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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Ha Micheal!

Woke up to the news of Michael Jackson’s death and I am devasted, it almost feels personal which is of course because he not only had exceptional talent but the charisma and magnetism of a true star. I grew up to his music and spent many sad, happy or confused days of youth consoled, uplifted or ignited by his music. Its a sad loss especially in the cusp of a potentially career relighting comeback.

Even my 8 year old feels a sense of loss. However the greatest lesson for me is that what will endure and triumph is the quality of ones work done passionately, dedicatedly and professionally. That is the true legacy, his wonderful catalogue of music and the power of that to move billions across boundaries of colour, geography, age and orientation. He was the "baddest", the best.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Homing Song

Back in Naija and loving it. My relieved and delighted shrimp, the okra soup with eba and fresh fish, the noise of the generator, the smells, texture and tone of home.

Talking about being back in Naija, the Man Magnet drew my attention to the facebook face-off between Abati and Generation Next over the interpretations of the socio-cultural shift that a new generation is championing, especially as expressed with 9ja hip-hop.

Now my first reaction was abeg leave them alone, but the more I read, the more compelled I felt to comment.

To start with, one of my core Aspen conversations was on the role of new media in a new world order and like all else, I was fascinated by the role of twitter in the Iranian protests. The thing that struck me in Aspen was not just the real attempt at understanding new media but the very psyche of the generation that powers it.

Unfortunately, as it seems to happen with many things, Nigeria is not having an honest, informed conversation about the post-IBB communication convergence and liberalization generation and her unique social and economic construct.

Dr Abati’s article is a typical knee jerk reaction by a generation that takes the seismic shift that is occurring amongst the Nigeria youth too literarily and dare I say, feels a little left out.

I can understand the young people’s frustration with Dr Abati as too often, no one has taken stock of how the dark post-second republic era and the complete breakdown of the physical, social and economic fabric of Nigeria resulted in the conditioning of the generation born and reared of those times. The seething resentment against the so called generation that did nothing, reared its head, as it is wont to at such times, whereas in fairness the generation before fared no better.  The Tiananmen Square or not argument though, must be left to another day.

Now, now doc, abbreviating the name of a country, place or person is a way of owning it. It is a term of endearment amongst the young. So the abbreviation of Nigeria into Naija or the even funkier and frankly twitter generation-friendly 9ja is not a crisis of identity, but the very first and tentative move by any Nigerian generation towards cultural confidence.

To castigate the use of pseudonyms or stage names by Naija (yes Naija) artists is frankly puzzling to me as this is an age-old productive/ creative exercise. Madonna, Sting, Anikulapo, KSA, KWAM 1. Should I go on? To the uninitiated, a stage name is a useful tool for artists to separate the self from the persona and often salvage one's sanity. Even those artists who use their given names alter it slightly, not just for commercial purposes but for creative or identity protection purposes. 9ice is called that because he is the nicest soul you can encounter plus he writes a song every 9th day. He is still Abolore to his family and can thus be Abolore at home and 9ice at work. Asa, so nicknamed by her mother because she is swift as an eagle. Ditto most of the others including the very cool Banky W and the very intelligent Naeto C.

Finally that vexatious argument about the meaning of the songs and so-called lewd, or (horror) immoral nature of the lyrics, irks me. Whilst there may be a few censor-worthy lyrics, the majority of the music is actually great and a real innovation in the way they are creating a new form of music unique to regions of Nigeria but with universal appeal. The deeper meaning of some of the lyrics, which comes from Nigeria’s peculiar street culture and realities, is actually beguiling. For example “Ori o foka sibe” is not sexual unless you want to interpret it so. It is really street talk for bringing your brain cells to the issue. Literarily you scattered your brains on that issue o.

I was educated in Ajegunle whilst filming TWF as to the origin and structure of dance forms such as Galala, Konto and Swo which are an amalgam of Yoruba, Ijaw, and Igbo dances with a touch of Ajegunle madness. These dance forms have interestingly made their way from Ajegunle to dance halls around Africa and certain parts of the world.

