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Ibadan Jazz Forum And The Riffs Of Remembrance (Celebrating Black History Month, 2022), By Niyi Osundare

Thank you very much for inviting me to keynote the dialogue segment of this year’s edition of your Black History Month activities. As someone who has been with you and has been privileged to participate in some of your activities from the very beginning, I have come to appreciate the dreams which necessitated the inauguration of the Ibadan Jazz Forum, the visionary acumen that has characterized its idealism, and the modes and methods of its operations over the years. For daring to dream in a world in which such an act is constantly sidelined by blatant realism, for standing for the cultivation, defence, and projection of lasting values in a country overwhelmed by cynical materialism and instant gratification; to enter a plea for Culture in an age of philistinism, the Ibadan Jazz Forum (IJF) has succeeded in pointing a way to the future by leading us towards the apprehension of the inevitable connection between the past and the present.

The Black History Month and the Ibadan Jazz Forum are products of the same initiative. On a more specific note, it could be said that the latter grew out of the global ferment of the former. Hence the similarity between their mission: the imperative of Memory, the necessity of Remembrance, and the need to bring both to bear on the present in the much needed effort to re-shape the future. Primary to both initiatives is the task of repossessing our history by taking control of our own narrative; for, it is a universally acknowledged fact that whoever controls your history will end up controlling your destiny by shaping to their own interest and design not only your memory but the memory of you by others. For many centuries, this was the case with Africa where the enslaver and the colonizer were the ones who wrote the history of their exploits as well as that of the objects of their exploitation. 

As Chinua Achebe once observed, the hunter’s story of the hunt will always be different from that of the antelope. So, when we gather here every year for the celebration of the Black History Month, what the IJF is asking us to do is to repossess our narrative, tell our own story in our own way and in our own voice, and doing this without forgetting how the Black story connects inextricably with the universal Human story, and the mutual seepage between the two. From Olaudah Equiano to Frederick Douglass; from Harriet Jacobs to Sojourner Truth whose powerful “slave narratives” focused human conscience on the inhumanity of slavery and the slave trade, to relatively more contemporary writers such as Achebe, Soyinka, Toni Morrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Edward Kamau Brathwaite, a strong un-ignorable articulacy  has come to the telling of the Black story. A “race” once spoken for, or on behalf of, or spoken against has reclaimed the I-Paradigm of the Human discourse and the ability to say “I am”. The retrieval of the Black person’s agency is way up on the Black Liberation agenda. But this instance of self-determination, cultural re-affirmation, and epistemological re-configuration has not come without opposition from those who have always been at the commanding heights of the power hierarchy. These are the people for whom an old, by now offenceless  terminology called critical race theory has recently become a spine-chilling bogeyman. Long denied, blissfully neglected, cleverly negated truths and ideas whose restoration is considered threatening to an unjust status quo, are currently under assault, especially in the United States where acts of curricular cleansing, shelf-clearing, and book-banning are happening at a pace and with partisan political ferocity that would have done brave credit to the Spanish Inquisition.

     But this world, our world, is moving on, undeterred, though at differential speeds by its constituent parts. Central to our concern as we gather for this year’s Black History Month events is the velocity (or lack thereof) of the progress of Africa, our continent, currently in the grip of three debilitating afflictions: the global COVID pandemic, centuries-old poverty, degradation,  and underdevelopment, the resurgent plague of political instability as evident in the current spate of terrorism and military coup de’tat. Humanity’s oldest continent remains the world’s poorest and most miserable, marginalized, despised, and zeroed out. As I have soberly put it in my forthcoming book of essays, it takes an awful lot of courage to own up to being an African today. The last time that sorrowful confession invaded my thoughts, I was hard at work on the sixth movement of Midlife, a volume of poems that marked the  attainment of that existential milestone clearly proclaimed by the title of the book. Let me appeal for your patience as I poach a long and sombre excerpt from that book of verse:


now Africa, beholding you full-length, from shoulders

baked strong by your Black sun;

my hands towards the sky, feet towards the sea,

I ask you these with the urgency of a courier

with a live coal in his running palm:

The skeletal song of Zinjanthropus,

was it a lie? 

The awesome ruins of Zimbabwe,

were they fiction?

The bronze marvels of Benin, of Ife

were the a lie?

Is the Nile really a fickle tear

down the cheeks of unmemorable sands?

The geometry of your idioms, the algebra of your proverbs,

were they sad calculations of a pagan mouth?

My question, Africa, is a sickle, seeking

Ripening laughters in your deepening sorrows


Giving, always giving,

scorched by the Desert, blanched by the Sea 

bankrupted by the Sun, indebted by the Moon,

robbed of your tongue, bereft of your name

Giving, always giving

ebony springboard for giants of crimson heights

Giving, always giving

my memory is the thrashing majesty of the Congo

its dark, dark waters fleeced by scarlet fingers

its shoals unfinned, its saddled sands

listening earlessly to the mortgaged murmurs

of ravished ores

giving, always giving

the tall lyric of the forests

the talkative womb of the soil

the mountain’s high-shouldered swagger

pawned, then quartered, by purple cabals.

