Since 1998, the Grammy has recognized poetry reading and story telling as “Best Spoken Word Album. Its most recent winner was Carol Burnett. Carol took home the award for best spoken word album at the 59th Grammy with her album “In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem and Fun in the Sandbox”. Barack Obama also won this in 2006 and 2008.
There are not many serious Nigerian spoken word artistes around, it is therefore not a surprise that the ratio of afrobeat albums to spoken word albums out there is closer to 1:1000 than anything else. So it was cheery news when the totally beautiful Wana Udobang announced an impending 11-track spoken word album. When the album so melancholically titled “In Memory of Forgetting” finally hit the wires, I was excited to sink my aural fangs into it and consume my first Nigerian spoken word album.
Here is my review of this piece of work. We have never done this before at FilterFree, this is our first spoken word analysis. So forgive whatever conclusion we come to, there is something known as pioneer status.
Wanawana’s 2nd studio album (her first being “Dirty Laundry” released in 2013) delves into a lot of the pains experienced by women, from issues relating to physiology, molestation, violence, relationships, marriage, and growing up. It is a work that drags attention to the need for society to embark on a determined journey towards introspection and realization. It is a beautiful work of social consciousness spearheaded by determined feminism.
The album kicks off cabaret style with “Showgirl” which could almost fool you into bursting into a can can dance routine until the sad descriptions of veiled pain hits you. “Untitled” takes off from where that stops and leads us into the dark tunnel of sexual molestation by a family member, leaving the taste of bile in ones mouth and a heightened alertness to keep our kids safe. “Dear father” tailgating on the wings of Enya-sque vocals is a letter from a girl calling out a lack of fatherly presence.
“Catfish” introduces us to a mother making a vow to protect her new born daughter from the oddities of the world, a world of lecherous entities who have lost every sense of dignity and responsibility. “This is the story of a woman” is the opening line of the beautiful duet of singing and spoken word titled “Dorathy” featuring Cat Mayel, who is best known for her 2016 EP – Exhale.
“For Didi” is the story of birth (we suspect it is Wana’s own birth), introducing us to a tomboyish mother and her travails. “Open Letter” is a spoken word duet featuring Titilope while in “20” one is welcomed by solemn guitar strings travelling with a girl’s first time at coitus with her love interest. It is steamy and intense.
“The banquet” is a expression of self love, while the profound “This is not a feminist poem” takes us into the reality of African society treating women as second class, of how a woman is not allowed inheritance (the Nigerian Supreme court recently outlawed this), of child marriage, of VVF, of rape and sexual assault of minors. Here is a very profound verse from this track:
It is a 13 year old leaking between her legs
she can not will her waist to stop
because culture demands that babies must birth babies
even before they are whole
This is Mercy, waiting to be fully formed
before the Doctors can fix her
We exchange broken smiles
but mine is crackling with questions
and I want to ask
how does a 6 year old ask to be gang raped for lunch after school
as she fiddles with the beads of a rosary that crawl around her neck
my lips are too drowsy to ask God why?
but I am not trying to be feminist about this
because this is not a feminist poem
“Stillbirth” is the final track on this incredible work, starting off with the chirping of crickets and the rare admonitions of an African mother on a need to choose the escape route from domestic violence.
This album “In Memory of Forgotten” by Wanawana is feminism’s dog whistle that we should all harken to. It reminds us grimly of how society has let half of its team down. Paraphrasing Japhet Omojuwa, how can a team be greater than it is if it plays only half of its best players?
I can’t find any real minuses, whether in presentation or in production. The album was executive produced by Wana Udobang and Lanre “Sabre” Oladimeji of Knighthouse (who she also worked with on her first album) whose vocals could also be heard on “Dorathy” and “Dear Father”. They worked with a team of producers including Echo and Femi Leye.
I expect this album to encourage a slew of spoken word projects in the very near future.
Get “In Memory of Forgetting” on Apple Music.
Physical CDs will be available in Salamander in Abuja and Terra Kulture in Lagos soon.