Catherine Labiran: AYISAT – A Poet Spinning Words to Outlive the Weaver

Catherine Labiran

Photo by J. Jamie Photography

The greatest magicians
Are unaware
Of the hat
And rabbit between
Lips
Are buried alive in
Cradles
Sawed in half
Whole
Juggling bodies in
Wombs.
My mother,
Yours.
– Excerpt from Magic by Catherine Labrian, from her book of poetry Ayisat, published by Wordjar.

 

 

 

Poet, author and activist Catherine Labiran is an embodiment of passion and determination. An artist who, despite her young age, is traveling an adventurous path heralding her as a voice for the future, yet one whose words, spoken and penned, evoke captivating insights into today’s world.

Born in Staten Island, New York, with British-Nigerian roots, raised in Harrow, London and presently living in Atlanta, Georgia, Catherine’s eclectic background resonates through her persona. Always bubbling with an infectious smile and often Pharoah-esque braided hair, she exudes a knowingness well beyond her years.

Catherine’s poetry oscillates efficiently between page and stage; at the dipping point in the centre you will find a firmness of purpose guided by fluid poetic sensibilities. There is a maternal awareness about her poems, whether in the actual context of the piece or from her perspective as the omnipotent performer, with some of her titles – By the Hand that Held You, Love, Cereal – suggesting that cradle of motherhood carved for the children one could say her poems are to her.

Catherine Labiran the poet

Photo by J. Jamie Photography

Speaking about the poem Magicians (excerpt above) and the sense of motherhood which subsumes both poetry and poet, Catherine says:

“The poem is dedicated to my mother and to all mothers, they are the true magicians. I owe my existence and everything I do to my mother. She embodies all the greatness in the world. I often start my poetry performances with this poem, so I that I can set the scene that all these words coming out of my mouth come from her. “

Heavily influenced by hip hop culture, she performs her poems with rapid-fire exuberance, picturesque rhymes and an unaffected hip hop bravado. Watching her perform with that confident smile painting expressions of joy and pain fills you with a certain assurance that there is truth in these words.

Only 20 years old, she has already racked up an impressive body of artistic achievements: winning the 2010 SLAMbassadors UK competition; teaching and hosting events at Harrow Arts Centre, London; getting featured in the National Association for the Teaching of English SLAM DVD, distributed to schools across the UK; being on the ’12 Poets for 2012′ committee responsible for creating the official Olympic poem, Eton Manor; getting to be a ‘buddy poet’ with Wole Soyinka at the 2012 Poetry Parnassus event; being one of 30 winners of the Stratford East/30 Nigeria House award which aided her in setting up her first non-profit organization, Twelve (XII) Talents, targeted at providing free literary workshops and performance opportunities for adolescents.

Ever the creative spirit, Catherine, in November last year, released her premiere book of poetry titled Ayisat. The book, launched in South Africa while she was performing at the Word N Sound poetry and music festival, is published by Wordjar (a publishing outfit run by her brother, Francis Xavier Labiran, which gives young writers a platform). The release of Ayisat fulfilled one of Catherine’s many dreams:

“I decided to publish my first book when I was 19 in order to document my early experiences growing up, writing, traveling, becoming the young woman I am today. It has been a roller-coaster journey, I have many stories, I have seen many stories and have had many stories shared with me. It is these stories that I converted into poetry in Ayisat. I wrote this book so that my children could read it and understand that I went through the things that they will experience, I think they will find comfort in that.”

Ayisat is dedicated to Catherine’s grandfather Ali Jibrill-Ellams, who passed away when she was a child but whose presence remains strongly felt by the poet.

“I feel him and have felt him throughout my life. Through my successes, trials and tribulations, he has been my strength and shield. Also, the name Ayisat was given to me by my grandfather. It is arabic and it means ‘she who lives and is well’. I strongly believe the meaning of this name embodies all that I am becoming. Someone who does not only exist but LIVES. Currently, Ayisat is in bookstores, libraries and homes across the globe.”

Ayisat is available for international purchase, and can be found in bookstores, libraries and homes across the globe. If poetry is your passion, Catherine Labiran’s journey into truth is an exploration you will love to experience.

