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Five Questions from African Literature to Help You Reflect on 2018

Searing insights gleaned from some of our favorite books of 2018.

We often have the same dull reflections at the end of each year. Why not reflect with questions from your favourite African writers instead?

I still have many books on my shelf published this year that are not mine, some are borrowed from friends and many have been long overdue to be returned to the library. It is becoming costly literally and emotionally not to buy my own books. Recently, I decided to buy Emmanuel Iduma's A Strangers Pose which came with a beautiful foreword from Teju Cole. "Dream of a perfect book, a ballad with all the lyrics remembered...That book is in your hands." Cole wrote. After finishing the book, I knew I could not risk lending it to anyone.

Many books and magazine issues that came out this year felt like literature I had dreamed of filled with fascinating questions or had stories that made every day questions seem urgent.


Here is a list of questions from the best literature to help you usher in the new year:

Morning cloud has come, will you be under its shade? — Sunrise Poison by Phillip Zhuwao


Mornings are not what we think they are. We do not all wake up well rested, and often when I leave my house at 6:30 a.m. in the morning there is still no light to distinguish night from day. "Tall dreams possess that short zest/ of energy that makes you run all night/ In that dark 27 hours per day/ When 11 pm rings at 7 o'clock," Phillip Zhuwao writes in the opening lines of Sunrise Poison. It's rare to find poems that help me describe life in graduate school where rest is hard to come by.

Zhuwao finished writing Sunrise Poison in 1994 a year after I was born, and he died three years later at twenty-seven. His poetry collection was only published this year. He had a difficult life and his poems are obsessed with death as he grieves his literary hero Dambudzo Marechera, as well as other friends and family that have passed. It's hard to settle into his poems because his rhythm is a little unsteady, and like his hero Marechera, his depiction of women's bodies is troubling. His book is worth engaging and his gentle tones come out in his questions. "Have you slept well?" He says in "the jar of chrysanthemums."

Where will all my nothing go? — Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction curated by Basit Jamiu

It's not surprising that the poet Megan Ross designed the cover for Zhuwao's Sunrise Poison, which is a picture of torn notes, roses, and toxic clouds. Both writers are obsessed with imagery of breaking and exploding bodies. In her essay "Monstrous" from the anthology Selves, Ross writes about the inspiration behind her poetry collection Milk Fever. "The collection grew from the word corpse, a word I wrote in an old journal on the day postpartum women are told to expect the onset of baby blues." It's an essay that reflects what the editor sees as one of the strengths of the book, a fearlessness the writers have of "going where it hurts."

Not everything hurts in Selves, much of it is hilarious and delightful. There's amazing essays like Oris Aigbokhaevbolo's "Going to Gappah's Geneva" and Sada Malumfashi's "Finding Binyavanga" that show how we become ourselves through the writers that we love. Malamshafi writes, "The Binyavanga way is the hurricaning way, the thundering way, the lighting way." It's electrifying to read how he borrows that lightning in his writing without sacrificing his own voice.

Can you pray into your own ear? — Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

In the introduction of Selves, the editor Otosiriezi Obi-Young writes that we are seeing the "Confessional Generation" of African writers. These writers are "emoting boundlessly" on social media, unafraid of their vulnerability. Akwaeki Emezi has a stunning Twitter and Instagram, but their book Freshwater is a reminder that there are also older and more interesting ways to think about multiple selves than just online personalities. In a book that explores the world from the perspective of an ogbanje, the concept of selves becomes more vivid when you involve the gods.

Freshwater is filled with the best questions I have read from any novel this year that can help you reflect on your internal battles. How can one tell the story of a rain that fell on him, when he is ignorant of where the rain started falling on him? How do you survive when they place a god inside your body? Can you pray into your own ear?

​Do you have my book? — A Stranger's Pose by Emmanuel Iduma

Sometimes a question is only as good as the story behind it. Emmanuel Iduma's book The Strangers Pose combines memoir, travel writing, and photo criticism but it also has some of the best passive aggressive email exchanges I've ever read in African literature.

In one of the stories about Iduma's travels to Addis Ababa, he writes about a woman he meets there who he is attracted to. Iduma later finds one of her books mixed with his things after he has left Ethiopia, and in a rush of nostalgia he writes an email, "How have you been? You've been on my mind but I'm sorry I've been unable to call." She later responds, "Do you have my book? I've been missing it and I see that you've reproduced the photograph used on the cover for an essay on your blog." She was not trying to play cute games with an unapologetic thief. This frankness is the kind of energy everyone needs for the new year.

Can the body learn freedom again? — The Invention of Zimbabwe from Chimurenga Chronic

Chimurenga chronic is always a reminder that the best writing in African literature is not afraid to challenge political issues with humour, creativity, and honesty. After watching the military kill and intimidate citizens in Zimbabwe this year, this was a great collection of articles and interviews to think through the moment with.

"Can the body learn freedom again?" Bongani Kona asks Nora Chipaumire, one of the most innovative Zimbabwean choreographers. A great response to the question comes from a different article in the issue by Rudo Mudiwa. "Nostalgia, comforting as it is, needn't be our only recourse. Reinvention of all things bequeathed to us by people who were living their own fantasies of freedom is an alternative," she writes. It's important to reflect on the past, but also necessary to find new ways of imagining freedom for the new year.

Music

Listen to Samthing Soweto’s Album ‘Isiphithiphithi’

Samthing Soweto's highly anticipated album is finally here.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Isiphithiphithi by Samthing Soweto is finally here.

The South African artist's project consists of 12 songs and features Makhafula Vilakazi, Shasha, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Mlindo The Vocalist.

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South African Telenovela 'The River' has Been Nominated for an International Emmy

This is the popular telenovela's first International Emmy nomination.

One of South Africa's beloved telenovelas, The River, has received its first ever International Emmy nomination in the category of "Best Telenovela", according to IOL. The River will go up against other telenovelas from Columbia, Argentina as well as Portugal. The 47th installment of the International Emmy Awards will take place on November 25th of this year and will be held at the Hilton in New York.

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Culture
Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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