Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Damilare Kuku on How Real Life Inspired Her Hit Novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad’

OkayAfrica spoke to author Damilare Kuku about her salient breakout novel ‘Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad.’

Damilare Kuku is new to Nigeria’s literary scene. But her short story collection, Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, came with a buzz. Released in October 2021, the book is a collection of twelve salient tales of young Nigerians in Lagos. Capturing the complexion of the city, it grapples with themes like love, sex, deceit, infidelity, companionship, and heartbreak.

The characters in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad are women. However, they are not just any kind of women. They are people with whom Kuku shares certain connections with.

Some of these women are friends, close acquaintances, and relatives. "One of the aims of my work as a creative artist is bringing human beings closer, especially women," Kuku told OkayAfrica. "Because women need to know that whatever they are going through, they are not alone. There are other people with the same thing happening to them."

Kuku, who loved reading books as a child, grew up between Lagos and Ile-Ife. Before her debut novel became a hit, Damilare played roles in movies. She’s made appearances in Africa Magic's television series Unbroken and Nollywood blockbusters like The Set-Up (2019), Chief Daddy (2018), and Love is War (2019). As her writing career enjoys attention and success, she landed her most important Nollywood role yet — in the Biodun Stephen-directed drama The Wildflower, released in May.

OkayAfrica caught up with Kuku on Zoom to talk about this anthology work, its inspiration, and her most important role in Nollywood yet.

Damilare Kuku book

How did you come up with the title?

The title of the novel came to me after a prayer session. I'm an unapologetic child of God, which means I rely heavily on God. I was actually in between projects and remembered I was in my one-room apartment in Yaba, Lagos — a very cute little place. I liked it, and I was so proud of the space.

Whenever I am not working, I pray. Somehow, somewhere, I was praying, inspiration came and was like, "how about you write a novel titled Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad?" It wasn't even the inspiration for the stories; it was only the title. So immediately, I sent the title to a very well-known Nollywood actor's assistant. I never got a response, which discouraged me a bit, but I thought maybe it wasn't the right time, so I let it go. This was in 2019. A year later, I submitted a book to my publisher. This was the publisher who later published Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, and they were like we see potential, and we'd love you to come in for a meeting. So I went in for a meeting and they wanted to sign me on the spot.

Your book deals with themes like deceit, companionship, infidelity, social class, friendship, and heartbreak. Was there any of these themes you wanted readers to pay more attention to?

All stories in the novel are as personal as they can be. I don't have a story in the book, but each story was carefully written, which is interesting because I had all of these things written out, hoping anybody reading the book would get the message. When the message was clear, it was pretty comforting. Every particular story was of clear intention. The same thing with any of my work has always been clear. I'm always delighted when people see my message's clarity. Each story is a love letter to some woman I know.

In the story “Beard Gang” from Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, you explored how Gay men use marriage to straight women to conceal and hide their sexual orientation. Do you think Nearly All The Men in Lagos helped in any way to pinpoint how this is problematic?

Firstly LGBTQ+ community is very precious, and I'm cautious with what I say. I believe my work mirrors what is going on in the society. Take from it what you will. I tell most people I'm not here to educate you, and I'm more of a timekeeper. That's what I am as a writer. I'm saying this is what is happening. As Damilare, I believe people should be who they want to be. People should learn to accept people for who they are. That's my phenomenon; that is my theory about life. When a person shows you who they are, accept them, but on the other hand, I'm not doing that in this book. I'm simply saying that this is where our society is. Read it and then take from it what you will.

Because it would be foolhardy of me to say this is wrong or right. I'm not here to teach anybody, I'm just here to mirror the society and say how it is. I've had many reporters ask me what my view on queer people is. I don't have an opinion, and that's not because I'm trying to play it safe, but this is what society is.

Damilare Kuku green shirt

"I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman," Damilare Kuku said.

Photo Credit: Damilare Kuku

Let’s talk about the theme of sex. Why was it so essential to the stories being told in your novel?

For me, it was the characters telling their stories, and I can remember older people who had read the book who called me and said, "Is this what is happening now?" and I said yes. I told them it was different from their time when women were very conservative about their sexual life and sexuality. Nowadays, if a woman consents to sex, she's doing it of her own free will. So is that necessarily a good or a bad thing? Then again, it is not my place because if I pass judgment as a writer, I'm not doing my job telling the story. It is left to the readers to make with it what they will. I remember I did an interview a while ago and the interviewer and critic called NALMILAM not too far from pornography, and I laughed. Similarly, the book is dedicated to my mom Oluremi Abake. She started reading the book, but she also says the sex talk is a bit too much for her. But I feel like it's a normal phenomenon; young people living in Lagos are having sex, so why sugar coat it?

Was there any story in Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad that was tedious or mentally draining to write?

The only thing that was quite tedious was emotions. So when my friends — the inspirations behind the stories — went through what they went through, I related as a listener. To write about their experiences, you have to become them. So I found myself being them. Sometimes I would even cry. In the story "Ode-plus complex," the main character (Jide) was a family member's experience. I became the character to understand what they went through, which helped me as an actor. It was very therapeutic.

Let's talk about your latest role in The Wildflower. Share with me what it was like to play the role

As I said, I'm very intentional with my work, and I feel like, as a woman, I can only share stories about what it feels like to be a woman, either through what friends have been through or what I know someone else has gone through. I can tell what other women go through because I am one myself, so when I got the role in The Wildflower, after several auditions, I was very excited. I wanted to tell the story of women and what they go through, abuse in the workplace and many girls go through that. They are being marginalized. Women go through a lot, and most times, some people who do these things to us don't think they've abused the woman.

