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The Urban Oral Artist and the Burden of Message: An Interview with Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke | Interview | Agbeye Oburumu

In this interview with spoken word artist, Kudo Eresia-Eke by Agbeye Oburumu, they discussed the significance and the intricacy of this form of art.

The Urban Oral Artist and the Burden of Message: An Interview with Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke

An Interview with Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke

Infusing Nigeria's literary culture with boundless vitality, and cultivating a community of seasoned practitioners and curious newcomers across Africa and the world— within this literary sphere— spoken word poetry is a voice-driven art that seeks to educate and entertain. However, despite the ingeniosity of performance and its cleverly contrived words, spoken words poetry mostly gets ignored, while the traditional written poetry and its practitioners receive more critical appraisal and attention.

In this interview with one of the earliest spoken word artist, Kudo Eresia-Eke, PhD, the interviewer, Agbeye Oburumu, engaged Kudo in discussion that explored the significance and the intricacy of this form of art, as well as the burden weighing on the artists, and its foundation in Nigeria. 

Kudo Eresia-Eke is a seasoned and accomplished communicator and administrator with rich experience in the media, academia, government, and the oil and gas industry. He holds a PhD in Political Theory from the University of Port Harcourt and a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. He was the GM of External Relations at Nigeria LNG from 2013 until he took an early retirement in late 2017 to pursue other interests abroad. He was CEO of Nigeria’s Oil and Gas Foundation, OGIF, which supported the Federal Government’s programme for training and rehabilitation of ex-Niger Delta militants. Kudo also served on the board of the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency.

Agbeye: You are welcome, sir. Thanks for granting this interview. Of course, you are a public figure, so your bio. is a public data. But for the purpose of this interview, is there a thing or two you may want to put out there for the benefit of the public?

Kudo: I don't know what else you want me to say that you don't already know. I'm a teacher, I'm an educator, and I'm a poet, but not of the usual kind. I don't write poetry to confuse, obfuscate, or look sophisticated. I write poetry purely because of its relevance and value to humanity, especially along the lines of principles. those normal boundaries, which sometimes are purely spiritual. So that's my interest: to write poetry that everyone can follow, understand, and hopefully get some value from. 

As you probably know, one of the poems that you probably saw on TV started with a declaration of my mission, which was something like, if I remember correctly, "they took up poems and they hung them on the roof; they spoke in mystic tongues so we wouldn't understand; they took our poetry and tied them in chains of obscurity. Please bring back our songs so we, the people, can dance." So that was more or less like a statement, a report against what people admire as poetry. 

I think poetry is not a mystical thing that we have to hang somewhere in an ivory tower that's unreachable. I think poetry belongs to us in Africa. Poetry is a song for learning. It's a song for the marketplace. It's for growing children, for retaining our culture, and for entertaining ourselves, not for mystifying or confusing us.

Agbeye: When you mentioned the fact that poetry is for the marketplace, were you alluding to Niyi Osundare’s Songs of the Market Place?, because Niyi has a work of that title.

Kudo: of course, I respect Niyi. Niyi is a little bit different. Doesn't make too much effort to confuse people with poetry. Although I differ from him in the sense that his poems are about social affairs. Sometimes it's political, but my main interest is spiritual development. So that's how I completely differ from Niyi. But I guess we share a certain commonality in the sense that we are both accessible, but I think I'm far more accessible than he is. Some people may even describe me as almost simplistic.

An Interview with Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke

Agbeye: Can it be safe to say your pieces are modelled after Rumi, for instance? I know Rumi writes spiritual poems that are based on Sufism.

Kudo: I got to know Rumi, but I haven't read much of him. So, I was not inspired by Rumi, except that Rumi is one of my guardian angels who whispers to me. It's possible, but in terms of whether I've followed his work, no, I haven't. I may have stumbled across his work at some point, maybe listed somewhere or written somewhere, but I haven't gone to start looking for it. The reason why I rarely do that is because I'd rather leave my mind as a blank slate upon which those who use me can write anything of value to them without my mind intervening. Because if you are schooled in a certain fashion, then chances are you begin to discriminate along that fashion. If you are schooled, for instance, by a bombastic poet like Wole Soyinka, chances are you might begin to discriminate along those lines. Do you see what I mean? It all depends on what defines your paradigm, which is what you use to discriminate among things. I prefer to leave mine blank because spirit is airy, spirit is breezy, and spirit is freedom. So, all I'm trying to say is that whatever spirituality wants me to say is said in such a simple way that children can understand it.

