The Young and Disenchanted

Posts Tagged ‘Erykah Badu

I haven’t written in an incredibly long time because I’ve dedicated all the words my brain has held over the past 2 months to my senior thesis which, hamd’Allah, is FINALLY done. Even so, it may take me a little while to get back to producing my usual epically long treatises on Africa and love and all that goodness. So I’m easing back into the groove with something simple: music. I went to see the Fela musical for the second time yesterday, and it gave my soul some sorely-needed comfort. For those of you who don’t know, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is one of the greatest musicians to come out of the African continent (and by that I mean of all time, Naija for life!!!!) and there is now a Broadway show dedicated to his life. I have an incredibly deep emotional attachment to Fela and his music: apart from the fact that he fought for social justice in my home country of Nigeria, I grew up listening to his hits “Zombie,” “Yellow Fever” and “Gentleman.” Both my parents are huge fans of Fela, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for them as young people dealing with the repression of successive military dictatorships and the legacy of colonialism and its distorting effects on Nigerian society. Hearing his music takes me far away from the stress of New York and being a senior in college and puts me back in Surulere with the Lagos heat warming my back and the smell of roast corn in the air. And, most importantly: he made jawns to shake your nyash to (ugh, typing that out, I see what my sister means – that IS a gross word, but it’s also the most apt one to describe Fela’s vibe).

Besides the point: his music, along with that of musicians ranging from the Roots to Faithless have gotten me through some pretty tough times (and transformed some regular ones into incredible memories). And as it’s been a minute since I did a list of 10, here’s one of the songs that are making me smile, dance and feel right now:

  1. “Migraine Skank” – Gracious K: I’ll actually be writing a piece on UK Funky for Idaya this week, so it’s pretty perfect that a dear friend from England recently put me on to this tune.
  2. “Rude Boy” – Rihanna: Sigh. I’m not meant to like this track at all, but that beat is infectious and it sounds like the summer I’m craving right now (New York, this cloudiness is not a good look – can we get back to 90 degrees? Kthanksbye).
  3. “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” – Fela Kuti: This song’s lyrics get me kind of emotional, but those afrobeat drums make me dance without fail.
  4. “Face in a Crowd” – Kosheen: This brings back memories of modern dance performances during secondary school… SUCH good times.
  5. “The Blast” – Reflection Eternal: Brooklyn in the springtime, Talib and Hi-Tek… need I say more?
  6. “Honey” – Erykah Badu: I haven’t had time to listen to all of her new album, but I love “Window Seat” and “Jump in the Air”… I may dedicate this weekend to reacquainting myself with Ms Badu. This track’s off her last album and always cheers me up.
  7. “Lady” – D’Angelo: Those lips. That voice. That laidback jazz vibe. Enough said.
  8. “Acapella” – Kelis: I’ve loved Kelis since “Caught Out There” and even though I’m still devastated that she and Nas are no longer together, this dedication to her son is infectious (and the end of the video is SO cute!)
  9. “Go Deep” – Janet Jackson: I saw Janet on her Velvet Rope tour, which solidified the massive crush I have on her (alongside the rest of my family). I love the understated sexiness of this track.
  10. “My Sweetie” – Wale: I love this Bunny Mack sample SO so much – and Wale laced the track perfectly. I’m sure Fela would approve.

P.S. Had to go with some classic Gaga for the title… this track DEFINITELY gets me dancing every time I hear it.

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Sometimes I crave the taste of pepper on the tip of my tongue. Maybe it’s my West African upbringing, but there is nothing more satisfying and sensual than that hot-fire-burning-sharp-but-sweet sting of a cayenne seed grazing my taste buds. No meal ever tastes quite right without a bright red smear of hot chilli paste on the side of the plate (a habit I picked up from my father), especially if it’s a meat dish. Oh Lord, and meat: the tender flesh of a curry-yogurt-marsala-simmered chicken breast, that juicy, burst-in-your-mouth satisfying bite of steak or the fatty succulent depth  of slices of pan-seared duck. .. Mmm. Heaven. And all the other good stuff: squidgy sweet plantain, sweet slippery mango, bread fresh out of the oven that’s crisp on the outside and so so soft on the inside with butter dripping off its edges….

