N.W.A. And The Beat of the Age

In 2014 a list of ‘top 50 contemporary poets who rocked’ the nation was parlayed online. A similar list was published in 2013 for poets who rocked in 2012 but the musketeers behind this show gained only notoriety on their second outing. The list drawn from nominations, or so claimed, sold itself too easy as artificial if not contrived, and uncritical. To some very-straight of our online literary community the list was a bit irritating or outright pathetic; yet to others – the less puritanical – it was worth celebrating. To me it was more like a comic relief. But was I sure? Perhaps it would become a gambit for yet another set of musketeers to launch a frontal, which turned out to be, the N.W.A.

To the fan of pop culture N.W.A. leaps into the face, but no; this ain’t about ‘n***as,’ maybe, just about attitude(s). It is, rather, about hustle: in this case, that of the Nigerian writer. N.W.A. is equal to Nigerian Writers’ Award.

The hustle of the Nigerian writer is great – I’m not proclaiming its greatitude, in fact I’m trying to be euphemistic; the euphemism is a known secret. But not anymore, the N.W.A. is making the hustle less euphemistic by locating, like anointing, that writer who has achieved greatness, or in the spirit of making lists, that writer who has rocked, and awarding him or her with an award in the ‘form of a glass sculpture of symbolic and artistic value,’ according to the organisers.

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Just when the industry seems to be undergoing a renaissance it – the N.W.A – leaps into the scene. Its leaping is bi-faceted: a vacuum filler and sheer sport. The former a corrective to the absence of any national (consider ‘Nigerian’ in N.W.A.) celebration, and attention paid to writers, and the latter a cheap hustle to recognition. It comes with the glitz – which interests me – where someone gets to yodel ‘and the winner is’ and the writer gets on the stage to collect his or her grammy—sorry—glass plaque—sorry—sculpture for writing! Not the traditional shortlist-wait-for-winner-announcement. At least the writer gets to be part of popular trade; gone are the hermetic days of that Nigerian writer seeking to be critically acclaimed, not only by his or her nuclear family. Good or bad? There’s the temptation to judge the award as put together by naivety but it carries too much artificiality and post-artificiality on its head to beg.

One of such artificialities is what has become the unhealthy tradition of pimping the Nigerian writer with resumé-ing (bloating the, well, short bio with whatnots) where one can be critically or internationally acclaimed, a lie that has been, and is, a literary heirloom to the unsuspecting writer. The sentiment is that once one is a writer he or she becomes a celebrity. Such is the thinking that starts fires like the N.W.A., and especially through social media, is driven by the culture of the instant-life illusion the smartphone brings.  One can be popular in a minute with just a photo upload. Or rather with just the right award.

So, fuelled by the adrenaline of instant fame, and perhaps by an ambition to do the job in the absence of a culture that celebrates the writer, the N.W.A. conspires with the writer beknownst or un- to manufacture faux recognition and success. Another kind of artificiality – a culture of the age. The N.W.A. zooms in on the writer and zooms out on the work, to stamp the writer with self-importance and gratification. It is personality – the artist over the art.

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Because our writers cannot endure the long walk to acceptance and real success, so this need for artificiality. But the game in writing thrives on the philosophy of the older the wine gets. The argument stands: we may need some of these things: the awards, the prizes and all, but, these are secondary. The culture of writing within the country as it is demands more discipline which will be much more gratifying in the end than balloon awards and recognitions and rigmarole. But the artificiality of the N.W.A. shows that it doesn’t give a fly about the writing game.

This attitude is in a jam with an abiding syndrome of the anyhowness of doing things in Nigeria, and like a trend the N.W.A. has taken its own swath. What could be a joke is on us, or not. I used to think our literary space was immune to this anyhowness – it hasn’t been, really – but alas it isn’t, and the show exhibited by N.W.A. is what I call the Nollywoodisation of it. The case where mental violence is meted out in generous doses. It is the child of the age redolent with the shtick of infantile narcissism and a near-ghetto complex: it doesn’t matter if art has dignity, mediocrity can be celebrated as long as a niche agrees on it. I decry. But really? I give myself the unruly retort: Isit my N.W.A.?

The N.W.A. is the foot tapping to the beat of the age where the liberties of the individual are endless; an age of Trump and post-truth where sadly artificiality is made cool, what makes lists like ‘top 50 poets who rock’ possible. And it – the N.W.A. – wants to pass or it has already, which is a shame. If not, how should a criterion for judging the qualification of a writer be so open-sentence as ‘must be prolific’? Whose/what prolific? How is it explainable, for example, that more than one writer wins an award for ‘a writer’ without the inclusion of ‘joint-winner’? (Singular and plural. Now talk about mental violence.) How should one find on the same website two or three differing age brackets for Young Writer of the Year? And in its second edition, of award ‘for writers,’ it includes awards for media houses. Makes you want to blurt in heavy English accent: who, the heck, is directing the thing?

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Perhaps I should ask myself again, isit my N.W.A.?

By the way, Korede Bello won Songwriter of the Year last year. For which songwriting I am still looking through a telescope, asking for a friend.

PS: The guys behind the N.W.A. should pay my employers for the PR because I know they like this kind of schit.

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