20 January 2013

Nigeria: Encounter With the Wise One

An encounter with a spoken word artist initiates Karen Eloke Young into this enchanting world of letters...

Words are, without a smidgen of doubt, the most compelling drug known to mankind, once uttered it envelops the senses and becomes the truth; it builds the whole world.

There are four things in this unfathomable earth that can never be taken back: the spoken word, the fired bullet, the past life and neglected opportunity.

Some people have a way with words, and other people...well, not so much, this is why those with this precious gift of garb are usually the subject of great interest and Sage Hasson is a brilliant example of what can only be described as a gifted word sorcerer.

For those unfamiliar with this creative genre of art, Spoken Word is poetry intended for onstage performance. It is a shift from the conventional form of poetry, a revolutionised form of expression that need not be written on paper, an art, whose only required tool for this art is your lips and the depths of your mind.

Although it is frequently affiliated with the popular hip-hop culture, it also has strong ties to storytelling, modern poetry, post-modern performance, and monologue theatre, as well as jazz, blues, and folk music.

Due to its unrestrained empathy and incredible ability to connect with its audience, this type of poetry often contains references to current happenings and issues relevant to a contemporary audience. It brings to light thoughts and issues that would otherwise be shrouded in silence.

At its best, spoken word is a potent, energetic form of expression whose reach stretches far and wide to artists and audiences of all ages from different works of life and socio-cultural backgrounds.

Most people who have heard Sage Hasson perform insist that he unarguably reigns supreme in the arena of spoken word poetry in Nigeria. Some others even argue that he should definitely be amongst the top five greatest of his time, but whether you agree or not, one thing is certain; Sage has undeniably created a niche for himself in this sector and has remained true to his art despite the ups and downs.

The Spoken Word Poetry circle in Nigeria has made a marked progress from being almost non-existent to having an impressive followership. It is now safe to say a new generation of youths are getting more involved but sadly certain sections of the society are yet to be bitten by the poetry bug. With the somewhat lacklustre response that most Nigerians give to spoken word poetry it is a marvel to see poets like Sage Hasson, who still steadfastly continue to promote this art in the country.

Within a few minutes of meeting Sage this writer is surprised at how different he is from when he performs on stage. When performing, the poet and spoken word artist possesses a commanding presence, his hypnotic voice and moving verses practically hold the listener's attention prisoner. In person however, sage is a soft-spoken, affable man given to witty jokes and an interesting observation of everyday matters.

Speaking to him for only a few minutes will most likely convert the listener to a stronger believer in the art of poetry; the calmness in his voice resounds like the longest echo, his passion and drive for poetry is all too evident in his every gesture.

Although he was named Sammy Hasson at birth, he prefers he stage name "Sage Has.son", an understandable preference considering the meaning of the name "Sage Has.son" - "a wise person has produced an offspring".

Born in the northern part of Nigeria, Sage gives an insight into his background and how he started poetry.

"I'm mostly self-educated. I grew up in my 20s reading nearly a hundred books a year and just imbibing information. I went to school in Kaduna, Minna and Jos where I did a little schooling at the University of Jos. I have been a journalist, a campus pastor... you name it."

On how he found himself in this profession, Sage enthusiastically revealed more.

"I have been very conscious of purpose all my life. Sage came about when I realised who I was created to be at an early age! And as ambitious as it sounds I chose to call myself what I was designed to be when I was farthest from it! I think I'm closer to being what I believe God made me to be now much more than ever! Sage means a wise teacher of recent I teach and coach more than I recite poetry and I just wrote a book that further points me in the direction of sagacity.

"The first poem I wrote I must have been 14! I can't even begin to imagine. I have written too many words between then and now and if the words I've written were piled up that poem will be buried under a mountain of emotion!"

Speaking on the essential elements of mastering the art of spoken word, Sage did not mince any words.

"Besides a basic gift of writing, a minstrel only need possess emotion, honesty, sincerity and rebellion..."

