Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The trial of Reuben Abati by Jude Fashagba
I had read a response to Reuben Abati’s article ‘A nation’s Identity Crisis’ published in the Guardian and written by one of Nigeria’s hip-hop musicians who goes by the name ‘Banky W’ on Facebook before I read the article itself. However, the decision to react to it was already taken; I had to read your piece to put my work in perspective.
Permit my précis, but I broke your points to a few points; the death or killing of national symbols by the youth, a culture of abbreviations, ‘poor quality’ (or in some cases foul) lyrics in hip-hop songs, and a wholesome importation of the foreign hip-hop culture.
I hope you find time to read Banky W’s response which is on the webpage http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=107335169088&id=21807323062&ref=nfI found it interesting. He accuses you one, of misunderstanding his generation and indeed their symbols, of poor research into the origin of the abbreviations that you condemn, of critising an art you have not taken time to study, of trivialising it as only a ‘business’
Furthermore, you stand accused of praising the older generation, just for its ‘oldness’ even when (as he feels) it is guilty of everything you have accused the new of. Implying that your affiliation to the old is cultural, and not evidential.
Then there is the bit about names. Should there be a difference between stage names, brands and ‘real names’ ? To use your own words ‘what is in a name’?
Having listened to the case against you, I think it is salient to ask a few questions. One, what is the origin of these dying national symbols; two, how relevant are they in our national life and three, if indeed they still represent our current hopes and aspirations. You, Dr. Abati described graphically how Mrs. Lugard could have come about the name Nigeria. Probably in their bedroom. Named after Africa’s second largest river. Niger-area they said, to commit what you seem to have called the (‘mortal sin’ of abbreviation), Nigeria.
The truth is that while a good number of European countries are named after their people, their languages or their cultures, African countries are named after rivers and mountains. Who has heard of River England or Mount France? Cameroun however is named after a mountain, Congo after a river and Lake Victoria after the Queen of England.
Why is Spain not an acronym of Catalonia and Basque and called Catasque, like Tanzania is for Tanganyika and Zanzibar? The Niger River is called Kogi and Kwara in some local areas, but some ‘foreign discoverer’ named it Niger and by extension my country. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my country but I hate its symbols. Our colours are green and white representing agriculture and peace. Where is the agriculture? Where is the peace? Are they not alongside electricity the three most elusive things in the country?
And now that we have darkness, 419, oil and bloodshed in the Niger delta as our gross national product, it should be sensible to change our flag to red for blood and black for darkness and oil.
I have seen the American flag and indeed the elements of the flag redone in creative ways and heard their national anthem sung in slow, mid and fast tempo, so I have no reason to complain about mine being sung anyway. Instead, I praise the people who in spite of the charred and unimpressive present opportunities and the irrelevance of the basis of these national symbols, still found ways to give them new meaning and revive them.
Who named the Naira? What is the origin of the word? What does it mean?
This narrows to the second allegation, a people are who they call themselves. The dictionary calls a name ‘a sound that connotes a meaning’. Why should Banky W take more pride in being called Bankole Wellington? After all, it is his name anyway. You alluded to Fela, once a Ransome-Kuti, later an Anikulapo-Kuti. I could not swap the first name for the other for a zillion dollars, but he did, and he found pleasure in that. I remember this conflict myself. In the letters my late father wrote me while I was in school, he would address me as Fashagba but he would sign as Fasagba. He was my father, but our names were different. Never did he make the mistake. What is in a name?
Is a name more spiritual because somebody put alligator pepper, sugar and salt in your mouth when he pronounced it, as was the culture when we were born? What special circumstances could warrant the naming of a child Manager, University, Okuta or Confidence that would dis-warrant the naming of a person X, W or Eldee? Would I name my son Reuben? Does it not mean the same as Yaro in Hausa? I mean a son.
Is Obey’s name Obe or Obey? Was Okotie Kris or Chris? Where did Felix get Lebarty? Dizzy K? Oliver de Coque?
To say the truth, I know no songs of Banky W, but I was made supremely proud, when taking a one hour boat from Lungi airport to Freetown in Sierra Leone, ninety percent of the songs the deejay played and advertised were made in Nigeria, by these same boys who have braved everything against all odds. Forget the oil, the major export we have is the Nigerian spirit, the attitude of making it against all odds. See how much we have been saved in foreign exchange by the fact that Tuface now sells more that Boys II Men in Nigeria, and Nollywood saving all the sums that hitherto went to Bollywood and Hollywood? True some of the songs and films may be close to rubbish, but to use Fela as an example of morality was excessive. True, some of these boys say some that older musicians only mimed, but I was so shocked to find Salawa Abeni, Barrister and Kollington on your morality list. In the eighties, these three fuelled by personal feuds put some rubbish on tape.
However, music and poetry have always been on the precipice of free speech and to extend the point, of discovery. Tina Turner’s ‘what’s love got to do with it’ has worse lyrics than D’banj’s ‘you don make me fall in love’.
The other truth Doctor, is that your generalisation has robbed you of a chance to see order in the midst of these chaos. This is evident in your attack on Rooftop MC’s. It rubbished some of the good points you were making. It is clear you have been too dismissive to listen. The parents of yesterday complained about the Okotie’s ,the Onwenu’s and the Tina Turner’s but they are mainstream today. And you used the right phrase; post mordernism.
What do we not import in Nigeria? A country where it is a thing of pride to deride people who cannot speak English, or who speak it with an accent tainted by their mother tongue? We even paid fines for speaking ‘vernacular’ in school. Our own very languages!
We have therefore lost the morality to challenge these kids of wholesome mimicking of Jay Z and Ja-Rule. Even our respected institutions pay a fortune to bring these ‘stars’ to the country.
We hear (and I hope I am wrong) the government is negotiating with and involving Facebook in its rebranding project. Sad. There are enough 24 year olds here, who can extend the frontiers of social networking but they won’t even get a look in.
Dr. Abati, in pronouncing you guilty as charged, I quote an old architect, whose name I cannot remember, ‘symbolism can be esoteric, but it must mean something to ordinary people’.
Jude Fashagba wrote from Lagos.