By Emmanuel Iduma
Lagos is a curious and endless space. I will account for this, albeit briefly, in what I call the reality of the bling bling panda. Bling bling panda is a simple coinage that mocks as it accommodates – ‘bling’ being a synonym for ‘shiny’ as influenced by rap culture, especially with regards to the paraphernalia that surrounds rappers. And then ‘panda’ is a Yoruba term for fake jewellery (what is called ‘gold’). So, put am together (as Fela sings), you have the idea of shiny fake jewellery.
Lagbaja has a song titled Bling Bling Panda. The first words of the song are: Because of panda, wey I no dey wear, they say I no dey bling, ordinary panda…eeh, panda. Then, few verses later, he asks, Shey everything from abroad we must copy, which defines his objective for the song – a calculated and satirized swipe on the business of ‘copying’ Western fashion by Africans. Lagabaja reminds me of the word ‘Africanist’ which seeks to confer on some the temerity of being African spokespersons, the voices of African heritage, expressionists of everything that is desirable about a utopian African heritage. I admire his zeal, the dexterous wit and humour he employs in his music – but I also like to think that it might be necessary to sustain the tension; some of us might need to keep ‘copying’ because we are used to copying. The only way, sometimes, to survive, to discover and question identity, might be to remain involved with a westernized version of modernity. We might change this, but right now it is still with us, like it or not.
Ah, I get carried away easily. I am thinking today about Lagos, where I have now lived for a week. I do not fear that a lot has been written and imag(in)ed about this city. I have a personal testimony, representations that I believe are peculiar. It is because of Lagos that bling bling panda took a different twist, for me, and because of Lagos that I assert that superficiality is a major component and requirement of being in Lagos. For instance, I noticed that there are a lot of cloth stores – boutiques, road-side retailers, cloth hawkers, etc. etc.
When I speak of superficiality, I do not speak in derogatory terms. I even speak of essentiality. The Lagos life, as I have discovered, is one that demands a certain level of conformity with the scheme of things – you pay a lot for transportation because Lagos cannot be grasped in one location, everything is not everywhere, and there is no rail transportation in the megacity. But this is superficial because it only feeds our needs; it does not accommodate our need. A trip does not necessarily mean a destination; a job interview is not a job.
What is necessary then, is a system that accommodates the need of Lagos-haters, like me. I find that most are drawn to Lagos for the promise of opportunities – which is why I am here, in the first place. There is a truth in the Lagos meal being garnished with parsley that cannot be found elsewhere. But it is a lie to believe that one can be satisfied with the Lagos Meal – when eaten, it seems to create bottomless holes; ask those with 9-5 shifts, who leave home at 5.30am and returns at 10.00pm. And for some of us who work less, who even work from their home, Lagos stipulates a glamour that should be attained, so that we fear for the day of want, of homelessness, of trendless dressing.
These are random thoughts on this city. I hope to add a few more paragraphs in future posts. I have set myself to the task of questioning normalcy. And hopefully in the next post I will make a list of what is normal about life in Lagos, however amazing or despicable I find it to be. After all, I have taken a liking for everything that represents bling bling panda, life in Lagos inclusive.