With the discovery of the joys of writing came the delight of literary festivals. In 2015 I was at the Ake Arts and Book Festival in Abeokuta as a workshop participant. In 2016, Ake Festival was an adventure that began with a 40-hour train ride from my base in Kaduna. Literary festivals have become an annual break; a refresher of my writing life; a restocking of books through hauls that would last year. Then came 2017 and this little cycle of routine was cut in half by the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST) – a literary festival in my own backyard!
During my two visits to Ake, I was one of ‘the others’ from northern Nigeria. When I dress in my northern attire, I attract stares and am asked incredulous questions: “All the way from Kaduna? Well done!” I did not get the hullabaloo over how distance should be a barrier to me enjoying a literary extravaganza, but I loved the attention. And when I got back home to Kaduna, to our literary circle, I danced in the stardom, shone in its bright light as I relived the moments I shared with famous writers, seeing the hills of Abeokuta and sharing my adventures with peers who found it difficult to hide their jealousy.
KABAFEST is not a festival at the feet of the hills of Abeokuta. It is not a 40-hour train ride to a festival. Here I am not the conspicuous northerner in my flowing kaftan. I am not gallivanting around the southern part of Nigeria to refill my literary glass. This is KABAFEST, Kaduna’s very own literary festival, and I am at home here. I am at the heart of a literary festival.
There is a feeling to KABAFEST – the right word to describe it has not been invented. It is a culmination of emotions that include the wonderful feeling that a festival is a 10-minute drive away, while I blast Naziru Ahmad’s Hausa music from my car stereo. It is the feeling of knowing that the host city is as familiar to me as the pattern of my palms. It is the feeling of the explosion of information battering around in my head. This feeling is a bridge, maybe. A bridge between first time visitors to Kaduna and literary enthusiasts in my Kaduna learning to enjoy their maiden literary festival. Here, I am a connection, a link, and I am torn apart by my own two parts. I get to feed on my own festival piecemeal, bit by bit, like frozen snapshots.
The snapshots are blurry images, because I am moving between two time zones, blending. Time zone number one is where the connectivity is of a mutual kindred brotherhood of ‘we have done this before and we are going to enjoy it again, but this time I am the host, and I am going to lead you and make sure I explain and interpret every minute detail, because you know you cannot miss a thing about northern Nigeria because the devil is in the detail’. Time zone number two is a zone of connectivity where there is a tutor and a disciple. The tutor is leading the disciple, telling him that this writer is that writer, and that this is the beginning; just the tip of the iceberg of what is a literary fiesta, and the passion oozing from the disciple is an envelope that captures the tutor and once again makes him a novice too.
A literary festival is a universe; an exclusive universe with barriers that barricade the outside world and its silly shenanigans. Kaduna hosted KABAFEST, but KABAFEST was not in Kaduna. It was in the chambers and ventricles of our hearts, images and snapshots in the lenses of our eye. We were the pieces that constituted KABAFEST, breathing it and making it. We were the barricades to the outside world, and the festival was happening in the little bits and pieces that were our oozing passions. The world outside did not exist. There were no pieces of it. It as just us and our festival and our demeanour as we all became lovers, shedding ourselves. We were parts that existed to make a whole.
KABAFEST is a snapshot of artworks: faceless turbaned emirs, pop grandmas, and colourful trumpets in black and white faces, shouting, “We are here! We are present!” A snapshot of artworks bathed in northern heritage. It is the voice of Leila Aboulela dancing and gyrating through heartbeats, as Sudan becomes Northern Nigeria, and laughter is a battling sound, no matter the geography. It is how the eyes see food and tell the brain to make the mouth release doses of saliva: KABAFET is the sampling of the salty desserts of Syria, married to the sugary cuisine of northern Nigeria. KABAFEST is books, movies, fiery discussions and belches of poetry.
Evening has settled on my literary festival, but here bodies are still wet from the rain of intellectualism, the light of discussions are still searing, eyes are twinkling and glimmering. I am again caught between two time zones. I cannot leave with the visitors and I cannot become just another person in Kaduna that was at this festival. I have had a taste of both worlds and it is impossible to believe that, a month ago, KABAFEST was a mere thought wavering around fingers. I cannot leave with either side, so I am ready for my funeral. I am now an interred picture, a snapshot of memory, lingering forever within the confines of a rectangular space, jaws agape, whispering, eyes laughing. This rectangular picture is an island of memory. I prefer to lose this body and be interred as a preservation of memory, because it is not every day that you have a literary festival in your backyard!