The intention to attend the 4th edition of the Ake Arts and Book Festival wasn’t a decision I’d sorted and settled way before the festival taking into consideration the publicity and social media frenzy surrounding it. I did not think it expedient at the time to spend some days off my coveted annual leave days at Ake. I encouraged and told myself that there should be more interesting places to visit in the Country e.g Yankari Games Reserve, Erin-Ijesha waterfalls, Ikogosi Warm Springs, Obudu Resort e.t.c.
However, after re-assessing my “predicament”, from the cost and excitement perspective, I discovered that Akefest actually offered all the fun I would need as a blooming writer and a visit to the legendary Olumo Rock which had been included in the schedule of the festival’s event was long overdue. I loved what Akefest stood for, a gathering of renowned, accomplished and upcoming Creatives in the arts, books, music, poetry e.t.c spheres of human interaction. And for the very first time, there was going to be a musical concert. So what was there not to look forward to? The decision to attend was made just a week to the commencement of the festival.
I will be sharing my journal of the days spent at Ake from the vantage point of a first time attendee, curious, excited and longing to inhale the scented wind of creative inspiration Akefest would blow my way. Snapshots have been inserted to avail you all an interesting read. Enjoy 🙂
Day 1 for some started on the 15th of November, 2016 when Akefest commenced with a fiction writing workshop, while Day 1 for some was the 17th of November, 2016, when the opening ceremony was held. Day 1 as it applies to me was the day I got off the Bus at Ita-Oshin park in Abeokuta i.e the 16th of November, 2016.
My initial plan to commence my journey at the break of dawn was hindered by the fact that my annual vacation started that very day. Thus, the things I needed to have put in place to actualize this plan were only being sorted that morning. E.g. My hair. Horrid mess! A trip to the salon could not be ignored. What to pack? Outfits. Shoes. Though I’d never attended Akefest, I undoubtedly knew that African print i.e Adire, Anakara, Kampala would be the unanimously and instinctively agreed dress code.
“What else will I need?”
“Hope I’m not forgetting anything.”
These and more roamed my mind as I earnestly prepared for Abeokuta.
I was set and ready to leave by 12:45pm. The 15-seater bus took off from the garage by 1pm, fortunately. Apart from this being my first time at Ake, it would also be the first time in Abeokuta. I could remember family and friends alike claiming that the distance between Lagos and Abeokuta was less than an hour’s journey. Thus, I expected that by 2pm, I would have landed in the ancient city. Alas, that was not so. The journey seemed to stretch on for eternity – through a straight road, some parts rough and jutted, most times smooth. We spent two hours on the road, getting down at the park at Ita-Oshin by 3pm. More perplexing was the complaints made by passengers who had travelled down this road before about how the journey seemed to had taken too long. Was it another factor then? The bus probably?
We were greeted at the park by sweaty drivers with green and yellow striped cars that had lived well beyond their years, pushing themselves in our faces with entreaties.
“Aunty, where you dey go, cab dey ground.”
“Mummy, e jen bayin gberu, shey Kuto le n lo”
After a small moment of inner deliberation with the aim of deducing which driver looked the most decent among the lot, I eventually settled on a driver who seemed to be in his mid-thirties. I told him my destination.
“It’s 800 naira ma”.
“800Naira ke???” I replied in utter stupefaction.
Alas, another Abeokuta myth set to burst. The story I had been sold was that taxis in ancient towns like this could give you a ride to the moon and back for just N200. I was about to find out that was far from the truth. I tried to haggle the price but his defence was that, his car, on every trip ferries 4 passengers at the rate of N200 each. Thus if I couldn’t wait for other passengers to fill the cab, then I’d have to pay the full N800. I tried the discount plea. But he wasn’t having it. He even motioned a few of his fellow drivers over to where we stood to verify his position about the price which they did of course. (I couldn’t help a vicious eye-roll at this point). Like they would have refuted his claims.
With no other available choice in sight, we commenced the journey to Kuto Cultural Centre, the venue of the Festival. We got there about 3:50pm. I asked the Taxi Driver to wait a bit while I got my registration pack so he’d drive me to my hotel. I went in, registered in good time and off we went trying to trace the Lodge (yes, Lodge not hotel). I could tell it wasn’t a popular place because we spent ample time asking pedestrians for directions, making calls to the Lodge before finally discovering it within Obasanjo Hilltop Estate. As he got my luggage out of the vehicle, the driver requested for an extra sum of N1,200 as payment for waiting for me while I did my registration and for driving me around town looking for my Lodge. We argued and haggled before I eventually parted with an extra N500 which I wasn’t too happy doing.