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My Name My Identity: Femi Amogunla from 30 Nigeria House Project

Femi Amogunla

In Conjunction with

Theatre Royal Stratford East London and Bank Of Industry

Presents

My name, My identity

An Award Winning Project (30 Nigeria House), 2012

Oruko mi ni Olorunfemijuwonlo Amogunla

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Watch the video “My Name My Identity” here.

My name is a song;
I can sing it as I want;
in Soprano High or Bass deep.
O-lo-run-fe-mi-ju-won-lo
Oh! It jars your ears.
(beat) I should shorten it?
I won’t. I will not reduce my name to F
A letter. And call it a nickname.
Or funkify it as P-h-e-m-m-y spelt P-h-e-m-m-y
Why?
Or change it to Famozo
…or its other version Famoshi
So that you might feel it?
My name is my identity.

My name is history.
History of valiant Yoruba men and women in battle.
Moremi, Ogunmola Afonja Kunrunmi
My name is their victory.
Amogunla, son of that famous warrior who killed an elephant with his cap
Kindred of Uthman Dan Fodio
Nnamdi Azikwe
And Achebe
Yes, that’s me!

I am every African who fought
And who still fights to keep his names
My name is history of a generation.
I lose it; we lose a story.
A string.
A line.
It becomes distorted.

My name is a symbol.
A symbol that rises early in the morning when my mother screams: Fe-mi.
It’s a sign of control, of power.

My name tells where I am from
That I am a Yoruba
That I am a Nigerian
That I love being both at once
Like an identity card
I don’t need to show it. It shows me.
I don’t have to shout it. It shouts me.
Shouts Yoruba, proclaims Nigerian.

My name has meanings.
It is freedom.
It is power.
It is love.
Love for myself.
For every part of me
Seen. Unseen.
Known. Unknown.
Written. Unwritten.
Loved. Unloved.

My name is like my dansiki;
I wear it as I want
In the sun or in the rain; it does not smell.​
I wear it in the cold or in the harmattan,
I stay warm
I can wriggle it as it pleases me
As I do bata dance

Bata drum with voice:
Olurunfemijuwonlo,
Iwo nko? Iwo nko?​3x

Let me sing as I want,
Let me wear it as I want.
Let me dance as it suits me
But never will I change it

Oruko mi ni Olorunfemijuwonlo Amogunla.
Ki ni oruko tire?
What is your own name?

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Some Words on My Name, My Identity

This thematic focus of this poem is the beauty of Yoruba/African culture as captured in the significance of a name, of my name. An African traditional name is more than just a name; it is more than just something we are called by or something that differentiates us from another. In fact, 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. In essence, African names define our cultural identity, lineage and on several occasions, the circumstances in which we lived and currently live.

In this award winning project by Femi Amogunla, he 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 other version of his name, and takes pride in what he’s called.

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.

Check out our previous post on Femi Amogunla here.

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Free download: Hip Hop from Africa – L.P’s P.O.V tha Mixtape

Jos City, famously known as J-town, is home to some of the best hip hop talents in the country (and indeed the continent). One of its most promising talents, a young emcee who goes by the name Pizzo da Lyrical Praxis recently released a mixtape titled: L.P’s P.O.V tha Mixtape.

We’ve got the lyrically luminous street-hop for you right here, so start downloading and get your ‘Afro’ hip hop on. Check out the tracklist below, with brief comments. Let us know what you think of the tracks by leaving a comment below.

CRITIQUE MUSIC PRESENTS: L.P’S P.O.V tha MIXTAPE

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1. True Confession feat Tommy Shields
Pizzo raps to a hook sung by Tommy Shields, giving his “true confession of love” to an unnamed lady who wants to call it quits on their relationship.
Ace lines: I always thought we was a perfect match/After fish in the ocean you was worth the catch

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2. Questions feat Remarkable
Pizzo gives lyrical insight into the curious workings of his mind, asking question after question of a Nigeria that could have been.
Ace lines: What if, death was hard and life was easy, would poverty still be/ Or just a thing of the mind state?/ Or maybe that’s the reason why we having these crime rates/ coz ghetto people tired of waiting for His divine grace

3. Duwawu feat Illmasta Chif
“Duwawu” in Hausa language translates to “booty” (à la Beyonce’s “bootylicious) in English. This club banger has one of Pizzo’s best verses in the mixtape. If you don’t get the lines rapped in Hausa just shake your “duwawu” and enjoy the damn song!
Ace lines: show kada duwa duwawu/ zuba ya taru, wuta ya karu, ka za ta paru/ got you looking dangerous, but yan mata wanna hang with us

