Friday, February 2, 2018

What I learned from the "Financing the arts" 2017 Aké panel

R to L. Tom Ilube, Dr Olaokun Soyinka and representatives of Sterling bank and Vlisco.
Ever wondered how some prestigious literary platforms get all the money they need to fund their projects? Like flying a bunch of guest/invited writers to a writing workshop or literary festival? Or paying for their lodging and feeding? Or funding living stipends of artists at a writing residency? It is a question the "Financing the arts" panel of the 2017 Aké festival attempted answering. There were four panelists, Dr Olaokun Soyinka, Tom Ilube, a gentleman representing Sterling Bank and a lady representing Vlisco whose names I have sadly forgotten.

I scribbled notes from all what I gathered from that panel. Funding comes primarily from two sources -an individual with the cash to splash or from an organisation. You should know what and when to ask, and what and when to pitch. Many organisations like Sterling Bank finance artistic projects from a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds perspective: actions that further some social good, beyond the interests of a firm, which is required and allowed by law.

Research the organisation's funding cycle well, so you can know when to ask for funding. For instance, most organisations round off their annual financial activities and balance their accounts in December, so it is generally not a good time to ask. You may need to get close to an employee of a "target organisation", in order to have access to such in house funding information. Also, use the right terminology when asking for money. Use your creative talents in your request emails to stand out from other creatives who are also pitchng. Many creatives send languid emails to funders, which do not stand out, which may lead to them not receiving any reply and no money. You will be one among a bunch of others asking for funding, so your project must be relatable and presented in a creative way.

You must have your elevator pitch or thirty seconds pitch and your extended pitch. Tom Ilube said you will only have thirty seconds with a billionaire funder. You may meet him/her at an elevator (hence the name) or during a flight check-in. Use your thirty seconds well to sum up your project. Funders are busy people who may initially give you only little time the first time they meet you, so make it count. He narrated his personal experences about meeting rich funders and failing woefully with his pitching. The most poignant was meeting someone who asked for his elevator pitch only. But Tom only had his extended pitch then. The man had told Tom to wait, he would be right back and when the man left, he was gone for good! Tom said what he learnt from that experience is that, he had to find himself a killer elevator pitch! 

Creatives should not be afraid to fail with their pitching. Tom says he has failed so many times. Nobody used to give him money at first. But he has learnt from each of those failures and improved his pitching game enormously over the years. He is now more succesful at pitching. He now funds the Nommo awards for Sci-fi and Spec fic, but he is still failing with his pitching and learning everyday. He says there will always be people who are uninterested in your project but rigorous charm will convince them. You just need to make them aware of your project by engaging and making them interested.

How to avoid abuse from companies: Set yourself targets. For instance, you can start by working for free. When you have made a considerable impact at what you do, then you can decide to start getting paid. If someone asks you to work for them for free, you can say something like, "My schedule is kind of busy right now, so I can't really do it gor free." There should be a time in your career when you have to go, "At this point, I'm not doing it for free anymore, I should get paid."

Tom said we are entering an age for lots of creative content, especially digital content. Netflix has a nine billion dollar budget for content. These tech companies are fighting each other for high quality content. But you have to be world class first, in order to get in. Nnedi Okorafor comes to my mind. Pay attention to hone your craft, then pitch and pitch and pitch. After a bunch of initial failures, you will eventually obtain the funds your need for your art project.

Tom Ilube and I

Friday, November 3, 2017

How to differentiate between a Yaounde based and a Douala based Cameroonian in Douala

Let's say they are both friends and they want to step out at night. While the Douala based one just pops out of the house, the Yaounde based one stays behind, looking for their ID card. 'D, have you seen my ID?' Y asks. D sighs. 'Why do you sigh?' Y asks. 'I didn't take mine either.' 'D, get your ID nah. Oh I've just seen mine. Find yours, lets go.' 'I don't need it,' D says. 'What? Why?' Y wonders. 'In fact, whenever I go out in this Douala, I leave the thing behind.' 'Are you guys not afraid of police check ups?' Y asks. D inhales. 'Have you ever passed around Rond Point or the main junction in Ndokoti around 7.00 PM?' 'No,' Y answers. 'Okay, 1 million cars, 3 million okadas and 5 million people snail around those places between 7-9 PM. So tell me, which police officer wants to do that kind of suicidal work, checking IDs?' D points out. 'Na wah oh. Na so yi dey for here?' 'So leave that ID thing behind and lets go. Only pick it up when you're about to travel out of Douala, if not you're finished!'

