ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

At Work with Tunde Kelani

IMG_2752I have admired him from afar for a very long time, especially since he blossomed into our television screens towards the end of the last century as the director of Mainframe Films (Opomulero). However, his work and reputation extend way back to the history of television in Africa. As he told me recently on the movie set of a series of multilingual recordings of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on the Ebola virus raging around the continent, he was there near the beginning, in Ibadan, when the then WNTS (Western Nigerian Television Service) was established. The station was founded in 1959, when he was still in primary school.

At that time, when the foresight of Western Nigeria’s first politicians brought television technology into the continent and sited it in Ibadan, a new industry of imaginative artists was created. And years after that innovation, the first set of broadcasters, technicians, scriptwriters, stage workers, costume and set designers, etc went on to become innovators of their own in various fields of endeavour. (My own father was one of those, joining the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Service (WNBS) in the late sixties as a reader and later, producer). Tunde Kelani became employed at the station as a trainee cameraman on September 20, 1970. According to him, that was when his career trajectory began. He later went to a number of film schools around the world in order to gain sufficient experience. In 1993, his first film as the director of Mainframe Ti Oluwa ni Ile, a trilogy, was released to critical acclaim.

Photos 8142014 90256 PM.bmpAt his Mainframe office in Oshodi, Lagos, the feel of a decent but relaxed artistic environment is prevalent. In a house that doubles as a studio with an editing room and other offices, TK holds court, providing needed input during movie shoots, and coordinating artistic directions where necessary. At 66, he shows no signs of slowing down. On this set, I’m an almost invisible adjunct, present to provide input about the multilingual scripts I worked on translating into the various Nigerian languages, while the actors come in and out to interpret and act their roles on set and against the blue screen. And while the recording goes on, and in-between takes, other light-hearted discussions take place. On set on these couple of days of shooting were Toyin Aimakhu-Johnson, Femi Sowoolu, Joke Silva, Kunle Afolayan, Yomi Fash-Lanso, Tonto Dikeh, Kabirat Kafidipe, among many others.

But being around this legend of Yoruba cultural expressions in film, animated conversations ensue, taking us from one fascinating subject to the other. It has been said, for instance, in western media that Yoruba (or Nigerian) movie industry grew “out of nothing”, or out of little. That reiteration brought out the strongest rebuttal from TK who pointed out, correctly, that the Yoruba culture carried with it an element of theatre that thrived way before television came, and continued through the TV medium in the 50s to the current day. After all, there was Herbert Ogunde, and Moses Adejumo (Baba Sala), and Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love) way before the current crop that made what is now called (not to everyone’s satisfaction) “Nollywood”.

IMG_2715Animated even more by the presence of my British-Jamaican friend, psychologist and filmmaker visiting from the University of London, Dr. Julian Henriques, conversations moved from the challenges of movie production on the continent to the inevitable transition from old recording equipment to today’s modern cameras. Julian who was visiting Nigeria for the second time had, earlier in the day, visited with me the Kalakuta Museum in Ikeja, sharing an afternoon of conversation and wonder in the court of the late Afrobeat founder. His interest, Dr. Henriques, in sound as well as cultural movements and productions collided perfectly with the Kelani encounter, as their short but substantive conversations showed, and a happily saturated guest went home with a signed poster of the host’s new production. Julian’s feature film Baby Mother (1998), co-written with Vivienne Howard has been called a “vibrant and delightful” work, buzzing “with vitality and colour.” Baby Mother refers to what Americans call “baby mama”: women saddled with the responsibility of raising children from their unwed partners. The film is more than that though, touching on a number of relevant themes in black, British, and Caribbean popular culture. Here’s a brilliant YouTube clip

IMG_2706One of the other gems dropped in the conversations is the news of Tunde Kelani’s new project: a theatrical adaptation of Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard into Yoruba as Lanke Omu. According to TK, it is one that carries, for him, an immense personal satisfaction for its transmission of the text’s original intent into a new cultural medium. But that is not the only project on his hands. He had also just recently completed work on a film adaptation of a novel Dazzling Mirage written by Olayinka Egbokhare, which has already been screened for selected audiences. From his reputation and the artistic scope of his earlier works (KoseegbeO Le KuTi Oluwa Ni IleSaworoide, Yellow Card, and Thunderbolt come to mind), these two new projects promise even more, cementing a career that is as dynamic as it is emblematic of the best of African artistic and cultural expression in a world dominated by other global influences.

