In an article entitled Third-Class City, appearing in the latest issue of Chimurenga, titled We Are All Nigerian, writer Achal Prabhala makes mention of a ‘Lagos germ”. The ‘germ”, he says, travels undetected in conversations, ‘slipping into cities through the imagination of its people”.
The subsequent ‘itch” is simultaneously unpleasant, uplifting, disturbing, enjoyable and inevitable.
Having lived in both Johannesburg and Bangalore, India, Prabhala is talking about these cities’ haughty world-class aspirations being subverted by the realities of Third World urbanity. ‘The world-class city is a daunting prospect: it sounds like a club that won’t let me in without the right shoes,” he writes. ‘I prefer third-class cities, the kind you can feel stirring in Ajegunle, Yeoville and Shivajinagar. They’re shabby, comfortable places, equally welcoming of the poor, the rich and the alien; they shrug off the idea that they’re necessary evils with an easy grin.”
The magazine’s eighth and most recent issue—perhaps its most provocative—plays on the ‘admiration-envy” relationship that exists between the continent and its most populous nation, using it to explore the frequently visited theme of ‘strangeness”.
‘Nigerianness is an overriding descriptor of black people in the negative ... ,” says Chimurenga editor Ntone Edjabe, who once studied philosophy at the University of Lagos. ‘The Nigerian is the ultimate stranger in the black population. He is the most corrupt and the least developed. He has become a symbol for the stranger in a foreign land.”
In this, its biggest issue at 90-odd pages, the notion of our collective Nigerianness is broadened via, to name but a few, South African novelist Ishtiyaq Shukri’s Palestine Journey, which sees the writer travel to the Apartheid Wall in Qalqilya; Afrobeat maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s last interview, conducted by Keziah Jones; and poet/journalist Odia Ofeimun’s context-giving In Defence of the Films We Made, drawn from his keynote address at the Second National Film Festival in Lagos two years ago.
In addition, there is the usual mix of conceptually linked poetry, art, photography and short stories from across the Third World and beyond.
Prabhala’s ‘germ” not only alludes to Nigeria’s 419 scheming, pimping and dope-dealing expatriates—stereotypes that are all interrogated in Chimurenga‘s pages—but is also an apt metaphor for the publication itself. In its three-year history, this A5 periodical has perfected the art of gatecrashing inner cities and cultural events, pimping the system and turning popular culture on its head in the process.
Named after the Zimbabwean nationalist struggle and the music that fuelled it, , with its contributions from across artistic disciplines, is a perfect amalgam of the cultural and the political. Its frequent Felasophy parties, which pay homage to its maverick ‘chief priest” Fela while showcasing music and arts of the diaspora, are nothing short of pioneering.
The launch of the new edition, in Johannesburg on December 2, is structured around a non-stop, four-hour jam session led by 340ml drummer Paulo Chibanga. It will see the likes of MXO, Tumi, Pebbles, Kwani Experience and Marcus Wyatt recreate seminal Fela tunes, evoking the contemporary genius of 2002’s stellar Fela tribute compilation, Red Hot and Riot.
Chimurenga‘s mercurial editor is a DJ and music-writing former basketball magazine editor who stumbled upon journalism out of pure ‘restlessness”. The Cameroonian expatriate honed his craft under the guidance of one-time Top of The Times editor and columnist Sandile Dikeni in the late 1990s before trying his hand at publishing ventures. ‘I knew I could not run a pop-culture publication with advertising,” he says. ‘I couldn’t come here and be a spokesperson of popular culture. My contribution ... had to be bringing a perspective from the rest of the continent.”
Chimurenga has never had an advert and this year was funded by The Netherlands—based Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development to the tune of €25 000. For the past few issues, its print run has stood at 1 500 copies and it has increased in size from an initial 48 pages to the current bumper edition. Chimurenga is mainly distributed in major urban centres and campuses.
The Felasophy party takes place at the Shivava Café in Newtown on December 2 and will double as the launch of the magazine’s eighth issue Entrance is free and doors open at 8pm