It is Africa’s decade of Worship and Kenya needs to go beyond borders.

Two cities. Two worship concerts. One night. One theme: Africa Let’s worship.

At the 18,000 seater Winners Chapel in Nairobi, worshippers gathered on Friday 26th September for the annual AFLEWO concert. On a parallel stage in Lagos, the City of David Parish of RCCG held the 4th edition of the Alabanza concert. Themed Sounds of Africa, it featured South Africa’s Loyiso Bala, Ghana’s Joe Mettle and Chioma Jesus as well as a host of Nigerian gospel leaders. The only East African act was Emmy Kosgey and chances are high that her inclusion at the concert was that she also resides in Lagos.

AFLEWO, started in 1996 as a simple event in Daystar University has grown over the years to become a must-attend on the Christian calendar for many enthusiasts. Timothy Kaberia who started the movement is recognized in Kenya’s Christian circles as a respected worship leader and has shared the stage locally and abroad with several high profile singers.

It is the decade in which African worship reigns but does Kenya have the exposure it needs to share the stage with other worship leaders within the continent?

Emmy readily acknowledges that does not know many Kenyan gospel artistes who have visited Nigeria for performances since she moved to the country.

“We’ve invited Eunice Njeri and Lucy Kitonga as guest ministers to our church but I am not aware of other musicians from home performing in Lagos,” she says.

At the Alabanza concert, it was easy to see how seriously Nigeria takes worship. There’s a distinct aura around the event that was far from hype; it was hands raised in the air, almost perfect coordination on stage and an audience that came to do business with God. Although it poured heavily all night with sections of the overflow outside dripping, the sounds from the stage were crisp and clear with a band, which evidently put in hours at work, accompanying the musicians beautifully.

Solly Mahlangu’s Wahamba Nathi arguably takes the crown for the most decorated worship song. Rated as the most viewed gospel video on YouTube, the song has received airplay on Christian stations and is sang in worship services almost every week. Joyous Celebration’s Tambira Jehovah follows in popularity as does Uche Agu’s My God is good O’.

Grace Mandela, a lawyer and worship leader at the Green Pastures Tabernacle in Nairobi believes that the African worship genre has come of age, which is why many churches are now borrowing heavily from the continent.

“For the longest time we haven’t had indigenous and relevant worship music. We were influenced by Integrity music then Hillsong music. Why we now gravitate towards African music is because that music has come of age. It’s no longer choruses or repetition of a single sentence. It’s worship music born from a history of devotion by African worshippers,” she says.

Grace believes that the continents songwriters have mastered the craft and art of worship and are ready to take music in the church to the next level.

She is right. In the last two months Kenya has invited notable acts like Nathaniel Bassey better known for his songs Imela, Casting Crowns and Elohim. Sonny Badu and his Midnight Band quickly followed spending the week at a convention organized by the Jubilee Christian Church. Badu is a well-known Ghanaian worship minister whose popular songs include Baba O’ and Covenant Keeping God.

Sinach who has sang I know who God says I am and Way Maker emerged the best West African artist of the year at the Groove Awards ceremony held in June this year. Indeed, a campaign was held on Facebook requesting her to follow with a performance in the country but organizers are unclear whether the event publicized for November, then cancelled, will still hold.

Many African songs that find their way on our pulpits have their origins in South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda. Many of the acoustic tunes are without a doubt originally from DR Congo.

Kosgey recalls a moment when she was recording with the group Joyous Celebration and the leader played a tune that he qualified as East African. “I listened to it and told him this was not a Kenyan tune, this was lingala. He then asked me what constitutes the East African tune? In truth, we do not have that identity yet,” she adds.

Why haven’t Kenyan worship leaders made inroads into the continent while they have the same gifting and passion as the rest? The ‘balance of trade’ between ours and other nations is wanting.

On Friday evening, it was pleasantly surprising to listen to the audience join in a Swahili song at the tail end of Kosgey’s performance. It is rare, however to find a Kenyan song on the airwaves in Nigeria let alone a gospel one in churches.

If we take AFLEWO alone, which filled Winners Chapel to capacity, this is massive influence. Pete Odera, Kenya’s godfather of worship holds concerts that are well attended, as does Jack & Joyce Odongo.

Mwanga, a local worship group has performed in several churches locally and was in the US for concerts a while back. Reuben Kigame who has dabbled in politics and is now a radio entrepreneur has composed timeless songs, which are performed all over the country.

