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Hafsat’s performance reechoes the call by indigenous language stakeholders who have for decades advocated for the decentralisation of the English language, and called for the institutionalisation of indigenous languages as the panacea for the overall growth and development of Nigeria.

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By Paul Liam

The evolution of spoken word performance in Nigeria is replete with varied historical contexts of origin, however, many observers have narrowed the current wave of acceptance of the once taunted genre that about fifteen to twenty years ago was considered a less marketable art form, to the pioneering works of Sage Hassan, who is regarded as one of Nigeria’s earliest foremost spoken artists with many spoken word albums to his belt. Today, the country boasts of celebrity spoken word artists that have changed the game and mainstreamed the form in Nigeria’s social-cultural consciousness. Spoken word artists now grace important political and nonpolitical stages around the country with their lurid performances, in fact, some even share the same stage with musical artists with huge followership. Not only has the genre gained popular acceptance in the country, the fame also comes with good monetary rewards which has invariably contributed to the institutionalisation of the form and has led to an upsurge in number of spoken word performers in Nigeria. For example, the big names in the game earn as much as five hundred to one million naira for a single performance while the upcoming acts earn less depending on the stage they are on.

Some of the stars in the practice whose performances have serenaded audiences both locally and internationally include Dike Chukwumerije, Efe Paul Azino, Bash Amuneni, Deji Ige, Soonest Nathaniel, Tobi Abiodun, Alhanislam, Loveth Liberty, and the new princess of the genre, Hafsat Abdullahi who goes by the moniker, Havfy, whose latest offering entitled “To The Girl in English Class” has broken the internet. Hafsat, a 21 years old spoken word artist has gained national recognition and instant celebrity status with her new performance which has also caught the attention of many including celebrities like the ace music producer and record label manager, Don Jazzy, the superstar singer, Johnny Drille and other notable art lovers in the country. Don Jazzy’s uncommon generosity enabled Hafsat’s new found fame and acceptance, he had been fascinated by her performance so much that he did not only share it on his social media handles but also invited her to meet him in person thereby solidifying her emergence as Nigeria’s new princess of the spoken word genre. This single act of kindness instantly boosted her social standing and earned her instant massive followership on social media with many people sharing her video across their social media platforms. This gesture was consolidated by her appearance on stage with Johnny Drille and performance during his concert which held recently in Lagos. This was accompanied by several media appearances which further aided in accentuating her reputation as one of Nigeria’s cerebral spoken word artists.     

Hafsat’s performance contained in a short video is a critique of the neocolonial imposition of the colonial language of English on students whose intellect and humanity is often erroneously measured by their competence in the foreign language. Hafsat bemoans the discrimination and alienation of native Nigerian languages, and emphasises this by interjecting her performance with Igala, her mother-tongue. She derides the overdependence on the English language and draws attention to the disservice of this practice on the self-esteem of Nigerians especially younger people who struggle to fit in because of their poor command of the English. She asserts that they should not despair as their worth is not determined by their mastery of a language that is not their own.

Hafsat’s performance reechoes the call by indigenous language stakeholders who have for decades advocated for the decentralisation of the English language, and called for the institutionalisation of indigenous languages as the panacea for the overall growth and development of Nigeria. Hafsat’s performance therefore brings to the fore once again a topical subject that seems to have gained sustained agency only among academics and language experts. Her outing and its general acceptance reechoes the long held notion of arts as a formidable instrument of social change. Whether or not this changes anything with regards to the need for African to embrace their indigenous languages as viable alternatives in inculcating scientific and innovative ideals in children, it has done more than enough in mainstreaming the institutionalisation of indigenous languages as the pathway to African’s development. It is left to policy makers to begin to look inward on the need to take the issue more seriously and to enact laws that will legitimize indigenous languages and bring about a sense of self-consciousness that will liberate Africans and not just Nigerians from the clutches of neocolonialism and usher the continent into a more prosperous future driven by ideas originated in the continent’s cultural ethos.

It is important to add that before her new reputation as a darling of the spoken word art and one of Don Jazzy’s favourite spoken word artists, Hafsat was steadily building a career as a multiple award winning spoken word artiste, fashion designer, and model. She is also a member of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation, an art foundation founded in Minna by the renowned writer and teacher, BM Dzukogi, from where she honed her creative writing and spoken word performance skills. She is always seen at the annual HIASFEST held in Minna coordinating various activities. She was the overall Spoken Poetry Contest Winner at both the Abuja Literary Society Grand Slam and the Association of Nigerian Authors Slam. She also won the Fashion Killer of the Year in the contest organized by Indigo Fashion and Teen County Africa, she was awarded a tuition Scholarship at HIASFEST. She emerged as a finalist in the Oratory Competition organized by We Inspire Africa, in Lagos. In 2017, she emerged as the overall winner in the Nigerian Festival of Teen Artists Contest. Her win is a huge boost to her peers and the Foundation as a whole. Hafsat is a testament to the believe that all things start small, hers is a worthy story of grass to grace that has just begun. We hope that her story will inspire young people especially young girls to believe in themselves and fight for their dreams.

Paul Liam is a poet, author, critic and Contributing Art Editor with Daily Review Newspaper. He is also the Head of Operations of Isu Media Limited, Abuja.      

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