Sunday, October 2, 2011

WordSlam... explosion of live poetry in Lagos

It was by every measure a weekend the power of the spoken word took centre-stage and audience that had gathered savoured every bit of it.

But by far, the most humbling was when playwright, actor, singer and culture journalist and advocate, Ben Tomoloju, stepped up to the microphone and took the audience into the intricate resources of the rich Yoruba oral literary performances laced by his musical compositions. It all happened at Freedom Park, Lagos Island last Saturday. The theme was: Homage to the Environment

Although it had been long he performed in public, Tomoloju left no one in doubt that he is indeed a master of the performance craft. Also pairing affably with another exceptional performer, Yemi Oyewo, Tomoloju showed that he is in a class of his own both in verbal dexterity and musical gift.

For the benefit of the mixed audience, including both non-Yoruba speakers and foreigners, Tomoloju caused Oyewo to do an encore of an Ijala or hunter’s chant while he interpreted. His seamless interpretation while Oyewo chanted was a real fascination and could only have come from a master craftsman like Tomoloju.

Indeed, as Honoured Guest Poet at WordSlam V, the poetry, spoken word, rap and music event put together by Culture Advocates Caucus (CAC) with the support of the German culture centre, Goethe Institut, Tomoloju showed he is a deeply experienced and skilled performer. Digging deeply into his Ilaje-Ese Odo oral roots, his versatility took his audience to the heights of oral performance and he capped it up with a musical rendition with reggae accompaniment from the Naijazz band led by Oyin Ogungbade.

At the end of his act, a standing ovation greeted the rare performance from a multi-talented artiste. Indeed, many young artistes wondered how lucky they were to have been part of the spoken word mini-festival. Younger ones would certainly take a cue from the master craftsman and learn a trick or two to better their craft.

While Tomoloju’s performance clearly turned out the climax of a glorious evening, other younger performers showed promise as usual as those certainly coming into the ripeness of time in poetic and performance art. Culture journalist and actress, Evelyn Osagie also took a cue from her Edo, Benin roots, to give the audience something to chew about in her piece, Nature’s Song. A love poem to Mother Nature, it calls attention to the environment and how positive action needs to be taken to preserve nature from the harmful practices of man that degrade it.

On another level and taking the earth goddess as her guide, Osagie raked up her Edo cultural riches in her soul-lifting verbal narration of the maternal relation between the earth goddess and her children, man; and how she is the mentor of lovers, who need her guidance to succeed, especially as Osamudiamwen was to find in his love quest for his heartthrob.

Not least to thrill the audience was revolutionary reggae artist, Cornerstone (Simon Eyanam Dose). With Rope of Freedom, Cornerstone showed what a musical force his soul-stirring voice could be. Indeed, it would seem that Cornerstone has remained on the fringe for far too long. With a little help, perhaps, Cornerstone could well be the next reggae revolution the world would see. His lyrics is steeped in revolutionary idioms as he speaks with such force that could shake an inert, docile citizenry like Nigeria’s into some form of positive action so the commonwealth could be redeemed from its current socio-political malaise.

Another culture journalist, Chuka Nnabuife, drew attention to the environmental degradation ravaging the South-Eastern parts of the country. Taking a little excerpt from his on-going project, Mbize… Landslide Down the Eastern, Nnabuife is insistent that the time to act is now to avoid a catastrophe waiting to happen, and that it would be easier to stem it now than respond to it later.

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