as many worlds as the city contains. Culled from 15,000 photos, it is meant to capture the city over a 24-hour span, along with thoughtful essays by some of the best new writers like Parselelo Kantai, David Kaiza and others. The range is breathtaking, from the bloody to the beautiful, from the glamour of Nairobi’s upper crust, to the grit it takes to survive at the bottom. Like the city itself, it is a book you can get lost in or lose yourself in, an ocean of images to sail across or sink into. It isn’t available to order yet, but you can get a taste at the 24 Nairobi website.
Brilliant new song: “There’s more to Mama Africa than poverty and war.” (Via Chris Vourlias)
Just back from East Africa, where I heard this song on a bus. It’s been in my head ever since.
Back to the present. Love this song! How could it not conquer Eurovision? (via @textorian):
At some point while I was reading V.S. Naipaul’s new book, The Masque of Africa, it became hard not to picture the venerable Nobel Prize winner in a pith helmet and khakis, doddering around the continent looking for bits of religious trivia he could take home and put on his mantel. This was not, of course, his stated purpose, which was, instead, to investigate the current state of “belief” in Africa, and to see how the modern world is intermingling with the older one on which it rests.
To this end, Naipaul travels to Uganda, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Gabon and South Africa, an impressive itinerary for the nearly 80-year-old. Along the way, he spends time with witch doctors, politicians, businessmen, professors and the like, all the while peppering them with questions about their rituals and religions and historical events.
Those events are something in which Naipaul is steeped: The writings of Mungo Park, John Hanning Speke, Henry Morton Stanley and others who first wrote about the continent. In a way, this is refreshing since that context is sometimes lacking in writing about Africa. But in the end, Naipaul seems perhaps too steeped in it…
Vanessa Henman is the aging writer at the heart of Maggie Gee’s luminous new novel, and she’s been invited to Uganda for the International Conference on African Writing. When she lands, it’s hard not to despise her, since she’s every bit the obnoxious foreigner she hopes she’s not: “Black tea, cold milk, English-style,” she tells a waiter, “slowly and with emphasis. Why can’t they ever get tea right?” When the Internet connection fails, she laments her “right to good communication.”
And yet, as the book unfolds, we see that Vanessa is not quite as she seems. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, since Maggie Gee is no ordinary novelist…