Sunday, August 23, 2009

Introducing the Travula

Since I began my Fulbright FLTA programme on 12th August, I've been keeping another blog at meant to detail my experiences on the American soil for the period of the programme.

If you are interested in the travel, travails and triumphs of this traveller, follow my adventures at the ktravula blog.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Looking Back

I just realized that this blog is over three years old now. Wow. If it were a baby, it would have long learnt to call me "daddy"!!!

While chatting online yesterday with a faithful blog reader/fan whom I've never even met, I realized that so many waters had passed under this iGwatala bridge. I remember a time when I took the whole site offline for a reason I no longer remember. Sometimes I felt that I was expecting too much from the portal. I overcame the phase, resolved myself to see it as what it is: just a blank slate to write on, and we've been fine ever since, during the ups and downs. Today, I want to re-visit a few of the most interesting posts in the history of my blog, and take my new readers back down memory lane. Enjoy.

My Books of 2006 (December, 2006)
On the Spell Checker (December, 2006)
How to Write a Poem (October, 2006)
Discovering Babel Poetry (February, 2007)
Discovering More Babel Poetry (February, 2007)
Two Poems from Lagos (January, 2007)
Rise of the Machines (October, 2008)
(September, 2008)
Some Ramblings on Language (May, 2009)
Pidigin English and I (July, 2009)

You can find my (almost) sonnet, "Here, moving", that won the Sentinel Bar Challenge of October, 2006 online. My article "Speaking the Machine: a personal narrative of a translation experience" was also published in Farafina Issue #12 of December 2007, and it skipped my mind to blog about it. I love that article. My contribution to Books of 2008, as compiled by Molara Wood and published in the very first issue of Next Newspaper is also online. I look forward to contributing to the next issue. I came across some very interesting books this year. My short story, "Behind the Door" was published by StoryTime in May 2009, and it's here where you can read and leave comments. They are appreciated. I've also contributed to, Instablogs and Farafina Blog as a guest blogger. My poem, "I'd Rather Be A Man" - a cheeky gender satire was recently performed (thanks to Laolu Olajugbe) at a gathering of the Guild of Artist and Poets in Abuja to critical appraisal. The feedback to it has once again assured that I could keep its sacred texts to myself for a little while more ;) Sorry folks.

I've also managed to finally join the Twitter train, and so far, it's turning out to be a very good resource for the news I could use. If you ever find yourself on its "multiverse", come find me @ Baroka. Let me tell you what I know. Now, if you'd excuse me, it's time for me to get back to learning Yoruba in the depths. I will need all the advice/luck I can get to be a good foreign language teacher in a foreign university.

Update 03/10: Take a look also at my pre-latest post - this one, that made me so, so very mad.

Ps: The photo above is of "Sẹkẹrẹ", a traditional Yoruba musical instrument in the percussion category. The photo was stolen from Jumoke Verissimo's Facebook page. How do I know that she won't sue me?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It should have been funny!

A picture is supposed to say more than a thousand words, so no words need be said here, except that I didn't know that it has become this bad for us here.

See photograph. Click to see larger image.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We Had Him!

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing,
now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips
like a puff of summer wind.

Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace.
Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.
In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time.
No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure.

Though we are many, each of us is achingly alone, piercingly alone.
Only when we confess our confusion can we remember
that he was a gift to us and we did have him.

He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.
Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love,
and survived and did more than that.
He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style.
We had him whether we know who he was or did not know,
he was ours and we were his.
We had him, beautiful, delighting our eyes.

His hat, aslant over his brow, and took a pose on his toes for all of us.
And we laughed and stomped our feet for him.
We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing.
He gave us all he had been given.

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square.
In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England

We are missing Michael.
But we do know we had him, and we are the world.

Maya Angelou

written for Michael Jackson Memorial and read by Queen Latifah

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Pidgin English and I

I was not always a fan of pidgin (now written in Nigerian academic circles as Nigerian Pidgin or NP). Actually the first time the language was spoken to me by one of the "worldly" sophisticated senior boy in my primary school, I was confused because I wasn't sure whether he was mocking me or really asking a question. I told him I saw him playing football somewhere close to my house the evening before, and he responded with "Which kain football?" That was the end of the conversation.

That was the first I could remember, and I have gradually come into knowledge that it is a language to be reckoned with, and not just a slang used by touts and marijuana smokers, even though the most prominent icons of the language were mostly people of rebellious gait. That last part, as true as it might sound, have now also been discovered to be false. While in the university, I found that there actually exist a body of people whose first language (or L1 as we call it) is the Nigerian Pidgin. They do not speak English, and they barely speak their own local languages. To them, Pidgin is the mother tongue.

