Monday, July 30, 2007

Toiling in the dark

New York Times analysis of sub-Saharan Africa's lecky crisis.


On tonight's Document on Radio 4, Mike Thompson will be looking at Harold Smith's allegations that the Brits rigged Nigeria's independence elections. Today broadcast a preview.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The verdict

Why do her looks elicit such gushing remarks from people who've seen the interview? It reminds me of a story my aunt once told me and my cousins. She was invigilating an ACCA exam, when a woman was caught cheating. My aunt said to me, "it was such a shame - she was such a fine girl". So I ask, what do her looks have to do with anything?

Actually, by the time I pushed the "enter" button twice for this paragraph, it's dawned on me. Aderonke used the exact same word I was going to use to describe her demeanour during the course of the interview - coquettish - which has come up time and again in people's comments. Her coquettishness and her pretiness are intertwined, which explains why her looks have been so apparently apparent. Her coquettish might be less plausible if she wasn't so pretty.

That said, another word also came to mind. Ingenue. But it's probably unfair to use either ingenue or coquette to describe her, as she is evidently a writer who talks and knows about serious issues. When she talks about Africa being the White Man's Burden, she does it as seriously as one would hope. It's the timing of all the other characteristics of a coquette that make us sit up - a smile, a giggle, a flutter of the eyes, a raising of the eyebrows, a tilt of the head.

My first impressions were that she's such a flirt. But on second viewing, I'm not so sure. HardTalk Extra isn't the kind of interview where you'd expect fierce exchanges between interviewer and subject. I suppose there's an argument for celebs-with-a-view to be challenged more rigourously by the media. When politicians take a stand, we say they're being partisan, or political. With celebs, we ascribe "fights for causes" to their names. It's also understandable, since celebrities are not accountable to us in the same way elected politicians are.

Aderonke called it anti-Western guff. It's a recurrent theme in her interviews, she resents the portrayal of Africa as Conrad's Dark Continent, or the Kiplingesque, White Man's Burden. During the course of the interview, she once again champions the African middle class, and reminds the world that like life still goes on for all those poor Nigerians and Africans the West is trying to save. I've always taken issue with this point of view, the middle/upper class Nigerian view that they are the average Nigerian. They are the ones returning to work in Nigeria, and imploring their friends to go back, because "Naija has improved, oh!", or "mehn, life in Naija is sweet". Improved? Sweet? Who for? Not the properly average man, woman, and child on the street. They don't have connections to government, or the financial institutions so beloved of our people, or the telecommunications industry which is the one and only beacon of anything improved in Nigeria.

Middle class Nigerian arrive in the country, and get into a chauffeur driven air-conditioned car. They see Nigeria through the prism of their car window. There's nothing average about this experience. In the same vein, it's these same middle class people who watch cable and don't recognise the West's portrayal of their continent. She says that watching coverage of Africa might lead one to think that Africans are stupid. Well, Chimamanda, quite often, Africans are stupid. I'm a journalist, and I don't think (the BBC's) coverage of Africa is biased, lacking context, or lacking balance. News organisations only report newsworthy items, we don't make up the news. If we see African children slaughtering each other in brutal civil wars, or sitting around with flies on their faces and protruding kwashiorkor bellies, then we will report it. The same way we will report brutal civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, or Shia death squads and Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Chimamanda is asking us to treat Africa more leniently.

We did an item at work once, to see if we could compare the difference between Africa's coverage of itself and the West's coverage of Africa. It was just after the Ghanaian president, John Kufuor, said the West should stop banging on about Africa's exclusive marriage to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and instead talk about good African news. Guess what. Africa knows it's backyard is filthy, and reports accordingly. If I can dig up the item, I will do so and post it up.

It's unfortunate that all people will think about Chimamanda as interview subject is her being a flirt. A friend of mine did say, though, that even she would flirt with Gavin Esler if he was interviewing her. I don't think she means any harm, and I don't think it's intentional. And for those reasons, "allow her".

