The Northern Stage: A Look at the Spoken Word Poetry Scene in Northern Nigeria
By Lenient Amidu
Spoken word poetry is poetry written for the stage. It is poetry designed and intended for performance. While some could argue that spoken word poetry deviates from traditional page poetry conventions, it is worthy of note that "It is a 20th-century continuation of an ancient oral artistic tradition that focuses on the aesthetics of recitation and word play, such as the performer's live intonation and voice inflection (Wikipedia)."
Spoken Word poetry has a distinct emphasis on being able to perform by mouth the written text. It is often performed in front of a live audience and is distinguished by the use of theatrical methods such as movement and gesture to improve the delivery of the poem.
More works in the spoken word poetry field have recently addressed problems relating to global issues, making it a weapon for radical change in society. It has also given many young poets a platform from which to exhibit their work on national and international stages.
The spoken word "industry" in Nigeria has magnificently changed with time. According to some critics, spoken word poets have not yet received the kind of respect that their art merits since certain institutions necessary to make it an industry have not yet been established. This may be attributed to the fact that many Nigerians lump everything together as entertainment and don't comprehend where it fits in the larger literary universe.
Even so, spoken word performances and events continue to take place across the country in a spectacular manner. Spoken word poetry readings, albums, festivals, slams, their integration in political events, and other activities, etc., bring to light new talents while letting us savour the enduring beauty of the "patrons." These events are largely concentrated in the South and West of the country. When compared to what is available in the south, the spoken word poetry culture in the North may not receive the same degree of support or have as many outlets available.
Some have put forward a few issues to consider regarding this. Sa'id Sa'ad in his article 'Poetifying the North (May 5, 2022) expresses concerns on how "...even with the consistent growth of poetry in some parts of Nigeria… Northern Nigeria has continued to suffer especially among the wannabe poets and growing poets, who are thirsty for platforms to put their arts out for the right audience. With no or few consistent literary communities, inaccessibility of literary mentors and workshops or festivals, these categories of young people genuinely interested in the art have been in a dilemma between giving up the dream or continuing breathing in water."
Others contend that the North's conservatism is a big contributing factor. However, some people believe that because the North has a strong oral heritage, its poetry community will soon catch up to that of its southern counterparts in vitality.
Many poets of Northern origin have earned their flowers as spoken word poets. The likes of Bash Amuneni, Maryam Bukar Hassan (aka AlhanIslam), Sage Hassan, Hafsat Abdullahi, Aisha Umar Gimba, Hader Otaki, AbdulKareem Al Hassan Saidu, Sa'id Sa'ad, and many more continue to be quite a sensation.
Sokoto Book and Arts Festival (SOBAFEST), Hausa International Book and Arts Festival (HIBAFEST), Kano HCAF Eid Lit Fest, Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST), and many other literary communities are platforms that have sprung up in recent years.
It is amazing to see spoken word poetry emerge as a vital and innovative force in literature. One can't help but excitedly anticipate what will happen next.
Lenient Amidu is a writer and podcaster. She enjoys reading African Literature and listening to spoken word poetry albums.