This started as a research notebook. Now, I am going about it less systematically and use this blog just as a means to organise my thoughts and ideas, mainly about visual cultures and artistic practices in northern Nigeria, whenever I feel a need for it. In between I use it as a space to drop bits and pieces that may or may be not related.

17 January 2017

Lorry Art Snippets: Biblical Scene 2007

Haven't posted any for a while, so here's another lovely photograph of the tailgate of a painted lorry. I found this one on a blog, Stardust's Shadow. The photo was taken on travels through West Africa in 2007, apparently on the road between Benin City and Ile-Ife. 

09 January 2017

Martin Bennett (1999): Mammy-Wagons, Kaduna-Lagos Road

The other day I stumbled across this beautiful little poem by Martin Bennet, a British poet and translator who is, if I am not mistaken, now based in Rome, Italy (link leads to another of his poems but with a short bio). This poem comes from a collection that is informed by his time in Nigeria and was published in 1999 by Wasafiri. 
Mammy-Wagons, Kaduna-Lagos Road
'Slow but Steady,' 'Allah Knows,' 'Time is Going' –
Wagons flash maxims north, south, east and west –
Now an armour-painted wingless 'Boeing,'
Now the fast-thundering 'God's Time De Best.'
In a wayside ditch, beyond all towing,
'Junior Tarzan' takes a rusty rest.
Fortified met for Ogun or Shango
Is its coachwork timer, iron engine.
Across the tilted tailboard a motto
With a blazon of post-cautionary red.
'No kiss my gnash' winks the left tailfin,
the right, 'Horn b/4 you put your head.'
To each driver or self-appointed 'King
Of Roads' his wheelspun philosophy and creed,
Here's gear-screeching 'No Telephone to Heaven.'
A ten ton telegram for all to read,
Round the next curve hurtles 'Psalm 27.'
Kaduna motorpark's two hundred brawling
Miles behind already. 'They Who Dread
For Their Lives May Be Killed By a Falling
Leaf' roars a bright reminder inside
The mirror, markets of Lagos, Ilorin
And Oshogbo still a hard day's drive ahead.
Martin Bennet
Wasafiri, Autum 1999, Issue No. 30, 55 (Link [Paywall])

Let me use this occasion to direct you to another of Bennet's projects that I've mentioned before: This lovely page run by Arthur Brooks: A Nigerian Travelogue.

Edited 15 January 2017 to fix formatting of poem.

CfP: ACASA Deadline for Panel Proposals and Individual Papers Extended

This is a bit late but there is still time to submit proposals for panels and individual papers to  triennial conference of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association which is going to take place in Ghana this year. The deadline has just been extended to 31 January 2017. The Deadline for fully formed panels is 28 February 2017. You can find lists of the panels seeking participants here (as of December 2016).

Here's the detail:

Proposals for individual papers for panels and roundtables seeking participants must include the following:

  • Title
  • An abstract not to exceed 250 words describing the theme and scope of your paper
  • A short abstract not to exceed 100 words to be published in the ACASA Newsletter, the H-AfrArts website, and on the ACASA Triennial website
  • Contact information including address, phone, fax, and e-mail

Fully formed panel proposals must include the following: 

  • Title
  • A short abstract not to exceed 100 words to be published in the ACASA Newsletter, the H-AfrArts website, and on the ACASA Triennial website
  • Contact information including address, phone, fax, and e-mail for the panel/ roundtable chair(s)
  • Individual papers abstract not to exceed 250 words describing the theme and scope of each paper
  • Individual paper’s abstract not to exceed 100 words to be published in the ACASA Newsletter, the H-AfrArts website, and on the ACASA Triennial website
  • Participants’ Contact information including address, phone, fax, and e-mail
  • The program committee encourages the submission of panels with four twenty-minute papers plus a discussant, and roundtables with a maximum of eight ten-minute presentations. Participants may present only one paper, but may serve as a discussant on another panel or serve as a presenter on a roundtable.

Submission Requirements

Panel/roundtable proposals may be open (consisting solely of a proposed panel/ roundtable topic without the panelists/participants having been selected) or they may be submitted fully constituted with all proposed panelists or roundtable participants identified.

You must be logged in as an ACASA member to access the on-line submission form, and all participants must register for the conference.  For information on an ACASA membership, please visit

And, here's a panel that may be particularly interesting for anybody who actually follows this blog (by which I mean you, my lone reader).

Islamic Architecture and Contested Cultural Heritage in Africa

This panel explores historic Islamic architecture in Africa through the lens of contested contemporary culture and politics. How do definitions of Islamic architectural heritage in the eyes of global organizations compare to the way particular states value or devalue these sites in their own agendas? What constitutes Islamic architectural heritage in the eyes of community members? How do these definitions differ from the way scholars view such heritage? By analyzing how these forms are conceptualized by multiple stakeholders, the panel advocates for context-specific approaches to Islamic architecture and heritage management in the face of increasingly global cultural and political landscapes.

Note: This panel is the third in a series of panels on this theme organized by the co-chairs for the African Studies Association Annual Meetings (December 2016) and the College Art Association.

Annual Meetings (February 2017).

