I low-key hate attending poetry and spoken word events. I attended a few in the vain hope that I could vibe with the neo-soul, politically aware crowd. It was only after one particularly excruciating night of standing in my platform boots inhaling all that hot air and bluster I said no more! I rebuked these events in the name of Black Jesus!
But that was until last Friday. My new found friend Siana Bangura kindly invited Satia and I to the official launch of her new book ‘Elephant’. I must have blacked out on all the times she announced that it was a book of poetry. Someone running the universe clearly wanted me in the room that day, and I am glad I was.
The evening started strong and powerful with a traditional Sierra Leonean performance by Usifu Jalloh. Siana came out and introduced the show, and musical guest Ayelle, a blue-eyed soul singer who moved me with her liberating song ‘Machine’, a tale of a woman shaped by society’s virtues and unaware that she can reject them.
As the evening progressed the power in the room increased. Siana was careful and deliberate with her readings. The crescendo began when singer and pianist Nia Ekanem joined Siana on stage for her most electrifying performances of the evening – ‘Scorched Earth’ and ‘Denim’. Every word conjured up painful images. Ekanem’s accompaniment succeeded in driving home her most salient points. There was something unsettling, yet refreshing about having my sentiments echoed by Siana’s vivid choice of language.
Though I could not relate to the tale of bleaching and hair relaxing in ‘Scorched Earth’, the comparison to setting yourself alight was almost too much to bear. Similarly, with ‘Denim’ the sense of resentment and the underlying hatred for the ‘gentrifying class’ was disconcerting yet very real.
As the night came to a close, Siana turned her attention to womanhood and its many faces. Birmingham singer Janel Antoneisha moved us with her dulcet tones in ‘She’ and ‘Halo’ alongside Jules Vaughan playing the Viola and Marcus Joseph on Saxophone. By the time we reached the closing performance of the book’s lead poem, ‘Elephant’ – accompanied by a powerful and sombre projection summarising the infamous attack on Siana in Liverpool last October – I could not help but notice that she looked truly liberated and empowered. She did her part in addressing the ‘Elephant’ in the room. It is now our turn to take the message further.