British-Nigerian novelist and playwright, Biyi Bandele’s name has come up several times on this blog over the last 3 years – he worked with director Steve McQueen on bringing the life of Afro-beat king Fela Kuti to the big screen. The screenplay, based on Michael Veal’s biography Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon, was, when we last reported on it, being written by both Bandele and McQueen. More recently, he also adapted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel, Half Of A Yellow Sun, to screenplay, and directed the feature film, with a cast that includes Thandie Newton, John Boyega, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle and Genevieve Nnaji.
As I announced this morning, the film will be making its world premiere at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Calabar, Cross River State (Nigeria), in November.
I think we all know who Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, etc are at this point. But who is Biyi Bandele?
I thought a brief intro to/bio of the man was necessary at this point, since we’ve never really talked about his background.
So, ahead of my interview with him, here’s what I could dig up to get you somewhat prepped and familiar.
Biyi Bandele was born in Nigeria in 1967, and now lives in London, where he’s been since 1990. He’s written several plays, and worked with the Royal Court Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as writing radio drama and screenplays for television.
He was a Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge from 2000-2002, and Royal Literary Fund Resident Playwright at Bush Theatre from 2002-2003.
His plays are: Rain; Marching for Fausa (1993); Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought (1994); Two Horsemen (1994), selected as Best New Play at the 1994 London New Plays Festival; Death Catches the Hunter and Me and the Boys (published in one volume, 1995).
Brixton Stories, his stage adaptation of his own novel The Street (1999), premiered in 2001, and was published in one volume with his play, Happy Birthday Mister Deka, which premiered in 1999.
Bandele has also written several novels, including: The Man Who Came In From the Back of Beyond(1991); The Sympathetic Undertaker: and Other Dreams (1991); The Street(1999); Burma Boy (2007): and The King’s Rifle (2009).
In 1997 he adapted Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for the stage (that would have been really interesting to see), and in 1999 wrote a new adaptation of Aphra Benn’s Oroonoko, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I wasn’t at all familiar with Bandele or any of his works until hearing about his tag-team Fela effort with McQueen a few years ago. And I got to know his writing a little bit, after buying and reading last book to get me started – The King’s Rifle. A great read, taut and immediate, somber and exhilarating, which depicts the experiences of black African soldiers in the Second World War, subject matter that I don’t think has gotten as much ink as it deserves. The book itself could be a film.
But I’m working my way backwards through Bandele’s biliography, slowly but surely.
All that said, he’s apparently conquered 2 other worlds – the literary and the stage. With Fela, he made his first foray into feature-film screenwriting; and with Half Of A Yellow Sun, he made his feature film directorial debut.
I expect he’ll be one to watch going forward – especially if both of the film projects he’s currently attached to are produced and become the critical successes that many hope they will be.
He doesn’t seem to maintain much of a public profile. At least, my search turned up little. But I did find this interview he gave to Al Jazeera in 2010, embedded below.
With Half Of A Yellow Sun now officially with a world premiere date, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of, and hearing more from him over the next 6 months: