Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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Issue 58
Oba Oyinbo
by Jonathan Edelstein
The Best of the Three
by Camila Fernandes
The Kids in Town
by David Williams
In the Woods, My Voice
by Rati Mehrotra
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In the Woods, My Voice
Read by Alethea Kontis
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The Shoulders of Giants
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Oba Oyinbo
    by Jonathan Edelstein

Oba Oyinbo
Artwork by Scott Altmann

Lagos, 1937

Day One: The Candidate

Past the dancers, past the conversations, past the haze of cigarette smoke, Tunde King's band was playing.

At the outer rim of the room, Mary Ejiofor leaned on a table and listened. In the two years she'd lived in Lagos, she'd become used to the palm-wine music that was standard fare at parties and market-stalls. There was a New World rhythm to it, something that might have come from Cuba or Brazil. King was something new: he called his music "jùjú," and it married the Caribbean sound to something defiantly African. Drum, rattle and banjo flowed together in a way that came out of deepest Yorubaland, and the lyrics were from the countryside, not the sea.

Àlùkó ló l'ósùn, kii ráhùn ósùn--the violet woodcock owns the rosewood, he will never mourn its lack. . . . Mary wasn't Yoruba, but that was something she could appreciate. She'd used rosewood in her spells many times, and she knew the álùkó bird well.

"Mary!" someone called. She strained to see who at this party knew her well enough to use her Christian name, and saw the crowd parting before a figure in cap and agbada. A moment later, he joined her at the table.

"Dr. Azikiwe," she said, inclining her head.

"What are you doing all the way out here, and with an empty glass too?" Nnamdi Azikiwe motioned to a passing steward, who refilled Mary's cup of palm wine. "The election committee needs to meet you. We have a brief for you tomorrow."

"Oh?" Mary asked. She was interested now--paid work was always interesting--and she let Azikiwe lead her through the press of people and toward the tables next to the stage.

"We'll need you to file some election petitions. Two candidates disqualified in Ikeja and five in the city. The commission denied their appeals. And we may have need of your other skills, shall we say, to protect the rallies."

Mary nodded again. The local council elections, the first under the new rules, were a week away, and Azikiwe's Nigerian Youth Movement was contesting all the seats--or it hoped to. "The commission is neutral," he went on, "but neutral in the National Democrats' favor, and even more so in the Union's."

He said more, but her attention had been drawn back to the stage: the lyrics King was singing now were political. "King George is our father, Governor Bourdillon is our father." Said another way, the words might have been relevant, but the tone was wickedly satirical. The crowd laughed and shouted and clapped their hands.

"He calls that one 'Oba Oyinbo'--white king," said Azikiwe. "There's another one he sings about the war. . ." But whatever he might have said was lost amid cheering as the song came to an end and the candidates took the stage.

They weren't like any others Mary had seen--at least, not here. All of them were in traditional clothing, which wasn't itself so unusual: at a nationalist gathering like this one, half the guests or more had forsaken suits and dresses for agbadas or wraps and geles. But the ones who weren't reporters or teachers were working men: lorry drivers, dock workers, stonemasons. Most of them couldn't even vote in the Legislative Council elections, where the qualification was a hundred pounds a year, but the new local council law set the threshold at either twenty-five pounds or a Standard Six school certificate. Half the city, rather than five percent, would have a voice in this election, and it showed.

"They overcome the night," King's praise-song began. "They are the moons of Lagos, they are the stars of the working class. . ."

The members of the party committee pounded on the table--this was the song they'd commissioned from King, and he was doing them proud. "Some of us wanted to introduce the candidates jeje," whispered Azikiwe to Mary. "They said to do it all nice and polite, not to scare the oyinbo. But that's not who we are, is it?"

Mary couldn't help but agree. Azikiwe had been doing little but scare the colonial administration since his exile from the Gold Coast, and his new newspaper, the West African Pilot, had been screaming for the Youth Movement since the elections were announced. If she were Bourdillon and saw the people gathered here--Saros, Igbo, Yoruba from both Lagos and the north, even a Hausa man or two--she'd certainly be scared.

"Though, for all that, we're speaking Yoruba now," she murmured. She wasn't sure if Azikiwe heard, but then he gave the barest answering nod. Neither was entirely comfortable in the Yoruba language, but it was better than speaking Igbo and having people think they were conspiring, speaking pidgin and looking uneducated, or speaking proper English and looking like puffed up been-tos. Two years back in Nigeria, and Mary still wasn't sure she was home.

"Show the light and the people will find the way," King sang--it was the Pilot's motto, and also the climax of his praise-song. The crowd rose to its feet, and the cheers were deafening as the candidates took a bow.

"Now we can talk about those petitions," Azikiwe said when the noise died down. "You haven't met the whole committee--let me introduce them. . ."

Mary held out her hand as the introductions were made, and sipped her palm wine while they discussed the electoral commission's rulings. After, she got up to go home: it was getting late, and she didn't want to be distracted when she planned out the petitions. If she could finish them tomorrow morning, she could argue them the day after, and speed was important.

She was distracted anyway. The band that had taken the stage after Tunde King's group was called the Three Night Wizards, and she realized from their voices that they were Igbo. Though they sang in English, their music was enough to give Mary a moment's homesickness--until she heard the chorus.

"I love Yoruba girl," they sang, and the room erupted in shouts of approval.

Mary stifled a laugh and tried to imagine a Yoruba band in Igboland singing about their love for Igbo girls. They know their audience, at least, she thought, and she hoped that the courts would give her as friendly a reception in two days' time.

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