During the day, Seyiram Apiorkor Ashong is a Production Executive and Brand Insistence Officer at Adabraka-based Citi 97.3 FM. In the evening, she is Apiorkor the Poet.
In this interview with enewsgh.com’s Gameli Hamelo, she talks about the topics she writes about and why she does, the importance of the arts amongst other issues.
I watched you perform at Decembe2Rememba last year and thought you did great. Were you at any point before you went on stage nervous?
Nervous? I wouldn’t call it nervousness. It was more of anticipation and perhaps not knowing exactly whether the crowd would accept what was going to be done or not, so not exactly nervous. Was I extremely confident? No but I wasn’t nervous.
Would you say the anticipation of what the crowd was looking forward to pushed you to give off your best?
Of course. When you step on stage like that especially to share an act like poetry with people, as an artist, what you want to do is to educate them, to inform them and entertain them and so you’re doing three things at once.
And you want to make sure that whatever you do arrives at that end and so I did. I was wondering what kind of people are there. I had scouted the area before I went backstage. I knew some of the people who were sitting out there and yeah, the anticipation was more of wanting them to say “you know what, you did this, it was great’ and people like you liked it so … I guess it worked.
Aside last year’s Decemba2Rememba, have you performed at any other events?
I belong to what has become a vibrant spoken word/poetry movement in Ghana. And there are a few organizations that drive that , so Ehalakasa is one of them, ALEWA is another , POETS ( People of Equal Thoughts and Spirit ) and I belong to all those movements, so I do perform at Ehalakasa events, ALEWA events. Recently we’ve been sort of touring in a sense, different places in Accra like the Piano Bar at Teshie Nungua, the Equator Bar at La Palm and I do perform.
Apart from events that are meant to be spoken word or poetry events, I’ve performed at weddings. Recently, I performed at the wedding of Hon. Paapa Owusu Ankomah’s (former Minister of State) daughter and that was an amazing experience.
I‘ve done other things at the National Theatre, cultural shows and whatnots. And I’ve performed in the US as well, actually started, not performance per se but my poetry career, my journey with poetry, in the States so yeah I have been around quite a bit.
Are there any coming events that you would be a part of?
I’ve been invited by HelloFoodsgh to organize a spoken word show where I will be performing at myself. And I will be doing a few things with Kaacey Moore. I’ve done some shows with him just over the past Christmas holidays. We did some stuff together along with other people like Rhyme Sonny, Worlali and the rest but we will be doing bigger things in the coming month.
The shows you mentioned are shows you were a part of, is there any possibility that there will be a show in the coming months or years that you will headline?
Most definitely. I’m working towards that. Like you said I’ve been a part of this shows, I’ve been a headliner on some of these shows but I hope to organize my own show. I’m working at it particularly because there is a body of work that I’m putting together and I’m working on them with other spoken word artists like Akosua Hanson , who I performed with at Decemba2Rememba . Just look out for it.
Do you have an idea when that will be? Your personal show.
Before the end of this year. I don’t want to give you an extremely definite answer just in case it doesn’t happen. When it comes to organizing a show for poetry or spoken word, there’s a lot that goes into it by way of content and you can easily get a venue and invite people and say ‘hey, come and hear me do what I do ‘but it goes beyond that and I want to make sure that I meet the expectations of whoever is coming to the show. That’s why I don’t want to give you any definite answer..
What do you write about and why do you choose to write about those topics?
I like love but not love in the flowery sense. I think there’s a darker side to love because you are dealing with Human beings where love is concerned and human beings can be very dark people.
So I write about love, the kind of love that maybe a man wants to profess to a woman and he can’t because she is with someone else.
Or the kind of love that is hidden in a closet because the man is with someone and the woman is also with someone else. And I question if such a love is wrong in itself but I also encourage people through my pieces who are in that situation to sort of have the confidence to either let go of the people that they are with or just don’t do it at all cos you can’t create love rectangles and cylinders and whatnots.
I also write a lot about sex in relationships. Why because it is a pretty covert topic in Ghana. People are not very open about their thoughts on sexuality generally. You have a lot of hypocrisy in our society when it comes to love, sex and whatnots so I write about those things.
I write about the passionate erotic side of love, what happens when two people who are crazy about each other meet in an encounter, what goes through their minds. It’s not just, oh I want to take you to the bedroom but how do those thoughts sort of stimulate and add to the success of a relationship. I write about things like that.
