Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What kind of stories fascinate you?

All of us grew up with some stories and they keep accompanying us throughout our lives as adults. Whether they are neatly bound in a book, put to moving pictures, sung on the radio or whispered on the phone -there are stories everywhere.

Which kind of stories do you like? 

I asked Afia Nkrumah, a London based writer and filmmaker, who has also contributed stories here at Cafe Aphra, the same question.

Barbara: Afia, what kind of stories fascinate you?

Afia: am quite broad in my tastes when it comes to stories, if a story moves me, or makes me see life in a different way or challenges my assumptions then I am interested. I grew up hearing Ananse stories and other traditional tales, as well as my family history. Learning to read at the age of ten, was for me was a magical thing, I thought and still do today that it is a form of telepathy. One person puts their thoughts on paper and another person can read those thoughts across time and space and know what that person was thinking.  For me that is truly magic!

Every saturday, BBC 2 showed two movies (mostly classics) in the afternoon which I watched religiously.  From Buster Keaton to the women centred films of Hollywwod's golden era and non mainstream films by little known filmmakers. 

As a kid I loved myths and legends and I suddenly had access to stories like Ovid's metamorphoses from centuries before I was born.  At school I was introduced to Chaucer and Shakespeare, Jane Austen and George Orwell. My dad was an obsessive book collector and our house was literally bursting with books, even under the stairs and in the shed. He had all sorts of books from Russian classics  to strange esoteric leather bound books and beautifully illustrated limited editions by the folio society. It was wonderful to have these books in my hands and be transported to all sorts of places or by new ideas. I also discovered writers from Africa and the diaspora like Amos Tutola, Sembene Ousmane, and Toni Morrison, Mia Angelou, James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston.
So I'm fascinated by all kinds of stories from different cultures and different eras.

Barbara: Did you always know you wanted to create your own world through art?

Afia: I didn't know, but it is something I have always done. I spent much of my childhood creating characters and telling stories to myself. For example if I was told to clean my room, I would imagine I was a single parent moving into an apartment and incorporate my chores into my stories which I acted out. I would often use snatches of conversations I had heard from the adults around me in my stories, which got me into trouble once or twice! Indeed the main character from my latest film Shadow Man, is based on my uncle's friend Okokobioko, who always wore a cowboy hat and boots he never took off, even when he slept. I found him fascinating and different in so many ways. I would often watch them as they got ready to go on a night out on Fridays and eavesdrop on their conversations about seducing women and finding wives, which amused me greatly even as an eleven year old.  

Barbara: Do you feel being born and spending most of your childhood in Africa has influenced your work?

Afia: Being born in Africa and spending the first ten years of my life there has definitely influenced my work. I lived with my great aunt Lucy when I was growing up and she was a wonderful storyteller. Every night as the sun was going down, great aunt Lucy would tell me traditional stories  and she would weave whatever was happening in the village into the stories. She could make me weep and laugh so hard I peed in my pants, be so afraid after a story I daren't look up off the floor for fear of seeing some of the spirits and apparitions she had created with her words. And to this day the most important reason I tell stories is to move people, engage an audience emotionally and give a different perspective on some of the things we take for granted, without clubbing the audience on the head. 

Also in Ghana, and I suspect in most parts of Africa, the line between 'reality' and 'magic realism' is very thin. This lack of separation is a very clear influence in my work. So for example in Shadow Man, which is set in present day London about a young African man's attempts to become a British citizen, his dead uncle's spirit arrives to give advice  through proverbs and help him escape during a raid by the UK border agency. Okokobioko's misunderstanding of the proverbs is very funny.  

Shadow Man  © BombaxMedia 2014

Learn more about Afia's latest film Shadow Man:




Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fashion Care Packages to Alaska

The land of mullets, that was Alaska to a T (with a long tail hanging down from the flat top) and particularly the case in Clam Point, a small community on the peninsula south of Anchorage. Fashion was traditionally twelve years behind Paris, Tokyo, New York and London (grunge only hit in 2003) but recently cable TV and the internet had resulted in people's clothing and hairdos being only a decade behind.

That's when Molly, 17, asked her cousin to start sending care packages from London. Molly, atypically concerned with grooming in a state where fishing hip-waders counted as semi-formal, insisted that Carrie send her large packets bubble-wrapped and swaddled in brown paper, labelled A FASHION CARE PACKAGE TO CLAM POINT, ALASKA in big red letters, so the post office folks would realise that they were living in the style equivalent of an Alaskan glacier (inching forward while always regressing into the inevitable mullet) and, in Molly’s opinion, might do something about their flannel shirts tied around their waists, or at least switch up their Van Halen T-shirts.

In January 2013, Molly received a Top Shop goodie bag full of faux-90s costume jewellery and the latest issue of Grazia.

In March, Carrie sent Molly information about cool indie-kidz chatrooms and seventeen different retro badges for Molly to attach to her slogan T-shirt, only two of them retro-political ("Bliar" and "Stop the War"). Retro was now 2003, Molly astutely observed.

In August, there was just a pair of blood-red court-shoes ("They're still trendy again this autumn," Carrie wrote to Molly, "but I don't think they'll be next year, so wear them out.").

The September package, however, looked very peculiar to Molly. She took it home and didn't open it straight away at the post office the way she always did when she picked up her mail. The packaging, too crisp; the stamps looked wrong. Well. They were wrong – the date stamped from Cool Britannia was from two years in the future: September 2015. Molly, the most stylishly dressed teenager on the Point in a big-font slogan T-shirt and court-shoes, held her breath and opened the package.

The contents were an identical pair of blood-red court-shoes and a big-font slogan T-shirt, just as August’s package had been. Inside was a note.
    Dear Molly, 
London has become so avant-garde that it's depeche-mode. Everything's faster, so we have all decided to move ahead to 2015.  As you'll have noticed from reading the style mags I send you, "retro" is becoming closer. Fashion eats itself. It's only two years behind us now in London. These clothes are no good to me here. Or are they so hip it hurts? I can't tell anymore.
    Your cousin,

Molly bundled up the clothes, re-addressed the package as A FASHION CARE PACKAGE TO LONDON
in ostentatious lettering and mailed it back as a sympathy package to London, for her cousin could certainly use the help. These 2015 vestments were very much à la mode.

by Kathleen Bryson

Photo credit (c) Phil Bryson 
(The author Kathleen is on the right, wearing what were at the time exceedingly fashionable trousers; she is joined by her stylish mother and little brother) 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Taking Turns

I will grow up and then your turn will come.
In the garden. Stillness.
On soft grass under trees,
jacket for pillow, hand under head,
Sons and Lovers,
Late afternoon birdsong.
Door bangs. Door slams.
Hurricanes out in heavy shoes,
my father, red-eyed,
hurls down steps. Hammering hands
draw leather, rain lashes.
No rain in lashes.
Lightning and thunder and stinging and strapping and cutting and bleeding.
No soft rain in lashes.
Nose in grass, hands over head.
‘You saw her go. You did not stop her.’
Brown beer breath. Brown leather lashes.
Heavy shoes, stomps steps.
Door slam. Door bang.
Hurricanes in.
Now only me, face in grass,
Wet smell. Green smell. Red eyes.
No more listening to her yelling and shouting and swearing and crying her pain.
But soon –
Soon I’ll be grown up. 
My fist drawing brown leather.
Soon I’ll be your size
And then your turn will come.

by Joy Manné