Rwanda’s Ambassadors of Christ choir enjoys massive following with more than one million hits, as do Tanzania’s artistes like Christina Shusho.

In 2013 Nairobi Chapel’s Pastor Nikko Ochieng led a live recording session of the album ‘Call to Worship’ with more than 1000 people in attendance. The album’s initial sales have been good within the country and across the churches they have visited.

“We’ve sold most of the DvDs we carried to Germany, Australia and the United States where we have performed over five times,” he mentions. His team is lucky to have a buy-in from the churches’ senior Pastor. They travel overseas at least once a year for concerts in the areas where the ministers are preaching.

“When you watch One Gospel, you realize a lot of the music showing is from worship concerts not necessarily solo gospel acts. It takes a huge investment in Kenya to get this kind of buy-in from churches because the worship leaders cannot pull off recordings of this magnitude without funds.”

However, Nikko believes the gift is there and Kenyan worship acts are ready for export, given the right support from home and beyond.

“We’ve done our own songs in Swahili in each of the churches we were invited to, and they linger on with the congregation for many months,” emphasizes Nikko. “But this is a small market because for our music to go global, it has to be played on radio in all these countries. That is where we pull off audiences, and that is why all these acts can come to Kenya easily and influence us, because we heard them first on the airwaves,” he concludes.

Emmy Kosgey believes there is also the place of appreciating our local language when it comes to delivery of the music. “Wherever I sing in churches in Nigeria people love it because it is different,” she states. We must embrace our own creative style of worship different from that of the West we have copied for so long.

In July this year, legendary gospel artist Don Moen concluded recording with Nigerian act Frank Edwards on their first work together titled Grace. Moen sings in Edwards’ Igbo language in one of the songs, a telling example of the growing influence of the use of local languages in the music space today.

The United States Navy Band’s rendition of the song Baba Yetu recorded at their memorial in 2015 is a great pointer that our music is well loved and can influence beyond the continent. Incidentally, it has also been performed by British born Alex Boye who has a huge following in the West.

One other thing needed to grow the industry is time allocated to artistes. “In Kenya you are invited to minister and given five to ten minutes on the pulpit which is hardly enough to make an impact,” says Emmy. “It is different here because you get about 30 minutes for worship – not just to entertain or hype the audience.”

It is this hype that Grace Mandela says worshippers need to be wary of. “Would I be wrong to say that we still thrive on the hype and pay little attention to the heart of the Father?” she asks.

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Afolayan’s The CEO seeks to bring Africa together

By the time Disney’s Queen of Katwe opens in September this year, Nigerian movie producer Kunle Afolayan should be basking in the glory of his latest movie The CEO. These are the two movies set to define the African screenscape in 2016 for different reasons.

Queen of Katwe, based on Tim Crothers book is a true story and features big name actors and one newcomer. Afolayan’s The CEO is a work of fiction scripted by legendary writer Tunde Babalola and features several well-known actors from five parts of the continent. One focuses on Uganda as a site of its narrative the other pulls several actors from different parts of the continent and brings their story together.

It is Afolayan’s  5th production as a filmmaker but one that will show that African producers have come of age and why we should be putting our money in telling our own stories.

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40 minutes of a sneak preview of The CEO to select sponsors, friends and media in Lagos this week were enough to whet anyone’s appetite over the remaining parts. The CEO is a well-crafted movie with a definite commercial angle to it.

The official premier will take place 35,000 feet above sea level on an Air France voyage from Lagos to Paris on June 1st and will subsequently headline at Nollywood week Paris from the 2nd to 5th.

Afolayan, who refuses to be moulded to fit the Nollywood producers’ stereotype, is that filmmaker who has an eye on both the craft and the business. On this one, they solidly come together. In a country that makes a movie on average every day, waiting for two years to get onto the screen again may seem a waste of time but as he says, it is worth the wait..

Movie making is a costly venture and Afolayan decided to go big or go home. His partnerships with Africa Magic, Air France, and financial backing from the Bank of Industry through its Nollyfund have enabled him to complete a successful project.The CEO is rumoured to have a budget of $1 million, which for independent producers is difficult to come by.

It should not be difficult for the movie to gain acceptance. The script may seem conventional but nothing is far from the truth. Five top executives of a telecommunications firm gather together at a weeklong leadership course to determine which of them will take up the coveted position of the CEO of their Nigeria office. One by one they begin to die in mysterious circumstances until only two of them are left. Is it sheer coincidence or does someone want the position so badly he eliminates his colleagues to get the corner office?

