May 2019

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Things scribbled in margins. The spilled fruit-seed of gardeners, linguists, carvers, in their crossings, hauntings, meridian measurings; a constant shifting of the phantom cargo of memory, interweavings, trailings, pathways. I pause at the crossroads, as Eshu arrives…

A Moko Jumbie Incantation. Does that help you understand? No, it was truly a you-had-to-be-there moment at the 21st annual Campus Literature Week Gala Reading and Closing Ceremony on March 29, 2019. Under the theme, Creating Lasting Words, MFA students from the Department of Literary, Creative and Cultural Studies (DLCCS), Faculty of Humanities and Education (FHE) and MFA programme coordinator, Dr Muli Amaye hosted the final event in a week-long celebration of literature.

The 2019 Writer-in-Residence Peter Kalu took to the stage to read excerpts from books throughout his career – the signature reading component of the evening’s event. But, the gala ceremony was anything but traditional, and neither is Peter or Pete or Carl Peters (more on that later).

Hear me now: écoutez bon, digame lo que pasaba– stories from the perfumeries of Sevilla, of los negreros del rio Guadalquivir, los conquistadores buscando el oro, los barcos dolorosas, the stenching folly of the Oyibo – tell me everything.

“We have to thank Roger and the band!” Peter sits excitedly across from me explaining how the performance of the Moko Jumbie Incantation came to be, thanks to Roger McFarlane, staff member of DLCCS and his band, Terrenaissance, who took on the task of bringing a multilingual piece to life using poetry, dance and music. To tell that story, we must first learn about a man that criss-crosses languages, forms and easy categorisation.

Born to a Danish mother and a Nigerian, Igbo-speaking father in overwhelmingly white Manchester UK, Kalu has been focused on hybridity through his identity from the start. “Before I wrote, I was radicalised by the work of Trinidadians like CLR James and Eric Williams who fired anger in my youthful heart.” This resulted in his first sci-fi novel, Black Star Rising an attempt to include black people in a future which erased their presence. Similarly in the autobiographical Children and Young Adult (CYA) novel, The Silent Striker, by Pete Kalu (a shortened name to appeal to his younger audience), his aim was to create a story with a deaf protagonist that wasn’t a tragic one. “I never read a character in which we are the hero. I wanted to show the character’s passion for football while dealing with the black experience in Britain.”

Trinidad continued to be an inspirational touchstone for Kalu throughout his career, particularly when he started a moko jumbie band at Leeds Carnival, long before it was popular to do so: “When I told people, we’re all going to walk on stilts, at the time in England, people looked and me and said, ‘Pete, are you feeling ok?’ And I said, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to do it!’ I’ve always tried to follow my passion and whatever difficulties arise, I’ll overcome them in doing the thing. Just as in writing, you have to write what you’re passionate about.”

Funny enough, his best-selling book, Diary of a Househusband, written under the pseudonym Carl Peters, was the result of a genre limitation. “In my crime fiction, they took out all the jokes and those jokes got put into Househusband.” The MFA students he met during the programme, he noted, are also dealing with writing for genres, “There’s a lot of YA writing and a lot of experimentation... it’s promising and fluid. The students I’ve met are very assiduous, focused and ambitious and my role is to show how it may crystalise and what the result would be if they follow certain energies in their work.”

From under this hash and hex, by the throwing off of murk, mud, pushing through jetsam, in this way, newness shakes its holy dusted head and leaps into the world: hybridising, creolising...

Kalu remembers sound. “I started going deaf, hearing at lower registers at 16 or 17. Before that I loved language, I learned French and Spanish and I ended up by some bizarre route singing opera in German for the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Now, I combine a memory of earlier sounds with what I hear and feel now.”

“The incantation, I spoke it myself first, to give an idea of its intended rhythms. Dr Muli Amaye recorded it and we sent it to Roger, but I had no inkling that Terrenaissance would transform it so skilfully. I thought it was a beautiful leap they made. They reinterpreted those rhythms to reflect their Caribbean experience. They brought their own artistic chops to the piece and brought it alive as perhaps no other band could.”

...Yes, newness comes swirling into the sweep of archipelago, sliding across the chopping stilts of moko jumbie: Eshu is alive…

A Moko Jumbie Incantation came to life in Trinidad, but it took Kalu back to Nigeria during the time of his late father’s funeral: “You come to one place and see an influence from another place and everything is in motion in a multiplicity and that’s the spirit that informs everything I do.”

To read the Moko Jumbie Incantation in full, please visit Peter’s website:

Applications are still open for the MFA programme in Creative Writing until May 31. Visit for details.

Jeanette G Awai is a freelance writer and marketing and communications assistant at The UWI St Augustine Marketing and Communications Office.