For years however, the only places where we heard Pidgin spoken was on television - by dubious elements, uneducated old men, gate men, prostitutes, pickpockets and, well, musicians. It relegated the status of the language to the pedestrian, and informal. But that was then. Today, the language is becoming mainstream although not yet elevated officially to the full status of a language. The official books must be the only places where the language is not yet so recognized. As far as the streets are concerned, it is a language on its own, as unique as Hausa or Yoruba, perhaps even with a larger number of speakers than the two combined.

Arguments in Nigerian fiction have asked whether any official orthography exists or could be made for the "language" if it must be so called. As at now, there is none. There is not even a dictionary yet even though I'm privy to information about one in the making. Just yesterday, I stumbled on PidginGuide, a sort of Wiki for Pidgin where the users determine the content and size. Along with being free and globally acceptable, the idea has brought into light more possibilities for the codification of Pidgin in the nearest future. One argument against its reliability says that the number of people contributing doesn't guarantee the quality of the work. This would have been true but the fact that the openness of this project everyone makes it less likely to be unreliable as a means of keeping up with the language's growth and evolution within the urban population. Where it *might* lack is in keeping up with the rural, uneducated population. For that, we may still have to depend on the bits we get from Naija hip-hop stars

Check related articles at Wikipedia, and here and here for a conference announcement for a Nigerian Pidgin English conference in Ibadan next week.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Nakupenda Malaika

I've always known that Angelique Kidjo's rendition of the famous folk song Malaika was faulty. I just didn't know why. Today I found out: she was not pronouncing the words well. Although her very impressive vocal range new colour to the song and made it a favourite among the song's lovers all over the world, her Swahili was poor, and at many times, she said plain rubbish and ruined the song for people who actually understood they lyrics. I guess for those who did understand the language, her beautiful voice was sufficient.

Check out Mariam Makeba's original version, and compare it to the Beninoise Angelique Kidjo's beautiful remake. You don't really have to speak Swahili to notice the difference in lyrics. Somebody actually referred to Kidjo's version as "haunting". I couldn't agree more. Funny, Boney M also did the song again, ruining it also with another error in pronunciation when "I love you" was pronounced "Nakupende" instead of "Nakupenda", among a few other errors. No, they're not the same. They don't mean the same nor sound the same. The lyrics and translation of the song is here. Read for comments on translation on the same page. There are some more comments here.

The song "Malaika" was first recorded by Kenyan musician Fadhili William but has been performed by international artists such as The Brothers Four, Helmut Lotti, Hep Stars, Rocco Granata, Miriam Makeba, Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger, Boney M and Angélique Kidjo.

Is it so hard to get a song right in pronunciation when it is in another language?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Conference on Nigerian Pidgin

Conference on Nigeria Pidgin
(Ibadan : July 7-10th, 2009)

IFRA (Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique) will organise a conference on Nigeria Pidgin in the University of Ibadan from the 7th to the 10th of July, 2009. This conference proposes to explore the various dimensions of NP, and set the foundation for the Nigerian Pidgin Project aiming at producing a reference grammar, a dictionary and a teaching method for NP.

Nigeria Pidgin (NP) is spoken by more than 50 million speakers all over Nigeria, in a variety of forms that go from the vehicular “broken English” to the more elaborate and complex varieties developled by standup comedians, song writers, journalists and students. The broad intercomprehension that exists between the Pidgins spoken in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Sierra Leone give it a strong potential as a language for commerce and regional integration and could be useful in the present context of globalisation. Despite this powerful social and political potential NP suffers from a lack of recognition that hinders its development as a potential linguistic integrator for the Nigerian nation. The conference will center on the essential question:What is Nigerian Pidgin

Check for more info, and Call for Papers here at, and the IFRA Nigeria Website

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Of Nationality, Nationhood and Miss Shaw

Yesterday while checking on a multilingual website, in search of further networks in translation and linguistics, I came across a curious thing. On the homepage was the language option for the user, and each language option was represented with a flag: the flag of Germany for German, the French flag for the French language, the Union Jack for English, and the Star and Stripes for American, the flag of China for Chinese etc. If there were Zulu there, I have no doubt that I would have seen a South African flag there, and a Kenyan flag for Swahili even though it is also spoken in Uganda and Tanzania. I did not find Yoruba, or Hausa on the site, but I had a chance to think that if they were recognized as international languages of communication, they would each have been represented by the Green-White-Green Nigerian flag. Very few countries in the world have the privilege of being populated by strong and different nations/nationalities who speak different languages that have each been recognized as a distinct national language.