Grammy award singer Anjelique Kidjo plays Dr. Zimmerman, the course tutor assisted by Lisa (Kemi Lala Akindoju). Kola, played by Nigerian consummate actor Wale Ojo, Riikard (Nico Panagiotopoulos) and Jomo (Peter King Nzioki) are the male executives going for the job. They are pitted against Eloise played by French-Ivorian actress Aurelie Eliam, and Yasmin featuring Moroccan Star Fatim Layachi.

Artistic Director

The film was shot in multiple locations and uses authentic language speakers for the intonations in it. The Pan-African cast was deliberately handpicked to reflect each corner of the continent without your cliché’ big name actors.

“I was not looking for big African Hollywood names, I was simply seeking great actors known in their countries whom I could work with.” Said Afolayan. “Also, we didn’t want to use outsiders whose intonations of our language would come off completely wrong,” he adds in reference to Hollywood’s casting of American actors for native African speaker-accents.

In Kenya he spoke to ten actors before settling on Peter King who incidentally was the last one to audition. It was chemistry that sealed the deal. “I had a chat with him and immediately knew that we could work together,” he says.

Each actor takes an equal place at the table.  Scriptwriter Tunde Babalola builds a storyline that allows each of them to showcase the richness of their languages and nations without losing the plot of the story. The language is all part of this narrative, beautifully woven around the strengths and foibles of the characters who play them.

Babalola says of the film, “We tried to make an elevated movie that will pass a message across and get people to appreciate a great pan-African film.”

Commercially, one cannot ignore the feeling of ownership that would come from countries represented by the actors.

From Morocco to South Africa, Kenya and Ivory Coast, audiences will appreciate seeing someone they know on the big screen eventually pulling in viewers outside Nigeria.

Nairobi city makes a minor appearance and it is hard to ignore the choice of location – a parking lot in the central business district.It was also where they wrapped up shooting for the film even though the city doesn’t get a chance to glorify itself, unlike the Lagos shoot at La Campagne Tropicana.

The director admits that Nairobi was by far the most difficult place to shoot even though it had the fewest scenes in the movie. “Kenya follows the Hollywood, or book way of filming. One has too many licenses to pay for. Nigerians are used to shortcuts – just get it done in the cheapest way possible – so that was a bit of a challenge for us,” he admits.

Afolayan’s 2013 release October 1 won multiple honors including three awards at the 2015 African Movie Academy Awards in South Africa. It also bagged 9 others taking best film 2014 at the African Magic Viewers Choice Awards the same year.

In many ways Africa will be proud of this movie for several reasons. With so many of its cultures elevated in one script, it is easy to see the thought that went behind each scene. On cinematography, there were no amateurs. Camera angles, the lighting, framing and different colours all come seamlessly together in the final product.

Although the director’s best filming moment was the extract shot at the Charles de Gaulle airport, it is the scenes in Abidjan that come alive. Blame it on the French accents and the stoic character of Haitian Jimmy-Jean Louis as Jean Marc, husband to Eloise.

Afolayan’s ability to network sees him get the best. It is his fearless attitude and unwavering commitment that got him past Angelique Kidjo’s red tape to feature on this move. The partnership with Air France allowed them access to film at the Charles de Gaulle airport, a feat previously unachieved, according to the airlines commercial director Arthur Dieffenthaler.

The movie will open to audiences in Lagos from July 15th with a run expected across African movie theatres later in the year.

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Exploit Huge West African potential, diplomat tells Kenyans

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This interview first appeared in the Saturday Nation on 23/4/2016.

Ambassador Tom Amolo leaves Nigeria after 3 years in what will be the shortest stint of his 33-year diplomatic career. He speaks here on ties between the two nations, and the need to adopt a Know Your Customer (KYC) attitude with regard to the Nigerian people. He carries back home the honorary title -UGO NDIGBO – bestowed on him by the Igbo community, which means ‘The eagle that looks after the interests of the Igbo people’.

KL: What are the 3 things that would summarize your time in Nigeria?

A: Very short, very rewarding and challenging.

There are many good things about Nigeria and its people, which mark them as the true leaders of Africa. In every engagement where African issues are being discussed, Nigeria always stands out. However there are the infrastructural challenges of water, electricity and petrol going on for many months. In many ways you wish Nigeria could better organize its homestead so it can better project and push Africa’s agenda.

