“Distortion” by Tolu Daniel

I was once a choir boy in a growing Pentecostal assembly in Abeokuta, where the language of happiness was spoken through the choruses we sang. Every Wednesday we would gather under a blue descript building inside an old missionary secondary school somewhere deep inside Onikolobo. We would rehearse old and new American gospel music to near perfection. Tye Tribbet, Marvin Sapp and Yolanda Adams would have been proud if they ever saw us blending the highs and lows of our voices together running reeves and scales. Failing and starting over, mosquitoes at war with our palms as they jostle for the chance to sip from our skin, the sound of the slaps blending with the music from the instruments. On Sundays, during service just before the pastor mounts the stage, our voices in unison will minister to the faithful to a rousing applause and when the service was over we would go home with our voices hoarse and our stomachs filled with gratitude as the tears in the eyes of the congregants rehash what we had hoped would happen.

I remember thinking about what we were doing back then, our quest for perfection despite our surroundings. About twenty five of us, cramped into that little room with the piano and the drum set making music, rehearsing and rehearsing as though it was our life’s work with no reward in sight, save the indifferent thank you eulogies from the pastor and the expected blessing of the God we were doing it for. I remember thinking about a period when we wouldn’t have to do it in so much pain and wondering if our quest for perfection might depreciate. I wondered if those moments of pain might ever disappear into memory.

I no longer sing or go to church religiously; I am now retired. But on those days when something or someone drives me down to the church, I find myself looking forward to the music, to the sound the choir is creating and it sometimes trips me off. There is a new choir; most of the old folks in the choir back in my days are retired like me. This new choir has it all, a studio to rehearse, state of the art instruments and more support from the church leadership but their sound is never near the perfection that we made in our own time. It almost seemed as if they wouldn’t be bothered to try at all. The church is about seven years old now, once a crawling toddler, and now a talking child. But I see no growth in sight. With comfort, one might have thought perhaps things would have morphed for the better but no. I can’t shake the feel of unease, it seats on my nose like a bad smell.

It makes me wonder maybe nostalgia is a distortion of the truth; maybe my memory is romanticizing those old times and not trying to give this moment a chance at all.


Tolu Daniel is a writer and editor. His essays and short stories have appeared on Catapult.co, The Nasiona Magazine, The Wagon Magazine, Prachya Review, Elsewhere Literary Journal, Expound Magazine, Bakwa Magazine, Saraba Magazine, Panorama Journal, TSSF Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Arts & Africa and a few other places. His essay “My Mother Is A Country” was longlisted for the 2018 Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction. His essay “The Man Who Fought Boko Haram” was selected as one of the Notable Creative Non-Fiction pieces of 2018 at the Annual Brittlepaper African Literary Digest. He currently holds editorial positions with Afridiaspora, The Single Story Foundation Journal and Panorama Journal. He can be found on twitter and Instagram via @iamToluDaniel

Photo by Akira Hojo.