Esmeralda

By Cuba Ukoh (@CubaUkoh)

 

She sits there telling me to go make sure the dog house is shut when we all know Bingo is let out by seven thirty every evening. Father doesn’t say one word. He gives her a look instead, it’s passing but slow. They always exchange a trail of looks, even at church. It is always more intense than their bickering, these looks.

She lets a few minutes simmer then she orders me to go clear her wears from the clothesline, even though they’re still wet, because Bingo will soon rip them, like the last time. I give a fleeting glance at the clock, it’s almost eight.

I walk out calm but once I have shut the door, I do it all in a flash that then when I return my breath is still racing. Three minutes to eight. She waits for me to pass the dinning before she remembers she is much too thirsty, this woman. I want to roll my eyes but instead I smile.

She’s taught me how to make a smile hurt. When there is no soul to a smile, deficient sincerity turns it stiff. Then the muscles around your lips begin to twitch, dance, frantic to depart from this facial lie. Many a twitching smile I have lied to this woman.

I return with a full glass beaded with cold water sweat. After a sip, she feigns a migraine and scolds me to dilute it. I glance again, a minute to eight. At the filter I think to myself, what if I could just spit inside?

Just as I sit back down and Tega rests his head on me, she says aloud how the lights need to be dimmed. Who else could she be talking to? Tega is too young to reach the switch, and Father?

I heave and get up again. It is my breath screaming how I cannot stand her … this woman. She acts like she doesn’t notice but I can feel her eyes all over my body, calculating like a crocodile’s, waiting for me to make a mistake so she can transfer her anger to me. But I do not give her the opportunity.

Her stare follows me like she has found a neighbourhood thief on the prowl. And I never stole a thing from this woman. Not her jewelry or her weaves, not five naira. Not a freckle, dimple or crease from her face. Sometimes, I doubt she brought me into this world.

I only bear traces of Father and then the rest of me just … hovers. A question mark is my reflection in the mirror every morning when I dress for school. I feel often like the piece you force into a puzzle gap, waiting for a little more meaning to appear. But I have never asked why I do not look a day like my mother. We cannot say these types of things in my house. But we think them.

The clock strikes eight and the soundtrack to Esmeralda at last filters in with that profound comfort of a Spanish guitar. It streams with the tearful voice of a lonely woman singing. We do not know the meaning of the words but the song brings us to a pensive start every evening.

Most nights I sing it all in my head, thinking to myself how I would have understood the words if she let me stay at my former school where they thought us Spanish, and French. Tega sings it all through, pronouncing every word utterly incorrect.

Father hums with the weary smile that follows him home from work and she sits there on her favourite chair, sipping her water and singing along to random parts of Esmeralda. She thinks she can sing. I chuckle and shake my head, this woman.

We have never missed an episode of Esmeralda since its first season. The lead character, Esmeralda, has come to feel like a family member, lost to the Diaspora.

Tega whispers he will grow up and marry Esmeralda after he becomes a successful inventor but he’s still young and foolish so I refuse to take away from his childhood by telling him how our favourite soap opera is from as far back as the mid-nineties and he would probably grow up to marry Esmeralda’s granddaughter, if he can find her when wishes are horses. I just smile and pat his head.

The next hour is spent in silence watching and gasping at the melodramatic mini disasters ultimately inflicted by Don Alejandro and the close calls that almost reunite the beautiful Esmeralda with her beloved Diego Sanchez who happens to be the estranged son of the cruel Don Alejandro and his hideous distracting moustache.

And then the clock strikes nine. The woman in solitude returns, singing to the Spanish guitar again. She ferries us back to our parlour. As though it wasn’t him flinching at the unfortunate twists in tonight’s episode, Father’s head bows back to his newspaper, until sleep sways a gentle nodding. She goes to her room for a beauty routine and Tega excited to have the remote watches cartoons until the noise burps Father awake and he remembers it’s passed Tega’s bed time, so he scolds him goodnight.

