Feature on Award-Winning Poet, Akeem Lasisi

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For those who have had the pleasure of experiencing Akeem Lasisi’s poetry performances, figuring out or pin-pointing the genre of his art form is usually problematic. While some opt to label him a contemporary folk musician, others tend towards what he tags himself – a performance poet. However sufficient the latter description may be for Lasisi, quite a few people still find it unsatisfyingly simplistic and choose to call him a musical-poet, which they believe better encapsulates what he does.

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Perhaps lesser known to the general public in comparison with some other contemporary performance poets in Nigeria, Akeem Lasisi is nevertheless highly revered in literary circles across the country. He has also been described in several media as “one of the leading lights in contemporary poetry performance in Nigeria and across Africa.” Adding to his appeal, as well as testifying to his versatility and dynamism, Lasisi combines his vocation as a performance poet with his day job as a journalist for The Punch newspaper where he is art editor. He is also a comedian and writer who has authored about 5 books.

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Asked how it all started in an interview with Sunrise Daily on Channels Television, the multi-skilled creative recalls his journey into the arts preceded any formal education. He disclosed that his good fortune was being born and raised in the Oyo village of Makanjuola where he was exposed to traditional Yoruba performance art at a tender and impressionable age. Citing the likes of apala legend, Haruna Ishola and iconic Yoruba poets; Ogundare Foyanmu, Odolaye Aremu, Olanrewaju Adepoju and Alabi Ogundepo as influences, Lasisi remembers performance arts was an intrinsic part of his childhood. He recalls taking part in several plays during his primary and secondary education, and admits that his interest in the arts may have informed his decision to study English/Yoruba at the college of education before moving on to Obafemi Awolowo University.

Despite coming from a lineage of hunters skilled in the oral lores of ijala poetry (hunter’s ode), Lasisi found poetry difficult and instead focused his creative energies on writing plays. Osanolugbo, a fictional play about a 12-year long land dispute, became one of the earliest he wrote while studying as an undergraduate at Ife. Perhaps he became bored with prose or was inspired to try a different art form but by the early ‘90s, Lasisi had moved on to writing poetry and was concentrating on performing traditional oral poetry. He didn’t make a decision to infuse music, dance and drama into his poetry until after his first degree when he relocated to Lagos and took on a teaching job. There he was able to experiment fully with the help of his students in creating what is today a surprisingly pleasing fusion.

Akeem Lasisi has continued to evolve not only in his art but also personally, gaining a Master’s degree at the University of Lagos and transmuting into a practising journalist. Combined with these, he has managed to create an alter ego known more popularly as the performance poet.

Image credit: africanwriter.com

As a performance poet-cum-musician, he has twice won the prestigious Association of Nigerian Authors’ poetry prize – the first coming in the year 2000 for Iremoje (his first collection of poems) and the other 5 years later with Night of My Flight (his third collection).

Artistically, his works though steeped in folklore, often have strong political undertones and usually serve as social commentary on past, present and sometimes projected realities. Lately however, he’s been inclined towards ballads and romantic poetry, which he renders in Yoruba and English respectively.

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Currently, his literary oeuvre comprises of 5 books, 5 musical poetry albums, which include; Iremoje – ritual poetry for late activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, Night of My Flight, and Ori Agbe – a tribute to Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Wonderland, as well as about 9 musical poetry videos.

Akeem Lasisi has performed in several countries including Germany, Brazil, and South Africa. He has also featured at events for corporate organisations like MTN, The Ford Foundation, Goethe-Institut, and GTBank. One of his favourite memories, however remains his performance at the 70th birthday ceremony of the late Chief Bola Ige who in a post-birthday article later described Lasisi as “a young wizard of Yoruba and English” poetry.

With a handful of poetry albums, Akeem Lasisi is one of the few niche musical poetry artists in Nigeria.

Tomiwa Yussuf has a background in History/International studies. With a strong bias for fictional art of varying forms, he contributes to a couple of literary blogs and is an in-house editor at nantygreens.com. When he’s not writing, he pursues other interests like digital marketing, social work and sports.

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