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Contemporary impulse, Nigerian spoken word and the internet – Part 1

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X-CHANGE

That the advancement in technology has had a positive effect on literature and by extension poetry is not in doubt.

The digital revolution which manifests in the protean and plural uses to which the internet can be put attest to this.

The internet has become a site on which poetry thrives.

This is the case with the Badilisha Poetry X-Change.com.

Over 500 African poets can now be heard performing their works online with the aid of mobile phones on Badilisha Poetry X-Change.com.

Badilisha Poetry X-Change official site was launched in 2008 then re-launched in 2012 to include its mobile site.

It boasts of the largest online collection of African poets.

It is a non-profit platform dedicated to exploring contemporary Pan-African literary voices.

The choice of the name “Badilisha’, a Swahilli word meaning to “transform, change or exchange”, is to emphasize its quest for social change. Badilisha Poetry X-Change provides African poetry content to consumers worldwide.

Availing them of the opportunity to discover and independently get entertained and enlightened by this new generation of poets, through the internet.

The project came to life through the recognition of the lack of documentation of African poets, on the African continent and in Diaspora on the internet.

Linda Kaoma, Badillisha’s project manager, says that the project was inspired by the need to create a mobile site to reach a wider audience in Africa and beyond.

Badilisha Poetry X-Change was established to recognize and celebrate the diversity of languages, cultures and style of presenting poetry; grow audiences and their appreciation to diverse poetic forms; facilitate networking, dialogue and learning opportunities among African poets, African Diaspora poets and poetry lovers.

Badilisha Poetry X-Change has projected and given a platform to now internationally renowned poets, emerging poets and as well as apprentice versifiers.

Badilisha Poetry X-Change online platform has over 500 poets from over 28 countries, in 17 languages.

The site has a page on all its poets where you can find their bio-data, poetic texts and audio format of his/her poem(s).

The website features 32 Nigerian poets.

This essay examines nine Spoken Word poets of Nigerian descent with a view to explicating the thematic concerns of the poetry.

It is observed that these poets like other contemporary Nigerian poets have employed their poems as tools to social reconstruction and national re-awakening in order to reform a country and continent that have for long neglected the well being of their citizens.

The poems depict strong socio-political and economic awareness as they negotiate, declaim and clamour for a new social order.

The most significant of the poems on this platform is the liberation they enjoy since they are not help up on the pages of inaccessible books.

Their being on the internet makes them accessible to readers of poetry all over the world irrespective of age of vocation.

The poetry of the selected poets for this discourse are evaluated in the following paragraphs.

A.J Dagga Tolar is a Nigerian activist, a social crusader and publicity secretary of both Campaign for Democratic and Workers Right (CDWR) and Democratic Socialist Movement.

He is also a schoolteacher and an active member of Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT).

He has two poems published on Badilisha: “New Stones of Soweto” and “Commuted to Everlasting Silence”.

“New Stones of Soweto” re-echoes the experience of the Soweto uprising in apartheid South Africa.

The Soweto uprising was a series of demonstrations and protest carried out by black school children in South African that began in the morning of 16 June, 1976.

These protesting students were met with fierce police brutality and an estimated number of 700 students were killed.

During the protest march, the school protested in songs: ‘Soweto sowed songs’.

The line ‘So soon to stone’ implies the death of Dr. Melville Edelstein who devoted his life to social welfare among Blacks.

Sadly, he was stoned to death by the mob.

The Soweto uprising is credited to being a catalyst in the ending of apartheid in South Africa.

In this poem, Tolar mourns that South Africans have forgotten the sacrifices made by these students:

And the rest of freedom
Is an erected monument
Of remembrance
No more ranging of blood
The old songs of freedom
Are no longer audile
They have petered out of the heart…
The peoples freedom is now for sale “only for who can buy” to sponsor the birthday of “one man”.

In “Commuting to Everlasting Silence”, Tolar creates a vivid image of a people who have become zombies in order to secure themselves and live long.

They have been taught to be silent from birth: “for babies here are born into silence/nurtured with the milk of silence”.

Their being silent is not to ensure peace because their oppressors also destroy that:

For now and then
They puncture the very peace
They ordered into existence
With gun shots…

A country, “A cave that is claimed”, is abandoned by the “rest of the world” to face its lot.

The “vultures” kill as they desire in the name of “SOVEREIGNTY OF THE STATE/ “INDEPENDENCE OF ACTION”.

These people are oppressed so that they will not realize their right and the oppressors thrive in the silence of the oppressed:

We never come to understandOur unending long silence

Fatten their souls and flesh

Bassey Ikpi has featured in the National Touring Company of the Tony Award winning Broadway show, Russell Simmons’s Def. Poetry Jam. Her poem has opened shows by Grammy Award winning artists.

Badilisha features her poem “Sometime Silence is the Loudest Kind of Noise”.

Ikpi’s poetic craftsmanship is brought to the fore in this masterpiece.

She showcases her ability to deploy simple everyday images taking them beyond and above what they seem.

In the poem’s title, she juxtaposes “silence” and “loudest noise” to create a deep striking and contrasting effect.

The poem sprout image after image as Ikpi uses simple experiences from the past, experiences that are made up of the good, bad and the ugly, to portray a past.

The past was so uncomplicated that it was silent.

However, now that the past is in the past, the poet’s mind is consumed by its memories which become the “loudest noise”.