IMG-20160421-WA0002KL: What is Nigeria’s perception towards Kenya?

AA: Very positive. When I began my mission in 2013, President Kenyatta had just been elected into office. Nigeria was one of the first countries to come out and congratulate us. Thereafter, when we needed their support on ICC issues they were ready to help us achieve our objectives. Former President Goodluck Jonathan once stated that he sees our relations as a fulcrum for the continent – Kenya in the East and Nigeria in the West.

President Buhari’s recent visit to Kenya was successful in many areas. He embraced us in our time of need after El Adde and shared a commitment to work towards a common cause in the fight against terrorism. Their body language towards us has always been warm.

KL: What can you say about the balance of trade between the two nations?

AA: The volume of trade is negligible; it doesn’t inspire us to say much. Our investment profile is mixed with large Nigerian institutions like GT Bank and United Bank of Africa (UBA) setting up shop in Kenya. Middle level businesses have also found openings to invest at home whether by sheer presence or in service oriented sectors, as is the case of Cellulant, a Nigerian/Kenyan business. The Dangote Group also seeks to invest $400 M in a cement plant but environment impact issues have slowed them down.

In my time we saw Kenya Airways launch its first direct flight to Abuja and we now have daily flights to this country. The national carrier has been in talks with Wakanow, Nigeria’s leading online travel portal but they are yet to conclude this.

We are working to overcome the political and economic challenges that inhibit increased trade. Our larger exports – tea, coffee and flowers have been challenged in that they appear on the list of things banned from forex in Nigeria. We had some negotiations during the Jonathan years but the new Finance Minister came in when I was already on my way out, so that dialogue needs to be reopened.

KL: Kenya has not really benefitted significantly from the partnership between the two. Why is this?

I would subscribe the lack of trade to the nervousness of Kenyan businesses as regards this country; they are too comfortable in East and Southern Africa, DRC and Rwanda. When I was coming to Nigeria my mother organized prayers for me because I was coming to work here. The prevailing psychology is that Nigeria is this hole where you go in and never come out. Our inherent cautiousness as regards West Africa impedes our ability to do business here. We need to ask why Nakumatt does not have presence here or why Bidco has not come up with a palm oil strategy for West Africa.

When President Buhari was in Kenya he urged us to make the agreements we have signed work. He wasn’t speaking to technocrats but to our businessmen and offered that we must have a special status certificate that allows us to do ease of business.

However, our business people need to be hungry and understand the Nigerian context. Our fresh flowers could bring us a lot of money if we sold even a quarter of them here. These flowers will however not be received with the same open arms as they are in the Netherlands; we have to push for and market them here. We must imbibe the business context here to survive and be more aggressive rather than retreat when faced with challenges.

KL: Nigeria has a rich, vibrant cultural heritage showcased through their art, music and more popularly, Nollywood. How can we increase and celebrate our cultural knowledge where they have succeeded?

AA: There are existing agreements with both Ministries of Culture where Nollywood is ready to help evolve content and train our people. It requires a huge dollop of faith and energy from our actors and actresses. They need to be asking where they can interface with the Nigerian actors guild to get into their programs on their own initiative. Where there is a problem we can ask the government to intervene. The creative angle needs to be enhanced to a level that works outside of government and attracts the support of business and other cultural entities. South Africa does this very well.

KL: How can we better create an interest for Kenya as a tourist destination among their big spenders?

AA: We must work on our KYC – Know Your Customer – because we have a real faulty perception of who the Nigerian tourist is. Nigerians don’t want to come to look at animals, they want a place where they can relax, have fun, shop or go to the beach. Our planes leave here full of passengers going to Zanzibar which is the’ premier choice for destination weddings today. Brand Kenya, which is in charge of this needs to engage those on the ground so we can conquer the West African market. We must also ensure Kenya Airways offers competitive advantage in terms of pricing and quality of the flights we bring.

KL: What will you miss most about Nigeria?

AA: Definitely the people and their openness, they say it like it is and you never second-guess their intentions towards you. I will miss their ability to share openly about their ambitions and energy to surmount challenges without the help of government. Here, there is no ‘serikali saidia’. Finally, their large and diverse diaspora that has been in the forefront of breaking barriers.

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HOW TO KNOW YOUR CITY – JUST OPEN HOUSE

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ALARA 

The Open House concept reads like a hop on, hop off Red Bus tour, only that it comes nowhere close to a vacationers ride. The idea behind it is to allow residents to spend a weekend visiting various architectural spaces within their city and appreciate the value of a well-built environment.