In The Wildflower, my character was abused by her boss, and there was a scene after the abuse where he said to her, "If only you've been a little bit more cooperative..." and I believe most men think like this. They think, "I didn't rape you — we had sex." But no, it's rape. I told you "no." You didn't listen and went ahead to do what you wanted. When someone says "no," no should mean no. I have often heard some ridiculous views like, "when an African woman says no, she means maybe."

We are here in a society where men don't respect boundaries. They don't respect personal space, and they think it's okay to touch a girl because she's wearing a short skirt. I read a review about The Wildflower from a popular site, and the reviewer said, "absolutely not recommended because abuse has been talked about," and I actually wish I could talk to the person and say, "just because abuse has been talked about many times, doesn't mean it shouldn't be explored."

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

The First Alté Culture Festival Centered Nigeria's Emerging Creative Leaders

The first Alté Culture Festival, which took place at Muri Okunola Park, Lagos, was oozing with unconventional energy. Here were some highlights from the festival.

Last month, young Nigerians assembled at Muri Okunola Park, Lagos for the first Alté Culture Festival.The term “Alté” was first used in 2014, after the success of the DRB LasGidi song “Paper." It has now grown into a prominent subculture, spearheading into fashion and music. Alté means alternative, and it is everything that goes against the traditional ideology held by society.

Since the emergence of the subculture, gatherings like Native Land, Street Souk, and Homecoming Festival have been used to spotlight some of the brightest minds leading the subculture. The Alté Culture Festival joins this caliber of gatherings. Lady Donli, Wavy The Creator, Falana, and Prettyboy D.O served as headliners. Alongside these household names, the festival also introduced indie artists like Rigo Camp, Y9sir, Maka, Arb Music Band, and more.

“Since our theme was alternative, we were deliberate on everyone we brought on board for the festival. The indie artists were handpicked because they have alternative styles to their music. One of the essences of the festival was to promote,” Eunice Adeyemi, the creative director of Q21 Solutions, the brain behind the Alté Culture Festival, told OkayAfrica.

Before the Alté Culture Festival, Q21 Solutions has successfully executed a handful of significant events in Nigeria, such as AMVCA (African Magic Viewer Choice Awards), Jameson Connect, and Martell House. The event planning brand has, over time, been exposed to a large audience of young people and the older generation.

“We saw the growing need to have a platform that embodies the authentic and alternative way of doing things in music, fashion, and so on," Adeyemi said. "We needed to get the society without much an alteration to the norm but Sui Generis in style. This ingenuity in thoughts led to the name.”

The festival also premiered WTF is Alté, a documentary that examines the culture and sensibilities of the alté movement by speaking to those leading the wave. Kaffy, Nigeria’s celebrity dance instructor, gave an energetic performance. Fire-eaters were a side attraction.

The 11-hour festival spent its early hour gathering street style and fashion enthusiasts, from all-black ensembles, camouflage prints, headgears, silted and baggy pants, afro hairstyles, excess accessories, and nude paintings. The festival was oozing unconventional at its peak.

Here were more highlights from the first Alté Culture Festival.

A Standout Set From Falana

Falana performing

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Following an array of performances from indies, Falana opened the festival properly at around 9.00 pm. She opened with an acapella of popular music to stir up the crowd before delivering a handful of her songs. With her backup singers, the singer enthralled the crowd with fan favorites like "Ride or Die," "Sweet Adetola," and "Electric Lady."

The Rage of Lady Donli and The Lagos Panic

In 2021, Lady Donli introduced the world to her four-member live band, The Lagos Panic. At the Alte Culturé Festival, the band came out to shine. Bandleader Lady Donli, adorned in a completely sheer outfit, began her performance with full serenity which later evolved into an over-the-top rage. Her moniker — as “The Pan African Rockstar'' — was on full display. In addition, she graced the festival with an unreleased song titled "Problem no dey finish." The highlight of Donli’s performance was her closing number, treating fans to her latest single "Thunderstorm In Surulere."

Prettyboy D.O's Energy 

Prettyboy D.O performing

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Prettyboy D.O was fueled with energy at the festival. Ever since the young maverick stormed the alté scene in 2017, he continues to put fans in a chokehold with his music. In an all-white ensemble and multicolored bucket hat, he pulled out songs across his three albums that resonated with the audience.

Halfway into his remaining performance, we learned that this was Prettyboy D.O’s first-ever live band performance. To wrap up, he settled for his 2019 club hit "Dey Go Hear Wehh" which immediately put fans in a frenzy.

Wavy the Creator's Versatility

Wavy the Creator performing

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Wavy the Creator is no stranger to the alté scene. More than just an alternative musician, her versatility as a photographer, writer, artist, and designer has sealed her multidisciplinary status. The highlight of her time on stage was a performance with WorlD, where they performed their 2021 collaboration "Harmonies." The duet gave the audience a sneak peek of what Wurld had in store for them later.

WurlD The Headliner

WurlD performing

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Minutes after midnight, WurlD, dressed in a jacket and matching pants, took the stage to deliver his performance. At this point, fans had been anticipating his presence. The headliner started his performance with the viral hit "Show You Off." One very distinct thing about WurlD's moment on stage was his interaction with the fans, where at various moments he would serenade the crowd. The highlight came during his performance of the Davido hit "Sweet in the Middle," which had a majority of the crowd singing blissfully.

Scroll down to see some more photos from the first ever Alté Culture Festival.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetara

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