When battle of the sexes raged on stage
By Anote Ajeluorou
FOR a poetry concert, the Lagos International Poetry Festival 2021 may have scored a huge first in the annals of poetry concert-going events in Nigeria. Terra Kulture Theatre Arena, Victoria Island, Lagos, was uncharastically packed full for a fee-paying poetry concert. Culture promoter, advocate and veteran journalist, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, put it down to a fine marketing strategy by the Efe Paul Azino’s LIPFest-organising team and aptly commended the spoken word poet for pulling off such remarkable feat in taking poetry to the mostly young, poetry-swooning audience.
Although many had expressed disappointment that the guest speaker and African-American poet, Prof. Yesuf Komunyaakaa, could not deliver his lecture anchored on the festival theme ‘Ancestral Imaginings’ for some personal emergency and also Prof. Femi Osofisan for not leading the advertised poetry workshop, the festival lived up to its yearly billing as a fine global poetry feast offering the best of spoken word artists from a wide spectrum of the poetic aisle.
When the concert proper started, it turned out mostly a playground for settling ancient man-woman love battle that the mostly young poets met, have tasted of its bitter-sweet brew and will also leave behind for their children to inherit. From Bunmi Africa to Loveth Liberty and from Fragile Dogubo to Wayne Samuel, it was Love Battle Royale, with Samuel being the only young man to respond to the petite women’s charges of men’s rascality as wayward lovers not worth the time and efforts of love wasted on them. Wayne Samuel responded in equal vehemence and spite if a bit prosaic and long-winding piece.
Bunmi Africa repeated her mother’s advice that “a woman doesn’t need a degree to mix spices” in the kitchen, as appropriate qualification for her preparedness for marriage, a rather myopic view of what a woman can offer as skill set to be considered marriage material fit for a husband. Dogubo waxed lyrical in the fury of a woman in love with the wrong man and for whom love has gone awry. However, Liberty is somewhat conciliatory in her own love-sore moment as she offers to take back his wayward lover who chose to leave her, appealing to him instead, “If you be dead (by leaving me), babe Lazarus come forth, I’m Jesus!” who is able to resurrect a love knocked dead by whatever factors or forces.
Oloyede Michael showed that he is a proper Lagos poet. His ‘Lagos is killing me’ piece sums up all the woes Lagosians undergo in their daily grind to make a living in the famous city by the lagoon.
It was not clear why these young poets performed pieces that deviated so much from the ‘Ancestral Imaginings’ theme or why the organisers allowed it. Was it that there was no prior auditioning or perhaps it was for the sake of variety? Whatever it was, perhaps they should have been the last acts.
But Paul Word and Lardo Adekunbi rescued the audience from the sexes’ ‘blood splattered love battles,’ as they brought it back to the ancestral imaginings theme, with their poetry that speaks to the roots of their being and what it means to have an anchoring on umbilical cords that reach deep to the very beginning of time and things.
In Paul Word the audience got a measure of ancestral imaginings the most as he pelted it with his native Igbo lyrical poetry about everything that was and still capable of being in his ‘Family falling’ and the famous ‘Igbo Landing’ where some 75 captured Igbo natives who were said to have collectively walked into ‘ancestry’ on the shores of America to protest their being uprooted from their ancestral roots for the purpose of enslavement on a foreign soil.
Adekunbi’s ‘Mother’ is a reimagining of binds a of girl child to her mother with whom, as first daughter, things may not always be cordial and rosy. How does this thin feminine bond laces with feuds come into being and what measure of sacrifice is need for truce to be brokered? What is the place of the dear daughter in the lineage and how to further cement it pepper Adekunbi’s poetic musings that touched the audience in a raw sort of way.
Femi Leye provided the music interlude before Nana Asaase (King of the Earth) from Ghana took the stage. His poetry also has a dose of ancestral imaginings as it is rooted in his native Ewe traditions, of a native son out in the wide world to find his place among his peers. And he says, “Africa’s dreams are pregnant/waiting to be delivered’ by Africa’s sons like him who combine native wisdom with a cosmopolitan flair. He capped his performance with a piece dedicated to ‘Adaeze’, a tribute to Nigeria’s female beauties who have perhaps captured his imagination. This was even as event compere and poet Sage Hassan had mused that two ladies might want to volunteer to accompany Nana back to his native Ghana after seeing him perform…
Political-Poet or Poet of Politics, as he is wont to be called on account of his politically conscious poetry, Dike Chukwumerije, was well in his elements although he wasn’t allowed time enough to pelt the audience some more with his usual political poems. Perhaps, in the mood of the young poets before him for whom love was the chief concern, Chukwumerije started with a piece on Valentine Love where as a student poet who was mocked for his foray into the ‘poverty of poetry’, his mates would still turn around to seek him out for some poetic lines just to woo girls they were too awestruck to approach on their own, for which he argued, quite aptly too that “Love makes us all poets”.
His second piece ‘Fix the Politics’ leaves everyone to the truism of his poetic imagination. And as reverted lyrical poet Niyi Osundare would postulate as he see his country floundering, “Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all other things shall be added unto you!”, Chukwumerije lays out the totalising power of politics in the salvation or damnation of the land and simply enjoins everyone to take active part in it, as he puts it, a broken road or hospital does not understand if an Ijaw or Tiv, Hausa, or Nupe, Yoruba man/woman is being crushed to death or no drug to cure their ailment. It’s only politics and a practicing politician that can swallow an entire works or health ministry’s budget that ought to fix the road or hospital.
Chukwumerije’s political-poetic musing is in synch with the advocacy of many who argue that the only way to make #EndSARS protest of last year meaningful and have lasting impact for the youthful agitators for a true nationhood is for them who have been so abused and debased to get involved in politics in their huge numbers to overwhelm the old order that has messed them and their country up so badly. That it is only with such political awakening among young people would they be able to achieve a change of the old, rotten order to bring about a country they want to truly call theirs in the years to come.
Earlier, Alhanislam was resplendent in all her feminine glory as an emerging matriarch of the spoken word art with her sweeping performance act. Her ‘Mama Africa’ and ‘The last planet’ performance are invocation and testament of the spendour of a glorious race ascending to the sun and even beyond to which she gave vocal clarity and eloquence.
Then Johnny Drille took the stage and mesmerised the audience with his love lyrics like ‘Romeo & Juliet’, ‘Find(ing) Efe’ and ‘Wait for me’.
For the African-American Saul Williams who was in Nigeria for the first time, it turned out a test of emotions that mostly got in the way of his performance, as he literally choked on words, too overcome by the fleeting homecoming to the Motherland, Africa which many of his kith and kin long to reconnect after centuries of the evil slave trade that took millions of them away. But he recovered or what looked like it and rushed his lines such that he was almost unintelligible to the audience. Safe to say Williams was too emotionally overwrought he delivered fine lines that the audience largely missed. It will be great service to his poetic prowess if local publishers got his poetry into the Nigerian market.
When Etuk Ubong took over as last act, and it became clear an evening of poetic offering had been stretched thin. However, this was not helped by Ubong’s near-naked two female dancers who were clad on in underwears. Why Ubong decided to inflict such obscenity on the audience is a wild guess. But whatever it was, the sex certainly did not sell either his music or woo the audience but repulsed it instead, as a sore patting gift. Ubong’s music is good enough to woo any audience; he doesn’t need to expose feminine flesh in its vulgarity as there’s no connection between his music and exposed female flesh.