Though meeting him this time for the first time at close proximity, conversations illustrated that the trajectory of my creative and professional life has passed through courses in TK’s neighbourhood. I remember, for instance, his presence at the launch of the African Language Technology Initiative (ALT-I) in Bodija, Ibadan, in 2004 where my friend, mentor, and occasional collaborator Dr. Tunde Adegbola, burst into Linguistics all the way from Engineering, in a public way, during the WALC 2004 conference. It turned out that the link between Dr. Adegbola and Baba Kelani went even further back to many years pre ALT-I days in Lagos. Another friend, teacher, and mentor, Dr. Larinde Akinleye (now deceased), was a prominent cast in many of TK’s earlier movies. And the author of TK’s recent work, Olayinka Egbokhare, is a personal friend, as one of my teachers of Communication while in the university. It was like a reunion with a friendly but famous uncle you never knew you had, in an environment of mutual respect and admiration.

Also, a fascinating encounter.


[Watch the newly released Ebola PSAs here.]


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On Saraba’s Solitude

In one of the stories in the latest issue of Saraba Magazine (#16), the author goes to movie cinemas because of the opportunity provided by its dark and quiet space to rest hands on his partners” laps. In another, a writer paints a harrowing picture of solitude expressed best through “writing her bones”, as she puts it; a painful but therapeutic process where every experience is an opportunity for reflection as well as escape, and where artistic output and expression is a solution as much as a problem. In another, a writer describes the haunting experience of a domestic accident with a little child that ends with a quirky and sardonic anti-climax, while another piece recounts, in a series of verses like enchanted incantations of many stories, a journey through a writer’s head during “a decade of madness”. And through the work that populate this edition of the magazine dedicated to the concept of solitude, the reader is taken in a multiplicity of mental directions.

AVPageView 8202014 120629 PM.bmpThat is the fiction.

In the poems and accompanying artworks, the editors’ selections show adherence to the widest interpretation of the theme. A disabled on woman on a wheelchair, with sample selections of food recipes all around her (Rosi Martez) portray solitude as much as a middle-aged black man sitting on a distant chair in an otherwise social environment (Moustapha Dime). So does a young man holding an open book, and a pen, pondering what next to write in an inconclusive paragraph, or a gypsy woman with a musical instrument or walking staff. What they have in common, beside their aesthetic appeal that invites the beholder to further exploration of ideas beyond the first contact, is a simplicity that complements everything else in the issue. This is a familiar style for Saraba issues: a minimalist approach that projects brilliance in its modesty and understatement of its internally throbbing energies.

To have put this together as the editors have from across their physical distance from each other is a feat creditable to today’s electronic bridge of solitude: the internet. Dami Ajayi is now a jobless medical doctor in Lagos, while Emmanuel Iduma is on the road with the Invisible Borders roadtrip from Lagos to Sarajevo. Together, they have created a thriving brand and a viable platform for new voices in creative and artistic expression around the continent.

I skimmed the poems, but not all. Even a most perfunctory glance, conditioned by a short attention span, or a recent conditioned apathy to poetry reveals gems in stanzas like this:

To ask a poet about solitude
is to speak about lost moments
and untold stories of life
scribbled on brown sheets, old letters
hanging on the wall

As he plays the piano for his departed lover
in a room where cobwebs hang like portraits on old walls;Saraba-logo-e1355435770738-300x89
where cockroaches exchange dreams with old manuscripts

beneath the mattress where
a suicide letter lies
waiting to be read:

only the words survive
as time carries the burden
of memory like a scarf on a cobra’s head

(Gbolahan: 8)

And with that, the feast is complete, deliciously served. Not in the least diminished by sharing, the rest are thus left, best repackaged as it should be, by the selfless re-gifter of all good things. You will take it slow, as I did – to the consternation of my pressuring editors, and enjoy in soluble bites. There’s something for everyone.

