By Anote Ajeluorou
Consciously or otherwise, the public presentation of Sam Umukoro’s collection of poetry, Heart Strings, had a rare combination of music, comic and movie stars reading and performing the poems alongside writers. It not only heightened the mood of the evening last Sunday, but also showed how entertainment stars could be drafted as role models to whip up the flagging reading culture
A major statement on importance of education to qualitative delivery as an artiste was made last weekend when such stars as Afro-jazz music star Yinka Davis, former female pop group ‘Kush’, Emem, German-based Afro-pop star Ade Bantu and Chinasa stepped up the stage and lent their voices in praise of poetry. On the comic side were Bright Okpocha (Basket Mouth) and Bovi. Celebrated Nigerian actor in the U.K., Wale Ojo, also added glamour to the already colourful and star-studded cast of readers that graced the poetry presentation.
For young Nigerians who would do anything to be superstar singers, actors and comedians, these stars provide ample role models. But the unique thing about these stars is that they are all lettered, and so could perform their parts with ease; which was what they did at the presentation of Heart Strings at Bogobiri House on Maitama Street, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Umukoro’s Heart Strings is a collection of love poems to the various women that had crossed the poet’s path. But one unique thing about the poems, according to book reviewer and editor, The Guardian on Sunday, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, is that the love of the poet for these women exists more in his imagination than in actuality. In other words, the poet’s love could only mean a lusting after the women. He stated, “Sam has written love poems; he is the son of agbalagba (old, wise literate man), who still believe, especially expressed in fine lines of written and spoken in the idea of love. We hardly write love poems or letters anymore. Love poems now reside in our Blackberry (BB), facebook, twitter or text messaging. But love is the thought-process that really defines our humanity; love makes the world go round, but it has been adulterated. There’s so much violence these days.
“Singers also hardly sing about love; they’d rather sing of Moet, boobs and booty; but that’s with exception to the women who still think and sing about love. So Sam’s book is something, which women ought to own and read. Sam’s poems read like short stories in his choise of tone, colour and cadence; they are very lyrical. Sam is a lyricist, and a crossbreed between the romanticists and the metaphysical poets. His language is simple but not simplistic. In sum, love is something to be cherished, and not something to be abused. It’s a book that is dedicated to women”.
Publisher of Heartstrings and university professor at University of Cape Town, South Africa, Dr. Kolade Arogundade, remarked about his fascination with such iconic works as Samuel Sevlon’s The Lonely Londoners and Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drunkards, works that employ a peculiar brand of language usage that is not standard English but a type of pidgin peculiar to the Caribbean and Nigeria respectively; he said they were books that formed part of his growing up years. He said his company, Giant in the Land (non-government organisation -NGO), is motivated to publish and bring books to people, who would not ordinarily read; that they find them and sell books to such individuals, especially these days when “there’s a dearth of writing and a dearth of readers”.
Thereafter, reading by the stars began. First to read was Basket Mouth. He brought the full compliment of his comic trade to bear as he read ‘Tribute to mama’. Then Emem of ‘Kush’ read ‘You’ll know’. The inimitable Yinka Davies sensationally performed ‘Red wine’ to the thrilling delight of the audience. On-air radio personality Wanna Udobong read ‘If’. Then, the audience listened to the music collaboration, where Sam Umukoro featured Nneka in a love song.
Wale Ojo, who had performed in an old soap opera in the 1970s/1980s alongside the late Sam Loco Efe in Why Worry the Barber, first performed his own poem in honour of late Efe to show how puny death was in always snatching the best around. Before he read ‘Catherina’ from Umukoro’s Heart Strings, he said how unsuited he was to reading love poems having himself had a difficult time finding loving, adding that love could be cruel. He, however, offered that love was about learning more about those involved in it to see where the strength of each person was and then strengthening each other.
Then another music crooner, Chinasa read ‘Jasmine flower’; Ade Bantu read ‘Fire drops’. But comic act, Bovi, gave the audience something to chew about, when he decried what he termed the ‘Terry-G Generation’ in what has come to be a constant in the lyrical offerings from the new generation of Nigerian musicians. He lamented that young musicians had found irresistible allure in graphically describing women’s sensitive body parts in the name of music. What was more alarming, Bovi argued, was the speed with which such lyrical obscenity is catching on and getting seeping into public consciousness, especially amongst young ones.
This was why he commended Umukoro for doing a good job in his clean lyrical poems that extol the virtues of women without being vulgar. Finally, he read ‘On her cross’.
Culture landscapist, publisher and secretary of Committee of Relevant Art (CORA), Toyin Akinosho, commended Bogobiri House for giving back to Nigerians artists a space to air their art. While decrying a situation where African art and literature were discussed only in such places like London and Paris, he lamented that even back home in Nigeria, only such pseudo foreign territories like the Goethe Institut and the French Cultural Centre give Nigerian art and literature a space for expression.
Akinosho, however, lamented the high tax entertainment spots paid in Lagos, saying the state’s heavy tax regime on such spots was a disincentive to the propagation of local art in the state, especially, as state where not much is being done to encourage the flowering of artistic expressions.
CHIEF launcher of Heart Strings, Mr. Dennis Amachree, lamented the lovelessness that seems to characterise life these days as people strive too hard to make ends meet. He enjoined everyone to take out time to enjoy love by owning and reading a copy of Heart Strings to their spouses, promising to read to his wife that night, as her birthday coincided with the launch of Umukoro’s book of love poems.
On his part, Umukoro expressed his overwhelming gratitude for all who had come to the launch. Umukoro, who was first to publish Helon Habila’s story, Prison Notes, before Habila became known, however, said he actually started out writing politically charged poems but his father, who himself is a poet, advised him to moderate his anger. Eventually, he felt there was a need to take poetry to the streets. He then read ‘Seasons’ to bring the event to a close.