'Boom, Phuff.' - An Anecdote from Rex Niven's Nigerian Kaleidoscope

I admit that I currently lack the inspiration for a blog post worth your time, dear reader. I am currently struggling to organise my thoughts and put together an argument to the satisfaction of my collaborator in the lorry art project. And, while I suggested I'd use this blog to organise my thoughts I find that I am not quite at that stage right now. So, in the meantime I keep flicking through various books including, still, colonial and postcolonial memoirs. That may be part of the problem, you say? However, I usually do find it helpful to read widely – even if there is little direct relation to what I am working on at any one point. And, indeed, I do keep stumbling upon potentially useful paragraphs and views while I do that. 

An Aside: Western Clubs in Germany

I have joined a non-fiction writing class to get feedback on my writing, mostly stylistically rather than content wise. And, it's proven to be helpful to have a bunch of native speakers point out when I inadvertently slipped into what we call Denglish – broken English, the German version.

The wonderful Susanna Forrest who runs the group also pointed me to a helpful volume on 'stylish' academic writing by Helen Sword. Last week I tried out one of Sword's advices. She suggested that academic writers include anecdotes into their articles that make the subject more relatable and/or illuminate the author's relationship with the subject. I included a throwaway remark about Western clubs in my native Germany. And, the more I thought about it the more I feel that it’s the intellectually honest thing to do.

History Snippet: Padmore (1944) Black Cloud Over Berlin

I think I mentioned in a recent post that I scrolled through several volumes of the Negro Digest on microfiche the other day. I may also have mentioned that that technology rather frustrated me and that I therefore welcomed the distraction of any article that had even a tangential relation to arts, culture and – I realised flicking through my notes – the history of Nigeria or West Africa. One of them was George Padmore's (1944): 'Black Cloud over Berlin.' (Negro Digest. Vol. 2(12). 75-76.)[1]

'The wildness of color and fantasy of design of these cotton prints is the most striking thing' - Ernie Pyle (1943) on Ghanian Fashion

A while back I came across an incomplete reference to an article in the US American Negro Digest about, allegedly, a Nigerian student in that country being astonished that not all Americans are cowboys. Of course, I had to follow up on that. The other day, the relevant volumes of the magazine finally arrived at my local library. Unfortunately, they came on microfiche.

'[H]undred miles an hour ... only speed a self-respecting Nigerian considers worthy of him' - Theodore Dalrymple on his Travels in West Africa

I can't focus today. So, I have abandoned the more academic literature I was to read today and, instead, settled down with a travelogue. This one was written by Anthony Daniels under his alias Theodore Dalrymple (no relation of that other travel writer, William Dalrymple, as far as I can gather), a doctor, psychiatrist and journalist. After two years of working in Tanzania, Dalrymple decided to cross Africa from Zanzibar to Mali by public transport, by bus, lorry, train, boat and canoe. His account lacks the historical and analytical depths of William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, another travelogue I have recently read and enjoyed. Nevertheless, the book contains some gems – and, indeed, some rather lovely accounts of busses and lorries.

Cowboy Snippets: Biodun Olamosu (2000) Crisis of Education in Nigeria

Another day, another mug of tea - and another reference to cowboys in Nigeria.

Now, in recent months I've read plenty of literature that discusses the impact of Hollywood and Italian Westerns and their notoriously ambiguous heroe, 'the Cowboy,' in Nigeria. I have recently found a reference to these films in an interesting context, Biodun Olamosu's (2000) book Crisis of Education in Nigeria. Olamosu shares with many other Nigerian commentators that I have come across a disdain for cowboy movies and in particular their alleged subversive effects on Nigerian youths. – I say 'alleged' because I am instinctively doubtful of argument that claim to identify singular causes of what may be described as anti-social or disorderly behaviour or, indeed, crime among young people, in fact, among any social group. And, this response is even more pronounced if the blame is almost exclusively put on any one medium (video games, music, films, books – over here it's currently fashionable to blame the Qur'an-, social media), foreign or otherwise. I can't help it. From where I stand that looks like a suspiciously convenient argument to absolve oneself and one's own society of all blame and to instead scapegoat someone or something else. Preferably something that wasn't around when 'we' were their age so that we can conviently blame 'today's youths.'

