Quotīdiē ❧ Udoka Julian Ogbuji

Morning Song
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Sylvia Plath—"Morning Song"

The child has a name now. Udoka Julian Melayo Ogbuji. Udoka means roughly "peace reigns". As with many Igbo names, it has a couple of levels of meaning for us, mostly as a hope for unlikely peace in a household with three boys, and partly as an imprecation for peace in troubled times, globally. It's shortened to "Udo", pronounced "oo-doh" with stress on the second syllable. Julian follows from the month (I suppose Jide could have been "August", but we preferred "Maxwell"). Melayo means roughly "relax", and is my father's contribution. We were all hoping for a girl, and even though it's a boy, we're all easy like Sunday morning.

And so speaking of mornings, what better poem for the mood than one of my favorite Plath pieces, another discovery from my favorite small poetry book, John Wain's Anthology of Modern Poetry (Hutchinson, 1963), ISBN 0090671317, which I've mentioned before. I love reciting "Morning Song" to my children at bedtime, and doubly so with the roseate memory of Udoka's birth still fresh. One thing about reciting it is that I cannot bring myself to say "New statue. In a drafty museum,...". I always end up saying: "New statue in a drafty museum,..." Another thing is the lovely, last metaphor, the vivid synaesthesia that is so typical of Plath's keen sensibility. It's a very romanticized fallacy of a newborn baby's very nasal cry, but also a very crafty expression of the fact that this sound is music to any parent's ears. And the images in this poem just keep coming at you like, well, like purple pila. I'm not one for image for the sake of image, but Plath is one of the few with the craft to pull it off, as I discussed earlier.

And in honor of Lori, who brought Udoka forth to the world, here's another poem in the genus.

I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

—Sylvia Plath—"Metaphors"

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Old pirates, yes, they rob I,
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have—
Redemption songs.

Ms. Dynamite—from her Live8 cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"

I've been hearing a lot about Ms. Dynamite's performance at Live8. Numerous attendees have rhapsodized over the power of her "Redemption Song" cover. Even commentators who had already blasted her for being the token black Live8 performer seemed to soften their tone when talking about her actual contribution. And BTW, yes, although I have plenty of beef with Live8, as I had to express to a friend lately, that does not mean that I've ever felt it necessary as a result to denigrate everyone who supported Live8. I'll leave the indiscriminate spray of spleen to others. Anyway did people really expect anything pedestrian from the wicked brilliant Ms. Dynamite? From the woman who can chat in rapid syncopated fire like a semi-automatic gun, and then sing as engagingly as a Savannah weaver bird? Once I heard that she covered Bob Marley's wonderful song, I knew I had to hear for myself.

The first time I heard Ms. Dynamite was when she set fire 'pon Sticky's UK Garage club anthem, "Booo!", which soon became an Ogbuji household anthem. Next I heard her shred the So Solid track "Envy (They don't know)" (which couldn't become an anthem at our house because Lori unfortunately hates The So Solid Crew). So we were mad ready when she dropped A Little Deeper ("It takes more" and "Dynamite" from the single had already taken their turn as household anthems). But never mind my family's endorsement, let's hear from Ali G:

Next up is MC Dynamite, who is me favorite Garage MC with his or her track called "Dynamite". That is a wicked name for the track and me swear this track is just like Dynamite, because it's going to explode like a massive bit of dynamite. And like this kind of record, dynamite can make a lot of mess and proper mash things up, just like Dynamite can. Oh yeah, this track can also blow up like dynamite. Sure this track ain't red, and don't come in boxes with the name "dynamite" on them, but this tune is also on fire, just like Dynamite, innit? This is also a banging tune, and dynamite goes "bang" when it come out of the box, doesn't it?

OK. Enough with the Sacha Cohen. I hunted down the Live8 performance, first finding an AOL/Netscape widget site that offered Live8 videos but refused to work with Firefox. I did eventually find a collection of Live8 mp3s, including this "Redemption Song" Live8 clip. I also got the concert version "Dy-na-mi-tee", another favorite, a really sweet old-school romp (old school beat, old school sentiment, etc.) through her airy brand of nostalgia. I must say it sounded a bit muddled and rushed at Live8, which I can understand from what I heard of the logistical difficulties of cramming so many acts together in such an unforgiving schedule. She did add bongos to the background, which I think is a nice touch. Sounds as if it would have made a nice studio remix, but she's on to her next project, I understand. Hells yeah. I'm all about a new Ms. Dynamite album (can't find any solid links yet, just the rumors of a new album).

