There was a strong temptation to pen this tribute simultaneously to the two distinguished members of the pen profession (Sam Amuka-Pemu and Tam Fiofori) who made this 13th day (of June) a lucky one contrary to the American belief. I resisted and will celebrate each man individually.
Happy 80th birthday to Uncle Tam Fiofori.
Biographers record Uncle Tam as a photographer and documentary film maker. Journalism historians will note that Tam Fiofori is in the best ranks of multi-skilled journalists capable of reporting across life’s spectrum of subjects. A Renaissance man, Uncle Tam Fiofori has covered the arts and the sciences. And he has done so independently from the 1960s.
He covered sports, music, royalty and traditions, arts and culture with uncommon understanding and zest. He was one of our most dependable contributors as we produced Nigeria Monthly at Taijo Wonukabe Limited for the Federal Ministry of Information.
His documentary photography “produced albums chronicling Nigeria’s history”, his Wikipedia entry notes. “The subjects of his films include the Nigerian artists Biodun Olaku, J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere and Olu Amoda. Much travelled, Fiofori lived in Harlem, New York, in the 1960s, becoming Sun Ra’s manager, and producing writing that is considered “a founding connection between Ra and the movement that would be known as Afrofuturism”.
Wikipedia adds: “Travelling extensively since the 1960s, Fiofori became an associate in the US of Sun Ra. According to the Pan African Space Station, “Uncle Tam later invited Sun Ra to Lagos for FESTAC 77, took him to the Kalakuta Republic . . . and wrote about it all in the pioneering Nigerian journal Glendora Review.”
Fiofori was the first New Music/Electronic Music Editor for Down Beat, and wrote for many other art and literary publications in the US and Europe — among them International Times and Change magazine — and has been credited with being “largely responsible for bringing underground black creativity to the American national consciousness in those heady days of the 1970s”. His writing has been regularly published over the years in a range of Nigerian outlets, including NEXT newspaper, and the blog Shèkèrè.
Fiofori was a film consultant to Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture, the director of Rivers State Documentary Series, and consultant/scriptwriter to NTA Network on Documentaries. He was also founding executive of the Photographers’ Association of Nigeria (PAN).
His work has been shown in Africa, Europe and the US, including Odum and Water Masquerades (1974), screened at FESTAC ’77, Tampere Film Festival, 10th FESPACO, Ouagadougou, 1987, Pan African Writers’ Association, Accra, Ghana, and 1979: A Peep into History and Culture.
His publications include the “print documentary” A Benin Coronation: Oba Erediauwa (2011). As described by the author: “The book’s journalistic format has technically provided for 84 pages of photography featuring about 150 original photographs, accompanied by 72 pages of text; all about the Benin City Coronation ceremonies of Oba Erediauwa as the 38th Oba of the Benin Kingdom, from March 23 to 30, 1979.” Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper judged that Fiofori “paints a poetically enchanting picture”, and said: “The author undertakes a very insightful rendering of the dynasties of the Benin Kingdom and gives an elaborate account of the 45-year reign of Oba Akenzua II which started on April 5, 1933…. Tam Fiofori has through his groundbreaking book, A Benin Coronation: Oba Erediauwa, given Nigeria and the rest of the world a timeless study in lofty heritage.”
He is a contributor to the 2018 book African Photographer J. A. Green: Re-imagining the Indigenous and the Colonial (edited by Martha G. Anderson and Lisa Aronson), in a review of which Lindsay Barrett referred to Fiofori as “Nigeria’s iconic photographic genius”.
Much love and respect, Uncle Tam.