On Friday, 27 October 2016, Freedom Park, one of the most visited cultural centres in Lagos, played host to 50 poems. As directed by the revered writer Wole Soyinka, the poems, with themes that centered on Lagos, were blown into life-sized images and placed at different points around the amphitheatre. This was how the Lagos International Poetry festival, LIPfest, celebrated [email protected] at its official opening ceremony.

LIPfest made its debut in 2015. Now in its second year, the festival hosted 30 renowned poets from all over Africa and outside the continent.

Opening Ceremony. Photo Credit: Lagos International Poetry Festival
Opening Ceremony. Photo Credit: Lagos International Poetry Festival

Celebrating [email protected]

At the official opening ceremony, the poets came on to the stage, one after the other, to read/perform their poems on Lagos. A Yoruba poet, Pelumi, set the pace for the night after he performed a series of poems in Yoruba. Pelumi would later give way to a little lad, Small Mighty, who also delivered and rhymed his verses in Yoruba. The influence of rap culture that was absent from Pelumi’s performance was very present in the latter’s delivery.

Festival Director Efe Paul Azino performed a poem for his tribe, for those who smuggled out their truths on toilet paper/those who wrote back from exile/telling us that there was a country. Doctor-cum-poet Dami Ajayi read his poem “I know what Lagos does to dreams”, which was placed beside the poem by Wole Soyinka. Other poets who performed that night were Ogaga Ifowodu, Kola Tuboson, Jumoke Verissimo and a number of young, emerging poets. Of the young poets, the most outstanding was Chika Jones. Chika’s poem “Lagos will teach” you is a poem about how the business of making money in Lagos, this city that was ranked the fifth biggest economy in Africa, will swallow up your dreams and teach you to forget.

Wole Soyinka and Efe Paul. Photo Credit: Lagos International Poetry Festival

Before the official opening ceremony, there was a Rhythm And Poetry (RAP) party, but even before the RAP party, there were master classes facilitated by the amazing Titilope Sonuga, US-based Somalian poet Osman Ladan and Inua Ellams. Inua, ever energetic, would later headline the RAP party in the evening, using humorous, metaphoric and witty lines to introduce the poets as they came on stage. Efe Paul performed his now famous poem, “A not political poem”, about life, war, strife, brothers and country. Bash Amuneni, in the spirit of not performing political poems, performed his “Please Don’t Ask Me Why” to the soft rhythm of Blessing Tangban’s guitar strings. Others in the line-up for the RAP party were Sage Hassan, Titilope Sonuga, Ladan Osman and Chika Jones.

The panels illuminated the theme of the festival, which was Paging the future. Of all the panels the most controversial was the Tade Ipadeola-led panel, which discussed the relevance of poetry in Africa after 50 years. The all-male panel – Ogaga Ifowodu, Peter Akinlabi, Niran Okewole, Gbenga Adesina and Uzor Maxim – discussed the relevance of poetry in Africa with in-depth knowledge but they were called out by Kenyan poet and activist Shailja Patel for ignoring the role of women in the development of African poetry.

The next session was a call-and-response session, in conversation with the ancestors: Young poets read a poem by the older generation of poets and gave a response to it. Chika Jones read and responded to “The Casualties” by JP Clarke, while Inua Ellams focused on Pa Gabriel Okara’s “Piano and Drums”.

A short film by Onyeka Nwelue on Flora Nwapa, titled House of Nwapa, was screened after the call-and-response session. Nwapa was the first woman to be published in Africa. Her first novel, Efuru, was published in 1966. The movie focused on the life of Flora and her contribution to African literature.

Dami Ajayi. Photo Credit: Lagos International Poetry Festival

Women in African poetry

Womanifesto was the last event on day two of the festival. Womanifesto was produced by Titilope Sonuga and featured six poets: Shailja Patel, Mundi Vundla from South Africa, Ladan Osman, Ghana’s Poetra Asantewa, Nigeria’s Wana Udobang and rap artist Pryse. Womanifesto was perhaps the most powerful concert of the festival. It was an evening of breathing with hands held high in the black power sign, an evening of finger-snapping to perfect rhythms and soul-searing lines.

Renowned Kenyan poet Shailja Patel delivered poems on what it meant to be a woman, to be white, to love a brown girl. Mundi Vundla performed several poems; her poem about South Africa being the rape capital of the world left the audience numb. Ladan Osman delivered the laughs for the evening when she performed a Somalian curse poem. Wana Udobang performed her poem on domestic abuse, “Love is”, and her now famous You will not be cat fish, they will not choose you as they choose me, point and kill.

Poetra Asantewa brought all of the feels from Ghana. She performed five heart-wrenching poems on love and betrayal, on self-love and sacrifice.

Womanifesto closed with a performance by Nigerian rap star Pryse. Pryse started her performance with a cover of Ycee’s “King Kong”, where she called herself ‘Queen Kong’ and closed with a song she called the bosses, for women breaking the glass ceiling all over the world.

The last day of the festival saw panels discussing the relationship between the Internet and the creative space in Africa. The panels led to the festival concert, which was headlined by Adrian “Diff” van Wyk from South Africa. Neo Muyanga was the only musician at the concert. He performed two songs of lamentation, songs he said he performed “in solidarity with all those protesting around the world.”

Neo’s performance left the audience in silent awe. Dike Chukwumerije provided comic relief when he did his humorous poem about keeping seats for the family of the happy couple at weddings. Sage Hassan gave an electrifying performance but the poem that stayed with the audience most was his poem on marriage and sex, What is marriage but a mere license to f**k?

The festival concert brought to a close four glorious days of reading and performances, master classes and panel discussions. For such a young festival, LIPfest certainly seems to know exactly what it is doing, and that is to celebrate the beauty that is African poetry.