Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ndibe, others for Ake book feast in Abeokuta

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Communications Manager, Book Buzz Foundation, Byenyan Jessica Bitrus (left); founder of Book Buzz Foundation and organiser, Ake Arts and Book Festival, Lola Shoneyin and finance and book officer, Mr. Tosin Adeyemi at the media briefing last week ahead of the festival scheduled to open tomorrow at June 12 Cultural Centre, Kuto… in Abeokuta

With the possible emergence of a new world order following the election of Mr. Donald Trump in the United States of America, whose campaign rhetoric was filled with hate speeches partly targeted at blacks, what exactly will be the place of Africa? What is the black man’s responsibility to his own society so it becomes a livable, viable and workable place for himself and his children so he doesn’t always flee to other societies that delight in demeaning him?

This will be the focus of four-year-old Ake Arts and Book Festival scheduled to hold from Tuesday, November 15 through 20, 2016 at the rocky city of Abeokuta, Ogun State. The Lola Shoneyin-led Book Buzz Foundation and organiser has lined up an interesting array of book and art-related events that will delight visitors to this year’s festival. It has ‘Beneath this Skin’ as theme.

Although celebrating the book and all the humanistic values it upholds are the festival’s main focus, there are art-related events such as film premieres, music concert, art and photography exhibition, a tour of Abeokuta designed to make the festival enjoyable.

While explaining the significance of ‘Beneath this Skin’ theme at a briefing in Lagos, Shoneyin said, “I so wanted this to be about Africa. I’m very much aware of the things that lower us as black people. What are we doing with our blackness? How are we engaging our blackness? With Trump, is our relationship with others going to be different? As a Nigerian living here, what am I doing to ensure this place works? This is the situation we find ourselves and we must address it. Nothing better does it than literature and the arts generally.”

Although it was tough raising funds for the festivals, Shoneyin, however, assured guests that “nothing short of a miracle to pull off this year’s event knowing how the economy is. We struggled to fundraise to have this event. But we have a first class event and first class guests coming. We are proud to be able to invite the caliber of creative Africans to be at the event.”

While presenting a rundown of festival programme events, Book Buzz Foundation’s Communications Manager, Ms Jessica Byenyan Bitrus, said since the first edition of Ake Arts and Book Festival, it has hosted 323 guests, 202 events and over 20,000 visitors.

According to Bitrus, “The fourth edition of the Ake Arts and Book Festival is set to host an outstanding roster of writers, thinkers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, book lovers and art enthusiasts in the city of Abeokuta.

“The theme for this year is “Beneath this Skin” and we will focus on identity, race and individuality. Much of what is presumed about Africa/Africans has its basis in a gaze that is obsessed with cosmetics. Yet, beneath the obvious surface is an infinitely rich and textured world of complex identities, aspirations and desires. The festival explores the ‘gaze’ and the latitudes enjoyed by those who are gazed upon”.

‘LIFE and Time Series’ is a new addition to the festival bouquet that will have literary icon, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o sitting in conversation with Okey Ndibe about his life and works. Other guests include Alain Mabanckou, Helon Habila, Teju Cole, Laila Lalami, Noviolet Bulayawo, Tendai Huchu and Odafe Atogun.

There will be nine book chats, which will feature 18 authors and 12 stimulating panel discussions. According to Bitrus, “We will also explore exciting genres such as erotica genre of fiction, which has as theme, ‘Legs Open, Eyes Closed: Sensuality in New African Writing’ and will have Kolade Arogundade, Nana Darkoa, Kiru Taye, Toni Kan and Chinelo Okparanta as discussants. Horror fiction is also on the radar. It is ‘Exploring Horror Fiction in Africa’ and has Geoff Ryman and Pemi Aguda as moderators.

“Also, there will be ‘Prison Stories’ through art exhibitions, featuring Laolu Senbanjo, whose sacred art of the ori was featured in Beyonce’s Lemonade and photographer, Fati Abubakar, who captures the lives of the people of Borno State in a stunning series of photographs”.

With a music concert, visitors to Ake festival will be able to watch acoustic musical concert, featuring two contemporary stars, Falana and Brymo, and the most accomplished folk music group in Nigeria today, Aduni Nefertiti.

Also, a film premiere forms part of the harvest. With Festival of Short Films, Ake will celebrate visual storytelling and the people who are fuelling its rapid growth in Nigeria. Short films to be screened are A Mother’s Journey by Sade Adeniran, No Good Turn by Udoka Oyeka, and Salt by Umar Turaki. But the main festival film is the documentary, Hissene Habre: A Chadian Tragedy, an account of the horror inflicted on the Chadian people during Hissen Habre’s rule.

Not least is the Festival play Iyalode of Eti, an adaption of John Webster’s masterpiece, The Duchess of Malfi, further adapted by Debo Oluwatuminu and directed by Moji Kareem.

A major aspect of the book and art feast is the level of tourism activities it generates. Shoneyin noted that foreigners find their way to Abeokuta during the festival and that her organisation helps facilitate such visits to the idyllic, rocky city that lends its name to the festival. Adding other artistic events, she said, would help bring non-book lovers to the book.

According to her, “I love Ake being a cultural hub for West Africa and Africa generally. The idea is to have more events to draw more people to the book. We are willing to give more room for dying arts form for a revival.”

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