Why Do You Dance When You Walk? is Abdourahman Waberi’s most autobiographical work to date. Poet, novelist and essayist, his earlier stories and novels bring to life the story of his homeland, the former French colony of Djibouti. This tiny country of the Horn of Africa is roughly the same size as South West England, but its strategic position near the Red Sea and the world’s busiest shipping routes offers it a major strategic significance disproportionate to its smallness. A polyglot nation, its cultures and traditions are rooted in cosmopolitanism.
Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up.
It was a very privileged upbringing in the sense of growing up with a mother whose protective love and unquestioning belief in me gave me a strong sense of self and a confident “I can” rather than the terrorising “I cannot” which so many girls are schooled into. This early self-belief no doubt ensured that I came out of an English boarding school relatively unscathed. I grew up with a fiercely intelligent, industrious, and unlettered woman who equated education, financial astuteness, and sartorial elegance with freedom and brilliance! There was no drama of a gifted or damaged child; it was a very comforting childhood on Lagos Island.
Life was lived on the street and from our balcony with Yoruba Fuji, Juju and American soul music, the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer and the evangelists church bells knifing the air, all fighting for our souls, and all winning, because, in that Yoruba accommodative world all have their place. It was a childhood peopled by women of courage and self-possession, errant men, incessant noise, theatre, much laughter and without contamination. I love and appreciate this world and grounding, even as I craved solitude. It is the nucleus by which my identity, especially as a questioning being derives its meaning and purpose.
Were your parents great readers? What were the books that made you fall in love with reading?
There were no oak floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in our house. In their place, were hundreds of LPs of different genres of Yoruba music, played on the Grundig Stereogram. These records were probably my first introduction to text without writing. Music was the first thing that held my being in its fold and made me conscious of the evolving social and political landscape of Nigeria in the early 1980s. It was also the first art form that introduced me to the transformative power of storytelling to stir the emotion. So, my parents were not great readers of books, but they came to reading through music, so did I. Continue reading Interview Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Cassava Republic Press
In the Company of Men – The Ebola Tales by Véronqiue Tadjo is a beautifully written and translated, stark collection of concise narratives about the Ebola epidemic of 2014. A short but unforgettable novel, it offers a poetic vision of sustained horror, fear, and excruciating pain. It questions the blindness of humanity in the face of potential catastrophic collapse as rampant greed, willful ignorance and avoidable self-destruction threaten to decimate planet earth.
Originally published in France in 2017, there is something prophetic about these tales in light of today’s coronavirus pandemic, and the grim topicality of potential or ongoing infectious disease threats.
A Long Way From Douala by Max Lobe is an entertaining, edgy read about serious subjects, including violence, terrorism, homosexuality and migration.
Only yesterday, yet another story about small boats carrying migrants crossing the English Channel hit the headlines. Since the pandemic, the journey has become even more perilous. And it has recently become illegal for asylum seekers arriving in the UK via people smugglers to remain: they will be asked to leave the UK, either voluntarily or by force. What lies behind the desperation to seek safety and a better life in the UK and Europe?
“They say that Boko Haram is everywhere. That even little-little girls with the sheet over their heads can come here and Boko Haramise us.” Continue reading Review A Long Way From Douala, Max Lobe
The ten young writers from Cameroon and Nigeria showcased in the bilingual anthology out with Bakwa Books, Your Feet Will Lead You Where your Heart Is (Le Crépuscule des âmes sœurs), edited by Dzekashu Macviban & Nfor E. Njinyoh give an absorbing and entertaining kaleidoscopic snapshot of contemporary African life seen through the lens of empathy. A landmark publication, this motley collection offers readers a powerful range of storytelling from fantasy to existentialism and afrojujuism to realism.
Edited by the founder of Bakwa Books, Dzekashu Macviban, and poet and translator, Nfor E. Njinyoh, the collection is the end result of a literary translation workshop held in Cameroon in 2019 in collaboration with the University of Bristol, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.