Hafsat Abdullahi won the Benue Books and Arts Festival (BBAAF) Poetry Slam competition.
The 21-year-old English and Literary Studies undergraduate at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) beat out six other contestants in the festival’s spoken word competition to win the N110,000 prize; while Younglan Talyoung and Umar K. placed second and third respectively in the competition.
Evaluated on their content, interpretative skills and articulation, the jury comprised of artist and Spoken Word author, Bash Amuneni; Theater Director and Founder Jerry Adesewo, and Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Benue, Stephanie Akubie, judged the entrants on the cohesion of their poems, articulation and audibility, and their interpreting skills.
The first round saw seven artists Talyoung Younglan, Hafsat Abdullahi, Umaru K., Ogabo Rebecca, Ejiga Michael, Igbidi Tenengi and Nasurudeen Mohammed off to a strong start. Although some have proven stronger than others. Hafsat stood out with her singsong, fast but clear delivery, her piece Wake Up ruminating on sexual and gender-based violence. Younglan’s Teach Your Sons focused on the state of the nation, while Umar K’s The Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore addresses a well-known fact that victims of sexual and gender-based violence are often more close to home. The three, alongside Michael Ejigo, average between 20 and 25 points to advance to stage two.
In stage two, Hafsat kept up the momentum with the stunning lyrics and rendition of I Know the Devil, a play that shines a light on the insidious characters in families who abuse their most vulnerable family members; Younglan became more confident with his calmer and more controlled performance of Church People which satirizes human hypocrisy especially in a religious setting, a self-deprecating humorous sound, also condemns it; while Umar K, took over with the poem which deals with the growing insecurity induced by shepherds and bandits, and where freedom lies – in dying for freedom, or being a coward to live again, or in committing suicide to decide on his freedom to live? The three averaged 30, 27 and 26 points respectively out of Ejiga’s 23 points and Nasurudeen’s 24 points to advance to the final round.
However, as Hafsat dug deep into her thematic source of content – feminism, to retain the top position with her untitled piece, Umar K dropped the ball on her performance, stuttering through her We Are Beasts act to rank. third; and although of higher quality content, Younglan’s performance of Elbow Room could not convince the judges that he believed in his own words.
Thrilled with the win, Hafsat, who has come a long way in spoken word performance, said she hasn’t always had quality lyrics despite mastering the theatrics of the performance over time.
She had started writing poetry and performing at a young age, after her introduction to the Hilltop Creative Art Foundation, where she was mentored by popular artists. It was during one of the foundation’s meetings that she learned about her profession under her real name, Spoken Word Poetry. From there, she honed her skills by participating in several poetry slams including the Abuja Literary Society Poetry Slam.
During one of her appearances at the ALS Poetry Slam, where she lost, Hafsat said that for a time she felt slighted because the judge thought her lyrics, which suffered to the detriment of her performance. , could be better. It took some time to accept the truth and not participate in slams (from 2018 to 2020) to work on its content.
“He said I could be dramatic and wow the crowd, but my content isn’t really good enough. Therefore, it’s not good to reward someone who is all loud and contentless.
“I appreciate that advice. I mean, I went back to the videos of those past performances and indeed my act was all over the place.
So, it seems poetic justice that the same judge who found its content missing was part of the jury that approved it this time.
The content of the young poetess draws from her own life (her struggle for self-affirmation) and feminism.
Born into a Muslim family, with a strict father, Hafsat had to fight to be herself – a short, outspoken, afrocurlized Muslim woman without a hijab or gelabi. Her father and those close to her have learned to accept her as she is.
And right now his pieces are influenced by a friend with an SGBV background. She describes herself as an ambassador for sexual and gender-based violence.
“Where people think expressive and progressive, my dad uses words like cheeky, and that as a woman I shouldn’t be so outspoken and rather reserved. Of course, he was judging me based on his own view of things. Poetry is the only level where I feel I have the power to express myself. Therefore, people say that I have two personalities, my regular self which is calm and my stage self which is outspoken. I take this opportunity to talk about issues that come close to feminism, sexual and gender-based violence. Most of my pieces tend towards this because of certain past experiences. But what motivated the song I know the devil and Untitled was my friend who was mutilated and raped by her father.
Today, Hafsat is very present on social networks where she is very frank. His slam victory comes with a cash prize of 110,000 naira and the will to keep improving his craft. She’s definitely one to watch in the future, alongside Younglan, if the latter doubles down on her satirical and playful lyrics while mastering the theatrics of performance art.