Current Panelists:

Mahmoud Malik Saako

Ghana Museums and Monuments Board

“Islamic Architecture in Northern Ghana, Ownership and Control”

Nii-Adziri Wellington

Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of Ghana-Legon

“Crises in Contesting Identities in Islamic Sacral Architecture: A Reflection on the ‘Hagia Sophia’ in Accra, Ghana”

Michelle Apotsos

Williams College

"Whose Heritage? Unpacking the Reality of Larabanga's Ancient Mosque"

Panel seeking participants, please submit the following information by January 16, 2017:

  • Name
  • Affiliation
  • Email address
  • Phone and fax numbers
  • Title of Paper
  • Abstract of no more than 250 words describing theme and scope of paper and
  • short abstract of no more than 100 words


Barbara Frank (Barbara.Frank[at]

Michelle Apotsos (michelle.apotsos[at]

08 January 2017

Random Thoughts: Music

This last week Nigerian newspapers (I read it in the Daily Trust and in the Premium Times) reported that in Sokoto State the Hisbah intervened at the wedding of the daughter of that state's governor, Aminu Tawal, because the music that was played purportedly contravened Islamic law. Here's what the Premium Times reported (which conveniently quotes the Daily Trust).
Islamic police stormed the wedding of Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s daughter in Sokoto last week, and seized musical instruments used for the event, for allegedly violating the Sharia law, witnesses say. Witnesses at the high-octane wedding, which held on New Year eve, have been sharing unreported details from the classy shindig.
The religious police unit, known as the Hisbah, responsible for enforcing Sharia practiced in parts of northern Nigeria, stormed the pre-wedding dinner but could not arrest the DJ. The move was because the music played at the event allegedly violated the Islamic law. Daily Trust reports that the commandant of the Commission, Adamu Kasarawa, confirmed the development, and said the commission had wanted to arrest the DJ that performed at the dinner but that he escaped.Mr. Kasarawa was quoted as explaining that it was the commission’s responsibility to correct anything that works against Sharia law.He also added that the musical instruments alongside other devices seized across the state would be destroyed.
Music doesn't strictly speaking fall within the scope of this blog. Still, I think this is … let's say interesting. My personal feelings about music – one of life's little pleasures that I should indulge more because it keeps me sane, otherwise a matter of personal tastes – aside, there are some questions here that the articles do not answer: Did the Hisbah object to music being played at the wedding at all or to the kind of music that was being played? (What kind of music was being played anyway?)
I guess my sudden interest in discussing music here is due to timing. I was flicking through my notes on Hiskett's (1960) translation of Usman dan Fodio's Kitab al-Farq just the other day. At the time I took these notes (first year of the PhD) I was searching for clues about the Sheikh's and other historical positions vis-à-vis the visual arts and had come to notice that there was a much greater concern with all kinds of music and their place in a Muslim society in his writings. There's a sentence there in the Kitab al-Farq that criticises the dynasties that ruled the Hausa states prior to the jihad because
'… One of the ways of their government is their being occupied with doing vain things (continuously) by night and by day, without legal purpose, such as beating drums, and lutes, and kettledrums.'
(transl. Hiskett 1960: 569)
Veit Erlmann, a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Texas, has written on the effects of Usman dan Fodio's jihad on musical practices in northern Nigeria (because the book's out of print Erlmann has kindly made it available for download on his website here). He argued that
'Time and time again, it becomes clear in the sources, that music-making and musical instruments as such were not the target of the reform, but rather the social behaviour to which they gave rise.'
(Erlmann 1986: 16)
Thus, he condemned the use of particular instruments because they were associated with practices of the (non-Islamic) possession cult of bori (Erlmann 1986: 15). Music and dance were condemned on occasion on which the sexes mixed because the reformer believed that they 'enhanced or occasioned undesirable sexual behaviour' (Erlmann 1986: 16).
I haven't actually read in detail any of the by-laws that were published by the various states in the course of the re-introduction of Shari'a penal code in the early 2000s. However, I have flicked through Philip Ostien's sourcebook on Shari'a Implementation in Northern Nigeria (downloadable pdf) and a by-law published by the Fika Local Government, Yobe State, in 2002 expresses a similar concern. The relevant section reads
'(1) It shall be an offence for a person or group of persons to encourage or engage in ajo, koroso and other forms of public entertainment in which men and women intermingle in an indecent and un-Islamic manner be it in the form of dancing, drumming, singing, music, beauty contest, fashion parade and the like.'
(Ostien 2007: Vol. 3, 231)
The other by-law that Ostien (Ostien 2007: Vol. 3, 229-30) quoted was published by Gumi Local Government, Zamfara State, in 2000. The relevant section reads
'All types of musical concerts during naming and wedding festivities as set out in the schedule are hereby prohibited throughout the Local Government.
“Musical concerts” means, drumming, praise singing and dancing in whatever form and howsoever called.'
Now you probably wonder why I am telling you all this. I honestly can't tell you that I have one or the other point that I want to make here, not yet anyway. As I wrote above, I found myself rather fascinated by the 'raid' (if that's the right word) of the Hisba in Sokoto State of that wedding and the concern with music as a purportedly un-Islamic vice that it betrays. This is just one of these moments that I stumble upon something that catches my attention and - even though I cannot (yet) quite tell why – I have found in the past that I will often come back to that piece of information or that idea because it fits into an argument I am trying to make somewhere else. So, here I go and drop that piece of information with you including the bits and pieces that occurred to me right away. Make of that what you want. I probably will do the same with it in the future. In Allah ya yarda.
P.S. Somebody must have written or currently be writing a thesis in ethnomusicology or a related subject that looks at the treatment of music in the Shari'a debates of the early 2000s, no? I'd love to read that.