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review of Jay-Z's 4:44 album

His most experimental yet. His most political yet. His most racially charged. The whole album plays gently. Like a Hoopty car in a slow cruise in the Marcy projects hood, scared of an ambush by police cars nearby. Jay-Z is 47 now - so 4:44 is a mature jazz rap opus of family, unlike his past rap of opulence and crack. Every song sort of has the mood of “Song cry” - weepy background vocals, instruments almost scared of playing, light piano keys, horns that behave, bass that bats gently like Thundercat’s, brass that is scared of being brash. No danceable H to the Izzos. No groovy party bangin Big Pimpins. No fast paced Timbaland inspired dirt off your shoulders. Just a lush Jay-Z with a jazzy sound, coupled with some soul, some blues. Fifty cent described it as music that you can listen to on a golf course. I like the album’s experimentation, though it didn’t grip me like “Blueprint” did. The Cameroonian hip hop fans who love Jay-Z are not crazy about it. It is right up there among his best albums but not his best album.

Every single song is infused with background vocals and solid music samples, ranging from Hannah Williams to Blue Irvy, Gloria Carter, Frank Ocean and the Fugees; constant singing, some wailing, some gurgling, some auto-tuning. Jay-Z then steers his slow cruise with rhymes which are as subtle as his ride. And it’s tight! He’s a man of mistakes in them. He’s a reflective parent in them. He’s an unfaithful husband in them. An apologetic man to Beyoncé in them. But in some songs, he quickly morphs into a gun wielding smooth criminal driver and takes diss shots at everybody around him, from 50 cent to Kanye West, to OJ Simpson and even the Oscars, reminiscent of that old Jay-Z that walloped Mobb Deep.

The first track is a hookless one verse song aptly titled, “Kill Jay-Z”. It’s a very alarming song, especially for an album intro. A touching line goes, “We know the pain is real but you can’t heal what you’ve never revealed.” And Jay-Z goes on to reveal very shocking facts about his life, like shooting his brother, like selling drugs to close people he loves, like dropping out of school. So how can fans know if they can trust this Jay-Z? Fuck Jay-Z. “Kill Jay-Z” –literally! Is it a form of catharsis? He sets the tone of the album as a fallible Jay-Z that can falter. But even though he had no father, he’s got a daughter, so he has to get softer –not on Kanye West though, he is the first person he disses.

In “The story of OJ” Jay uses OJ’s trademark, “I’m not black, I’m OJ” statement to address the realities and truths of being black in America. Being a marginalised Anglophone in Cameroon, it’s a song which resonates with me on many levels, especially the denial, which an Anglophone minister embodied with his unbelievable announcement on state TV, “There is no Anglophone problem in Cameroon!” Jay-Z is also a wise entrepreneur in the song, “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin money in a strip club? Credit. You ever wondered why Jewish people own all the property in America? That’s how they did it.”

The next two songs pave the way for the track which hands the album its title, 4:44, which he woke up at 4:44 in the morning to write. The song plays for exactly 4 minutes and 44 seconds. Jay-Z starts his rhymes with “I apologize…” and he apologizes many times to Beyoncé throughout the first two verses, for cheating on her. He even asks for forgiveness from his children, Blue Irvy and the twins. Jay-Z samples a Hannah Williams song which is about infidelity itself. The music video for the song is such an emotionally complex one. It is not a traditional hip hop music video even. It is some hyper art visual with snippets of music that snaps constantly to show skits. Nigerian writer, Akwaeke Emezi makes a cameo appearance in the video. It’s the kind of visual work that aligns with her visual art.

“Family Feud” is slightly inspired by church background vocals. The rapper further explores family tension. The most outstanding line to me remains, “Nobody wins when the family feuds.” He also distances himself from Becky with the good hair, “Let me alone Becky, a man that don’t take care of his family can’t be rich. I watched Godfather I miss that whole shit. My consciousness was Michael’s common sense. I missed the karma that came as a consequence.” I think this song and 4:44 are good examples to Cameroonian married men with dysfunctional marriages and with big egos who cheat. Apologize. Make the effort to fix up your family feuds.

“Bam” is the only song with a strong Reggae feel and middle tempo blaring horns because, well, there’s Damian Marley in there, who sings the raspy hook and kills it. It’s the only song getting airplay in my country the most. After a brilliant joint album with Nas, “Distant Relatives”, Damian is the go to guy for brilliant reggae-rap joint ventures. He is his father’s genuine musical successor. He towers over all his other Marley Reggae brothers.