From the kitchen, I hear the news channel come on. I’m washing our dinner dishes. Afterwards, I turn off the idle lights around the house and go to her room.

“Yes, enter,” she replies my knock.

There’s a whitish cream all over her face.

“Goodnight Mummy,” I smile. By now you know the smile?

Smiling back in the same way, she says, “Eheh,”

I walk to the parlour to meet Father. “Goodnight Daddy,” I have to say it twice because he’s in between our world and that of dreams.

“Goodnight,” his smile is more sincere, but dreary.

When I turn around he mumbles, “Say your prayers.”

Tega isn’t sleeping of course. I meet him playing a video game. If there’s a fight at home that night, I’ll find him sobbing. He has a lot to say, too much perhaps. But he doesn’t talk when he’s playing video games or when we are public. So people often say to me, that your quiet brother!

I don’t switch off the light because he’s frightened by the dark though he pretends not to be. I remind him to go to sleep before ten and we say goodnight.

My bed is a delight. I recap Esmeralda once more in my head. I just know for certain she’ll end up with Diego Sanchez. Good always triumphs in soap operas. Poor Esmeralda, she lives in a crooked shed with her mother who is her only company.

To think she had once come from wealth, then cheated out her inheritance after her father’s death. She reminds me of my friend Benita who’s got long hair, almost like Esmeralda’s. She lives in a little house with her mother and I think she walks to school really because she can’t spare her lunch money for transport.

To think her father lives in comfort just on the other side of town! Her parents are divorced, poor girl. Her father used to beat her mother to pudding. Back then, Benita would always come late to school crying.

Our other friend Ijeoma told me she now sees Benita’s mother with a younger looking man at her Aunt’s restaurant, laughing, eating, they even hold hands. It’s not so sinful as it is improper; a mother with a boyfriend!

My Parents always argue but I have never seen Father lift a finger on that woman. But we do have to change our china quite often because when Father is angry or insulting us, he shoves them to the floor or smashes them on the wall above our heads. Most times, minuscule particles hurt our feet in secret cuts the following day. But is it Father’s fault that china breaks to sprinkled crumbs?

He has become more withdrawn these days that I fear Tega might imitate him more. But Father thinks differently. He scolds Tega often for being thoughtless like his mother. Mother has her own thoughts. She warns Tega to improve in schoolwork if he doesn’t want to end up like his father who is managing to speak English.

She shouldn’t say these things! One day someone might overhear and discover Father never graduated secondary school. And what would we do with such embarrassment if jealous people decide to use it against us? That would be the day Father would perhaps beat her. Or worse, divorce her. Just before slumber takes me away, I remember to thank my stars that we are lucky to keep a complete home. What if I were in Benita shoes?

 

“Esmeralda” by Cuba Ukoh was highly commended in Sentinel Nigeria’s All-Africa Short Story competition, 2013.

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Beautiful Faces: Memories from Lagos 2013 Carnival:

Photographer Timothy Aideloje caught some of the beautiful faces from the carnival crazy crowd in Lagos. Check out some of these priceless smiles. All photos courtesy Timothy Aideloje (@jtimidal).

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Young Artist Profile: Gina Castel

African Entertainment better watch out! Performance, passion and expression have found their embodiment in the unbridled personality of Gina Castel.

Actress

Gina Castel is an actor, on-air personality, model, and fashion designer. Hailing from the Cape Coast, Ghana, Gina is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. A vivacious, mulit-talented persona, Gina works across a multitude of artistic and entertainment platforms, bringing her ‘no-holds-barred’ exuberance to each project.

A queen of the stage and a master of the screen, Gina Castel is a sight to behold when executing her acting skills. Her indepth performances, and often surprising dedication to the creation of her characters, have led to Gina being recognized as one of the next top acts to be on the look out for.

Character portrayal

Gina often works alongside major figures in Nollywood, having to her record titles such as Covert Operations, a flick by Alex Mouth (of Mnet’s Tinsel) where she played a blind woman alongside Patience Nzokwu, Olu Jacobs, Yemi Black; When Is It Enough written and directed by Daniel Ademinokan and Stella Damasus, where she played the female lead; others include Private Lies, Wife, Story Story (a BBC Radio production), Zozanatu, Affiong and a lot of other titles.