Just in case you hadn’t noticed from my little soliloquy, I LOVE food. Someone once said that in every fat man there is an even fatter one trying to eat his way out – well, my inner fat woman is one insatiable beast. Food is my fun, my comfort, my high. I love preparing it, I love consuming it, I love exploring it – I recently discovered that NPR has a food section which, essentially, has made my life complete. I recognise that, generally, people enjoy eating (you know, with that whole staying alive aspect of being a human being and whatnot) but food goes beyond that for me – this shit is on that spiritual tip.

Let me expand.

A couple days ago I was in a foul mood for no understandable reason. I was throwing my stuff around my room, stomping on the floors and blasting my de facto angry song (Nas’ “Get Down” from the God’s Son LP) and probably pissing off my neighbours. I had promised a friend I would make him lunch, so I grabbed a knife and got to chopping some onions. As I started heating the oil and gently sautéing the chicken, I could feel the tension easing out of me and transforming into a spicy peanut stew in a vibrant reddish hue. By the time my friend came over, I was considerably calmer – and my stew and coconut rice hit the spot so correctly that it gave my friend the itis (as in, he had to legit take an hour long recovery nap). Something as simple as cooking a meal has the power to transform my mood (and knock out lanky Bolivian men). I’m not sure, but maybe it has to do with the act of creating: anger tends to be a pretty destructive emotion if it’s left to fester. Channelling it into something productive, whether it’s painting à la Jackson Pollock or carving racks of lamb like Gordon Ramsey, sublimates all that negative energy into something deliciously beautiful. Or at least, that’s how Freud described it to me.

More than being a mood-changer, food and its preparation also serve as a uniting force. A day after the peanut stew, my roommate and I turned our apartment into a dumpling-and-chicken-yassa factory to celebrate Chinese New Year (and the fact that I’m African, which is always cause for a party). We had a good twenty people over all eating and cooking at the same time, Fela blasting in the background, folks breaking out into a two-step in between bites of vinegar-soaked-doughy-meatiness and sipping on some apple cider… The only part we planned was the food, but like bees to honey everyone gravitated together and arranged themselves into a busy little hive of happy productiveness for a few blissful hours.

Certain foods also invoke specific memories. Apricot jam takes me back to the age of five, visiting my grandmother in Benin City and getting a jar to take back home to Lagos with me (she used to keep it in this fridge outside her room – standing on the pink carpet waiting expectantly for that little glass vessel that contained that magically fruity sweetness is a memory that will stay with me forever).  Roasted potatoes soaked in gravy remind me of boarding school Sunday lunches after Mass – so perfect on a cold February afternoon. Milkshakes (chocolate preferably, although I have recently discovered the sweet tanginess of banana) recall late night conversations over hip hop beats and hookah smoke.

These three aspects of my relationship with food – its mood-soothing properties, its community-building power and its role in my history – take it far beyond the physical fulfilment of a bodily need. It’s part of my emotional make-up too. Both aspects are closely intertwined, because to me it only makes sense that something that feeds your body in some way feeds your soul too. And my soul is hungry, and craving that hot-fire-burning-sharp-but-sweet sting of a cayenne seed just as much as my tongue.

P.S. Taking it way back with the title.

I have made my season of migration back to the heart of darkness. NYC is as cold as I left it – a sharp arse contrast to the balmy Harmattan heat of Lagos and Dakar. It hasn’t all been gloom and doom though – I’ve hung out with friends, touched Mos Def (yes I saw him – and it was amazing) and had that deliciously decadent molten chocolate brownie with ice cream from the diner across the street from me. However, it’s my last semester as a college student aka Knuckle Down Time. I have a thesis to write, a job to find and classes to ace so I can graduate with a decent GPA. This means that I will be spending the majority of my days locked down in the library – kind of depressing, but as I love pretty much everything I’m reading and writing, I’m actually very content about the whole life situation.

Except for this job business. Part of the issue is that I enjoy making life complicated for myself. When I first got to college, I thought I could be an econ major, enjoy the perks of investment banking upon graduation (aka wild money) and retire filthy rich at the age of 32 to pursue a life as a nomad photographer. Alas, I discovered that my brain was suited better to analysing literature than manipulating formulae, so I traded my calculator for a stack of novels (at last count, close to 200 of them) and chose to study English and Political Science. This made the past 2 years in particular incredibly fulfilling, but now the honeymoon period has worn off and reality has hit. I have to find a job – a good job – and generally try to figure out what the hell I want to do with my life. For a while now I’ve been fantasising about becoming an English professor… I could absolutely dedicate my life to the study of post-colonial African literature, get tenure someplace fabulous and school the yung’uns on Achebe and Senghor. Yes, it will take a long time to get there (and I will be pitifully destitute while getting there), but deep down I know that an intellectual/academic/creative path is for me. I need to be surrounded by mountains of books and papers, to have arguments over the smallest nuances of a sentence and most importantly, to continue to learn. This all sounds so incredibly perfect, and yet I am full of doubts.

