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Best of 2009 in Books, Films and Music

Posted on Monday, 23 November 2009 16:37

From Brian Chikwava’s Harare North to Nneka’s No Longer at Ease, 2009 had a host of cultural high-points in books, music and film. And there is plenty to look forward to in 2010.


Harare North
Brian Chikwava
230pp, Jonathan Cape?

This has to be the most darkly-comic book since Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote Sozaboy, and is arguably one of the most compelling reads of 2009. Told by an escaped Mugabe thug recently arrived in London, the novel is set in a barely- recognisable London with its Brixton squats, illegal labour gangs and starving immigrants. Chikwava’s real achievement has been to break the mould of much of the new African writing by producing a truly imaginative work whose disturbing political echoes never interrupt its relentless examination of the human soul.The End of Certainty: Towards a New Internationalism?
Stephen Chan 326pp,
Zed Books?

The End of Certainty: Towards a New Internationalism
Stephen Chan
326pp, Zed Books

Stephen Chan tried to do the unthinkable: going against the somewhat stodgy, increasingly narrow horizons of the British academy, he sets out to “speak about complex things, with imagination, in public”. It is difficult to put Chan’s book into any particular category, precisely because its intention is to break with traditional notions of categories, academic or otherwise. Instead, Chan renders an account of contemporary international politics by deploying a broad range of philosophical, political and literary traditions. In so doing, he not only increases the range of available instruments for political analysis but also makes a strong case for his ?central argument: that certainty – that trick of rational responses based on data sets, statistics and technical case reports – is not the answer, but is at the root of the problem of truly understanding world affairs and the impulses that inform them.

It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower?
Michela Wrong
368pp, Harper??

And what to look
forward to in 2010

Read more

Contrary to widespread belief, Wrong’s exposé of corruption in President Mwai Kibaki’s administration is not banned in Kenya. The book – part investigative journalism and part biography of Kibaki’s former anti-corruption advisor, John Githongo – caused an immediate sensation when it was released. Nervous booksellers, worried that if they stocked the book they would be enjoined in any lawsuits that accompanied it, sold it below the counter. The book’s popularity has spread in other ways and Wrong is using the mobile-banking system M-Pesa to sell and distribute it. Though the emperor ?maintains a haughty silence, it is more comic than imperial for its nakedness.

Architects of Poverty?
Moeletsi Mbeki
196pp, Picador Africa ?

Why should most of the world’s billion poorest people be African? In this fierce polemic, Moeletsi Mbeki places the blame on political elites who “instead of enriching their societies, sell off the continent’s assets to enrich the rest of the world”. Taking the example of slaves hundreds of years ago and oil today, Mbeki argues that Africa is still locked into a form of mercantile capitalism. The only answer is an industrialisation, still to happen on the continent, where the entrepreneurs are not genuine capitalists, but rely on government monopolies to create business empires.


Izulu Lami (My Secret Sky)
Directed by Madoda Ngayiyana

A superbly-made film, this is a touching story of two South African orphans who make their way from their homestead to deliver a hand-woven mat made by their late mother. They are befriended by a group of street children but find the going tough in the city, ending up in precarious situations as they try to make their mother’s dream come true. Teza
Directed by Haile Gerima?

Directed by Haile Gerima

Ethiopian director Haile Gerima’s story of life in Mengistu’s Ethiopia won the grand prize at the 2009 FESPACO Pan-African Film Festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It follows Anberber, a scientist who, having left Ethiopia for a better life and education in Germany, returns to his village to witness the brutal horror, abductions and killings of a repressive military regime.


No Longer at Ease

Nigerian singer Nneka, who takes her album title from Chinua Achebe’s novel of the same name, tells the story of how she came to live in Germany, struggling with cultural assimilation and her own identity – much like the theme of the novel she borrows from. Ranging from hip hop, electronica, reggae and soul to the lyrical lashings of brassy Afrobeat, this is unique listening, worthy of the mainstream global praise Nneka has gained.

Sarah Tavares

With the ability to bring sunshine into the coldest concert halls, Tavares has just launched Xinti, yet another high in her rapidly-rising career. She has worked to keep the African roots of her music as well as taking something of her European upbringing. With Angolan rhythms and sweet Cape Verdean guitar leads, most stunningly heard on Quando das um pouco mais, the album is rich with melodic and rhythmic turns, guided by Tavares’s golden voice. Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba
I Speak Fula

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba
I speak Fula

Innovator, boundary-breaker and fearless exponent of African rock and roll, Kouyaté plays his ngoni in ways that sound both rooted in its traditional acoustic base and rocket-launched into the 21st century with deft agility. The result is a high-speed and electric celebration of Mali’s ancient Bamana griot culture, smoothed at the edges by the glorious voice of his wife and lead singer Amy Sacko.

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