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Ake: A Festival to Remember

Wole Soyinka being interviewed by 4 young students while Olaokun Soyinka moderates

Wole Soyinka being interviewed by 4 young students while Olaokun Soyinka moderates

The Ake Arts and Book Festival was aptly themed: The Shadow of Memory. Little did participants know that in truth, they would leave Abeokuta with lingering memories of what is shaping up to be the biggest literary festival in Nigeria.
This is only the first, and like all tottering establishments, it had its missteps. But in the grand picture, those missteps have been easily swept aside by the participants, who are busy focusing on the positives.
Festival director Lola Shoneyin brought her organisational skills to the fore to put together such an event. Almost 100 writers, local and international, not to forget the Nigerian diaspora literati visited the rock city for the fiesta.
Highlight of the festival was Kongi himself. Nigeria’s Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka was quizzed by four under 21 students who wanted to know how winning the Nobel Prize had affected his writing, his hair regimen, his first love and the place intoxicants hold in inspiring his great works.
Cornered? Soyinka, mindful of the age of his interviewers, skilfully dodged some of the questions. On love, with his son, Olaokun, compeering the event, Soyinka segued from recounting how he wooed his first love to giving very fatherly dating advice to the young girl who had asked the question.
He does nothing to his hair, other than wash it and comb it occasionally, he said. And apart from the constant travelling he had to embark on on the heels of his 1986 Nobel Prize win, the laureate said winning the prize had absolutely no effect on his writing.
It was Soyinka as most had never seen him. Witty and paternal.
Another highlight of the festival, and one that has got many people talking is the amazing stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Written by Caine Prize winner Rotimi Babatunde and directed by Femi Elufowoju, this performance was by far the most impressive play one has seen in years.
While taking artistic liberties, the play retained the elements of the novel. Yes, it was amusing, grave and above all sensual with Martins Iwuagwu in the role of the cuckold Baba Segi and sterling performances from Uzor Osimkpa as Bolanle, Adesuwa Etomi as Segi and Priye Goerge as the scheming Iya Segi.
The director’s decision to run the play as a one act play without costume breaks or scene changes was nothing short of genius and despite the length of the play, there was not a moan of despair from the audience. Even the sensual scenes, of which there were many, were earnestly delivered and the five-minute long self pleasing scene with Baba Segi, which seemed to have gone on forever, had the audience roaring with laughter. It is a scene the director would do well to trim should they choose to go on tour with this play. And it would be criminal if they don’t go on tour with it.
But who says sex doesn’t sell? One needs only to look at the Achebe tent venue of the panel discussion “Body of mine: Sex and Sensuality in African fiction”. It was packed and the panellists, Toni Kan, Aita Ighadaro, Mamle Kabu, Monica Arac de Nyako moderated by the impressive Ayodele Morocco-Clarke tried to define the place of sex and sensuality in African fiction. If anything, it wasn’t as explosive as what many in the audience had expected it to be.
One session that did not disappoint was “Holding Back the Years: The Consequence of Corruption in 21st Century Africa. It featured the Canada-based academic and writer Pius Adesanmi, journalist and writer Tolu Ogunlesi, Muthoni Garland, convener of the StoryMoja Hay Festival, Michaela Wrong who has made a career writing about corruption in African countries and Teju Cole.
Things got really exciting when Ogunlesi advocated a system where corrupt officials should invest their loot in building societies, a position that Prof. Adesanmi supported. The moderator Wale Adebanwi found it challenging reigning in all the impassioned voices that fought to burst free, including from the audience, some of whom said there should be no quarter given to corruption and the corrupt.
In all, there were about a dozen panels. All exciting and lively. And several book chats. From the two panels yours truly was on, one on new Nigerian writing and the other on Post Colonial narrative, it was clear African writers have had enough of labelling. What is post-colonial literature? Why is it necessary to tag this bothersome label on African writers? Fellow panellist Igoni Barret, Abraham Ashoko and Ifeanyi Ajaegbo and Tope Folarin agreed it was a nuisance.
Strangely, the panel on new Nigerian writing kept revolving, and annoyingly so, around Taiye Selasie’s new label, “Afropolitanism”. It was unanimously rejected by fellow panellists Molara Wood, Richard Ali, Eghosa Imasuen, and Yewande Omotosho.
If Ikhide Ikheloa, the moderator, and an open admirer of Selasie’s work was disappointed about this, he handled it well.
The one thing wrong with Ake, and this is also good in some sense, is that there were too many interesting events all going on at the same time, with some of the most amazing writers from within and outside the continent on showcase.
If one had expected, by mere looking at the guest list, that this festival would be about serious minded, hard faced writers mumbling inanities that will confound others, they couldn’t be more wrong.
Lola Shoneyin did well to throw in some great evening entertainments, apart from the spectacular festival play, the fascinating art exhibition and book fair that ran throughout the festival, there was a poetry evening with drinks, some partying with live bands where many writers demonstrated that their bodies could be as dexterous with music as their handling of words.
And so for those lucky enough to witness the birth of this literary festival, Ake, which had hitherto been synonymous with Soyinka’s memoir, will now be synonymous with the gathering of great minds.
Take this to the bank: at this rate, Ake will be the definitive literary event of the continent in the next few years.

