Onuzo brings her autobiographical show 1991 featuring narrative, music, song and dance back to the Southbank Centre for Africa Utopia. The show 1991 takes us on a journey from Lagos to London, 1991 premiered in a sell-out show at Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival in 2018. (Image credit: Chibundu Onuzo_Helen Murray)
Onuzo was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1991. Her 27 years span two military dictatorships, one internet revolution, two boarding schools, five grandmothers and a book deal, signed when she was 19.
Her first novel won a Betty Trask Award, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Etisalat Prize for Literature. Her second novel, Welcome to Lagos, was published in 2017. This Nigerian odyssey features a live band, a choir and a healthy dose of West African rhythm. Her show take place on Friday 13th September in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Price £15.
ALT: Tell us about your event at Africa Utopia?
1991 is the story of my life so far in eight chapters, interwoven with music, song and dance. There’s no chapter of my life where there wasn’t music, or dancing, or singing, even the saddest parts. I wrote it partly because I’d never seen anything like it on a stage. I wanted to tell my story but in a manner as close to the oral storytelling tradition as possible, a tradition that often incorporates music.
ALT: What was it like to complete your first novel The Spider King’s Daughter?
It was wonderful. I’d been trying to write a novel for years, so it was great to finally finish one.
ALT: Once you have written your first book is the process easier?
The writing doesn’t become easier, but you do gain confidence. If you can do it once, you can do it again.
ALT: What has been the highlights of your career so far as you have had many accolades?
Probably the first 1991 show, which sold out last year. I’m a writer but I’m also a performer. I sing and I play the piano and I compose and it’s not often that I get to use all my gifts on one stage, so I was very grateful for the opportunity.
ALT: What don’t you like about the use of BAME?
I grew up in Nigeria so for the first fourteen years of my life, I lived in a country where I wasn’t in an ethnic minority. I try to remain as global as possible when I think about race. That’s what the Pan-African movement was about. Connecting black people from all over the world and reminding us that collectively, we are a force.
ALT: You are vocal on what needs to change in the publishing industry can you elaborate on what you deem immediate?
We need more black editors.
ALT: Were you influenced by Toni Morrison and if so, which was your fave read?
She’s a legend. I have read and re-read Song of Solomon.
ALT: Back to African Utopia: when did you start singing and how do you describe your musical style?
I’ve been singing since I was a child. I come from a very musical family. We’re like the Von Trapps. When we get together, we sing in three-part harmony for fun.
ALT: Why are you excited about taking part in Africa Utopia?
It’s a brilliant line up. I can’t believe I’m in the same programme as Femi Kuti.
ALT: What are you reading now?
Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta.
About Africa Utopia
Friday 13 – Sunday 15 September 2019, Southbank Centre, Various venues and prices.
This Southbank Centre festival, now in its seventh year, celebrates and explores the influence of Africa and its diaspora’ in shaping the way we think about art, culture, gender, race, sexuality, fashion, activism and society. New for this year’s festival, Southbank Centre is pleased to be working with co-curators Indaba X. Highlights include an evening of live music and dance from The Kuti family, bringing the energy of the iconic New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, Lagos to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall; a chamber ensemble from Chineke! Orchestra; a special Africa Utopia themed ‘Letters Live’ event featuring world-class performers reading letters from black history; a comedy night hosted by Big Narstie; and talks with Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis, poet and rapper Akala, American fashion model Bethann Hardison, Grammy Award winning rapper and actress Eve, BBC Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo and more. Also returning to the festival this year are the Africa Utopia Fashion Show and the Africa Utopia Marketplace.