Ulli Beier at an exhibition of works by African authors 1959

Ulli Beier, was a formidable proponent of modern African art and literature at a time when it received scant attention from the Western mainstream.
For most of his career Beier was a university lecturer, but unlike most academics he participated in and actively instigated many of the developments he wrote about. 
His attempts to promote both traditional and modern African arts led to the creation of Black Orpheus, the first African literary magazine in English, which he co-founded in 1957 and the Mbari Club, a watering hole for writers and artists in the Nigerian university city of Ibadan, which convened in 1961 with the involvement of Africa’s two literary giants: the Nobel Prize-winning dramatist Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, author of the celebrated novel Things Fall Apart.
The Mbari Club became synonymous with the optimism and creative exuberance of Africa’s post-independence era. Fela Kuti made his debut as bandleader there, and it became a magnet for artists and writers from all over Africa, America and the Caribbean.

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Gabriel Okara – Once Upon a Time


Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.

‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.

But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!

So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.

Gabriel Okara

1960