Saturday, September 27, 2008

Word Slam 2: Poetic journey under the Samarkand Tree

By Bayo Olupohunda
*Culled from The Guardian Friday Sept 26. 2008

THE biblical, cultural and historical significance of the Spoken Word as captured by legendary sayings such as this Yoruba proverb oro la fi da ile aye (the world was created through the spoken word) was re-enacted recently by the poetic journeys of the Word Slam series from the stable of the Culture Advocates Caucus and Goethe Institut Lagos. The success story of the maiden edition of Word Slam which began on that rainy day in July continued penultimate Saturday under the Samarkand tree at the National Theatre Lagos.
From the scenic beauty of the Lagos Lagoon which provided the background for the court yard of Goethe Institut Victoria Island where the first edition was held in July, lovers of contemporary live poetry blended in beats, dance, music and live performances moved to the nature gardens of the National Theatre under the Samarkand tree. Where else could be more appropriate than under the poetic ambience of the Samarkand tree?

Legend has it that the tree derived its name from the antics of the then (Ogbanje or is it Abiku) NEPA now resurrected as PHCN which seized light in one of the rooms at the National Theatre, when Professor Wole Soyinka was reading from his collection of poems “Samarkand and other Markets I have Seen” prompting him to relocate his reading under the tree where the audience joined him.
The maiden edition of the World Slam series redefined the well-worn perspective of poetry as tortuous and long winding words strung together and meant to be read to an equally sleepy audience. This second edition of the programme featured a new set of prominent, as well as up-coming poets, who performed their poems with themes that addressed issues, such as survival, politics, religion, city hassles, hustles and bubbles, love and hatred and the general “wahala” of life.
Any one in the audience who did not witness the first edition was in for a surprise. Word Slam 2 was bigger and better. Poetic flights and dance with live beats in the background, energetic stage performance, music and instrumental without losing the contextual and thematic concerns of traditional poetry took the audience on journey of poetic fantasy. Artist dealt with a range of themes in contemporary Africa social, cultural and political milieu. Word Slam 2 also concretized the vision of the organizer which was to bring poetry to life in the tradition made popular by the ancient Yoruba Alarinjo Theatre, West African griots and the troubadours of the Middle Ages’ Europe.

Artists on the bill at the event took the audience on a poetic journey and had them glued to their seats as they savoured the beauty of the spoken word. Audience includes culture enthusiast, members of the diplomatic corps and poetry lovers. The collaboration between the Goethe Institut and Culture Advocates Caucus continued to break new grounds in redefining the expression of poetry as a creative art.
The beauty of Word Slam 2 was in the surprises and flexibility in the choice of themes for the day. The event kept the audience glued to their seats because they could not predict what would come next. Ropo Ewenla, the compere and Organizing Secretary, Ife Festival of Poetry added a lot of anecdotes, spiced with Ijala chants and occasional burst of songs rooted in his rich Yoruba tradition. From the intensely cultural voice of Seun Beckley and her group came a new voice in chants rich in African Folklore and spiritual tunes. She uplifted the audience and reawakened the need to go back to the roots.
Then the pleasantly strange but tuneful theatrics of Segun Eluyemi, a multi instrumentalist with an incredible ability to make sound out of the most improbable places in his body. One of the highlights of his performance was when he blew the hand held piano and accordion with the nose. The themes addressed by the poets at Word Slam 2 captured our very existence as a country grappling to redefine our existence in the comity of nations. Why is our country stagnating in spite of the enormous resources at our disposal?
Why is African a laughing stock and one of the most backward continents in the world always depending on handouts called aids? Poets like Ayodeji Akinpelu used his performance to remind the audience that our policy makers need to think for tomorrow rather than live for now while future generations suffer from their painlessness. He asks the audience” are they better than us? To which the audience replied in the affirmative. Ayodeji posits that the advanced countries where some Nigerians run to are not better but are lucky to be governed by forward thinking leaders.
He however left the audience in hopeful note. The hustle and bustle of our land formed the crux of the reggae beats of the emerging artist Cornerstone who through his music asked Africans for a cultural rebirth. The old reliable at the Word Slam maiden edition did not only put up performances that drew standing ovation from the audience, they further confirmed that they have come to stamp their feet on the poetic landscape which the Culture Advocates Caucus through the Word Slam events represent.
With the beats, chants, poetry and commanding performances from established poets like Awoko a multiple instrumentalist and utility performer, he is certainly a small compact explosion waiting to happen. Cornerstone, a distinct word artist and one of the emerging few possibilities of the new age of reggae music, Edaoto a distinctively unique artiste with his equally distinguished musical composition and arrangement, Dagga Tollar, a cool and unassuming revolutionary poet , and the poetic raps of Sage Has. Son is one of the most engaging interpreters of the confounding realities of these times.