The Issue can be downloaded here.

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At NAL’s Convocation and Investiture

IMG_2850 IMG_2851 IMG_2854 IMG_2862 IMG_2868 IMG_2869 IMG_2873 IMG_2879 IMG_2882 IMG_2883 IMG_2884 IMG_2885 IMG_2886 IMG_2887 IMG_2888 IMG_2892 IMG_2899 IMG_2900Today at the main auditorium of the University of Lagos, the Nigerian Academy of Letters (an elite organisation of the most prestigious professors in liberal arts, language, and linguistics, at the top of their field), had its Sixteenth Convocation and Investiture of New Fellows. The Convocation speech was delivered by Professor Francis Egbokhare, in a speech titled “The Second Pledge: The Ethical Dimensions of Citizenship and the Challenges of Nation Building“.

The new fellows into the organisation were Professor. Festus Agboola Adesanoye and Professor Philip Adedotun Ogundeji, as Regular Fellows; Professor Olabiyi Yai, as an Overseas Fellow; and Dr. (Mrs.) Virginia Anohu, Ambassador Oladapo Olusola Fafowora and Olori (Dr.) Olatokunbo Gbadebo as Honorary Fellows. The oration was read by Professor Olu Obafemi, while the programme was moderated by Professor Dele Layiwola, the secretary of NAL.

NAL was founded in Ibadan on 14 November, 1991, with Professors Ayo Bamgbose, Chinua Achebe, J.F. Ade-Ajayi, A.E. Afigbo, Adeboye Babalola, J.P.Clark-Bekederemo and Wole Soyinka as founding fellows. It was founded as an apex organization of Nigerian academics and scholars in the Humanities to promote, maintain and encourage excellence in all branches of humanistic studies.

Aside: Of the founding fellows, only three of them are still living. Today, a moment of silence was held in honour of a recently departed foundation fellow, Professor Emeritus J.F. Ade-Ajayi, NNOM who died on August 11, 2014.



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Iyake – The Suspended Lake

By Obinna Udenwe


IMG_20140802_083450 Imagine yourself being driven in a car, early in the morning as rain drizzles. Imagine that you are travelling along a well tarred road, with woods all around you and a huge mountain stretching far into the horizon in front of you as the drizzles forms a mist that clouds the sky and makes the whole environment foggy. Imagine that the car’s wiper is swish- swooshing and slashing at the little drizzles of rain that drops on the windscreen as you travel with few others to climb a famous rocky mountain.

Having resided at the Ebedi International Writers Residency, in the serene town of Iseyin in Western Nigeria for over four weeks as a writer-in-resident, we decided, my fellow residents and I, to visit the famous Okeado Mountain. It was on Saturday, the 2nd of August 2014. Early that morning it drizzled so much that if formed a mist separating every other objects before us from the vehicle. We drove slowly from Iseyin town till we got to Ado-Awai, the town housing the rocky mountain.

On approaching the town, we could see rocky hills with green vegetations looking so beautiful that one would be tempted to build a tent on them, we brought out our cameras and phones and began to take pictures excitedly – but because we were in a moving vehicle, the pictures were distorted. Our guard, who is a teacher in one of the schools in Iseyin town, advised us not to rush leaking a hot soup, since the soup belonged to us – we were going to climb the main mountain itself, he argued, so we needn’t worry about taking snapshots of the offshoot hills.

