I was privileged to attend the war of words season 5, and I must say I enjoyed it greatly. In my opinion, this edition is the stiffest so far, but some people might disagree with me. In any case, I picked so many lessons from that competition, and I would like to share them.
First of all, let me say that I hate competitions and don’t like to partake in slams. I don’t think competitions are bad, but because of my personality, I would rather stay away as much as I can. That is because I love to win! Simple. I am not a sore loser, but I love to win. Why be second when I can be first? Just like I detest getting a B in an exam when I can get an A.
I didn’t write this piece with a single shred of bias. How can I, seeing that I know almost half of the contestants? I write these lessons from the angle of a viewer, and someone who has taught spoken word poetry to different kinds of people, both serious and unserious. So these are a few things I learnt. I will not be sugar-coating, and I will only mention names in instances when it is helpful. So please feel free to say Ouch, but I want to believe that you will agree with me.
Consistency: It is no news to everyone who was at the slam that consistency was what won in the end. For slams, you can’t blow hot and cold at the same time and expect to use the hot to pull the wool over people’s eyes. You have to be good from beginning to the end. I have a saying that “my competitors did not come to eat eba. They also want to win.” So we have to put our best foot forward from beginning to the end, and not think we can hold on to previous victories, even in life and business. If you do it once, people can call it a fluke. If you do it twice, people begin to believe you. And when you do it thrice, then case closed! For me, the only 3 consistent people were Ibukun, Wayne, and Clinton.
Diction and Grammar: I am sorry to say this, but many upcoming spoken word artists speak bad English. It is appalling. I am not asking people to fake British or American accent. If you like, use Yoruba or Igbo accent, it doesn’t matter. But at least, let us speak English well. ‘Don’t say things like “I go home to bring her.” Don’t pronounce “House” as “ouse” or “our” as “hour”. Many poets tried to use great performance to cover up their poor grammatical construction, but the judges weren’t fooled, I can tell you that. One poet who had great performance, and made it to the finals, kept blowing English bombs in the first round. I personally counted 5.The good news is that there is great room for improvement for anyone who wants to learn. We can only get better
Find your own style: On many occasions, when some contestants opened their mouths, we immediately saw someone else. I don’t want to think of Jackie Hill, Graciano or Efe Paul when you are doing your poetry. I want to see you. It was so bad that a poet copied the voice inflection, facial expression, and body language of another poet. The only thing she changed was the words. Unfortunately, one of the judges had watched the piece she copied, and wasn’t impressed.
War of voice? It is a war of words, not war of voice. Some people shouted so loud that the audience had to cover their ears. Spoken word doesn’t mean you have to shout. There’s a difference between shouting and projecting. The only time shouting should be done is when the piece requires it, such as Vic Adex’s “Men not gods.” Be sensual in your voice when it is needed, and shout only when needed. Voice projection comes from the diaphragm, not the throat. That’s why there’s something called voice inflections. Attend my classes for more on this, lol.
Monotony: After a while, it seemed everyone was just saying the same thing, and we were just getting bored. Don’t believe the hype of the crowd. It was at this point we couldn’t but wait for Ibukun and Wayne to come, and just tell us something different. Case closed.
Slam material: I have contested in a slam once in my life, and I agreed to it because I got to travel to Brazil for the first time in my life, and got to represent Nigeria, meeting fantastic word artists from all over the world. It was at this competition I realised that not all poetry styles can survive slams. Some styles of poetry are too sensual and deep for slams. They require that the listener be pulled into their words and not get carried away by the all the paparazzi of performance. But unfortunately, performance is a major factor in slams. Wayne for me, was almost 100% in War of Words 5, but because his style doesn’t fit performance, it cut him short. But I will listen to that guy any day anytime. In fact, I am tripping for him, lol.
Dynamism: C’mon. God has blessed us with the gift of creativity. Many poets in the slam had 3 opportunities to convince the judges and the audience. But many came and kept saying the same thing over and over again. Their message was practically the same. Only the words changed. Even if you are on the path of activism, there are so many things you can talk about than saying the same thing every single moment.
Hiding behind technicalities: Okay, poets are not more hiding behind rhymes, that is just too old school and childish. They are now hiding behind alliterations. At the event, some poets were blowing alliterations almost every 20 seconds, and got the whole crowd screaming. But ask that same screaming crowd what the guy just said 5 seconds ago, or what his message was, and they can’t remember. Seems like some Terry G stunt is finding its way into poetry. As I said in the Business of Spoken Word poetry organised by i2X last year, technicalities in poetry are like the orisirisi dry fish, bokoto, eran igbe, etc. that Nigerians use to spice up their vegetable soup. Too much of it, and we will be looking for the vegetable, thus causing us to lack the dietary fibre we desire to ingest when we want to eat our Amala. We might as well be eating just Amala and meat – Disgusting.
God Factor: I have analysed the whole competition in my head over and over again. I actually don’t think anyone can sit down to say that one poet is better than the other. We are all different. I saw Clinton kabashing on stage in the second round, during his face off with Oyinkansola, lol. I saw the way Ibukun was favoured to win in that competition, cos in the second round, her competitors just took themselves out. And in the final round, they just couldn’t match their previous feats, except Wayne, my love, of course. The final round was just an easy win for her, and that is what I call divine arrangement. I believe in the God factor, and believe it works. This time, it was the major player in the winner’s victory.