On set

As a model Gina is known to rock a signature afro cut which tops off a graceful aura that glides across runways. And when she’s not on the runway, Gina sketches and designs fashion wears.

One of Gina’s biggest passions is being a Co-Presenter for the lifestyle, faith-based radio program THR3E, which airs on Praise World Radio and is powered by In His Steps magazine, and has been featured on Impact Detroit magazine.

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One of the most fun things about this talented lady is her ability to adeptly imitate an impressive array of accents – Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, British, Indian, American, etc. If you ever run into Gina and can cajole her into doing some accents for you, it’ll probably be your most fun experience for the day!

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NUTAF 2013: SONTA Announces Change of Date

Announcement from the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists (SONTA) regarding Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF).

The Council of Academic Heads of Performing Arts Institutions in Nigeria in a joint meeting held at the Benue State University on 5th June, 2013, with Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Students Association (NUTASA) President, NUTASA Board of Trustees and SONTA President have approved August 12-17th as the new date for NUTAF 2013.

This followed consideration of the reports of clashes of the old date with exams of 3 institutions and the pending ASUU strike. All branch institutions are kindly requested to note the change please.

Memories from Lagos 2013 Carnival: a Photo Experience

The Lagos 2013 carnival was a blast, an experience only good old Lasgidi can deliver. We’ve got pictures to feed your eyes and nostalgia, so gorge away. All images were captured by photographer Timothy Aideloje (@jtimdal) who was kind to share his photo experience of the carnival with African Renaissance Theatre & Ent.

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The silver Lagosian

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We would have liked to title this ‘blue dancer’, but erm…

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Who would like to get tickled by those feather-fingers?

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There is only one thing you must do at every carnival, go craaazy!

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This guy is cool and he knows it!

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The purple gang.

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In Nigeria this is what we call, “go down low”

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We’ll say it again, every carnival, go crazy!

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Now here’s a different way to hang out.

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They say staring at the colour green increases your creativity. Well, these ladies certainly amplify that effect.

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Even secondary school students got in on the fun. No class today, headmaster.

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Cool carnival stunts.

Download African Hip Hop: HENCH

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Sornen Ukoh is HENCH. Born and raised in Jos,Plateau State, this budding hip hop, spoken word and freestyle artist chose a career in music and liberal arts after graduating from Lead City University Ibadan where he studied Politics and International Relations. Inspired by top notch Nigerian acts such as MI Abaga, Mode 9, Jesse Jags and Ice Prince Zamani, Hench carves an artistic path for himself fusing golden age rap styles with imaginative poetry rendered over moving rythimic instrumentals. Hench is an avid reader, movie buff and art enthusiast who describes his artistic influences as “too many to list and forever evolving”. Currently focused on a mixtape project titled “Escape From Jay Town”, Hench lives in Lagos city.

Hench received recognition following his feature on MI Abaga’s Illegal Music 2’s hit track Ridiculous. Respected for his incisive lyrics and smooth flow, this is the dude who gave us the epic line: “if you ain’t tryna be rich then you ain’t broke enough“. The mixtape album’s title has gotten us curious and utterly excited!

Download and enjoy his new singles!

DOWNLOAD: Coming Soon

DOWNLOAD: U No Sabi Rap

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HENCH: the Man, the Rapper, the Poet

Henchino
Sornen Ukoh is HENCH. Born and raised in Jos,Plateau State, this budding hip hop, spoken word and freestyle artist chose a career in music and liberal arts after graduating from Lead City University Ibadan where he studied Politics and International Relations. Inspired by top notch Nigerian acts such as MI Abaga, Mode 9, Jesse Jags and Ice Prince Zamani, Hench carves an artistic path for himself fusing golden age rap styles with imaginative poetry rendered over moving rythimic instrumentals. Hench is an avid reader, movie buff and art enthusiast who describes his artistic influences as “too many to list and forever evolving”. Currently focused on a mixtape project titled “Escape From Jay Town”, Hench lives in Lagos city.

