Spoken Word: An Emerging Popular Art
In my nine years in the United Kingdom, I never even thought about performing spoken word poetry considering I am naturally artistically inclined and even went as far as trying out some stand-up comedy material at an open mic evening. This coupled with the fact that I have always had a fondness for hip-hop music, which is more or less poetry with rhythm over instrumentals, it surprises even me that I never thought to dabble in spoken word poetry. Barely a year in Lagos, I have become a regular at the Bogobiri House as a spoken word poet, and I am now seeking to further this passion to theatres. Such are the infectious effects of an expanding culture, and spoken word poetry is clearly very much making its way to the mainstream.
Art and philosophical movements have always managed to have a ripple effect through whatever era they spring up to dominate. From as early as the ancient Greeks, connections can be seen with schools of thoughts even rubbing against each other to improve the general pool of knowledge centered on using philosophy to solve existential problems. Even without the Internet or a telephone, ideas still managed to converge, leaving the works of these old philosophers bearing a semblance in style and reasoning pattern. The same trend can be seen with visual art as it travels through eras from the Romantic to the Abstract. And in music, the time a song was made can reasonably be deduced by the sonic arrangement.
Historically speaking, when it comes to spoken word poetry, this art form has been around for many millennia, incorporating instruments like African drums to pass on many oral traditions at a time before paper and writing. But the modern day spoken word as it is popularly recognized today was born in North America from the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance and blues in the 1960s, with the likes of Gill Scott-Heron and The Last Poets pioneering and popularizing the art form to gain mainstream attention.
Fast forward to 2015 and it appears Nigeria is catching the spoken word bug with acts like Bassey Ikpi wooing crowds at the Def Jam poetry, and Titilope Sonuga griping the nation with her inauguration day performance. Spoken word has come to stay. I will predict that it is only a matter of time till more poets emerge and channel this art form in theatrical productions and instrumentals. It would also be interesting to see spoken word artists utilizing local languages like Pidgin English to reach a wider demographic of listeners.
With much talk about an African renaissance in the air, the emergence of spoken word poetry certainly makes for an encouraging pointer for the continent’s artistic development. The spoken word scene certainly deserves our attention.
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