‘Spoken Word is a Necessary Tool for Social Cohesion and Thought Provocation’

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Ndukwe Onuoha is a Spoken Word artist and a seasoned advertising executive who recently released his debut spoken words album. In this interview with Nume Ekeghe, he speaks on how to commercialise this art 

How did you get into Spoken Word? 

First, generally speaking, I started writing poetry at about age thirteen or thereabout.  Like most things cliché, my elder sister annoyed me one day – I don’t even remember the exact incident – but I decided to put down exactly how I felt in verse.  Now, before then, I had been reading a lot of poetry books for secondary school students and the like. Now, to Spoken Word.  In 2009 or thereabout, I met a group of talented poets who were doing amazing stuff for the culture, using diverse platforms like Anthill, Chill and Relax, Taruwa and the likes.  Watching these people perform inspired me to write my first set of Spoken Word pieces and, their encouragement gave me the courage to get on stage and perform them.

What inspires you? 

When you really think about it, every day brings its own set of inspirations, be it an item in the news or something as simple as a drizzle.  Everything is inspiring.  However, I’ll say that my biggest inspiration is people.  Interacting with others always lead to different thoughts and questions which, if interrogated deeply and consistently, most often than not lead to a line or a phrase that can be unraveled into a full poem.  At other times, just watching or listening to other poets is as big enough an inspiration as one can get!

How do you deal with memorisation in your performances? 

To be honest, this is one of the most challenging things for me to do.  I’m a scatterbrain.  My mind is always racing, so being able to sit down and memorise one poem is a thing I still have to perfect.  However, I find that listening to the poems over and over again, as well as good old repetition helps as well.

Can Spoken Word be a commercial product that feeds poets? 

I believe it can. There are fine examples of people who do nothing but Spoken Word poetry, travelling the world on the strength of their craft – and I’m talking about Nigerians.  So, yes, just as we have authors who only just write, we have poets whose source of livelihood is Spoken Word poetry.  In fact, we need more of these people. Speaking of being commercial, specifically, what I have tried to do with my album is infuse music with my words in such a way that when you listen to it, you don’t just hear the words, but you appreciate each track on the level you would, say, the music you’re listening to right now on YouTube.  This way, my poetry is more relatable, and the barrier for stepping into the world of poetry is not set too high for some to see it as an academic exercise.  I don’t just want people to hear my poems; I want them to ‘feel’ each track.

What do you want to achieve with Spoken Word in the next five years?

I don’t see Spoken Word as entertainment, even though we may use some of its elements as techniques to make our craft more accessible.  For me, we Spoken Word poets are, like the griots of old, custodians of the present cultural space in which we find ourselves.  Through our craft, we inform, interrogate and educate society about the times in which we find ourselves.  Spoken Word is a necessary tool for social cohesion and thought provocation.  That is what I would love to, not only by myself but with the whole Spoken Word community, achieve with this gift in the years to come.

Asides from Spoken Word, can you speak on your job in advertising?

I’m the Creative Director of 7even Interactive, a marketing communications company based in Lagos.  In my capacity as the CD, I lead a group of talented, restless, inquisitive and daring team of young creatives who I am not only happy to call colleagues, but very proud to call friends.

Your firm recently won an award, can you speak on that also?

 We won a bronze at Africa’s biggest advertising festival, Loeries, for our CSR campaign on rape and domestic violence.  As a matter of fact, we were not just the only Nigerian agency to win in this year’s Loeries, but the only agency in the whole of West Africa to do so!  For this, I am very grateful to the team, from the agency’s COO, Taiwo Agboola, to all the guys in the team that made this happen, despite the tight schedule, as well as crazy deadlines from our clients.

What can we expect from you going forward and any advice to upcoming artistes?

To be honest, I don’t consider myself as an artist in that sense of the word.  I’m a poet. Now, as to what can be expected of me in the future, simply put, more work.  I have to keep working to write more pieces, meet set deadlines and make sure that what we have started here doesn’t just end as a fine experiment. To my fellow poets, my advice is simple: keep on keeping at it.  One day, our words spoken in little corners will reverberate all through the world.