Gifted poet and writer Olajumoke Verissimo doesn’t need much introduction. Her first book I Am Memory successfully took on a big challenge very few attempt-History; the painful part of Nigeria’s history. Jumoke is an all round literary head; having studied English literature at the university and furthering her academics in African studies; the artist has worked extensively with some leading Newspaper and media houses in Nigeria as an Editor and Copywriter.
A recipient of more than a few awards in her career, Verissimo has been hailed as one of those who will change the face of Nigeria’s literature; and as fans of her work, we see it already happening.
AFRIKAJUMP asked her some questions about life; work and aspirations.
As we say in Brazil, Vamoonezza! It means; let’s go!
AFRIKAJUMP- Olajumoke I consider you blessed and lucky; many artists have had to print books and works of art only to practically urge people to buy so they can survive, but your works get published, calmly and not in a do or die way, it seems. Your endeavors as an editor and writer in the print and web media also serves as a channel to perform your artistry. Which would you say is more enjoyable: Your career as a Poet or that of a literature/media person?
OLAJUMOKE- Thank you. Your words are very kind. As artists, we are both blessed and lucky. Yet, the idea of success—which I believe your question tries to address—is rather subjective. You have to understand that the internet and the media can sometimes be overwhelmingly fictitious in defining the success of an artist. This is why the true realities of an artist are usually distorted in the media—like, good reviews of a book does not equal good sales.
In all, I’m eternally grateful for many things, even the mistakes I make. Nothing is a do or die for me. There’s so much to give and the length of life might not be enough for it, so why choose death when you can just do (imagine) life? Be immortal.
For most enjoyed career….let’s just say, I make efforts to enjoy what I do. Life is too short. As long as I can write, I’d be fine—I’d suffer my emotions, and be human. That’s fulfillment.
AFRIKAJUMP- What one major challenge did you have to tackle in your art to get to where you are now and how did you do it? Can you share?
OLAJUMOKE- Er…how do I answer this question?
I was lucky with my first book, I Am Memory. Yet, when I look back, there was just me struggling to stay afloat, fighting to stay sane. It’s been all small steps moving forward, and those small steps are still in motion. There’s no big story of being picked from somewhere and dropped somewhere—sorry. I’m not a movie star or a rock star, I’m a writer. Every day comes with a promise to challenge.
The truth is that we always try to put a structure to this thing, but a writer’s journey is not defined by plans in that sense. You can plan to finish a book in a year and it runs into years. You may hope to get a publisher in one-year and you don’t get one in ten. The structures in place only ask you to keep working – that is a challenge. You could become depressed wondering when and where you’d fit into a space in the mythical skies where all birds have enough space to fly. Until, your work is published and read, you are just trying everything. You’re sending out submissions, attending events, learning and forming opinions….this never ends. It’s cyclical.
You’re trying to keep your soul from wandering and it is the writing that captures it. You send it out, it finds a home. It gets a name. You hone the craft—you keep honing the craft. The challenge is cyclical. In all of this, you keep sane by understanding yourself above the noise: you remember how we dream differently, and you try to keep be.
In another dimension, I think we push our struggles differently as writers, as artists, so let’s just say I’m pushing mine with as much passion and self-will as I can power. I don’t know how you arrived at your condition, but there’s goodwill in it and that is promise.
Remember also, that this narrative is simply a writer outside life’s happenings in Nigeria. A writer struggling to put food on the table, trying to subsist.
AFRIKAJUMP- Deep. You are a picture of calm and innocence until one starts to read your works that address the heavier stuff in our society, Corruption, Imperialism, our history. Your bravery and fierceness in I Am Memory which you published in 2008 addressed topics many would rather wish away. Why did you take on this challenge?
OLAJUMOKE- It’s interesting that it all turned out the way it did. Bravery is a kind word. You are an artist, and you know we do not choose depression or restlessness to overtake our calm, yet anytime one visits one’s core values, which spurred one to be an artist, one settles for sanity, for calm, one writes the trouble—what you described as ‘the heavy stuff.’
