As promised, this week I’m returning to my special series on speculative fiction! Last week I introduced the Black Science Fiction Society & it’s creator Jarvis Sheffield. If you missed it, you can check out that interview on BLM here. The first writer I’d like to introduce is Balogun Ojetade – a writer, filmmaker, producer, Afrikan Martial Arts expert/instructor, devoted husband & father of eight wonderful children. He is also a member of the BSFS. Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link and Rite of Passage: Initiation.He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk –a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG. Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.
Recently, Balogun Ojetade generously shared with me his time, here is that conversation:
BLM: To start, since I know some are wondering, will you share the proper pronunciation of your name and the meaning/origin?
BO: My name is pronounced “bah-LOW-goon oh-JAY-tah-DAY”. Balogun is actually a title that means “War Chief” or “General”. Ojetade means “The Ancestors are royal”, indicating that my bloodline consists of chiefs and kings. As the origin of the words are traditional Yoruba, kings and chiefs can be male or female.
BLM: You are an amazing brother with many talents! You are a wonderful writer, father, an Afrikan martial arts instructor…is there anything you can’t do? (laughter)
BO:Wow! Thank you; you are very kind. There are many things I cannot do, but as a man who considers himself a student of life, I am more than willing to learn to do all that I, at present, cannot.
BLM: Now some of my readers may not have heard of the sub-genre “Sword & Soul”, what is “Sword & Soul” to you & how long has it been around in literature to your knowledge?
BO: Sword & Soul – to me – is the African expression of Heroic and Epic Fantasy; think “Conan” or “Lord of the Rings” with African heroes, probably in an African setting and featuring African culture and you have Sword & Soul. Sword & Soul has been around since the 1970s when the subgenre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders – author of two incredible Sword & Soul novel series: “Imaro” and “Dossouye” – coined the phrase and created a new subgenre of Fantasy.
BO: Certainly, Talitha. Once Upon a Time in Afrika tells the story of Esuseeke, a beautiful, yet “tomboyish” princess, whose father – the Emperor of the mighty Oyo Empire desperate to marry her off, consults the Oracle. The Oracle tells the Emperor that Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who the greatest warrior is, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament, inviting warriors from all over the continent, but unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament, a powerful evil is headed their way…and your readers will have to read the book for themselves to find out what happens next.
BLM: Who is your favorite character in Once Upon A Time In Afrika?
BO: My favorite character is Mistress Oyabakin. She is the greatest fighter in the known world, a renowned healer and a wonderful wife and mother. She was the most fun character to write, as she is extremely powerful, but maintains a great sense of humor. She is the antithesis of the typical Mr. Miyagi or Morpheus master archetype.
BLM: Now you’re also working on a project called Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, will you tell us about that?
BO: Actually, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1) was released as an e-book in 2011 through Mocha Memoirs Press. In July 2012, I released Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) in paperback under my own publishing and film production company, Roaring Lions Media. I am now writing books 3 and 4 in the series.
In Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Harriet is set up by John Wilkes Booth in the kidnapping of the Daughter of the U.S. Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Stanton recruits a group of ruthless and powerful hunters to track down Harriet, kill her and return his daughter. Harriet uses her incredible physical and psychic abilities – and an arsenal of incredible weapons and gadgets – to fight against the forces of evil and to protect the child she has been accused of kidnapping.
BLM: It’s so phenomenal to me when master storytellers such as yourself “blend” real historical figures with the speculative fiction genre, why Harriet Tubman?
BO: Harriet Tubman is one of my heroes. I think because my mother, who is at the top of my list of heroes, is so much like Harriet Tubman, I fell in love with “General Moses” at a young age and I continue to love and admire her. I knew, long ago, that the first novel I wrote would have Harriet Tubman as the hero.
BLM: How important is it to you that black people be represented in speculative fiction, which as you know has long been dominated by white male authors?
