Nigerian novelist and filmmaker Biyi Bándélé died a week ago on August 7. [Read our obituary here.] His daughter Temi Bándélé shared the news on his Facebook page. She described Biyi as “a prodigiously talented writer and film-maker.” She said “he was a storyteller to his bones, with an unblinking perspective, singular voice and wisdom which spoke boldly through all of his art, in poetry, novels, plays and on screen.”
The 100 writers in this compilation of farewell and goodwill messages echo similar sentiments. They offer diverse perspectives on Biyi’s life and their sense of his contribution to the culture. They share stories about encounters and conversations with Biyi. Some recall the first time they read his work, how it fired their imagination as readers or inspired their own writing. Some share dreams they had of working with Biyi. Some recount Biyi’s support of their own literary journeys. Some include snippets of emails and fragments of conversations. Some of the notes here are from longtime friends and colleagues like Okey Ndibe, Wole Soyinka, Ellah Wakatama, Amatoritsero Ede, Ben Okri, Shola Adenekan. Others are younger writers like Arao Ameny who share heartwarming memories of a beautiful friendship with Biyi.
One of the surprising aspects of editing this collection of notes is how much I learned about Biyi, the little details about his life that are absent in wikipedia pages and other official records— the seemingly small details; for example, Tsitsi Dangarembga remarking on the role that Biyi played in the conception of a key moment in her most recent novel This Mournable Body and Toni Kan recalling one of Biyi’s nicknames. There are those like Tsitsi Ellah Jaji who never met Biyi but capture so beautifully what makes Biyi’s oeuvre an archive of masterpieces. Each note, as you will find, attempts to capture in the writer’s own unique way what exactly was lost in Biyi’s untimely death.
Biyi was loved by many, regardless of age or circumstance. His influence cuts across generations and nationality, a truly pan-African artist. From the voices of young Ugandan poet Ber Anena and Nigerian fiction writer Damilare Kuku to veteran academics like Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́ and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, you will hear how Biyi touched so many lives. Biyi is now an ancestor, which means he is beyond all chronological age. He has become an elder to us all by virtue of his having journeyed forth to ọ̀run, the other world. Like all the other literary ancestors who have gone before, his work and the life he lived will continue to shine a light on the work we do.
Thank you to everyone featured here for answering the call to share a farewell message to Biyi. Like I said in the invitations I sent around, “I believe in sending off one of our own the right way, with a chorus of love and goodwill.”
PS: Join the chorus by leaving a message of farewell in the comment section.
Editor, Brittle Paper
100 Farewell Messages from African Writers on the Passing of Biyi Bandele (1967-2022)
(By Alphabetical Order)
The loss of any life, especially at such a young age is tragic. It feels even more tragic when it is a life dedicated to making art, to transforming the small acts of our lives into beauty and a celebration. You will be missed fellow artist, brother. You will not be forgotten.
Biyi Bandele was a generous soul who never failed to give all he could to make others richer. His gifts in fiction writing and filmmaking are immortalized in the many works he authored and produced. The yet to be curated monumental record he made in the last two years with captivating photographs of innocence and experience around Lagos markets and waters will perhaps last longest.
While many Nigerians may want to claim Biyi Bandele for Nigeria, he was also a preeminent figure in Black Britain. You cannot discuss Black Britain’s literary and art history without his name on it. He was a product of Africa and its diaspora. My own encounter with Biyi, albeit very brief, reflects this belonging. I met Biyi for the first time in 2009, in London. I had been commissioned by London’s National Theatre to write the introduction to Rufus Norris’s rendition of Wọlé Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. Right in that great theatre, Biyi was the centre of attention being courted by many. He was comfortable speaking Yoruba and Hausa as he was with speaking English. Biyi himself was an important playwright whose work had been staged at the Royal Court theatre and had written for the BBC. Among the generation of Black British playwrights, some of whom are of Nigeria descent, Biyi was an icon, respected and beloved. My communications with Biyi had been sporadic in recent years, but last year we were in touch again with Biyi asking me to help with his plan to do research for future projects in Germany. I asked him where he gets the energy to do so many things so beautifully and robustly; radio, photography, TV, the stage, fiction etc. We were supposed to meet in Lagos this spring and the summer of 2021, but work got in the way. Biyi is that rare artistic breed; intellectual; film producer, novelist, playwright and photographer. He conquered every challenge he encountered in the art world. His reach extended throughout the African diaspora, including the United States, where he spent a considerable amount of time, which included the first few months of Covid-19 pandemic. We lost a jewel of inestimable value.
What a sad day! Such a heartbreak. This one is really too soon. He was on top of his game. It was so his time. What a loss! Biyi saw beauty in the world. Through his photography, his movies, and his stories, he brought that beauty to the rest of us. We have lost a good one.
Tomilola Coco Adeyemo
Biyi Bandele’s death is a huge blow to the literary and film communities. As we deal with the shock of his passing, I can’t shake the feeling that we were robbed of the gift that was Biyi Bandele too early. It seemed as though the man himself knew that he wouldn’t be here too long. His works felt intentional, perhaps even urgent. His journey on this side may be over for now, but his words and images will be with us for a long time to come. Sun re o, Biyi Bandele.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We’ve lost a real star. Too (unbearably) soon. A humane human. A true artist. A brilliant writer. An original thinker. May his memory always be a blessing. May Temi and all who loved him be comforted.
I did not know Biyi Bandele in person, but I read his novel Burma Boy as an undergraduate in Ife, enjoying his lively prose in service of African soldiers who fought in the World War II. He redefined himself as a filmmaker, directing the adaptation of Adichie’s novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Fifty. His impeccable taste in music showed in both films, particularly in that scene in Fifty where Ireti Doyle’s character walks in on her unfaithful lover accompanied by loud thumping Urhobo reggae music. Bandele shared his colourful photography of working class Lagosians, living their lives with mirth and resilience. I was looking forward to watching his film adaptation of Soyinka’s classic play, Death and the King’s Horseman. His sudden death denies us of his talents, and celebrating his industrious life requires that we engage with the body of the work he left us. My condolences to his loved ones.
Biyi, it is difficult to know what to say in moments like this. We met briefly in London when your book, Burma Boy, came out in 2007. Thanks for our communication on Facebook in the last one year. Thanks for your generosity and social conscience. I loved your recent photos of everyday Nigeria. Your warmth and work will remain in our hearts. May God console your family.
This is such terrible news. Biyi Bandele grew up in a railway town closely related to the one I grew up in, and we had a common friend, Emeka Nwogu, who knew him when he was much younger, from the Kafanchan railway quarters. Kids from those haunts were called “yan kwatas” in Hausa, Quarters dwellers—from a different pre-internet time when train stops were the nodes of diversity and connection, an intermix of ethnic groups, eclectic styles, slants to the world. By my time, the railways were moribund (and he had long left Kafanchan), but its terminus still frames my hometown. I never did meet Biyi Bandele, though we spoke at the end of last year, most recently, about a new book he wanted Parresia—a publishing house I co-founded with Azafi Ogosi—to look at. We emailed over the years—about the late Dr. Bala Muhammed Bauchi, a radical leftist ideologue assassinated in Kano in 1982, and the draft of Umar Abubakar Sidi’s novel, amongst other things. He congratulated me on the birth of my daughter just last week. Who would have thought that the frenetic creative activity over the last few years, including the move into film making, his latest book just spoken of, the highly anticipated Elesin Oba film, was but the carriage of Biyi Bandele headed to its terminus? I think his 2006 novel, Burma Boy, remains one of the finest novels about WW2 out there that shows the peculiar experience of northern Nigerian soldiers who did a great preponderance of the fighting and dying for the British there. I remember the last lines of that book, where a Tiv comrade-in-arms cannot recognize the degenerated protagonist: “And Blokken burst in tears.” So, I, Mr. Bandele, so we.
