Interviewer: Funmi Tofowomo Okelola

Q: You have just written a book of poetry titled “Beautiful and Ugly Too. Would you care to briefly tell us about it?

A: The title of the book, Beautiful. And Ugly Too is taken from a passage in an essay by Langston Hughes entitled “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. In that essay, Hughes writes:

"We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too... .We stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves."

Hughes's essay, which has had a tremendous impact on me as an artist, sought to challenge how the ‘Negro? artist perceived him or herself. Hughes said “no great writer has ever been afraid or ashamed of being himself. Beautiful. And Ugly Too was written without fear or shame.

Q: Describe how your work has evolved from your first poetry? What were some of your influences?

A: In a very literal sense, the work I do today is different than the work I did yesterday. So my work is always changing and growing. Sometimes growth hurts, but it ultimately takes us to new heights.

In my first book, Like Water Running Off My Back, there was a lot of emphasis on the oral I was and still am deeply influenced by the orators who orate in the African and African Diasporic tradition ? from Baraka to Muta to Fela.

In the new book, Beautiful. And Ugly Too, that same connection to the oral tradition is made, but now it's coupled with a commitment to making the message resonate on the page, too. Newer influences range from Henry Dumas to Allen Ginsberg to Yusef Komunyaaka

Q:What is central to your poetry?

A: Struggle is central. I struggle to write, grapple with ideas, and fight with the pen. For me this is the only way. The poet Lamont Steptoe once told me that if I'm not struggling with my work, then I'm wasting everyone's time mine own included. So there is a genuine sense of struggle there.

Another thing which I hold central is the duality of being alive. The title speaks to this to some extent; the dual nature of existence. It can even be related to Duboisian idea of Double Consciousness.

Q: What did your parents think of your work?

A: My parents have always been supportive of my work and to their credit, have never tried to shape its content or style. They believe in my work because I do. I believe they are proud to see a young man expressing his unique perspective on the world through film and literature.

Q: Where do you see poetry going in context of globalization?

A: The fear of globalization is that racial, ideological, political, and artistic individuality will be poured into the mold of American standardization. The hope, and I've always been a hopeful person, is that there can be a greater dialogue among poets around the world and that canons will be culturally expanded, and writers will flourish as a result.

Q: You were born in Zimbabwe and raised in Philadelphia. Do you have dual citizenship, and are you planning to revisit Zimbabwe?

A: I was conceived during the second Chimurenga (liberation struggle) and born shortly after independence, making me the first African-American born in newly independent Zimbabwe. I have a strong connection to Zimbabwe and will be returning next year.

Q: What is your advice for the next generation of African American and African poets?

A: Study, study, study. Reading before you write is like crawling before walking. In Victory M.K. Asante, Jr.

Thank you very much, and more grease to your elbow.

Funmi Tofowomo-Okelola

November 5, 2005.

For more information on M.K. Asante, Jr., visit Asante


Exclusive Interview with Oscar Brown, Jr.:Interview Funmi Tofowomo-Okelola: December 7, 2003

CafeAfricana. In the early years of your career you worked with Nat Adderley, and other Jazz musicians and most of these artists succumbed to drug addictions: How did you stay focus during this period?

Oscar: Well, I'm not sure that I did stay focused during this period in my career. I will tell you that I just stay lucky. And, to tell you the truth I had my shares of vices and many chances to die young. Artistically. I did not put special efforts into what I did it just came with the territory. Basically, I'm not a quitter either as a Jazz Musician or a Political Activist.

CafeAfricana: Kindly elaborate on your collaboration with Nat Adderley on the Work Song that was recorded in concert in Belgium on August 5, 1962, and another version of the Work Song with the late Nina Simone.

Oscar: I recorded Work Song with Nat Adderley and later with Nina Simone and she recorded couple of things that I wrote, Work Song, and others.

Work Song: Oscar Brown, Nat Adderley, circa 1960

Breaking rocks out here on the chain gang

Breaking rocks and serving my time

Breaking rocks out here on the chain gang

Because they done convicted me of crime

Hold it steady right there while I hit it

Well reckon that ought to get it


Working and working

But I still got so terrible far to go.

CafeAfricana: What is your opinion on the new jazz artists, such as Joshua Redman, Norman Brown, and Gerald Albright?

Oscar: I don't listen to new songs and I'm not familiar with any of the guys that you just mentioned. I listen to the music of my era and the new artists are not making this type of music anymore. I don't listen to the radio much. Sometimes, I get inspiration when I do listen to the radio and I use it for future projects.

CafeAfricana: I read that you were once a Communist. What do you think of the current Republican government and the state of the nation?

