BY WANA UDOBANG “When you move to Nigeria, you won’t have any problems; phonetics is already in your favour”. That was all I ever heard. Never realising, that the foreign accent would eventually annihilate every fibre of my achievements and multiple personalities I toiled so hard to attain. I met a girl schooling in the north of England who baffled me with a very potent American accent. Another friend of mine grew up in Warri, schooled in England but of course she speaks like a Yankee valley doll. Three words best describe this phenomenon. “ONLY IN NIGERIA”.
A few months ago at the radio station where I work, we ran a competition called the next radio superstar. The alchemy of accents and dialects surpassed my very own powers of impression and impersonation. As a Don Juan of accents and dialects, if I must say so myself(I do about fifteen to twenty accents in total..don’t mean to brag), this degree of R rolling tongues and squeaky vocal cords brought me to my knees. Already considering handing over my crown as I was way too advanced for a tiara, I thought to myself, eight years in the land of queen and country? Does that legitimise my twisted tongue. Or doesn’t it? I watched one of the numerous reality TV song contests, whose audience cuts right across West Africa. The male presenter was a nice young dark skinned man who sounded like he had been doing a bit too many commercials for such a long time. His female co-host was the young beautiful British/Nigerian lass who looked very appropriate for television. And yes she did have a strong Brit accent . I’m not big on conspiracy theories but at times I do wonder, Is this imperialism revamped? Or could it be an upgraded strata of post-modern neo colonialism? Where “The Phonetics” has become the preferred apparatus used to disseminate this finely tuned ideological impetus.
Living as an immigrant in England, I completely understand the intense sense of identity that comes with the accent. The more of a cockney I sounded, the more working class they thought I was and essentially they felt I empathised with their proletariat revolution. The same went for my posh tuffs who thought of me as a little less “scum of the earth” the more I sounded like I had a plum in my mouth accompanied with a stiff upper lip. I hate to admit it , but it made my life a lot easier when I started to get conversant with the fact that my accent would become my all access pass through every socio-economic/political tribe. Former Mr Madonna, Guy Ritchie has forsaken his posh accent in order to be taken seriously as the king of cockney gangster flicks. The same can be said for Britpops Damon Albarn. Although theirs works in the reverse as they subscribed to the gritty talk to authenticate their street credibility rather than be perceived as over opportuned bourgeois pedigree. For us Nigerians, it’s just a little different. I work on a breakfast show where I speak with my Brit chick accent and then I get a bit carried away as a New Yorker ghetto hood rat. So yes, i receive my conviction and say guilty as charged.Of course I have to sprinkle a bit home grown flavour just to ease the guilt of my foreign tilt. So here I am getting increasingly irritated with phoney phonetics. I stare at my generation with disdain in my eyes and venom on my tongue, while I offer myself to this city of fourteen million as the imperial sandwich to be consumed. Who knows, even the holy sacrament divine.
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