One note of interest, some cat I don't think I've heard before performed a rap at the end of "Redemption Song". The lyrics are fairly insightful, with just a couple of WTF bits.

What's going on, nothing's changed, we're still exploiting the poor
Slavery never ends, yo it just changed wars
AIDS and free trade decimating the young
Famine everywhere but why never a shortage of guns?
Conflict, duel all over the globe instigated by our leaders
War in the Motherland but no African arms dealers
The West robbed the third world of every single cent
Now there's Third World debt. How does that make sense?

The last two lines do smack it all home, on the real, although I think we need to get past all that. Africans will get theirs back from the West, over time. Demographic power and all that. The more immediate concern is Africa's independent economic development.

I do still say: Live8 in London, eh? No Roots Manuva, eh? No Ty? No Klashnekoff? No Est'elle? No Blak Twang? Heck, not even Dizzee Rascal? Somebody didn't do their Supreme Mathematics, son.

But at least they got some Dynamite, and we got a reminder that Bob Marley's song is a superlative testament to the emotive and universal power of music.

And hey. Yay! I scrounged out a few minutes for a Quotīdiē. Chicken noodle soup for the overworked soul.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


I think [events such as Live8] are effective at mustering attention and getting people thinking about things. What I find frustrating as someone who has written about Africa now for nearly 20 years is that the message becomes so simplified, and it's distorted in the process. I find horrible in G8, Africa Commission, the Live8 this sort of patronizing sense that "we can deliver recovery to Africa. It's in our hands. It's in our control. We the generous well-meaning West are going to deliver recovery to Africa." Things are never that simple. There's the whole issue of governance, leadership, corruption, the whole issue of countries that want to go to war. In Eritrea and Ethiopia, we have two countries for example that are still re-arming in preparation for a future war. Where does what we decide in the G8 affect that? This is not all in our remit. In my own guts, in my heart I believe that Africa's recovery will come from Africa. It will come from the young Africans I meet when I go there, who are educated, who are motivated, who know exactly what they want to do. They want to run their small businesses, they all have three mobile phones each and are extremely clear in their thinking. They don't want charity, they don't want help, they just want to be allowed to run their own businesses. I think those people are going to build their future, I don't think it's going to come from the West. I think there are things we have to do out of sheer human decency, and the trade issues come in here, but I don't think we can deliver salvation. We are not the cavalry.

Michela Wrong on NPR's Fresh Air

I heard this story last week, but it's been a hectic couple of weeks, and I've only now had a chance to comment on it. The 35 minute segment is very interesting overall, focusing on Eritrea and the fascinating, sad story of that country's abuse by colonialism and Cold War neo-colonialism. Near the end (minute 26 or so) she had the above absolute gem to offer on the general issue of today's hype over aid to Africa.

Hostess Terry Gross's question was:

Do you think mega-concerts like Live8 and its predecessor LiveAid are useful in calling attention to the issues in Africa?

And as you can read, Michela completely nailed what I and some other colleagues have to say about these matters.

She follows up with another interesting statement:

I think that debt relief comes into this, but I'm not one of those people who think you just deliver unconditional debt relief. There are countries whose dictators, for example Mobutu, whom I've written a lot about, just racked up these unspeakable debts, and it was outrageous that people ever lent money to people like Mobutu, what were they thinking of? This man was so manifestly corrupt and everybody knew what he was spending his money on. There is the issue of odious debts, but I think we have to be a little realistic and critical. I worked for a magazine that was talking about debt relief in Angola, and I felt, if you have manifestly corrupt government in places such as Angola that are brimming in diamonds and oil, is it for us to write off their debt? This is a government that has repeatedly shown that it don't give a damn about the population are is quite happy to let poverty levels, AIDS levels, education health go through the floor. Is it really for us to save Angola? I think it's time to get a little more realistic and tough talking with some of these horrible regimes that still exist in Africa. One of my main criticisms of the African Commission is that it keeps talking about this new leadership that's emerging in Africa, and I'd like to know which leaders they're talking about? Which ones in particular, because I don't see those leaders.