Nigeria, the African diaspora and the world have lost a great talent whose writing inspired many. His work in novels, such as Burma Boy, brought to light the complexities of Nigerian history, and his directorial abilities, on films such as Half of a Yellow Sun, were impressive and recognized internationally. A special light has been dimmed, but despite his loss the joy is his catalogue of work and artistic contributions will live on for generations to discover. Rest in peace. My deepest condolences to his family.
I knew Biyi for six short years. He was thoughtful, honest, intelligent, humorous, and very kind. Most of all, he was authentic to himself, to his art, and to his friends. I don’t believe people cross our paths by mistake and Biyi was one of those people. He leaves an inexplicable and undeniable mark on my life. I will miss his colorful stories about Nigeria and his many travels around the world. I will miss our passionate discussions about African storytelling and African politics. I will miss the times he stubbornly tried to teach me pidgin English without success. I will miss his humorous questions like “But why is the Ugandan government hiding pepper and spices from you citizens while we Nigerians are ENJOYING Pepe soup? They don’t want you to enjoy?” I will also miss the encouraging messages he sent me from wherever he was traveling in the world telling me “Abeg, finish those stories before those stories finish you.” I will miss his laugh and the joy he carried for African people and our diverse stories. May the ancestors embrace and welcome him. May we meet again.
I never met Biyi but reading about all the lives he touched has given me hope for our creative industry. Oftentimes the life of a writer, an artist, feels like a walk in the dark. You are scared to ask for support or clueless about where to look or discouraged about the many walls you keep running into. And when you find a person like Biyi—someone who opens doors and uplifts and cheers and shares his talents—it makes a big difference. Luckily, Biyi’s name, like his work will live on. May his family and friends feel comforted.
Biyi Bandele was one of the few brave ones. Stories came to him fully formed in his heart, yes, he told his stories from the heart. Stories came to him, and he worked for their freedom to live, and to break boundaries and go beyond borders. Biyi was one of the few brave storytellers, and a lover. He loved his family and his friends, and his craft. He loved with passion. The last time we spoke, I playfully mentioned being in your next movie, and you said you had a role for my stern face, while quickly adding that I should smile more. Thank you Biyi, for giving us joy. Biyi Bandele lives on.
What a shock. I mean, seriously, what??!! The untimely death of Biyi Bandele is a huge loss to Nigeria and to the arts industry as a whole. His fierce commitment to his art was especially precious to those of us who grew up at a time when making a career as a Nigerian ‘creative’ was tantamount to being ‘wayward’! Biyi pursued his passions without holding back and gave permission for so many others to do the same. As a young arts reporter in London, I followed his work from the likes of Talawa Theatre and the Royal Court to the big (and small) screen. Watching Biyi’s entertainingly soapy and dreamily shot Fifty at its London Film Festival premiere, I felt inspired again by his versatility. He made space for all kinds of stories to be told. There was so much more to come. I can’t wait for Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman and only wish he was alive to see this dream come to fruition. Sleep well, Biyi Bandele, and may your legacy continue to light the way for countless storytellers across the Diaspora.
Ayesha Harruna Atah
Thank you for blessing the world with your words and your vision. Nante yie, Biyi.
Nana Oforiatta Ayim
Dear Biyi. We first met when I was an aspiring writer in my early twenties and he was already an established one. A friend of mine said we had to meet, and so we did. He read my writing, gave me advice, was with Binyavanga and Ben Okri one of the three Bs to do so, two of whom are now gone. He took me out for meals and to special treats like his friend Chiwetel playing Othello at the Donmar. The three of us went for drinks in a small pub near Covent Garden afterwards, and I felt like evenings like these was what I had come to London for. He told me of his youthful encounters with Soyinka, of his plays and books and the films he wanted to work on; and of first coming to London in the eighties. His stories reminded me of stories of Okri and Marechera and the old days at the Africa Centre and of a time in African literature that had now passed. We went for many walks, stopping off for tea at my basement flat in Holland Park and his book-lined flat in Brixton, and I was glad to have him as my friend. The last time I saw him, we both happened to be in London and he took me to a surprise screening and talk at a cinema in Mayfair, it ended up being by one of my favorite filmmakers. Lately, I saw the snapshots of Lagos life he posted and like everyone was charmed by them. I was so shocked to read the message yesterday of his passing. I had just seen him post another visual vignette of Lagos. His new film was coming out next month. He had so many books and plays and films still to write and create. I am so sorry for his daughter and his family and for all of us. He was so talented and kind and supportive. He was such an important touchstone for us, a bridge between different times and places, and there was still so much more to be done. Yesterday, I went about my day, and every now and then realized there was a pain in my heart, a feeling a bit like defeat, and when I stopped, remembered the shock of the news from the morning. I am grateful for his words on the page and in life, and for the legacy he leaves behind.
I think, for a large part of his work, I was too young at the time to appreciate just how skilled and driven he was, but even now, I still feel the ripples of the great stories he told—and retold—inviting us into a world familiar, and yet new. He was a master of the craft, his work and person loved by many, may he rest in power.
Efe Paul Azino
Biyi Bandele inspired me greatly. I found his eclectic investment in storytelling, and how he carried it through with such talent and grace, endlessly fascinating. I’m riffling through Burma Boy again, and the voice is still as fresh. The breadth of Biyi Bandele’s vision, his fist full of tales, will outlive him. I am grateful we will always have his dreams with us.
It’s a shock to hear of Biyi Bandele’s passing. Just a few days ago, I was in awe of one of his photographs about public spaces in Lagos. Like his great shots, there is always something detailed and intimate about his works. He knew how to add light to every pain or patch of darkness. He was a living legend and one of the most talented, prolific writers and film directors I’ve ever met. I first met him through his works especially The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond and Burna Boy and then through mutual friends at the University of Ife and University of Ibadan in the 90’s. He was fiercely passionate about his writing. His brilliant, thorough, kind and objective mind will be missed. Biyi, farewell. You were a blazing star. Thank you for impacting our lives.
As you’re now dancing and dining with the ancestors, we will miss you very much, but we remain in gratitude for the many gifts you left us. We will always remember to remember. Go well Biyi.
I still remember walking out of a cybercafé in Abuja, in 2013, after watching the trailer for Biyi Bandele’s adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun with the overwhelming sensation of stepping into a new world. I was amazed because I only knew him as a novelist at the time. In Iowa some months ago, I was made aware of the impact of his blockbuster series Blood Sisters in Asian markets. Everywhere I go his brilliance surrounds me and pushes me to rethink what is possible as a storyteller. I can’t begin to comprehend this loss. We have been stolen from.
Biyi Bandele was a trailblazer who contributed richly to literary creativity in Africa. His stories made a profound impact on many African writers and creatives, and this is a huge loss beyond the Nigerian literary scene. We hope that his legacy will live on and that his soul will continue to shine a light on all of us. Rest in Power, Biyi Bandele.
Biyi exemplified generosity of spirit. By example and by encouragement, Biyi pushed us to both dream and be better. Right until his untimely end, he never stopped pushing.
It is hard to believe that Biyi Bandele Thomas, larger than life as he always was, has left us. One of the key scenes in my last novel, This Mournable Body, was inspired by his audacious prose. Although he has left us at the height of his creative powers, when I still expected to be awed by further works, he leaves a powerful legacy. I will remember him fondly and with admiration always.