Considering that I wrote I am memory under the influence of ongoing debates on media reports at the time—largely from members of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) at the Ladipo Labinjo close, Surulere, Lagos, and there was the host of artists at Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA). After the monthly meetings, it was not unusual to see the older members debate the state of the nation at different hangouts in Lagos. Perhaps, I was lucky to start attending literary and art events where fierce debates were the norm. Perhaps; talking politics with my dad made me question the society even more. It could also be that I was an angry teenager and then young adult who was alarmed at how the protective hold of my parents did not prepare me for the horrors on the street. Perhaps all of this influenced the tangent of the themes. I gave the first manuscript to a poet, Akeem Lasisi when I was about 21, or there about. I started the book as a commentary on reparations because of my ancestry which finds root in the transatlantic slavery. I wanted to understand what MKO Abiola, who was passionate about the cause was talking about. I did some research and it turned out differently. I showed it to the Master Poet, Odia Ofeimun and he made suggestions. You must as well understand, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was responding to the environment, innocently.
AFRIKAJUMP- Brilliant. What inspired your second book, Birth of Illusion?
I was writing this other book and then I got stuck. So, I started to put together a poem to capture the zeitgeist of private and public turbulence in the world in the last decade. Old poems got a slot and new poems found a place as well.
AFRIKAJUMP- I love when that happens. You know, like the saying one door closes another opens. Now say you are appointed by the government to help salvage Nigeria’s literary sector what three things would you primarily or immediately address?
OAJUMOKE- There’s no point making a list – the government should focus on education. Beyond literacy, which is not even available, we need a country of educated minds. A country with a history; A country where the parts can question the whole. Presently, everything in the country reeks of failure – usually, people suffer ‘curse of knowledge’ ours is a ‘curse of ignorance’. We are so ignorant of our illiterate state, we do not realise we have fallen down the continental ladder as a country. We’re going about as largest black nation. Please, if we have educated minds, the literary sector would thrive. We would create structures that won’t be subsumed under political thuggery and social despondency.
AFRIKAJUMP- Nothing like inept public office holders to bring the fire out of a patriot. Which author(s) are you currently reading, if any?
OLAJUMOKE- Ibrahim Al-Koni Scarecrow, Claudia Rakine Citizen, Sarah Manyinka Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, Odia Ofeimun, A Boiling Caracas, and Ryan Holiday Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.
AFRIKAJUMP- What book by another writer did you wish you wrote?
OLAJUMOKE- This one is hard o. I’ll pick any of Toni Morrison’s books; Okay, I’ll stick with Sula.
AFRIKAJUMP- Your top 3 authors. This is a tough one, I know.
OLAJUMOKE- I’ve decided I won’t do this again. It is torture. If you insist, the current authors on my reading list. Once I’m done, the next authors I’m reading. If, you however, think you should really, really know. Whenever death visits, the last three on my lips could be taken as the final word.
AFRIKAJUMP- HAHAHAHAHA Well played. Any projects in the works you want us to know about?
OLAJUMOKE- Yes, but I’m superstitious.
AFRIKAJUMP- HAHAHAHA you are amazing Jumoke, thank you. Lastly, can you describe your city in one word?
You can get her new book on the link below
Photo by Seye Kehinde.
AFRIKAJUMP had a candid chat with talented Musician Adedeji Adetayo based in Athens-Greece about life and his amazing music. The guitarist and composer who studied music extensively shared his experiences and challenges; also tells us how he deals with issues like racial profiling and the ordeal he has to sometime deal with by virtue of his carrying a Nigerian passport.
Adedeji is in the final stages of his second CD; wait for this- a Twenty tracker double album which comes out this March, featuring some musical heavyweights from Nigeria, Europe and America. We can’t wait.
We are also fond of the short and sweet videos often shared online by the artist in which he excites fans with Highlife and indigenous tunes from Nigeria; of those where he and his band mates from Frog string quartet string our hearts with their string ensemble; we can’t omit his brilliant work with jazzy and funky Datfunk band.
Greece is lucky to have him, let’s hear from the man now.
AFRIKAJUMP- Thank you for your time, Adedeji. You seem like an adventurer; why did you choose Greece?
ADEDEJI- Yes I do like adventure, Greece was the first European country I visited and during the visit, I met lots of great people, made lots of friends ,which made me feel at home plus the hospitality and love for culture reminds me of the core of African culture in some ways , the sun, the food etc. So when I decided to relocate to Europe a year after, it was only natural to start from Greece.
AFRIKAJUMP- Being an African in Diaspora comes with its challenges, being an African artist in Diaspora I imagine may feel like double the trouble sometimes, how do you cope?
