By Anote Ajeluorou
“A crossroad between poetry, oration, commentary, performance and rap,” so did Mr. Chike Ofili, a poet, succinctly categorise the new poetic buzz in town known as ‘spoken word’ performance. In deed, throughout most performance outlets, spoken word is taking over the traditional poetry performance of reading from the cold pages of a book. It is the new generation alternative poetry that is fad among the young and not so young poets. Its main attraction rests in the fluidity it offers its performers to mesmerise the audience with seeming verbal virtuoso, especially in the hands of gifted performers who season it with none verbal elements to woo the audience.
But some die-in-the-wool ‘traditional’ poets would have none of it; for them ‘spoken word’ or ‘spoken call’ is nowhere near poetry as it lacks the essential ‘ingredients’ of poetry. But yet others see it as an extension of Africa’s oral performance poetry coached in modern robes and that it is giving traditional poetry a fillip, as it is gradually winning more converts to itself, especially from among the young. But even while the place of spoken word is still being debated, strands have started emerging from within it that would interest keen observers.
There is no doubt that there will be an explosion of spoken word performance at Paul Efe Azino-organised Lagos International Poetry Festival 2015 scheduled to start today at Freedom Park, Lagos Island. Azino is one of the masters of spoken word in the country and as director of the festival, he has promised a balanced space for performers from both sides of the poetic divide.
Last Saturday at Tantalisers, Masha, Surulere, Lagos, the debate about spoken word performance, its place within the poetic space, spiced up The Arthub’s programme when it unveiled its poetry magazine PoetsinNigeria (PIN) – www.poetsinnigeria.org.ng. The launch was amidst performances from young poets who regaled the audience with variants of spoken word.
While defending spoken word at The Arthub, former Lagos State chapter chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) AJ Daga Tola argued that spoken word takes after African oral poetry tradition, adding that it should not be discriminated against as not being proper poetry. But founder of The Arthub, Mr. Eriata Oribabor was insistent that spoken word, though tantalizing as it may sound, is not poetry and should not be regarded as such as it lacks the core ‘ingredients’ that make up poetry.
Others also argued in support of spoken word performance, but charged its practitioners to have a good grasp of the written language first, as it wasn’t enough to mouth inanities on stage and call it poetry. They added that spoken word artists fall into the danger being outright prosaic in their bid to impress, something they must avoid if they are to make lasting impact.
WHILE unveiling the online poetry magazine poetsinnigeria and PIN online, the editor, Mr. Freedom Olanrewaju Kolade gave a brief historical background to the online publication just as he stated the vision behind it.
According to him, “In January, 2015, PIN was born to meet the multidimensional demands associated with the growing affection for poetry writing, reading and performances across Nigeria. The aims and objectives of the magazine include to create a holistic online directory for poets in Nigeria, create unlimited opportunities for poets to showcase their poetic crafts, a veritable ground for poets and performance poets to hone their writing and performance skills via literary projects like poetry workshops/residencies to be organised by PIN, protect and promote registered poets and their works to be showcased beyond the shores of Nigeria. It will also give poets and performance poets recognizable voices in the scheme of things in Nigeria and guide poets in the areas of editing and publishing”.
Young poets that performed at the event were Ajenifuja Alim who did ‘Who am I?’, Rachel Charles ‘Beyond the Colours,’ Favour Agom performed ‘Time to rise again,’ Kukogho Samson did ‘Beggar without choice’ and ‘Little boy, little girl’ from his collection What Can Words Do? Edwina Eleme (NEO) did ‘In His image,’ Emmanuel Kwapyil performed ‘Portraits of girls,’ ‘After I’m gone,’ and ‘I have a dream’. By far the youngest poet to perform was Adeyemi Jeremiah who also did ‘Beyond the colours’ and performed in a band.
By far the most electrifying performers were Graciano Enwerem of the poet group, Figures of Speech, Paul Word and a young lady, Lawal Gold. While Enwerem added an interesting variant to spoken word performance with his breathless act, Word gave a sustained oration that was enthralling.
But it was the lady performer, Gold, who showed uncommon, immense prodigy, as she entered the stage with a Yoruba chant. Hers was a class act, as she gave both vocal and bodily expression to piece ‘Social leprosy’ with a definitive social reorientation of her country in rearranging Nigeria’s old and new anthems to create lingering luminosity to the country’s current lot. Gold’s depth of historical perspective is stunning and how she weaves it into her poetic rendition to give a broad range of stimulating ideas.
TOLA was the guest poet and he thrilled the youthful audience immeasurably with his socio-political poems. One such provocative poems he rendered was ‘I’m AK-47,’ which has the people facing the nozzle of that dreaded gun, as the target of misrule. Another piece ‘Books’ being burned on Third Mainland bridge to draw symbolic attention to the reading of books was telling. But ‘Wearing your mother’s name’ from his collection Being A Woman Being struck an instant rebellious cord with the audience, especially the young women who are required to lose their surnames upon marriage.
In responding to issues about his political poetry, Tola said there has to be a clear ideological perspective from which to write such poetry, saying he doesn’t think about his audience or what would happen to him when he writes. He said Marxism is his take off point, and noted that the current the socio-political arrangement was stacked against the poor masses. He urged poets to begin to use their talents to demystify forces against an egalitarian society.