They all presented a distinctive individual style and also expose the vast array of talents that abound in the poetry performance genre in our country today. Awoko’s energetic display showed that he is a master of the spoken word and so were others who lightened up the evening with poems and scintillating performances. Biodun Batik electrified the audience with Afro beats anytime he takes the band stand.
For example how could one have known that talents abounds in this genre but for the flexibility of the organizers of this programme who introduced the open Mic and Mind Session that threw up the sensual and beautiful voice of Aye-Ola Mabiaku, a multiple poetry performance winner? The performances of the sensual Aye-Ola Mabiaku, Uche Nwadinachi and Ras Banjo, Wale Laoye were some of the highpoints of Word Slam 2.
The burst of energy from the subtle revolutionary performance of Ayodeji Akinpelu, who was also one of the stars of the Open Mic and Mind session maiden edition in July, who is the described as young voice with a mature message lit the place up and sent the audience for their thinking cap.

The youthful but sensual Aye-Ola Mabiaku, who is the younger sister of Dede Mabiaku, particularly caused some stir among the men folk. She was enchanting. Her stage performance was magical as she elevated poetry into an art, with the soft beats in the background. She was alluring and beautiful as she dazzled the audience with a blend of romance poetry which one of the audiences called “Anatomy of a Woman”.
As a medium of cultural, social, political and national discourse, poetry is a medium of communication that had hitherto spoken only to the learned and the schooled. Sometimes long and boring. The culture advocates Caucus has redefined the old school poems read in classroom or to a listening, boorish audience to a more lively, open and gay atmosphere with beats and a blend of dance and music.
They have so to speak brought poetry to the “market place” of our daily lives. And because there is an element of poetry in our personal and national lives, the Word Slam series has indeed brought poetry to the public domain to be appreciated by all. For every day our lives is a mixture poetic beats that derives from our very existence. It is in this mode that the poems of the day spoke of the struggles of our lives and our inadequacies as a nation.
The show also featured the drum poet of Wale Laoye, the scion of the legendary traditional drummer, the late Oba Laoye, Timi of Ede who created the BBC tune of the sixties. The Open Mic and Mind session feature poets like Ajankoro from Ife who also used the Yoruba Language to deepen the poetic element of pun. The evening of poems was also enriched by the acts of Wale Laoye, Segun Ola, and Lanre Ari-Ajia who brought life into an already excited audience.
Footprints, a group of young dancers curated by Segun Adefila of the Crown Troupe added colours to the event. The maverick Dede Mabiaku, the Fela Anikulapo Protégé sang one of Fela’s old songs. As a feast of poetic chants and performance, Word Slam 2 did not disappoint and one cannot remember when last the Samarkand tree witnessed a rebirth of what gave the tree its name in the first place.
As Word Slam 2 got under way and the poetic performances reached a feverish point, my attention was caught by the swaying branches of the Samarkand tree which moved in gentle rhythm as it swayed in the evening breeze. For a moment, the swaying was in tune to the rhythm of the poetic beats and chants below. So just like the humans gathered under it, the historical tree seemed captivated by the performances of the young poets in performance under its relaxing presence. These young poets are fast becoming the face and future of an emerging genre of the spoken word. And for the Word Slam series and Culture Advocates Caucus, the organizers of the event, the poetic beat goes on.


Culled from GuardianLIFE 21/9/08

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A flight into the world of poetry

(Culled from The Nation 17/9/2008)

*Sage Has.Son

Poetry and music are two of a kind; it seems there is an invisible knot tying them together. It was in the spirit of creativity that poets thundered their poetic essence last Saturday, under the Samarkand Tree at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. People from all walks came to listen to the poets’ rhymes at the second edition of WordSlam tagged: A feast of poetic flights. Evelyn Osagie reports.

Under the Samarkand Tree at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, Mainland, was where the bards and poetesses met, dined and wined with "Mother Nature" and "Father Creativity".

It was at the WordSlam II, which turned out to be a poetic feast, garnished with rhythm, rhymes and chants. The word truly came alive as the poets took turns to render their lines.

* AJ Dagga Tolar
The National Theatre, Lagos never had it so good. The audience left there soaked and deeply immersed in the creative muse. Folks from all walks of life turned out in their numbers to celebrate poetry.