BO: It is extremely important to me. We have long been written out of the past, the future and even the present. Often, if we are included in a speculative fiction story, we are portrayed as the noble savage or the magical negro who supports the white protagonist, but we have never been the heroes. I – and other Black authors of speculative fiction – have formed a collective that creates great works of science fiction, horror and fantasy and educates people that works of speculative fiction written for and by Black people do exist and that there are Black heroes and heroines. Our collective is called The State of Black Science Fiction. We have a popular group on Facebook that can be found here.
BLM: If you could have dinner with any speculative fiction author, living or deceased, who would it be & what would you ask them or say to them?
BO: If I could have dinner with any speculative fiction author, it would be Charles Saunders, the Father of the Sword and Soul subgenre of Fantasy fiction and author of two series of Sword and Soul novels: Imaro and Dossouye and the pulp fiction novel, Damballa. I would thank Charles for being the pioneer of such a powerful and entertaining subgenre. I would thank him for introducing African creatures and an African setting to millions of Dungeons & Dragons fans – including me – back in the mid-80s, when all we had before him were European locales, European adventures and European gods. I would thank him for giving Black men, women and children African heroes to look up to since the early 70s. Since Charles is a friend and mentor, I might just get the chance to have such a dinner one day. One can only pray.
BLM: Will you tell us about the Afrikan martial arts? Your studies are those originating from West Afrika, is that correct?
BO: I study the indigenous, West Afrikan martial arts of Ijakadi (SW Nigeria), Laamb (Senegal) and Kilijawaroo (Mali). While they all have some differences, the major similarity is that they are all wrestling. Wrestling, however, in traditional Africa, is quite different from wrestling in the Western world. Wrestling, in Africa, means to put ones opponents on their backs, bellies, or sides by any means, thus rendering you more vulnerable. So, if I hit you on the head with a club and you fall to the ground, I have wrestled you, by African standards. Thus, the African martial arts include the full spectrum of combat – throws, strikes, melee weapons, ranged weapons and siege weapons.
BLM: Like me, you’re also a member of BSFS, how has the site helped you as an author?
BO: The Black Science Fiction Society ning.com site has given me the opportunity to meet some amazingly talented Black writers, filmmakers and artists. However, with so many exciting things happening in the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook group, writing novels and short stories and developing exciting and innovative events in Atlanta, such as the upcoming Mahogany Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk & Film, which is part of the Black Speculative Fiction convention, Alien Encounters III (http://www.alienencountersevent.com/), I am rarely on the BSFS site. I do, however, hop on the site every opportunity I get to chat for a moment with other BSFS members or to see what’s new on there. Jarvis Sheffield, the site’s founder, put together a wonderful meeting place for us Black creatives.
BLM: How can readers follow you and purchase your work? What can we do to support your endeavors?
BO: You can follow me at my website, http://chroniclesofharriet.com/, where I discuss Black speculative fiction, history and the craft of writing. I always update visitors on upcoming events and book and film releases and I blog twice a week. The site is popular and active.
Once Upon A Time in Afrika can be purchased at http://www.mvmediaatl.com/. It is also available on Amazon and BN.com. Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) can be purchased on Amazon here. In November, 2012, my science fiction novel, Redeemer, which bridges the gap between science fiction and urban fiction, releases through Mocha Memoirs Press.
I – and author / publisher Milton Davis – have also partnered to create a television series, Rite of Passage, that is a fantasy series featuring the likes of Harriet Tubman, John Henry and Frederick Douglass in powerful – and surprising – roles. We need your help in making this series a reality and have started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to produce the show. On our Indiegogo page, you can also watch a clip from the series. You can show your support – and watch the free clip – here: http://www.indiegogo.com/RiteOfPassage?a=1217516.
BLM: Balogun, I want to thank you on behalf of BLM for your time and dedication to black speculative fiction. I have enjoyed our conversation tremendously!
BO: You’re welcome & Thank YOU! I have enjoyed it and I am humbled.
Stay tuned BLM readers for the next segment of the Speculative Fiction series! As with all black writers of any genre, we must support our own.