Let me begin with a list of clichés. Biyi Bandele, born on October 13, 1967, died 55 years after (7, August 2022). Although his ancestral home is Abeokuta his earliest childhood was spent in Kafanchan where he was born.
As a bibliophile myself, I can attest that an obsession of living writers is seeking validation from readers and more importantly from living writers they admire. For Biyi Bandele, his admiration for Wole Soyinka led him to apply to study Theatre Arts at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), formerly known as the University of Ife.
At age 22, in 1990 he left Nigeria for the UK. The exclusive atmosphere of the UK where Biyi Bandele watched 4 movies a day — signalling his apprenticeship, is latitudes apart, not just geographically, from Nigeria. As a writer, Biyi Bandele, in 2007, published his debut novel Burma Boy. In hindsight, the title seems to immortalize his father’s life (Solomon Bandele-Thomas) as a veteran of the Burma Campaign in World War II.
The Nigerian Film and Video Censorship Board (NFVCB) prolific for its occasional censoring of movies for bland reasons added ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ to its list of ‘banned movies’ for its Biafran movement undertone and the inherent potential of the film according to NFVCB, to revive ethnic conflict.
“And then when it came out, people tried to destroy it for several reasons and bury it”, he once said in a chat with TFC. Yes, the NFVCB almost buried Biyi Bandele’s drive. In his words, “it kind of almost broke me. It was brutal”.
Biyi Bandele writes in every sense of the word. Be it in a book or in a film, he keeps writing. With a camera; as a director and as a street photographer or with his pen as an author, he keeps writing. My introduction to the name ‘Biyi Bandele’ was through his Facebook account. Aside from posts of his and shared post of friends, the catalog of pictures on his Facebook account gives the account the feel of a digital art gallery.
So, for most Lagosians in Isale Eko — Biyi Bandele’s domicile resident, Biyi Bandele could qualify as James Maher, Laura Fontaine or Sean Fryxell. Three photographers out of the long list of street photographers give us a pictorial description of New York City. Biyi’s pictures of landscape, gestures, and people of Lagosians will forever be imprinted in my mind. He blurs the line between several dissimilar creative mediums. Biyi Bandele’s engagement with the camera as a director and photographer and with the pen as a writer and novelist blurs the line between two disparate professions. In Biyi Bandele’s words, “I assume if you are creative, you should be able to do everything.” And everything he did.
Death attached prominence to artists. There begins a rigorous attempt to track their life and follow news of their death wherever they can get one. On their Twitter handle, the Facebook post of friends, and news platforms — all in an attempt to accept the puzzling reality.
‘So, Biyi is dead.’
Yes, death is final but for many, it’s the beginning. The often-suppressed curiosity of many will be peaked. Who is Biyi Bandele? Reiterating Shakespeare’s Shall I Compare thee to a Summer Day? — the concluding couplet of the poem that bears the weight of Shakespeare’s message about the immortality of art, beauty, summer, and in this context humans. So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee / So long will live his works (Burma Boy, Half of a Yellow Sun, Blood Sisters, and Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman, to name a few), Biyi Bandele will live.
A posthumous premiere of Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman at the Toronto International Film Festival will be followed by its debut on Netflix this year. His upcoming novel, Yoruba Boy Running had also been recently submitted for publishing.
Biyi was a creative enigma in life; an artsy legend in death.
Goodnight, Mr. Bandele!