The elephant’s ivory is a tale of prowling guns,

the crocodile mourns its hide on the feet

of trampling gods

Giving, always giving,

fiery dawns once wore you like a robe, oh Congo,

soft, warm, gracious like the cotton laughter

of Lumumbashi,

the Niger, the Volta, the Benguela

bathe the rippling hem of your luminous garment

the sky was your loom, April’s elephant grass

your needle with a hundred eyes;

your thread was the lofty spool of the eagle,

the chalky string of the egret in the dusty shuttle

of meticulous harmattans


And now noon

With the sun so young in the centre of the sky,

That robe is a den of dripping fragments

awaiting the suturing temper of a new, unfailing Thunder 


My question, Africa, is a sickle, seeking

Ripening laughters in your deepening sorrows



on a continent so ancient and so infant

crawling, grey, in the scarlet dust of twilight horsemen,

ravished by the gun, crimsoned by ample-robed

natives and their swaggering fangs;

our sun so black with crying hopes,

wounded by the boundless appetite of hyena rulers

Shorter every inch by our tower of dreams,

Their eyes smugly sitting in the blind pit

Of their funeral stomachs;

eunuch between the moons, their claws

gore-deep in assassinated wombs;

they whose fathers, whose fathers’ fathers

emptied whole epochs into slaving galleons

have pledged once more the eulogy of the chain,

their hearts crammed with rums, fickle mirrors,

and other gifts unremittingly Greek.

A knee-eyed sun shouts from the middle                                                         

of a drifting sky:

     Who will cure Africa’s swollen foot

     Of its Atlantic ulcer?

My question, Africa, is a sickle, seeking

ripening laughters in your deepening sorrows .

                        (from Midlife, 1993)



Here is a poet-patriot’s quarrel with his continent. A song of pain and anguish, of patriotic anger, of lingering doubts and desperate deliberativeness, as evident in these words from the ‘Foreline’ of the volume:

Past forty now, the riddling kola of life ripening, ripening in my mouth,. . . . Taller too, able to look the giant in the face, able to ask Africa a few sunny questions about her dormant dawn. Able to ask the world how many wasted nights really make up a single day.

These ‘questions’ which engaged my consciousness at midlife are there, still there, now over three decades on, some of the old problems have even surged into more intractable mutations, with Africa frequently dismissed as basket case and epicenter of global problems. But a “stubborn hope” (Viva Dennis Brutus!) keeps sharpening my machete as I cut a path through Africa’s jungle of problems and promises. Those promises have always been there, but we all know that promises do not a continent make. Needed as a matter of urgency: a new grid of positive values, informed, competent and ethical governance, a sound educational base that puts ignorance to flight and keeps us abreast of the velocity of a fast-moving world and its digital imperative, an end to our dependent, cargo mentality that has turned us into blind, gluttonous consumers of the products of other people’s imagination and labour in our abject posturing as “importers and manufacturer’s representatives”, instead of being “manufacturers” ourselves, a stronger belief in ourselves and our infinite possibilities.  

     These are some of the ideas behind the significance of the Black History Month and Ibadan Jazz Forum, its noble offshoot and local companion. Over these many years the IJF has shown us the primacy of ideas and their ability to change the world by creating an intellectual and socio-cultural community that prides itself on its ability to think different, feel different,  and act different. Not even the countless debacles of Nigeria, one of the most chaotic and wickedly misgoverned countries in the world, have been able to put a clog in the wheels of their progress. On the contrary, the IJC has ceaselessly highlighted the problems of Nigeria and the Black world, and the ways of turning those problems into possibilities. The overriding  purpose of the Black History Month and the Ibadan Jazz Club is to get us to know that we are actually more than we think we are. To come to this awareness, we need to pay more attention to History and its dual cohorts of Memory and Remembrance. The future belongs to those who remember the past and its storehouse of wisdom and folly, and are therefore able to think hard and make informed choices. Like the Black History Month, Ibadan Jazz Forum is there to make sure that we do not forget. Like jazz, that music genre from which it derives its name, the riffs are many and unsilenced-able; the wind is its chariot; it is a seed that grows everywhere it touches a good soil. Like that seed, Jazz has taught us the boundless possibilities of the creative spirit, its regenerative transgressivity, its constant striving at doing it different, doing it new, its unfathomable Soul and sinuous swagger, that proverbial resilience that has enabled its progression from “nigger-noise to state-of-the-art”. What better way to end this piece, then, than the chanting of this brief oriki  of Jazz and its profoundly complex biography:


(from ‘nigger noise’ to state-of-the-art)


offspring of a tattered trumpet

rescued from a rusty dump

by the restless fingers of  toil-

encumbered hands;

animated by a new wind,

powered by a strange metallic thunder

which rocks the eaves of slumbering ears


shuffling accent of seedy lanes

and dreams long deferred

in the blue memory of prisoned voices…


horn of well-hoofed stars 

lulling purple chambers 

with riffs of syncopated silence

saxy splash of running garlands

adulations which surprise the song…. 

The stone once rejected by the master builder,

is it really now the cornerstone of the glittering house?


Let’s jazz it up then. Let’s jazz it real good. Happy Black History Month!

Ibadan                           Niyi  Osundare

Feb. 14, 2022

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Maravi Post Reporter
Maravi Post Reporter
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