Oscar: Ridiculous! In a sense it's a domination of the world with unending war on terror that has no identifying enemy. And with a bunch of people as enemies; and if you're not with us you?re against us mentality. In all modesty this is nonsense.

CafeAfricana: How do you want to be remembered?

Oscar: How do I want to be remembered? I just don't think it makes much difference. I don't see how significant is going to be when I'm no longer around to hear the cheers.

I never see anyone who is dead takes a bow so that someone alive can see once I'm out of here, I'm out and it doesn't make any difference. Anyway, I would like to be remembered as a good person. In general a nice person and somebody who tried to feed the poor. There is more to me that being an activist, jazz musician, poet, etc.


Interviewer: Funmi Tofowomo Okelola: June 30, 2003

Profile: Dr. Olusegun Fayemi: Author: Voices from Within: Photographs of African Children

Biography: Born in Ifaki Ekiti, southwestern Nigeria, Olusegun Fayemi spent his childhood, formative and early adult life in Nigeria. He studied photography privately, with Alex Harsely and Richard Sternschuss of New York and at the New School for Social Research, International Center for Photography and Zone VI studios. For the last 18 years he has focused on, and directed his energies to, social documentary photography of continental Africans and Africans in the diaspora. This project provided him the opportunity to travel extensively in Africa, the West Indies and the United States. His photographs have been published and exhibited widely in the United States, Nigeria and Hong Kong and are included in many public and private collections. He is the author of Balancing Acts, a critically acclaimed and widely successful book of photographs from West Africa (Sungai, Princeton, 1995).

When not making photographs he practices Medicine as a pathologist and Director of Laboratories at the Franciscan Health System of New Jersey.

Q: With your experience photographing African children and their mothers: Do you think that globalization is making a major impact on the indigenous culture? For example, technological advancement, Internet, CNN-Satellite, Digital Wireless-GSM, etc.

A: Indeed, there is no doubt that Africa is fast becoming westernized in virtually all ways. West Africa is famous for its indigenous clothing: from the flowing, colorful and sumptuous boubous of Senegal/Ivory Coast to the well-coordinated multicolored kente cloth to our own famous tie-dye and aso oke. Young people in most cities and towns now prefer to wear blue jeans and T-shirts, they prefer Coca Cola and beer to palm wine and they would rather listen to rap music than juju music or highlife. I have seen significant changes in the lives of contemporary Africans in the 23 years that I have traveling all over the continent. Globalization is there to stay. Western pop culture is so alluring that it is going to take a miracle for our young ones to embrace the basics of our cultures. It is so sad that many Africans cannot speak or write their native tongue but are fluent in one of more European languages. In my first book "Balancing Acts: photographs from West Africa", I wrote about this phenomenon of trying to balance our old an ancient culture with the fast paced new western values. It is obvious that globalization through western media is having strong impact (sometimes deleterious) on native African culture.

Q: Is it possible for Africans to maintain their cultural identity with the impact of globalization?

A: In spite of this it is possible to maintain a distinct "Africanness" However, that would have to depend on whether there has been a thorough grounding in African culture at earliest stages of one's life. I know many Africans who have lived in the US or Western Europe for decades and still maintain their African culture. They would go into high-powered board meetings and merge imperceptibly with their colleagues and yet at home and among their African friends they remain quite African. This is what I call the balancing act of being able to exist in two worlds and remain happy in and adjusted to both.

Current Project: My next book "Windows to the Soul: photographs celebrating African women" is now in press and is expected to be released about late Sept or sometime in October.

To purchase "Voices from Within: Go to Links.


Interviewers: The WebTeam from Ile-Ife, Nigeria

The gleaming edifice located next to the Chemical Engineering Department building stands out to the uninformed only because of its shining new exterior. Perhaps on any other university campus, its design alone would always make it the center of attraction, but not so on OAU campus, which has some of the most stunning examples of architectural genius in Africa. In any case, aside from its beautiful façade, the building in question has other claims to fame, for it houses the OAU Central Science Laboratory (CSL), an ambitious statement of OAU's readiness for the new millennium.

Established in 2001, the CSL is an attempt to return to the days of old when Nigerian researchers had state-of-the-art equipment to work with. The WebTeam recently had a chat with Professor Ako-nai, the director of the laboratory. Excerpts:

WebTeam: what exactly is the CSL all about?

Prof: The 21st century will undoubtedly be anchored by advancement in Science and Technology, the so-called new technologies embracing Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering, Information and Communication Technologies, and New Materials to mention a few. Universities all over the world will have to brace up for the research and development challenges of enhancing their relevance in the new millennium. OAU must be no exception, and should therefore prepare itself to participate in shaping the trajectory of these needed developments and realities.

