Contemporary impulse, Nigerian spoken word and the internet – Part 2
In “Word”, Ogunwale explores the relationship she shares with “word”. How it possesses her without her knowing “You…rape me”. The way it makes her feel, “…I marvel at your grandeur-mess/ You ease my stress/ take me up to a higher place”. How she reverence it, “I embrace your majesty/ I will no longer abuse thee”. The power of word is so great: “For ye are a tool/ that can do and undo/ Whole civilizations/ Create power stations/ Upbuild and downturn whole/ Nations…”. And finally what she wants from the “word”, “By your grace/ from this place/Take me to another space/Inside myself/Behind the showcase/Beyond the surface”.
Titilope Sonuga is an author and spoken word poet and the winner of the 2011 Canadian Authors’ Association Emerging Author Award for her first collection of poems, Down To Earth, and the 2012 Maya Angelou poetry contest. In 2013 she released her first spoken word album Mother Tongue and her second collection of poetry, Abscess. She is the creator of Rouge Poetry, a weekly open mic that has featured local and international poets and musicians for over 5 years. In May 2015 she became the first poet to appear at a Nigerian presidential inauguration. Sonuga has performed in the Lagos International Poetry Festival. Her featured poems are: “Icarus” and “Take back the night”.
Titilope Sonuga’s “Icarus” is named after a Greek mythological figure, Icarus, who flew too close to sun and melted the wax which holds his man-made wings together, he fell and drowned in the Aegean Sea. “Icarus” laments the nonchalant attitude of people toward those who have been burnt to death. The poem opens with the poet narrating an event, which occurred in the past:
I saw a man on fire a gasoline soaked rubber tire around his Neck arms failing like he was trying to fly but I was too young to differentiate the horror from spectacle
This image depicts the practice of jungle justice in Nigeria. The poet recalls this scene from her childhood. As a child, she saw a man being burnt alive by his fellow men. This scene not only horrifies her but she is also surprised that nobody wants to help, “nobody brought water?.” However, she is encouraged by her mother to look the other way, “Shhh, don’t look at it/we’ll be past this soon”. And she moans “how life went on around him”.
The poet also laments her disappointment at people’s indifference towards incidents of plane crashes: “we shield our eyes from the flames/but our country is on fire”. After that, life goes on. No one remembers the families of the crash victims, “a 3 year old /who will never know her mother/whole families wiped out in one swoop”. Little or no attempts will be made to investigate the cause of the crash and soon all will be forgotten:
our memories will betray us yet again it will tell us “Shhh… don’t look at it we’ll be past it soon”
Then there is the “sound of exploding church” which also becomes normal, “another Sunday morning” by the Boko Haram terrorist group and the killing of Christians by the Muslims. Sonuga’s “Take Back the Night” is a poem inspired by an international event and a non-profit organization, Take Back the Night. The organization’s goal is to end sexual assault, relationship and domestic violence in all forms. The movement which began in America in the 1970s has gone global. Hundreds of events are held in over 30 countries annually. The event began as a way to protest the violence women experience in the night and also create community awareness as a preventive measure.
Many African women have been brought up to believe that they are worth nothing and that every bad thing that happens to them is entirely their fault. It is this mindset that Sonuga’s “Take Back the Night” addresses. Nighttime has its own advantage and beauty but to a woman, it is the time their nightmares come to life . Nighttime stirs the feeling of fear in a woman:
She becomes an unarmed soldier in a wide open battle field in a war she never asked for “She” has been brainwashed into being afraid of the night “from the day she entered the world”. From childhood, rules have been” drilled into her head”
Don’t talk to strangers
Do not enter their car
Never leave your drink unattended
Unfortunately obeying these rules will not guarantee that a woman will not be attacked in the night. Whether the rules were observed or not, the woman is always found guilty of instigating the attack:
They will ask you how short your skirt was
Did you smile a little too wide?
Hold his gaze a little too long?
Maybe your body was saying yes even when your mouth whispered no
In this poem, Sonuga exposes the most painful truth about sexual violence, they sometimes are perpetuate by someone we know and trust:
This is the simple truth
Sometimes strangers are not strangers at all
They are our brothers a friend of a friend a good Samaritan
In the above lines, Sonuga warns that one should not only be wary of strangers but also of family members and friends. It is extremely frightening to realize that one is not even safe at home. The situation is pushed to a new extreme when Sonuga educates that violence does not necessarily happen in strange and distant places. It can happen:
on the same route we take every single day around the corner from our front door inside our own homes where shadow turns friends into predators
This poem is therefore Sonuga’s way of sensitising women on the need to be weary of both friends and foes.Donna Ogunnaike is said to be the most compelling voice in Nigeria’s performance poetry circuit today. She has been described in the only ranking effort for spoken word in Nigeria (EGC Platform) as the “queen of spoken word poetry in Nigeria” for the year 2013 and ranked amongst the top 20 poets in Nigeria in the year 2012.Her poem “Touch” laments the death of a people’s way of life. Nigerians are known to accompany the expression of their emotions with touch, a touch on the back, shoulder and head goes a long to express “care”:
All expression/ All wholesomely
All nuances wholesomely ours/ All we
Have ever known from ages past,
All accompanied with…touch
This way of expressing love has made the people more united:
Communal living birthing a Nation’s
communion in feelings expressed
“All we knew among tears, smiles,/consolation was…touch”, in good times or bad, Nigerians “touch”, by hugging, shaking hand or patting, to share in the joy or sorrow of one.
