Sunday, February 28, 2010

Earthquake in Chile

The comparison between Haiti and Chile, whose southern part was hit with a massive earthquake on February 27, are inevitable. The clarity in all this shows that although 7.0 and 8.8 are very different on the Richter scale, their social ramifications make them closer than we think.

My Interview with Reflection Eternal

Got slammed on OKP for being awkward in this interview but can I say? I was starstruck and I am a nerd (shot out to the people who defended me). It was still great to be behind the scenes of the video and chop it up with this legendary duo.

OkayplayerTV: Reflection Eternal from Okayplayer on Vimeo.

Track Review: Lydia Caesar's "Summer Vacation"

Here's what I know: She's a Hofstra undergraduate majoring in Theatre and her debut album Electric Love Garden is coming out this Spring. Oh yeah, I also know her name, Lydia Caesar, and am familiar with her love child of a genre "RocknB" which plays out quite conspicuously in this ode produced by The Beatbangahz. What I don't know is how long it'll take the rest of the music world to catch to the whims of this delightful songbird who dare I say has some flares of an Umbrella-esque Ri Ri. I hope it's not too long.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ten Fiction Writing Rules from Your Favorite Authors

Tips for writers 
Illustration: Andrzej Krauze

Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin
1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.
9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing is published next month by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Diana Athill
1 Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).
2 Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.
3 You don't always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they'd be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it's the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)

Margaret Atwood
1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

Roddy Doyle
1 Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
2 Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–
3 Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it's the job.
4 Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
5 Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.
6 Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".
7 Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It's research.
8 Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
9 Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.
10 Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

Helen Dunmore
1 Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue.
2 Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don't yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.
3 Read Keats's letters.
4 Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.
5 Learn poems by heart.
6 Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.
7 A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.
8 If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.
9 Don't worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed "What will survive of us is love".

Geoff Dyer
1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: "I'm writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job." Publisher: "That's exactly what makes me want to stay in my job."
2 Don't write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
3 Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: "Niet" becomes "Nietzsche", "phoy" becomes  ­"photography" and so on. ­Genius!
5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something.
8 Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.
10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You've got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That's what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won't do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

Anne Enright
1 The first 12 years are the worst.
2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.
5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.
6 Try to be accurate about stuff.
7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
8 You can also do all that with whiskey.
9 Have fun.
10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

Richard Ford
1 Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.
2 Don't have children.
3 Don't read your reviews.
4 Don't write reviews. (Your judgment's always tainted.)
5 Don't have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night.
6 Don't drink and write at the same time.
7 Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)
8 Don't wish ill on your colleagues.
9 Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.
10 Don't take any shit if you can ­possibly help it.

Jonathan Franzen
1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
2 Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
3 Never use the word "then" as a ­conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
4 Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.
5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
6 The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis".
7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.
8 It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
10 You have to love before you can be relentless.

Esther Freud
1 Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn't use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.
2 A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn't spin a bit of magic, it's missing something.
3 Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.
4 Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don't let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won't matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.
5 Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
6 Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too.
7 Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.

Neil Gaiman
1 Write.
2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3 Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5 Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7 Laugh at your own jokes.
8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

David Hare
1 Write only when you have something to say.
2 Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.
3 Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.
4 If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.
5 Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.
6 Theatre primarily belongs to the young.
7 No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.
8 Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.
9 Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.
10 The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction".

PD James
1 Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more ­effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.
2 Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.
3 Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
4 Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.
5 Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ­people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.

AL Kennedy
1 Have humility. Older/more ­experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. ­Consider what they say. However, don't automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.
2 Have more humility. Remember you don't know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.
3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
4 Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn't matter that much.
5 Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.
6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.
7 Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and ­irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won't need to take notes.
8 Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones ­until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence.
9 Remember you love writing. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.
10 Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.

Some of the most celebrated writers in the game weighed in on their top writing rules to live by. Their lists made for a scintillating piece courtesy of

I Wish I Could Read Every Book in the World

You wish you could blank every girl in the world. Well, I wish I could read every book in the world. Saw this on my buddy Amari's blog Scattered People. Thought I would retweet it so to speak. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Long Awaited Ralph Ellison Novel

It's called Three Days Before the Shooting and it was recently released by Random House. Ellison had been working for decades on this follow-up to the canonical Invisible Man, but he couldn't finish it before his death in 1994. With the help of editors John Callahan and Adam Bradley, we can at least see Ellison's vision.

