Praxis Hangout 1.0
Two spoken word artists or performance poets, Dike Chukwumerije and Andrew Patience, shall go uncontested as the first guest artists featured on the Praxis Hangout. All competition aside, the first Praxis Hangout became, by virtue of the featured artists, a chat session on the art of the spoken word or performance poetry and its industrial potential.
The Hangout starts at 4 P.M. A guy named TJ Benson wearing a dark-blue slim-fit V-neck with ‘Praxis Hangout’ printed on it anchors the event. The attendees, a handful of them, sit on white plastic chairs in Oguntoye Dare’s luminous Media Store at Silverbird, Abuja. A set of guys in black wield cameras and other accessories to intimidate laymen. I walk in and behold hairstyles – the ladies were here on time. I spot Fiona Lovatt, dressed as always like a Hausa-muslim; Dike Chukwumerije is already in the joint, but yet to be introduced. Those who got here before me are playing a game of words. While anticipating the proper start of the Hangout, we are surrounded by a guard of bookshelves with titles that would empty the already-empty writer’s bank account. I don’t see too many familiar faces. This is because most people here probably came from planet Facebook where I am not so popular. Which means there’d be no one to discuss art and criticism with after the Hangout. I tell myself I am alone. I was.
The next sentences are going to read like minutes. Iyanu Adebiyi is introduced by the anchor and performs her ‘Up Nepa’. Quickly, Dike, and Patience are brought forward to begin the chat session. Patience asks Dike: (1) how spoken word is faring in the country, (2) how it can be made profitable, and (3) how page poetry differs from performance poetry and where the two intersect. Dike doesn’t disappoint; he nearly turns the session into a workshop. (Praxis has promised a video of the Hangout for the benefit of those of you who prefer the full audiovisual experience.)
And so the audience must ask questions. Only one, by Daisy Odey, is sufficiently crucial: Will the commercialisation of performance poetry water down the art? Because anybody can become a performance poet or spoken word artist for the money – well, everybody is already one. Other questions are summed up thus: who is a spoken word artist; who is a performance poet? What the providers of this question haven’t asked is: who is a bad performance poet and who is the good one?
Daisy Odey says for performance poetry she wants to hear the metaphors, language used newly; not the motivational claptrap inspired by the stage. TJ Benson thinks people are looking for labels. Dike wants performance poetry to become a discipline in arts and the humanities (not the traditional oral literature we know, but performance poetry as it has become today). Then he provides a term he learnt from a friend about the whole shebang: ‘spoken word theatre’. Because, for example, Dike is dynamic, you can’t say spoken word artist or performance poet or any other label. Do not look for any more labels, thou spoken word or performance poetry fan; the new thing is ‘spoken word thespian’. Now, should the question arise: who is a spoken word thespian? We may need another Hangout.
Before the questions Ifeanyi Alex performs his poem ‘Hate Speech’ for us. He says he wrote it the night before and apologises for it being literary mumbo jumbo. Tell him to never do that again — call his art mumbo jumbo — because I won’t be blamed if I agree. After the questions, we are blessed with the performances of Patience, then Dike. We are told to buy Dike’s Urchindere and Patience’s I AM. And to also include the Praxis Hangout hashtag (#praxishangout) on social media channels when we want to be famzed for being at the Hangout.
But when people start taking too many pictures at the end of an event we know what happens to the books and CDs they buy. Or am I being oversensitive of the giddiness? For God’s sake I should let people be; it is the spirit of the age. I spot Adam Abubakar Ibrahim. He didn’t come for the Hangout. He has come to add more colour to it with his caftan. It is the second day of Eid Mubarak. I should ask him how many rams he bought. On the side, Joy Sani from Simple Poetry is doing mini interviews.
Iyanu Adebiyi performing her ‘Up Nepa’.
It is dark outside; inside, the lobbies of Silverbird is full of celebrating teenagers, boys in caftans with their shy hennaed girlfriends gaze-walking about. No one is talking about performance poetry anymore. It is photography and group photography and group photography. I think something is missing. Music. What is the point of a hangout with literary-minded persons in this age anyway? Next time, let there be music. But it must not be Afrobeat. Okay, I just said it.