Jay-Z proceeds to diss that iconic 2016 Oscar moment in the next song. The Oscar flop of all times, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced the white cast movie, “La La Land” as winner of the Best Picture award, when the black cast movie, “Moonlight” actually won that prestigious Academy. Jay coincidentally dubs the song, “Moonlight” to reflect that. It’s my favourite on the album. He tackles racism in America head on, “He’s talking la la land, even when we win we gon lose”. Then he tackles beefs head on, “Stop walkin round like you made Thriller uh…please don’t talk about guns, that you aint never gon use…why just so fucking confused? Y’all’s talking la la land.” The “Fu-Gee-la” Lauryn Hill vocal sample playing in the background which aligns with his la la land chant is a smart choice.

“Marcy me” has got the best piano keys composition on the album. In it, Jay-Z time travels back to the dangerous Marcy Projects buildings in New York where he grew up, cooking coke, “where the boys died by their thousands.” He charts his way up to Manhattan success, aligning it with images of other icons’ emergence, successes and failures. Michael Jordan losing to Isaiah Thomas early in his career and all. He gives shout outs to his heroes. Blue Irvy opens “Legacy”, the last song on the album which has very gentle horns. Jay-Z muses deeply on his extended family that raised him, not his wife and kids. He half ponders on being a have from a family of have-nots. He imagines who will do what with his wealth and legacy when he’ll finally pass, as he finally parks the slow riding 4:44 car.

Nkiacha Atemnkeng is a Cameroonian writer and music critic.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

James Murua's advice on trying diverse forms of writing

It all started from a Facebook chat I had with the fine gentleman…

Me: By the way, the facilitators of the Nigeria Cameroon Literary Exchange programme I attended in Limbe, Dami Ajayi and Dzekashu Macviban, thought I wrote a wonderful review of a little known Fela Kuti song without vocals which Dami played during one of the workshop sessions and asked us to review. When the song started playing, it had been so weird we started laughing, not to mention reviewing it. But I pulled it off. So I think I'll become a music critic too. I’ve reviewed music before mainly on social media anyway. But I want to be more serious with it now.

James Murua: It doesn't hurt, do different kinds of writing. Even reviews of different forms of art help your writing in ways you can't imagine. One of the things I learnt later in my career was that, writing isn't just one thing. There are many forms. The more forms you explore, the best you become overall at the whole thing. It informs your fiction and it informs everything. My blogs are usually very simple. I went somewhere and saw this. But if you look at them you notice that they have something more. That's from working in the writing industry, from TV to Radio to print to web for many different people with different needs. It all adds up. Unfortunately, no one told me these things when I was starting out. In fact, family and friends thought I was flaky, changing spaces of writing all the time. The having to write for different people forced me to have a unique style that informed how I write even now.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The almost year at the Caine

I’ll always remember 2017 as the year that almost all the records at the Caine prize got broken. Interestingly, no records were actually broken except one –the oldest writer to make the shortlist. Sixty five year old Sudanese, Bushra al-Fadil is the oldest fictioneer to get nominated for the Caine prize. Record! “The story of the little girl whose birds flew away” is a translation from Arabic to English which almost became the first translated story to make the top five. But there has been an Arabic translated story on the shortlist before. Bushra was almost the first Sudanese writer to grace the Caine prize shortlist too. However, that record eternally belongs to Leila Abouleila. She is not only the first Sudanese Caine recognized writer but also their first ever prize winner in 2000.

Lesley Nneka Arimah is slaying. Besides winning the Commonwealth short story prize in 2015, she’s now been in the Caine Prize champions league final for two consecutive seasons like Real Madrid -in 2016 and 2017. Lesley almost set a record with her back to back shortlisting but oops, Henrietta Rose-Innes reigns in that realm. She made the shortlist in 2007 and again in 2008 with a story titled,“Poison” which ultimately won her the Caine. So if Lesley wins it this year, she’ll only be the second writer to accomplish that. I know some readers are already saying, “Lesley will be the first writer to win the Commonwealth short story prize and Caine prize then!” Being recognized on both platforms will be quite an achievement for her, yet it is another oops. Her compatriot, Helon Habila has been there and done that already. He won both prestigious writing awards in 2001.

22-year-old Nigerian, Ifeakandu Arinze almost broke the “youngest writer to ever get shortlisted for the Caine” record. Nevertheless, that bragging right still belongs to Efemia Chela, who did it at the unbelievable age of 21. I know the army of young Nigerian writers who know Arinze are lurking in the shadows, waiting to hack back at their keyboards in the comments section of my post, “Arinze wrote that story at 18, he wrote it at 18! 18!” Okay, if we ask Efemia, maybe she will just quip, “I wrote chicken at 14!” and get a gigantic bite off her piece of unctuous chicken. One remarkable similarity between Ifea and Effie is that, their shortlisted stories both have gay themes, bold and insightful takes on sexuality by very young Africans. On a records note, Arinze is the youngest Nigerian writer to get nominated for the Caine prize, knocking off Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie from her fifteen year record –she was shortlisted for the Caine prize in 2002 at the age of 25. Adichie coincidentally facilitated Arinze at the 2013 Farafina workshop. Little did she know that, Arinze would one day break her, “youngest Nigerian to make the Caine shortlist” record.