IMG_20140802_082903Okeado Mountain sits in between the two villages of Ado and Awai which together forms the community Ado-Awai. As we drove through the village, we saw few petrol filling stations already opened for business. There were women seated by the roadsides frying akara balls even though it was drizzling. We saw customers who had lined up waiting for the fried grounded beans mixed with fresh pepper and oil. There were shops scattered all around the village and people walking about, attending to their businesses. Our driver who is a friend of Mr Kofi Sackey, the Residency’s Admin Manager, drove into the park that leads to the mountain.

The park had green lawns and a primary school with dilapidated structures in front of it. There were massive trees that had lived more than twenty years each – jacaranda plants, azaeirachta indica, mangoes and other varieties of trees that we had never seen before. We alighted from the vehicle: Paul Liam a fellow resident writer and I, Mr. Sackey, the driver and his friend, the teacher who was to serve as our guide, with his son – a boy of about eight years old. We marvelled at the beauty of the forestry surrounding the foot of the mountain. There were huge bulldozer tyres at the foot of the trees where visitors could sit and rest before climbing the over one thousand steps built to ease access to the mountain top. There was a European style bungalow with dilapidated windows where the mountain administrator lives, with flowers and trees surrounding it.

IMG_20140802_083709From the park we could see the foot of the mountain and the high-rise stairs that leads to the top. Without the steps, which was built few years earlier, when a native of the community became the Deputy Governor of Oyo State, it would have been very difficult to ascend the Okeado Mountain. The cements and blocks used in constructing the steps were wearing out. And the rise and fall of the steps were so tall that one would have to raise their legs very high to access them – which made the climb very daunting – but nonetheless a blessing because without the steps the mountain could only be accessed by professional climbers.

We were all eager to begin the journey up the mountain top. As we ascended the stairs we were brushed this way and that by grasses and leaves from various unidentifiable trees that merged their blossoms to bless us with nice fragrances. It continued to drizzle as we made our way up the stairs to the first hill. Up there we were amazed by what we saw – a vast table rocky area that could accommodate car parking spaces and buildings, with various rocks that were formed in very amazing shapes. Our breaths ran away from us and we were stunned when we beheld the Isage rock – one would never believe this, but the rock was about eight feet tall, and about six feet in diameter, standing on another flat large rocky area on the hill, without any support whatsoever – we wondered how the Isage rock had managed to stand for thousands of years on its own without any support and not falling off.  We marvelled at the gift nature had given to man. The rock had a white silky cloth material wrapped around it, and when we met the Mountain administrator later on – an elderly man who could probably be in his late sixties, he explained that the cloth material wrapped round the Isage rock was sent always from a by a wealthy Nigerian who lived abroad, whose mother was named Isage, after the rock – he explained that the man’s mother was probably birthed after her parents had prayed before the Isage rock for the gift of a child.

IMG_20140802_085914The teacher who served as our guide explained that people from all over climb the mountain to pray and pay obeisance before the hanging rock. We continued our climb. There were no steps for the ascension was less difficult. We were informed that hundreds of years earlier, the villagers had lived on top the Okeado Mountain, because it was safer to live up there and avoid brutal attacks from enemy villages – up in the mountain they could easily ward off any attack, by rolling down rocks on their enemies as they tried to climb up. We were told that the best strategy the ancestral dwellers employed was to cook very slimy soup like the local ewedu in large quantities before an enemy attack or war. They would pour the soup on the rocks making them slippery and difficult for enemy warriors to access.

Soon enough we were walking along flat rocky parts – it amazed us as we noticed that the whole mountain was rocky after a kilometre walk from the Isage rock area, only a few places with formation of valleys had plenty trees and grasses. We were shown a kind of valley where the villagers lived. It was a large land area surrounded by rocks and hills with green vegetations and various trees hundreds of years old. The land area could accommodate over one hundred huts. We continued our walk down the rocky hill travelling on a rocky level area. On the rocks we were amazed to see various uncountable rectangular holes indented on the rocks that our guard explained to be made by elephant footsteps many years earlier. He explained that the holes collected water in them and the villagers when they lived up their scooped the water in the mornings – not long after this explanation we saw various holes on these rocks containing water. The holes looked so beautiful and magical such that one needed no explanations to understand that actually they must have been made by large footsteps of something that could be bigger than elephants or if not so, like scientists would explain, formed soon after the lava from the volcano that formed the rocky mountain had settled and cooled.