Agbeye: Some people are tagged page poets, some are tagged spoken word poets, and some are tagged performance poets. Do you see that as an unnecessary taxonomy, do you think it is proper to label poets or categorise them? 

Kudo: I think a poet is a poet. The reason we write is because we happen to be literate; that's why we put these things down. But for those of us who had a stint growing up and visiting the village, we got to know that in the village we also have poets in our own native culture. So sometimes they were known as priests, but they spoke the language of the gods to our people. Sometimes they adorn themselves with chalk, which is one of the things Fela used to do. So many of us in Africa had those priests among us. And every one of them, to the best of my knowledge, is a poet; they spoke for the gods. The local musicians at the time, whose music was also some kind of folklore, It was a means of transmitting culture from one generation to another. It was a means of building behavior. All those were poets. They may not have been literate, but they were poor because of it. We have a culture, a definitive culture, as our African culture, without those poets who were not literate. I don't think we'll have a defining culture that we can embrace today and say this is African culture. So we must recognise and remember them for the work that they did.

Agbeye: From the foregoing, I suppose you are establishing that regardless of the tags, which are now a contemporary reality, poets are poets and should be tagged "poets" without necessarily having these subcategorizations of spoken word and performance as affixes?

Kudo: Yeah. If it helps create a platform, say, for spoken word artists, for example, then that gives them jobs. Why not? There's nothing wrong with it. But I'm just saying that people shouldn't play off those distinctions too much, because a poet is a poet. He doesn't have to have graduated from Harvard to be a poet. No. He may not have gone to university to be a poet. The only thing that binds all poets together is our commitment to the masters that we serve, because every poet is a channel. There's no poet who acts on his own. Every poet is a channel of some god, some idea, or some entity, anyway. But you get to know which entity that is by analysing what comes out of that poet. So, there are poems that serve the vulgarity of life. There are poets concerned with justice, fairness, and equity. There are poets who eulogise the worldview of idols or gods, like Ogun. So those gods speak through that intermediary. And then you have, to a lesser extent, people like us, whose views are spirited.

Agbeye: Earlier, you talked about some sort of what I would term decolonizing the poetry in Africa, or redefining what poetry should be in Africa, and it shouldn't be some sort of Greco-Roman lore or esoteric; it should be simplistic. Now, I want to know if you write with a particular audience in mind—if the audience is primary to your writing or secondary?

Kudo: I think I'm defined more by the objective of my writing and by the specific audience that I serve. I'm defined more by the seeds that I disperse than by the ground upon which they fall. So, to recognise me, is to look at the seeds and say, what kind of seeds is he dispersing? My audience is humanity as a whole, because I deal with things that are common to all of us. While the cultures may differ, our spiritual business is the same.  

Agbeye: Absolutely. This is indeed an eye-opener. Call it a sneak peek into your mind. Thank you. Thank you very much. I also want to know if the message has changed or metamorphosed over time?

Kudo: The message you know has always been spiritual. I mean, if you listen, (singing "whether right or wrong/ I say na where wey you belong/ make you choosy o choosy o choosy o/ between good and bad/ to be happy or be sad/ abegi choosy o choosy o choosy o/). So again, that is trying to let you know that the power is in your head. You're not as powerless as you think. You decide for yourself what kind of life you want. They make us feel powerless. They make us feel that we're completely out of control. But that is very deceptive because we feel that sense of powerlessness that is imposed on us. They have the liberty and the latitude to take control and lord it over us. We have the rights and the power, each of us, to define for ourselves what lives we want to live as individuals and as a collective. Exactly. So I was looking for a way to pass that message in a simple way. That's why I wrote those lyrics in pidgin, so they could be accessible. So maybe you don't understand it immediately, but because they're repeating it, They're repeating it. They are repeating it; someday something will click.

