2016 was the kind of year where we sorely needed protest music. We needed someone with the fervor of Fela, the angst of African China, the rage of Eedris Abdulkareem to document our fear and disappointment at the government we’d democratically elected into power. We needed protest music we could march to, songs that we could weep to, proclamations of hope that to which we could dance and sweat away our worries. But no one would step to the plate, forgo a cushy cheque and a couple of island gigs. It was so bad that there wasn’t a single protest song recorded by a high profile Nigerian musician in 2016. This is why it’s amazing that our spoken word artists are taking charge and filling the void. None quite like Titilope Sonuga.
As far Nigerian spoken word poets go, there are few as accomplished as Titi Sonuga. The unique honour of being the only poet to perform at presidential inauguration, invited to speak at TEDx Edmonton, international awards for poetry in Canada and Nigeria and an ambassador for ‘She Will Connect’, Intel Nigeria’s female empowerment CSR scheme are just notches on a tableau of achievements that are pages deep. But Titi really comes alive when she performs, and she finds opportunities to do it often. At the Ake Festival, where I first saw her take a stage in person, she wove stories of the girls and women, speaking for their rights, telling of their inner lives, issuing the challenge that we see them as more than the two dimensional stereotypes we are taught to believe.
But her poetry isn’t limited to women’s issues. On Icarus, recorded for Badilisha poetry, she immortalizes the victims of Nigeria’s litany of airplane disasters, asking that we remember them, asking that we don’t become complacent and look away while incompetence continues to take lives. She reminds us one day it will be us, in those seats. A protest call, if I ever heard one.
Here are few more of her more popular poems.
On I AM, she traces her roots, celebrating them in the face of her status as an immigrant in Canada.
Her TEDx talk, Speaking Into The Void chronicles her history as a poet and how it has changed her life.
And of course, a medley of poems from a poetry festival in Calgary.
There are voids to fill, and Titi is speaking into them, one heart wrenching poem as a time.