IMG_20140802_090609We travelled few miles, giggling, laughing, running and lying spread eagled on the rock to take snapshots and shouting into the empty space. From the rocky Okeado Mountain one could catch a glimpse of villages, rooftops looking as tiny as mosquitoes – as if watching a town from an aircraft far in the sky. We walked down the rocky terrain farther down the hill till we met what we had actually travelled to admire – the famous suspended lake. The suspended lake is named Iyake. It sat like an obese woman at the centre of a very large smooth rocky hill. The rock where the lake was seated was so large that it could accommodate over two hundred people at a time. Our guide informed us that members of some Celestial churches dressed in white garments visited the lake to drink from its water, pray before it, hold vigils for many days and sleep all around it. We admired the rocky beds surrounding the lake. On these rocky beds there were countless pieces of papers with inscriptions. These papers were held to a place against the winds with stones. We bent and read some of the inscriptions – a woman asking for fruits of the womb, another asking for a husband, a man asking for wealth, favours, another asking for child, and some asking for protection. We read and mulled over various supplications, our guard explained that the villagers held an annual event beside the lake, and it was during this annual ritual that people came to ask for favours. And if one’s favours were granted by the spirits that reside in the Iyake Lake the beneficiary would come with gifts to pay obeisance. He informed us that people visit the lake to make prayers everyday and collected the lake water in cans that they drank for various reasons. There was a small tree some feet away from the lake with a silky white garment tied round it.

IMG_20140802_091717It was still foggy up in the Okeado Mountain – the wind was soft and gentle, and created ripples of crests and troughs on the Iyake Lake – the ripples lured one to step into the lake that looked like a huge swimming pool but we were warned that if one entered the lake they would never show up. We were told the story of a white man who visited the suspended lake in the 1930s and tied a chain around his waist, asked his friends to hold the end of the chain and plunged into the lake to seek the source of the water and never came out till date. We were told of a teacher who came with his students on an excursion, entered into the lake and his body floated the third day, he was long dead.

Our guard narrated the incident he witnessed – few years earlier, he told us, he had visited the lake with other teachers from his school and their school principal drank from the lake, which people often drank from to cure various ailments but no sooner had he drank the water than he started vomiting. When they took him to the hospital and he couldn’t respond to treatments they took him to the custodian of the lake, a chief priest who explained that the ill-fated man had committed an abominable act prior to visiting the lake. The Principal admitted that he had slept with another man’s wife a night before he visited the lake, the priest gave him a concoction to drink and he became well there and then. We marvelled because the story wasn’t a fairy tale, our guide experienced it himself and mentioned the name of his school Principal to our driver, his friend.

He told a story of two men who were contesting over a child many years earlier. The elders brought them to the suspended lake and took an oath that if they threw the child into the lake and it floated out to where any of the men stood, he would take the child. The child was thrown in and it never came out, but few days later, the child was seen floating alive in a water-well close to the home of one of the men.

IMG_20140802_085848We marvelled at this magic and respected the spirits inhabiting and guarding the suspended lake. When we had taken enough pictures we walked down the rocky path. There were people’s names inscribed on the rocky ground, registering their presence on top the mountain like spacemen in the moon. We saw some abandoned cooking stuff which our guard explained where used to prepare ritual meals during the last ritual at the lake – he informed us that during the rituals every meal that was cooked and not finished would be poured into the lake. We saw gun powders on papers placed at various places on the rocky hills, used by hunters at nights as bullets for their local guns to hunt animals.

After less than a kilometre walk we came to a valley in between two massive rocky hills, with green and beautiful vegetation where we were told that the kings lived years earlier. We were shown the area around the valley where warriors positioned to guard the kings against intruders and enemies.

