On the Theme of Ake Arts and Book Festival 2015
there is something we should give big thumbs ups to Lola Shoneyin and the Ake festival 2015 team for it was the way they stayed true to the theme “Engaging the Fringe” in fact they did a marvelous job of it that the tagline of AKE festival 2015 should be “looking for trouble that you cannot control.” Has there ever been a larger company of of controversial figures and rabble rousers in the African literary and political space anywhere? Pius Adesanmi, Adeola Fayehun of Sahara reporters, Nadir El-Rufai, Bisi Alimi, Immani Da Silva, Ayo Sogunro, Mona Eltahawy, Taye Selasi (of the Afropolitanism fame) Omitonade Ifawemimo (a young vivacious lady, whose small stature no doubt belies a courage to stand as an Ifa priestess in a country of strong often radical christian and Islamic values). The list is endless.But the challenge was not just from the guests, even the artistic works raised controversial issues that do not often make it into mainstream discourse. Ramata, a movie that delves into forbidden love, infidelity and madness. No where to Run, a documentary about conservation, climate change and the need to care about the environment. The man who mends women, an extremely dark and scary documentary about a gynecologist who made it his duty to treat and rehabilitate the abused female victims of the war in eastern Congo Democratic Republic. The portrayal of the horrors of war was so darkly vivid that the documentary looked like a horror movie. And of course “Hear Word” a play that espoused the kind of Feminism of the likes of M.E.M Kolawole, of women finding themselves and fighting for independence rather than for control, and of course actresses like Joke Silva and Bimbo Akintola who brought that artistic masterpiece to life
On Chris Abani
If there was an award for the most valuable guest Chris Abani, it was the first time I would meet him in real life, my first experience of his work being the article he wrote in the African cities reader for Chimurenga chronic. Chris Abani is a walking epitome of the effects of so many conflicting cultural values , and he has combined them all into a stream of knowledge so deep that at the risk of hero worship, if there was ever a living representation of the Yoruba statement “O gbon bii Ifa o moran bii opele” (he is as wise as Ifa he knows about issues like Opele,) that entity wouldn’t look much different from Chris Abani. Every time you spent with him turned up a deep piece of insight. As I joked with a friend after an unofficial session a few of us writers had with him on writing, after four nay seven years of studying literature and language, you think you know something about it, but when you meet Abani, he makes you feel like Jon Snow.
I am currently working on an essay, inspired by the thoughts of Chris Abani on memory and nostalgia. One of the things I hope to do in the near future is to take a copy of that excerpt he read from his Secret History of Las Vegas enlarge it and frame it. Perhaps of the the most memorable events of Ake festival 2015 was the book chat for Chris Abani’s the Secret History of Las Vegas and E.C. Osondu’s This House is not for Sale moderated by Toni Kan the quality of the intellectual argument in that session was so high that it was surreal.
On the Other Akefestival 2015 events and guests…
I cannot of overstate how marvelous a job Lola Shoneyin and the AKE Festival team did, to create moments that are unforgettable. I particularly enjoyed Professor Niyi Osundare’s interview especially his view on culture and education. I also loved the session moderated by Patrick Okigbo which involved Bisi Alimi, Veronique Tadjo and Frankie Edozien Where I had the opportunity to listen to real life experiences from the other side of sexual orientation. Ditto for Imanni Da Silva’s interview too. As a reviewer I also loved the Discussion on Blogging Africa’s books moderated by Emma Shercliff and involving Kinna, Zarah Nesbitt-Ahmed and Emmanuel Iduma. Same for the session involving E.C Osondu, Taiye Selasi and Chris Abani moderated by Ainehi Edoro. (And by the way I finally got to meet Ainehi and tell her what a marvelous job she is doing with BrittlePaper). Mona El tahawy also made an impression, I found her passion and her “scream in your face and unsettle you attitude” fascinating and her red hair too, actually mostly her red hair.(I didnt end up getting a picture with her, this is one of my personal Ake festival regrets.