You see, this little break for freedom I want to make hasn’t exactly come with precedent as far as my upbringing goes. My parents are both professionals, as are my older two sisters (although one is also trying to be a professor). While growing up I was given free rein to indulge my intellectual curiosity (something my father probably deeply regrets now), but it seems that as far as Nigerians go, I’m an exception in terms of the things that interest me. Most of us are taught to focus on what will provide the money to take care of your family: be a lawyer, be an engineer, work for an oil company. The glory days of Soyinka and Azikiwe are long gone – the leading Nigerian intellectuals are predominantly elderly men and in a country where civil society and intellectual debate have been decimated and restricted for so many years, it doesn’t surprise me. Being a professor at a Nigerian university doesn’t pay (literally) – working for a bank does. Why then, would anyone want to study African literature over Accounting? Ah – because they were unlucky enough to stumble across a comparative literature class their sophomore year, read A Season of Migration to the North and were unable to resist the germ of a deadly disease that assailed them a thousand years ago. I’m trying to make a life out of what most Nigerians would call a hobby. This means that if I really do want to go down this path, I may have to do so outside my home country.

However, this isn’t so simple. Although I love learning about other cultures, the problems that haunt Nigeria are tugging at me, forcing me to look closer at this place I call home and decipher just how much I know about it… which is actually pathetically little. I need to learn more about the complexities of Muslim-Christian relationships in the Middle Belt, where horrifically violent riots have been taking place, about the variations in rural and urban life in the North and South, about which societal structures survived colonialism and which ones are a product of it. But Nigeria hasn’t become a sexy topic for academia yet – as far as African countries go, Sudan is probably what’s hottest in the corridors of intellect, or countries like Senegal that have a rich legacy of scholarship. I’m not saying that there aren’t brilliant Nigerian scholars, but it saddens me that the vibrant academic communities that thrived at Nsukka and Ibadan (my parents’ alma maters) 40 years ago have falling victim to the systematic rot that plagues everything else in Nigeria.

But somewhere in the hot mess that is Nigeria, I sense opportunity. I see potential teachers and students on every street corner in Surulere. It’s not that we don’t have the resources to do better – to expand our horizons not only in terms of development, but also to rebuild our public forums, improve education and encourage political debate at the grassroots. It’s just that we don’t have leaders who have the inclination, bravery and balls to step up and actually improve the country. And that must change. We’re sometimes called the “sleeping giant” – maybe it’s time for us to wake the fuck up. And maybe, just maybe, with other people who feel the same, I could be the alarm clock… as long as I can get some decent moolah out of it (just keeping it 100). I think that would make for a pretty awesome life.

Now back to Mamdani and this chocolate muffin.

P.S. Not that it has a lot to do with this post, but I love this Erykah Badu jawn.

I’m 100% certain that my boy Rational Chaos is going to call me out for my “softness” in writing about this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Ugh. I feel disgusted with myself just typing that out. I kid – love is a beautiful thing. It’s also a complicated, messy painful affair that can leave you hurt, angry and disillusioned. Seeing love fail is a big part of why I considered myself to be disenchanted when I started this blog. That’s what a few years of college will do to you – I’ve seen so many relationships blossom with hope only to fall apart, like a cheap shoe after too many miles of New York pavement.  I’ve written before about how the “dating” system I’ve observed in college is completely nonsensical to me – this whole “hooking up” and “talking” business before going on an actual date is a bizarre inversion of how the rest of the world sees relationships. And more than that, the way that men and women talk about and relate to one another leaves me even more bemused. I’ve heard guys refer to women in terms of their bodies, their faces and how many positions they want to take them in, but rarely have I heard a man on my campus talk about how much they enjoy talking to a girl about politics, or how cute she looks when they say something dumb and she looks embarrassed for them or even something as simple as how beautiful she looks dressed up for an event. I don’t know if it’s the cynical atmosphere of the city or the age, how they interacted with women growing up or just plain old sexism – what I do know is that it’s fucking problematic.

