Out in Abuja: Night of the Spoken Word

Dike Chukwumerije

Going to the Abuja Literary Society’s, ALS, open mic night is one of my favourite things to do in Abuja. It takes place on the first Friday of the month at Transcorp Hilton and on the second Friday at French Institute at Wuse 2. The ALS also organises a book club on the third Friday at Salamander Café, Wuse 2 –not far from the French Institute and Book Jam on the last Friday.

Open Mic is a mixture of different performances; from short stories read by their authors to musical performances, poetry and spoken word acts.

I love spoken word; if done right, I love it. It’s like poetry but not quite. The switching cadence of the performer’s voice is what does it for me. Think “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott Heron, sampled by Kanye West on his album, My Twisted Dark Fantasy; and thanks to Kanye, I often refer to that beautiful piece as, “Who will survive in America.”

Once a year, for spoken word enthusiasts, ALS hosts a spoken word night. There are one or two book readings but the focus is on this poetry/rap love’s child; which is an ironic or maybe dumb thing to say because, one would argue, spoken word begat rap.

This year’s Spoken Word night was held on Friday, September 26 at Silverbird Cinemas. It was the first time I would go for such an event so I didn’t know what to expect. The night started at 7p.m. sharp – no African time, with a reading by Reward Nisirim from his book.

The excerpt was a funny one, about the author’s experience on a journey from the East to Lagos.

Before I continue, I would like to inform you that right from the beginning of the programme, the cinema hall where it was held was near-filled up. At some point, the anchor –author, spoken word artist and all-round talented person Dike Chukwumerijie –had to interrupt a performer to ask people still coming in to move up to the gallery where there was space. Some were actually squatting on the steps. Not bad for a “literary event,” and in Abuja too where people keep affirming that “nobody” shows up to events.

Most of the spoken word performances, but for one or two that focused on love, were laments about the state of our beloved, “disfigured,” Nigeria.

The Storyteller asked Why Does the African Man Sleep. Chika Jones gave a Salute to people who give their best despite the myriad challenges we face here. Much later in the night, he came back to give a “newsreel” on contemporary issues from the still-to-be rescued Chibok girls to the heroic death of Ameyo Adadevoh, the doctor that treated the Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, who brought Ebola to Nigeria.

Midway into the spoken word performances, there was another short story reading; this time from Michaela Moye, who read ‘Her Fault’ from her book of short stories, Relieved.

A highlight of the evening was recitations –more like enactment – from some pupils of Start Rite School, Apo. According to their introduction, these kids were part of a club at their school where they often took part in recitation battles or declamation, as they called it.

The poems they recited were by Chukwumerije, all with profound themes geared to make one reflect. And these kids took them on like pros, giving life to what on some other lips would have sounded like mere words.

Another impressive young man –not one of the pupils –was 11 years old Chukwuemeka Obi-Obasi, who rendered Wole Soyinka’s Telephone Conversation and JP Clark’s Abiku.

There was also a tribute to the late Maya Angelou; a video of the late poet giving a restrained yet powerful delivery of her famous poem, Still I Rise, as well as an excerpt of an OWN video of Ms. Angelou talking about how her mother’s love (and respect) for her inspired her to greatness.

Anchorman gave a heart-wrenching performance titled, It’s You Against Your People. Torpedo went more personal, confronting The Me That Is In Me (That’s Trying To Kill Me.) The performance was heightened by the actual voices of the two persons in one confronting each other; with one, while feeling sorry for himself, still aspiring for better and best, and the other justifying all the ills and distractions that prevents the “third me” (the real me) from showing forth and achieving his true life-purpose.

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A third short story was from Eketi Ette, about her fiery experience with Cameroon pepper. Spoiler: for some weird reason, she inhaled it like snuff.

With all the laments and outcries, Bash Amuneni decided to talk about romantic love instead: This Thing That You Do To Me.

Then to crown the… words fail me. I think coolest night ever would be apt. To crown the coolest, chilliest, most inspiring night ever, a montage –sort of like a music video but not quite; a poetry video, if you like –of Chukwumerijie performing The Ramblings of a Poet in Love was shown. The spoken word dealt with how a woman, often sacrifices all for her marriage –her dreams, her family, even her well-being.

At the end of the short video, which is available on Youtube, the audience was asking of more but it was around 9 p.m. and time to end on a high note.


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