In the first edition at the German Cultural Centre on Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, the audience was thrilled to rounds of poetry renditions by frontline poets, such as Odia Ofiemum, and young ones who kept them glued to their seats. The latest edition was quite refreshing; staying out with nature seemed to do the audience a lot of good. Not minding the flight of time, they allowed themselves to be taken on a poetic spree.

* Cornerstone

Poetry is as old as man; what keeps changing is its mode of performance. Little wonder the organisers said of their initiative that they were merely experimenting with the newness in the mode of performance of the genre, and not with the creative impulse.

They, however, warned: "One of the errors to make in the case of engaging poetry on the African continent and in pre-literate cultures is to assume that it is read."

* Awoko

With WordSlam II, they believe that they are again on the terrain of their forebears; this is a journey back to the beginning of poetry; and that is why, once more, they brought together some of the best chanters of the spoken word whose performances were backed by exotic tunes played by Biodun and Batik Band who played their hearts out.

But they are not alone in such experiment for an age of poetry is born - the rise of the era of poetic monologues. Various poetry slams have begun to take-off across the country, from one geo-political zone to another; and the genre is beginning to enjoy the recognition it deserves. One of such is the popular Abuja Slam which is an annual poetry feast where the lords and ladies of poetry meet and challenge one another on a poetry arena. With events, such as this, the new found prominence and attention the genre has stated to receive will be sustained. Fresh talents would be discovered and encouraged until it becomes a way of life.

*Dede Mabiaku and the Batik Band

* Dede and Aiyeola Mabiaku with the compere Ropo Ewenla

It appears that this new mode of performing poetry is wading its way through the entertainment industry. And it is likely to continue until it becomes a brand.

On parade at event were five of those who featured at the first edition – Marxist disciple Dagga Tolar; Awoko, the oral performer who combines the beats of gongo with his renditions; Cornerstone, the fabric designer-turned poet and musician; Edaoto, the Afrobeat musician and actor and Sage Hasson who would do well as a rap artiste.

New poets found their way on the poetic runway. They included the young voice with a mature message, Ayodeji Akinpelu; Lanre Ari-Ajia, the poet in the mode of traditional pun masters; Aye-Ola Mabiaku, sister of the Afrobeat eccentric Dede Mabiaku who was also at the event to watch his sister perform; Segun Eluyemi, the multi-instrumentalist with an incredible ability to make sound out of the most improbable objects; Ajankoro, lord of traditional Yoruba play-on-words-style; Prince Wale Laoye from the ancient town of Ede; Uche Nwadinachi who makes one think he has seen the first real performance from the West African region, particularly, Benin Republic; Segun Ola and Seun Beckely, among others.

* The Priest of the proceeding Ropo Ewenla with members of FootPrints who were also in attendance
There pieces centred on themes, such as life, death, history, love, pain, success disillusionment and so on.

Each bard had his unique style and mode of rendition. Some from Yoruba blended their oral traditional poetry, like Ewi, Isorokewi, Iforodara (pun) and the likes, with modern style of renditions. Some maintained the modern genre though with various styles of rendition while others, such as Sage went a step by having a fusion of rhythm and poetry. They spoke poetry in various languages but were united by the genre.

Whichever medium of rendition, the power with which they read their poems and highlighted their themes aroused various emotions in the audience, who were carried along in the Flight of Poetry to the land of inspiration. The themes treated by each varied from life, death, love, hate, pessimism, optimism, history, religion, erotic, romantic, as well as current themes in our national polity. Like drama, each session was engaging as most of the poetic renditions were interactive, involving the audience.

* Wale Laoye and the drum poetry

The audience was flooded with highly elevated language. Among the poets that performed, Aye-Ola’s performance was striking.

With the likes of Aye-Ola, women now have a voice to speak out on their behalf through a more refined medium – poetry.

* Aiyeola
Some members of the audience said her rendition scared them; others said it was exotic. Whatever emotion that she stirred, on stage, she carried on with passion and became a voice for the women folk. Each of her renditions bordered on women as the subject matter: her strength, weakness, joy and pain. I don’t wish to be a man, Passion of the mind and When a mad man died were some of the poems she performed.

"My genre of poetry is the ancient kind. In English, it is called pun," said Ajankoro who played with words in Yoruba. He treated the audience with a session of Iforodara.

His major rendition warned people that while enjoying the things of the world, they should not forget living a life of purity and intergrity. Ema je doo gbagbe ododo and Jabata Labata were the two Yoruba poems he presented.