Is the Nigerian Artist Losing Societal Relevance?

NGF Crisis, the Artist and Nigerian Mythos
By Africa Ukoh (@pensage4)

Every society has its mythos; the intricate threads of beliefs and opinions which hem its daily living, stitching opinions and oppositions. Mythos plays nursing mother to society’s collective consciousness; cuddled in the lock of its arms, we feed the same source which we suck dry. All societies are carried by pillars of mythos – the United States, ancient Greece, western Africa, Ajegunle, Maitama etcetera. Very importantly, ALL LEVELS OF SOCIETY – family, academia, vocational life etc – are rife with perspective-shaping mythos. Is it not normal then that when these pillars are budged, society quakes?

The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) election crisis – more crisis for the Guv’nahs than for the regular folk, really – has for weeks now been the issue of debate and mediocre Machiavellian machinations. Many in the nation have watched with cynicism, criticism and glee-of-the-oppressed as ‘their excellencies them’ have strapped on political bikinis for this mud-fight.

It all started when the gubernatorial royals (note to self: possible title for cheesy British sitcom) got together to vote a new president for their ‘Governors only’ club. However things went kaput! when the 35 adults – ADULTS, I say! – were, to put it in delicate ebonics, unable to get they shit together (togethurr?). The behind-closed-doors event was videoed (weirdest derivative ever, I know), presumably, by the Governor of Osun state, and the videoed video went viral once the public got a hold of it – thanks Sahara Reporters!

As always, expected vituperations followed. We laughed, cried, decried, were angered, and arm wrestled over our woeful estate of governance! Yet at the heart of this dramedy lies a hidden-in-plain-sight statement about the relevance of Nigerian artists to their society and the status quo of Nigerian mythology. Mythology? No, no, I don’t mean Shango and Amadioha digging it out in a two-way deirific battle atop the precipitous heights of Olumo Rock. I speaketh, rather, of modern mythology.

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Politicians play a dominant role in the modern mythology of Nigeria. As both leaders and celebrities, how they and their offices are perceived is crucial to the sustenance of corruption… erm, I mean, to the sustenance of governance. Our mythos, you see, is a complex network of contradictory yet symbiotic socio-sympathetic nerves which connect the everyday Nigerian with the objects/subjects of his ‘real fantasies’ (phew!).

A PROBLEM arises, however, when the persons mythologized are alive and kicking. Being alive in the time of your myth creates the MOTHERSHIP of dilemmas: you have to live up to your mythos, or at least live a semblance of it. Hercules may have actually been a whimp who frequently got his butt kicked by the mulieres of Greece, but he wouldn’t have to had deal with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube exposing this epic chagrin. He probably would only have had to grapple with gossip by word of mouth – which is like 0.0000000000001G in internet speed time. But every time Lionel Messi walks out of the tunnel, he has to prove he is the best footballer in the world. And everytime a Nigerian politician steps into the public eye he has to protect the delicate fabric of mythos which beautifies the ignominy surrounding him.

The ineptitude of individuals in positions of authority in Nigeria could win the Oscar for biggest open secret ever. (It must be noted of course that not all in positions of authority are inept, the shoddy guys are just more fun to play with.) Despite this general awareness we accept these… erm, “special needs” authority figures, regardless – often offering little beyond passive resistance. What we are taught to revere, what our mythology tells us to respect, is the position not the person. (A factor found in other modern societies, not just Nigeria, really.) Therefore, all the person, be he the king of olodos or jester-olodo to the king, needs to do is reach that position of reverence, those seats of power, those thrones of mythos! (Insert thunder and lightning sound effects here!) Think of it like a safe-zone in childrens’ catch me if you can games. The rules are, “you can’t touch us if we’re standing in here“.