Friday, July 27, 2007

Chimamanda on HardTalk Extra

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been on HardTalk Extra with Gavin Esler. I'll reserve my judgement for later. In the meantime, enjoy. Item starts at 2minutes in:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

You Must Calculate

I was sitting in newsroom, listening to The Beat. I should have been preparing the next bulletin, and then it struck me. One of the songs playing in the car of the lecturer in Cameroon was You Must Calculer, a legendary makossa tune fom the late 80s. A tear almost fell from my eye, the hairs on the back of my neck stood upright, my breathing raced to a dangerous pace. This is what hyperventilation must feel like. The vessels in my brain flooded with memories, moving my body on the balcony in our house in Three Stations, music blaring out of our antediluvian but resilient 70s Marantz speakers.

I don't remember how I danced, or if I danced. I moved my limbs, yes, but dance? I was, simply put, a crap dancer, consistenly winning zilch at "Aunty gimme cake" parties. (Many would argue that I still can't dance...) For those few minutes in the newsroom, I relived part of my childhood. We were great consumers of West African music in our household. My mum would fly back from the far corners of the subregion, and return with tapes of makossa, soukous, highlife music. There was no outward manifestation of rhythm in my bones or a groove in my step. But the music was in my soul, and boy, did I move. Relive my childhood here.

First Bank - truly the first.

First Bank is making inroads into the British financial services market. A welcome addition, if you ask me. They're governed by the rules and regulations of the FSA, and as such, we shouldn't see any "money doubling" going on.

New cabinet - finally

His Slowness, Umaru Yar'Adua, has finally named a cabinet. I can understand Ojo Maduekwe as Foreign Minister. He has the kind of compelling demagogic oratory one associates with snake-oil sellers; he'll sell well abroad. See the list.

The full list.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Youtube election

The run-up to next year's US presidential elections is proving to be ridiculously entertaining. There's been talk of this being the "Youtube election", with CNN and Youtube teaming up for a presidential debate. Personally, I'm in love with the spoof music videos, Obama Girl, Obama Girl vs Giuliani Girl, McCain Mama, and Hott4Hill. Obama Girl was the original, and the others followed suit. Barely Political are the genius outfit behind some of the videos.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sectarianism comes to Nigeria

The battle between Sunni and Shia isn't restricted to Iraq, it's come to Nigeria...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Loosening of the noose

The British media has been agog with news of a blog post by Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman, where he sounds the death knell for the tie. "Is it time for Newsnight men to stop wearing ties? It has always been an utterly useless part of the male wardrobe," he says. Too bloody right. Such a statement from such a prominent news figure is music to my ears. In fact it almost sounds like a marriage proposal from Paxo, and I'm tempted to shout "Yes, Jeremy, yes. I will marry you!"

The reaction has been quite mixed, with most still in an inexplicable love-in with the corporate noose. The FT (quelle surprise) thinks the tie will continue to strangle us. Nick Foulkes in the Telegraph is another man in favour of the tie. Philip Norman in the Daily Mail, yes, you guessed it, wants us to keep wearing them. Charlie Porter, an associate editor of GQ, is more ambiguous, but seems to be another tie-tan. And, the Indy, does what it always does by doing the opposite to everyone else, and choosing to not give an opinion this time, but print a Q&A. Jon Snow of Channel 4 news supports Paxo, and this isn't the first time they've had to deal with the issue of the dreaded neckwear.

I detest ties. I think I have 4, or perhaps 3. I've worn a tie only once in the last couple of years. And that was because I was appearing on television, and I felt compelled for some ridiculous reason, to look presentable. I don't wear ties to interviews, and haven't worn a tie to an interview since 2003. I cut my hair, wore a suit, polished my nails, bleached my teeth, plucked my nose hairs, and didn't get the job. Since then, I've had much more success attending interviews looking like the Ghost of Christmas Past. More often these days, I wear an African shirt.

One of the main reasons I wear what I wear to interviews and work, is because I can get away with it. In my early days as freelance journalist, I remember being dressed to the nines for a meeting with Channel 4 executives. I looked dapper in a suit, black shirt, and polished shoes, but didn't wear a tie. Neglecting my tie was my way of being an eccentric media type. I walked into the office, and I was the only person wearing a suit. The others wore slacks, jeans, t-shirt, nothing remotely formal. And that was the start of me attending meetings sans cravate.