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McGrady in New York

And he sure did make himself at home scoring 26 points in his debut. I think it's back to prolific scoring for TMac in D'antoni's offense.

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A Daft Sixteen by Sidik

As some of you know, I used to be an emcee. I discovered this sixteen from a rhyme book I used to go hard in. Those were the days.

Carbon Copy
by Sidik Fofana

Roof incineration, hood translation
Though my biased eye offers some limitation
Swim through the tar of a nicotine cloud
Sofa buddies congratulate their lungs as they puff
Drive-by motion, side window tinted
The bullet hit the brick of a black infinite
Nobody broke down at the funeral home visit
Because they understood the laws of blacktop physics
I wouldn't be surprised if today or tomorrow
The shooter is a victim of the ricochet kharma
Sally, dress proper. I know this is August
But don't pick your nose during eulogies
Don't squeeze your nose as you look into the coffin
Rehearse your etiquette because this will happen often
To a daisy bunch was my last ten cents
Carbon copied by this rhyme and a pen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Harlem Underground

Went to Harlem Underground this afternoon on the East Side. I love that store. They knit their t-shirts  on premises. Today, I ran away with a jacket with the HU logo on it...balling! If you're ever in the  area, see what they got.

Harlem Underground
20 E. 125th Street
New York, NY 10034
Tel: 212-987-9385

Smile Every Time My Name Is up in the Source (March 2010)

Tidings! Here's my latest Source Magazine article on a young rapper named Panama, who used to act in the hit HBO television series, The Wire. I had fun...

Panama Off the Radar                                                            

Sade Goes Gold in a Week

Sade, Soldier of Love. 502,000 copies. Week One. 

That's what happens when you release music only when inspired. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Code Switching with the Harvard Actors

Everyone Wants to be Black...Until the Cops Come.

Join CodeSwitch7, the seven African-American actors at Harvard’s Institute for Advanced Theater Training, as they explore the definition of blackness in an afternoon of performance, conversation, and music.

You might get uncomfortabe. You will have fun.

Find out more about CodeSwitch7 in the Harvard Crimson:

CodeSwitch7: Renee-Marie Brewster, Kelley Green, Anthony Gaskins, Faith Imafidon, Richard Scott, Lindsay Strachan, and Charles Settles, Jr

Performances are:

Sunday, February 7 -- 2pm
Monday, February 15 -- 8pm
Wednesday, February 17 -- 8pm

Club Oberon

Sade Soldier of Love

How confident do you have to be to release music every ten or so years? How comfortable do you have to be to only be creative when inspired? Sade is a true artist, and her new CD Soldier of Love is dope.

Lissy Trullie Self-Taught Learner Review

'Dik doesn't just do Hip-Hop...

Lissy Trullie
Self-Taught Learner
Downtown : 2009

By Sidik Fofana

Before Lissy Trullie came along with her blond emo comb-over, long runway legs, and new wave LP Self-Taught Learner, the rule was simple. Don’t trust a model-turned-singer because everybody knows models-turned-singers just like models-turned-dancers and models-turned-actors perform with their faces. But some rules--like the twig that represents Trullie’s skinny frame—are meant to be broken.

What’s more intriguing, however, is how Trullie breaks this semi-general truth. After all her style—a mishmash of Courtney Love’s spunk and the Deborah Harry’s punk—doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. But it does, along with the New York City rock scene from which she derived underground fame, give her a stone hard legitimacy that can only be earned in the pre-gig piss of a CBGB’s grafitti-laden stall. Plus Lissy can twinkle on the guitar and, most importantly, she has own band.

It doesn’t matter that the 25-year-old’s most recognized song is a cover of Hot Chip’s “Ready For The Floor,” nor does it matter that the bands’ musical arrangements would be in the “easy” column in Rock Band for PS3. All that does matter is that her four man front, even with its foreseeable chord changes and poppy aloofness (especially in “Money”) releases ghosts of the Velvet Underground , a real band, making Trullie’s crew a real one by association.

The authenticity of Self-Taught Learner doesn’t necessarily mean this Agyness Deyn lookalike doesn’t have to rely on the “m” word anymore, but it does, at least, please the gatekeepers of garage-surf fiefdom into letting her lease for a little while. And maybe, if she keeps steamblowing they way she did in ’09, Courtney Love and Deborah Harry will be asking why their reincarnations came during their lifetime.