Through the gates of the IVD lodge facility I went. Not as fancy as I’d expected but the environs wasn’t so bad – trees, plants, relative “country-side” kind of quietness. There was no electricity. That added more effect to the serenity. Got to the reception which was a bit shabby, introduced myself and was led to my room, oblivious of the fact that I was in for a bit of surprise.
When I made reservations in Lagos, I had been sent pictures of what the room and the bathroom looked like. The pictures had been taken from different angles. And I liked what I saw over the phone. But the reality was nothing like the online shots. The room looked tiny with a bit of forced coziness to it. The Receptionist who tripled as the Bartender, Assistant Manager, Caretaker e.t.c., brushed off dust that had settled on the bed, showed me how to turn on the lights , the AC and left. It felt surreal somewhat, taking into consideration the size of the room and disappointed expectations like I was a prisoner being led into her tiny cubed cell. I picked up the dingy looking brown-striped blanket on the bed. It was dirty, dusty and torn in several places. Was I expected to cover myself with this? Hell no!!!
I rushed down immediately and complained to the Receptionist. He delved into a rant about how that was the only room left and there was no other blanket to replace the one in my room. When he perceived I had no intention of budging from the spot on which I stood, staring at him, arms akimbo, he followed me up to the room and appraised the blanket.
“ The blanket e dey okay. They have not stayed in the room for long time. So that’s why e look dusty. He clean oh. You fit use am. And even if we get another blanket, we no go fit change am, because we dey do color matching for the bed and the curtain”.
He proceeded to point to the brown curtains shielding the sanctum of the room from the sun.
“You see say the curtain brown, so that’s why the blanket it have to brown too because it have to match.
And I stand there stupefied, trying to subconsciously trace the whereabouts of my jaw on the floor. A duvet is not sanitary enough for a dog to cover itself with and I’m getting a lecture on colour combination. I tried harder to get him to see my point of view, all to no avail. He eventually offered to get me a bedsheet as a replacement for the blanket and I gladly accepted same.
The bed apart from being so tiny and unable to comfortably accommodate my frame as lean as it is, was harder than a rock. Movement within the room was constrained. I felt choked and small tendrils of claustrophobia began to creep in in.
Well, time did move fast and before I could utter “Jack”, it was 6pm and time to start prepping for the Concert. Since it was too late in the day to start changing hotels, I knew for certain that was going to be my first and last night in that Lodge. Not only would I leave but I would take along with me, the refund of all the other days I’d paid for in advance.
Whilst reserving my accommodation, I had been informed or rather “pre-warned” by the Manager of the Lodge that the generator was switched on by 7 pm and would be turned off at 7 am. The information hadn’t really sunk in until that evening as I got dressed in the dark. Five other Ake visitors and I were shuttled down to the venue in the Manager’s Space bus for which we had to pay a small fare.
Time to put all worries aside and enjoy the concert. It would be first time seeing all the artistes perform live.
Venue of the Concert
Waiting for the Concert doors to open (Yeah, some doses of lethargy had set in at this stage)
The programme started way later than the stated time (this was to be the norm). But when Falana got on that stage with her guitar, all restlessness was forgotten as I listened to her sing in that beautiful richly accented voice of hers. Song after song, she had us all spell bound and the performance with the Cajon, a box shaped percussion instrument was enthralling.
Next was Adunni Nerfretiti. A group of women dressed in priestly attires with beautiful voices to match. The lead singer was quite the charmer with her sense of humour that came to play in small speeches in between their traditional music renditions.
And finally, there was Brymo, who thrilled and hyped the crowd with song after song that had the crowd dancing and jumping in ecstasy.
New songs, known songs, old songs. And as he commenced his final rendition of the night “Arambe”, Falana and Adunni Nefretiti joined him on stage to perform alongside him. Falana with her Cajon, and the female musical troupe as backup singers. The crowd lost its marbles at this point. I screamed and shouted in pure joy until my voice went hoarse. Gosh!
It was heavenly. The mix of all their voices as one singing that one song. As I write this, I vividly recall that moment and I still can’t help the goosebumps. Beautiful moment that was and sadly the show came to an end.
The artistes take a bow while Lola Shoneyin proceeds to close out the show
Lounging in the euphoria of the performances, I only remembered my predicament when I entered my room. I went in search of the Manager just before he retired for the night and told him about my plan to move out the following day and how I would require a refund. He initially came at me with talk about how hard it would be to give me a refund since there were no rooms to let out and they had turned back every other visitor that had come calling after I moved in blah and blah blah. I stood my ground and reiterated that I would be leaving still and I would need my money. The conservation ended with a shaky assurance from the Manager that he would try to see if he could find someone still interested in staying at the Lodge.
I returned to my room, thoughts of sleeping in a better hotel same time the next day making it easier for me to sleep through the night.