You see the real beauty of a woman when she is naked
Nudity is reality
Yes; nudity is reality is what I said
Nudity reveals vulnerability is what I heard…
— Nenebi, “Every Woman”
Reviewing a Poetry album, not a Spoken Word album per say, is one of the most challenging thing a reviewer can put him/herself through. Unlike music albums, which have attained fluidity in terms of their reviews, reviewing a poetry album is like embarking on two journeys, simultaneously — soul travelling in physical sojourn— because, one has to deal with the written as well as the oral cum musical component.
Poetry deviates from a singular definition. Sometimes, even the poet finds it difficult explaining how some of his works were created. This is because the idea behind the poetic journey, unlike journalism, is soulfully defining, cosmologically mesmerizing —cutting streams and oceans. Contemporality, however, has ushered in even more complex harmonic diversity into what Poetry means to the Poet, the Reader (Audience) and Society.
Nenebi is one of the most controversial, if not the most thought-provoking, Poet(s) in Ghana and Africa at large. His deep sense of how society, music (particularly, rap) and arts should be is mostly an aberration of the norm. A friend of mine who visited me in my ‘shrine-of-ponder’ in late December 2016 at my hostel and heard me listening to Nenebi’s “Murder Mahama” poetry audio paused for a while and shouted, “This guy is crazy! Who is he, Abeiku?” That is how far Nenebi’s Poetry and writings on his Facebook wall can get you into thinking even if you’re not an admirer of deviant arts or conscious poetic absurdum.
“Coke in the Flagstaff, 2017” is Nenebi’s third Poetry offering after his debut mixtape, “A B.I.B.L.E of Things We Do, 2014” and debut album “See Me Naked, 2015”. This latest Poetry album which is made up of 10 works and beginning with the intro: Coke In The Flagstaff (also being the title of the album) and the final work: My Kanye Card. This review, however, focuses on five works from the album which got me into day-mares in the course of listening and afterwards. These pieces, An Angle With Demons, Yaw Sarpong, (Rawlings) A Monster The People Created, Penis and Vagina and My Kanye Card would be the centre stage for taking personal perspectives into what these works mean to me as an addicted lover of the arts-of-absurdism and the poetics which by all measure I do see Nenebi’s creative works to be characteristic of. This review would, with all purposefulness, string those works that speak almost on the same central idea one after the other so that there would be clarity in why the review is skewed to such dimension as chosen by the reviewer.
(Rawlings) A Monster the People Created, the fourth work on the album is one perfect way of harmonizing sarcasm and satire using Ex Ghana President, Jerry John Rawlings’ political leadership case study. “Nothing is wrong when you idolize people/ Issue is how you present your worship/ you can please some of the people some of the time/ But you can’t please all the people all the time”. The impression created by the artist in this case, is of political leadership which is through the empowerment of the few atop by the majority at bottom. No matter the kind of leadership style adopted by a leader, there is no way the people would be pleased with whatever you do for them. That is how come there is consistent change in the baton of government or leadership. “The people empowered Idi Amin dada/ the people named Idi Amin saviour/ The people made him believe he was a demi-god/ And that he could do no wrong”… In using the incident of Idi Amin, the famous Ugandan political and military leader who was President between 1971-1979, the poet strategically appeals to the weaknesses of mortality that in many cases blind the realities of the people whom the leader leads, and why the people empowered them to such status. Nenebi’s didactic Biblical and religious allusions is one that can be attributed to how dimensional the scope of leadership stretches. “What is a mosque without the people who pray in?/ What is a priest without the people he preaches to?/ What is a king without the people he rules?/ What is the president without the people to give him the comfortable lead?…” These ending lines are extension of how ironical the Poet had being throughout this thought-provoking piece on how leadership in our part of the coast has become. In essence, one do realise that the Poet ridicules why it isn’t always the case to blame leadership. He makes it clear for understanding that it is the people that make leadership monstrous and not the other way round as we have known.
The third piece on this album, Yaw Sarpong, is another satirising piece on politics. The personified associations created by the Poet could be quite misleading especially with how he chose the candidacy of Yaw Sarpong to represent his constituency. “Now we only see him on Television/ Talking big English/ Domokrakye and Infration/ Statistics oo… / They are like mini-skirts/ They don’t reveal any essentials”… The constituents who elect their representatives in elections have no interest in whatever encyclopedic words the elected use. They are much more interested in how they are being represented — a truce that should inure to the benefits of the electorates. This is not the case in our Africa political landscape. This is a masterpiece that goes a long way to unravel how politicians through organic generated ways (in the form of sheep) take on to leadership to become agents and practitioners of corruption to the detriments of the already impoverished people who gave him the mandate. The beat used as background to this piece was well matched, it’s deliberacy with the twist of Yaw Sarpong’s Wo Haw Ne Sen hook as alluded by Nenebi craves and defies.
