Because so much of 2020 has been about Coronavirus and lockdown, we decided to ask some of our faves about what has kept them sane and grounded over the last few months. To kick off this series, our very own Publishing Director, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf shares her lockdown moments.
I Listened to…
During the lockdown, I worried a lot about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future of Cassava Republic, my aging mother, a sibling with a compromised immune system, my own fragile health and the other shadow pandemic that continues to be waged on women’s bodies. Between January and May, Nigeria alone reported 700 rape cases; these same stats are replicated the world over. With all of this going on, I had a hard time escaping inside a book, even as I craved stories. To feed my craving for stories outside of the immediacy of my experience, I found calm in sound. I rediscovered audiobooks and Alice Coltrane.
Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” about the last surviving African-born enslaved accompanied me on my morning walks. I “re-read” Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, and I was transported back to the world of my youth: hanging out in feminist bookshops, attending poetry readings or drinking cheap wine at parties, and debating into the night about changing the world.
I also listened to two Cassava Republic audiobooks and enjoyed experiencing them afresh as a reader. Sarah Ladipo Manyika narrating her book, In Dependence shows her as an author of immense talent and range, breathing life and joy into the characters. Listening to Becoming Nigerian by Elnathan John during lockdown is a painful reminder that being Nigerian is both a source of joy and tragedy that is always becoming more than itself. Elnathan has such a wonderful and calming voice to mellow some of the harsh truths that he dispenses. There’s something about the sonic that makes the stories just seep through the pores and take residence in your being in the way that the visuality of text does not approximate. A reminder that before the text, there’s the voice, we hear the text as we read. Whether you have read any of these books or not, I urge you to buy these audiobooks, listen to them, and thank me later.
I listened to a lot of music during this period, a nightly companion however was Alice Coltrane whom I have loved forever. But during lockdown, I found refuge in her raw, spiritual, and transcendent music of the solo years. This Alice had bebop, psychedelic rock, and Indian devotional music conversing to create a hypnotic but majestic sonic experience. If you’re into bebop, you really can’t miss the genius that is Alice Coltrane, not because she was wife to that other genius with John as a first name, but because she was one of the few Jazz harpists in the world and her fingers were shamanic. I had the wonderous and meditative album Journey in Satchidananda with its flowing piano lines on repeat. Each day would end in bed with my headphones listening to the entire album again and again. Every listening is a new encounter with the sublime.
I was Eating…
My mantra had always been that Nigerian food, or perhaps Yoruba cuisine held no appeal to me except when my vitality is low. I guess we retreat into the comfort of the familiar in moments of fragility and anxiety. The lockdown however brought a reacquaintance with Nigerian food that was not simply about solace, but pleasure. I tried a vegan rendition of banga for the first time and I fell in love with Oha soup all over again. And I decided that I positively like both efo riro and egusi. When I was editing Yemisi Aribisala’s exquisite and award-winning homage to Nigerian cuisine, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Tastebuds, I could not have imagined that I would one day experience the joy and reverence she had for this food culture because I was vegan and my relationship to Nigerian food was stuck in childhood. Lockdown has opened Nigerian cuisine to me and lifted them out of the corner in my brain called childhood and transported it to another part called adulthood, homing, and desire. I think I am slowly inching home and growing up. As delicious as they taste, I have no desire to learn how to make them. I just don’t have the kind of focused attention they demand.
The discovery of a vegan dessert alchemist in Abuja is probably the single most sensuous event that happened during the lockdown. I know sugar is supposed to have the same addictive effect as heroin in the brain, but honestly, from the lemon cheesecake to the richly layered chocolate mousse cake, lockdown would have been unforgivable without the delicate sweetness of vegan desserts from the hands of a master craftswoman. I consumed these desserts in the hope that the twice a day badminton, walks and yoga would balance things out and keep the cardiologist at bay.
Food and sound were my lockdown salvation. Oh, and badminton.