Friday, July 9, 2010

Lingua Franca

Is it me or something is truly wrong somewhere? Years have gone by and I’m yet to find someone to give me a good reasonable explanation for the belief in some quarters that Nigerian artistes’ delivery of songs in Pidgin English is a sign of illiteracy or better still to put it in their usual word “inability to speak good English”. Even with successes achieved by Nigerian music and musicians in recent years, some people just don’t get it! With due respect to the very many people who earn their living through their white collar jobs across different sectors of the Nigerian economy, I may be right to say only few of them can boast of higher educational qualification than many in the entertainment business and this observation also applies to their general command of the English language. What amazes me however is that when bankers, doctors, advertisers… speak Pidgin English, it is considered a matter of choice, simply code switching or code mixing as the case may be but for an average musician to do the same, he is labeled “razz” illiterate or whatever name you can think of. I don’t get it.

As much as I value speaking right, never wanting to compromise on it anywhere I find myself, I will not be deceived into believing that this is all that defines me, even if it helps to make the best first impression. Without any disrespect to the ladies, I will have to speak from the perspective of a young single and sexually conscious guy. I have met and chatted with many intelligent ladies who struggle with their spoken English, making few errors here and there, what Naija people will call bad English – depending on their “marking scheme” and I’m pretty sure many of us will have few jokes off such experiences too but ladies and gentlemen! Have you met a girl that speaks the entire phonetics in the world but can not maintain an intellectual dialogue for five minutes? The ones that speak bad English with American accent are even worse! Guys you don’t wanna go down there; it is simply injustice to a man!
Ladies please feel free to do the same check and see if you’re not better off with that intelligent guy that speaks that carefully put together English with his Ibo accent than the one with Queen’s or Yankee English but no quality mind or manners or ambition.

I still remember the over blown grammatical blunder of juju musician Sir Shina Peters’ “soonest recover” and the endless issue that was made of it, why then would it be hard for me to truly appreciate the modest eloquence of musicians like Pasuma, Salawa Abeni, K1 and Obesere who’s genre does not even necessarily require the language? As much as I will like to say that being a musician or entertainer is not an excuse for not having a good command of our lingua franca – a language taught in our schools and on which every other subject is taught, rather is the more reason why we need it as music require some elements of poetry, literature and figurative expressions; I am usually forced to come back to the question what really is Nigeria’s lingua franca?

Just the other day I was fixing my car at the mechanic’s somewhere in ibadan, then came along this young – very young boy with a hammer in his hand with which he constantly hit the small wooden box hanging on his shoulder and I beckoned on him to quickly shine my dusty shoes. As his tiny little fingers struggled with the weight of the shoes, I wondered if he had been at this all day or the time being around 4pm it was just another after school work done to support his parents as the child labor thing has always been a common sight in many poor and even average homes – that being a topic for another day. I couldn’t bear the sight any longer and decided to settle my curiosity.

In my usual self I asked “are you in school”?
I got neither a response nor a reaction after repeating the same question twice, then hoping this sounds common, I asked “what’s your name”?
Then he looked up at me, looked back at the shoes and smiled as he continued his task, apparently sorry for a young good looking man showing early symptoms of madness by talking all to himself – my dreadlocks off course did not help matters.

It was already getting embarrassing and not the type to smile about but more of “if ai ssslap you…” but then I still had an idea, I switched swiftly to the famous, wonder working Pidgin English. “wetin be your name”? Low and behold! His vocal cords came to life in a manner that reminds you of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s miracle crusades.
“Dawoudi” he replied in his concentrated northern accent.
“Wonderful! what a miracle” I said to myself, then pressed on “you dey go school”?
“Me I noo dey go” Now feeling a little vindicated, I asked him why
“My phapha I noo get…” and the discussion went on.

It is also common knowledge that an average person from the eastern part of the country even with absolutely no formal education will communicate with you in Pidgin English comfortably. Then I ask myself “does it make sense for a recording artiste hiding under the saying that music is a universal language to make all his songs in total English language and fail to communicate with the larger percentage of his society but please a few misguided minds? That is nothing but a myopic sentiment borne out of regrettable propagandas or perhaps deliberate bigotry on the history of the evolution of Nigeria’s pop music! When politicians want our votes; they go to villages to speak Pidgin English and it works! Now someone wants to tell me “pidgin na wowo language”? Even our Honorable Speaker Dimeji Bankole will not speak his Queen’s English to the people in his constituency! For what now?

This is my point; music is about telling a story, sending a message and if the language that reaches your primary market most widely is Pidgin English or your mother tongue, why avoid it? If Jamaicans had avoided their unique patois (patwa) would it have become so globally accepted that we even try to copy it? Whatever language you speak, make sense. That is music.