The number of Nigerian writers in this world surpasses the population of Nigeria by a large margin. If you shoot a stone in a Lagos market, it will most probably land on a writer’s head. He/she will hurl Shakespearean insults at you and describe your own head in the biggest of grammars, “your obfuscated and wretched cranium void of intelligible grey matter. Why did you shooting my head?” (I nobe Falz). Three of such fine Nigerian writers invaded the Caine prize top five this year like a swarm of locusts, grrr-grrr-waah-waah and almost transformed the thing into the Caine prize for Nigerian writing. Still, as impressive as it may seem, 2017 isn’t the year with the highest number of Nigerians. The real year of Nigeria invasion will always be 2013. That year, four Nigerian writers annexed the Caine prize shortlist like the British government annexed Nigeria–Tope Folarin, Aboubakar Adam Ibrahim, Chinelo Okparanta and Elnathan John. Even the fifth shortlisted writer, Pede Hollist, who is Sierra Leonean was rumoured to have Yoruba ancestry. When I met Prof in Ghana in 2015 I asked him,

“Pede, what is this story I’m hearing about you not being completely Sierra Leonean?”
“My grandparents migrated from Yoruba land in Nigeria to Sierra Leone.”
“Oh, so you’re technically Nigerian abi?”
“Never mind Prof”.

Long story short, a legion of “five” Nigerian bookworms were shortlisted for the Caine prize in 2013, so this year’s three is another almost that falls off the 2013 radar. Nonetheless, it is still extraordinary. Ghanaian Caine prize judge, Nii Ayikwei Parks even joked about them on twitter, “No doubt your Jollof rice can’t compete, bookworms!” Jeez, “Thank God I’m not a Nigerians”.

It seems all the feats that happened on the Caine prize shortlist this year are unintentional “almost attempts” to topple the record feats of the past years. They somehow fall inches short off the mark every time. It reminds me of a line in the Lauryn Hill song, “Lost ones” which goes, “everything you did has already been done”. Well, almost done, in a year which I call , “the almost year at the Caine”.

Bio: Nkiacha Atemnkeng is a Lagos boy who lives on the other side of the border.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Baggage reconciliation wahala

The old man walks towards my colleague E and says, “Err, I just disembarked from the flight and my bag didn’t come out of the conveyor belt. This one here looks like my bag but it isn’t”. E asks for his luggage tag and he produces it. E checks and says, “The name and tag numbers on both the luggage tag and your bag match. Pa, it is your bag”. “No, it is not”. E proposes that, they both go to the airline office to check the contents of the bag. The old man removes stuff, “Hey, they are my things oh but this is not my bag.” “How come?” E wonders. “I checked in a pink bag but this is a red bag though my things are in it. I’m telling you, it is not mine, your airline changed my bag!”

Monday, April 3, 2017

Weaponized Laptops

The US has imposed an electronics ban on nine carriers; Qatar Airways, Emirates Airways, Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir, Etihad Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines and Saudi Airlines from ten different airports around the world. The ban affects direct flights from eight countries in North Africa and the Middle East to the US. The "electronics ban" means passengers have to check in devices which are bigger than smartphones like tablets, cameras and of course laptops!

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer declared during his daily briefing two weeks ago that, terrorists are constantly trying to target commercial aviation especially US bound flights. UK has announced it will implement a similar electronics ban on certain flights. US intelligence agencies have evidence that some terrorist groups have successfully found ways to implant sophisticated explosive devices into laptops which can evade airport security. One such laptop bomb blew a hole in the body of a Somali Daallo Airlines passenger plane before it reached cruising speed in February but did not down the aircraft. The suspected bomber was blown out of the plane and two people aboard were injured. The plane successfully returned to the airport in Mogadishu.

The electronics ban which started on April 1st will hit Dubai hardest because it has the world's busiest airport. The big three Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar have particularly tough times ahead. Emirates is scrambling to figure out the rules and ease the headache on travellers by letting them keep their electronic devices for the first leg of their US journey. Qatar Airways is going around the ban in its own way by offering loaner laptops for free to business class passengers at the boarding gate. As for economy class passengers, who won't receive loaner laptops, they might just start experiencing a resurgence of "reading a book on board a plane," again, if the in-flight entertainment is not great or absent, especially during long haul flights.