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Art world stunned by death of novelist filmmaker Biyi Bandele

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World renown novelist and filmmaker, Biyi Bandele is dead.

In a terse announcement issued by the artist’s daughter, Bandele died in Lagos on 7th August 2022.

The announcement read:

As Biyi’s daughter, I am heartbroken to share the sudden and unexpected death on Sunday 7th of August in Lagos of my father Biyi Bandele.

Biyi was a prodigiously talented writer and film-maker, as well as a loyal friend and beloved father. He was a storyteller to his bones, with an unblinking perspective, singular voice and wisdom which spoke boldly through all of his art, in poetry, novels, plays and on screen. He told stories which made a profound impact and inspired many all over the world. His legacy will live on through his work.

He was taken from us much too soon. He had already said so much so beautifully, and had so much more to say.

We ask everyone to please respect the privacy of his family and friends as we grieve his loss.

Temi Bandele

Reactions of shock, especially from members of the art community, about Bandele’s passing have inundated the socialsphere even though the announcement came close to midnight on Monday.

Writer, Associate Professor and Graduate Programme Coordinator at the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Nduka Otiono wrote:

I never met Biyi Bandele but we got to share some close conversations about life and art, off and on. During a visit to Nigeria in 2019 I tried to connect with him in Lagos but his long hours of shooting a film and my own demanding research schedules frustrated it. His passing on Sunday left me wondering what I could have missed in the last email he sent me. Without going into other deeply personal details of the long mail, I’d like to share a slice of the prodigious work he was up to as a way of celebrating his life of commitment to the creative arts:

“The past few years have been incredibly busy for me: aside from working on Faraday Okoro’s directorial debut “Nigerian Prince” as an executive producer alongside Spike Lee I am currently writing and directing a feature documentary on Fela Kuti for the BBC and the Toronto International documentary festival Hot Docs. I’ve also just finished writing my first novel since Burma Boy. It’s called “Gregory Conga, Lagos Area Boy,” and it took three years. To keep body and soul together during that time (since my kind of fiction has never attracted big advance fees from publishers; they have always been written on spec), I have in that time been a resident artist at NYU and —currently — an arts by-fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. I’ve also just been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to spend the 2019-20 academic year carrying out research at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. These are all prestigious awards and I count myself fortunate…”

Such was Biyi’s busy creative life and humility about his towering achievements. Realizing that he did not add to the long list of his works-in-progress anything about Elesin Oba, his latest film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death and Kings Horseman, which is scheduled to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, suggests the many other works he must have had in his creative foundry. And I was hoping to catch up with him at #TIFF.
May his soul rest in peace. And condolences to his children Korede and Temi, and to other close family, friends and associates. Death be not proud!

Nduka Otiono

In his own reaction, novelist, political columnist and essayist, Okey Ndibe, said curtly:

I’m stunned beyond words. Biyi Bandele was one of the most generous, generously gifted writer-artists I ever met. Can’t believe he’s gone:

Okey Ndibe

Bandele was born to Yoruba parents in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, Nigeria in 1967. His father Solomon Bandele Thomas was a veteran of the Burma Campaign in World War II, while Nigeria was still part of the British Empire. Bandele spent the first 18 years of his life in the north-central part of the country. Bandele had ambitions to be a writer and when he was 14 years old he won a short-story competition. Later on, he moved to Lagos, then in 1987 studied drama at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He won the International Student Playscript competition of 1989 with an unpublished play, Rain, before claiming the 1990 British Council Lagos Award for a collection of poems. He moved to London in 1990 at the age of 22 armed with the manuscripts of two novels. His books were published, and he was given a commission by the Royal Court Theatre.

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Biyi Bandele’s novels, which include The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond (1991) and The Street (1999), have been described as “rewarding reading, capable of wild surrealism and wit as well as political engagement.” His 2007 novel, Burma Boy, reviewed in The Independent by Tony Gould, was called “a fine achievement” and lauded for providing a voice for previously unheard Africans.

His directorial debut film Half of a Yellow Sun was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and received a “rapturous reception”. The film received a wide range of critical attention. His film, entitled Fifty, was included in the 2015 London Film Festival. He also directed the third season of the popular MTV drama series, Shuga. In 2022 he directed the first Netflix Nigerian Original series, Blood Sisters.

He was announced as the director of the new Netflix and Ebonylife TV co-production “Elesin Oba, The king’s Horseman” the screen adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s stage play “Death And The King’s Horseman”, and is set to premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2022.

No reasons have been given for his death.

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