This ≈ 4,000 word blog post has been narrated below, complete with impeccably produced music. Click the play button to listen.
1. The ‘S’ in A.R.T.I.S.T. is for Strategic.
“With each new poem that I write, I feel the need to be more strategic in the publishing of it than the last.”Shlomo The Great
Thanks to Steven Fry, I’ve gained quite an interest in the iambic pentametre. Even as I am still learning the intricacies of this poetic form, my writing and mastery of it is still in the early stages and I look forward to seeing how I progress in the coming months and years. I’m sure in the fullness of time, I’ll be able to write and perform something that puts the one you’re about to hear to complete and profound shame. I cannot wait!
In this blog post, I will talk about the ongoing developments in my poetic exploration while I read The Ode Less Traveled by Steven Fry. As my understanding of poetic forms continues to grow, I show what my current creative, vocal and expressive abilities are by publishing a poem about a recent vision I had for the future of Africa. The wording here is important; “a vision I had”, as opposed to “my vision of (or for)”. I think the former positions me as an active agent in the continent’s revival while the latter feels a bit passive. No one likes passive! This poem is followed by a stanza to stanza breakdown of what brought me to certain lines of the piece. The central theme underlying this post is one that emphasises the importance of African science fiction or Afrofuturism as not just a way to entertain ourselves. I believe it offers a bit more than that. Even as I held off on publishing this poem and the resulting blog until later this year, I think publishing it now aligns it with the contemporary global, political and cultural landscape. I hope you enjoy it.
2. The Iambic Pentametre.
Wikipedia is a good place to start to get to grips with the iambic pentametre. As I started writing the poem you will soon read and hear, I attempted to follow the metric structure of the iamb where a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable in a da DUM da DUM da DUM pattern (almost like a heartbeat. I’m yet to fully grasp this concept fully). As you will have noticed by now, if you have listened to some of my past work, my poems are largely driven by how I want them performed vocally.
Whenever I write, I often feel like the lines of a poem have a soul or some kind of internal energy that yearns to be set free. Particularly in this case, I quickly let feeling take over how I wrote the words. If I felt like a certain line didn’t bring the words to life, I changed it. More importantly, if it didn’t embody the philosophy I wanted to get across, it won’t end up on the page. So even though the iamb formed the basis for what I was writing, the vocal performance and various philosophical principles became the overarching structure. I offer a much more detailed breakdown of these principles in the coming sections.
3. A Prosperous African Future.
I’m a big advocate for the portraying the right kinds of images in the many shows, movies, songs, pictures and discussions we have, especially about the African continent. Without getting too bogged down over what the ‘right’ images are, I will argue here that a strong understanding of historical events will enable us to have a better appreciation of our current position as Africans in the global landscape. I’ll start my analysis with a recent tweet that I came across.
3.1 Systematic To Systemic.
When I saw the tweet below, it damn near broke my heart. “Someone must have hurt this guy badly”, I thought to myself. As if the original tweet wasn’t bad enough, the author doubled down on their views. It might be worth saying at this point that this is not a personal attack on anyone. To me, this tweet captures perfectly what I think is a more pervasive sentiment that even if I don’t exhibit now, I certainly used to at some point. So if anything, this is really a critique of myself.
We can deny this as much as we like but the truth is Nigeria is what it is today because Nigerians are wicked people.— Oluyomi Ojo (@OluyomiOjo) October 19, 2019
Wicked because they are wicked.— Oluyomi Ojo (@OluyomiOjo) October 19, 2019
I can only urge those who share similar views to pick up books by the likes of Chancellor Williams and Walter Rodney to understand how and why the African continent is where it is today. If you’re not much a reader, watch a video of others reviewing the book. Or maybe check out my most recent favourite speaker, Dr Arikana. She does justice to the broader issues plaguing the African continent. Issues like how “Nigeria” exists, or any other African “countries” for that matter. Were the borders of Nigeria ordained by some supernatural being? For the purpose of this conversation, clearly not. The intro to Burna Boy’s Another Story says it best: “To understand Nigeria, you need to appreciate where it came from”. I have never met the author of the tweet. I have never been to Nigeria either. So I will not pretend to know more about it than those who live there. However, I am absolutely sure that wickedness is not inherent in any one group of people. People aren’t “wicked because they are wicked”. To think that’s the case, is grossly uninformed in my view regardless of the broader context in question.