Last week, the British Council Nigeria hosted the inaugural tour designed to showcase the city’s architecture, culture and buildings. Offered free of charge, it featured many of Lagos’ historical buildings as well as some modern creatively designed spaces.

Since its inception in 1992, Open House has exhibited in 30 countries with Milan being the latest to join the fray. Nigeria is the first African country to come on board, a great feat by any account.

From the refurbished Her Majesty’s Prison at Freedom Park to the museum it now hosts as a memory, to living it large on the rooftop at Maison Fahrenheit, guests were taken through the history of these locations.

Doors were open at the Radisson Blu in Victoria Island and the Bogobiri House off Awolowo Road, rendering stark contrasts of lodging. One is modernist in style and sp2016-04-30 14.27.02ace, another antique full of African aesthetics and spirit.

The Shitta-Bey Mosque on Martin Street in Lagos Island offered a study in religious architecture. Built in 1892 by Joas Baptista da Costa and financed by the powerful Creole businessman Mohammed Shitta Bey, its walls whispered hallowed tales of all who passed by the Island in that time.

Almost a century later, the contrasting allure of the Rock Cathedral off the Lekki Epe Expressway shows how contemporary church buildings have become and the multiple purposes for which they serve.

I missed what would have been the highlight of this tour – the Eko Legacy tour taking off from the Lagos Island Walkaway to the Nigerian Railway compound in Ebute Metta. I highly doubt there is a better way to sum up the city than through some of the historical buildings shown on this route and the initiatives being taken to preserve them.

Victoria Thornton, Director of Open House London and the one who birthed this concept states that the idea behind it is to allow the locals to get inspired by the story behind the city’s architecture and spaces.

“The whole reason for Open House is to answer the question – Why. It is not simply about a beautiful building but how did it come about? What inspired it and how does it fit into the general fabric of its surroundings?”

One consideration for every country hosting the tours is they have to be absolutely free. “The British Council has brought in great partners for this project but my hope is that in the end it will have many more local partners who will ultimately own the idea themselves,” noted Victoria.

On the whole, the tours were well received. The audience was a mix-mash of ages and interests.

A student out to get a feel of Lagos in a nutshell, an upcoming interior designer who resonated with BogoBiri’s African themed spaces and two little girls accompanying their parents on the tour. There was the businessman and lanky socialite out to see what the concept holds for the city. Selfies were all the rage. For some, it would be the only time they could come close to getting into a luxury store like Alara or seeing the city’s skyline from the NestOil tower.

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British Council Offices – Ikoyi

Open House offers much promise for any city in general. Even the Lagos State Government through Mrs. Yetunde Onabule, Special Advisor on Urban development reiterated the Governors commitment to lift the standards and make this Africa’s city of choice.

Just like the Green Shoots Tour, sustainability of the project is central in creating an event worth speaking about year after year. The great thing is that many of the city’s architects are already sold on to this project given that several places were designed and built by their contemporaries.

But to make Open House really successful will take the goodwill of many more partners to open up their doors to those seeking to get the WHY behind the spaces they walk into every day.

 

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To find ourselves a bride – The Baganda wedding experience

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My brother found himself a kneeling bride. I suspect all the Kenyan brothers we had travelled with to Kampala were a wee bit envious that he got a woman who was raised to show honor on her knees. That’s a story for another day.  His 14plus years in Uganda yielded a companion for a lifetime and I wish them God’s blessings along their journey.

The Ugandan wedding ceremony is an elaborate expensive affair in which no costs are spared, particularly for the Baganda tribe. After you are done wooing your bride and have put a ring on it,  you have the task of showing your face before her parents and community and proving in some way that you are up to the task of taking care of their girl. I have read of some instances where love alone doesn’t cut it, neither does potential mean anything. Potential is that word  where people say – this dude has the makings of someone great in future and if we stick together, we can make something out of our marriage. Michelle saw potential in Obama. I hear potential doesn’t cut it in Uganda though I could be wrong.

The process of marriage begins with a letter of intent written by the man to the girls family – usually an uncle. The letter is sent through the girls auntie, the Ssenga who passes the letter on to the family. Our family was then invited to the girls home for Kukyala – a first visit to make our intentions known to them.  This is when the man officially asks for the girls hand in marriage and the response from her family sets the tone for subsequent visits for both sides.

