My name is Wally...

Last month or so I attended a K'Naan-Wale concert, and simply thinking about it induces a strong desire to curl up in my bed and forever shun the past-10pm, under-21 night scene. I am still tired. Never again...I seriously think I am getting too old for such "all-ages" soirees. Had no idea that "all-ages" meant 85% 18 and under and 15% other. Throughout the 3 hour or so concert, I found myself yearning for longer interludes in order to rest my aching back in the seated section of the club and wondering why I wasn't at home curled up in a blanket with a good novel (a delightful luxury these days). And my, I haven't been around so much weed since undergrad (and note, most in the audience seemed to be imported from CT's surburbs).

The ticket was more of an impulse buy and had I known earlier, I would have gone to the NYC version of the concert (which also featured Damian Marley and my guess, would have lacked the "High School Musical"-vibe). The show opened with Togolese-American rapper, Tabi Bonney, followed by ex-Fugees rapper/producer, John Forte (love him!) and finished with Wale then K'Naan, a combination of both, then encores by K'Naan. To be honest, I paid to see K'naan, though I was somewhat curious about the hype surrounding Nigerian-American rapper Wale. Prior to this, I only knew of one Wale song, My Sweetie, a modern day remix of the Bunny Mack classic and dedicated to "...everybody who ever was forced to go to african parties wit they parents in the 80s [and] 90s...." It was cute - but I have never been much of a fan of remixes.

Prior to the concert, I thought that perhaps Wale was probably the Nigerian Diasporan's answer K'Naan...


I left Wale's performance a bit disappointed that the only mention of his Nigerian heritage came when he corrected audience members (over and over and over again) that his name was Wale, not Wally (for the love of all that is right and decent, didn't Eminem effectively end the reign of my-name-is-like lyrics - please stop). And even at that, he provided no context. By the end of the night, I felt like ditching my green-white-greens and join the Somalis in waving their blues and whites.

The circumstances that gave birth to something-American/Canadian/French artists such as Tabi Bonney, K'Naan and Asa and other Africans-in-America/France/Germany etc are very different from that of Wale. While the other three spent portions of their formative years in Africa, there is no indication that Wale spent much time outside of the Washignton D.C.-Maryland area. I think for that reason, the transition back-and-forth between their "western" and non-western selves seems more fluid; but from the little I know of Wale - his Nigerianness seems to be more of an all-or-nothing phenomenon. To me, "My Sweetie" appears to be a fleeting reference to his African heritage. His "Nigerianness" seemed to be merely packaged into a 3-minute soundbite that hardly made it into his latest album.

Despite the initial disappointment, I am sympathetic. And considering my limited exposure, I am the last to provide a balanced critique of Wale's genre of music (I guess DC Underground rap or something). Admittedly, I almost left his performance embracing the attitudes I have criticized in some of our elders who have complained endlessly of the inevitable Americanization of their progeny in exile. (Elders, who oftentimes, remain incognizant to the Americanization of their homelands and probably would not be able to find the road back to their villas owing to the rapid changes that occurred since Abacha was in office...that is the last time they stepped foot out of the US...anyway, a conversation for another date).

So, when I am not drop-dead tired from a concert, I am of the opinion that there exists a spectrum of whatever you call, "Africanness" possessed by my fellow first-generationers born to immigrant parents. I guess you have the my-name-is-wally identities on one end and the the akpokwala-m-udi-aha-ozo** identities on the other, which, to me, all represent the diversity of what it means to be a first generation Nigerian.

And I couldn't help it, but had to include this old school video of Identity by Chief Oliver de Coque in honor of our musicians for whom music is simply in their nature and represents their identity.

**Translation: (in angry Igbotic "ascent") Don't call me that sort of name again...(feel free to insert fantastic threat re: Amadioha here) ...and forgive my laziness re: dotting of o's...

And yes, Akon is glaringly absent from this conversation...and for good reason.


  1. Saratu said...:

    Interesting stuff. I've come across many people like "Wally" in college and went from derision to grudging acceptance. 4 years into my being in the US, I'm more sympathetic to his not wanting to directly identify with his "Nigerianness," as it were, the way K'Naan identifies with his "Somaliness".

    I also haven't actually heard any of his music, but from what I hear about him, he seems very Americanized. I keep hearing he used to play American football, his parents lived in Europe before moving to the US, and he's into DC's go-go music which is distinctively African-American from what I understand.

    I'm cool with this whole downplaying of the green-white-green as long as it's borne out of honesty with oneself than some kind of insecurity about being 'different'. Rather an honest dismissal/shrugging off of an identity that probably was never really ingrained with any importance, than a phony recreation/misrepresentation of an identity that he knows nothing of, I reckon.