God-des and She Three Review

Okayplayer style.

God-des and She
G&S Records : 2009

By Sidik Fofana
What makes many people skeptical about a pair of Lesbian recording artists from the Midwest doesn’t have as much to do with homophobia itself, as it does with the sexuality of music in general. In one way or the other, people want to fall in love with who they listen to. In that regard, God-des and She, and the legion of reasonable, liberal-minded consumers who follow this gifted duo really don’t care. If people can’t distinguish good music from heterosexuality, then fuck ‘em (no pun intended).

It remains no coincidence that with the release of Three, God-des and She are still padding their fan base. Since their appearance on Showtime’s The L Word in 2006, they’ve gained recognition from their Hip-Hop/Soul endeavors, with included last year’s “Stand Up,” a provocative club jawn, which took its place among the great sex anthems of modern music. Three proves that cuts like “Stand Up” are not the norm, however. Produced by Public Enemy’s Brian Hardgroove, the album works itself up into a gimickless lather, matching Hardgroove’s robotic beats and the duo’s well-synchronized vocals. The formula hits full potency on “Love Machine,” an all-the-way turned out 80s club hit.

In an age where so-called “quality” music often spends its subject matter indicting not so quality music, Three steers away from that bland road of self-righteous criticism with its swarm of in-you-face urban feminism. There is one moment, however, on “Radio Up” when God-des spits; “Music is no longer human over producing/ It’s losing/ The soul, the heart, the pulse/The depth, the feel is lost,” but what’s a good underground release without an industry jab or two anyway?

Three hits the right checkpoints for a duo in limbo between rubbing the tummy of its core fan base and vying for a bigger pond of recognition. So, world, get ready because the new Salt n Pepa--with a beguiling queer twist--is in town.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

HBO's How To Make It In America a hot show and in quest to fill the Entourage void, I must say my thirst was at least partly quenched after watching the series premiere. It's about two hipsters types--a young clothes designer and his scheming roommate (think "The Honeymooners with an urban twist)--who strive to get rich in New York City. It stars Victor Rasuk (please tell me you recognize that name from Raising Victor Vargas) and Kid Cudi as a supporting character. It's pretty dope. Makes you want to live in the Big Apple!

Magazine Layouts from Frederick Douglass Academy

I had my journalism students make their own funky magazine layouts. It's amazing what you could do with a few odds and ends!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lil Wayne Goes Rock With The Rebirth

Gotta applaud artists for trying to grow, but really? Iono, you judge... Diary Day 90

Follow Sidik Fofana on his quest to land a freelancing job at the prestigious publication,

So my feature "The Dictionary According to Nneka" was chosen to grace front page a couple of days ago, which makes two posts that have been selected by the editors for the front page. I was definitely stoked and ecstatic when I saw the positive feedback for my piece. I'm hoping, with consistent blogging, I can make an honest case for writing for the real site by the summer time. We'll see. Stay tuned!

Google Superbowl Commercial

Out of all the witty/clever/funny Superbowl commercials, this romantic one touched me the most.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Dictionary According to Nneka







 The Dictionary According to Nneka

by Sidik Fofana 

It’s a brisk, autumn day in Harlem and Nneka is walking down 125th street with a guitar on her back. It’s only her third time in New York City and a small camera crew is taking road shots of her performing songs from her sophomore album Concrete Jungle . Though she is singing her heart out, it’s her sight and not her voice, which blesses Manhattan’s Black metropolis this afternoon.


See, Nneka notices things. Things that the average Harlemite would take for granted. She notices the mango butter incense evaporate from vendor tables on the sidewalk. She notices the graffiti piece of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in front of Puppy’s Leather Outlet. She notices the fish markets and the soapbox preachers on Frederick Douglass Blvd. The neighborhood, in turn, notices her too. “More than ten people came up to me—I’m not lying—when I was walking through,” she says still shocked at the cordiality of Harlem’s citizens. “I felt everybody looked me in the face and I received smiles.”