Pursuing this line of reasoning further, for those living on the African continent, such statements pushes and prompts them to leave at any chance they get. Of course that’s not all that prompts those who want to leave or do leave to do so. But surely that doesn’t help. Nigerians are wicked. Really? Is that where we’ve gotten to? Following from this, if all we talk about is corruption (often as a one-sided depiction), there is little to no space left to talk about past and present achievements by Africans on the continent. As I have recently realised, a proper historical foundation for who we are as Africans gives us a broader context for our current position, and who our real enemies are. A bible verse that I’m sure you’ve heard says it best: we fight not against flesh and blood. It’s not your fellow Nigerians that are the problem. Or any one human being for that matter. It’s systemic. Following on from the tweet’s response above, extreme poverty exists on the African continent and elsewhere as a direct reaction to extreme wealth in other parts of the world. The two conditions cannot be separated. Restructuring the extreme wealth on one end of the globe will inevitably, restructure the nature of the poverty on the other end. But I think that’s only a part representation of a much deeper problem. My only response to the OP is, “Why you hating on the players chief? The game is all the way rigged.”
On the other hand, for those who are now part of the so-called diaspora community, these negative and thoroughly uninformed images (statements) remind them to never step foot back in the region. And again, there’s always more reasons that prevent people from going back to the African continent in any significant capacity (to live, to grow a business, etc). But for the purpose of this conversation, I’ll stick to textual and visual images like the tweet above.
Now those thinking that by writing this, I’m absolving us as Africans from taking action to tackle our own problems, couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m instead advocating for a thorough understanding of historical events. You only need to have read a couple of history books to know that what started as deliberate or systematic actions to divide Africans (and take advantage of the already existing divisions), soon became more entrenched or systemic features of the society and administrative machinery in various states. The fact that more discussions on African development do not start with this assertion, is a stark reminder that beyond surface level improvements, not much has changed. The global system remains intact and continues to be reinforced by among other things, such outrageous statements.
It might be worth mentioning that when I set out to write this piece, I didn’t have any one tweet(s) in mind to criticise. It was only after I came across those above that I decided, “my goodness, I need to publish this with the urgency and utter rapidity unmatched to date.”
3.2 African Science Fiction.
Before you accuse me of turning a blind eye to the reality of life on the African continent, I encourage you to take a step back and realise that I spent much of my childhood in West Africa; Accra, Fajara, Farafenni: I was all over. Additionally, even my most absurdly elaborate futuristic depictions are grounded in a thorough understanding of the realities on the ground. For instance, in Visions of an African future, which is a nine track audio documentary I produced, featuring my poems and interviews with railway engineers, the placement of the tracks PROSPERITY (featuring Dr. Bello Sambo, a railway engineer) as the first track, and THE INTERVENTION as the closing track, is an assertion that despite being a member of this African diaspora community, I am as attuned to much of the political discourse as the average person is. If you doubt this for any moment, I encourage you to listen to one of my recent works, “Emerging Economies”. So in other words, yes there’s corruption and various other things. But if that’s all we ever talk about, we’re missing a great opportunity to take advantage of the transformations that I think and strongly feel are on the horizon; transformations that need to be rooted in a thorough historical understanding.
3.3 Banjul To Bujumbura.
In my Cairo To Cape Town LEVITATION™ project, the main goal was to construct a precise world, uniquely different from the one I see today, that I could transport myself to; a world where solar energy is the order of the day. A world where a tour trip between Cairo and Cape Town necessitates stop overs in Kigali, Mogadishu, and several other great African cities.
Banjul To Bujumbura is no different. Imagine a world where as an African book publisher, my books can be seamlessly transported to the ends of the earth, quickly and cost effectively. What do such visions do for me? Are they just the flailing of a bored and frustrated mind, or the deliberate constructions of visions without which such futures would not come to pass in the first place? I believe that such visions place my mind in a state that forces me to think of all the things I need to do today to thrive in such a future.
In the book publisher example above, as I constantly ‘live’ (imagine living) in this Banjul To Bujumbura cargo train world, I can’t help but feel the need to equip myself with all the necessary intellectual property (IP) knowledge that I know I’ll need in such a future. In this world, I’ll likely need to know all the intricacies of copyright law, trademarks, trade secrets, rights of publicity and other forms of IP. As a well-known writer with prominent books and a book binding and engineering company in Farafenni, I’ll probably also need to know more about licensing and at least a working knowledge of patents and designs. Without such precise depictions and visions, how else am I supposed to make real the transformations I’ll need to have in my educational arsenal today? How else am I supposed to go through each day with purpose and not mechanistically or mindlessly. I believe that by tuning my mind to such prosperous visions of Africa’s future, I am consciously and subconsciously prompting myself day by day to acquire all the skills I’ll need to thrive and not merely survive in such a future. As I sit on buses going about my day, in my downtime at work, because of these visions which are fuelled again by a thorough and growing historical foundation, I am actively and constantly improving my knowledge and skills.