  1. ann d! said...:

    It's an interesting predicament Wale finds himself. Like many of us in Diaspora, we are distinctly Nigerian in Western society and institutions and especially Western in Nigerian situations. We're allowed no in between in which to define ourselves.

    That's why I like Wale. He gets it how he lives and that's Nigerian when he wants to be and American when he feels it should be.

    Perhaps if you removed the expectation that Wale would be "Nigerian" you would not have been dissappointed. I don't know. As it were, I find his music relevant at moments when I want to be Nigerian and American and hip hop all at the same time.

  1. KG said...:

    LOL @ Akon being absent from this conversation.

    Identity really is a conundrum and there are a quite a few factors involved. Even people that grow up on the continent might not feel that tied to their 'nationality' so to speak. At the same time, you hear of someone like Wale and his upbringing and it doesn't surprise you.
    I guess my point is it could go either way. Place of birth/places of upbringing are definitely not guarantees of the 'expected' identity.

    I really don't begrudge anyone for whatever identity they want to have. It's a free world and it's a personal individual choice. Experiences in a person's life also have a huge part to play.

    Regarding his music, I listened to one of his albums about a year and a half ago and I wasn't impressed with what I heard so I ain't going back.

    @Nne, you sound so old...complaining of a bad back and ish. But I feel you jare. The under-21s these days are on another level.

  1. bunmi said...:

    "mix my Guinness with some Dr. Pepper" was the line Wale dropped on "my Sweetie" that made me laugh for a whole day straight and had me thinking that was a pretty succinct way to put the whole hybrid-neither there or here-first generation experience.

    I traveled through VA, NC, DC back in 2007 interviewing first generation African kids for some academic paper and I recall they had a ton of hilarious things to say about what a bitch difference is, what a cool thing difference turned out to be, our parents suck, our parents are amazing, wanting to learn Igbo and they had a lot of hilarious things to say about "fluid" thing you raised in your post. Dang, that reminds me - what did I do with those tapes?

  1. nne said...:

    @Saratu "Rather an honest dismissal/shrugging off of an identity that probably was never really ingrained with any importance, than a phony recreation/misrepresentation of an identity that he knows nothing of, I reckon."

    I agree. And at this point, having not known him, I cannot make a judgement as to whether his lack of Nigerianness (yeah, I'm not in love with the term either) is due to an dismissal of his parent's culture. I guess my question/interest lies in whether the his lack of his parent's "Nigerianness" is either a rejection of Nigerian culture in preference for an Americanized culture or rather, his identity represents a distinct identity. I am now of the opinion that being a first-generation Nigerian American is not merely a choice of America vs Nigeria. But I feel that in the cases of K'Naan and co. it seems as if theirs somewhat seamless blending of the two identities. While, for Wale, and even I, myself I cannot honestly say that it is the same case. Still thinking on it.

    @Ann D! - Upon listening to My Sweetie again, I realize that Wale is not necesssarily positioning himself to be Nigerian. From my vantage point, he doesn't seem to be Nigerian when he wants to be and American when he wants to be, as you said. In My Sweetie, he is the child of Nigerian immigrants. And upon further inspection of many of the songs he presented that night (I have the viruses on my computer to prove that i looked at them again from all these suspect lyrics sites) - even in his American songs, there is some subtle distinction between him and your average American Tom, Dick, and Harry - that the average American may or may not pick up.
    In regards to the last part of your comments, i did address this at the end of my post. And I admitted the error of my *initial* expectation that Wale is a Nigerian fact, I believe that was the major point of the post.

  1. nne said...:

    sorry, the comments were getting a bit long.

    @KG - as for Akon...iCan't. "Place of birth/places of upbringing are definitely not guarantees of the 'expected' identity."
    Very True, my dear. I think I mentioned on a previous post about the twitter trending topic some months back #youknowyourblackwhen and mentioned that beyond the fact that I could not relate to government cheese and the like, i know of some African Americans who would not be able to relate to the supposed staples of black American culture. I agree about his music - I am not a fan, simply because I am just not into his (and many others) version of hip hop. Simply because we were born of the same circumstances (parents are Nigerian immigrants) does not mean I will automatically enjoy his music. And yes, I am feeling old, lately. Life has aged me.

    @bunmi - sounds exciting - did you end up writing a paper on it. would be more than enthused to see it, if and when you decide to share your results. i personally feel that there is a dearth of info on the Africans in America experience - both among the migrants themselves and their progeny (particularly as it relates to health...bu that is a conversation for another day). yeah, the mixing of guinness with dr. pepper is a clever way of capturing our experience - not sure if that was done intentionally on his part.