The poets were not the only ones that entertained. Dede Mabiaku played one of Baba‘s songs entitled Wahala which was an interactive session; the audience was compelled to sing along.

For everyone present, it was an opportunity to join in the Felabration which is already in the air as the world remembers the late Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

* Uche Nwadinashi

Footprints, a group of upcoming and young poets, also performed at the event.

The slam has ended but the memories lingers. Those who graced the occasion left with high expectation for what the next edition would bring and which poets would feature.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let Word Mend Our World!

Word like an egg
Roll down the mouths
Of some satirical sages
From edge to edge
Under the sacred,
Aged tree, christened: The Samarkaned
At the heart of National Theatre.

Just like the ancient ways of Africans. At night, children will gather themselves under a tree at twilight to listen to folk-stories from a traditional storyteller. And No story will be told without a sequential lyrics of poetry having chorus and stanzas. The children, who are the audience, will sing along with the storyteller - who sometimes is backed-up with an orchestra.

But today, this tradition is almost not in existence, even in the villages where we should still have some raw substance of our culture and tradition. And the is the reason why the Culture Advocates Caucus(CAC) and Goethe-Institut come together to revive this interest tradition of the African people with a modern view. Behold, WordSlam was birthed!

No one dare cage the word-
Spoken must be the word
That must mend the World...

At the beginning of the this movement, sometime in July of the year (July 5,2008), Culture Advocates Caucus with her partner - Goethe-Institut, promised to take the event tagged: WordSlam...a feast of poetic flights, to the street by making it a quarterly event. Then, the maiden edition which paraded poets like Akeem Lasisi, Iquo Eke, Edaoto, Juke Verissimo, Sage Has.son, Cornerstone, Muri Amulegboja, Awoko and Dagga Tolar was held within the premises of Goethe-Institut -the German Cultural Centre on the Island. Even though the rains threatened to displaced the staunch audience from their seats, the sonority of the poets' intonations wedded with succulent sounds booming from the ensemble percussions, glued them to their seats minding whether their clothes get wet or not. The first edition of WordSlam was an amazing success.

Word they slammed
Sagely on the Island-
Now on the Mainland
With word sages mend the World!

Saturday - September 13, 2008, fulfilled the promise of the Culture Advocates Caucus and Goethe-Institut by putting poetry back on the streets of Nigeria and Africa in general. The second edition of WordSlam which exhibited five artistes from the maiden edition also introduced six artistes selected from the Open Mind and Mic session of the past edition. These artistes include: Sage has.son, Edaoto, Dagga Tolar, Cornerstone, Awoko and Ayodeji Akinpelu, Aye-ola Mabiaku, Uche Nwadinachi, Lanre Ari-ajia, Segun Eluyemi.

Let the poet speak
Sincerity of his mind
With succulent word...
Let the musician sing
His freedom song
In accordant with the rhythm...
O, let the hunter chant
Not with witty words
The ills of this village...

Actually, there is will of choice of theme for this event since its inception, but this edition of the event had two prominent themes which are Corruption and Love. While some poets wouldn't drop anchor without letting the government realize that if care is not taken war-revolution will be the last resolution to this climax of shameful-drama of theirs being stage at every Local government, State and the FCT of the country - Nigeria. Ayodeji Akinpelu led this dialogue with his poem which discussed every ill of the country current statoscope. Sage Has.son, who would later perform a poem on love, also raged his distaste for the present economy and political stand. Dagga Tolar, the Ajegunle human right activist and Cornerstone, who is equally an activist and Edaoto continued this journey of emancipation and total freedom with their poetry and songs.

Swinging of waist
Twinkle the eyes...
Dangling of breast
Tingle the heart...

As it's certain that we can't cry all the time, some poets at the wordslam 2 dazzled the audience their erotic poetry, not minding the fact that the Muslims amids the audience are fasting. Aye-ola Mabiaku, the younger sister of Dele Mabiaku, who was forced to perform at the event by the orgernisers led this second phase of the thematic preoccupation initiated by the poets themselves. Fasting apart, if you're not mature at heart, you may have running stomach by listening to these poets. Is it the "behind" poem of Sage Has.son you can resist or the body gesticulation of Aye-ola in accordance with each line of her poem or Awoko who picked a light-skin lady from the audience to be able to do justice to his love poetry rendered in Yoruba language...these poets are irresistible.

It was fun all through. Every member of the audience did enjoyed themselves. Bunmi Oyinsan, Toyin Akiosho, Toni Kan, Austin Njoku, Segun Adefila are some of the celebrities that grace the event.