Chinedu Ifeozo is an Electronic Engineer who has always had an appreciation for arts.

He edits and a quarterly anthology titled Poetry for Charity that raises funds for various charities.

His poem “Homecoming” featured on Badilisha, describes the sight that meets the poet as he returns home after being away for studies.

The images of his home are neither beautiful nor alluring, but they are images of the places the poet loves and calls “home”.

The poem opens as the poet’s plane is about to land.

He gets his first view, from the sky, of a land he has left for many years “the crowded streets /and polluted skies…the chaos of the city…”

At the arrival hall the air is so hot “sweat beads start to appear” but he doesn’t mind as he is eager to get home “I swear there’s a conspiracy, / because my little box seems like/ it would never appear”.

The poet-persona observes that life has not changed much since he left.

People are still struggling for the basic necessities of life: “the generators have already/ begun their daily shift…” Lack of constant power supply is one of the major bane of Nigeria.

Government after government have fail to tackle this crisis successfully.

The next is the image of unemployment and high cost of living:

The lady frying akara is working
hard with a smile, once there’s
life there’s hope, there’s no denial

The baby on her back wont stop
crying, not sharing the mother’s
desire to keep struggling

The above is a common image in Nigeria.

A woman takes up menial jobs in order to support her family and in the worst case scenario, she takes her children along and exposes them to harm because she cannot afford their school/crèche fees.

The images visualized by the poet is a universal one as it is found in every state in Nigeria.

However, whether good or bad, the poet shares a deep bond with his “land.

A bond which he hopes we will also form with our land, Nigeria:

This is where I was born, and
where I always return.
This is where I was born, and
where I ‘d always return.

However, ones love for the land is not enough, as “this land is full of scars: don’t be/ deceived by the luxurious cars.”

The poet desires to transform his land to a better place:

It’s a tough decision to make; the
difficulties may be hard to take.
But you have to look through the
clouds; the struggle comes with
good rewards.

Dami Ajayi’s Clinical Blues was shortlisted for the 2012 Melite Hume Prize and 2015 ANA Poetry prize.

His poems have appeared in several reputable journals in Africa, Europe and America.

He is a medical doctor. His poems featured on Badilisha are “Romasinder Blues” and “Konji Blues II”.

The diction of “Romasinder Blue” is heavily influenced by the poet’s medical background.

Ajayi employs medical images and terms to convey his message in this poem.

“Romasinder Blues” reverses the doctor-patient roles.

The poet portrays what goes on in the minds of his schizophrenic patients.

In this poem, the doctors are “mere gate-keepers”.

The patients are ignorantly happy about their condition, believing they are better off compared to the sane man:

But who will but reality wool?
When silken fantasies cast silver
Spangles on man’s
Consciousness.

The “schizophrenic poet” will rather let his mind play tricks on him than take his treatment which comes in the form of “Haloperidol”, a typical antipsychotic medication.

Let my mind play tricks
On me make my wishes
flagellate……Anything but
Haloperidol
For this schizophrenic poet

Ajayi’s schizophrenic patient mentality can be likened to the Nigerian situation where Nigeria is sick but does not know it. Even when offered solution Nigerians reject it preferring to dwell in corruption.

Ajayi’s “Konji Blues” must definitely have been inspired by a sex scene between two teenagers.

The words are so vivid, concrete and erotic, there is no mistaking the direction of this poem.

The poem describes the love scene between two individuals who are lost in the moment and pleasure of love making. Here the experience is so intense that nothing else matters:

Bodies glued with passion
As sweat wriggled down flesh
With serpentine recklessness

The word “serpentine” in the above lines alludes to the Bible story of the serpent and the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

This implies that the “passion” which they feel is forbidden.

Ajayi takes the passionate experience a notch further by describing it as an out-of –body experience:

We saw it going (*orgasm)
Dregs of formality
Strolling of bodies like
Souls…

The sort of explosive passion can never leave one in regrets. In the words of Dami Ajayi: “I’m sorry/ But I have no regrets”.

Dolapo Ogunwale is known for incorporating music and dance into her spoken word delivery.

Her poetry which is mostly inspired by her experiences is her tool for world change.

Ogunwale’s simple but loaded diction is one of her major strengths as a poet.

Her choice of words makes her poems music-like, adding fluidity to her work.

In “The Future”, Ogunwale writes that the future is bright and wonderful but for only those who work for it. “The future” is what one make of it:

The future is a collection
A living art formed
By our living out forms
Of thought s in our minds.

This desirous “future” ironically does begin in the future but now. This is the immediate message Ogunwale conveys.

In order to affect the future, one has to begin today to make the desired changes.

This is what Ogunwale means by “The future is right now/ every movement/ Every moment”. And for each decision made “Adds a reward to reap or a sin to/ repent from”.

When one does nothing then that opportunity is gone “Each moment is gone/ One by one outdone”.

In this poem is a vow the poet makes, an emotional vow which is also targeted at her audience to propel them into action.

The future is a sculpture sculpted
Not by choice but by compulsion
I signed up for this by being born and
I will fulfill it, mature every talent
That comes with Spirit
Do the good for which I was meant!

To seek a better future should be a universal goal. Being born is the only criteria you need to meet in order to fight for your future.

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”.

• Omajuwa teaches at the Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State.


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