I think this is interesting. I think that to some extent "odious" makes up most of the debt to African by the West, whether or not to corrupt governments. As such, I do think that there is an element of moral obligation in debt relief, but it's clear that it is a dangerous distraction from the real engine of development, the professionals Michela mentions.

And this is as good a time as any to mention that even though I sometimes lump my fellow native African professionals in diaspora with our colleagues based on the continent, this is a false parity. The latter group is so much more important in the grand scheme of African development, and I get the sense, which Michela also puts across nicely in her quote, that they will soon be impossible to ignore, much as their Indian and Chinese counterparts before them.

It seems I'll be having a go at Michela's books.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The United States Constitution (See also the Amendments to the Constitution)

The country that has kindly granted me a second and very valuable citizenship deserves some moments of reflection outside the details of the days politics (no mean responsibility considering how worrisome politics have become lately).

The foundation of the U.S.A. is a remarkably sensible and prescient document which has endured through tremendous changes in every aspect of the country. But what is most remarkable to me is the fact that the constitution has endured so well in the face of changing mores. It is extraordinary for any national code in history to survive changes in mores, and yet this Constitution has been a steady guide, requiring no revolution through women's suffrage, the emancipation of slaves, the establishment of civil rights, the shift from insular to geopolitical tendency, the shift from agrarian to industrial and from industrial to service economy, and even all the explosive demographic changes since the turn of the 20th century. I think that this is ample proof that the principles enshrined in the constitution should inform the development of all sovereign nations, including my own native Nigeria. I know that the universality of these principles is a controversial idea, and for now I'll just say that it's practicality rather than idealism that makes me think so.

Here's looking forward to another 229 years of life for the U.S. constitution, and indeed, many more beyond that.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Go go go go ma lo Funke, it's your birthday
We're going to drink palm wine like it's your birthday
We're going to drink ogogoro like it's your birthday
Girl, I don't really care it's not your birthday
You can find me in buka
Eating amala
Omo I got what you need
If you’re into drinking Star
I’m into writing checks
Can’t work behind the bar
Come give me a hug
If you can cook eba!

JJC and the 419 Squad—from "50 Kobo and the Gidi Unit"

OK, this song made my day yesterday. I learned of it via Black Looks, "Naija Blog Roundup". Kobo is the hundredth unit of a Naira. "JJC" is Naija slang "Johnny just come" for a greenhorn of some sort. I've marked up the other Naija terms in abbr tags. Just hover your mouse over each one to get the gloss. The song is, of course, a parody of the smash worldwide hit "In da Club" by American rapper 50 Cent.

Find me in da club, bottle full of bub
Ma, I got what you need if you need to feel a buzz
I'm into having sex, I ain't into making love
So come give me a hug, if you into getting rubbed

Ah, 50 Cent is such a charmer, it seems. A pole away from 50's anthem to bling-bling, Ecstasy pills and frottage, JJC and co. rap a tongue-in-cheek form of Nigerian playa rap in Pidgin and Yoruba. A couple of other choice lines:

"When you see me up front, it's always Legedez Benz"
"I'm a Naija, toss it up to the good life"

The source site, Naija Jams is a find in itself. Every week or so they post a full mp3 of a Nigerian pop song. Some are new, like "50 kobo" and some are old, like Majek Fashek's "Send sown the rain" which was a hit back in 1987 or so when I was still in Nigeria. I must say I never heard the silly myth about Fashek's performance of that song ending a drought, and anyway the very idea of a single drought afflicting the all of Nigeria is just ludicrous.

By coincidence, via Jon Phillips today I found The African Hip Hop Project a page hosting over twenty Hip Hop tracks relating to the continent, most songs by African Hip Hop groups, including two different songs by JJC and the 419 Squad.

There's nothing quite like unanticipated riches.



