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.

23 May 2017

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). 

Enjoy.


04 May 2017

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.


'In Nigeria, the "near vacuum", in terms of repertoire of lyrics created by the absence of song-texts, in the early fifties and beyond, became a stimulus to an incursion by foreign discs. … Even the country music of Tennessee became Nigeria's early' morning, late-night and Sunday serenades. Jim Reeves established as the fore-runner of Don Williams. The death of Jim Reeves, following the release of his album "We Thank Thee" in which he sang "This World is Not My Home…" was near-national grief in Nigeria.' (Oti 2009: 22)

Regarding Jim Reeves, his popularity in Nigeria – and Kenya and Tanzania – has merited a mention in journalist Larry Jordan's (2011) biographyof the musician.

'"He's still the best-selling Western artist in Nigeria and Kenya" … Bob Kimsey, how has done missionary work in Nigeria confirmed that "Jim is still one of the most popular artists in that country. The Muslims pray over their loudspeakers before dawn and then they play Jim Reeves tapes over them all day and his voice can be heard throughout the country."' (Jordan 2011: 3)

Jordan does unfortunately not provide any references for that Bob Kimsey quote. So, I cannot tell where and when Kimsey may have heard Jim Reeves played through the loudspeakers of Nigerian mosques. I think knowledge of time and place matters here. A quick google search has not yet revealed that information and I cannot promise I will not forget about it once I've officially finished lunchbreak and went back to what I should be doing.

Here's another extract, this time from Pius Adesanmi's (2011) essay collection You're Not a Country The extract is from the beginning of the second chapter, Don Williams: Fragments of Memory .[2]

'America invaded my formative years in Nigeria through culture, mainly books and music. Indian (Amitabh Bachchan!) and Chinese (Bruce Lee!) films relegated American (John Wayne) movies to a distant background. In high school (Titcombe College), James Hadley Chase was our most mesmerising path to America. … We escaped the enchanting world of Hadley Chase's America only to be "arrested" by American musicians. Now this is where it gets really interesting. Of all the genres of American music that formed part of our cultural consciousness as young Nigerian schoolkids, country music came to acquire a significance that, years later, I would be at pains to explain to my American friends, especially African Americans. Kenny Rodgers entered Nigerian ears mainly with "The Gambler". Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" resonated with us because so many of us could relate to the lyrics. …

… Pastor Kris Okotie did a fantastic version of James Taylor's "Carolina on My Mind". And there were songs by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, The Judds, and Ronnie Milsap, whose "Daydreams about Night Things" signalled the beginning of restless adolescent explorations of forbidden warrens of pleasure with the opposite sex that would end up in the ears of white Catholic priests at confession.

Then there was Don William! How a country musician from Floydada, Texas, became one of America's greatest gifts to the ears of my generation – pre-teen schoolkids in faraway Nigeria – is a matter that should detain all students of Africa and transnational aesthetic crossings.'

Adesanmi's essay continues to engage with his childhood excitement with country music and especially Don Williams – including the fact that, 'between 100 and 200 level at university' he learned that Don Williams may have been a racist. And, this is when he makes a point I probably should take up with regard to my own research and engage with (oh well, one more reason to re-read that chapter properly):

'You see, country music came to us in Nigeria without the baggage of America's race demons.'

And at that I leave you again. The clock just turned 1 pm and lunch break's over for good. Well, that means no links for you today. I just quickly post this and then it's back to serious critical engagement and writing. 

Edit: 5 May 2017 - Added links.




[1] I may or may not post this here. I read a lot of different non-fiction during that course and played around with some of what I liked about other writer's work – including in this piece. I am not quite sure yet whether it works. I have other writing though that only needs another edit and then may go up here to fill the time between topical posts. So, be warned.
[2] Bear with me regarding the citations, I own the ebook and this one doesn't include pages. I am still not sure I like the whole locations business. Anyway, this is taken from the beginning of the second chapter.

25 April 2017

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) 

31 March 2017

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.
Just the other day I finished a completely unrelated book, Elizabeth Warnock-Fernea's account of the time she and her husband, then a doctoral student on fieldwork, spent living in an Iraqi village between 1957 and 1958. I am currently on a quest to improve my writing after a friend had told me that my 'academese' was a chore to read. Warnock-Fernea-s book was recommended to me as an example of a well-written piece of anthropology. And, indeed, so it is. It also provides glimpses into the secluded lives of Shi'ite women in Iraq before the revolutions, counterrevolutions, invasions and insurgencies of the 20th and 21st century that are fascinating enough to merit a read.
Nevertheless, single minded as I am, what stayed with me is a sentence in the book's post script in which the author updated readers on developments in the village since she had left 8 years prior to its publication. There she writes

'Selma has had three children since I left, one a boy. Bob saw this little son of Selma's dressed up in an American cowboy suit Sheik Hamid had brought back from Lebanon.' (my emphasis)

So, dear reader, if you happen to know of any book or article that delves further into the histories and appropriations of 'the cowboy' in the Arab or other part s of the Muslim, do let me know. I'd like to add it to my background readings.

23 February 2017

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. 

17 February 2017

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?

So, dear reader, I'd be very grateful if you shared that request with your friends and maybe eventually it will reach somebody who does have a copy of the article, a camera or scanner to digitise it and an email account to send it to my address (bajamushiya @ gmail.com). You'd have my gratitude.

