Let’s get this out of the way first. Mobisola, my good friend, was born today. Happy birthday! I’ll have you know she kicked my biro into a gutter the first time we met in person. Who does that? Coming in those circumstances, it was as impudent as a Carlos Vela chip, and Jesus Christ knows how much I love Vela’s chips. Completely woke. She’s a beautiful young lady, and one of the smartest and funniest girls I know. You should hear her giggle at one of my famous pieces of humorousness.
Don’t go scouring my Twitter and Facebook for her though. As the great Barney Stinson would say, “Dibs.”
“Smoke and Mirrors” is one song that follows me around, through device thefts and device transitions. It’s one of the first names on the team sheet, one of Mourinho’s untouchables. (One lesson from Mourinho’s current travails is that success demands a certain level of humility.)
My first encounter with “Smoke and Mirrors” was in the few episodes I watched of the hit TV show, Suits, where it was a soundtrack. There’s nothing wrong with Suits, mind – I wouldn’t even know if anything were wrong with it. It’s just that only extraordinary TV manages to fully involve me. In fact, half the time, I have to make superhuman efforts to meet extraordinary halfway. I am that lazy.
“Smoke and Mirrors” has about it an unmistakable Yoruba aesthetic, what with its embodiment of paradox and its profusion of percussion.
Disregard the fact of its lyrics. Regard the rhythm of them instead. The life-force of Yoruba mythology and history rattles inside this song. Sango’s fiery anguish, Gbonka’s triumph, the lifting of the palm wine fog after Ogun’s indiscriminate rout, Obatala’s tarnishment, the mercurial essence of the Abiku, Oya’s turbulence, that lonely first rooster colonizing void with earth, Moremi’s sacrifice, Esu’s dazzle, Afonja’s ambition, Gaa’s tyranny, Fabunmi’s revolutionary doggedness, Awolowo’s Sisyphean travails, the astrality of they who fly by night.
Oluronbi. Olosunta. Elesin Oba. Abiola. Akintola. The Ooni’s Abobaku. Fajuyi. Funmilayo, the mother of Fela.
Dirges. War songs. Praise songs. Panegyrics. Incantations.
Your personal mythology.
You. You the rich man’s scion who scoffs at the weight of his father’s wealth. You who vanquishes a mountain of beans and in celebration drains a sea of the white man’s wine. You.
The extent of you.
Like the ocean, “Smoke and Mirrors” houses them all.
I can picture a troupe of dancers, Yoruba in all ramifications, the ladies enticing in iros originating from just above their bosoms and terminating some way above the knee, the men large in their billowy soros and roomy dansikis.
I can picture the women doing that famously Yoruba shuffle, shuffle, push – we all see them at these things we insist on calling cultural dances, however much culture has moved on from that epoch. I can picture some men twirling like airplanes in distress, the ends of their dansikis held out from their bodies, others tumbling as if fresh from mounting she-who-must-not-be-mounted.
Shuffle, shuffle, push.
I can even include in that picture, a dramatic flourish, of women in conflict: one woman’s rapid clapping – one leg raised briefly behind her – signalling disgust at another woman, who can be anything from a husband-snatcher to a barren woman to the woman who did not have the male child. Of women in anguish, head-tie off and flailing with the hysteria of her hands, her hair dishevelled, her breasts leaping, her feet attempting, in vain, to stamp some empathy into a stoically oblivious Mother Earth.
My father would be completely at home with this song, with his restive Oyo feet, his hands curtailing the slippery arms of an agbada every now and then, his expressive Oyo face – bare of the identifying cicatrices and incapable of hiding a thought, the natural bodily gymnastics of the classic Oyo man.
It is the second Yoruba song – that I have heard – that fuses “then” and “now” into a clear vision of the future. The first was Infinity’s Olori Oko, but this one is the most advanced of the species, the homo sapiens of significant Yoruba music. If Soyinka’s “The Fourth Stage” could be transfigured into a song as Soyinka transfigured the mythic depths of the Yoruba worldview into the essay, “Smoke and Mirrors” would be it.
It is one song I carry around with me, literally and figuratively.
Shuffle shuffle, push.