ADEDEJI- That’s absolutely true, it does come with lots of challenges apart from the obvious ones like racial profiling and all, the most important for me at least is the lack of musicians (Africans) Who truly love the arts and are willing to stick to it. At least in this part of the world where I am. But I try to keep pushing, find few people who are closer to what I hear in my head musically and work with them. Another challenge would be the awareness and understanding of African music, where most people who pretend to know African music of a certain region expect that every African music should to play that music; it’s like asking a country musician why he doesn’t play jazz (smiles). I get that sometime and it’s funny. However I’ve been blessed to visit places to share my own African story and try to educate people a bit more. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to do more.
AFRIKAJUMP- In your recent single C.O.P abbreviation for Country of Pain you share some of your thoughts on the disadvantages that come with being a Nigerian, how have you dealt with this/these frustration(s)?
ADEDEJI -Hmm! I have found different ways to deal with some, and the main one would be confidence! If I don’t have anything to hide or done anything Illegal, I figured I don’t have to be afraid of the policeman, Immigration and all. They smell your confidence from far away. Once I stopped on the bus and I was the only one checked this was on my way to Germany from Netherlands, Even though I was a student at that time they did check all of my things and left the others, My question was simple; ‘Why are you checking just me alone?’; the officer said the rest were students, I said really? I am a student too but you didn’t bother to even ask. He blabbed and felt embarrassed, I was happy I made my thoughts known and made him look stupid.
The other Side of C.O.P is an African problem that I believe has to be dealt with By Africans if we truly want to be free, We have to purge out all the bad eggs, acknowledged our wrongs, move forward while looking back!; you know like the Bird ‘Sankofa’ I love that Ghanaian myth, We have to find a way to progress while we also keep our culture intact. I figured out by expressing my thoughts through music I’m already finding solution and getting people to think about it. Some guy once wrote me a private message about how he likes my music but didn’t like the fact that I did C.O.P in front of what seems to be mainly white audience, saying it’s not good to wash out dirt in public. He might be right but he is also wrong on many levels. C.O.P Is not just an African story, it’s a global thing, Many of the Everyday westerners don’t know what we are going through they have the story based on media and that other bad guy they’ve met; we have to put it out there, have a conversion about it and deal with it otherwise we are just joking and we’ll remain countries of pain, since Africans have been dealing with this for thousands of years! So I figured the problem is not only being Nigerian, it’s more than that; but you know Nigeria is a populous country so we suffer it more I think.
AFRIKAJUMP- Thank you, I like your response to the guy who was speaking all the grammar about dirty linen. Can you tell us something about your album tour you tagged Afreekanism?
ADEDEJI- Afreekanism is my Second Album. It’s a 20 track album which makes it a double album; and the goal was basic, I wanted to create a futuristic African music album which would stays within the tradition but also expand into something more, Jazz; Funk; Soul; you name it. It’s very conceptual as it talks about the same issues we discussed above Immigration, racial profiling etc. It is also feel good music so we have tracks in there where you just wanna enjoy music and forget the troubles in the world for a second! It features a lot of musics from Africa and around the world including Dr Orlando Julius; Yinka Davies; Adunni and Nefertiti; Lekan Babalola; and also musicians from Europe and America. I am definitely proud of this album. It would be out in March.
AFRIKAJUMP- You joined the church choir at 5 years old. What were your favorite tunes back then, and who inspires you now?
ADEDEJI- Church music for me was diverse. My father is Anglican which means at that time they sing mostly hymns; it opened my ears to classical oriented music, From Handels’ Messiah to The Nigerian Composer T.K.E Philips. My mother on the other was at that time going to Celestial church and there was a lot of drumming; and then at some point I joined the Pentecostal church where I would listen and play mostly American gospel; so to answer your question, church music is too diverse to mention, for other music, Fela Kuti, Haruna Ishola; Fuji musicians; George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker , Miles Davies, Richard Bona, Lionel Loueke those people influenced my thought and they still do, but this days I’m back to the Roots!
AFRIKAJUMP- Great. And if you had the power to change three things in the world what would they be?
ADEDEJI- Hmmm! That’s a tough one 1. I would make Africa great, have people travel freely within our continent. 2. I would make the world be in peace and Harmony. 3. Free access to Information, Education and encourage more live music and real musicians.
AFRIKAJUMP- Can you describe your city in one or two words?
To know more about this artist, check out his website www.adedejiadetayo.com
Afrikanism Album Art by Iliana Tsapatsari.