Biyi was light — to writers like me who were in the dark about our craft. I admired his work ethics, the humble consistency and grace with which he went about his work, the excellence with which he delivered. He was an uncle to a dear friend of mine, who knew him personally and who spoke wonderfully of him. His loss is a tragedy to African literature and film. May he rest well and may his legacy continue to speak for him.
I was quite shocked to hear about Biyi’s passing. Biyi was an inspiring and gifted artist whose contribution to literature and film would continue to live on. While I didn’t know him personally, I deeply admired him. Biyi will surely be missed and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.
Saddiq M Dzukogi
Henceforth, in perpetuity, ‘tomorrow’ will be dimmer than ‘yesterday’—such was the profound presence of Biyi Bandele. He was a gentle and glowing light that touched many with his radiance. Most people I know hold a story of how genuine and beautiful of a person Biyi was—a stunningly gifted mind that made stories, films and photographs that captured the quintessential beauty and chaos of humanity. This loss rattles me to my bones. But I am consoled by the fact that Biyi’s light will continue to be luminous, even in the darkest of places.
Biyi Bandele and I first met on the pages of Voices from the Fringe, both contributors to that important 1988 poetry anthology edited by Harry Garuba; I as “Godwin Ede,” he as “Biyi Bandele-Thomas.” I think he left for the UK a little after that publication, such that we never physically met but only got closer via social media in later years beginning in the 2000s, especially because of Uche Nduka, a very close mutual friend and fellow poet. Biyi has left a lasting impression on Nigerian and World literature with his novels and plays. Trained in theater, his foray into radio, stage, TV and film production in the later parts of his career simply reflected the versatility and restlessness of an artist who would not be limited by genre or medium.
Biyi is a great story teller in multiple form. He has no limit when it comes to medium. He is a significant voice in our collective history. His recent work goes a long way to show the importance of the kind of subject matter he wrestles with. Because he lives on in his work, Biyi may have chosen past events as his canvas, but Biyi as a writer and filmmaker and photographer is present and will always be with us. There is no past tense in Biyi Bandele.
Biyi Bandele was a titan, who did the heavy lifting and laid the foundations many British Nigerian writers & theatre makers walk on. Yet, he was just warming up, he was just getting started. We have lost a gifted, generous, searching and searing artist, a beautiful father and a golden heart. May his soul rest easy, and may his work live as long as we do.
I am so very sorry to hear about Biyi Bandele’s passing. He was very much part of our arts community here in the UK and Nigeria. I always had huge respect for his prolific, super-talented and fearless creativity — writing for theatre, novels (with a new novel due from Hamish Hamilton), radio, journalism, making films (Shuga, Half of a Yellow Sun, Blood Sisters) and photography (which he posted on Instagram—gorgeous). His plays were staged by the RSC, National, Royal Court, etc. He first came to my attention when I saw Two Horseman at the Gate Theatre in 1994, and then later in the 90s I met him for the first time and our paths would cross at shared gigs, at events, launches and social gatherings, and then for the last time we bumped into each other in Foyles pre-pandemic and had a chat. He was a lovely man, and this is a terrible shock and great loss. 54 years in — he had done so much and had so much more to give. Sending all my best to his family. RIP Biyi Bandele.
I never got to know Biyi well, but I learned so much from him. I was most inspired by his fearlessness—he knew his talent could not be contained in one artform, so he moved among them freely, effortlessly, joyfully. He was a giant who showed so many of us the way toward freedom. We will miss him, and he will live on in our work.
Playwright, novelist, filmmaker, and photographer — Biyi Bándélé lived to tell stories. The public knew him for his impressive oeuvre. Those close to him knew of his deep humanity. His passing is a loss and has broken the hearts of many. I hope, one day, there will be some solace in the fact that he lives forever in his legacy, and in the hearts of his loved ones. God rest him and comfort his loved ones.
Hawa Jande Golakai
Biyi was the sort of guy you’d enjoy being friends with. I never met him in the flesh, but that didn’t matter. His kind, engaging personality was evident even on social media. A memory: he was active on Facebook as was I, and I once asked him jokingly (hopefully!) if he’d be interested in adapting my crime books into a series. “Let’s do it! We’ll talk at some point.” Maybe he was just being polite, but it meant a lot. A bright star in our Artscape, he made me feel good about my work when he could easily have ignored or brushed me off. I’m deeply sorry for his passing. My condolences and comfort to his family.
Umar Saleh Gwani
Biyi Bandele came to my attention when, in 2001 while working with New Nigerian Newspapers in Kaduna, I developed some literary friendship with a member of the Youth Service Corps Seun Ogunkoya. It was during discussions on the work of Amos Totuola that he mentioned Biyi and urged me to read him. I was able to later read The Sympathetic Undertaker and The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond. I was very impressed. His choice of magical realism as a genre was absolutely marvelous. He did absolute justice to the genre in both books. These later led me to read his other books like Two Horsemen, Death Catches the Hunter and Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought, his satirical play. For a long time, I believed Biyi Bandele to be the best successor of Amos Tutuola until I came across Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. I was in awe when I stumbled upon Bandele on Facebook and diligently followed his posts on various works and street photography, which were amongst my favorites. He had a flair for making the ordinary extraordinary. I have never met him personally but remain a close admirer and have been inspired by the great things he was doing in his choice of creativity. Nigeria has lost a great and remarkable artiste, and we indeed mourn the passing of this great man. May he rest in peace and find happiness beyond this life as he gave millions around the world much happiness with his work, amen.
I remember the first time I met him. It was in 2001, at the Bicycle Theater in London, a play of his was being produced and he had kept a ticket for me. I was in London for the Caine Prize. I was excited to meet him because I had read his debut novel, The Man Who Came in From the Back of Beyond. A title that may well describe Biyi himself: he came seemingly from nowhere, driven solely by his art and his vision, and he became an inspiration for so many. He gave aspiring writers like me hope that we too could someday bring our dreams to fruition. In his films and his novels and his plays and his photography it is clear that here was a man who possessed that rarest of abilities: the ability to see others clearly, the ability to elevate the mundane into the sublime, the ability to always be curious about the world and what makes us human. It is a difficult skill, but Biyi had it in abundance. People like him come once in a very long time. His works have cemented his place in our culture forever.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Biyi has been a regular feature in the literary scene and has been very active recently with his incredible photos of Lagos, which I have been consuming and admiring, as well as his recent TV series Blood Sisters. His death comes to me, as I am sure to many others, as a rude shock. Biyi has been present for a long time now since I encountered his Burma Boy and The Man from the Back of Beyond as an adolescent. Our private communications over the years have been filled with respect and admiration. It is a sad loss, truly. Rest in peace, Biyi.
The dreadlocked greying maestro walking around Lagos.
Capturing the human sights on camera.
To record for posterity the uniqueness of what it is to be a Lagosian whether by heritage, birth, domicile, visit or function.
The one whose words and vision lit up poems, plays, novels and films.
That whole spectrum of excellence.
As a playwright, novelist, poet, screenwriter, photographer, film and stage director, culture enthusiast and humanist.
From Burma Boy in the printed word.
To Brixton Stories in the performed word.
To Half of a Yellow Sun, Blood sisters and Elesin Oba in the directed visions of another’s written word.
An artiste wholly dedicated to his craft.
As a tool to teach.
A vessel of change.
A weapon of war.
A vestibule to preach.
A lectern to enlighten.
A stage to entertain.
Your light has dimmed too soon.
But is there a too soon, when one lives fully and purposefully?
Is there a too soon when one engages their purpose intently and positively?
Or is it just the time for the curtain to fall so that the bard can extricate himself from his work, so that his genuis lives forever?