So, in the spirit of tuning my mind to a different kind of future, I now present THE FUTURE OF AFRICA.
4. THE FUTURE OF AFRICA.
I envision the day where a million global
companies touching the lives of billions
will be headquartered, owned by Africans
on the continent. When such a day surely comes
tell me where you’re from. Cause my allies
will run from the earth all the way to the sun.
We built the fucking pyramids. We built the modern world.
So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.
The future of Africa and our earth.
Those that will build our legacy. Listen up.
Don’t wait for others to acknowledge your work,
mind, skills (and) brilliance before you know your worth.
Now say this after me. I’m a genius.
I’m brilliant. I’m an African Giant.
I’m an engineer extraordinaire. Artist
Defiant. Visionary. Lion.
No longer am I just developing.
I’m stratospheric. I’m prospering.
Fuck anyone that comes through and says this’s
what you have to do! Who the fuck are you?!
Churches. What am I, European?
Lol. I’m African. I build libraries and schools.
Theatres. I’m not a tool. I mean they look so great.
Quite majestic even to date. But what
use do they have when I think of my past?
Cus I’m black. And really quite beautiful.
Oh yes. The cherry on the cake of history.
You bloody obliterated my mystery!
Cus you started with the economy.
Off to polity. Now identity.
Where would you go next? Oh yes. Let me guess.
Of course, you’re white! Intertwined in our plight.
And misery. Identities aligned.
Hierarchical. Was blinded. But now I see
who’s my enemy. Believe me when I
say this a seminal day in African history.
You heard it here first.
5. The Breakdown.
In the following section, I will lay out some of the ideas in each line before pointing to an overall take away message for this piece.
5.1 First Stanza.
Mask on: “I envision the day where a million global companies touching the lives of billions will be headquartered and owned by Africans on the continent.” Any vision of Africa as majestic as the one depicted here, where a million global companies are headquartered on the African continent and owned by Africans, that measures economic value in monetary terms we’re all familiar with today is a joke to me. Read Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Chancellor Williams’ The Destruction of Black Civilisation, then we can talk. Till then, you’re part of the problem. Gtffoh. Also suggest any good books along these lines! 🙂
I could easily have said, “I envision the day where a million billion dollar companies will be headquartered and owned by Africans..”. A million billion dollar companies headquartered on the African continent and owned by Africans? Such a future would be as fake and ridiculous as the idea of “exporting democracy”. Bitch. I invented that shit. The fuck are you exporting it to me for? Do the math. That future is too monumental to be measured in monetary terms our minds can grasp today. So instead I thought, why don’t I construct the power, influence and impact of these African companies as rivalling the likes of present day Apple, Google and Amazon.
Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, was particularly influential in framing the words I ended up with. I’ve never been as dedicated to a book as I was with that one. I read it cover to cover, took pictures, made extensive notes created folders. It was wild. One part of the book (I won’t say where) made me immediately realise the scale of the challenge for true independence of the African continent. All I can say is, I had the Weebey face on when I read it.
5.2 Second Stanza.
Recently I’ve found that with all these poems I’m publishing, one function they serve is a sort of hook that goes into the deep recesses of my mind to extract things that I want to learn more about.
In THE FUTURE OF AFRICA, it was only after I wrote and performed it a few times that I realised I didn’t actually know who built the pyramids or how they were even built. I didn’t even know how many pyramids there were. I then decided to go and find all that out. To my surprise, the topic of who built them seemed to be quite contentious with very few concrete answers.
As I went down the rabbit hole I came across a Robert Bauval who had an hour long YouTube video on the topic. The video started with these words: “We found them. They were black…”. Omg. Black? I was instantly hooked. It was too late to watch the whole video but the next morning, I made sure that it was the first thing on my itinerary. After watching it, I immediately headed to Amazon to see any of his books that caught my eye. His book, Black Genesis did exactly that.
You might give me the “Ok sure, Shlomo, your ancestors pretty much built the modern world, but the pyramids, I’m not so sure.” While you’re still contemplating that, I’ve already moved on. If I’m getting the central argument of this book, then surely today is a monumental day. My finding this out is beyond a glorious day. I cannot wait to tell the world of my latest rediscovery. It made me realise that the claim I so forcefully made in the poem about Africans (blacks) building the pyramids wasn’t as far fetched as I initially thought. The deep breath I take at the beginning of the piece with the echoes, places emphasis on the idea of someone waking up from an exhilarating dream and doing everything they can to find the nearest person to tell.