As is with the Meru community, this visit is often paternal uncle heavy as the uncles in our community are the ones who do most of the talking for the groom. The Kukyala, held in October last year, was positive. Details of dowry were shared and dates set for the next ceremony.

20160407_184224The Kwanjula

The traditional wedding ceremony or Kwanjula is the high priest of the marriage ceremonies. The white wedding or church ceremony pales in comparison to this even though it bears its own significance depending on the couples faith. In some families it is considered the wedding and the rest is merely legal stuff to comply with the laws of the land. I equate the Ugandan Kwanjula with the Nigerian traditional ceremony for its cultural importance, the costumes (read clothes) worn at the ceremony and the meaning attached to it.

A day before the Kwanjula was held, we were briefed on what to expect. As an inlaw, there were many ‘don’t’s to anticipate. For starters, the grooms immediate family members had to dress in traditional Ugandan attire. That meant coats and Kanzus for the men and gomesis for the girls. If you come from Western Uganda, you get away with the Mushanana, a simpler sexier outfit which has its roots and influence from neighboring Rwanda. In fact, many of my brothers friends opted for this . We were warned that any small incidents would attract fines; lateness to the ceremony, talking, wrong choice of clothes, laughing etc. I could feel we would be in for a sombre day. Oh and instructions on when we were supposed to kneel and how they would signal us when that time comes.

On the morning of the Kwanjula one of our younger cousins showed up in trousers and we were quickly requested to have her change into a dress. The Ugandan traditional dress , the gomesi requires quite an elaborate dressing ritual – top and bottom heavy but it works once you get used to the stiffness around it. No one had warned us to wear lighter trousers inside as the gomesis would require not only the custom shuka they wear it with (to puff up the lower body) but something underneath. In the end we had to make do with our jeans neatly folded – more for my eldest sister who had to sit with our brother at the high table according to tradition. (Mum didn’t make it for this ceremony due to her illness. However, I hear she wore her Sunday best and was in such a jolly mood, possibly interceding for the success of her only son’s day. God bless you mama).

The real ceremony turned out to be a colourful ceremony with much to cheer about. Let me give my definition of the Kwanjula: A ceremony in which two spokesmen try to out-do each other for the sake of the families they represent. Other than the hot sun, the great Baganda meal we were served at 4 pm and the bride’s arrival with pomp later on, the only memory I have were of these spokesmen. They exchanged jokes, they bantered, they teased, they enjoyed themselves. Then imagine you don’t speak Luganda and you have to go through this a whole afternoon. I figured that it has to be a Bantu language as we could make sense of one or two words said through out the day. It can be quite tedious, but hey this is culture and we’re here to find ourselves a bride. Nothing is too much.

The Ssenga or bride’s aunt is really the second most important person on this day, after the bride. This is her ceremony. Her arrival is preceded by rows of girls coming in kneeling down and engaging the spokesman in turn. There’s a method to this ritual though, they are asked whether they know the people who are visiting and what their mission is. Most times they respond in the negative after which they are showered with gifts by the  grooms entourage.20160407_160136

The Ssenga’s come in and the senior one is introduced. She is asked if she knows the family that is here and why they have come and whether she can identify the gentleman who brought them. Once the groom was identified there was lots of rejoicing and he was finally given his place at the table. Before the Ssenga identifies the groom to be, he is tucked away incognito in a section of the tent where his family is seated and not allowed to say anything at all.

After this there is much jubilation for the girl can finally make her entrance. With song, dance, her ’10’ girls accompany her 4 dress changes later.  She is then asked whether the family should accept the gifts brought before them – the answer is usually Yes.

The elaborately wrapped gifts meant for family members are then presented by the grooms side. This is another laborious task but an interesting one – given the number of gifts that have to be presented. It is also a show of might for the groom towards his in-laws when the gift to the family is presented. His sisters also gift the bride a suitcase filled with things she will need in her marriage – our collection was toilet, kitchen, bathroom themed.

There is a formal giving of the ring again – a public proposal follows – and then cake is cut and we were out. Incidentally, our ceremony ended late in the evening. We had been warned that the hosts don’t like their in-laws in the compound after 6pm. The Kwanjula is also a farewell ceremony for them to their daughter so they take the time to celebrate her well through the night.

In the morning we were up early before cock-crow for the Kasuze-katya, to pick the bride. This is similar to ‘picking up the sanduku or suitcase’ in Kenya which used to be done the night before the wedding but is now done on two or three days before. Our bride’s amazing mother gave her to us through tears and we were off.