What things like the NGF election video do then, is sharpen Sabretooth claws, get pumped up on adrenaline and, with mutant ferocity, tear at threads which fasten our accepted/imposed myths.Tthey peel the veils from our eyes; take Freudian sawed-off shotguns, loaded with 16 inch Jung bullets, and shoot down psychological barriers placed between us and the obvious truth. They force us to see. They compel us to walk into dark alleys which we often pretend not to know of, simply because we are too damn stressed out dealing with the daily-bread-battles of life.

This is where the Nigerian artist – the modern Nigerian artist – comes into query. The question I find myself unable to ignore is: when it comes to the necessary destruction of mythos, isn’t the internet doing what Nigerian artists are supposed to be? Is the artist (Nigerian or other) not meant to be the one who exposes the flaws and negativities in our societies? Is it not the duty of the creatively blessed to serve as watchtowers for mankind? Is this not why artists see, hear, taste, smell and feel differently? Is this not why artists have uniquely warped perceptions, so as to delve into the dimensions of our existence, unreachable by ‘normal’ minds, and extract wonder – pertinent wonder – out from the mundane?

Now, no one can or should impose responsibilities upon artists or art, and in no way do I mean to do so. Let expression be what it will be! However, in examining humanity’s long history in the arts, do we not find a common thread in relevance to one’s society where the best of artists have always existed and golden ages of art prevailed? Has the Nigerian artist then refused or failed to assert his/her relevance beyond being the bossom of Bacchus-esque frivolities? A common argument is that the Nigerian public does not like to confront important issues through art, preferring ONLY jollification and escapism. However doesn’t the repeated virality of videos like the NGF elections tell a different story?

Perhaps I could/should narrow “Nigerian artists” to those in music and film? Writers exempted as the nature of their art prohibits frequent engagements with trivialities. (I dare you to write a novel about nothing but your flossing steez!) But, on the other hand, aren’t the various arts forms one holistic community, thus obligated to look out for each other? There should not arise a misconception that artists are only relevant when they deal with political issues. Nein! Art should NOT be considered ONLY a weapon to use AGAINST government. This erroneous assumption is, in my opinion, partly responsible for the stifled range of topics found in some art forms.

A plethora of issues are available for artists to woo. Society is PREGNANT with mythos from other levels apart from the political: religious, social, cultural, psychological, philosophical, esoteric, etc. And of course art is NOT restricted to the destruction of mythos alone. Neither should it be taken that art must always be dead serious. The issue is range, or lack thereof, and relevance.

Is it not the case, then, that in the absence of creative explorations of matters close to our cultural heart, and near to our national cake, society has turned to the internet for pertinence and to the Nigerian artist for flippancy? Have we not CEASED to look to upcoming movies and songs with hopes for BOTH enjoyment and poignance? Do we not instead rely on the next REAL LIFE CALAMITY courtesy of YouTube, an accidental film maker and a well charged phone? Yet if this is so, can one really, really blame the Nigerian artist? Really? Because if you think about it, the roundness of a woman’s buttocks and the trauma of being used like a roll-on are not going to sing about themselves, are they?

Ps: it is important to note that there are lots of talented artists out there who stray from the worn out norms to give birth to art pieces as rich as they are diverse. To these, one can only say, thank you so much.

Note: the opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. Posting such articles on A.R.T’s site does not infer endorsements.

Hip Hop from Africa: HENCH

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Nigerian hip hop… Scratch that! African hip hop, get ready! HENCH is coming for ya! On the 8th of June, this young hip hop artist, acclaimed as one of J-town’s finest, will be releasing 2 NEW SINGLES: Coming Soon and U No Sabi Rap, from his upcoming mixtape titled Escape From J-town.

Hench received recognition following his feature on MI Abaga’s Illegal Music 2 hit track Ridiculous. Respected for his incisive lyrics, smooth flow and intuitive freestyle skills, this is the dude who gave us the epic line: “if you ain’t tryna be rich then you ain’t broke enough“. The track titles have gotten us curious and utterly excited – and how about that mixtape album title, huh? We can’t wait to hear what this emcee has cooked up.