Academic journal article ARIEL

Riffing on Resistance: Music in Chris Abani's Graceland

Academic journal article ARIEL

Riffing on Resistance: Music in Chris Abani's Graceland

Article excerpt

  I am black: I am the incarnation of a complete fusion with the world, 
  an intuitive understanding of the earth, an abandonment of my ego in 
  the heart of the cosmos, and no white man, no matter how intelligent 
  he may be, can ever understand Louis Armstrong and the music of the 
  Congo. (Fanon Black Skin, White Masks 45) 
  That is what the road did--ate away at the edges of your resolve until 
  you were nothing but frayed soul fabric. From then on there was only 
  the music--and the sacrifices it demanded of you. (Abani Graceland 

I. Introduction: Music is the Weapon of the Future

While addressing the issue of cultural violence against African nations in The Wretched of the Earth, colonized subject-turned-First-World academic Frantz Fanon argues that for the Black nationalist,

  it is not enough to get back to the people in that past out of which 
  they have already emerged; rather we must join them in that 
  fluctuating movement which they are just giving a shape to, and which, 
  as soon as it has started, will be the signal for everything to be 
  called into question. (227) 

Fanon advocates that African nationalists understand their respective nations' preceding cultural and political activity to engage in current struggles against colonial oppression. Nigerian musician-turned-political leader Fela Anikulapo Kuti extends Fanon's argument with his statement, "music is the weapon of the future" (Music is the Weapon). The afrobeat revolutionary's vision of Nigeria's cultural prospects, and Fanon's insistence on momentary action through a knowledge of the nation's artistic history, bear similarity to the ideas that author Chris Abani riffs on in his Hemingway/Pen Award-winning 2004 novel, Graceland.

Chris Abani's Graceland belongs to "the third-generation" of Nigerian authors, also termed "the children of the postcolony" (Waberi 8),(1) whose writing has recently exploded in the United States and United Kingdom publishing marketplace. (2) Novels such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus, Helen Oyeyemi's The Icarus Girl, Sefi Atta's Everything Good Will Come, Unoma Azuah's Sky-High Flames, Helon Habila's Waiting for An Angel or Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation, as well as Abani's Graceland and Becoming Abigail, all interpolate Western and Nigerian themes to convey their perspective on Nigerian culture in the context of neocolonialism, multiculturalism and globalization. All of these novels integrate intercultural themes in a form of ethno-cultural hybridity that "[incarnates] a complete fusion with the world" as Fanon suggests (Black Skin 45). In Graceland, Abani offers a complex, multidimensional perspective on Nigeria, which is similarly reflected in other third-generation texts set in Nigeria (such as Adichie, Atta, Azuah or Habila). Graceland juxtaposes Lagos of the early 1980s, a place "so ugly and violent yet beautiful at the same time" (7), with his quiet hometown of Afikpo. Yet, the traditional maternal culture represented by Afikpo, the mothers' cryptic recipes and Igbo proverbs, is fluidly fused with Lagos buka food, Nigerian juju and American pop culture by the teenage protagonist Elvis, an Elvis impersonator and avid Western movie fan. Just as Abani smoothly moves through English, Nigerian pidgin, Scottish dialect or cowboy lingo in his text, Elvis effortlessly navigates from the Moroko slums to highlife clubs, or reads Rilke, Ellison or the Koran just as readily as Onitsha Market pamphlets. Throughout the novel, however, Elvis must contend with global concerns, such as poverty, prostitution and human trafficking. The plot follows Elvis on his quest to escape Lagos as a dancer. His widowed, alcoholic father Sunday, a military colonel who dabbles in narcotics and organ harvesting, further complicates Elvis's flight. Encouraging Elvis to pursue his dream and escape neocolonial oppression are his friend, Redemption, and his mentor, the King of Beggars. …

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