The state of Nigeria – the economy, corruption, leadership and the socio-political trends in the country were the dominant themes at the second edition of Nigeria’s Lagos International Poetry Festival.
Through spoken word – an oral artform that is slowly finding its place here, poets like Dike Chukwumerije, an Abuja-based lawyer, added their voice to a conversation taking place across the country.
But while the message may resonate – the style with which it is being delivered is relatively new to many, said Dike.
“It’s not yet a genre that a lot of people know about so sometimes it’s difficult to attract funding. There is also a problem of audiences again because it’s a new art form sometimes when you say come for a spoken word event, they’ll be like what is that?”
Nigeria is not a newcomer to literature and poetry. Famous post independence writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Ken Saro-Wiwa brought the country’s literary abilities to the world, but some historians say poetry is as old as Nigeria itself, practised long before it could be recorded in written form.
Spoken word however – a unique style of word play and tone that sometimes incorporates other artforms like music, only recently started emerging in the literary space here and in other parts of Africa.
This festival, along with other events and competitions are a way organisers say is helping spread the word and introduce spoken word artists from across the continent to each other.
“There really isn’t any poetry festival of that sort, you know in West Africa which has a very rich heritage and tradition of poetry and of literature in general so that’s how it came about basically to create that space where young poets, old poets, poets in between across the continent, across the diaspora, across the world, you know… could come and have poetry engage with society on its own terms as it were,” director, Lagos International Poetry Festival, Paul Azino said.
“I have been connecting with a lot of different writers, some critics, visual artists from Nigeria for some years mostly through social media so it’s been a pleasure to meet some of those people in real life and to just talk about literature and talk about the future of publishing with those folks and with the audiences that have come,” said Somali writer, Lauren Usman.
Eighteen-year-old Titilayo Mabogunje won her first poetry competition dubbed, ‘War of Words’ when she was 15 years old. Now she spends her summers teaching teenagers about the power of spoken word.Titilayo says poetry and similar art forms are an innovative way to spread messages about life and country to the youth.
“Many of my poems speak about there is so much corruption or injustice around or how people are selfish but then it all comes back to the individual and what you can do about it, so it’s not necessarily about what has happened to you in the past or even what other people are doing to you in the present. It’s more about how you can take control and change our situation,” she said.
For these young people, the journey into the world of poetry has just began but the issues they face in Nigeria today have been around for generations. Through spoken word perhaps they can find a new voice to help grow themselves and speak out so those in power can help change things.