Wishing you Paul and Susan a happy married life. Paul, you have found a good thing may favor be continually yours.

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From Kampala with love

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Kampala is the city that never sleeps. It is 5am on a Saturday morning. We were roused up and early to go and pick the bride from her mothers home in a ceremony known as Kasuze Katya. Here, the in-laws carry a paraffin lamp and a young white goat, the lamp to help ‘look’ for where the girl is sleeping and the young goat to symbolize her freshness and youth. It was quite a somber ceremony for Susie’s mum, filled with tears, but we managed somehow to get her into a waiting car and drop her at a hotel to prepare for the day ahead.

Half asleep (I had gotten to bed at 2am that morning) I cannot help but realize Kampala is wide awake. 5am in the streets of Kampala looks like 11pm in  Baricho Road or Nairobi West (how I know this, please don’t ask). People are awake, bars are full to capacity and it seems like the party has just began. It’s 5am. Someone eagerly explains this is how life is lived in Kampala if you have the money – just chop it. Much like Lagos no?

My maiden trip to the country was as a tourist; we were here for my brother’s wedding this April and it oh so graceful. Uganda as a whole was a pleasant surprise; much like anticipating a flat and someone gives you an entire estate. I still cannot comprehend why I took to the city the way I did. This country could grow on me.

Uganda is a beautiful country. Arriving in Entebbe to amazing views of Lake Victoria in all its greenery (Kisumu got the dirty part of the Lake) and the drive to Kampala – a city teeming with Boda bodas was all virgin to me.

Kampala is green; green for the banana leaves that had steamed and preserved our proper Baganda lunch on arrival, green for the grass that grows on God’s earth. My brother calls Kampala ‘shags’, probably because it is teeming with vegetation everywhere you look but this was the beauty of the city for me.

Kampala is hot, hot as Lagos but without the custom air conditioning therefore making it unbearably humid. It rained a lot – therefore we experienced Kampala’s 3 seasons in one – summer, wintry nights and spring showers. A friend says its much like Cape Town; you simply anticipate whatever mother nature will bring that day.

Kampala is the land of a thousand hills, yes, I exaggerate. Initially they were 7 but everyone says they must be more than 20 now. The undulating hills are separated by narrow roads that fill with traffic at every hour and getting around is a headache. The beauty of the religious architecture everywhere – the Bahai Faith temple, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Namirembe, the Central Mosque in the city all point to a land that interfaces its styles of worship.

On the Sunday we were there we visited Mavuno Kampala for service. The driver whom we had used for the week was quite skeptical of a church that meets at Kampala Parents School particularly because he had revelled in giving us the history behind its ownership and the businesses attached to its owner. He must have found us quite odd to attend service in a premises owned by an Indian and often questioned the relationship between the two. It is a beautiful school that one and church was quite lovely, save for baby Zizi who was dressed for summer (and for once I didn’t carry a sweater for her) and the rains descended as soon as service began.

Kampala is the land of the Ssebo’s and Nyabbo’s – beautiful warm people. The Baganda culture has remained strong and seeing as this city is their forte (much like Lagos is the land of the Yoruba), they revel in passing their customs to others. We made many friends, perhaps they were obliged to seeing as they were my brothers friends. I often forgot my manners as regards perfunctory salutations but my sister rescued that. Thank You Kendi.

Kampala is the land of many malls, business centers and hustlers. Every 100 metres has a mini supermarket and salons. The latter means the beauty industry is huge and competitive so you can look good for a pittance. Uganda is the land of big money numbers like Mugabe’s billionaires. Amounts shock you to the core (one million shillings – Ssebbo are you serious – is a few Kenyan shs between). I was a little worried about the numerous businesses in town without a seemingly burgeoning clientele but someone assured me there are customers for everyone.

Kampala was new, but I will be back.

Next post – the Baganda and their wedding traditions…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A new narrative from the North needed

This article first appeared in the BusinessDay Sunday on 17th April, 2016. View here: https://businessdayonline.com/2016/04/a-new-narrative-from-the-north-needed/

Nigerian economist Obadiah Mailafia’s column ‘Memories of a Fulani childhood’ published earlier this week by the BusinessDay was epic in many ways. I dare even say that were the article re-written in a certain structured way, it could be submitted as a literary novella in some places.