However contagious Nneka’s optimism about Harlem is, it’s probably her energy, and not so much the congeniality of the people, that attracts so much attention. After all, the 28-year old German-Nigerian singer is sitting on top of the world these days. Her third album, and first major U.S. release, Concrete Jungle, has attracted major media attention. Spin magazine recently selected her as an artist to watch in 2010 and on February 3, she is set to perform on the Late Night Show with David Letterman. The press buzz has made the good gigs come easier like the time she opened up for The Roots at the Highline Ballroom or the time she warmed up the stage for the one and only Lauryn Hill. So, yes one would think Nneka would be very approachable at this point in her life. Harlem picked up on Nneka’s sunshiny aura. A toothless man accosted her and encouraged her to keep making music. A saxophonist invited her to jam with him in front of the Apollo. Another man, a rapper named Black Jesus who claims to have known the late Tupac Shakur, wanted to record with her. “He gave me his number. He was selling his album,” she says but she thinks he was just trying “to form.”

Form? Yes, “form” is the first word of Nneka’s dictionary. It means to try to talk to or get with a girl. It is the Nigerian slang equivalent of the American “to holla”. Years of bouncing between Europe and Africa have bestowed the 28 year old with an unmistakably unique lexicon flavored with German, African, and British influences (“I have more,” she interjects. “Do you want me to write them down?”). For the sake of length and poignancy, this story will focus on four key words that give insight into Nneka’s life and it so happens that Ms. Tropical Cheekbones And Buttery Skin, uses this word a lot to describe her suitors’.

But who could blame them? The German-Nigerian singer/song writer can have that tantalizing effect on men. At a slender five foot four, Nneka is the type that makes straight-haired models seem utterly boring all of a sudden. When men spin fiberboard globes and point to places where more exotic women lay, she is the abstract African beauty they picture. She walks around indoors barefoot like an Indian bride and that accent, oh boy.


Most foreign singers try to hide their regional inflections. Take British sensation Estelle, for example, whose crystal-clear vocals show little hint of her West London upbringing or Netherlands pop singer, Giovanca, who speaks Dutch but sings in English. Their success has depended on their ability to globalize their voices. Nneka however, having grown up in the Delta region of Nigeria singing in the local church choir, sounds distinctly African. Her voice begs one to acknowledge its ethnicity. It’s a social statement in itself, one that refuses Western influence in place of cultural authenticity. And, oh yeah, it’s downright sexy.
Nneka explains that she can tolerate people who try to form, but she can’t tolerate people who try to perform. “Being Nigerian sometimes, people are not proud where they come from,” she says ruminating on the issue. “They get the chance to go overseas, twist their tongues, and try to be American.” Like this one man, Nneka recalls, who approached her on the train trying to woo her with pickup lines while hiding his African accent. At that point, Nneka, who would have none of it, decided to expose him. “I told him don’t even go there,” she says. “I can tell you the village you came from.”

That’s how real Nneka keeps it. Everything she does beams with Pan-African pride. After yesterday’s sojourn in New York’s Black Mecca, the singer-songwriter spends most of today doing interviews at Girlie Action, a media, marketing, and management firm in downtown Manhattan and the extent of that pride unveils itself by the minute. Nneka reads Nigerian literature from authors like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She can imitate accents from every region of Africa, expounding on the high inflections of South Africans and the tough gutturals of Ghanaians. Google her image and you’ll find a feisty pictorial of Nneka in a fighting stances with two huge leather gloves and a hoody that states “Africa is the Future."

Intertwined with that African pride is Nneka’s empathy for the human condition. When it was time to leave Nigeria and go to college, Nneka enrolled at the University of Hamburg to major in Archaeology, which she later changed to Anthropology. “It’s a quest for human mankind,” Nneka says. At the same time she was attending one of the most prestigious continental colleges she was also touring the world musically.

She released her first album, Victim of Truth in 2007, to a shower of accolades, out of which the UK Sunday times declared it “as good as The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Nneka’s sophomore opus No Longer At Ease, like her debut, showed that her cultural consciousness was not just an angle, but a social necessity, a part of her.