New Blog Design (With Apologies for Formatting Blips)

The other day I was talking with my writing group. Somehow we drifted onto the topic of blogs and took a close look at a few of them. This was when I realised that by comparison mine was rather cluttered. So, I resolved to change its design.

Wanlov: Tribute to Ghanaian Trotros

It's finally summer here in Germany and I am enjoying the sun in my parents' backyard a train ride outside Berlin. So, let's have some music! And its even topical, well, kind off.

Do you, dear reader, know of any musical tributes to Nigerian motivator bikes, tricycles, cars and lorries transporting passengers or goods? Or their drivers for that matter? - Other than Bobby Benson's Taxi Driver that is. Even I already knew this one.

Ken Saro-Wiwa's (1985) Sozaboy: 'I can buy my own lorry and then I will be big man like any lawyer or doctor'

I am currently reading/re-reading some classics of Nigerian literature in the search for references to lorries, lorry art and possibly cowboys. – I have to confess that I enjoy plenty of them better the second time around now that I am reading at my own pace rather than to the schedule of a university course. The latest I have read was Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy (and, for once, I actually do like the German translation I accidentally ordered). The book's strangely topical with the anniversary of Biafra last week, the pro-Biafra rallies in recent months and the proclamations of certain self-proclaimed (and promptly and widely disowned) northern youth leaders. For my own purpose, however, the fact that the novel's protagonist, the eponymous Sozaboy, starts out as an apprentice driver is of greater interest at the moment. This was one of the details that didn't mean much to me back at university but that get me excited now.

BBC Radio 4 featuring Yinka Shonibare & David Adjaye

It's already been a while since they went online, 19 April and 26 April 2017 respectively, and that I listened to them. Nevertheless, I think they still bear highlighting here:

As part of its series Only Artists, BCC Radio 4 has published two interviews with (British) Nigerian artists: In the first, double bass player Chi-chi Nwanoku interviews Yinka Shonibare and, in the second, the latter interviews David Adjaye.

These interviews aren't too long (28 minutes each) and rather pleasant to listen to. They are also still available as podcasts on the BBC's Iplayer. So, if you haven't yet, do go and give them a listen!

'Of all of my memories of ... Nigeria the most lasting is that of the endless roads' (Robert Collis 1970)

I stumbled across this book with a wonderful chapter on roads and driving in Nigeria, Robert Collis' (1970) Nigeria in Conflict.[1] Collis worked as Head of the Paediatric Department at the Medical School in Ibadan and Professor of Paediatrics in Lagos. In many ways it is just another account of Nigeria by an expatriate working there in the late 1950s. However, it is well written. – There is for example a rather incriminating account of a conversation he had with an English businessman operating in Nigeria in the chapter on corruption:

'One simply can't get anywhere … without bribing one's way right down the line. These Nigerians are sharks!'

'Isn't it worse for you who imagine yourself a Christian gentleman … to be giving bribes than it is for these dishonest chaps to accept them?' I asked.

'Look,' he said angrily, ' if I didn't the Americans would.'

(Collis 1970: 184)

Vice Documentary on Truckers in West Africa

I'm rather busy currently so I am (again) neglecting the blog. So, instead of a proper post let me share with you a documentary on truckers in West Africa that I recently stumbled upon on Youtube (embedded below the cut). 


Regarding (American) Country Music in Nigeria

The other week my writing class finished and we all had to present a short piece of writing. Mine was the introduction of what I hope will eventually become an article based on the research I did into cowboys in Nigeria and my ideas about how to approach their illustrations in lorry art.[1] One of the questions I received as feedback regarded the influence of country music in Nigeria. I was already aware that there was a country music scene. I know of at least one dedicated radio station that continues to operate out of Jos and have read about Nigerian musicians recording their own version of US country music. Anyway, as life tends to go … This lunch break over a cup of tea I was idly flicking through some books and articles and stumbled across these nice references to the genre and its history in Nigeria. Since I need a reason to procrastinate a little longer I thought I'd share them with you.

