Lucas Holter, Senior Photographer

Yale’s Humanities Now lecture series is set to kick off on Tuesday with a conversation between Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma and Tanzanian singer Lady Jaydee about creative inspiration and the current state of African music and literature.  

The new series is hosted by the Whitney Humanities Center, with support from the Yale Schwarzman Center and the Council on African Studies, and will take place in The Underground at the Yale Schwarzman Center. The conversation will focus on the nature of craft and art production, followed by a performance by Lady Jaydee. 

“I believe that we are in a golden age of African literature,” said Obioma. “Modern African literature — by modern I mean, one that is written in postcolonial language, usually English or French or Portuguese or something like that — is very young. Today, there’s been a major resurgence and right now, there’s just a lot of books coming out that are really, really powerful, and many of them have become quite successful.”

Chigozie Obioma is one such author whose books have become popular. His two novels, “The Fisherman” and “An Orchestra of Minorities,” were both shortlisted for The Booker Prize, an award given to the best fiction novels in the English language. Both works also won the Financial Times/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards, an accolade that celebrates books by authors from “emerging nations” in Africa and the Middle East, according to their website

Lady Jaydee has also achieved immense fame in Tanzania, winning over 10 Tanzania Music Awards from 2002 to 2014. 

Obioma, a distinguished writer in residence at Wesleyan University, is also focused on the creation of narrative, citing Lady Jaydee’s music as a source of inspiration for him. Lady Jaydee, often referred to as Tanzania’s “Queen of Bongo Flava,” sings in Swahili, whereas Obioma is fluent in English and Igbo. Despite the language barrier, Obioma said that her songs still deeply resonate with him, and he said that her songs will do the same for all those who attend her performance at Yale on Tuesday.

 “Her music really is a kind of narrative,” Obioma said. “In 2006, I was starting out, writing my first novel ‘The Fisherman,’ and I had this moment where I was facing this stasis, what you might call a writer’s block.” 

Inspired by Lady Jaydee’s song “Siku Hazagandi,” Obioma said that he was able to break through this block. The song, which progresses from a depressive state to an uplifting one, Obioma said, inspired him to include this same arc into his own work, particularly in how a character’s attitudes can change towards the people around them. 

The conversation on Tuesday, Obioma and Lady Jaydee told the News, will continue to expand upon the intersection of music and literature. 

Both Obioma and Diane Barrett Brown, deputy director at the Whitney Humanities Center, spoke of a need to center voices of authors from outside the U.S. 

“I mean, how many African novelists have you read?” Brown asked. “Probably one, right. And if you’ve read one, it’s often ‘Things Fall Apart.’ And that’s great. But [Obioma] goes beyond that. He’s a major force in the literary scene right now.” 

The event is an opportunity to introduce both the Yale and the New Haven communities to influential artists, which Brown said she hopes will spark conversation and connection among the audience members and speakers. 

Under the new leadership of Cajetan Iheka, an English professor at Yale, WHC Associate Communications Officer Megan O’Donnell said that they will continue to center marginalized voices from both inside and outside the U.S. 

“Hearing two artists of such incredible talent — who come from different places and different creative fields — discuss their processes with one another is a rare opportunity,” O’Donnell said. “Speaking of rare opportunities, not many people can say they saw the Queen of Bongo Flava perform live in a setting as intimate as The Underground at the Yale Schwarzman Center.” 

Upcoming Humanities Now lectures also include “The Love Languages of Black Fatherhood” from Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University.

The lecture series is open to the public, and Obioma and Lady Jaydee’s event has already sold out. 

Humanities Now was founded in 2023.