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.

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 @ 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)

31 January 2017

Niyi Osundare 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.

Anyway, here's the poem. Enjoy.

Song of the Nigerian Driver
The car in your hand is an aeroplane
Which only flies by prod and push
This, indeed, is a speedy secret
Not contained in your clumsy manual
So, pump that pedal, brother,
Pump it hard and cut your wings
Your ticket to the skies
Is under your feet
The car in your garage
Is neverless beast
Which only grieves when
It's showered with care
So, flog it like a fatherless donkey
Don't dote on plugs
Or brakes or mufflers
the less you care the stronger it goes
Some people, when they drive,
Are cautious wretches
They watch the panels for funny lights
They use the mirrors and those irksome pointers
They save their horns save for drastic needs
They are nice and kind like seasoned monks
Damn their stule, avoid their ranks
Don't get infected with their CARE-ful bug
If you can do a hundred miles
Why stop at a cowardly eighty?
At two hundred in sixty minutes
Flies may still perch on your sluggish wheels
Your engine, under-used, may just decide
To die, one day, a slothful death
So, chase the road to its sudden end
Line up the traffic and thunder past
Some fools, when they drive, try to look ahead
At those mashed metals
Still drenched in smoking blood
Then they fly into needless remorse
Close that book, forget its lesson
It is their luck, not at all your own
Their bloody reward for a careful drive.
(published in West Africa, 20 January 1986, 138)

I am pretty sure I can use that somewhere to illustrate a certain attitude to driving that (stereotype alert) I perceive as quintessential Nigerian (I am perfectly aware that is ridiculous. It's in my very own home country of Germany where no politician dares to anger motorists without repercussions because, you know, a free people deserves free driving, Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger! Note that the second 'frei'/'free' here refers to the absence of speed limits on German highways. I still can't help myself, sorry). I also (and, I hope this is not as ridiculous) associate this way of driving with certain ideas about what it means to be a man: a certain wildness, a certain aptitude to risk taking and a certain disregard for rules including traffic laws. I think I will relate this to lorry paintings including those of cowboys that I'd argue also reflect certain and not dissimilar ideas about masculinity. I'll work out the details when I write that (working) paper (or putting it all together will make me realise how mistaken I am, let's see).