I also had a great opportunity to chat with Imani Da Silva, the transgender woman from Angola and Bisi Alimi. I had expected to see a resentful bitterness from these two towards the countries who willfully and ignorantly rejected them for what they are and is struggling to accept them for what they have become. What I saw instead was a cheery disposition from individuals who are determined to enjoy their lives, these two would serve as inspiration of the ability of the human spirit to transcend the trauma of diffe
Someone I would have wanted to see at Ake was Binyavanga Wainana, but it was a pity that I heard of the stroke he had, a few days before the festival was due to begin. This is to hoping he gets well soon. The palmwine and poetry night was great too, with Efe Paul Azino “History” being the most memorable performance. And what would the Ake Festival be without the Ake festival party.
I am especially pleased for Ife Adeniyi that her On the Bank of the River making the Etisalat Prize Long list, because it was a book I enjoyed and reviewed, this is not an attempt to share the literary spotlight with her, so I will just wish her all the best.
Big ups to Tolu Daniel and Ajala Yemi who have been turning up the joint at Ake since 2013, not forgetting Lucia Edafioka, and Olivia Ndubuisi too. and the new set of guys, the members of the twitter bad gang who turned up at the joint this year, Adeolu, Mynd, Ik, MissMeddle, hemical, folamanboy, Oriadday, Deoye Falade,Seun Oyajumo, my story of Ake Festival 2015 would not be complete without you people
The volunteers who were on hand to pack bags and tail guests and carry stuff, and monitor events, and have LS constantly shout at them, and yet still managed to have fun. Ope whom I nearly missed until someone pointed her out and who packed my bag but forgot my movie tickets (which I ended up not needing so I didn’t pick a bone with her) and turned out to be as great has her twitter account suggested,
Fope, whom I thought looked like the archetypal girl until she told me she is an engineer, with an interest in Artificial Intelligence and for the rest of the festival, I kept imagining her in the Will Smith role in I Robot, I wonder where that came from tho’
To the Ibadan connection, Servio Gbadamosi, Tolase Ajibola, Santi Femi, Literary Gangsta, Bunmi Familoni, Fiyin Akinsiku, Remy Binge Oge, Opeyemi Adeola, you people represented and are r
Not to forget the likes of Ibukun Adeeko, Ope Rasaq-Oyadiran, Sueddie Vershima Agema, Noah Oladele, Nurain Oladeji, Agatha Aduro Renaissance Gbenga Adesina it was a great time of stimulating discussion
with you guys.
Nnamdi Ayandu, the Delta boy with the Yoruba heart, and Emeka, and Dayo Ayo-Adenuga thanks for turning up the place again as we did last year. To Olivia and Lucia, and the new friends, Ayeesha and Hadizah Obi Edwin Madu, I hope we can do great stuff together.
And all the other massively wonderful people whom I cannot put here but who made my week at Ake Festival 2015, I appreciate you all.
And Nneka Chile…
The only other individual worthy of a whole column other than Chris Abani in this review is not a guest, but a visitor just as I was. Amazing doesn't even start to describe her. When I needed someone to argue with, she was there, whenever I needed reassurance about walking through the dark and lone streets of Abeokuta at 11pm, hers was the reassuring voice that told me there was no danger. Her pleasant attitude, cheery disposition, bushy tailed curiosity and general cuteness, made her a very pleasant companion. She made herself an unofficial guardian for me and sort of made it her duty to ensure that I was safe and alright. It was her who got me that photo with Joke Silva and that intellectually stimulating discussion about Biafra with Patrick Okigbo and Atom Lim, and the loads of other stuff she also did.
I cannot tell whether that attitude is a sign of a deeper attachment or just her nature as someone who genuinely cares for others, but whatever it is, it is very much appreciated. And one more thing, try and dress the way you did on Saturday more often, you really look amazing that way.
Ake Festival 2015 for me was more than a place to meet new people and interact with thinkers and writers. It has been an eye opening journey for me. It has opened my eyes to the void at the fringes of popular thought in a way that I have never thought possible. Ake Festival 2015 opened my mind to the fact that no point of view is too deep, no thought is too entrenched to be challenged. As I finish this review, I have just completed and essay and another two lie uncompleted on my desk. They are products of insight gained from Akefestival 2015. I cannot wait for 2016 now, bring it on people!