The Lagos Underground Scene

The Lagos Underground Scene

There is a scene in Lagos that only the privileged few are even aware of. A movement that takes place in the evenings, in bars and lounges whilst the masses pack themselves into clubs like sardines in a can.

It surprises many to know that there is a formidable spoken word scene in Nigeria and it has been around for years.

Let me paint it for you…

Low lights, a stage, a bar.

The rumbling sounds of quietly uttered conversation.

A band playing softly in the background – playing high – life, playing jazz, playing the sort of music that has you swaying side to side involuntarily.

The laughter that comes from leaving the dreariness of your job to relax with people who have an appreciation for unique sounds and words that carry meaning.

And then someone stands up on stage – an ordinary looking individual – and you cock your head slightly and wonder if they are going to sing. But what comes out of their mouth does not serenade you but rather hits you like a ton of bricks. It is an odd cross between rap and acting. The person gestures wildly and often in his eagerness to pass a message to you. A message about politics, or love, depression, hate, desire, labour; everything and anything that you can connect with.

Spoken word is an art born of emotion. It is more than just the words said but the passion with which they are said. It should not leave the listener the same, but rather take them on a journey and give them with an experience that they will want to relive; assuming your performance was a strong enough one.

There can be no doubt, however, that spoken word in Lagos is growing. Venues such as Bogobiri, Ember Creek and Freedom Park regularly host spoken word events. Radio stations have begun to air spoken word, in much the same way they would air music. Stations such as Smooth FM do it more than others. There are also spoken word programs on radio such as Vivid Verses, which takes place on Saturdays from 10:45am and Freedom Hall Live which has a mixture of alternative music and spoken word and airs on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There are brands such as Freedom Hall, Word Up, Oro, and QthePoetry, that are dedicated to helping spoken word artistes to get their words out there. And occasionally, you come across the odd spoken word performance on Nigerian TV.

During the inauguration ceremony of our president, the icing on the cake was Titilope Sonuga’s performance of her poem – We Are Ready. You can’t get more public than that. So perhaps the underground scene is migrating to the open and maybe Nigeria is willing and ready to listen to those who have something significant to say. And who’s to say what is significant and what is not?

Yet the spoken word scene is still far from receiving the kind of funding that the music and even the stage scene have access to. Perhaps, because it sits in that awkward position between the aforementioned arts, so no one knows quite what to make of it. They want to believe in it, but it is so ‘artsy’ that it continues to be delegated to the shadows, and many still don’t even know what spoken word is. But there is a change happening, a revolution beginning and sooner than later, spoken word will be in the music folders of phones all over Lagos.

 

 


Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. She has had short stories published in anthologies and has also self published work. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam.

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