In Penis and Vagina, the fifth piece on this album, Nenebi demystifies one of the most long standing ethnic-moral tabellions that is barely spoken about. “Life begins with penis and vagina….”, it commences. This is one of the most intelligent philosophical works Nenebi created on this album. In our part of the world, one especially held in the whims of ethnic-religious morality, it is practically impossible to talk about reproductive sex (the penis and the vagina). Growing up in a small corner somewhere in Ghana, how dare you mention the names of these body parts? You dare not! But here, we do realise the extent to which a poetic absurdist could serve as a voice to the many who like myself can’t talk about the very things which are fundamentally part of their anatomy. “Poetry is making yourself naked” — That is a deep ocean to swim in. Nakedness connotes beauty, spiritual adherence to sacredness, an enlargement of how poetry can mean to our humanness, the potency of a strikingly metaphor implied. Nenebi can be heard (or seen) in this piece as becoming an advocacy bridge for a conscious realization of the same trend both men and women find themselves in. “We are scared to admit that women too have balls too”, that is how deep male chauvinistic tendencies in our social structures have been over the years. Most men think that it is only women that are vulnerable to the dictates of social structures, but the vice versa is sometimes the case. Not only did Nenebi talk literally about “penis and vagina”, but in a way he speaks about broader philosophical underpinnings in our society. The effects that the instrumental makes with the poem coupled with the poet’s tone, melts. A serenade pitching of an interspersed whistle is a great way to keep it going.
The second piece on the album, An Angel With Demons, is what the Poet rumored it as “the best lyrical output ever”. I have listened to this particular piece over 300 times and I still find it exceptional with every listening, though it’s not my favourite on the album. The riddle with which Nenebi sets the whole piece into is complex such that it leaves anyone listening into deeper cravings. Every line in this piece is masterful and well-crafted. The whole piece releases itself from the many saturations that many lyricists get into. The depth, the extended metaphor, the pun et al were well used. The aptness of imagery the poem creates is incredible. The poet talks about the darkest reality of how some people, it’s on both sides of the divide though, invest their resources and time into others with whom they have relationships, and at the end the doom is unleashed. I am a witness to several incidence of this particular nature, especially with where I am coming from and so I do relate very well. With no particular line(s) intended, the poet demonstrates in this piece, his lyrical pizzazz in the most masterful way.
My Kanye Card, the tenth and final piece on this masterwork of album is perhaps, the true definition of the qualities of the poet, Nenebi. This is where the poet shows you why Kanye West is his most prominent influence, especially when you are an ardent follower of his insightful written pieces on Kanye West on his Facebook wall (Ur Nenebi). The use of “I am” — “I am of God/ I am a god” — which punctuates the verses is invariably the most subtle and brilliant way Nenebi uses to express why he is the creative genius. This happens to be one of the best evoking moment that the Poet takes his listeners through a succinct Kanye West life (which is invariably his life akin), creativity and genuine approach to redefining the status quo. “Start the dialogue/ I am the new Galileo/ Here to change the status quo”. In one of Nenebi’s interview, specifically with Ace Entertainment Critic, Francis Doku, he made it apparent that he (Nenebi) is in to change the status quo as how Reggie Rockstone did, to fill a stadium to capacity with audience watching and listening to his Poetry performances. This piece is my personal favourite because of the hard truth and picturesque symphonious hip-hop beat the poem goes with. This is typical of what Nenebi labels as “Afropop Poetry”.
No man has ever achieved perfection with his arts or craft, not even the mythical hero and king of creative tapestries, Kweku Ananse, but in all – arts makes the artist keep perfecting his rough craft such that his legacy would be enough inspiration for generations that shall meet his absence. On the low, it is difficult to pinpoint a low point on this album, however, I feel the intro which titles the album, Coke In The Flagstaff, was not done insightfully to draw a first timer of the Poetry of Nenebi into his works. That was one work which the Poet could have let it hold the magic of the album, especially when that particular piece bears the title to the entire works in the album. Because that not many people are so enthused about poetry works or projects, I think that it is imperatively paramount that at every point in the poetic creation, the poet makes an attempt to arrest his listeners and hold them in detailed suspense which would arouse their interests to continue through with his other works.
On the whole — the album, Coke In The Flagstaff, is a summary of so many disciples of academia: cosmology, politics, philosophy, anthropology, culture, sex, science, religion, music, arts, sociology, history, psychology, anatomy, abstract orientations etcetera laced with remarkable use of brilliant literary elements. It must be noted here that these literary elements were used beyond mere scratch by the poet and can’t be taken as though that is what they idealy represent. The poetic license allows the poet to express his thoughts, ideas and creativity in a way that allows for varied interpretations to be deduced by listeners. But what is the quest of Nenebi’s Poetry —is it to preach or prophesy— Or to correct societal ills, the latter to me is what he has done with this masterpiece of a Poetry album. The poet can conversely be described as a keen observer who is so curious about contemporary existing issues which are templates of his immediate environment, and the extended. This is one classic work of Poetry (Arts) which is scholasticism in nature and must be supported by all means possible, especially in academic enterprise and in the literature research pursuits.
The reviewer, Abeiku Arhin Tsiwah is an Afro-Artivist, undergrad and of the University of Cape Coast, a pro-talkative who writes from Cape Coast, Ghana.