Ties, for me, represent the noose of the corporate world. And I refuse to spend my life going to work in a noose. The symbolism is too strong to ignore. The tie feeds into the stereotype that people in 9-to-5s are doing dead-end jobs which are stifling. One hops on the tube every morning to make money for the Man, and then have the Man metaphorically choking you with his filthy blood, sweat, and tears drenched hands - in the form of a tie. Why would I want to put myself through that?

The idea that people who wear ties these days exude an air of gravitas is an old school mindset. Andrew Neil, wears a tie when presenting This Week on BBC1 on Thursday evenings, but wears a tie when presenting the Daily Politics in the daytime. The tone of the programmes are different - DP is more gladiatorial, combative fare, while TW is a jovial nudge nudge, wink wink, sofa politics programme. However, Andrew Neil is no less authoritave for not wearing a tie on TW. There are people who think that drafting in Jeremy Vine to present Panaroma is a typical example of the BBC chasing ratings, and attempting to sex up its current affairs programming. But Jeremy Vine used to present on Newsnight, and has long been a "serious" journalist. The open neck shirts he wears on on the programme should be, and are no barrier to serious news and current affairs.

Why do I wear African shirts to work? Why not? In West Africa, the last time I checked, people wore African shirts. It is our attire. When the colonists came to Africa, I don't remember them converting and wearing boubous or kaftans. Instead, they enforced (I can think of no milder word), suits, and the worst sin of all, khaki. Of all the fabrics available to the cotton growing colonists, they made Africans wear khaki... I'd prefer they apologised for that even before apologising for the Empire. When the Brits were in Rome i.e. Africa, they didn't do as the Romans did. And as such, convention alone is too weak a reason to compel me to wear non-African attire to work as a rule. Of course I don't wear African shirts all the time, and that is just a matter of categorising formal and informal wear, appropriateness for the time of the day etc.

Another important nub of the argument is that I work in radio. So in keeping with the saying, "a face for radio", perhaps I have a wardrobe for radio. What would I do if I had to appear on television regularly, a la Paxo? Interestingly, I have thought about this before, thus, the African Shirt would still reign supreme. But, it would have to prove its versatility. African shirts might not be suitable for television, because the patterns aren't good for video cameras and create a sort of hallucinatory Magic Eye-type autostereogram (which I've never been able to see). The problem, therefore, is practicality. I would wear simpler and well defined patterns which wouldn't require a strobe warning before I went on air.

If all else fails, I'd be willing to make a deal with the Man. Which brings us back to ties. So, if I did have to wear ties, then I'll be donning Jon Snow style expressive (read flamboyant) ties. I'd simply wear aso oke and kente cloth ties. Except that the flamboyance of the ties (by British standards) could detract from what I'm actually saying, hence, sapping all my so called gravitas. Ah, well. You pays your money, and you wears your shirt.

Don't even ask what I'd do with the hair...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Achebe in the Guardian

Chinua Achebe made an appearance in yesterday's Guardian.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Caine Prize

For some bizarre reason my titles aren't working. Anyhoo, this year's Caine Prize has gone to Uganda writer, Monica Arac de Nyeko. The real news though, is the subject matter - a lesbian affair. It'll be interesting to see what African media say about the award.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Ladies' at the Apollo

Whenever commentators want to gauge the pulse of Arab opinion, they talk about the "Arab Street", in the same way that Volvo-driving "Soccer Moms" are thought to represent Middle America. British Conservative party politicians ask themselves how an idea will play in the "Home Counties", while Labour talk about "Northern Heartlands". Well, A&Rs in every record company should talk about the women's bog at the Hammersmith Apollo, euphemistically known as the "Ladies' at the Apollo". That is where the pulse can be felt about how badly or how well your artist is doing.

I went to see Lauryn Hill last night (Sunday) at the Hammersmith Apollo. I went with E Double, a good friend. When she went to the Ladies' at the Apollo, this is what she heard, "it's that Marley husband of hers, Rohan, he's made her lose her identity. Some men are domineering you know, women lose themselves in some relationships. That's what's driving her mad, and making her put on such a shambolic show."