Why, am I looking for this article, you ask? Well. 

Yesterday, sat in the library over a draft, I found myself recalling Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun's two-parter Django (2005) [links to Part 1 on Youtube] and one of its theme songs kept running through my head.

Django is meaner than mean,
harder than hard.
(Choir) harder than hard,
I said meaner than mean,
harder than hard, 
(Choir) harder than hard.

My curiosity about the film had been initially raised by its (surprise, surprise, I know) title that seemed to promise a Nigerian take on cowboy films. Obviously, Imaseun's Django is nothing of that kind. Instead, it is based on James Hadley Chase's (1971) novel Want to Stay Alive?
Chase's books books appear to have been rather popular among certain Nigerian readers – Graham Furniss (1996: 54-55), for example, quoted them as an important influence on Hausa soyayya literature (alongside Mills and Boons). [1]
 But, Chase wrote gangster than cowboy fiction and so I quickly lost interest again.
Now, however, one of the film's theme songs is back on my mind. It’s the song that is first played about 34 minutes into the film and then while the credits run. I think it goes something like this*.

Django is meaner than mean,
harder than hard.
(Choir) harder than hard,
I said meaner than mean,
harder than hard, 
(Choir) harder than hard.
Police are everywhere,
Looking for man they don't know,
Everybody lives in fear, 
And is afraid of Django,
He walks around with a gun,
The bullets on his chest,
He is a very dangerous killer, 
That the police cannot arrest.
Django is meaner than mean,
harder than hard.
(Choir) harder than hard,
I said meaner than mean,
harder than hard,
(Choir) harder than hard.
If you play games with,
You are living dangerously,
If you don't pay the money, 
He will kill you, you see [?],
If you look at his face, 
Don't look above his shirt [?],
If you play games with him, 
You make a dangerous mistake.
Django is meaner than mean,
harder than hard
(Choir) harder than hard,
I said meaner than mean,
harder than hard,
(Choir) harder than hard.
(*my transcript, question marks - obviously - indicate where I'm not quite sure I heard that right, corrections welcome) 

I cannot quite put my finger on the reason why the film and in particular the song have come to my mind yesterday. But, the more I think about it the more I wonder whether the film and the song are the logical conclusion of developments that displaced 'the cowboy' in the imagination of youth in Nigeria and elsewhere with 'the gangster.' Here, all that remains of 'the cowboy,' of the hero of Sergio Leone's eponymous Italo-Westerns (and numerous unlicensed sequels) is his name, Django. In fact, the film's (anti-) hero does not even introduce himself as Django but as Diggers (which is also the name under which the cast roll lists him) and is better known as The Executioner.

So, here I am interested again. And, it seems I am not alone in that. C.P. Orie (2008) seems to have written an article on the relationship between James Hadley Chase's novel and Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun's films. I am intrigued but I can't seem to find it. Therefore my shout-out to folks on the net hoping that they can help to get my hands on a copy of the article. 



Edit, 20 February 2017: 
(1) So, some German … well, what we call Denglish crept into my transcription of the lyrics above. Chor is German for choir. So, unthinkingly I put Chorus where is should have read choir. Sorry oh. Anyway, that's now corrected. 
(2) Inserted a footnote and a link to an article on reading (or rather not reading) James Hadley Chase in Nigeria by Okey Ndibe. I should possibly add that I don't quite share Ndibe's disdain for Chase and his novels. I think one can perfectly well read and enjoy (imported) pulp fiction AND Chinua Achebe's writing. That said, I do understand perfectly well that Ndibe writes with regard to a context in which Chase's novels came as part of a broader package of 'cultural imperialism,' to steal Edward Said's term. Still, im my reading his commentary also reflects a certain kind of cultural snobbery, what Saheed Aderinto has termed 'selective modernism,' the notion that colonial and post-colonial Nigerian elites should act as gate keepers deciding which aspects of colonial and later other foreign cultural imports were worth adapting and which should be rejected. But, that's by the by here, let it not distract us from the important  point (for my own context here) that he made about the popularity of Chase's fiction in Nigeria. Also, note there's a whole thread on Nairaland dedicated to Chase's novels.






[1] By the way (too lazy for another edit) regarding the influence of James Hadley Chase in Nigeria: There's an article on Sahara Reporters dating from 2014 on that. Its entitled ' How Achebe Saved Me FromJames Hadley Chase' by Okay Ndibe

'In my secondary school days, I told the audience, many of my schoolmates took to reading books by James Hadley Chase and Barbara Cartland. Chase’s books, I recall, carried such titillating titles as Do Me A Favor: Drop Dead and The Way The Cookie Crumbles. I remember a particular classmate, a fanatical aficionado, who had “consumed” more than 50 titles by Chase. One day, he asked me why I was content to read “bush” novels, a reference to the fact that some of the fiction I relished reading were set, in part at least, in Africa’s pre-colonial rural communities. He fancied himself a scion of Enlightenment, engaged not with machetes but guns, not with elders with their proverb-rich speech but with jacket wearing, gun-wielding mobsters dripping with “gonna” and “wanna”.

I never read even a single book by Chase. The reason: I was fortunate to read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart quite early. The book left me entranced, seduced me, filled me with an insatiable appetite for other writers who articulated the African experience. Once Achebe had set the hunger, I went searching for other African writers.'

(my emphasis)