Agbeye: If I am correct, one can I safely say your idea is taking the language and bending it to the service of the people?

Kudo: I think everything should be included in the service. The reason we're made is so we can serve one another; that's the whole reason. But what happens with a lot of people who are supposed to be messengers of gods, as poets are supposed to be, is that we write to serve ourselves. So we gloat over the fact that nobody can understand us, then we think that we belong in a certain class that should be worshipped—madness! completely lost it! Every talent we have should be for the service of others, and that includes my poetry. So if I’m a poet and my words cannot serve others, And all I do is just make myself so special by picking verbs, proverbs, and esoteric ones no one can understand, mixing them up, and calling it poetry. So I can give myself a standing ovation; I think I’m just standing on dirt.

An Interview with Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke

Agbeye: At the time you started, it was something novel. At this time, a lot of people were just getting to see it for the first time. At the moment, particularly in Port Harcourt, there are so many poetry events and so many hubs and creative centres that, of course, try to popularise the craft. So I do not know how many people were doing it at the time. Are you the pioneer, sir?

Kudo: Essentially, I think if you have to give the glory to any part of the country for launching spoken word poetry in our era, this contemporary time, it should go to Port Harcourt. I was the first, and I did it in Port Harcourt for my people. I'm not surprised that it affected or impacted people, especially young people like you. It impacted older people as well. Yeah. So really, there's no question about it. I'm the pioneer. I have no question about it. There were none before. I try to resolve the question of communication within myself and my people. And if you notice, pidgin is injected, which is pretty much what I do, even though I try to use monolinguals. And the reason why pidgin is injected is because I come from the Niger Delta, and in the Niger Delta, pidgin is our lingua franca.

Agbeye: Would you be doing anything in the near future as it concerns spoken-word poetry?

Kudo: sure! I’m working. I've done a few things that were not on TV. I have done songs for Mandela because I thought he was an idol that we needed to celebrate and from whom we as Africans could derive inspiration. I've done quite a lot of other things that I'm working on now. They do not have as much airtime as the initial ones because of too much commercialization. So TV houses want you to pay money. I'm not doing this because I want to make any profit. I'm doing this because I want money. I am doing this purely because I want to be of service. So usually, anyone who wants to serve doesn't struggle to serve. You do what you can, and you let people appreciate what you do if they want it. If they don't want it, okay. But that, again, is very sad because the media has moved away from looking at content that's of service and uplifting to the people to only things that will bring money to their coffers. Pretty sad. But that's the situation. So that's why I don't hear much about the work that I'm doing. But I won't stop. Okay? I won't stop. I'll keep going. Maybe what I'll do sometimes is post some of those things on my own website. But I cannot end this interview without giving kudos to someone who's worked with me all this time. He's a river boy from Bayelsa. His name is Pupa K. Sinclair. Much respect. He’s a true artist who understands truth, who understands what the rhythm is for, and what the message is supposed to be. Who understands that art is used to uplift people. He has been a great support for me. He's been my producer as well.

Agbeye: Thank you very much, sir. It has been a very inspiring conversation with you, and I earnestly look forward to your works currently in the offing. Thank you so much for your time, sir.


Agbeye Oburumu is a writer, a performance poet, a film maker, a history aficionado, and tech savvy, among other things. His works are featured in Just World Zine, Brittle Paper, Feversofthemind, Spillwords, Orange Poetry, and elsewhere. He was the runner-up in the Irish Refugee Council Poetry Grand Slam: Creativity and Change. A longlistee in the Writing Ukraine Prize. He won the Stage on Fire (Poetry) Television Talent Hunt Show organized by the Delta State Government, Nigeria. He is a recognized member of the International Society for Sustainability and Development (ISDS), Japan, and a lifetime member of the Scholars Academic and Scientific Society (SAS), India.



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Pawners Paper: The Urban Oral Artist and the Burden of Message: An Interview with Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke | Interview | Agbeye Oburumu
The Urban Oral Artist and the Burden of Message: An Interview with Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke | Interview | Agbeye Oburumu
In this interview with spoken word artist, Kudo Eresia-Eke by Agbeye Oburumu, they discussed the significance and the intricacy of this form of art.
Pawners Paper
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