Sunday, 24 January 2010

THE DECAY OF MY CONCIOUS FIBRE



BY WANA UDOBANG
A friend once came to visit me and said, “You are one of those black people”. Unconsciously I retreated into an internal monologue, “sorry to disappoint you but true”. You see I am one of those black people. The ones that buy Fela and Oumou Sangare records, which hang Dadaist collages of black empowerment and mental emancipation on their walls, the ones that join the band wagon of save the children campaigners hoping I could contribute something to our ever so rapidly decaying world. The ones that tattoo self affirming messages on their wrists; Yes I am one of those black people. Those black people that grow afros in a bid to prove that they will not be a part of the machine, until I realised that even an overdose of painkillers couldn’t numb the excruciating pain that came with trying to tame the natural goods that the most high had bestowed upon me. Who said Madam CJ Walker didn’t know when she invented the perm kit.

When I became a journalist, I thought it would be like it said in the books. I thought I would epitomise the fourth estate, become the mouthpiece between the feudal powers and the proletarian masses. My mother had dreams of her last child becoming the next Amanpour. She still talks about Christianne like she had lunch with her just the day before. I was already on my way to becoming an award winning documentary filmmaker, just after I would have obtained a distinction in my futuristic masters degree in documentary film from the London Film and Television School or even Goldsmith University(Home to some of the most avant-garde Brits in the world). It would sit very nicely just next to my first class degree from a premier European arts institution. It will be sweet in the mouth, just the way Nigerians say it. I would re-incarnate Micheal Winterbottom’s eye and merge it with a certain kind of Nick Bloomfield curiosity. I would become a national conscious treasure and my people would be proud.

I was still mastering the art of documentary radio, making moving pieces of sound art and features that would move any suicide bomber to tears.
I made pieces of campaign journalism. I was told that I was way beyond my years; I knew how to hit the core of the human psyche. My ambition was to re-ignite the public interest debate. I religiously studied the “Unreported World”. I would have given anything to become a concoction of Sourious Samura and Hunter .S. Thompson. I would go Gonzo in pursuit of the truth. Then something happened.

I got a commission to make a feature for BBC Radio Four. It was for a daily programme called Woman’s hour. Dare I say, “The home of intelligent speech and drama”. Woman’s Hour was what it was, an hour long daily programme about women. I had pitched an idea to them about the indecent dressing bill in Nigeria which certain people in power had been trying to pass as a piece of legislation. I did also mention that the proposed bill was spearheaded by a woman in charge of women and youth affairs for the federal republic. Of course this was the sort of thing that Woman’s hour would love to sink their teeth into. Then I came to Nigeria on assignment. (As a freelancer, such travel expenses were unpaid for). It was about the cause and maybe the CV too.

A few interviews and atmospheric sounds later, there was still one missing piece. The interview from the senator Grande Dame, Madame Ufot Ekaete. Thankfully the different strands of the BBC were at peace with each other and had an open policy which allowed the borrowing and exchange of sound bites from one anther. I was able to obtain a recorded interview previously conducted by Alex Jakarta for the World Service programme “ Africa have your say”. There it was, my feature was complete. I would get to Woman’s Hour a report on the bill that was about to become a gross violation of women’s rights even before they could get it for themselves. I was excited. I would make the first extended report on the indecent dressing bill and spark an international debate. Finally i was doing the kind of work I wanted. I was about to start living my dream, just before my hopeful next assignment on investigating child abuse by UN peace keepers in Ivory Coast .

I was already gleaming from ear to ear. The phone was ringing and I was about to be told what day and time my feature would be aired. Then I answered the call, “Hi Wana, its Alex from BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour”… I know you have worked so hard at this report but im afraid at Woman’s Hour, we like to give our audience a sense of place and actuality, we think that the atmospheric sound doesn’t fit very well with the piece, so we decided we wont be able to use it”. There I was on the other side of the telephone feeling a rush of heat through my bowel. With an equal dose of despair and desperation I said “you don’t have to pay me, I don’t mind if you use it anyways”. Then she retorted “im afraid we won’t be able to use it but please make sure you always keep in touch with us because we love your ideas, enthusiasm and energy”. Then I dropped the phone and retreated back into one of my internal monologues. Though more fired up this time around.
You mean to tell me that in one of Africa’s most populous nations, some maniac is about to make it illegal for young girls to wear sleeveless and knee length dresses, it is about to become a punishable offence(imprisonment actually) to wear spaghetti straps, women could be raped in jail, and you are more concerned with atmospheric sound that doesn’t fit in, the way you want it to. The only words I could hear echo in my thoughts was that of my friend Rotimi and it went thus “What is point”.
I eventually got a couple of other commissions , mostly for the world service. Somewhere along the line, I successfully became jaded. I packed all two suitcases of my life’s belongings and hopped on a plane to Nigeria . I eventually got a gig prostituting myself as a radio personality on the airwaves. I couldn’t even read the newspapers because every article was paid for. Either in envelopes of cash, recharge cards or branded Tee shirts and note pads. I realised the papers were controlled by publicists and corporate communications people. The airwaves by advertisers and sponsors. Some news journalists just copy and paste from other news websites, waiting for supplementary information from the state spin doctors.
These days I try to exercise the little conscious fibre I have left by writing bitter social commentary. Thanks to blogville, comment is free. I also have a radio show where I try to give as much airtime as possible to underground recording artists. It’s become my form of campaign music journalism. I tell myself it’s a public service. Though I must admit, they start to bore me the more popular they become.

I still cling on to my Fela records and my Dadaist collages. I swapped the afro for a perm. I even tinted it blonde and added some hair extensions. My mother still hopes I can be like Amanpour someday. Somehow I hope so to. Im allowed to dream aren’t I.

5 comments:

ufuomabubu said...

Yeah,i think i will hold on to your last words,"am allowed to dream" cos dreams do come true.your expression is excellent,am most fascinated.kudos!

A'Lelia said...

Was fascinated by your interesting musings and observations on culture and politics. Just wanted to let you know that Madam C. J. Walker did not invent the "perm kit" that you mention. Although many people have come to believe the myth (no, she did not invent or use chemical perms and she did not invent the hot comb), these things aren't true. Since you're clearly interested in history, I hope you'll have a chance to visit my website (www.madamcjwalker.com) and read my book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker. You'll find the prologue to the book at www.madamcjwalker.com
A'Lelia Bundles
Madam Walker's great-great-granddaughter and biographer.

CONSCIOUSNESS said...

Salutations sista!! Whilst it would may sound a bit sycophantic to keep re-iterating our continued admiration for your good works but the gifts which you possess demand at the very least a daily dose of commendation... be rest assured that the day which you so clamor for when the thinkers, dreamers and non-conformists rule is nigh...keep fightn the baseless convention for though they may act like they don't see - truss mi they envy the bravery...+ He who is the most high and rules over all that breathes is endeared to the simple truth which you so dedicatedly purvey!!

With Continued blessings, humility + commendations,

C!!

Deji said...

Word!

Fadipe A said...

yeah, ur last word is IT. thanx to A'Leila too........ i was awed