I learnt an international organization rated three songs by Nigerian musicians among the best 10 african songs of the past century;
- Water by Fela Anikulapo Kuti – sang mainly in pidgin and Yoruba language
- Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Nbaga – another legendary hit song recorded totally in Pidgin English.
- African Queen the monster hit by Tuface Idibia – the only song of Nigerian origin in this class recorded totally in English language.
Ironically Tuface happens to be one of the pop acts that have been worst hit by the Pidgin English criticism but then “nothing dey happen”.

Here the points are quite clear and obvious, pidgin English is not a barrier to international acceptability as long as we keep it simple and sensible; broken English or your mother tongue in music is not a proof of deficiency in speaking English as stated by a popular celebrity couple in an interview some years back, and let me state and be sure it is also not enough reason to say “Nigerian artistes do not go to school” considering how many of us has tried to go beyond the first degree. However, all said and done, make we too stop to dey misfire; the Nigerian artiste needs to draw the line between a formal and informal setting and learn to speak appropriately. Enough said… I think.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Black stars from the Gold coast

Permit me to make this mistake please, that is if at all it is indeed a mistake, the last time I felt like 100% of the population of Africans in the privacy of their homes felt truly like brothers with fellow Africans in far away corners from the deserts, mountains, forests, cities, villages through the north, east, west and south with no diplomatic stunts intended must have been when we saw a common enemy in apartheid during those dark days in South-Africa. Africa indeed truly united again in my adult years, and ironically it took a certain common enemy called Uruguay or common goal or let’s just say common gold called the FIFA World Cup™ in the country South-Africa again for this unity to come alive. The difference here is that while we won the apartheid battle, we did not win this Uruguayan battle.

We had no flag with which to replicate the African solidarity that was fully in the Supersport studio as displayed and suggested by the analysts before the game, I could not find a single piece of material to use in holding Ghana close to my heart, then Tywo stormed into his bedroom and came back with his three towels tied around his waist in layers such that the three can be visible; they were colors red, yellow and green and there we had the Ghanaian flag with only the black star missing! with a passionate shout “show them Ghana! Do this for the motherland! Looking more like a masquerade from an Ibadan village, we were simply having fun cracking up each other, but we both knew the feeling inside us was more than the laughter, we meant every bit of our actions and emotions. You can bet I made sure the MMS went round the rest of the family within minutes with funny text messages flowing and of course powerful ones from strange sources praying and soliciting for intercession prayers from me. Of note was the half time message from a senior friend and colleague who I think would rather watch an old edition of Project Fame than watch a live football match and it read “keep praying we are nearly there! Lord empower our brothers to defend totally and score 3 more, for we your children!”

When that last second penalty was given, it was like finally the victory was here but for a strange (though not anymore) reason I did not celebrate, a certain image flashed through my eyes and it was that of an Argentine called Requelme – gifted with an opportunity in dying minutes to save his club side Villarreal FC of Spain from defeat against Arsenal in the Champions league of 2006. He looked tense, shaky and nervous and consequently lost the penalty as Arsenal celebrated a victory made in heaven. I could not voice my pessimism, I only prayed that the almighty would give us the day; experience has taught me that the most influential players in the team get the nod to take charge in such situations but they can also be the ones that would falter when it most matters. Asamoah Gyan’s was a different scenario as he looked confident and ready, though not so calm but the result was the same; one missed penalty, two more misses and Africa’s gold coast fails to hit the gold we had dreamt of. What can I say? The deed is done and dusted!

I prayed so much for the game not to add up to my long list of soccer heartbreaks but what can men do? There is indeed a supreme being, for no one can say the Ghanaians did not do well enough to win. We are not laughing, we are not smiling, the tears flowing are obviously not tears of joy, we are not popping champagne, some of us still can’t get over the pain but we will not be sad either because we were not beaten. Suarez may be the Uruguayan hero but Asamoah gyan, Dominic Adiyiah, Kingson, John Mensah and co… all remain icons of African football. Equaling Roger Miller of Africa in this achievement means you will not be forgotten in the history of African football because when Africa needed it most, you saved our already slapped and battered faces (thanks to our different national teams and Football Associations). Please do not despair for you have some good years ahead of you and can only get better making fame and fortune for yourselves and your families, winning the Olympic soccer gold in the process and guess what, you have a chance to be back in Brazil 2014 to win it; yes I mean to win the world cup while my dear country tries to rebuild our own football to be like you “when we grow up”!

Thank you Black stars, thank you our golden stars, thank you Ghana Football Association, thank you true sons of the soil, thank you brave hearts, thank you patriots, thank you brothers. The whole of Africa have seen it, the 24 million from home and your 1 billion supporters from Egypt to South-Africa, Kenya, Liberia, Angola, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Equatorial guinea, Tanzania, Libya even Somalia and my beloved country Nigeria, for unto us great men were born and the future shall be upon your shoulders and your names shall be called “Blessed”. You have shown the African child that irrespective of what our politicians do, whether he is ajebo or pako he can achieve anything he sets out in his heart to do with the true African spirit that never gives up, that never dies, and that believes and says “I can” or “I fit”.