While he who created those prodigious works, steps into a higher realm to engage blissfully with the Divine Conscious, as a reward for having been, efficaciously, in this realm of we who mourn, a light bearer?
We will never know.
What we do know is that.
For that and so much more.
He will be fondly remembered.
Even as he lives on through the perfected works of his hands, his mind and his eyes.
Journey well, Biyi.
Through the welcoming light to that peaceful shore.
Your watch has ended.
Be proud of how you lived.
Because you lived a life that truly mattered.
For it was value adding and change enabling.
That is why you have left the world.
A much better place than you met it.
We are thankful.
And we are grateful.
August 9, 2022
In my third year as an undergraduate I remember watching Biyi Bandele read from Burma Boy. He was an alumnus of the university, and there was a pleasant air of camaraderie during the event. I recall his easy suave and mellifluent speech. I hoped to one day present a book as he was doing. More importantly, he planted in me the seed of an imaginative approach to history. It is for this reason that I honor him. May his family and loved ones be comforted, and may his work continue to flourish.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Biyi Bandele told elegant stories creatively, on pages, on stage and on screen. But perhaps the most profound stories he told were through still images from the lens of his camera — pictures of everyday people he encountered in Lagos. With those “humans of Lagos” posts, which he literally dedicated his social media pages to, he humanized his subjects, many of whom the world had left behind and gave them as reason to smile. Those pictures said as much about the person of Biyi as it did of his subjects. I never met him personally, but I felt like I knew him intimately. You could easily see how excellence defined everything he did. The emptiness I felt inside of me at the news of his passing has now given way to a feeling of gratitude, for the gift of his life and the impact of his art, which will linger. Adieu Biyi.
Biyi’s passing diminishes the African humanities. Bold and brilliant, his multimodal artistic oeuvre tells urgent African stories with integrity. From Burma Boy to Half of a Yellow Sun, his singular vision proclaims the beauty and complexity of Africans. Oh death! But we will not despair; for as his highly anticipated film adaptation of Death and the King’s Horseman reminds us, Biyi has now joined the ancestral realm. May the permanence of his spirit and the powerful work he left behind console his family, friends, and fans.
I came across the news this morning and was broken. Biyi Bandele had sat in my office in the months before the pandemic lockdown, and we had talked about publishing a novel that he was working on. My co-founder and I listened as he spoke, not as publishers but as dumbstruck fans. I had always planned to restart that conversation, but now he is gone. Biyi was a gentleman who carried himself with no airs. You would not know the standing he held in the world of Nigerian letters. A consummate professional and artist. A precocious genius who would go on to become a titan of theatre and film. The world is emptier without him.
I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Biyi Bandele. His work has served as an inspiration to African creatives for so long. I’m grateful that he’s shown us that we must continue on the path of creativity and to continue to allow our voices to be heard, no matter how challenging it may be. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Thank you for pioneering, for your experimentation and your willingness to speak truth. I will always keep that in mind as I follow your example in this wild endeavor of telling stories that help us understand who and how we are in this world. Rest in Power.
Tsitsi Ellah Jaji
Biyi’s oeuvre was so broad that what unifies it most is its excellence. A true friend to artists and artistry, his film adaptations of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsemen will remain monuments that ensure these works find a broad contemporary audience. In today’s world, it is such translations across media that make a masterpiece a classic. I never met him, but my other enduring memory will be following the deeply humane lens through which he saw Lagos. The photographs he regularly posted, capturing regular people in the midst of their everyday lives reflected trust, affection, dignity. If, as a relative stranger, his departure weighs on me so heavily, I can only imagine the pain his loved ones feel. I offer most sincere condolences to his family and friends.
I did not know him personally, but it is impossible not to have heard of his work. His books, plays and films are an important part of our literary canon. Someone somewhere will one day pick up a copy of Burma Boy and it will forever change how they see life. Biyi’s spirit will live on in phrases, in words and sentences. It is only right to be deeply grateful that he shared his gift with us. I hope his family will take a tiny measure of comfort in the beautiful mark he has left on this world.
Belonging to a new generation of writers that immediately (and un-enviably) came after the Makerere generation, Bandele was a foundational artist who immediately recognized that the African story need not be confined to the pre-eminent form of his time — the novel — and after excelling in it also worked in film and journalism. As one of the pre-cursors of the multi-media moment of the African story, his legacy will be his foundational recognition of the possibilities of the African story across time and form, and so we lose a great son of the continent.
If Biyi Bandele had written a memoir, it could’ve been titled “Kafanchan Boy.” His memories of that railway town are a recurring motif in his art. He wrote about the Northern society with charming clarity, and with neither condescension nor otherizing of the people as either subaltern or exotic. Because he was an insider. When I established contact with him on Facebook sometime in 2008, after years of savoring his beautiful books, I was quick to confess that I was his frontline fan and had read all his books. I even asked him to get his early books, which were out of stock, republished. Since Burma Boy came out, I must’ve bought not less than 50 copies for friends. It’s one of my favorite books, and you too would appreciate his mastery of the human mind, and the ease with which he created memorable and complex characters, if you had read the novel—or any of his books at all. For someone who became a superstar in the literary space when some of us were still in our panties, he was unbelievably courteous and approachable. I was honored by the audience he gave me when I first reached out to him on Facebook. He was always available to chat then, and when he’s busy, he would politely apologize. I was fond of calling him Mutanen Kwatas, which is Hausa for Residents of Quarters. He knew the origin of that reference. It’s what we call residents of Railway Quarters in Minna—and I believe Kafanchan, where he wrote beautifully about with disarming nostalgia, too. Reading about his passing today breaks me, but, then, he immortalized himself before he left quietly like the man who came from the back of beyond. May his soul rest in peace. Ameen.
Death is rude! It is especially so in the finality with which it coats everything. In preparing to write this tribute, I repaired to the internet to confirm a book title and imagine my shock at the first line — “Biyi Bandele (born Biyi Bandele-Thomas; 13 October 1967 – 7 August 2022) was a Nigerian novelist, playwright and filmmaker.” The “was” represented a poke in the eye, the internet flipping me the middle finger. The last time I saw Biyi was on Sunday August 8th 2021 at Radisson Blu in Victoria Island. I was there to meet a newly arrived German lady. I was sitting in the reception when I saw Biyi get up, shake hands with a white lady and then depart. I wanted to get up and say hello, but the woman looked up, exclaimed my name and in the time it took to say yes and share a hug Biyi was gone, flapping bag and muffler in tow. For many, he was the director of Half of a Yellow Sun. But long before that novel and film and Chimamanda, we had known him as Biyi Bandele Thomas the Kafanchan born “fabu master” who dropped out of Ife after winning an award in London. His books, The Man Who Came in From the Back of Beyond and The Sympathetic Undertaker: and Other Dreams, both published in 1991 were dreamy and magically realistic books filled with fantastical tales, thus the “fabu master” appellation. His critically acclaimed novel, Burma Boy (The King’s Rifle), about the experiences of African soldiers in the Second World War showed Biyi at the height of his story telling abilities. Aside novels, he also wrote plays, successfully adapting Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to the stage, but it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun that brought him to the attention of a whole new audience who came to know him as Biyi Bandele sans Thomas and not as a novelist or playwright but as a film director. His filmography includes MTV Shuga and Ebony Life’s Fifty and Blood Sisters. His new film, Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman, his screen adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death and The Kings Horseman is set for a September premiere. Biyi Bandele, restless and shape shifting creative, is survived by his daughter, Temi
I never met Biyi in person. We became acquainted through his brilliant art. We later connected on social media, and I became a fan of the pictures he took on the streets of Lagos. I often wondered about the bigger stories behind the snippets he shared of people’s lives. I loved how he honored them. The pictures will testify that they were here, they lived, and they mattered. Like Biyi was here in his brilliance, he lived, and he mattered. We remember and honor his legacy.