However, this way of expressing love and care has been abandon with the coming of the deadly virus, Ebola. In this poem, Ebola personifies foreign cultures which are invading Nigeria and destroying her cultures:
And then there came… Ebola
The virus that seeks to take away the one language we have learnt peacefully through time
This virus that pretends it understands our language
Ogunnaike calls for the Nigerian child to run from “touch” as touching now leads to series of misfortunes. She also accuses government of destroying the people’s hope:
The government was the first to spread us with its symptoms that:
Make rich ritualists
Initiates young men and women into Superfluous unstable lifestyles
Ogunnaike’s “Selfie” condemns the self-centeredness of Nigerians. The word “selfie” literally means to take a self-portrait photograph. Ogunnaike uses this metaphor to symbolize how Nigerians only care for themselves. As long as the one who is looking into the camera is alright, then all is well:
“Ha-ha-ha-ha, did you see my Selfie?” she asks…
Poised with red lips, Ruby Woo no less…
But look, just to her right, there.
Behind her a pile of bodies lay bare
Red, like her lipstick stained around the edge
Red, like blood flowing from unformed limbed and 29 unbirthed dreams in Nyanya
The word “Nyanya” alludes to an incident that occurred on 14th April, 2014, at 6:45am, at a crowded bus station in Nyanya in Nassarawa State, when two bombs exploded killing 88 people and injuring at least 200. The image of “Nyanya” is used to bring the poem to the realms of reality and adds credibility to what the poet is saying about the non-chalant attitude of Nigerians. The poet creates a psychological link between the click from camera and that from a bomb detonator. When you click to take a selfie, you are in indirectly ignoring your duty to the nation. Ironically, a click is also used to detonate a bomb:
At his “Click”, bombs detonate in time to capture the reality of these still picture…
Still, Ms. Selfie is passing on by like time..
Go on, go on, take a Selfie click…
Ogunnaike employs the humorous image of a young man who lives a fake life just to attract the opposite sex, to mock the preoccupation of the youths of today. The young man is described as a “baller”, one who has made money from being a thug. He takes “selfie” to promote his false life. The other youth is personified by the character of Ademola Aderinde. Aderinde was an OccupyNigeira protester who was killed by the Nigerian police on January 9, 2012. OccupyNigeria was a protest against the removal of fuel subsidy. The protest recorded a total of eleven (11) deaths across the nation:
He stands to the side and clicks on the evidence of his masculinity
Him before a green Mercedes Benz that belongs to a Saudi
Price All the while before him flashing
Images splinter false realities in
See Ademola Aderinde burning
Brightly, wearing his last tee shirt green
Green, like not long ago, when he protested the petroleum subsidy
Subverting complacence attempting a brand new revolution
The poet also takes a jab at the educational system in Nigeria. The Nigerian education system is a notorious one. Billions of naira is allocated to education, yearly, yet children do not have chairs to sit on to learn. Teachers’ salaries are used to fund other projects. :
click… behind dusty children return hurriedly from school confused, unlearned and half full like a poor man’s lunch box striking teachers will impact nothing on emptying hunger pangs
Salaries are diverted and education stands still, unemployed
From the foregoing lines, it is evident that the government’s non-payment of salaries has a direct impact on the school pupils. The “striking teachers” are lured back to work every time with false promises. However, the citizens who are the families of these children are taking no action against the people who have denied the children the basic education they need to become better citizens.
The most painful truth, the poet mourns, is that everyone is guilty of being indifferent. We are busy focusing on ourselves while everything around us is being looted or destroyed:
Our kinsmen that lead us don’t
Love us, and we don’t even love
Each of us, is red, is green and is blue
Each of us, me…and each of us you
But what can we do
What we do…? Click
Take a Selfie…
Take a Selfie …
Efe Paul Azino’s poems are welcomed in the realms of academia and street. He is regarded as a leading spoken word poet. He has performed in many of the nation’s performance poetry events. Feautured on Badilisha Poetry X-Change are his poems: “Words” and “When the Revolution Spoke”.
Azino’s “Words” details his relationship with “word”. As a young boy, the poet discovered that words were his element. They were is toys. It was with “words” he expressed his feelings to his love:
I found joy rather in Words
I ponder, tasted, wrestled, cherished
Words truly words have been faithful to me when I found and desperately needed to express my love Words came to my rescue
Azino intones that the power of “words” goes beyond an individual. It can bring about world destruction when wielded by the wrong person:
Words wielded by dictators have made bombs drop guns pop and forced the ground to swallow innocent blood
Many wars have been caused by words. An example is the war between the Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda. Presently Nigeria is trying to curb incidences of “hate speeches” against the incumbent government. These speeches are used to sensitize the people of the fraudulent practices of the government and maybe in the process spark a revolution.