"She's been overtaken some marijuana'd dreadlocked poltergeist. 'What have you done with the real Lauryn Hill? Out with her, you beast', out with her!", screamed one of the women, slapping her friend across the face - her poor friend had for that moment vicariously become Lauryn Hill.

Okay, I confess, I made up the last bit. Watching the show was the aural equivalent of having your toenails pulled out in a torture chamber in the Villa Grimaldi, not exactly sweetness and light. There were some high points, mainly Fugees stuff. But the highs paled in comparison to the depths to which she plumbed. The concert is already doing the rounds on the net. London Big Girl, Omolasky Olafrisky was there, and this is what she put in a facebook note today.

"Lauryn is doing a concert this Sunday". Those are the words that have been "strumming my brain" all week. I heard about it on the radio, saw stuff on the internet and my friends were going and talking about it. I LOVE LAURYN HILL. From way back when, I HAVE LOVED LAURYN HILL. I have all her albums and every song she's done in between. However I am super broke so i figured "It's cool - I'll sacrifice seeing her this time. There will be others. I'll listen to her discography all day as penance".

So imagine my shock when come Sunday evening at about 7pm a phone call comes through to Frances on our way to dinner . It's from Alero and Trey, basically saying - we cant go - have our LAURYN HILL tickets. I almost crashed in excitement. Such was my joy, I turned to Vickii and Lola behind me and said, "Ok you heifers, I'm sorry but we shall have to jabo your asses, cos WE ARE GOING TO THE LAURYN HILL CONCERT!!! muahahahahahhahahaha"

A quick placatory takeaway and rides home, we were on our way! Bless you Trey and Alero, sorry you couldn't go for whatever reason but WE ARE ON OUR WAY!!!!!!!!!! My heart was racing. I broke every speeding rule, nearly ran over several pedestrians and cursed my way through slow drivers, till we finally got there. Despite having eaten nothing all day (seriously, nothing at all, I was saving space for some pounded yam and efo at dinner), I sprinted past the food and drink stands as I was too impatient. Who cares about food or drinks when in the presence of Ms LAURYN HILL?

We got to our seats just as the band came on, to immense screams and cheers. I whooped along thinking - "YES!! WE MADE IT!!! PERFECT TIMING!!!!" The band started with this amazing instrumental beat and all I could think was"fantastic, Lauryn is coming. Lauryn is coming".

She finally came on with that husky laugh of hers. Crazy, but my heart nearly exploded. It was LAURYN, IN THE FLESH!!! She looked fabulous. Her hair was in a HUGE AFRO which looked almost orange in the light. She was wearing a long cream trench Mac, a brown turtle neck silky top, a bright pink scarf and several gold chains, with wide leg black trousers. I remembered how back in the day she hardly used to wear skirts and thought ok she's still keeping to her style. I thought she might be abit hot on stage with that coat especially with the lights but figured she would take it off.

She started off with a kick ass gospel song - or at least I think it was, cos all I could hear was "Jesus Christ, Holy Ghost" . Very high energy, loud, big band styled. GREAT - way to get the people pumped! I clapped and whooped along. And boy, the woman had energy - just jumping and prancing around the stage. Too too mad. (So much so i couldn't get a clear picture of her - the best being what I uploaded). The song ended and she asked "WHAT'S UP LONDON????" We all whooped, clapped, screamed in unison - MISS HILL WAS IN THE HOUSE AND FINALLY ON STAGE!!!!!!!!

Next thing, I'm hearing

"It's funny how money change a situation
Miscommunication leads to complication"

LOST ONES!!!! She's started! But wait, that isn't the tune for it ... but ok, she's doing that remix thing artists sometimes do , not bad. At least she's trying to mix things up a little. She was a little loud and screechy but ok that's cos the band is quite loud as well. It will get better.

I was to say that to myself, several times through the night. She basically spent the whole time singing her classics off-tune (I'm sorry, remix or not, she was off-key), in a loud screechy voice, sometimes screaming to be heard. A few times, the band would be quiet and you'd hear the beauty of her voice but bare moments later they would be back. I can't even tell you the order of the songs cos I couldn't make out what songs she was singing. I know the lyrics to almost every song she's done (BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY I AM A FAN!) but she was screeching soo much, and had changed the tunes, the only times i knew what song she was singing was when i heard a few words and managed to twig which song it was.

