Two weeks ago, we launched a new series, “When Writers Talk Music,” for readers like us who recognize when the books are getting way too much and crave for something else from their favourite writers. The series’ first volume featured clever words from Teju Cole on Fela and WizKid and a cool take on Soukous and Makossa from Imbolo Mbue. This week, we’re continuing with two special moments: Petina Gappah singing Bob Marley, and a meeting between Brittle Paper editor Ainehi Edoro and the Afrobeat legend Tony Allen whose newest album just dropped.
In February of 2016, on a podcast for the promotion of her most recent novel The Book of Memory, Petina Gappah covered Bob Marley! It wasn’t like anything you’d hear on the ongoing The Voice Nigeria. Well, partly because it wasn’t exactly a cover given that it lasted two or three seconds. But the point is that Petina—The Guardian Best First Book winner, Baileys Prize nominee, Brittle Paper‘s 2016 African Literary Person of the Year, and Grand Vatete of African Literature—did sing Bob Marley and really should have been at Sunday’s MTV VMAs.
Titled “Birth of a Nation,” the podcast, by moth.org, featured her discussing her experiences following Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. Here is how we captured that moment when her sweet and mellifluous voice is put to the test.
“I have very vivid memories of that time,” says Gappah, ‘‘around the time of independence there was so much music. Everyone was singing. Everybody was dancing. It was almost like you could actually touch the joy in the air. And the song that everybody was singing, if you’ll allow me to sing it, is a song by Bob Marley called ‘Zimbabwe.’ Do you know it? (claps) then join in….”
She goes on to sing a line of the refrain,“Africa shall liberate Zimbabwe. Africa shall liberate Zimbabwe.”
It is a fleeting moment that powerfully conveys the uniquely intense sense of joy that one experiences in a moment as historic as a nation’s independence. We have all listened to Bob Marley’s “Zimbabwe” countless times, but there is something about hearing Gappah, a Zimbabwean who lived through the liberation of Zimbabwe, sing it. The song becomes meaningful in a whole new way.
Three weeks ago, Brittle Paper editor Ainehi Edoro made a post on Facebook. Her husband’s band, Chicago Afrobeat Project, features Afrobeat legend Tony Allen on their new album, What Goes Up. In announcing this, she threw back to the day she met Tony Allen and he ate the egusi soup she cooked. How do you describe spending time with a man once described as “the greatest drummer who ever lived,” a man about whom Fela said, “Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”? Here’s her post:
4 years ago, my husband Dave and I hosted Afrobeat Legend Tony Allen in our apartment in Chicago. Tony was in Chicago to record with Dave’s band @chicagoafrobeatproject (CABP). My husband plays guitar in the chicago-based Afrobeat band. Tony and the band had spent the last couple of days in @kevcuts studio recording enough tracks for a full length album. At the end of the studio run, we decided to throw a little party to celebrate this historic collaboration between an Afrobeat legend and a Chicago Afrobeat band. Tony, CABP band members, their spouses, and some of Tony’s friends in Chitown came over to our house. It was a tiny apartment in the northside of Chicago. We all huddled around Tony and listened to story after story after story about his life, the Lagos music scene in the ‘60s, the early days of Afrobeat and his work with his friend and colleague Fela Kuti. It was one of the best times of my life. There were moments when I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming, that it was Tony Allen siting at my table, lapping up my egusi soup, and being kind, generous, and charming. Not bad for a girl who grew up in the slums of Benin City It feels beyond good to share with you that the album that came out of this amazing cross-continental collaboration is finally out. #WhatGoesUP features Tony drumming on all the tracks. Click here https://soundcloud.com/chicago…/01-race-hustle_mastered_4-30 to listen to the first single titled #RaceHustle.