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The Ake Book and Arts Festival in 2015 was incredible. For weeks after the festival was over, I struggled to live within myself. It was a high I couldn’t get down from and I desperately needed more of it. But as is usual with Nigerian universities, my high was snatched right away and I became the original cold buzz that Nigeria and the many forces in school truly intended for me. Occasionally, I would read or see something and I would remember Ake 2015 and get excited again, although temporarily.
Then Ake Festival 2016 came upon us. Well, it didn’t really come; we had twelve months to get ready and ready I was. I saved up some money for the festival and for hotels and for food. The plan was already there, I was ready. But then I became broke and started to eat into the money, promising myself that I would save to make up the difference; I didn’t. An impromptu but important trip outside Nigeria permanently sealed my fate – I didn’t have money. My revised plan was simple. I would join the festival from twitter. In the middle of the festival, I would feel bad about not being there and I would uninstall my twitter app. It was settled. However, in the build-up to the event, I got a call from Ruth after which she sent me the link to a tweet from Ake Festival. The tweet was simple “If you want to attend the Ake festival but are unable to due to financial difficulties, reply this tweet and tell us why you would love to attend the festival this year.” I did. After which I was selected as a winner of a grant to attend the festival with all my expenses paid. I did my laundry immediately and began packing. I must have packed and unpacked so many times that I forgot some things in Lagos. As I’m writing this, I’ve just received a phone call from my dad telling me that there are some unfolded shirts in my room and I might have forgotten them; I have forgotten some clothes.
My trip to Abeokuta was somewhat short. I went through a route that didn’t go through Berger to get to Abeokuta. After two bus changes and an encounter with police officers collecting their salaries on the road from road users, I got to the Cultural Centre at Abeokuta in the evening and proceeded to the registration desk to pick up my tag and festival bag. A few heys and hellos later and I became hungry. I scooted to the food station and got properly disappointed. The food was horrible. I hoped it would get better over the next few meals, but it never did. I retired to my hotel room to take a shower and prepare for the first event of the Festival.
Falana is the opening act at the festival concert. Her beautiful voice and her Cajon leaves the audience in suspended animation. I think I begin to see sounds and hear colours. She effortlessly switches to her guitar and serenades the audience. Aduni Nefretti; a band of female singers and two male dancers get on the stage and sing songs from various tribes in Nigeria. At this point, my body is a goose bump festival. Various people from the different tribes sing along to songs from their tribe. This is the first time I feel and appreciate the beauty of the diversity and the gift that it is to be Nigerian. I am every part of the songs they sing and the people that are singing along. Ekene jumps up and joins in when they start singing Hausa songs. Her boyfriend is Hausa and her excitement is contagious. A few moments later, it’s time for Brymo. Ruth scampers away from her seat to the front. Despite being a friend to him, she is probably his biggest fan after his mother and the god that has given him his talent. Everything is electrifying. The base guitarist is a god. Brymo is a god. I join in with my potential Grammy award winning voice and sing to all his songs. Some ladies have tears in their eyes as they sing along. I like to think my voice has something to do with that. The concert ends with Fanala and Adunni Nefretiti joining Brymo on the stage and it is breathtaking, and then Lola Shoneyin closes the concert and opens Ake Festival. Have I mentioned that I love Lola Shoneyin?
Thursday morning greets me with the feeling of nausea. Ruth, Ope and Ekene are in the room opposite mine in Micron hotel and I go to their room to disturb them. We make our way to the cultural centre for the events of the day. The opening ceremony doesn’t happen as early as it is supposed to. African time. My nausea worsens. The first book panel is a book chat coordinated by Dami Ajayi. It involves Jowhor Ile and Odafe Atogun reading excerpts from their individual books and answering questions from Ajayi, and then the audience . The nausea worsens and I go back to my hotel room where I throw up and sleep off. I finally make it back to the festival centre for the film show in the evening. It is called Hissene Habre; A Chadian tragedy; a documentary in French about the Chadian dictator and all the atrocities he committed as the Chadian head of state from 1982 to 1990. It is rather sad and begs a lot of questions about the future of this continent as well as the state of people in other African countries and the troubles they face. Horror is portrayed as images of mangled bodies and broken people that survived the gruesome eight years are fed to us. A subject in the documentary that was jailed at that time talks about how he prayed for people to die in his cell so the overcrowded cell can be freed up a little. The festival is generally melancholic as people make their way back to the hotels.