The news of Biyi’s passing shocked me to ice. In my immobile state, all I could see were his smiles, his passion for art, the movies he made. Why did God call him back? Why did God do this to us? So many whys, but of what use is it questioning God? Biyi’s contributions to art will outlive him. The lives he and his art touched, changed, will outlive him. Do artists ever really die? Life is a continuum. I believe that Biyi will come back, and I hope that when he does, we will meet. My prayers are with his family. My prayers are with the art community in Nigeria, in the world. One of our own has passed on to another life. Our hearts are heavy, but we are only God’s handmaids. Ours is not to let Biyi down. Ours is to continue from where he stopped. Ours is to hold the fort he once held. Ours is to be strong, to make him smile with pride when he looks down at us. Ours is to always love him. I will always love him. Biyi Bandele, nwannem, laba na ndokwa. Ọ ga-adiri gi mma.
I remember holding a copy of Burma Boy during my second year, feeling the sleek texture of the cover as I watched Biyi Bandele deliver a lecture in my department in Obafemi Awolowo University. I sat in awe of this man who spoke humbly on the stage, thanking us for giving him our time. He shared his journey to writing, and I felt a spark of hope burning slowly in me. Over the years I ran into him on projects, but I never quite worked up the courage to say “I met you when I was a student, your words gave me hope. Thank you.” Now I wish I had said that to him. In my imagination, there is a library in the place beyond that documents farewell messages to the ones that are no longer with us so they can read what we never told them. So, this is mine to him: “Dear Biyi Bandele, death has done what it does best—taking what we are not ready to give. Thank you for your kind and gentle soul. Your words gave me hope that I continue to lean on. You will be missed greatly.”
It was with great sadness that I learned of the untimely passing of my friend Biyi Bandele. We’d met many years ago in various literary festivals and kept in touch. Fortuitously when he posted one of his many photographs on Facebook, I saw an image that spoke directly to the letter and spirit of my latest novel, The Lost Language of the Soul. When contacted, he was graciously willing to donate it until my publisher insisted that creative work should be rewarded. What a generous soul! Biyi’s infectious energy is legendary, which is why he could marshal creative people around him and produce films and plays. We have been truly robbed of one of Africa’s best sons. We hope that he will continue inspiring many generations to come. Hamba kahle, Biyi.
Dear Biyi, you were a man of incomparable stories, and inimitable talent, always finding ways to touch on key topics. You were the definition of perseverance. So many have been moved by your work, and we are so grateful to have had you.
We have lost an immense talent. A brother whose works will continue to inspire new generations.
Biyi Bandele was a great artist and human being. The generosity of his spirit was immeasurable. Since the first time I met him in 2011, he remained an inspirational figure to me. Though we live in different parts of the world, we kept in touch through emails, text messages, social media and occasional phone calls. A hard worker, Biyi was always dreaming of a new project as if he knew his time on earth was limited. His love of humanity is best expressed in his colourful street photography, where he captured the lives of the ordinary people in very extraordinary ways. Biyi Bandele can never be dead. For he touched so many lives, and his legacy runs deep.
Sarah Ladipo Manyika
“A father watches a movie on his phone with his two kids on the Marina”—this, as though he knew, was the caption to the last photograph Biyi Bandele shared with us on Facebook. In the aching void of Biyi’s passing we are left with the gift of his enduring works—works to be cherished, passed on and shared with generations to come. Rest in peace dear Biyi.
So very sad to hear about Biyi Bandele’s death. He was far too young and had so much more to give. I loved his novel, Burma Boy. His film, Half A Yellow Sun, was wonderful. He was a Yoruba legend and leaves an incredible legacy. Heartbreaking that he will miss the premiere of Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman. Thoughts are with his family and friends in this sad time. Rest in peace, Biyi. You will be sorely missed.
We lost one of our giants with Biyi Bandele’s passing. He was a visionary, a trailblazer, and one of those who cast his light far and wide. He helped carve new paths for the next generation, and I will be forever grateful. We are lucky that he walked on this earth, though all too briefly. This is a devastating loss to his family and loved ones, and to them, I send my deepest condolences.
With the heartbreaking news of Biyi’s passing, we lose a man who was fully committed to living a life of creative practice. I never met Biyi, but I admired him from afar. From the words he wrote to the images he produced, to the confidence with which he carried himself, I am richer for having had him here to share his gifts. May he rest in eternal peace.
A giant, a magnificent storyteller is gone! He still had so many stories to tell us through his pen and his exceptional eye as a film director and photographer. These last series of photos are not fair. It is not fair at all. The best was yet to come. His mission was just beginning. No, it is not fair. He will leave a great void in the African artistic community. But certainly not as much as the one left in the hearts of those who were dear to him. Keep telling us beautiful stories from where you are. Rest in peace.
A number of older writers — Wole Soyinka, Dillibe Onyeama, Chinua Achebe, John Edgar Wideman — helped ginger my literary career. Biyi Bandele, whose sudden death last week at 54 shook me and stunned many of his fans around the world, was a rare younger writer who featured in my artistic development. As a journalist in the mid-1980s, I had become familiar with Biyi through his occasional opinion pieces in some of Nigeria’s major newspapers. Our first in-person meeting happened at Brown University in Providence, RI, in the fall of 1991. Brown had brought together some African writers for a literary festival. On arriving at the venue, I went straight to a book vendor’s stall. As I admired a copy of Biyi’s The Sympathetic Undertaker And Other Dreams — which Heinemann had just published in their African Writers Series — the vendor informed me that the author was around. He panned the crowded room, and then pointed out Biyi. I hastened to the author. Beaming, I raised his book to his face and began to gush my pride and congratulations. To my surprise, Biyi became even more ecstatic, declaring himself a fan of my journalism. He went on at such length that I finally interjected to remind him that he, a published author, was the real star. He then related a conversation he had had in London with two fellow Nigerian literary buffs. Their conversation had dwelt on the literary potential of the numerous young women and men who had fostered an exciting journalistic scene in Nigeria. “We all agreed that you have the talent to become a major novelist,” Biyi told me. That fortuitous vote of confidence boosted me when — a year or two later — I began to explore fiction writing. My chance encounter with Biyi had lent me a much-needed creative spark. But he had not planted the seed and moved on. As Heinemann weighed whether to buy the rights to my debut novel, Arrows of Rain, they invited Biyi to be one of five authors and scholars to evaluate my manuscript. Later, an editor at Heinemann told me that Biyi’s enthusiastic evaluation was one of the reasons the publisher decided to include my manuscript in their series. I had much to be grateful to Biyi for, but fate — alas — has denied me the opportunity to render that gratitude in person to my younger benefactor. He was a prodigious talent, a guy who was at home in a variety of idioms — fiction, theater, film, photography, among others. He was a consummate artist, able to bridge boundaries with the ease, restlessness and dexterity of a weaver of magic. Yes, he died relatively young, but he lived a rich, vital and consequential life. Beyond our shared interest in the arts, Biyi and I had other interesting connections. His father, like mine, fought in Burma during World War II. Like me, he was born in the northern part of Nigeria — Kafanchan in his case, Yola in mine. In the teething moment of our respective creative emergence, Biyi and I were fortunate to be championed by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Biyi fertilized the world with work that will immortalize him. He has gone to rest, the workman!
Mukoma wa Ngugi
Biyi Bandele! I got the news from Ainehi Edoro in the morning, and I let out a long painful sigh wondering if another season of losses is coming our way. Two days before, James Turner, a radical force and the foundation of Africana Research Center here at Cornell University had passed away. I worry about Biyi’s family — especially his children — but I find consolation, which for a long time they will not, in that he left behind a large genre of mind-bending work. He was a force for change and beauty. I never actually met him in person but at some point, with my sister Wanjiku Wa Ngugi, we had talked about making a movie about the Mau Mau. We are part of the same ether and this morning I felt a profound sense of loss. I find solace in the thought that we are the work, that life is the beauty and work we leave behind. Eventually, some sooner than others, we get to leave. What work, what life, are we leaving behind? I live by this Fanon quote, and the older I get the more it has become useful. “Death is always with us and what matters is not to know whether we can escape it but whether we have achieved the maximum for the ideas we have made our own … We are nothing on earth if we are not in the first place the slaves of a cause, the cause of the peoples, the cause of justice and liberty.” Biyi, like James Turner before him, did achieve their maximum. Except now we will never know what their limit was beyond the maximum. I mourn and celebrate his life!
I knew of Biyi Bandele first for his beautiful prose than his filmmaking. I read The Sympathetic Undertaker and Other Stories in my first year in the University, and I marveled at how much beauty was in his words, the simple elegance of it all. I also knew of Burma Boy, even though I hadn’t read it then. He was a fantastic, grand storyteller. I followed him from then, until his run in the film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun, and other amazing work on screen, Blood Sisters being the latest. Bandele seemed too big for the world to contain. It is sad how he didn’t live to see Elesin, The King’s Horseman premiere on the bigger screen. It is sadder that I would never get the opportunity to meet him in person. Rest in peace and power, Biyi Bandele. You scored good goals.
Biyi and I took a walk at night in Stockholm, when his film, Half of a Yellow Sun was being screened at the Stockholm Film Festival. It was bonding time. We spent the evening, talking about films and books and adaptations. His crisp voice rings in my ears now as I write this. This was in 2015. Two weeks ago, I reached out to him and wanted to know if he’d be free to attend the inaugural James Currey Literary Festival, which I am directing at the University of Oxford, and this was what he wrote: “Greetings, Onyeka. Apologies for the delayed response. I’m actually back to burning the night candle, working on the new draft of my manuscript. I need to finish it asap! I would love to be in the UK for your event, but I have no plans to be there that week. I just saw your text on whatsapp about TIFF. It would really be great to see you there! Warm regards Biyi.” I started to prepare my mind to attend the premiere of his new film in Toronto with him. Weeks before that, we had a phone conversation, discussing our collaboration on the TV series of my UK debut, The Strangers of Braamfontein, which he said he liked. I had begun to be so attached to Biyi. I began to feel special, that we were now friends and then, like a pássaro, he flew out of my hands, quickly, surprising and shocking me, to the point that I screamed: “This is a joke!” Before Stockholm, I was a young man, sitting in Mars House in Festac, skimming through the pages of Burma Boy and wishing that someday, I could write like this writer. Is it the hair? His glasses? His always looking nice face? I began to have all of that, without knowing I was imitating this work of art called Biyi Bandele. As he journeys to the World of Saints, I make him my Personal Guardian Spirit. Mèsi. (Thank you in Haitian Creole).
I didn’t know him, but I was connected to him through our mutual friend, the wonderful Jessica Craig. This is a big loss for African literature, Bandele’s family, Nigeria, and the world at large. Sun re o, omoluabi!
Everyone is shocked. He didn’t give us any notice at all. We have been proud of his contributions to literature and film. He was our finest bridge builder for literature and film. We loved what he did — a daunting task — in Half of a Yellow Sun. We were keenly looking forward to what he would do with Death and the King’s Horseman. Then he bowed out. But then he had done the work. You worked hard, Biyi Bandele. You achieved greatness. Rest.
Biyi’s passing incurs a deficit to the worlds of literature, film, and photography. The words that have followed the announcement of his passing suggest an incompleteness of mission or shall we say, in that cliché adulation, a burning down of a library. Except, of course, this library didn’t seem fully furnished to the promise of its capacity. We —readers and aesthetes — are made poorer by this. But we are consoled by the memory of his contributions to culture and the assurance that his works will remind us of his humanity and the fecundity of his mind. A profound condolence to his family and loved ones. Thank you, Biyi.
Thank you for allowing us see the world through your eyes… And it was a beautiful world indeed. Rest in peace, Biyi Bandele.
Dear Biyi, you will be so missed: your radiance and warmth, your keen powers of observation, your joy of life and how you deeply appreciated the living wherever life took you, your big body of work which translated complexities into something accessible for all. You were already slated for the next edition of Afrolution in Berlin … and now you leave that unfillable void…we are so so sad…see you on the other side, Nadja.
It’s so shocking. I am kind of numb. I remember being on his Facebook wall last week and thinking it was odd that his page seemed to be a collage of memories rather than the regular posts he featured practically daily. I didn’t dwell on it much. I just thought he wanted to start using Facebook in a different way. I wish I’d reached out, said something. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I keep telling my friends that 50s is the age the exodus kicks in, and it revs up from then on. May we make the most of what we have left, like Biyi did. He’s got a film coming out soon! As painful as his demise is, we celebrate his life and achievements. May the universe give his family strength in their grief.
Thank you Biyi for blessing and impacting the world with your incredible vision and creativity. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten!
Farewell Biyi. You shared your many gifts generously. You touched lives. You were a sweet and friendly soul, and it made me happy to help you at the beginning of your career. You did beautiful work. You will be missed. Let the work grow. Be now at peace. Farewell.
Suyi Davis Okungbowa
I happened upon Bandele’s work late in life, while watching his film adaptation of the Adichie novel, Half of a Yellow Sun. All I kept thinking was: who is this person who is so gentle with their unfurling of story, so deliberate in their storytelling a world where heady rushes are expected? The more I learned about him, the more it made sense. I’ve always believed the Nigerian (and African) creative ecosystem needs storytellers like Bandele—and we still do! Which is why his loss is one too soon, and reverberates so deeply, a bright-burning candle snuffed out by death’s crude fingers. May he rest well, and may good light go with him.
A beautiful soul has left us. Many years later, I’m still that young writer who searched for familiar people in books and fell in love with Biyi Bandele’s writing, felt encouraged by his exceptional delivery, before setting off on my own, to tell stories about people who look like me. Bandele is a powerful artist through and through; he worked across genres and paved the way for a generation that refused to be pigeon-holed. We will miss him.
I never met the man, but I encountered his art, his brilliance, both on paper and on screen. I think of him as a pathfinder, one who has used his life’s work to set new creative heights and to show us what is possible; a path, a universe beckoning. The many heartfelt words of tribute I have read since his passing is a testament to the kind of man that he was: one who was dedicated to his art, to his family and friends and to his country. Farewell, dear Biyi Bandele. May angels guide you home.
I have known Biyi since I was a child. He was one of my father’s students. He would always come and see my Dad at our house in Ife. I will always treasure those early memories of him. Hear the words of the Rasta man say, one bright morning when my work is over, I will fly away home. Rest In Peace My Brother .
As always with such loss it is hard to contemplate, let alone find words. I just keep seeing Biyi’s full-battery smile that lived in his eyes. As a student of my father’s at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, Biyi would visit, sit in the living room and make a huge impression on a preadolescent me. An impression that swelled over the years. Not only has his incredible and diverse body of work marked me — as a writer and also just a person — but perhaps because of those early mind-forming encounters, he exists for me as one of the forces of my childhood. Thinking of all his close-ones at this time and wishing them some grace as they grieve. As you continue here Biyi, in us and with us and through all the amazing work you’ve made for us, you also continue somewhere else we’re not privy to — we’ll miss you. Go well.
