The pulsating read gives an up-close account of the famous Nigerian dancer, Kafayat Shafau-Ameh, peeling off the layers of a challenging childhood to a success story of self-determinism, writes Yinka Olatunbosun
The author-signed copy of the book titled, ‘Alajoota: Diary of An African Dance Queen’ came in a holiday gift pack from MTN. Having read many of Kaffy’s detailed interviews, it was almost convenient to dismiss the book until her personal note on the first page was sighted. Her writing looks so familiar just as her auto-biographical account.
But what seems rather unusual in her narrative is how she navigated life’s challenges to discover dance as a very powerful tool for emancipation. Best known for breaking the Guinness World Record for “Longest Dance Party’’ at the Nokia Silverbird Danceathon in 2006, her climb to global recognition opened new chapters in her life as embodied in her book.
All her life, she had been in all kinds of bondage, eager to break free. From an affluent background, her childhood nosedived into a tumultuous one which digs up existential themes of survival. From a near-nomadic lifestyle, she emerged into an enclosing wall of formal education.
To liberate herself from poverty, she, unconsciously, tapped into the non-formal education in martial arts, dance, aerobics which she only learnt to escape from her nagging relative. That form of education proved to be instrumental into her character formation and career landscape.
In Kaffy’s autobiography, every character is layered. Often, her depiction is frank, sometimes short of diplomatic whitewash. After presenting each character, she also tries to understand how each character had evolved over time and circumstances. In her conversational style, she blends English, Yoruba and Pidgin English. Consciously, she offers a very courageous narration of her private life with a view to showing both the imitable and the less exemplary angles.
Through the character of Nikki, she is able to create suspense in the plot. Nikki, her missing sibling was shrouded in some mystery curated by her globe-trotting parents who left many gaps in the lives of their children by bowing to domestic violence. Pushing this past aside, Kaffy’s search for true love created contemporary conversations around marriage.
Her tone changed from being a storyteller to a counsellor as she does a double take on the very core of human relationships and the glamourized perception of marriages. In between that, she weaves her busy career life with tales of motherhood and everyday decisions.
Kaffy makes the bitter days taste sweet in ‘Alajoota’ with elements of humour. Through her story, she demonstrates a very photographic memory of people, places and personalities. A case in point is her description of her first time on stage as a sole dancer.
A true city girl, her accounts of her journey in different parts of Lagos positions her as a down-to-earth elite. Through a well-grounded dancing career, she has refined the profession to a world-class standard. Yet, she is not one to be pressured to live an extravagant lifestyle even with all the fame.
‘Alajoota’ is bred from an under-dog perspective to build an inspiring story that rests its spine on riches-to-rags-to-riches cyclic plot.