We were told that some white tourists would visit the mountain with their tents to picnic and relax– but aside those that came for recreation, when we climbed down the mountain, a task that was almost as daunting as the climb up, we were told by the administrator about the Celestial white garment church members that held long retreats around the lake, bathing people with the lake water and singing and dancing to God-knows-what. The administrator informed that those churches, did not worship God but some evil spirits who they came to seek on top the mountain. He explained that around the waists of the leaders of those churches he would see various charm beads. He informed us of men seeking wealth and who had been directed by various spirits to climb the mountain and sleep there for days without food or water. The administrator explained with nostalgia his fears – that as he climbed the mountain up to seven times daily, he would nurse some fears because of young people desperate to make wealth who might seize him for rituals and he feared sometimes, members of the Celestial churches and various countless people that had access to the mountain on daily basis.

The elderly man who looked very young because of the daily exercise he engaged in – climbing the mountain regularly, explained that the suspended Iyake Lake was far more potent now than it was at the time of his ancestors – that almost every time people would visit to pay obeisance and offer gifts because their prayers before the lake came to fulfilment, others, he explained would come to thank the suspended lake for its waters had cured one ailment or malady. He said that he had informed the Ministry of Tourism that they should erect a barricade around the suspended lake so that it could limit access to it except if he authorized that after careful scrutiny of the people seeking to access it.

True to his words, as we climbed down the mountain, we had noticed two elderly men with big plastic cans climbing up the mountain to access the lake water. When the men had seen us, they had said ‘Well done, may your prayers be answered.’ We knew that they thought we had gone to pray before the lake.


Obinna Udenwe is the author of ‘Satans & Shaitans’ – a conspiracy crime fiction on terrorism, jihad, politics and love to be published in the UK, in October 2014. His creative non-fiction works have appeared severally in the Kalahari Review. His other works have appeared in Tribe, Fiction365, Brittle Paper and Alariwo etc.

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All for Dance

by Dami Ajayi


qdOn the third of August, Mr & Mrs Qudus Onikeku commissioned their latest project, a dance academy. It was an informal cocktail party dotted with short monologues, artistic performances and finger food. In attendance were bigwigs of the creative industry—filmmakers, writers, actors, comedians, editors, poets and, of course, dancers.

I suppose a huge majority of my readers will ask who Qudus Onikeku is. Qudus is a dancer, period. Qudus, like most prodigious acts, was precocious. His initial interest was acrobatics at a tender pre-school age; that pursuit led him to find dance in his teenage years and since then he has not backed out. He has performed on numerous stages in countless countries, doing his distinct dance which melds contemporary posturing, acrobatics, free-spirited expression seamlessly. He was based in Paris until recently.

Recently, he relocated back to Nigeria. A drastic step which earned stares of disbelief from his friends abroad, he quipped during his introductory remarks. His ebullient wife was beside him with knowing smiles. Their home return was a generously considered act of impulsion. Like most creative individuals bubbling with ideas, they not only understood the importance of relocating back home but also anticipated challenges and hardships.

This however is not their first experiment since their return. They hosted Counterpoint three months back at Freedom Park. Counterpoint is a loosely styled seminar that brings together accomplished creative individuals into the same space for conversations around their arts and for the possibilities of collaboration. The event was a resounding success and it perhaps gave them the impetus to commit to bigger, long-term projects like starting a school of dance.

qd2Qudus targets young individuals passionate about dance and he encourages them to enroll at his QDance Center. Young adults are better of pursuing something instead of being idle and becoming tools for ungainly use. The dance space will also be made available for creative seminars, poetry readings, close-knit film premieres and whatnot. And of course, dance drop-outs are eligible to enroll to reignite their long lost interest in dance.

Qudus promised to take his gospel of dance to Yaba and its environs with the procedural ingenuity of Jehovah Witnesses. I suppose he is the most qualified person for this job and he has got more than passion going for him. For Qudus, dance is not a livelihood, dance is everything.

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