From the groundbreaking 30 Nigeria House project, a young voice in traditional Yoruba poetry, evoking the rhythms of timeless wisdom, sings itself into the okan (heart) of African poetry. His name is Femi Amogunla.
The man, the poet
Femi Amogunla is an actor, spoken word and voice-over artist based in Ibadan, Nigeria. He studied English Language at the Obafemi Awolowo University, after which he proceeded to the Royal Arts Academy for a Diploma in Acting where he graduated as the best acting student. Performance is one word with many meanings for Femi; many of them, he loves.
In June of 2012 Femi was selected as one of 30 award winners for the prestigious 30 Nigeria House project, an initiative of Theatre Royal Stratford East and New World Nigeria. His project has seen Femi develop a spoken word piece titled: My Name, My Identity.
The poem My Name, My Identity focuses on the beauty of Yoruba culture as captured in the significance of a name, in this case, Femi’s name. In the Yoruba belief system, what you are called and how you are called goes a long way to affect what you turn out to be.
The narrator of the poem insists that he should be called by his name, the way it should be; not as an abbreviation or as a nickname because, it is believed that ‘whatever’ you are called has a meaning.
The poet draws on personal examples of the challenges that he has faced when it comes to his name, and draws on how he has been able to keep bearing his name despite these.
The poem also goes ahead to show the challenges of holding on to this culture of naming in a fast changing world that seems to impose its change on one. The narrator refuses any version of his name, and takes pride in what he’s called, drawing from the Yoruba culture and history.
Rendered in English, this poem has a universal appeal, yet it is sprinkled with local Yoruba language, the poet calls the audience to a different language, to a different culture. It also makes use of accepted codes of culture like music.Finally, it educates others about African lives, African pride and the struggle of the African past.
The Making of: My Name, My Identity
Filming the Project
Speaking about the filming of this poetic piece Femi notes the project exposed him to “varied experiences”. Shot in locations in Ile Ife, Osun State, the project took about three months to go through the lifecycle of pre-production to production to post-production. In order to fully capture the resonance of the poetry, audio was done separately from the shoot and as the poet puts it “that alone was hard work”.
This being the first video shoot of his poetry, Femi says with a reminiscent smile, “I learnt so many lessons from the experience. It is one that I would gladly repeat. Now, I look forward to more recordings of my work”.
Sometimes it can take an entire village to see a project such as this grow from seed to fruition, that makes nothing more encouraging than working with a crew who give the best to the task.
Speaking of the crew Femi says: “my director, Imole Adisa who is also the creative director of The Masque Troupe did a wonderful job. The bata dancer Folusho Elujoba is a force to reckon with. Also the effort of the cinematographer, Mayowa Olajide, who also doubled as the editor cannot be over emphasised. My costumier was Soji Gbelekale, so you know where the colourful traditional attires came from. The words all flow into one lovely poem and that’s thanks to Temitayo Olofinlua, the content director; she took the idea from the first draft and transformed it into a great poem.
Nothing beats the stories of challenges we face during the production of a work of art. Femi shared some with us:
“While leaving for location, I told my wife I should be home in four – maximum five – days. This was because I had everything set – or so I thought. My location manager and I kept exchanging mails and all of that to be sure we won’t be spending more than a week.
When I got to Ile-Ife, the first challenge I had was getting appropriate time for rehearsals as the drummer, my director and even my cinematographer all had unexpected issues to attend to. We kept scheduling and re-scheduling until we got it done after three days. The first thing we did was to do the audio session. We booked an all-night session and that was tedious. One person did the drumming. There were three different drums. So imagine, each sound after the other. It was demanding. I had to do the recitation every time he picked an entirely different drum.
After two days, we headed for location somewhere in front of the Oni of Ife’s palace only to be sent away by someone who claimed to be in charge of the place. Meanwhile my location manager had spoken to someone who also presented himself as being in charge of the place. All the shots we had before the intervention had to be cancelled. It was quite difficult getting a place to use eventually but in the end, it all went well”.
A poet’s gratitude
The work at last a reality; the video completed and many lessons learnt, Femi considers himself “a better poet… hopefully” emerging from this unforgettable adventure. Expressing his joy and gratitude Femi says “Thanks to everyone for making this a reality. The amazing crew. The Theatre Royal Stratford East and 30 Nigeria House for the opportunity. The other 29 lucky winners. Let’s change our world, one word, one poem, one play, at a time.”
If like us you are eager to see, hear and resonate more with Femi and his world of expressions, the poet assured us his works – in video, audio and text formats – will soon be accessible via his website: http://www.ogbenifemi.com