I can also understand and identify with the oft self-affirming words of Naija music. This is a generation that was completely disempowered, redefining and psyching herself to greatness. To begrudge them that is to be insensitive. They are also telling stories of Nigeria as she is. Note the haunting but strangely empowered telling of the Odi massacre by Timaya. We cannot wish a gentle Victorian nature on people reared of such realities. Our job is to unearth, understand and grow a better vision of self and nation.

Finally, the thing about even the innuendos and all, is that this is a generation which can laugh at herself and her own excesses. They know better than to buy it on surface value. So dancing Yahooze or Big Boy does not make you a 419ner or a glorifier of it, as dancing to Booty Call does not make you a streetwalker. This is adult music and parents are responsible for what they allow their children listen to as are broadcast regulators for what is put on the family belt. It is creative subversion that appeals to all but is clearly understood as that by a thinking, informed generation. It was irritating to read the brouhaha about Powell dancing Yahozee and thus glorifying Nigerian 419 by western media when they give awards to music, shows and films which use subversion as art form -- Pulp Fiction any one? So they can laugh at themselves and we cannot abi?

The girls who shake their backsides to Bumper to Bumper are as likely to be investment bankers or lawyers as hardworking traders. They are comfortable enough in their post-feminist skin to be sensual and smart or as someone aptly put it, “may just be that my skirt is short and my IQ is high."

If the young people begin to apply the same principles that has seen the emergence of this vibrant, evolving and eventually to be deepened music industry to other aspects of life, we will begin to head towards a new Nigeria.

The challenge of Generation Next actually is how to bring that to bear, otherwise in a decade or two, they too will be accused of being the generation that did nothing.

Now shall I retreat with the words of one of my favorite 9ice’s songs, “ohun t’o ba wun eni bodi l’o le f’enu won so. Omo o’ ran yan, omo j’o mo lo, omo mati jagbo lo, e fi won si le e’je kan ma so lo, orin yin ni o, e ma ko lo"… Remember not to take it all too literarily o. Peace.

Thing Around Your Neck

Last week, was at Chimamanda’s book reading to coincide with her new book going on sale nationally in America. Ran into a few bloggers and Teju Cole then went to dinner with Chimamanda and her peeps including the beautiful Zadie Smith and Lola Ogunnaike of CNN

Teju and I

Chimamanda signs the books

me, Zadie Smith

IV, Chimamanda

me, Ezinne and friend

Hlonipha, Chimamanda, me and Lola

What is she thinking?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Connected, Gear Engaged. Ignited

It’s amazing how different yet how similar we are. The Aspen Global Leaders Network reunion ACT II ended on Saturday with 160 people from 44 countries dancing classic country and pop music from the fifties. No it was not a pretty sight, a happy one yes, but not pretty. The South Africans of course stole the show with their synchronized line dancing; the waters of that land must be fortified with rhythm. The Central Americans were and always are the life and soul of the party, nah they are the party.

This was of course a fitting end to a program, which sought to and did connect engage and inspire the fellows from around the globe.

The one thing that was clear to me at the end of our readings, conversations, engagements and interactions is not only that all we are all unified in the eternal quest for the definition and attainment of the good life for the largest numbers in our different parts of the world nor how similar the most common human challenges are but how inevitable it is that each must solve her own problems and that, it is the aggregation of such solutions that will evolve a better balanced world order which may preserve us.

One of the boys: Nuhu Ribadu, Maduka Emelife,Me,Nasir El Rufai And Foluso Phillips

It’s not going to be top down but bottom up, the real challenge being the evolution of a gifted new cadre of thinkers, leaders and doers in several parts of the world.
For the first time in such of a forum, I felt a little more confident to say that Nigeria had a good example in the person of Fashola of Lagos. There was of course the inevitable questioning around the situation around Nuhu Ribadu (more later) who was a powerful and compelling presence through out but there was the sense that Nigeria is at the cusp of something infinitely powerful which even or especially our present difficulties will catalyze.

