A transcription of the live radio interview of Kayode Taiwo Olla about his book Softlie on Voices – SPLASH 105.5FM; February 15, 2014. With Edmund Obilo.
ED. O: While we talk about corruption, while we talk about crisis in the northern part of the country, a young Nigerian will not stop writing—he likes writing about love: Kayode Taiwo Olla—it’s good to have you again on Voices.
KTO: Thank you, good morning.
ED. O: When a nation cries of corruption, when a nation cries about death, a writer picks his pen and continues to talk about love—why do you do that?
KTO: Okay… I like that question, thank you very much. Actually when I started to write Softlie I intend something in mind. I thought about love, I thought about the society at the same time. I tried to picture the social realities of life when we have love—and the politics of love, if I should say that. There is politics in government, but I guess I saw politics in love too. So I tried to depict that in Softlie.
ED. O: You saw politics in love…
KTO: …In love. Yes, that is why in “Softlie” it is spelt S-O-F-T-L-I-E—sounding like “Soft lie.” So you could pronounce it as “soft lie” or as well pronounce it as “softly”——it is the politics of love.
ED. O: You made love sound so good. You made loving somebody look like an angel in the sky always wanting to fly. You said:
You are my precious jewel
I gave up many gems
You are my sweet angel
I waited these long days
You’re my lovely lily…
—it sounds like sugar… Why did you do that?
KTO: Okay, somebody has once commented about the diction I used in Softlie, saying that it’s actually “soft”—it goes “softly,” as the title itself connotes—so I thought to to bring out love in very romantic terms, in very romantic terms using words that make you grope to find love—or maybe let love find you. So I used words that make you want to wonder that—“Oh is this actually the love that I’m feeling?”—elevating it, and at some points bringing it down very stark… erm, telling stark, stark truths, that you want to wonder that—“Wow, so this kind of love can still have these these, can still have these flaws.
ED. O: I thought in a land of hungry men and women, love was an orphan. And yet you write a love story—for hungry people like me. How do you expect me to understand?
KTO: Okay… I know works that are rampant or common in African literature are works on political themes… political satires and all the likes. But then I got a spark up when my, er, let me say my hero created a work… that is Niyi Osundare—wrote a work, a love poem collection—Tender Moments…
ED. O: Osundare talks about love too…?
KTO: Yes… the famous poet that talks about politics a lot! Now he wrote, Tender Moments—that’s his latest work. And then I put my pen to paper and said, ‘Yes, there is hope.’ We actually have a groping, a feeling for love which we want to suppress. That’s why the poem “We all want it” talks about that. We want to suppress the feeling but it’s actually there. That’s page… page 14. So we actually want to suppress it, but it’s there. But despite the fact that we try to close our eyes to the social reality of love and try to open our eyes to the politics of government… we tend to forget that in love too there is politics. That’s why we have this separation… we have somebody saying ‘I love you’ but… instead… he meant, he meant perhaps a different thing. Or maybe he says I love you… Okay let me put it this way—we say yes when we mean no, and we say no when we mean yes. Somebody saying… okay, erm—“Do you want me to come tonight?” She says, “No…” But actually, she means “Yes.”
ED. O: Are you always in love…?
KTO: …Hmm, yes… But sometimes, sometimes it happens I fall out of love… But still I write.
ED. O: I’ll be back to talk about love, so please don’t go away! I’m discussing with the writer Kayode Taiwo Olla. He has this new one, Softlie. A beautiful girl on the front page, and a handsome young man also on the front page—life must really be beautiful.
[…COMMERCIAL BREAK INTERLUDE…]
ED. O: Kayode, you said here—on page 11:
Come with me to nature!
Come with me to song!
We will have the village green
We will have the birdsong
We will have the turtledove pairs
for fellow dancers—no, walkers.
—Who are you talking to?
KTO: Okay… one thing about Softlie is that it’s actually a collection of love poems that forms a storyline. A kind of thing that is not very common in, erm poetry… especially in, erm, traditional poetry—we just have love poems collected together as single monologues. But here I made it in such a way that it actually forms a story—there is dialogue. So we have a case where Arẹmu is talking to Arẹwa—Arẹmu and Arẹwa are the male characters. Arẹmu is the guy; Arẹwa is the lady. It’s actually a Yoruba word— Arẹmu… Arẹwa—so, talking, exchanging love. They give birth the child is Ọmọlẹwa. And on and on it goes. Then their chorus, or what I can call their commentator, is the Ayekọọtọ Bird—that’s “the parrot”, in Yoruba culture. So, we then have a series of dialogue between a lover and his inamorata. So we then have something… bringing love into African setting.
ED. O: Reading your work makes me fall deeper in love with my wife. I’m going to read her this one.
Lilies of the savannah scarcely fade
In their pure whites
The river bird’s call
Is clear all day
The river bird’s call…
—Kayode, I’m going to play you are love song.
KTO: Oh thank you.
ED. O: You know why?
ED. O: For writing a very good book.
KTO: Oh, thank you.
[…Brief musicak interlude]
KTO: I like the song.
ED. O: You like the song?
KTO: Yeah, I really like it?
ED. O: How do you feel?
KTO: Oh, just… [chuckles] thinking about the times I was writing the poems alone… sometimes inspired by nature, inspired by her too, inspired by people around me… inspired by love itself.
ED. O: You are a young man. Will you win a Nobel for me someday?
KTO: I really hope so.
ED. O: This is your second book, right?
KTO: Yes, this is my second book.
ED. O: You’re gradually becoming a prolific writer.
KTO: Hmm, yeah, thank you.
ED. O: We’ll want another Nobel. So what will you write again?
KTO: I already have one. I’m still working on it. It’s actually a love tragedy—a play. But not only about love but about history too, about oral tradition, about culture—when we date back to the empire times. Specifically set in the Ijaiye war period of Yoruba history.
ED. O: So you’re taking us back into time.
ED. O: Do you get feedback from your work?
KTO: Yes I do; I do—and they’ve been quite impressive.
ED. O: Do you believe in young Africans?
ED. O: Do you believe this generation can change the world.
KTO: Yes; that’s my passion.
ED. O: And you are one of those that will carry the leading lights.
KTO: Mm, mm…
ED. O: So keep writing for us.
KTO: Mm, thank you very much.
ED. O: I hope somebody will read a poem to you sooner than later.
KTO: Mm, I will really like that.
ED. O: As men and women of good conscience battle to make sterling contributions, the likes of Kayode Taiwo Olla will not stop writing. Other young Nigerians with the mindset to make the difference are flying the flag of Africa round the world. Through their intellectual and creative efforts, they are making it known to the world that Africans have the capacity to rival the best anywhere. It becomes even interesting when it is a young Nigerian that is at the centre of attraction, at the centre of beauty, at the centre of an intellectual race, to make the world a better place.