Nigeria was coined by Miss Flora Shaw, the mistress of Nigeria's Administrator Lord Lugard from the word "Niger" which was what they called the large West African river. Some said Niger itself could have been a variant of "Nigger", and Nigeria the same as "an area of the Niggers." It is thus not surprising the revolt and cultural revolution of the new generation of Nigerian youths which has produced another variant of the name, now Naija. The older generation are still struggling to come to terms with the re-definition, as can be found in Dr. Reuben Abati's article A Nation's Identity Crisis. In many ways, it could be read as a reflection of an ageing generation's wonder at the dynamism of the new. The article, and the subsequent rejoinders will go into the archives as a marker of public self reappraisal. A wind is blowing through our polity, and out of it hopefully will arise something new and fresh - a renewal so long overdue.

"One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people." - Author Unknown

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Of Lagos, George Carlin and Short Vacations

I spent last week in the city of Lagos, meeting old acquaintances, and attending a book reading, but mostly attending a pre-departure orientation programme for us Fulbright grantees going to the United States on various Fulbright Programmes this summer. It was held within the US Consulate at Lagos Island.

We were told about racism, homosexuality, loneliness, cold, money, food, jetlag and many other issues we'd have to deal with in the United States. I liked that, although it was a little scary to listen to the co-ordinator Atim George describe the experience of cold in the USA. Someone who has never lived in very cold weather before might be petrified, and I'd say that I still am although we were given a few tips on how to survive the American cold. I still remain in reverent dread of the Midwestern American cold where I hope to spend the winter this year. The event ended with a press conference where journalists were invited to see, listen, and ask questions. Up until now, I've trawling the web trying in vain to find one report from the event. None so far.

Earlier in the week, I had the pleasure of a boat ride across the Ikoyi River in company of two friends from the Fulbright pre-Orientation Programme who had been lodged into the same hotel as me at Ikoyi. We had strolled out into the breezy Lagos night, hoping initially just to enjoy the evening, until we stumbled on the idea of a boat ride just for the fun. Actually it was his crazy idea. We dared the night and speeding speedboats and crossed the river giggling like school children. In a few minutes, it was over. It was however an enchanting experience.

In Lagos last week also, I also managed to re-unite with George Carlin, whose irreverent rants I've missed all my life, except for the cameo snippet in the movie, Dogma. It was a great pleasure to gain possession of most of his spoken word albums and a few video performances. He's surely one of America's greats. The weekend wrapped up with a visit to the cinema to watch the Terminator Salvation. Not bad for an action movie although many fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been disappointed with the little role given to the man. Oh, was that even a man in the movie playing him?

That was it. I'm back to base, sipping water and complaining about a parched throat, general lassitude, and slow internet connections. I've written a short commissioned article on the new writings from Nigeria for Check it when you can, and leave comments. I'm now off to listen to more politically incorrect irreverantings of George Carlin, one of the most famous stand-up comedians of our time, and to rest. I need that.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Behind the Door

Hi There Dear Invisible, Silent Blog Readers,

My first published short story - if you'd call it that - was published, online on the 29th May. Titled "Behind the Door", it is published by Story Time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let Us Go Behind the Door

My first short story to be published online will appear on StoryTime on Sunday, 31st May 2009.

It is titled "Behind the Door".

Storytime is an online publishing collective created to bring out new fictions from Africa.

Essay On Richard Feynman

There is an interesting article on the great physicist, Richard Feynman, written by W. Daniel Hillis for Physics Today, here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Language of Porn, and other Ramblings on Language

Yes, you heard right. I am at present curious about the language of pornography. I want to know whether when the viewer picks up a video and presses play, the language of the actors have anything to contribute to the appreciation - enjoyment if you will - of the performance. Considering that there are different kinds of pornography, I would think that the answer would depend on what the viewer wants. Won't it? Well, since this is not an expose on the film genre in particular, we won't bother with expatiating the categories. But for the purpose of this inquiry, can we ask whether the actresses that speak French or Spanish please the viewer better than those who speaks in English or Chinese?

