By Anote Ajeluorou
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 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 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 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 catastrophy waiting to happen, and that it would be easier to stem it now than respond to it later.
Other entertainers included Ikuo Eke, with her ‘I set sail’, set in her kalabari native not; Amos Onileagbon, with his ‘Walking by the precipice’, Uche Uwadinachi, with his ‘Tell me why’, which is steeped in rap and musicality that showcased a multi-talented artiste. To cap a memorable evening, spoken word war was organised for young performers; in the open mic & mind segment they were scored and winners emerged. In the end Oluwakemi Islamiyat from AJ House of Poetry emerged winner; clinching N15, 000 prize from Goethe Institut. There were also the flutist, Awoko who also lamented the fate & the environment in his emotionally-charged rendition. He was followed by AJ Dagga Tolar, a poet cast in the light of master of slam masters like mutabarnk and Yasus Afari. The event ended with Edaoto’s rooted afrobeat performance.
BUT before WordSlam V, Pulpfaction Club had its monthly Book’n’Guage reading and signing event at Debonair Bookshop at Sabo, Yaba, Lagos. But rather than the books, it was also the spectacularly spoken word poetry of Efe Paul Azino that caused a huge stir amongst the lean audience. His highly inflaming revolutionary poetry, ‘Not a political poem’, delivered with such perfect aplomb took the audience through the slums of suffering Nigerians have been helplessly thrown into, and then up to grimy, corrupt thrones and palaces of those who now hold them hostage in a land that should have nothing to do with poverty and suffering in the first place.
And like Cornerstone, the persona in Azino’s poem is shocked at how easily the masses have settled themselves into the mental slavery trap, with the shackles cast around their necks and arms and how they have lost the voice to protest the brutish lives they now lived. Indeed, if poetry casts stones, the masses got stoned first from Azino’s poetic jibes for being irredeemably mute in the face of suffering, and having to accept it as their common lot in life. His second poem simply titled, ‘Words’, speaks about the sheer magic of words and why he is so enamoured by them as they give his fertile mind the freedom to range wide to capture phenomena.
Four authors, Imasuen Eghosa (author of To Saint Patrick and his forthcoming second book, Fine Boys), Charles Ayo Dada (author of Ghost of Zina), Samuel Kolawole (author of The Book of M), and Chimeka Garricks (author of Tomorrow Died Yesterday) read excerpts from their works. They also gave backgrounds and inspirations to their writings. Music interludes, too, by two guitarists, punctuated the afternoon readings.
For one weekend, therefore, Lagos erupted with a feast of words from some of the finest wordsmiths and voices emerging from the underground. This cultural bloom for the word, whether spoken or written as the two events showed, is part of the literary revival taking place all over the country. With the support of such bodies like Goethe Institut, it is hoped that other bodies will respond to cries for support from culture entrepreneurs so as to light up the different art scenes.
The WordSlam V was as much a cultural diplomacy as the two events were avenues to create moments of expression for a number of young people and thus engage them creatively for positive activities.