[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Il avait des richess de cœur,
L'est né pour jouer son accordéon
L'a donné la chemis' de son dos
C'était un grand bonhomm', monsieur [Buckwheat Zydeco]

—Michael Doucet (final flourish mine)—from "Freeman's Zydeco". Original "grand bonhomm'" is "Freeman Fontenot". My translation:

He has riches of the heart
He was born to play his accordion
He's given away the shirt on his back
He's a great free spirit, Mr. Buckwheat Zydeco

Hé toi! (that's Cajun, not French, y'all)

Last night Lori and I went to Buckwheat Zydeco at the Boulder Theater. Yes yes Lori is over eight months pregnant, but when did that sort of thing ever stop her from doing anything? As soon as we got to the theater, we were a bit dismayed. I've never had a problem with the mass of Boulder's grey hippies, but it was immediately apparent that there wouldn't be all that much atmosphere with the crowd we saw. Buckwheat was one of the first concert Lori and I went to, in Milwaukee, (after Digable Planets, though) and we danced our ever-loving asses off. Catching him at New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1996 was also a big treat (you gotta love it when Wayne Toups and the ZydeCajuns are the opening act). Boulder 2005 was clearly not going to be epic. A much smaller and older crowd than, say, Zap Mama at the same venue. It didn't help that I'd played soccer twice yesterday and I was feeling a bit fagged.

Things did quite look up when I went to get Lori some water and ran into our friend Lynette. Lynette, you see, is all Cajun, and you don't have to know her last name's Hebert to figure that out. In earlier encounters she taught me a few variations on the Zydeco two-step. I'd already learned the basics by watching the very impressively two-stepping crowd at N.O. Jazz Fest. (You don't get far in the social graces of a Nigerian university without being able to pick up even fairly complex dance steps fairly quickly). Anyway, Lynette and her friend joined us at the front, and that added considerably to the energy as Lori, Lynette and I threw out some two-step variations (OK, really Lynette and I: Lori was dancing as best one can bien enceinte) and responded loudly to Buckwheat's Cajun muttering.

Ça marche! ça marche!
Yeah! Ça roule, Buckwheat! Bien sûr!
Nous sommes partis!
Avec vous! Au Bayou!

The set was heavy on songs from the band's newest CD Jackpot!. The new songs are very good, but It's too bad he didn't get to play some of his classic repertoire such as "Ya Ya", "Hey Good Looking" and especially the Chenier classic "Hot Tamale Baby". Still, it was fun in the end. Buckwheat, as always, played the accordion as if he had twenty fingers. If you haven't gone to a Buckwheat concert, I highly recommend it, while you can—the great man is not getting any younger by any means (though Lori tells me the man on the frottoir (washboard and spoons) is his son, and Lynette surmised that the drummer might be, as well—p'raps breeding will out?). Everyone can do with a little glimpse of the Bayou in their life.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


The substance of her sex
Follows gravity, not groove
But flank: Gauguin goggle
Swell to the current's remove.
Persuasion for closed eyes, close
Quarters, alert fingertips, clutch class.

Syrup sussurus of
sweat-wick winding sarong—
Tremors from rhythmic, spasmed
Slap-clap of bare heel on thong
Hips, immediate, broadly surpass
All science worked into ogled pose.

—Uche Ogbuji—from "Hips"

I've noticed that Madison Ave might have their own idea of female beauty, but on the streets, within the generation currently in their sexual prime, there is a very different convention, whether in Boulder, San Francisco, Amsterdam or London (sorry, haven't traveled all that broadly lately). A convention that, surprisingly, I as an African can quite appreciate. Hips aren't the only thing, but they do master several forms of impression.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


...I've stood at Auschwitz, where millions were massacred. Then I read about in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are dying in the Sudan.... ...I look at civilizations that have collapsed: Rome, Greece, China, the Aztecs, the Mayas. And then I look around at our pretensions and our beliefs -- that we are somehow permanent -- and I am reminded that it is the quality of leaders, the courage of a people, the ability to solve problems that enables us to continue for one more year, and then one more year, until our children and our grandchildren have had this freedom, this safety, this health and this prosperity.....

Newt Gingrich on "This I believe" (All Things Considered)

I've long since come to believe that Newt Gingrich as virulent reagent was never more than political affectation. No one ever doubted he was brilliant, but since his tumble from political grace, he has surprised me with an unexpected level of discernment and sensibility in his commentary. Yesterday's audio file on NPR takes the cake for me, though. He brought me up full short. I heard the creed of a man who is genuinely concerned for his civilization, and considers solutions based in humanity and humility, rather than bluster and belligerence. Apparently Gingrich extemporized the entire comment, and I was impressed by its coherence, but much more so by its tenor.

