Book Review: Obalende Sector
“If you’ve ever wondered why aliens don’t land in Africa, this story is for you.”
Although the zine doesn’t necessarily talk about extraterrestrial life in Nigeria, the Adelekan brothers (Seye and Gbenga) raised the point in their Acknowledgements for good reason. Their story came about from both their joint experiences as well as their love for sci-fi and Saturday Morning Cartoons. However, these science fiction stories and comics that they were so fond of rarely reflected their experiences of living in Nigeria. From the diversity of characters to the locations and countries they visited - there was a noticeable gap between those who idolised comics like Superman and then what the superheroes looked like. As the duo grew up, their interest in the arts led them both towards music as bassists, rather than literature (Seye playing with Gorillaz since 2016 and Gbenga as part of Metronomy) but the pandemic put a pause on touring and in-person creation, giving Seye and Gbenga time to channel their interests through a different medium.
“The appetite was not there for a musical collaboration if we could not be in a room together like we had always been growing up. Writing, stories, though. That was a clean slate. Gbenga had tried making a concept album about a place called Yorubaland a few years before. Maybe it would work as prose instead of music…”
-Seye Adelekan in the Acknowledgements section of Obalende Sector
Set in an alternate and slightly futuristic reality where African countries were never colonised, the short story focuses on Yorubaland: a pseudo-fictional country that is in the height of political warfare over the solar fields that lie between nations. These fields produce “forty-three percent” of the world’s energy but were established as a result of force and displacement - indicating that these West African countries were global superpowers, much like how the USA and China are viewed today. Obalende Sector tells the tale of what could have been for the African continent, but not from an optimistic or pessimistic mindset - it is told from the perspective of truth that matches the resilient personalities that exist in Yorubaland and the Hausa Empire today.
Knowing the authors’ personal experiences, and ‘origin stories’ if you will, wasn’t necessary to understand and follow the narrative but it created appreciation for the details. For many writers of the diaspora that publish cross-cultural works, it wouldn’t be strange to find a glossary attached. Although having direct translations available does have educational purposes, it has a way of detracting from the authenticity, as well as calling into question who the text is actually for. As a fellow Nigerian, the fact there was no need for translations or explanations was comforting in a way that made my heritage clearly seen. Reading traditional and typical Hausa and Yoruba names throughout like Abubakar and Dapo are expected, but there are Nigerian colloquialisms, particularly in the character dialogue - that don’t have English equivalents. For example, when Adeola was discussing the political stances of nations with Femi, she claps her hands whilst saying, “Ehe! Ehe!” Depending on the context of the conversation, the phrase can hold several meanings, and even though her gestures hint towards what it could mean, it really feels like an exclusive nod to the culture.
Although the Adelekan brothers’ imagination laid the foundation for Obalende Sector, it was sculpted and brought to life through the help of Exhibit 69 and Dr. Martens, who gave the authors complete creative freedom. The idea of a pioneering and cutting-edge African continent isn’t far-fetched but due to media shaping perception around its development, creating the mental image to match the story could be difficult; the illustrations from Exhibit 69, Kieron Booth and Rome bridge the gaps and aid the narrative in a way that still leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
Putting together such a sound and solid body of work in a field that is ironically ‘alien’ to Seye and Gbenga is both inspiring and surprising. The plot throughout the zine, as well as the way it ends, opens up Yorubaland and the Hausa Empire for deeper inspection and interrogation - meaning sequels are very possible (and welcomed). Keeping that in mind, I wanted to know the brothers’ next creative steps:
The Floor: Do you plan to continue your journey through literature or was this a venture to help you deal with the absence of music/music creation?
Gbenga: In a way, for me, my career in music has been a massive detour from a journey through literature that I have been on since I was about eight years old. That’s when I wrote my first short story – inspired by a Nintendo Entertainment System game and complete with my own rudimentary illustrations. I studied English Literature at Cambridge and had a couple of short stories published around then too.
The gravitational pull of music got me in the end, but the enforced downtime of the pandemic has helped to get back in touch with writing. Being able to do this with Seye has been a major catalyst too. Coming from the music world, creative collaboration is something that feels very natural.
We have ideas for other Yorubaland stories – some set in a similar time period and others that go about a hundred years forward and backward in time. Seye and I are both doing a lot of research, reading books like Cheikh Anta Diop’s The African Origin of Civilization and African Dominion by Michael A Gomez, and using these references to gradually map out a plausible alternative timeline from the time of the Moorish conquest of Spain (711AD or so) to the present day and beyond. The plan is to have a novel-length collection of interrelated stories that span quite a big time period, a little like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
There is also a novella concept we have on the back burner, an alien invasion story set in contemporary Nigeria. This one is a self-contained fable that is separate from the Yorubaland stories. We have a first draft done but of course it’s in need of a major rewrite!
Seye: Even though I haven't flexed the literature muscle anywhere near as much as Gbenga, it has always been one that has been there and is definitely something I want to keep doing. As a writer and a creative in general, having as many outlets for your ideas is always welcome. Especially an outlet I didn't know I would enjoy so much as writing! I used to write and draw comics when I was a kid, we actually all did (my 3 brothers and I) but I stopped writing stories like that long ago although I have always been a reader and into comics/graphic novels and fiction. Where we take it from here, we aren't entirely sure, but there is so much scope in Yorubaland, we have barely scratched the top layer of what could be called the surface. Watch this space!
The Obalende Sector zine is available in return for a £3 donation to Black Minds Matter in Dr. Martens’ Camden, Carnaby Street, Spitalfields and White City stores. The zine collaboration continues the brand’s commitment to improving access to creative opportunities as part of its ongoing Tough As You initiative, which aims to support and raise awareness of the challenges faced by emerging creatives and grassroots culture. https://www.drmartens.com/uk/en_gb/dm-presents/seye-olugbenga-adelekan