I was really saddened to hear of Biyi Bandele’s passing. I knew him through his wonderful book Burma Boy and his films and tv series. His is a great loss to the African creative community. May he rest in peace.
E. C. Osondu
Just heard about the passing of my friend Biyi Bandele, a friend from way, way, back. Friends before his play Rain, the avalanche of plays, novels, films. Biyi, Wale Obadeyi and I were mere boys dreaming under an almond tree at the National Theater in Lagos. Orun re ore mi ti ofi Ile se aso ibora [farewell my good friend who made the earth a covering cloth.]
I never met Biyi Bandele, but we got to share some close conversations about life and art, off and on. During a visit to Nigeria in 2019 I tried to connect with him in Lagos, but his long hours of shooting a film and my own demanding research schedules frustrated it. His passing on Sunday left me wondering what I could have missed in the last email he sent me. Without going into other deeply personal details of the long mail, I’d like to share a slice of the prodigious work he was up to as a way of celebrating his life of commitment to the creative arts: “The past few years have been incredibly busy for me: aside from working on Faraday Okoro’s directorial debut “Nigerian Prince” as an executive producer alongside Spike Lee I am currently writing and directing a feature documentary on Fela Kuti for the BBC and the Toronto International documentary festival Hot Docs. I’ve also just finished writing my first novel since Burma Boy. It’s called “Gregory Conga, Lagos Area Boy,” and it took three years. To keep body and soul together during that time (since my kind of fiction has never attracted big advance fees from publishers; they have always been written on spec), I have in that time been a resident artist at NYU and —currently — an arts by-fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. I’ve also just been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to spend the 2019-20 academic year carrying out research at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. These are all prestigious awards and I count myself fortunate…” Such was Biyi’s busy creative life and humility about his towering achievements. Realizing that he did not add to the long list of his works-in-progress anything about Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman, his latest film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death and Kings Horseman, which is scheduled to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, suggests the many other works he must have had in his creative foundry. And I was hoping to catch up with him at #TIFF. May his soul rest in peace. And condolences to his children Korede and Temi, and to other close family, friends and associates. Death be not proud!
Wordlessness. On Sunday I read about Biyi’s latest achievement Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman and proceeded to whine to a friend that it would likely take another year before it showed up in Kenya, and that we needed to do everything to bring Biyi Bandele to Nairobi to radically stir things up. Today Tuesday August 9. The news. There is something profoundly unfair about this news that reached many of us through twitter; unfair to Biyi, all his dreams, his beloved children; to Nigeria, Africa and the world. “Biyi Bandele is dead.” I wrote back to the news purveyor. “You are lying.” But then he retweeted Temi’s elegiac death notice and tender tribute to her father. Here it was the sad, stark and absolute truth: “… I am heartbroken to share the sudden and unexpected death on Sunday 7th of August in Lagos of my father Biyi Bandele.” Still. Something refuses to put the thoughts in their order. “This is not right. Not Biyi.” Author, playwright, filmmaker, photographer, auteur. African. That quietly radiant force who dared to inscribe us, the Africans, his people, the Nigerians, our stories, with such formidable light and art, casting these into the galaxies with neither apology nor explanation to the world. This loss. I first met Biyi through the words of his book Burma Boy released by Farafina, a book weaving laugh-out-loud humor into a story of war horror — he had the rare gift of drawing a multiplicity of emotions from reader and audience through a single gesture — while also stylishly amplifying Africa’s intentionally overlooked stake in the dramatic arcs of the world’s stories. His poignant rendering of Half of a Yellow Sun established him as a filmmaker with the heart of the poet and seer. It turned many of us into his wide-eyed fans, fans that beam at giants from distances of awe and wonder. We were Facebook friends, of course we were, in this age of digital click connections. But long ago, initially arranged by the other luminary, Binyavanga Wainaina, long ago, we had intended to meet in Lagos, in London, Somewhere. We never really made that “real-life-see-talk” connection, vaguely knowing our life’s criss-crossing passageways would make it happen. But an inexorable then the summons from the Ancestors interfered with our delusions of ‘One day tomorrow.’ I do not think that Biyi ever realized what he meant for so many of us from the African continent, how much of a beacon he was, how many in Kenya upheld him, that if he had shown up in Nairobi there might have been a small stampede. How much his works, images, words and dreams have uplifted our spirits, and acted as masterclasses, what they mean to us, how they invite us to boldness in our artistic adventuring? But now….Wordlessness. Something feels incomplete and unfair about Biyi’s transition. But there is nobody transtemporal to approach to ask to make sense of this, to teach us how to let go, how not to regret taking for granted the vagary that is life, of imagining, that of course, there is always tomorrow when there isn’t. On Tuesday August 9, while monitoring the ongoing Kenya election processes, a time-shattering message showed up on twitter. “Biyi Bandele is dead.” It said. No, not our Biyi. It is not fair. To that pantheon of ancestors to whom Biyi Bandele has been summoned, a simple question from a simple African: “Could you not wait? You see how things are for us here and how much more we needed his shining; could you not just wait a little bit longer?”
Victoria Princewill FRSA
Biyi Bandele was a consistently extraordinary artist, multifaceted, visionary and daring in all the ways society tells us we (black African creatives) cannot be, precociously brilliant in a world that wants us to wait. Bandele’s trajectory was radical retelling of artistic striving & interdisciplinary exploration unfolding in real time. But it was also his own specific individual story. History has forgotten so many, the contributions of so many. Bandele’s work as a poet novelist & filmmaker deserves a recognition that endures. Let that be part of the project of honoring his memory.
Biyi Bandele was a prolific writer and a very good film director. There is no doubt that his footprints will not leave the sands of time in a hurry. He played his part. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time. We pray that God grants them the fortitude to bear the loss.
Gone too soon. Your novel Burma Boy taught me so much about the Nigerian contribution to World War 2. Your legacy lives on. Rest in peace.
I am shocked and greatly saddened to hear that author, playwright, poet and filmmaker Biyi Bandele has left us so soon, too soon. My heart goes out to his loved ones, and the creative communities he touched and enriched with his talent and generosity.
Umar Abubakar Sidi
Biyi Bandele. I was never opportune to meet this exalted man in person, but I’ve always had an intimate engagement with him through his artistic endeavors. I never failed to see his depth of vision, astonishing skills and generosity. His characters are so believable and unforgettable. After reading Burma Boy, every soldier I meet with the name ‘Ali’ reminds me of ‘Ali Banana.’ The escapades of the eccentric, General Charles Orde Wingate, who I also encountered in Burma Boy, became the mantra I chanted to subordinates during military pep talks. I strongly believe that Burma Boy is very essential to the education of a military officer and the development of combat psyche and based on this, I promised that, if I were ever to become the Commandant of the Defence Academy, I will make it a compulsory read for every officer cadet. Biyi Bandele was not just a consummate storyteller and a literary star. He was a constellation whose incandescence will continue to illumine our hearts till eternity. Rest on Patriot.
Dear Biyi, you and your work — shining lights, bright, thoughtful, excellent. Thank you for gifting us your wisdom and creativity. Rest in peace.
Biyi Bandele was an inspiration. His life was such a beautiful example of creating expansively and courageously. It is a testament to his reach that this loss is felt so profoundly across industries worldwide. I am grateful for all that he gave us to hold forever. I am hopeful for comfort for his family, who knew and loved him for the man he was beyond his art.