It's too bad that Gingrich decided against such equanimity at the time he was in a position to actually make a difference. Then again, if he had done at that time, his colleagues would likely never have allowed him to ascend to such a position. Such is realpolitik today, and especially so in the cartoon halls of American government.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


The big elephant in the room is African governments. Africa has been totally mismanaged and misruled in the past decade, but nobody wants to talk about that because of political correctness. Africa's begging bowl leaks horribly. As a matter of fact, the African Union itself estimated that every year corruption alone costs Africa $148 billion. If African leaders could cut that in half, they'll find more money than what Tony Blair is trying to raise for them. —George Ayittey on Jim Lehrer's NewsHour

Good stuff as usual from Emeka Okafor recently. In a few recent entries he has been talking about books with a variety of perspectives on African development.

In "Ayittey vs Sachs" he links to a debate between the two authors on PBS. Interesting stuff, but I'm left wondering whether Jeffrey Sachs is deluded, or in someone's pocket. He seems to be very optimistic about the probity of African governments in using Western aid. He wants Western governments to throw more money at Africa's problems.

It's not chauvinism to simply admit that most of Africa's problems can't be solved by throwing money at them. African has amply proved that it can be a bottomless pit of inefficiency and corruption, and I find it a bit patronizing for Sachs to go on as if only the hand of Western largesse will save Africa from itself. My attitude is a lot more along the lines of Ayittey, as I suppose is that of a lot of the professional class.

Sure, our problems of governance originate in actual colonialism and the essentially colonial manipulations of the cold war, but we're not going to do anything about it pointing fingers for the next 50 years. We have plenty of resources, including, most importantly, a huge and largely untapped pool of human resource. Our governments are a bit less arbitrary and kleptocratic than they used to be (though we have a long way to go), and I see a decent hope of Africa's bootstrapping itself successful region by successful region, and largely independently of foreign aid. As Ayittey says it will have to be the private sector leading the way.

Well, I mean, we have to find the origin of the problem. The origin of the problem in many African countries is that you've got state bureaucracies which are too bloated. I mean, if you take Ghana, for example, Ghana has 88 ministers and deputy ministers. Take Uganda; Uganda has 70 -- for a country of 25 million people, Uganda has 70 ministers. Uganda's budget is 40 percent aid-dependent. Ghana's budget is 50 percent aid-dependent.

Even if you cancel the debt, you don't eliminate that aid dependency. This is what I mean by getting to the fundamental root causes of the problem. Government, the state sectors in many African countries need to be slashed so that, you know, you put a greater deal of reliance on the private sector. The private sector is the engine of growth. Africa's economy needs to grow but they're not growing.

Right. Nigeria went from 4 governmental regions to 19 states and then eventually to (I think) 33 states. We've built a ludicrous bantustan of petty bureaucratic divisions. Private enterprise doesn't even know where to begin navigating the unpredictable waters of the numerous layers of government. Local knowledge isn't enough for enterprise in much of Africa. You need multiple levels of local influence.

Ayittey is also right when he talks about basic civil securities as a huge obstacle to development. Nothing underscores the danger of misplaced priorities better than the AU's attitude towards Mugabe's colossal stupidity while they try to turn the topic back towards further handouts from the West.

I'll have to get a copy of Africa Unchained, Ayittey's book. Ditto Preparing Africa for the Twenty-First Century, a book Okafor brought to my attention in a later entry.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Rahab was scarlet—a jolly whale,
Pelagic sex goddess—life-shaper of shale;
Ever jealous Jehovah declared her a whore:
His militant faithful knew cadence no more.

Rahab reigned loudly—a jolly muse,
Broad icon of rhythm—grand matron of blues;
But shunned with her kin after hierophant war,
Left the conquered world knowing cadence no more.

—Uche Ogbuji—"Plaint"

I wrote "Plaint" 15 January 1996 at the Omaha airport on my way home from discharging a contract. I redacted it 1 February 2004 on the Centennial Express 6 chair lift, Beaver Creek, CO.

If you've been watching world events lately, you know the hierophants are still as bellicose as ever, and just as lacking in cadence.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia