Celebrating the life of Biyi Bandele by Nduka Otiono
I never met Biyi Bandele but we got to share some close conversations about life and art, off and on. During a visit to Nigeria in 2019 I tried to connect with him in Lagos but his long hours of shooting a film and my own demanding research schedules frustrated it. His passing on Sunday left me wondering what I could have missed in the last email he sent me. Without going into other deeply personal details of the long mail, I'd like to share a slice of the prodigious work he was up to as a way of celebrating his life of commitment to the creative arts:
"The past few years have been incredibly busy for me: aside from working on Faraday Okoro’s directorial debut “Nigerian Prince” as an executive producer alongside Spike Lee I am currently writing and directing a feature documentary on Fela Kuti for the BBC and the Toronto International documentary festival Hot Docs. I’ve also just finished writing my first novel since Burma Boy. It’s called “Gregory Conga, Lagos Area Boy,” and it took three years. To keep body and soul together during that time (since my kind of fiction has never attracted big advance fees from publishers; they have always been written on spec), I have in that time been a resident artist at NYU and —currently — an arts by-fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. I’ve also just been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to spend the 2019-20 academic year carrying out research at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. These are all prestigious awards and I count myself fortunate..."
Such was Biyi's busy creative life and humility about his towering achievements. Realizing that he did not add to the long list of his works-in-progress anything about Elesin Oba, his latest film adaptation of Wole Soyinka's Death and Kings Horseman, which is scheduled to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, suggests the many other works he must have had in his creative foundry. And I was hoping to catch up with him at #TIFF.
May his soul rest in peace. And condolences to his children Korede and Temi, and to other close family, friends and associates. Death be not proud!
Nduka Otiono is an Associate Professor and Director, Institute of African Studies, Carleton University.