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4. Aikin kowa feat Baysticks
A patriot’s song which has the two rappers calling for peace, love and unity. A better Nigeria after all is “aikin kowa” – everybody’s duty.
Ace lines: It’s all about responsibility, get strong, you feeling me?/ slept on, the realest D!, dead wrong stupidity

5. Murna Murna feat Lucase
A feel good track bound to get you off your feet and keep you jumping with chants of “murna murna”!
Ace lines: call me asthma coz I got a really bad attack/ I dey select oh, no be every kind girl I dey knack

6. Good Love
Hey, we all need some good love, right? Pizzo raps about various trysts and love-scapades over a soul inspired beat.
Ace lines: met this fine PH resident, got oil money her brother’s a militant/ I’m impressed she’s a rebel for the cause, struggle for the poor/ one day she said she was wondering/ if I would love to kidnap and go bunkering

7. For You feat Ruby
Loopy music’s Ruby laces this track with soulful vocals as Pizzo breaks down his passion of doing music for the listeners
Ace lines: music helps me appreciate the beauty in life/ the proof is in the way I’ve been consuming the mic

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8. For John My Friend
Producer Tommy Shields creates an emotional beat sampling Janelle Monae’s “Oh Maker” over which Pizzo tells the true story of a friend whose tale may not have been told otherwise
Ace lines: After fighting wars from Chad to Lebannon/ in the Middle East keeping peace that never comes

9. Come On feat Deep Thot tha Blaq Ego
A throwback to hard, head bobbing hip hop which feature Pizzo and Deep Thot giving a shout out to J-town and other hip hop loving states.
Ace lines: I can’t stop the way my heart beat boxes/ until my lungs collapse and tongues spit hip hop

10. In da City
In the city of love you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for, just be careful not to get lost while doing so. Pizzo raps about finding love and the determination to preserve it.

Ace lines: I’m no stranger, I’ve been to the place called love/ where the sidewalk is smooth and the main road is rough

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11. I love UJ feat Illmasta Chif
An anthem of the (sometimes juvenile) pleasures of being young and in college, rapped appropriately to Asher Roth’s “I Love College”. A party-ode to one of the oldest Universities in Nigeria, the University of Jos – the alma mata of Pizzo and Illmasta Chif.
Ace lines: I made a lot of cash from extorting my parents, school fees was 27 I told them 46/ spent all the profit on Rosay and Bacardi mix/ fellowship with holy dames, wild out with naughty chicks

12. Rayuwa feat Chrome and Illmasta Chif
Rayuwa! “Living.” Pizzo, Chrome and Illmasta Chif give three perspectives on violence that has seen a peaceful city torn apart, and hatred wrought on a people’s ability to live as one.
Ace lines: If religion has a way of blurring your rational thoughts refrain from it/ tell you what I’ve seen so many mentally deranged from it

13. Lonely Road feat Chrome and Illmasta Chif
Tommy Shields evokes the Greenday classic for this track of personal trials, tribulations and redemption.
Ace lines: I keep my eyes on the road/ and I aim for the prizes like diamonds and gold, ready to blow/ like crude oil I steady the flow

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Femi Amogunla: My Name, My Identity

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.

poetic sight

Femi on NTA hilltop, Ile Ife, Osun state, for location check. Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope.

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.

spoken word

Femi at Oranmiyan park, Ile Ife. Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope.

His project
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.

artists of the word spoken

Poetry makers. Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope.

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

shooting scenes

On set: Mayowa Olajide, Femi and Elujoba Folusho. Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope

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”.

poetic shots

There is music in poetry, there is dance in words. Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope

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”.

Crew
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.

shooting scenes

On set: Folusho (left), Femi (center) and Mayowa (right)

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.

dance to poetry

Folusho in motion. Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope.

Challenges
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.

on set, directors and actors

Director Imole Adisa (left) giving directions to Femi (center) and Folusho (right). Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope.

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.

Palm wine in calabash

The throat and the earth, they must be made wet with wine. Photo by Ogunniyi Temitope.

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

Find out more about the 30 Nigeria House project here.. A.R.T is proud to be part of one of the projects under 30 Nigeria House, find out more here.