These words held no guile as audiences who have seen Sage in action at several events like the Hip-Hop World Awards, Big Brother Nigeria, FAB Awards and so much more can attest to the passionate honesty with which he speaks his poetry.

Not forgetting the position that Spoken Word Poetry holds in Nigeria today, he didn't fail to voice his thoughts on the changes he wanted to see in the area of Spoken Word Poetry.

"I want to see a better crop of performers first of all. There are some really outstanding ones already! But spoken word is a movement! I want to see a thousand soldiers out there wrecking mad havoc! In a good way that is! That's all spoken word poetry needs - a skilled band of poets running through the land and sowing seeds of poetic revolution - once that happens the fire will spread! I remember when there was nothing! Less than 10 years later this is what we have! Let's see what the next 10 years will birth!"

His words promoted the next question, an important question that deserves serious consideration: "Promoters/publishers often buy into the myth that poetry is a dying art and don't see the money and therefore value in it. Do you agree?"

"Not every art form is about money. And every culture is created and can be developed further; there will be promoters of poetry who will soon find a way to make it a profitable venture for all. But I wish the government and wealthy individuals will just become patrons for this art! That's the way forward right now, but we lack wealthy folk in Nigeria we just have rich people who love pop music and pop artistes like their children. So there is a problem, but I'm sure somehow somewhere out there it's changing - I have met quite a few people who loved poetry and have done their best so far..."

And then he gave us a titbit on his current projects, which surprisingly is one that is a tentative move away from Spoken Word.

"I'm doing more nonfiction now, my book is getting published by a UK publishing firm that is run by a duo of Nigerian brothers. I think I'm just actually starting to become sage.

"Rebellion! Revolution! Change! Difference! Standing out! That has been the message of my poetry, but I have a different message now, I'm living a different life now, a different platform, a different way and pattern."

But Sage softened the blow of his words with the reassurance that he would still and always be a Spoken Word poet. The need to explore other genres of art once one is deeply immersed in poetry is inevitable and understandable; it is all one pulsing beat that branches out yet pulls you in.

"It's all just writing come to think of it now, they are different and differing expressions of the same set of abilities. I believe orientation; environment, influence and interest determine which we choose to do.

See I have done over 400 performances in 8 years, the whole ride is memorable!"

And with this, the enlightening interview with Sage came to an end but not before he shared one of his classic Spoken Word poems titled "Mama":


Was that your first word?

Mama she said baby you did not speak in time

She wonders now how line-by-line my mind rhyme all the time

I think therefore I am René Descartes said

I wonder what could have happened if he hadn't spoken instead

I have a dream I have a dream Martin Luther king said

Well enough but he ended up dead

You are justified and condemned by your words that's what Yeshua said

I am like the pol-lyrical words of that black fella Fela

Everybody say yeah yeah

I think therefore I am

You think Rene

I am that I am that's what God say

I say what I think I am

But does that make me what I am someone please say

What am I but the sum total of my words spoken?

That's me talking

I am the scribe chosen to be the modern griot

Words are what I've been given

Breath to the living

I have history

Mine and your story

I am the custodian of the African mystery

The misery of a race that's fallen

Emanations of a derelict past

I am the many mutations of the magi

The pied piper of the plebeian pilgrim

The pimp in pink pivoting the pilfering prostitute

The voice of the kid crying mama are we destitute

The Eucharistic etymologist while eugenics ekes out euphemisms for euthanasia

I am the son of man

The same man

From Ghana to Indonesia

I know what I am

Do u know who you are

Are you one of those caught in the throes of a seizure?

Love this here

Don't be foes of this new brand media

What a crying shame people living life like hoes in bohemia

In all of these my thoughts come through like I was a Caesar

Say yeah yeah

I am the voice of your father saying son go farther go further

I am the pride in the silence of your mother she's mother she l'll smother

I am the assuring tone of your brother saying I'll be here I'll be there

I am life stretching you

Much more

Than a lil bit more

All before you get to the fore of the furor

I am your hero

Keep pushing to be me

One zero zero zerox

When I walk by catch the whiff of the scent of my poetry

Cos my poetry has melody

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