Rapturous excitement over rap poetry at WordSlam
By Anote Ajeluorou
IT was a perfect scene for a perfect occasion reminiscent of a moonlight tale at the fireside in the village. However, there were no old men or women conducting affairs here. Only one old man was present and he took the stage when the young ones had held sway; perhaps, a sign of times. The only regret was that it was an African tale being told on a foreign ground. Aside that, the first edition of Word Slam this year was a huge success.
Word Slam III is a live performance of poetry, an open reading and oral performance that brings poets and poetry fans alike together to enjoy the rich tradition of a verbalised art form. And at the Geothe Institut on Victoria Island last Saturday, a large number of Nigerian youths gathered to give expression to their repertoire of poetry to an appreciative audience. There was much to savour by the huge audience in the various readings and performances. The god of poetry walked tall on stage that evening under a tree on an evening with a stretch of water behind the podium to add picturesque excitement.
If anything poetry is the least beloved form among the three literary forms. Prose fiction takes centre stage while drama follows. Poetry is usually seen as being too intellectual and academic. But the evening in view lost that boundary. It was an evening where poetry came down from its exalted height and shook hands and smiled with all.
With a scintilating opening of an oriki chant by Turayo with Seun Idowu on the drum, the show got underway. And from one performer to the next, hiphop rap seemed such a poor imitation of oral performance. Then Fransisca thrilled the audience to 'Do you know my mother?', where a mother's supremacy was re-enacted. Kelechi's 'Colourless' tells of a world that should be without needless boundaries for a free flow of humanity and oneness. Brainstorm added his 'Huzler' angle to the performance to address a world locked in hard times and how a probable could be found way out of the mess.
Award winning poet Uche Nwadinachi added a romantic touch to a gathering excitement when he performed his 'Ebony Goddess'. When he conducted an ebony black lady to the podium and knelt before her to tell of his fervent love for her, the audience exploded in wild ecstasy. Then he sang, also of love with a lady to a gathering dusk that heightened his romantic act.
During the interlude, Ade Bantu, Germany-based Nigerian rap artist, had commented on the talent shown by the different performers at the workshop he conducted a few days before. He said Nigerians youths were highly talented and called for support for them so they could excel. Instead of engaging in 'Yahoozee' activities, he said, youths could actually be better preoccupied horning their talent as wordsmiths. "I'm pleasantly surprised at young people performing poetry," he enthused. "It is something creative and away from Yahoozee; they need to be supported so they can do their own thing."
But it was budding stage-impresario Segun Adefila who put the performance in philosophical and Afro-centric perspectives. He also debunked the notion that poetry is too intellectual or academic. Adefila opined that African has been taken out of its roots and is now couched in European guises. This, he explained was what was responsible for poetry's seeming difficulty, and why a lot of people tended to run away from it.
Poetry, he said, was an African thing with its roots firmly rooted in African culture. The proverbs, stories and words of wisdom, he said, had African origin until colonial mentality rob us of them all. He said, "Our fathers brought poetry, expressed themselves in poetry; the proverbs, the stories and witty sayings have always been African. Now we're doing it under a tree, like the good old days; it's the heartbeat of our people, to communicate and connect with our people. But the written one is colonial poetry; and we're performing it here. Goethe is reviving our own poetry, it's funny. What is the National Theatre doing?
"So, young people would want to be part of the revolution at giving back poetry to the people, giving back their voice to them."
Dagga Tolar, teacher and Ajegunle community activist agreed with Adefila. But he went further to say that the pop culture was a dead one and that it was natural for youths to migrate to a more fulfilling, purer field, which poetry offered. "When you chain people down for far too long, they begin to express themselves. Hiphop is one-directional; now poetry makes a break from that direction; it's capable of turning this country around. There's hope for the future with this break from the dirt that is hiphop."
Another young poet Efe Paul Azino, who preformed 'In fellowship with the masses', which earned him a loud ovation, stated that Africans have a natural knack for the arts and that the young ones were at its behest. He also echoed Adefila in affirming that poetry has its origin in African thought process. "The spoken word or poetry evolved from us; it's a natural thing for us. People love poetry; it's entertaining and inspiring and easy to identify with," he said.
Elizabeth Hasselgren, an American expatriate found the performance interesting. As a scientist, she said, it was refreshing to see poetry being spoken live.
For Jumoke Verissimo, a poet and copywriter, times have changed and poetry was no longer dreaded as before. She was confident Nigeria would produce the next poet laureate in the world given the outpouring of works coming out everyday. Verissimo also felt that the session was a way of gauging the depths of feelings amongst us, how our environment was treating us and how we were responding to it. "It's a way of trusting people to listen to our different woes," she said. "There's a lot of sad poetry today; it's in response to our psychology. Perhaps with development, a poet laureate might come from Nigeria. Word Slam is beyond rap or hiphop; it's not just about loud music but thinking deep. There's the purity of the mind in poetry."
Verissimo touched on one important point in her summation. It was the depth of themes the various poetry performers dwelt on. There was love and there was what veteran actor, Lari Williams termed 'revolutionary' poetry. Literature is a reflection of life; there was an abundance of that all through the evening as various aspects of Nigerian life was put on display. And as Verissimo commented, it was the 'woes' of Nigerians that were mostly on display, the struggles that sometimes almost amounted to nothing. Perhaps, it was Adefila's 'Malu's Dilemma' a captivating performance that best captured it, of a nation stuck in under-development, of a people toiling vainly to make ends meet. It was a sombre mood interspersed with love and emotive pieces. So that while the performances were themselves a thrilling experience, they were also a sad commentary on our lives, which appears to be half-lived under the grueling circumstances and times we live in.
But there were light-hearted moments as well. Williams' performance of 'Lone walk' from his new collection Heartlines of Drumcall had the trapping of love under the moonlight night. Also Iquo Abasi Eke's 'Earth, Wind and Fire' pulled not a few heart-strings as the audience ululated to its powerful emotional suggestions. Williams also advised young ones to take time to study grammar properly so as not to have a hard time with poetry, which he said posed a problem to most students because they were careless when studying it.
There was background music that accompanied all the performances to give them authentic setting for oral performances of old. Talking drum, guitar and the keyboard were mellow and never interfered with the spoken word.
Word Slam III was a production of Culture Advocate Caucus and hosted by the German Cultural Centre, Goethe-Institut. It is the plan of the organisers that excelling poets from the performance will be deployed to schools to assist in grooming students in the delicate art of live poetry performance. This, they also hope, will help to make poetry a lovable subject to students, who otherwise dread poetry. There was also a feeling of eagerness from all quarters about the next edition of Word Slam. Performers came all the way from Awka in Anambra and Kaduna states just to be part of the literary feast.
Culled from: The Guardian Newspaper
23rd February, 2009
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