The Ake Arts and Book Festival was aptly themed: The Shadow of Memory. Little did participants know that in truth, they would leave Abeokuta with lingering memories of what is shaping up to be the biggest literary festival in Nigeria.
This is only the first, and like all tottering establishments, it had its missteps. But in the grand picture, those missteps have been easily swept aside by the participants, who are busy focusing on the positives.
Festival director Lola Shoneyin brought her organisational skills to the fore to put together such an event. Almost 100 writers, local and international, not to forget the Nigerian diaspora literati visited the rock city for the fiesta.
Highlight of the festival was Kongi himself. Nigeria’s Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka was quizzed by four under 21 students who wanted to know how winning the Nobel Prize had affected his writing, his hair regimen, his first love and the place intoxicants hold in inspiring his great works.
Cornered? Soyinka, mindful of the age of his interviewers, skilfully dodged some of the questions. On love, with his son, Olaokun, compeering the event, Soyinka segued from recounting how he wooed his first love to giving very fatherly dating advice to the young girl who had asked the question.
He does nothing to his hair, other than wash it and comb it occasionally, he said. And apart from the constant travelling he had to embark on on the heels of his 1986 Nobel Prize win, the laureate said winning the prize had absolutely no effect on his writing.
It was Soyinka as most had never seen him. Witty and paternal.
Another highlight of the festival, and one that has got many people talking is the amazing stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Written by Caine Prize winner Rotimi Babatunde and directed by Femi Elufowoju, this performance was by far the most impressive play one has seen in years.
While taking artistic liberties, the play retained the elements of the novel. Yes, it was amusing, grave and above all sensual with Martins Iwuagwu in the role of the cuckold Baba Segi and sterling performances from Uzor Osimkpa as Bolanle, Adesuwa Etomi as Segi and Priye Goerge as the scheming Iya Segi.
The director’s decision to run the play as a one act play without costume breaks or scene changes was nothing short of genius and despite the length of the play, there was not a moan of despair from the audience. Even the sensual scenes, of which there were many, were earnestly delivered and the five-minute long self pleasing scene with Baba Segi, which seemed to have gone on forever, had the audience roaring with laughter. It is a scene the director would do well to trim should they choose to go on tour with this play. And it would be criminal if they don’t go on tour with it.
But who says sex doesn’t sell? One needs only to look at the Achebe tent venue of the panel discussion “Body of mine: Sex and Sensuality in African fiction”. It was packed and the panellists, Toni Kan, Aita Ighadaro, Mamle Kabu, Monica Arac de Nyako moderated by the impressive Ayodele Morocco-Clarke tried to define the place of sex and sensuality in African fiction. If anything, it wasn’t as explosive as what many in the audience had expected it to be.
One session that did not disappoint was “Holding Back the Years: The Consequence of Corruption in 21st Century Africa. It featured the Canada-based academic and writer Pius Adesanmi, journalist and writer Tolu Ogunlesi, Muthoni Garland, convener of the StoryMoja Hay Festival, Michaela Wrong who has made a career writing about corruption in African countries and Teju Cole.
Things got really exciting when Ogunlesi advocated a system where corrupt officials should invest their loot in building societies, a position that Prof. Adesanmi supported. The moderator Wale Adebanwi found it challenging reigning in all the impassioned voices that fought to burst free, including from the audience, some of whom said there should be no quarter given to corruption and the corrupt.
In all, there were about a dozen panels. All exciting and lively. And several book chats. From the two panels yours truly was on, one on new Nigerian writing and the other on Post Colonial narrative, it was clear African writers have had enough of labelling. What is post-colonial literature? Why is it necessary to tag this bothersome label on African writers? Fellow panellist Igoni Barret, Abraham Ashoko and Ifeanyi Ajaegbo and Tope Folarin agreed it was a nuisance.
Strangely, the panel on new Nigerian writing kept revolving, and annoyingly so, around Taiye Selasie’s new label, “Afropolitanism”. It was unanimously rejected by fellow panellists Molara Wood, Richard Ali, Eghosa Imasuen, and Yewande Omotosho.
If Ikhide Ikheloa, the moderator, and an open admirer of Selasie’s work was disappointed about this, he handled it well.
The one thing wrong with Ake, and this is also good in some sense, is that there were too many interesting events all going on at the same time, with some of the most amazing writers from within and outside the continent on showcase.
If one had expected, by mere looking at the guest list, that this festival would be about serious minded, hard faced writers mumbling inanities that will confound others, they couldn’t be more wrong.
Lola Shoneyin did well to throw in some great evening entertainments, apart from the spectacular festival play, the fascinating art exhibition and book fair that ran throughout the festival, there was a poetry evening with drinks, some partying with live bands where many writers demonstrated that their bodies could be as dexterous with music as their handling of words.
And so for those lucky enough to witness the birth of this literary festival, Ake, which had hitherto been synonymous with Soyinka’s memoir, will now be synonymous with the gathering of great minds.
Take this to the bank: at this rate, Ake will be the definitive literary event of the continent in the next few years.

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