His memories on growing up amongst the Fulani people, intermingling with their culture, bartering with them – milk and butter for rice, corn or yam was a study in cultural tolerance. Most importantly, his assertion that his father, an evangelical churchman allowed them to learn as an almajiri at the feet one Mallam may be extreme to some, but it offers a lesson on interfaith understanding that we could all do with.

Indeed his summation and humble submission that most of the current herdsmen are mercenaries from outside Nigeria is not isolated. My good friend Emmanuel says the same thing. Although pained by the devastation wrought to their family by driving them away from ancestral land, he often wistfully remembers the good days when his father’s Fulani friends would bring home prized game meat to share. He often wonders about the new breed of Fulani because growing up, they lived peacefully side-by-side with his community.

I submit that this article written by Mr. Mailafia is needed more than ever today in Nigeria, particularly at a time when the violence meted by the Fulani and Boko Haram in the North continues to confuse many who hail from these areas and their children.

More so, his position in society commands attention and carries weight hence would be a great conversation starter around the narrative of rebuilding these areas.

What we need is more voices like his. People who will write another narrative, an alternative voice that takes us back to our father’s days. From there we can begin to ask when did the rain start beating us and then start looking at ways of rebuilding the seemingly lost cities.

This narrative is certainly needed to position the North before the days of extremist Boko Haram and the East before the Fulani name evoked sheer terror just by the mere mention of its name.

Blogger Bookshy in writing about fiction from Northern Nigeria mentions a couple of authors – Labo Yari, Mohammed Sule, Zaynab Alkali, Helon Habila and Richard Ali who have situated their works in the North.

In 2015, Cassava Republic released Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday; the story of Dantala who lives in Bayan Layi and later finds a new life with his benefactor Sheikh Jamal in Sokoto. The narrative weaves across different themes like survival for the Almajiri’s in the street, religious fundamentalism and how it impacts modern day Nigeria.

It also touches briefly on the topic of sexuality, a subject still taboo in Nigeria but one that must be faced as it is.

Elnathan’s book as a work of fiction is instructive in learning the ways of Islamic upbringing and rites, while touching on the extremism that now pervades much of this area particularly for outsiders.
This extremism finds itself through the life of Malam Abdul-Nur, brother to Dantala’s best friend Jibril, who breaks off to begin his own Mujahedeen movement. It is a movement that recruits the young, trains them for war and keeps them contained for a time they will be useful to him.

As with most literature, particularly fiction, writers state that they never intend to represent any similarity with the living; that it is purely coincidental. Yet, authors have often borrowed from their own history, peeked into their environment and come up with narratives that make for great reading.

Elnathan certainly peered into his own upbringing in the North in writing this book. Many have asked whether he intended to highlight some ongoing reality of which he was quick to negate. However, Dantala’s fate at the end is one that has befallen many young men in the North particularly in the face of the military’s occupation of the area. This novel like others opens a doorway for discussions outside the politics of the North in the areas of culture, religion and education for readers in Nigeria and beyond.

Chimamanda brings to life her own understanding of Biafra in Half of a Yellow Sun the same way she allows us to laugh at hair politics and the challenges of her people abroad in Americanah. Similarly, Adaobi Tricia’s I do not come to you by chance tells in a gripping manner tales of 411 scammers keeping you on your own alert.

Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People published in the 60’s just before the coup happened could not have been more prophetic of things to come. Indeed when he finally wrote There was a Country – a Personal History of Biafra, it was done with much courage and insight about his thoughts from a period that would define Nigeria forever.

We need more voices to tell difficult stories not only for ourselves, but also for posterity. In his introduction to There was a Country, Achebe shares, “Most members of my generation, who were born before Nigeria’s independence, remember a time when things were very different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal…”

Of the need to write this book, he notes, “It is for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grand-children, that I feel it is important to tell Nigeria’s story, Biafra’s story, our story, my story.”

It is for the sake of a future generation that we must interrogate through literature the story of Chibok. As the nation commemorated, rather mutedly, 2 years since the girls were abducted, we need to delve into the mystery that continues to surround our missing daughters. What was Chibok before that fateful night two years ago? How did its people live and what were the dreams of their daughters?

There has to be a writer with an alternative voice, a stifled poem, an Anne Frank kind of memoir that will cause us to search within even as the country grapples with this kind of difficulty.

American writer E.B White stated that writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape it. To rebuild a new Nigeria needs writers of Mr. Mailafia’s ilk who go beyond their everyday positions and give us a dose of reality that we so badly need.

 

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