The Central science Laboratory is an effort in that direction. The laboratory is equipped with the state-of–the-art equipment required to upgrade the research profile of researchers (academic/students) and thus enable the university to provide strategic leadership in Research and Development that will earn it added recognition nationally and internationally. The laboratory will complement faculty/department facilities, thereby providing the university a competitive advantage over others in the country.

WebTeam: Why is it necessary to have one central laboratory, rather than to re-equip some of the existing ones?

Prof: Although the Federal Government has put some money into the university system, the majority of such funds have gone into paying workers' salaries. Most laboratories are bare in equipment and consumables for research activities. Maintenance of old items of equipment has become difficult because most of these items are out-dated or downright obsolete. Spare parts may no longer be available and if they are, prices are beyond the reach of departments whose annual allocations to run their teaching and research programs can be described as pittance.

The solution to this is to have a single facility to complement the efforts of the various departments. Having such a centralized system makes it easy to more efficiently maintain these equipments and co-ordinate their use.

WebTeam: How is the laboratory organized?

Prof: There are 5 main sections, namely: Chemistry, Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Biology, and Technology.

WebTeam: What equipment do you have in the laboratory?

Prof: There are quite a number of them. We have a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). There are also High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) units, an Atomic Absorption Spectrophometer (AAS), a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and an Inductively -Coupled Plasma-A spectrometer (ICP-A), to mention a few.

WebTeam: what level of researchers forms the bulk of your users so far?

Prof: Most of our users to date are postgraduate scholars/ researchers. There is no gainsaying that scientific and technological advances achieved in the last several years are due to the quality of postgraduate research and superb facilities available in highly reputable universities and research institutions which inevitably have led to novel inventions, modernization and re-orientation of existing theories and hypothesis. Availability of superb facilities often enhances the development of high quality and productive faculty. It is therefore not unusual to find that where both conditions exist, the standard of postgraduate education tends to be high.

WebTeam: Is that to say that you don't have undergraduate users?

Prof: Not at all. We do have undergraduate users.

WebTeam: What then are the criteria to be met to be able to use the laboratory?

Prof: All prospective users need to have completed the initial stages of their research. The tests done in this lab are supposed to form the final stages of their research. After completing the preliminary work in their various departments, if it is found that they need to do further work here, prospective users contact the convener of the appropriate section of the laboratory.

WebTeam: The name of the laboratory suggests that you have input from several departments in running the laboratory.

Prof: Yes. The various sections have different conveners. For example, Professor S.A. Adesanya of the Department of Pharmacognosy is the convener of the Chemistry laboratory. For the NMR, we have Professor T. Olugbade of the department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. The Physics&Technology section is convened by Professor M. Faborode of Agric Engineering department, while the Scanning Electron Microscope section is convened by Dr Osasona of Electronics and Electrical Engineering. For the Biology section, we also have Mr. Famurewa (Biochemistry department) and Mr. Adisa (Department of Animal Science).

There is an outreach laboratory that is headed by Dr. Otas Ukponmwan of Pharmacology Department (The Sleep and Neuroscience laboratory). Our electrical consultants are from the department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, namely, Dr. Komolafe and Engineer Ojo -Adams.

WebTeam: You seem to have an impressive team

Prof : Sure. The digital nature of the equipment in the laboratory demands that highly qualified staff having a background in electronics operate the items of equipment in the laboratory. With the? establishment of user committees, proposals have been drawn up containing recommendations on how each section should be run, its requirements, and so on. The convener for each section has been identified and each has held several sessions with users.?

Webteam: This brings us to the big question: how is the laboratory funded?

Prof: That is a question we are still working on answering. Because of the sophisticated nature of the items in the laboratory, the cost of maintaining the laboratory will be high. For example, a full cylinder of liquid Argon (94.999%) for use in the Inductively Coupled plasma spectrometer (ICP-A) is about thirty seven thousand Naira and this can be exhausted within a single day of usage! The NMR instrument requires 120 liters of liquid Nitrogen every fortnight and the liquid helium every ten months that has to be air-freighted from the United Arab Emirates. The cost of both gases is quite high. Who then pays for services rendered? This issue needs to be resolved quickly. Users from within and outside will definitely have to pay for the services, although users within may pay less, particularly if they are students..?

Webteam: on a more personal note, can you tell us a bit about Professor Ako-Nai the man?

Prof : I am a microbiologist and I think I am a good one, and also actively involved in my work.

WebTeam : What are your dreams for the laboratory ?

Prof: I hope if the lab is well financed, it will go places in terms of updating the items of equipment from time to time, thereby giving us the competitive research advantage I spoke of earlier. Besides, we can save costs of sending of students/researchers abroad for analyses that can be done here. Other areas of research can also be developed for example biotechnology.