Dele Olojede and Nasir El Rufai

Perhaps the email I sent to a friend of mine (reproduced below and adapted for you all) on arrival in Aspen is a more eloquent text of my feelings seeing as I am too exhausted from two days of slummy it as airports trying to get to New York to think. There were flight cancellation and delays, denial of responsibility by airlines, near fraudulent hotel reservation rule bending and the many other signposts to the flaws of the American system and a testament to the commonality of our search for a better life.

The very lovely very pregnant abby; deputy director leadership initiatives

I shall now go and wash and change out of my 24-hour clothes so I can go find decent food in the only city I truly like in America. Why? New York is honest to God rude, aggressive, nasty and dishevelled but she wraps you in her energy, sexiness and fun spitting expletives at all irrespective of colour, race and nationality whilst offering you anonymity and user friendliness, a feature sadly missing in many other cities of a gifted but insular nation.

Walter Isaacson, President/CEO of Aspen Institute, his daughter Betsy, myself, Okey and Ngozi

Nasir and Zoe

The Nigerian Mafia + 1: Nuhu, me, Roland Akosa, Ngozi, Phillips, Okey Enelamah, Dele, Nurudeen Lemu and Nasir

Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs Ajekigbe and I

Ndidi Nwuneli and Nasir

Peter Hirshberg Technorati chairman and I

Myself, Fmr. Deputy President of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Ndidi Edozien

Ngozi Edozien and I

Beth Galante of Global Green, Queen Amina (Oyagbola) and the inimitable Keith Berwick

Barclay Snr. Executive Heather Sonn contemplates

United Nations: Mothomang, me, Mark, Heather, Zeona, Zoe and Hugo

Email to the best and brightest amongst us

Darling sister (brother) and friend,

How are you?

After 4 weeks of traveling round 5 states in Nigeria and penetrating all sort of communities to talk with people and finding myself swinging from abject despair to desperate hopefulness, I foolishly get on the plane and 17 flying hours later I am in serene Aspen feeling a little rootless and strangely fearful.

Then I put on the TV and a panel is seriously and intelligently discussing your book under an AWF reads series and slowly the tears drop. Of pain and frustration at my country, of my sense of entrapment in her continuous drama, the unspoken fear that I may be a bit stunted as a result mixed with the eternal hope which daughters and sons of that land such as your brilliant self represent.

Thanks my beautiful friend for always providing me inspiration and fuel to go on.
Big hug
Friday, June 12, 2009

TWF diaries

I have always raised a “don’t mess with my head” brow when I get told I have a compelling story and must write it. Everybody says it, I ignore them all, secretly holding the belief beautifully articulated by Chimamanda in half of yellow sun, in describing mounting scales of horror as some things are so bad, they make other bad things ok. In other words kini big deal?

However as I sit this morning in my apartment in the ethereal Aspen meadow resort watching the clouds flow over the snow topped mountains (what horrible cliché) I had an epiphany. You see, much the same way as I sit and watch those clouds in one of the most prosperous places in the world, I had a month ago sat on a canoe in one of the poorest places paddled slowly by the hauntingly intense Dami through the dankest, blackest waters I had ever seen or smelt watching human faeces in various stages of decomposition flow by.

The power of my experiences is less about my person but about the stories, the people, the event that effortlessly weave through it.
Life does tend to happen to me and perhaps I will one day sit down and write my story.

At no time have I experienced life close up more than in the past six months.
After a turbulent 2008 (wait for the book), I hit 2009 running hard and what I will do over the next month or so is write a reverse diary. Reverse because I feel better telling stories once I step outside of them. Now, I promise you nothing as I shall digress from time to time in my moody, crabby way but then isn’t that just the way of life? The Bitch never promises you anything but she can give you so much if you want to ride with her.

So I will write what I shall call the TWF diaries. I don’t know how many I will write or in what order, if any, I will write them before I recoil into myself again but l promise not to bore you as I will not be so buried in the past as not to madden you with my unsolicited often rubbish opinion on all and sundry in the present. E ku ile o.

