When poet, performer, and playwright Lanaire Aderemi was five years old, her mother would tuck her and her sister into bed with a bedtime story. These stories were the typical folktales many of us grew up listening to, but every once in a while, her mother would cook up a mystical, fantasy story, never heard before by the young girls, much to their excitement and glee. The 21-year-old poet and writer did not realise at the time but this would go on to become one of her earliest memories of falling in love with storytelling.
Unlike many of her peers today, Lanaire came from a background where she was positively reinforced for exploring her creative side. She was a hardworking student and an even more voracious reader, but this never deterred her from engaging in the arts. By the time Lanaire was graduating high school, she had amassed a journal full of poem entries, collated through her childhood, that her mother further encouraged her to publish as an anthology. “The next few days, I was literally arranging my poems in order of how I wanted the anthology to look like. I put 30 together and published them under the name ‘Of Ivory & Ink’”. This anthology went on to become the premise of her second play, ‘an evening with verse writer‘ released almost five years after.
“My mum has literally been the foundation of my creative practice.”
Lanaire’s mother was not the only woman that had inspired her craft over the years; her story is marked by female relatives, friends, artists, and role models who have embodied everything that she wished to be as an artist and a woman. For Lanaire, rather than squeezing her artistry into forms that were not representative of her and her community, every venture she took part in was a means to touch on black feminist politics from collectivity to community building and more. One of her earliest inspirations was the late Mrs Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti, a fierce feminist activist and the de facto leader of the Egba Women’s 1947 revolt, whose socialist-driven work inspired Lanaire to create her first play shining a light on the importance of women-led movements.
Another keen inspiration of hers was the work of singer, songwriter, and performance artist Solange Knowles, whose live performances and interdisciplinary work had always left Lanaire in awe, and inspired her to touch on different forms of artistry outside poetry. This led Lanaire to look for ways to blend her artistry with other forms of expression, leading her not only to spoken word but to stage design, creative direction, and more recently, to music – Lanaire dipped her toes into music creation when she co-created an EP with friend and rapper King Solomon back in 2018.
The EP once again touched on topics that were important to Lanaire, exploring and deconstructing the ways in which racial politics and Western ideals were presented in and around the black community. She is always looking at how to examine the interconnectedness of all people, particularly for women who are oftentimes erased from popular culture. At its best, Lanaire’s work embodies a new template of authenticity and one in which black people – black women especially – can be vulnerable and open about their experiences.
“Whilst my work isn’t necessarily considered popular culture, I’ve never had to worry about it being popular because I don’t want it to lose itself and I never want it to be stripped of its radicalism.”
It’s why over a decade later, Lanaire Aderemi is about to step up into the biggest milestone of her career yet: the release of her debut film an evening with verse writer: a documentary by lanaire aderemi and her second festival in three years aptly titled Story Story. It’s a moment she’s been working towards her entire life, the culmination of all those years of piecing together intimate stories about her life and her craft and turning them into literary gold. When we settle down for a call over the phone on a Thursday morning two weeks before the arrival of her festival, Lanaire is beaming with joy about what has led up to this moment.
“Story Story is the embodiment of my creative journey because it is literally my childhood meshed with moments from my teenage years into a 3-day festival,” she tells me earnestly. When her mother, or her teachers in her formative years, were telling her stories, Lanaire recalled that they would always begin each new tale with the call and response phrase, “story story,” an invitation to listeners to join in a collaborative narrating experience. As a Yoruba woman, the idea of collaborative tales had trailed her all her life, so she would be remiss to take on her biggest project without paying homage to a very important facet of her culture.
“I think because my creative journey would have been impossible without the people that are around me, I had to make sure that the spaces I was inhibiting and the stories that I was telling were interactive for both my audience and me as a performer,” Lanaire says. Her need to foster interaction through the call and response technique not only informed the title of her upcoming creative festival but also informs most of her spoken word performances where she feeds off audience interaction to propel her storytelling. She tells me that the importance of collaboration in the creation process cannot be understated and she’s endlessly peppering into the tapestry of each story or poem a rich collaborative standpoint that allows her to capture a more well-rounded polysemic view of the world.
This by no means suggests that Lanaire’s personal thoughts and feelings are lost in her work, if anything they are represented in its most uninhibited form, alongside the thoughts and feelings of her team, friends, family, and even her peers. It’s Lanaire’s strong sense of self and her fiercely independent nature that allows her to see collaboration, not as a form of erasure, but as a way to capture everything that the modern world has to offer – and it’s one that she deftly covers with sharp-clawed precision and empathy.
“I think erasure is one of the most violent things you can do to someone and I always go into each opportunity telling my team or everyone else that, ‘hey guys I am not the leader here, we are all leaders.'”
‘Story Story’ will be held from 5-7 February. You can register here.
Featured image credits/WamiAluko
.@tamimak_ Is a Staff Writer at The NATIVE