Friday is for a slightly underwhelming breakfast and in contrast, an overwhelming bookchat with two of my favourite writers in the world; Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Yewande Omotoso. I first met Yewande at Ake Festival in 2015 and after the festival, I stalked and read her work. I know that I am in love with her. Sarah, I narrowly missed in San Francisco in October where we both attended a TED Conference. After sending a couple of short texts, I am ready to immerse myself in her work. She does not let me down. She does not let anybody down. For her book reading, she puts on a scarf and performs excerpts of her book while it rests gently on the short stool behind her. The goose bump festival begins on my body again. Everything about her is alive and animated. When Yewande reads from her book, it is as usual, brilliant. Both stories are centred around older African women. The questions and discussions are incredible, until a Nigerian man shows himself. He asks Sarah to recite the oriki of her husband; the oriki is the traditional praise given to a person. He asks this on the premise that Sarah’s husband is Yoruba and she being light skinned is not Yoruba but she needs to show that she loves and respects her husband’s people. BUT Sarah is Yoruba. She was Sarah Ladipo before she got married and kept her maiden name. I boo quietly from my seat. The session ends and we all scramble to the chat room for a panel discussion – Legs open, Eyes Closed: Sensuality in new African writing. Chinelo Okparanta, Toni Kan, Kiru Taye and Nana Darkoa bring us to the never discussed but highly essential part of humanity; sex and sexuality. Toni Kan is the “I don’t have sex” pretender in the group. Chinelo is a passionate speaker as she is a writer and she writes to take back her power. Somebody on the panel talks about feminist pornography and they discuss everything from queer sex to parents and their influence on writing about sex. This panel ends as soon as it starts. I am hurt. The next discussion is with Teju Cole. The details are now foggy in my head but it was phenomenal. The members of the panel were incredible.
The discussions end and everybody goes to the Olumo rock. I’ve never been to Olumo rock just like I’ve been to the beach only twice in Nigeria and I’ve seen a movie three times in the cinema. The first time was early 2015. I get lunch and engage in a discussion with a Ghanaian over the supremacy of Nigerian jollof. He tries, but he doesn’t come close to winning the argument. I should go for another Law degree. I hangout with Ope and Fope and we talk about nothing and everything. In the middle of this conversation, I am taken back to simpler times and I’m grateful for friends and generally the opportunity to be in Abeokuta now. I try to get food and I get into a conversation with another person about TEDxSurulere and my plans for it. Deyo steals me away and we get ofada rice instead. At this point, I conclude; painful but truly, Abeokuta people make the worst food.
Time passes and there’s a stage play showing at the Cinema hall. It’s a tale of love and anger and death. The hall is extremely cold and I feel extra pity for Precious because she’s dressed in a dinner gown. She has come to Ake to meet the love of her life but is looking like she’s inside a fridge in a shop with the label “Ice block is sold here”. I retire to bed with a range of emotions just dancing inside me. Every one of them is happy to be in Abeokuta.
Saturday is for sightseeing and thrift shopping. As I’m at the Kuto market, an idea pops into my head. I know what type of advertising agency I want to build. I do a little research on my mobile phone and tweet a little. Ope and Ruth are infront of me looking for pringles; the red type. We return to the hotel and I catch a nap before the palm wine and poetry evening. Dami has gotten to Abeokuta by this time and I make it my duty to frustrate her. Palm wine is in calabashes and Chika Jones opens the stage with a beautiful spoken word performance about Nigeria and the Biafran War and numbers and pain. By this time, there is no more goosebump festival, my body is constantly vibrating instead. Chika is an outstanding poet. Next is Dike Chumwumerije and his poem in pidgin English that has me laughing until water makes its way out of my eyes. Michael Kelleher performs two poems; two beautiful poems; two incredible poems. Then there is Titilope Shonuga. I don’t know what convinced me in the past that she was just an okay poet, but that night I became a believer. Her poem about NO! being the first word my daughter should learn to say connects with me on so many levels. I might be sitting with a poker face, but my spirit and soul are doing fist pumps. Ogaga Alfowodo and Lenogang Mashile are rhythm alive and walking. Femi Osofisan is there to give the benediction and prays for Lola Shoneyin on the stage. Have I mentioned that I love Lola Shoneyin?
The festival is over and now it’s the time for the party. The reclusive writers are there with small chops and mobile waists. The Dj is spinning and there are new dance moves. There is a circle and I twerk in public. I have shamed my family and friends.
In the middle of the dancing, I am incredibly sad as I am happy. Time has passed so fast and I will miss everybody from here.
A tray of small chops saunters by me and I snap out of this temporary sad. Bumbum is gyrating around me. Ruth drags me to the dance floor and Ake festival 2016 fades into my sweet spots of 2016.