However just as “words” can wreak havoc, they can also foster peace: “Words/ spoken by saints and diplomats have/ caused warring parties to sheath their/ swords”. Azino advises thats we should use “words” to create “a better union between your spouse and/ you”. Not only that but also “use them rightly on your kids”, “let them convey respect to everyone you meet” etc.
Azino’s “When the Revolution Spoke” paints a degrading image of Nigeria. The poet’s tone is angry and bitter. The poet laments the unimaginable suffering the people go through:
Can somebody please tell me
Where to find opportunity!
Because he is hardly seen or
Recognized among the masses where I’m from
Where misery is sung
By the tongue of the old and the young
The poet punctuates his descriptions with a chorus which tells of the impact of the revolution:
Blind minds open
You can’t stop the word being spoken
When the revolution spoke
The comedians couldn’t joke even the rich felt broke
When the revolution spoke
They said it was treason
But couldn’t jail the rhyme without a reason
When the revolution spoke
One million youths marching
All in their path they’re smashing
Azino uses the metaphor “Blind” to refer to those who have turned a blind eye to the happenings and suffering in Nigeria. The metaphor also refers to those that have been brainwashed and do not know the truth. However when the revolution speaks, none can threaten or curtail it because, according to the poet, the youths are to march/move for this revolution. It is expected that nothing should be able to stop them. They are to destroy everything which stand in the path of their goal.
Sage Hasson is acclaimed as Nigeria’s premier spoken word poet. He has performed in over 400 events, both small and big, across the country. He has done about a 100 poems brand poems written specifically for certain products including MTN, Coca Cola, Harp, Satzenbrau, Gulder and Unilever.
Hasson’s “Televised Revolution” is spat out with so much anger that one can almost feel it. This poem is greatly influenced by Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution will not be Televised”. In Scott-Heron’s poem, the television is see as only a medium of entertainment, where nothing serious is ever seen. To him, the revolution will happen “live” and will not be turned into an object for entertainment. It is this image of “television” that Hasson kicks against in his poem. Hasson sees the television as an instrument for revolution. Just like in Rwanda, where hate speeches on radio were used to brainwash the citizenry into war, the poet feels that the television will help sensitizes the people about the revolution:
This revolution will be televised for their evolution needs to be revised
Because we are victims of a revelation that was contrived
Hasson accuses “the power that seems to be” of foul play.
He claims that the minds of men have been “lobotomised”, weakened and programmed by those who are against the revolution. They have become mere tools:
We have suffered as if by electrocution
That’s how our souls are being sensitized
The power that seems to be deem to only have our minds lobotomised
Automation by evolution’s proponents is the goal of this counter revolution and its pungent
These people are mere agents of an unknown civilization Hasson intones that the revolution begins now. There is need to free oneself from ego. “Fight the system that be” as they do not value human life. Although Hasson seeks a revolution, he preaches one without war and killing:
You are valued less than they value a tree
Screw your civility
What is civil about a war
That’s not a revolution
That’s your evolution of evil…
Why do you want to rise and kill
My revolution must be televised
My people must be sensitized
The reality should no longer be romanticised
The poet proclaims that anyone who fails to advocate revolution will be “Feeling guilty”. The feeling of failure lives with one forever, becoming a “monument”. Alas the poet wonders “And if it true that life’s best are/free/ Why is free so dear.”
Hasson’s “One” was written to inspire unity, focus and determination. Chukwu, Allah, Oluwa, Olodumari, Oghene, Obasi etc. are different names for God. Whether you live in Nigeria, United States of America, Russia etc. we all live in one world. Be you Black, White or mix, we are all human beings. Hasson affirms that people everywhere are alike, in our diversity, we are united:
All we need is one
One human race
Hasson uses the above lines to define the similarities that exist among people. He goes on to say that having more than one of these things is not necessary. The subject matter of this poem is to be focused on what is most important. One should not bother himself with multiple tasking but rather attend to one problem at a time.
In conclusion, Nigerian poets, whether on page, stage, or online, use their poems to agitate for a better Nigeria and Badilisha Poetry X-Change has created a space for the dissemination of the messages in the voices of these contemporary Nigerian poets. The poets featured on this platform are remarkable for their grasp of contemporary happenings. Their diction is accessible, apt and reflective of their awareness of socio-linguistic innovations. Their attempt to give voice to their musings and foist performance strategies on the poems make them attractive to a much wider audience. This tendency is bringing poetry to the sphere of popular culture unlike when poets did “not write for non-pets.”
• Omajuwa teaches at the Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State.
NOTE: “The Guardian Literary Series (GLS), which focuses on Nigerian Literature is published fortnightly. Essays of between 2500 and 5000 words should be sent to the series editor Sunny Awhefeada at email@example.com.” 08052759540.
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