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B Side, Culture

The Women Pioneers of Nigeria’s Performance Poetry Scene

In one of Udobang’s poetry albums called Transcendence, we see how women are made to alter and fit their bodies for a world that will still shame them

  • Angel Nduka-Nwosu
  • 26th January 2024
Titilope Sonuga, Wana Udobang and Bunmi Africa

When poetry comes to the mind of the average Nigerian, a few names are expected to be mentioned. One can expect to hear discussions centred around the poetry and works of older Nigerian male poets like Niyi Osundare, Wole Soyinka, Remi Raji and Chinua Achebe.


Although there are women poets in Nigeria’s older generation like Mabel Segun, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo and Catherine Acholonu, most people, especially those who read English in university like I did, are more likely to encounter the written poetry of the aforementioned men.


Nigeria is home to a strong oral storytelling culture with several ethnic groups having call and response poems and praise poems for individuals. For instance, the Yorubas have the oriki and amongst the Aro Igbos, there exists the Nkwi form of praise poetry. Again, poetry in today’s world often is categorised in two forms: the written or page poetry and the performed or stage poetry. 


Sometimes called “spoken word poetry”, performance poetry involves the art of telling a poem on stage and incorporating music, dance and other forms of art to tell a story. Performance poetry can also take the form of audio poetry albums where multiple tracks are performed by the poet in a manner similar to music albums.


What is interesting is that the performance poetry scene in Nigeria is one that seems to be dominated by women. Although there are men who are performance poets, spoken word poetry is often synonymous with the names of poets like Titilope Sonuga, Wana Udobang and Bunmi Africa.



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A post shared by Wana Udobang (@mswanawana)


There are other women poets on the rise like Faith Moyosore Agboola, Ayomide Fasedu, Joy To The Words, Fragile Dogubo and Iyanu Adebiyi amongst others.


To start with, Sonuga and Udobang set the tone for women’s performance poetry in a time when the art form itself as we know it today was not popular in Nigeria.



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A post shared by Titilope Sonuga (@titilope)


As mentioned earlier, what was more common were other styles of oral storytelling that were not fixed specifically to poetry. Titilope Sonuga is the first Nigerian poet to perform at the inauguration of a president. This occurred at the 2015 inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari.


Prior to this, Ms. Sonuga had released a poetry album in 2013 titled Mother Tongue that featured some of her groundbreaking poems like “From a Place” and “Icarus”.



Ms. Sonuga has also performed at renowned festivals like Ake Arts and Festivals, has spoken at a Ted Talk and has had multiple performances for brands like Heritage Bank and The White Ribbon Alliance. She has also had solo shows of poetry performances where some of her most popular poems like “This Is How We Disappear” and “Swim” were performed.


In addition to this, Ms. Sonuga is an actor who has acted in shows like Gidi Up and has written a stage play called Ada: The Musical, has written a book on the disappearance of the Chibok Girls titled This Is How We Disappear and also has a poetry album called Swim.


Two consistent themes that is seen in the works of women poets like Titilope Sonuga, Wana Udobang and the newer poets like Bunmi Africa and Faith Moyosore Agboola, are the the themes of sexual violence and women having to adjust to beauty standards. 



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A post shared by Bunmi Africa (@bunmiafrica)


In one of Udobang’s poetry albums called Transcendence, we see how women are made to alter and fit their bodies for a world that will still shame them and their bodies when they get assaulted.



In Bunmi Africa’s album titled In Honor Of The Broken and in Faith Moyosore Agboola’s album titled Blue Hour Notes, one sees that there must be the discussion of how religious sexual assault and colorism affects younger women to the point of self hate.


A line from Bunmi Africa’s track called “Tired” says: “Being strong…is exhausting”. That speaks to how for most Nigerians, strong women are not those who overcome, but rather are those who wear the crown of suffering and wear it with pride.


Bunmi Africa and Wana Udobang are two poets who have worked as on-air presenters in addition to performing poetry. It is not uncommon to see Nigerian women poets occupy multiple creative roles and Titilope Sonuga has said that working as a poet helped greatly when she had to memorise lines as an actor.


Performance poetry in Nigeria is still an industry that requires a lot more attention and training for those who aspire to it. There needs to be more creation of spaces, festivals and grants where poets can come together to not just perform poetry, but to get visibility and the necessary training and funding needed to have a thriving career.


Until then, it is very important to document and praise women pioneers like Titilope Sonuga, Wana Udobang and newer acts like Faith Moyosore Agboola.

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