Tuesday, 17 March 2009

WordSlam 3: Poetic flights by the lagoon

A NEW experience in poetry presentation is manifesting in the ‘Wordslam series’ initiated by the Culture Advocates Caucus (CAC). It is a distinctive form of performance art that in principle unites the various literary and popular forms of art; and if sustained may take the arts, culture and entertainment to another level of artistic experience.
Just as jazz, R&B, hip hop and other black musical idioms and forms entered mainstream culture earlier in the century, ‘Wordslam’ characterised by intense musical performance blended with spoken word and poetry, fashioned in beats, chants, raps and dance, has emerged as one of the most distinctive performance art since it was born in July 2008.
Supported by Goethe Institut Nigeria, Culture Advocates Caucus (CAC) has scored a first for bringing poetry, the western variant of it into a marriage with traditional and literary forms of esa, ewi, chant, ijala and their equivalent in other cultures or ethnic tongues — live on the theatrical stage.
This much was seen on Saturday, February 21 at the Goethe Insitut, Lagoon front garden in Victoria Island, where the third edition of the show held.
The third reincarnation of the programme confirms the fact that this new genre of literary expression has come to stay.
It also further cements the fact that the regular acts in the previous WordSlam were no flukes after all; as they laced the evening with new performances that went late into the night. An amazing thing that comes with every of the ‘wordslam’ outing is the emergence of new voices who must have been waiting eagerly to be heard. This affirms the ‘fears’ that this new genre has long harboured oasis of unheard talents waiting to be discovered and harnessed and pushed into the public arena.

RAP music itself, from which the poetry performances of WordSlam series has found a voice emerged as one of the most distinctive and controversial music genres of the past decade. A significant part of hip hop culture, rap articulates the experiences and conditions of African-Americans living in a spectrum of marginalised situations ranging from racial stereotyping and stigmatizing to struggle for survival in violent ghetto conditions.
In this cultural context, rap provides a voice to the voiceless, a form of protest to the oppressed, and a mode of alternative cultural style and identity to the marginalised. Rap is thus not only music to dance and party to, but a potent form of cultural identity. It has become a powerful vehicle for cultural political expression, serving as the “CNN of black people”. It is an informational medium to tune to, one that describes the rage of African-Americans facing growing oppression, declining opportunities for advancement, changing moods on the streets, and everyday life as a matter of sheer survival.
In turn, it has become a cultural virus, circulating its images, sounds, and attitude throughout the culture and body politic.
Rap artists such as 50 Cents, Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Ice-T, N.W.A., Ice Cube, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Queen Latifah, Wu Tang Clan, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tupac Shakur, the Fugees, and countless others, produced a new musical genre that uniquely articulated the rage of the urban underclass and its sense of intense oppression and defiant rebellion. Moreover, rap is part of a vibrant hip hop culture that itself has become a dominant style and ethos throughout the world today.
In Nigeria, emergent acts used the Spoken Word to convey deeper realities of our lives. Dagga Tolar, Ras Banjo, Awoko, Simon Eyannam Dose aka de Cornerstone, Sage Has.son, Edaoto, Ayodeji Akinpelu, Segun Eluyemi, Iquo Eke, Uche Uwadinachi, Jumoke Verissimo and others solidify their places as the emerging voices of this new genre.
Ensconced in a complex society where poverty and corruption stagnate a potentially great nation, “where the general wahala of life” reduces life to a daily burden, the spoken word through the series now provide a platform for addressing these societal ills that have kept Nigeria in the doldrums.
But the beauty of WordSlam is also its ability to deal with themes such as love and the beauty of human existence.

THE third edition, which was compered by the international music export of Nigerian-German origin, Ade Bantu, got on to feverish start with short poetry performances from young poets with chants from Tunrayo and Seun Idowu on the talking drum.
Francesca’s poetry Do you know My Mother reinforces the importance of the female gender and motherhood while Uche Uwadinachi’s My Ebony Goddess also spoke of the inherent beauty of a woman. Ayodeji Akinpelu ‘the youngman with a mature message’ showed he is an emerging master of rap and the art of the spoken word.
He got the audience to its feet. Segun Eluyemi the youngman with the “magic nose” with which he dishes out melodies has perfected this act. Using his nose, he produces sweet melodies with the flute and the hand held accordion. He is certainly a star to watch out for in the coming years. One of the highpoints of the evening was the poems of Iquo Diana Abasi Eke. Iquo, a performance poet and writer, rendered her words to the accompaniment of instruments such as traditional drums, flute and string.
Iquo’s love poems such as Earth Wind and Fire and I am excited the audience.

THE Open Mind & Mic session featured aspiring poets such as Ehigie Oghomwen, Cyril Omamogho, Kinsley Ejeabasile, Brainstorm, Chineye Ifeduba etc. They all performed different themes of poetry to the delight of the audience.
The Crown Troupe of Africa led by the energetic Segun Adefila added colour to the event with the performance of Monkey dey Work, Baboon Dey Chop.
The climax of the evening were the performances of the veterans of ‘Wordslam series’ — Awoko, Daggar Tolar, Edaoto, Cornerstone and Sage Has. son. Sage has particularly proved that indeed the Spoken Word can rouse its listeners to a world beyond their imagination. It can inspire and transform the audience to a new world of possibilities.
A short on-stage performance by Ade Bantu added a lot of colour to the event and proved once again why he has been very successful on the world stage.
The night also featured Lari Williams. Indeed, Williams on stage at the WordSlam was a bridge between the old and the new. In the days preceding the event, Williams and Bantu had had a two-day workshop with groups of established and upcoming poets and performers, many of whom were on stage that Saturday. The two-day workshop to further explore the sustainability of WordSlam that took place at Studio 868. The Culture Caucus Advocates has also confirmed that WordSlam will soon be taken to schools across Nigeria to groom young talents in the art of life poetry performances.
The beautiful Saturday evening glowed with the back up music provided by Naijazz 08, a young group that combines indigenous sounds with western jazz. The founders Tunde Alaka, Joseph Babalola and Oyin Ogungbade Samuel, and accompanied by other artists made the night memorable for the audience.
The success of WordSlam 3 underscores the fact that this new genre has come to stay. It also consolidated the gain of the past two editions and impresses it on the public that poetry can indeed leap out of the cold pages of the print.
As evening wore on and the rhythm of the Spoken Word from poets reached a feverish point, the audience and poetry lovers are already looking forward to the next edition of WordSlam.

Olupohunda, afreelance writer,
lives in Lagos.

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