30 mins later, Frances and I are looking at each other but neither of us wants to be the first to say it. Then the opening strings for Ex-factor came on. That is still my most favourite song of hers. I was soo excited and soo happy (any of you that heard me moan about how Robin Thicke didn't sing "I Need Love" would understand how much I hate it when Artists dont perform the songs I love the most). I started singing along at the top of my voice but she was OFF KEY!! At first I was confused as it seemed like she was rapping the verses and i thought maybe she was singing a different chorus cos all i heard was one long indecipherable screech. The song ended and my head was pounding. I turned to Frances and I couldn't hide how upset I was any more. We both had headaches and it was a relief to know I wasn't the only one hating it. People around us were complaining and she pointed out that some others were walking out. For me it was just a mash of noise; a cacophony of clanging sounds. I started to grow bored waiting for her to actually start singing. I figured she would have to chill with the noise for a bit and then sing some of the songs like she should. WRONG!

2 more "SONGS" and then the band took a break. When she asked how we were all doing, people started to boo. BOOING AT A LAURYN HILL CONCERT??? BLASPHEMY!!! I think someone must have spoken to her and told her that she actually had to sing, so she did some acappella rendition. Her voice, haunting as it was (a la MTV unplugged album) couldn't quite hit the high notes or hold them for very long. When she started making excuses for the state of her voice and how she wouldn't normally sing a slow song in this state, I just started thinking "if you knew your voice wasn't in a fit state, why on earth would you come and sing live??" (dollar dollar bills y'all). It was also at this point that my heart started to sink in the realisation she may not actually divert from the noise she'd been making earlier.

I wasn't ready to give up just yet so i decided to sit back and chill. I had however become soo bored and disappointed, I started texting people. Lawunmi who quite possibly loves Lauryn as much (ok maybe a bit more) than I do, replied with this text - "she's giving me the hangover all the alcohol from last night couldn't give me" and he left cos according to him, there was no point in staying.

True to word she didn't get better. Ms Hill screeched, yelled out verses and screamed her way through some undecipherable songs and then started on the Fugees backlog. I made out Fu-Gee-La (the beat is unmissable and I guess she couldn't quite change the tune - thank the lord!) You know how some rappers can't rap live and basically just shout their way through songs? Yeah Ms Hill was doing that. All I could make out was "UH LA LA LA". "Ready or not" - I recognised and had to point out to Frances ,who by this time was just rubbing her head in dismay. We noticed that despite the fact that she was soo hot, she had sweated through her Mac (you could almost see the rivulets of sweat running down her back and arms), she didn't take it off!

To say I was DISAPPOINTED is an understatement. If I had paid for those tickets, I WOULD HAVE BEEN PISSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think we actually did Alero & Trey the favour by going in their place. An hour and a half or so into it - Frances and I had matching SPLITTING HEADACHES and couldn't take it anymore. I'm sorry Ms Hill but 3 years ago, you made excuses for your voice on MTV unplugged and I forgave you cos the songs were mellow and you still sounded beautiful and haunting. By this time you should have sorted out your shit and got your act together. There was no excuse for this. Even her new song - Lose Myself, sounded shit live. I mean ...

The highlight of the night? As we were pulling the car out, Aleesha Dixon (girl from Misteeq that was in Pharell's - "she wants to move" video) was walking to her car and doing some funny dance steps. THAT should tell you something.

I didn't even know Omolasky was there... The video above is of the finale, That Thing, which would have been impossible even for her in her current state to cock up. She didn't, but it just was too little to late.

Margaret returns home

Margaret Hill has been returned to her parents. Was a ransom paid? Who knows.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


3 year-old girl kidnapped for ransom in Port-Harcourt.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Alan is free!

I woke up this morning to hear that Alan Johnston has been released. Champagne corks have been popping in the newsroom this afternoon. We're all genuinely elated. Excuse me while I kiss this guy, kiss the sky...