Of course, not all men are this way. And there are, of course, plenty of women who discuss men (and themselves!) in similarly objectifying terms. And not male/female relations are about sex – there are many people on my campus who are in happy, well-rounded relationships.  I think what bothers me is that sex always seems to be so up-in-your-face whenever people think about relationships. It’s like my girl said to me:  “When it gets cold, people start looking for alternate ways to keep warm.” But apparently, not much else. The only real criterion for hopping into bed with someone seems to be a basic sexual attraction. Don’t get me wrong – sex is great. People should get it in as much as possible – in fact, I personally believe that if all of the disgruntled people in this world just got a quality session in the bed, we could solve global warming, the Iraq war and establish a global socialist utopia (just make it consensual, k?).  But when that’s all I’m supposed to think about when I’m attracted to a guy – if he’s just supposed to see me as ass, boobs and vagina – I have to pause and start rethinking some things.

A lot of people think that this sexual “looseness” and general fuckery can be traced back to the feminist movements of the 1960s: female sexual liberation supposedly made women believe that they could not only act like men, they could fuck like them too – which snowballed into men taking advantage of the exponential increase in available ass, thereby reducing its value and cheapening the relationships between men and women. Now obviously this is a gross oversimplification, as well as a romanticisation of the past, but there may be an element of truth in this. Do not get me wrong: me + women’s lib = love. That particular element of civil rights movements is the reason why I’m sitting in this godforsaken library at my university studiously ignoring my essays, instead of preparing dinner for my three kids and husband after spending the day cleaning the house and buying groceries (again, I kid). But damn, why does EVERYTHING have to be about sex?? And this bullshit about us being “equals” – an excuse for multiple sexual partners and “free love”? I AM NOT WITH IT.

Breathe.

I guess, when it boils down to it, I’m an old fashioned girl. I like dates. I like that tension of not being kissed when you expect it to happen. I love realising that I like someone despite the fact that the most intimate we’ve been is sitting next to each other at a meeting. And I hate that being at college means that the odds of finding a guy who feels the same way are slim-to-none.

But I’m an optimist. For one of my classes this semester, I read a novel called “The Home and the World” which was written by Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian intellectual and literary figure of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It’s about a love triangle, Indian nationalism and colonial rule, amongst other things (I won’t spoil it for y’all). I was in the middle of re-reading it to write a paper when I was stopped by this line right at the beginning – it’s from the main female character, Bimila: “My husband used to say, that man and wife are equal in love because of their equal claim on each other. I never argued the point with him, but my heart said that devotion never stands in the way of true equality; it only raises the level of the ground of meeting.” Now, this may not seem to have a lot to do with what I was just writing about, but let me explain. Bimila is living in Bengal, India in the early 20th century – not a spot where the women’s liberation movement had quite taken off. She lives in purdah (seclusion), meaning that she spends her days within the confines of her home. 21st century American college life is probably the polar opposite of her existence. But putting this aside, I was most struck by the way she sees herself as a woman in relation to her husband. She isn’t “submissive” in the traditional sense, nor is she sexualised or objectified by her husband who is determined that she emerge from purdah and enjoy the “real” world and all it has to offer. She loves him – not only because of his qualities and because of the way that he treats her as an equal, but also because she can express her love to him through being a woman, in a non-sexual manner. And he reciprocates the feeling from a similar standpoint. In the context I’m living in, that notion is a breath of fresh air. Love should be a well-rounded thing. Sex is important, but so is being able to talk to someone about big and small matters, doing little things for them like making them a meal, being able to sit quietly with each other and not need to say a word, or be concerned about what they’re thinking because in the end, nothing really matters at all. And on the side of men – never underestimate the power of complimenting a girl, meaning it, and expecting nothing (especially nothing sexual) in return.  Or of not texting her only after midnight. Or of surprising her with dessert, just because.

I haven’t figured out all of this relationship stuff yet. I am, however, realising more what I understand to be love and what I don’t. This is just a small articulation of the beauty I consider that thing to be – a mint-filled garden in the middle of a city of concrete: seemingly out of place, but all the more lovely for it.

P.S. In musical terms, this Erykah Badu song best articulates the way I feel about love and shit.