What the world need now

I left Lagos bloody minded; I had spent 4 weeks travelling from state to state filming on a frankly insane 10-hour daily schedule. We wrapped up on the Sunday, I get on the plane Monday morning. It virgin upper class (no, one does not require a sugar daddy, one requires a lot of air miles to get an upgrade) so I expected a pleasurable flight experience. It was good, better than most but I can see the cracks occasioned by the crunch, the bar extras are not as copious and the gushing love and extra pecks not as obvious besides I think the dainty cubes of eba and fabulous okra with beef or chicken stew on Arik’s first class is unbeatable. All in all it was a good flight and the British immigration if not friendly are not hostile and it takes only 25 minutes from plane to taxi.

Next day, I arrive bright and early at the airport to buy a business class upgrade for my United Airlines flight to Denver, it’s always cheaper to buy a last minute upgrade at the airport instead of buying a full fare business or first class ticket. I’ll be damned if I fly economy 9 hours to Denver in a United plane. I am a frequently flier mostly for work and thus I am scrupulously Ijebu with my air miles, flier club memberships and hotel discounts. God will not let me pay for what I have earned free or discounted, eewo! I am also travel savvy enough to know that most American Airlines are just glorified Ekene Dili Chukwu in comparison to their European or indeed, new Asian counterparts. I however was still dismayed by the jankara quality of the business class cabin of the United flight to Denver, the poor in flight entertainment, the shrew like air hostesses and the colon murdering food on offer. I grabbed the Sting autobiography I brought along to read, my nano and zoned out to naija hip hop for a truly miserable 9 hour flight beside a sizeable American business man who apparently had a gas emission issue.
By the way, why do they always ask you if you know you are at the premier counter when you want to check in? “Se won o ri oyinbo ri ni”? Can’t translate, meaning will be lost in translation.

Foolishly, as we have all fallen so hopelessly in love with the Obamas, I imagined the first couple’s charisma would translate to the American immigration. Hell no! You still get treated like a criminal when you attempt to enter America or indeed fly within America. Understandable perhaps but no less irritating. Aside the rudely barked questions and the dog sniffing for food imports (I wanted to kick the stupid mutt or mentally transport her into a pepper soup pot in Akwa Ibom), they take you aside for a second search and rescan through your claimed checked in luggage. I mean, gimme a break, I am a lot healthier than that red faced fart machine that flew with me and most of the people I saw on board, our most lethal disease is malaria, they are the ones creating all sorts of shit diseases by messing with nature. In addition, why profile Nigerians, we may do a bit of 419 here and there but we sure as hell are no bomb throwers being too cowardly and life loving for such arrant nonsense.

More nastiness at the Denver airport and a short bumpy flight into the truly splendid Aspen, a drive past Lance Armstrong’s home with the tantalizing possibility of seeing him walking with his new born as I was gleefully I informed he does by a resident and was nettled in my room. The calm cold air and the beauty of the mountains soothe yet infuriate me. I am angry at the memory of some of the things I had seen whilst travelling in Nigeria. I am jealous that the forefathers of these people had started something that got them where they are today, flawed as it may be but infinitely better than many nations of the world including mine. I am angry with our past leaders and a lot of the present ones, I am frustrated at us all as followers and secretly worried that my very heritage may have stunted me as a human. Even as I think these thoughts and flip through the truly pointless and mindless TV shows, I come across an intelligent panel discussion on Chimamanda's half of a yellow sun and I start crying. Its tears of exhaustion, fears and hope. I send her a quick message and I slowly settle down in my room. It is gorgeous here but I am homesick, I yearn to return to my own home, my own life, my own country and keep working and living in the hope that one day, the best and brightest amongst us will out number the others.

I am here as a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative of the Aspen institute, a network of leaders from all works of life from all corners of the planet. One of the most anticipated issues we will be looking at is what the world needs now. I am consumed about what Nigerian needs now and look forward to seeing the likes of Nuhu Ribadu tomorrow that will join us in that roundtable.