On a totally different but similar matter, I have always also wanted to know what language the referees of international football matches speak. For instance, a match tomorrow between the English club from Manchester will meet with the team from Barcelona, Spain. How would the players be able to hear the referee when he tries to warn a player without using a card. How would the referee be able to hear the players when they scream their grievances? One guess would be that referees are trained in the major languages of the world. But I doubt it. I think they only speak "cardese", a language based only on the colours of the warning cards. This should explain all those hand gestures, and angry mouthing of expletives by the players whenever they feel slighted. I once read about deaf people who complained about not being able to enjoy soccer without noticing the profanities on the mouth of players. I guess being able to read lips could have its own disadvantages. But even within teams, how do they communicate? Didier Drogba of Chelsea is from a French-speaking African country and is in the same team as Michael Essien of Ghana and Mikel Obi of Nigeria. Do they communicate at all in the dressing rooms. If so, how. If not, why not? How does Christiana Ronaldo speak with his coach Sir Fergusson at Manchester?

Questions, questions. Things I've always wanted to know.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Quote of the Week

A friend sent this to me via email last week:

"A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits."- Robert Heinlein

I hesitate to ask why, but I think it may have something to do with the speaker's resentment towards a sleight-of-hand effect of a good public performance of an otherwise terrible poem.

Who knows.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Indian Movies in Yoruba II

Here is the first opinion piece in a Nigerian newspaper on the phenomenon of Yoruba voice dubbing on old Indian movies. It's written by novelist Bimbola Adelakun.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Day of Book Readings in Ibadan

I was privileged at the weekend to attend a reading in Ibadan organised along with a book tour by Auggust Media featuring nine new Nigerian writers and spanning four cities. It was one of the best gatherings I have attended in a while. Ibadan was the second city where the reading train has stopped on its way into the heart of the Niger Delta. There's more information about the programme tagged 9 Writers, 4 Cities HERE, HERE and HERE.

Now I have got a stack of the following new books to read:

I am Memory, a collection of poetry by Jumoke Verissimo
Night of a Creaking Bed, a collection of short stories by Toni Kan
From the Caves of Rotten Teeth, short stories by Igoni Barrett
To Saint Patrick, a novel by Eghosa Imasuen
Under the Brown Rusted Roofs, a novel by Bimbola Adelakun, and
The Poet Lied, collection of poems by Odia Ofiemun.

Just before Saturday, I had completed Tolu Ogunlesi's book for young adults titled Conquest and Conviviality.

The informal after-event get-together at the University Staff Club was an icing on the already pleasant day. It is not everyday that one gets to dialogue with authors, critics and editors over drinks and good music. Present were Sola Olorunyomi, author of Afrobeat: Fela and the Imagined Continent, Remi Raji, poet and author of Lovesongs for my Wasteland, Amatoritsero Ede, poet and editor of Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and moderator of Krazitivity, Toni Kan, telecoms exec, columnist and author of Night of a Creaking Bed and Songs of Absence and Despair, Eghosa Imasuen, author of To Saint Patrick among others.

Those interested in the itinerary of the 9 Writers, 4 Cities Book Tour should look up

The inserted photo has Jumoke Verrisimo autographing her book for the blogger. "From one writer to another", she writes.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Of Poems and Indian Movies in Yoruba

I know it's none of my business, but I had cause this morning to review my prejudice to the "Praise Song" poem for Barack Obama's Inauguration. The poem, written by Elizabeth Alexander, and performed on the Capitol Hill Inauguration event has been subject of many vile and sometimes ignorant review. Many of my friends said that it was too prosy, lacked poetry and was not properly performed, even hinting that Ms Alexander might have been too intimidated by the event, and the weight of responsibility of her role on that day to deliver like Maya Angelou did for Bill Clinton. While I didn't get to watch all of the poetry performance itself, I agreed in part that it might be hard to judge a poem only by what we hear.

Well, I read the poem in full today at Eshunetics and was delivered. I found someone who somehow gave voice to my thoughts. You can look it out too, and tell me what you think. For a differnt view of the poetry performance, go to the critical website here.

Meanwhile, I've been seeing some old Indian movies on the street of Ibadan. This time, they're totally in Yoruba. From the begining to the end, every word you hear, every cry and expression has been voiced over in good and colloquial Yoruba. This is very exciting. Whenever you see people gathered around a public television set these days, it's most likely to be one of those shows where the great Indian movie legends could be seen serenading an equally beautiful Indian actress in flawless Yoruba. I have not seen anyone of those movies myself, but I've seen people looking at them. I've also seen them being sold as DVDs: "Toofan Lede Yoruba", "Ghazab lede Yoruba" etc as the titles now read. I'm quite impressed. I will buy one of those soon, and let you know what I think.