BIYI BANDELE: A Trans-Generational Loss. He drove himself — hard! Too hard. The more he achieved, the further he aimed. It would not surprise me if Biyi had a secret plan to film in all genres, to eventually out-Spielberg Spielberg. I discovered this in him quite early — not that he ever expressed it. He wrote me a longish mail on my recent birthday, and he was to show up in Abeokuta any time around now. He was clearly looking forward to the visit. On the agenda was the prospectus for a brand-new venture that would restore maximum creative control to the hands of directors. Even that mail betrayed an organizing mind seething under a pressure cooker. I am convinced that he succumbed to some quite treatable ailment that others would have survived, but stress, sheer stress had weakened his resistance. I exhort his colleagues to take note, and gently pace themselves. Biyi was a unique, all-responsive talent. He belonged to a small coterie of artistes who looked at their crumbling, near irredeemable society and swore: I shall extract something of value out of this collapse! And he was versatile — no sooner invaded one genre than he commenced exploration of another, with the former still hovering over his creative horizon as unfinished business. This is the kind of loss that truly hurts.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Sad to hear of the passing on of Biyi Bandele. I send solidarity of the spirit.
Biyi Bandele was a true storyteller in the finest traditions: balancing craft, art, philosophy and entertainment seamlessly across different media. I enjoyed his work, I am sad to know he has left us so soon. But most of all, I celebrate his legacy: his novels, films and shows, including those yet-to-be-released, his final stories, his encore. Rest well, Egbon.
It is devastating to lose the great Biyi Bandele. The world has been fortunate to experience his immense contribution as a novelist, playwright and filmmaker. He is an inspiration and powerhouse figure who has captivated many with his works that remain a gem to us. This is a devastating loss for our community. My sincerest condolences to his family, and may he rest in peace.
I am heartbroken, as many more would be when they wake up to read the news [of Biyi Bandele’s passing]. But I am also delighted to have known him, happy to have lived in this moment and this time, and in this city, when he did. Happy to have shared his dreams and creative energy, and being a little part of its realization… See you someday at the elders’ feet then, Uncle Bíyìí, when we wake up from this bewildering dream.
A few hours before I heard the news of Biyi Bandele’s untimely passing, I was talking to my friend, Ugo, about his work. She was reading his Burma Boy, one of my favorite novels, and a loving testament to the Nigerian, and West African military contributions to World War II. My friend praised the book, and I voiced my hope that he would rework it for the big screen one day, just as he had done with his forthcoming and eagerly anticipated adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun a decade earlier. My first encounter with Biyi’s work was his debut novel, The Man Who Came in From the Back of the Beyond, and as a writer, I was inspired by how he moved seamlessly between genres. Not content with manipulating poetry, prose and plays, he also made television and film. A consummate storyteller. I tried to glean as much as I could about his creative process from his interviews. I never met him, but I was one of his many social media followers who flocked to his Facebook where he shared delightful photographs of everyday Lagosians loving and laughing their way through life. Looking forward to one of his many uplifting posts, I visited his page in the late hours of Monday night and reading the obituary penned by his daughter, Temi filled me with shock. I join his family, friends, and fans around the world in mourning. As we say good night to Biyi, I am grateful that he shared his creative gifts with us, and I pray for his eternal rest.
Farewell Biyi Bandele. I woke up this morning to Nduka Otiono’s Facebook tribute to our own Biyi Bandele. I was numb and in disbelief for several minutes. Biyi was one artist whom I had immense respect for. He was dedicated to his craft. His photographs of Lagos people and life was always nostalgic. His novel inspired me a lot, and my love for him grew after I saw the film adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which he directed. Recently, when he shared the trailer for Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman, I told him how happy I was and how I looked forward to seeing the film on Netflix. Biyi’s death is a loss to the entire world and a greater loss to the African literary community, for I am sure he had loads of work in development. I fear we may not get to enjoy those works. I fear we may not have someone as talented and skilled in filmmaking and photography as Biyi for a long time to come.May God lighten his burden. Amen.
I still remember my first encounter with Biyi Bandele’s work, the play Brixton Stories, and then reading his novel Burma Boy. His contribution to storytelling across mediums will never be forgotten. Thank you for the work you left behind and for the inspiration along the way.
When I heard Biyi Bandele died on Sunday, I was crushed. He believed in my book Distortion, and we talked about me doing a fellowship in movie making and directorship. He was the first person I ever revealed a secret I had kept for many years. It had been some very tough last months for him…. yet he won’t give up! He had to finish projects. Only last week I had congratulated him on his new film the Elesin Oba, King’s Horseman! Biyi Bandele, your Legacies in film and storytelling in books lives today, tomorrow and the hereafter.
I met Biyi circa 2013 at a conference at Bayeruth University in Germany. Maybe I am getting all the facts wrong: the first meeting and the where. Biyi’s Burma Boy and my On Black Sisters Street were acquired by the same editor (Ellah Wakatama) for Jonathan Cape back in the day, so it is possible that I met him before 2013, possibly in London. What does it matter how and when I met him? Or that I can’t recall? It feels to me like I’ve always known him, and that explains perhaps the impossibility of remembering our first encounter. Biyi was brilliant, he was passionate about the projects he worked on. He was a committed artist, an astute observer of the world. It feels surreal to have to talk about him in the past tense, painful to accept that the photograph he shared on Facebook of a father and his children watching a movie on the father’s iphone will be the last photograph he’d ever post on Facebook. There will be no future works from Biyi, but he has left a legacy that transcends time. He came. He saw. He documented. He cheated the finiteness of life. May this console all those who miss him.
For those consumed by the voice of the storyteller calling out paivapo*, and the myriad languages in which this exhortation promises a story, finding our tribe is a necessary means of survival. From my first days in a publishing house, I realized mine was to be a job that required walking out and yelling out the invitation if I were to find the stories I needed. Paivapo? You were one of the answering voices (dzepfunde†) — a storyteller calling back in response. First as a guiding hand and collaborator in the long overdue installing of Achebe in Penguin Modern Classics and through your introduction to Things Fall Apart. And then the book commissioned to answer a question that had preoccupied me for years. I felt you had excavated Burma Boy from deep places in your heart, facing up to the darkness and fear that defined this long-silenced tale. Somehow you managed both humor and joy while excavating the raw wounds of war, its violence, its pity, its reach far beyond the battlefield. The marketplace was not quite ready then, but what a heartbreak to see the landscape now replete with the feasts of stories from our homes and our hearts — a bounty made possible in no small measure by your steadfast, stubborn (!) certainty and hard work. And to hear of your departure decades before it could have been time. I will be honest, you always left me challenged and often confused. And I imagine I maddened you with my inability to follow your ideas with prompt alacrity. But as Writer challenging, debating, resisting and insisting, you helped me forge mission and purpose. For that, and for the very gift of our paths intersecting once upon this time, I am grateful.
*once upon a time
† and so it was learned
[very loose translation of Shona storytelling call and response]
Biyi Bandele’s demise is heartbreaking for many of us. I was lucky to have spent a week with him at the 14th Time of the Writer Festival in Durban. A raconteur of note and an insightful mind, Biyi’s loss isn’t just one for Nigeria but also for Africa and the rest of the world. May his family, friends and those who loved him be comforted during this very difficult time.
I woke up and heard the news from [Ainehi Edoro]. It’s a real shocker. I have been following his recent Lagos market photo series on Facebook with keen interest. He managed to capture the magical intimacy of daily life, transforming the noise and chaos of Lagos Life to the serenity of the shared moment. Most recently, he was stepping into his power and destined for much greater things. I’m sure his restless creative energy will be at work on the other side.