Inside Africa (BBC) on Matatus in Nairobi, Kenya

Here's an Inside Africa (BBC) clip that highlights the visual culture of matatus in Nairobi, Kenya, and particular the work of Matwana Matatu Culture to highlight and document it. I've only recently stumbled upon their blog and youtube site but, yeah, I wish I'd see the same enthusiasm directed towards vehicle decoration in Nigeria. – Note that the documentary speaks of the imagery on matatus as 'window into the culure,' 'art galleries' or 'museums on wheels' and reflections of Nairobi's urban youth cultures. Obviously, I concur.

(clip after the break) 

Suddenly I find 'cowboys; in the least likely places

It's funny how sometimes once you take an interest in something, you suddenly start to notice that it is a range of contexts where you never anticipated to find it.

At least that's what happened to me since I started to look at illustrations of cowboys in Nigerian lorry decorations. Suddenly, cowboys spring at me from the pages of the least likely books and magazine.

On Didier Gondola's (2016) Tropical Cowboys

One of the books that I have recently read and that I really wanted to write a review of for this blog is Didier Gondola's fantastic publication on the Bills, a cowboy-inspired subculture in colonial Kinshasa. I have tons of notes and have started incorporating some of his ideas and observations in my own draft (obviously with all the appropriate referencing) but somehow I have not quite found the time to write the kind of review this book deserves. In the meantime, I leave you with this nice CNN report on Gondola's research that Thomas Page published 8 December 2015. 

Shout-Out to the Interwebs: Looking for Article by C.P. Orie (2008)

Shout-out to the Interwebs: I am very much looking for the following article:

C.P. Orie (2008): 'James Hadley Chase in the Nigerian Thriller Film: An Adaptation of Want to Stay Alive? Into Django.' In: Film Nigeria: An International Journal of Nigerian Film. Vol. 1. No. 1. Aba: Leadership and Literacy Achievers Series, Abia Polytechnic, Aba, 2008. 37-41.

Does anybody have a copy of the article that they could kindly share with me?

The car in your hand is an aeroplane' - Niyi Osundare's (1986) Song of the Nigerian Driver

The other day I found another poem that fits the subject of my current project, i.e. lorry decorations. To pay respect where it is due, I acknowledge my debt to Christiane Fioupou (1994) who mentioned this poem in her study of representations of the road in Wole Soyinka's works. I may have found it eventually – I am currently still flicking through issues of the weekly West Africa in which it has been published. However, it would have taken me a long time.

On 'Portraits' of Usman dan Fodio again

Last year I mentioned here a number of alleged photographs of Usman dan Fodio and drawings that purportedly portrayed the Shehu that I had encountered as illustrations in newspapers and elsewhere. I wondered whether such a portrait – either a photograph taken in dan Fodio's lifetime or a portrait at least sketched after meeting the man himself – could actually exist. 

I suppose, I found it hard to imagine that any of the sheikh's contemporary disciples would have produced such a drawing, let alone had access to a camera to take a photograph. I still do. Just consider his admonition of the customs of the Hausa-dynasties that his jihad dethroned.

'One of the ways of their governments is their … wearing whatever clothes they wish, whether religiously permitted or forbidden […], and living in decorated palaces, whether religiously permitted or forbidden and spreading soft (decorated) carpets as they wish, whether religiously permitted or forbidden …'

Ben Osaghae (1962-2017): Jess Castellote's Obituary

Sometimes I don't quite know whether it is appropriate for me to blog about something or the other. This is one of these cases. And, this time it is because I don't know what I could possibly add and when that's the case I find it so much easier to just 'share' somebody else's ideas on Facebook, Twitter, whatnot. So, before I make this entirely and inappropriately about myself or delay this any further, let me just drop the news.

Ben Osaghae died on Tuesday.