Friday, 10 October 2008

CHINUA ACHEBE : 50 YEARS SINCE FIRST NOVEL

..."Things fall apart;
The centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”


With this quote from "Second Coming" by the Nobel Prize winning poet, William Butler Yeats,, Things Fall Apart, the first novel of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe was published in 1958.
50 years ago.
When I was a sixteen year old back at Ilboru Secondary School that historical book was one of the few (the very first few) to have a profound impact on me. Mainly because we had a great teacher, Mama Victoria Chitepo exiled from Zimbabwe -who opened our eyes to literature, other parts of the world and what Achebe was trying to say. The story of Obi Okonkwo a village wrestler with a strong character who crumbles during the coming of the Europeans in Nigerian society really fascinated us.
I recall some of the more funny classmates like Albert Kanuya, a natural gifted comic (nowadays a consultant publishing editor in Dar es Salaam and still a humorous gentleman) jostling with Amalinze the Cat, one of the characters in the novel. We seemed to live in the book. It was like a real place for us.
When you are a teenager you just gulp, swallow and take in knowledge. When made possible (like it was thru Mama Chitepo) you have real, good fun.



...Playing music with classmates ( also great fans of Achebe's novels at the time) middle Rashid Othman and the late Mike Kiwelu in 1972. Pic by Emmanuel Yuda.

I was struggling to learn the guitar to express myself. My late father an extremely skilled musician had inspired and encouraged me (he and my mother recorded few songs at the same time Achebe was writing the said novel, in Mombasa, Kenya).
Yes.
I eventually read more writers dealing with similar themes and by late 1970's was working as a reporter and columnist. Come 1980’s now in my twenties I was composing music, writing songs and performing professionally with Sayari Band.
In 1985 I read Ngugi wa Thiong’o the Kenyan writer commenting about the ongoing Live Aid concert in London in 1985. He questioned whether charity was a solution to Africa's problems...
I had similar thoughts so I was suddenly inspired.
We were touring in Scandinavia with Sayari when I began writing “Song of Ethiopia.” I performed the song at a concert in Stockholm in memory of 100 years since the infamous Berlin Conference chaired by Emperor Otto Von Bismarck of Germany. It was this conference that initiated the scramble for Africa and colonialism in 1884.
Only now do I realise how Ngugi’s interview and Achebe’s "Things Fall Apart" indirectly influenced my lyrics. The sense of history, the fallacy of neo colonialism.
In 2000 I recorded “Song of Ethiopia” in Constipation.
This week a conference on Achebe’s novel fifty years anniversary is on at Brunei Gallery, SOAS in London. Kadija George is part of the organising which will feature various writers who like myself got touched by this eminent Nigerian.

1 comment:

Ide said...

Hi Freddy,

Thank you for this great record of the Things Fall Apart conference. It's good to be reminded of all the wonderful people who were there! Good luck with all your projects!

Ide