2010’s Concrete Jungle is an extension of this global awareness. Having been deemed “pure hotness” by Rolling Stone magazine, the LP is a rally cry to modern Africa, urging the war-torn to break from the shackles of its colonial forefathers. The songs are incendiary. They’re revolutionary. They’re ballsy. In “Kangpe,” a fast-paced anthem about strength during adversity, she delivers lyrics in Nigerian creole. In “Africans,” she sings, “Now it’s up to us to gain some recognition/ If we stop blaming we could get a better condition/ Wake up world! Wake up and stop sleeping/ Wake up, Africa! Wake up and stop blaming!” She’s Harriet Tubman meets
Bob Marley, a true militant from her bare feet up to the Afro that she refuses to plait

And there it is, the second word of Nneka’s dictionary. She doesn’t know she has said something irregular until she’s well into the next sentence. When she does, she stops to reflect, turning her head, inadvertently scanning the shelves of disheveled compact discs in Girlie Action’s listening room. In America, we say “braid.” In Great Britain and the countries once part of its empire, they say “plait.” There is no noteworthy difference between the two words, just that one is the result of British hegemony and the other the result of American. Nowadays, plaits or braids have become more of a relevant expression of blackness than Afros, but key schoolgirl experiences have long ago turned them into the opposite for Nneka. “I used to plait my hair in Nigeria,” she says twisting a strand of it. “In school, it was compulsory to braid it to the back and you wear earrings, the school uniform, white socks, and sandals.”

Even now, Nneka refuses to tie down her hair except when she’s visiting her dad, who would prefer her with straightened hair or a weave. She permed her hair once in Nigeria, but she ended up losing a lot of hair when it started stretching. So these days, she keeps it simple with her Afro, oiling it with Indian hemp. “You know the way our people are,” she says. “It’s funny with their weaves on and their skull is itching.”

It’s evening at the Girly Action headquarters and Nneka has almost completed a full day of nonstop interviews. She’s only a tad restless now, grabbing a book of matches on the coffee table and striking them one by one. “I hope you don’t mind, I like the smell,” she says which sparks a discussion about the decadent smells of gasoline, glue, and scented markers that Nneka recalls her and friends use to sniff when they were hungry.

When the tangent is finally rerouted, Nneka talks about commuting between Germany and Nigeria. That’s when this peculiar word “flatmate” comes up. It’s the third word in Nneka’s dictionary, perhaps the most telling. Having glorified her bi-raciality in the song “Halfcast” from her last album, Nneka has embraced both her German and Nigerian heritage, traveling to and from apartments in both countries. Just like the two cultures that make up her ethnic background, these two homes have polar differences. “Germany is a vacation,” she explains. “In Nigeria, I needed to get out with a flatmate and move into a better area.”

In Hamburg, her apartment reflects her artistic spirit: hand-drawn paintings, terra cotta walls, and ubiquitous ficus plants decorate the chic flat. Nigeria, on the other hand, presents a rougher quality of life. Although she now shares a girly apartment, pink carpet and all, with a roommate who does media-related work, less than a year ago, she lived in a boys’ quarters, the little house where servants stayed during colonial times. Everything comes back to politics.

Which brings us to the final word of Nneka’s dictionary, “wahalla.” It’s a strange word borrowed from Nigerian pidgin, which roughly translates to “turmoil” and is fitting for the singer-songwriter who does not shy away from it at all. Plus, according to Nneka, the word has found its way into many African dialects, which presents another nod to her sense of Pan-Africanism. To a person who can churn a country’s political redemption on shoulders into a lovely guitar ballad, turmoil may not sound as bad as people may make it out to be. Nneka certainly doesn’t look down on it. “I’m saying the truth,” she says and then pauses as if pondering something heavy. “It’s a high time to stand up and take things by the hand.” Just like Nneka.

Katori Hall's The Beyonce Effect

You're gonna be saying Katori Hall's name like you said Lorraine Hansberry's. Just read...

In opposite corners of the world, three brown women--one Indian, one Ugandan, and one American--struggle with their quest for lighter skin and European features in a world where "if you white you right and if you black, get back."

Thursday, February 04 thru Sunday, February 07
@ 8PM

With Saturday and Sunday Matinees @ 2pm
No Performance on Sunday night

Location: 85 East 4th St betweem 2nd Ave and Bowery

Tickets ($15) are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or online at

Memphis the Musical

This is mad cool! A musical tale of forbidden love set to songs of Frank Sinatra. It's directed by Tony Award Winner Twyla Tharp and makes its debut on Broadway on March 1st. Check out the TV commercial and an interview with the creators.