5.3 Third Stanza.
Following on from my realisation that Africans have done great things that today baffles the most leading thinkers, the only thing I can now do is to remind myself and those that are yet to come of this brilliance and level of achievement. If my ancestors built such majestic and megalithic structures, surely the heights to which I am capable of reaching are yet unseen.
Whenever I think of the terms “developing countries” or “emerging economies”, I can’t help but equate them to the many “national” boundaries that exist on the African continent; categories imposed on those that see themselves as anything but developing. We’re fucking stratospheric! Not merely developing. Gthoh with those stupid ass terms.
5.4 Fourth Stanza.
A continuation of some of the strong sentiments in the previous section, here I punch a little harder gearing up for a right hook. As I read about Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), with outcomes like the privatisation of state owned enterprises often to foreign investors, promoting exports at the expense of domestic needs, all I can think is, “who approved these deals?!” Surely they knew that the conditionalities of many of these SAPs would inevitably diminish the power of national governments to set their own priorities. Right? You would think they’d have known that, right? But yet again history provides a better understanding for how the global economy is set up. It is no surprise.
The right hook: “I’m African. I build libraries and schools. Theatres too because I’m not a tool.” In this scenario, I imagined myself being interviewed by someone asking me why I wasn’t building churches. My response, “lol, cus I’m not European. The fuck do I look like to you.” Now don’t get me wrong, some of these churches look great. I grew up in many of them. If it’s any consolation, the concluding line in the poem about churches is more of a question that a statement anyway. So don’t take it to heart.
5.5 Fifth Stanza.
The lines in this stanza stem from a discussion I had with a friend about the term “black” and my reluctant acceptance of it. The most important line for me in this section was “You bloody obliterated my mystery”. I’m not gonna try and recreate the original rendition. My voice has thankfully recovered from that strenuous exercise of performing it several times. I think more than anything else, the state of Africans and the global black community is not merely that our history has been effectively erased. Beyond the fact that I was not shown many great African writers, poets or scientists in my formal education, or that the contributions of Africans to science and technology was virtually non-existent in any of my classrooms, I think the more painful reality is that my mystery has been completely obliterated; the feeling that there is nothing more to me than the approximate colour of my skin, is something I’ve had to consciously reject.
I’m going to leave my breakdown here because I think the rest of this is fairly straightforward.
If there is any central message to this post, it would be my belief that as much as we’re aware of things like corruption, mismanaged resources, other such traits of leadership or lack thereof on the African continent and the wickedness of our fellow brethren (🤦🏿♂️), we should spend as much time envisioning the futures we want to live in. I know this will sound ridiculous to many of those reading this, but even beyond visions and imagination, our actions, statements, thoughts, tweets and discussions will need to be based on knowledge of our historic and prehistoric origins. Even if it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, we need to know our place in history. What were we before we became African? What were we before we became Nigerian, Ghanaian, Gambian, etc?
Likewise, as much as we’re pushing for real estate as foundational for wealth building, we shouldn’t ignore the transformation in the realm of virtual real estate. If I were to start an academic program or a LinkedIn-style learning path for Artists, the very first course, Artist 101, would be The Fundamentals of Intellectual Property. This will be promptly be followed by an advanced level course on relevant aspects of copyright protection, trademarks and branding, patents, designs, rights of publicity and trade secrets, etc. Artist 103 will probably then be Strategic Thinking or something of that sort.
To conclude, I am not advocating for being detached from the world as we see it, but rather to use our minds, our intellect, to prompt us to the things that we need to change for ourselves to bring our constructions of prosperous visions to fruition. And as I’ve said, look beyond what you see. Unearth your history.
I encourage you to construct your own precise and elaborate visions of a prosperous African future; a future rooted in a thorough understanding of your history. What does that future look like? How does it feel? I’ve shown you my visions of tour trips, cargo trains and majestic structures in my many audio performances. I’ve taken you behind the scenes to discussions with engineers who are constructing such futures. I’d love to see others renditions of future schools, classrooms, and many more institutions I’m not even thinking of.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the future of Africa is summed up in two words: intellectual property.”Shlomo The Great
If you quite like what you just read and heard, I encourage you to listen to the now ubiquitous Cairo To Cape Town LEVITATION™ project.
To listen to the unedited version of the poem, click here (SHLOMOTION™ Soundcloud link). Or click the play button below to listen to a slower, more dramatic rendition.
[Last update: 5:03am, Thursday, 24th October 2019]
Word Count: 3,946 words.