I also write about death. How do people deal with death? How are people spoken about after their death? What are some of the things that people think about when they are encountered with that flash before their eyes? You know sometimes they tell you when you are about to die, you see your life flash before your eyes. What are some of the things that people encounter in those near death experiences?
Is there any Ghanaian Spoken Word artist who influences your work?
No one. And it’s because I’m not a spoken word artist, I’m a poet. Spoken Word artistes write their pieces for performance, I write for my pieces to be read. Having said that, you noticed at Decemba2Rememba , I was reading. I don’t memorize my poetry because it is very heavy in punctuation and it’s very heavy with visual imagery.
And I feel as though if I memorize it, I can’t remember all the commas and semi colons so I’d rather read it so people understand that it’s meant to be read. And there’s no spoken word artist in Ghana, who does that, they all memorize it. In fact, when I first started performing, a lot of people would come to me and say ‘oh you did well but you have to memorize your poetry ‘and I say, no I don’t.
And now when I get on stage people expect me to be reading so when I’m not its shocking for them. So it’s not that I can’t memorize my poetry but I just won’t so no spoken word artiste influences my work per se but there are some of them that I admire.
I admire people like Nana Asaase who’ve been able to sort of dig deep into the culture of Ghana and project that in poetry. I admire people like Chief Moomen for the same reason. And also again .people like Chief Moomen and Nana Asaase who’ve managed to make a career that is sustainable and that brings them some income. It is not easy to do that as an artiste of any kind.
And I admire people like Rhyme Sonny who have also on taken the spoken word/poetry act by storm and they’ve made it their vision, their sort of mission in life to make sure that the vision of the greater group grows in leaps and bounds. Sonny is constantly organizing events, he will call you, sometimes he is even annoying. The platforms are getting bigger so I admire people like that.
In terms of content, two ladies that I really like: Poetra ( Asantewa) and Dzyadzorm because they have very deep content. And it’s one of the things that I strive to do. I strive to when I’m writing. I strive to write very deep content so in terms of influencing my work directly no admiration for them, these are the people I will say…
You mentioned earlier that you belong to some spoken word/poetry groups, what are your thoughts on the organization of the movement in Ghana?
First of all, I like to say that, I think as a movement, we are not doing so well in getting people to understand that poetry is not about the performance or looking nice on stage, it’s about poetry being an art. And when you speak of art, it goes back to what I said in the beginning that you should be aiming, if you are an artiste worth your salt to educate, to inform and entertain.
Those should be the three things behind your mind so all of the time our poetry is very shallow. It’s entertaining, it rhymes, it sound good but people don’t really leave with a good message that maybe triggers their brain to say you know what?
They just said this let me do something to contribute to the change of Ghana or this is something I would like to take up as a project. They told me something, something I’m passionate about. Let me start a foundation. We haven’t been doing very well with that. And it’s just not poetry. Art in general, across the divide but if we are going to do that, our movement needs to better organized. And we are not so good at organization.
We’re going to have a program in the next two months; sponsorship proposals are still not ready and corporate Ghana of course has the right to say I won’t give you money because they have budgets that they are working with. We also don’t do a good job of selling ourselves so people feel that art is not important.
We are not projecting… and maybe… again I work in the media also; maybe the media has a lot to do too. We are not projecting the positives that artists are doing outside of Ghana. I mean, Ghanaian artists, so you have people who are putting up installations all over Europe and these are people who live In Ghana. They live in Ghana, they eat Ghana – kenkey , you know , whatever .
They are being invited to Amsterdam, to India to come do all sorts of interesting things. Same thing with the poets but we are not doing a good job of letting the people know that these are the potentials.
And because of people like these, we have all sorts of foreign direct investors coming to Ghana, they spend weeks here. They do take coverage of the processes, that’s why when we have EHALAKASA events, the international community is amazing but they are hardly any Ghanaians so the international community will take the message back to their countries but there are no Ghanaians to talk about it. I think we are not doing a good job of convincing people that we have something that is worth celebrating or talking about.
Apart from that, I think we’ve come a long way. Another person I should probably mention is Sir Black. I mean he is the epitome of spoken word/poetry; Mutombo Da Poet is another one. In Ghana, they’ve brought it out of the ashes really, I do think they’ve done very well but again the vision is caught up in a space so we’re not growing.
And a lot of poets also don’t understand that it’s a movement and not for individuals so individual poets are sort of like pushing themselves. Some people will go for shows and not tell anybody else. Somebody like Kwame Write, he’s constantly pulling people along but there are other people who will have a job and not tell anybody because they feel maybe you have to share the money that will be given to you or the poet is going to take my shine or whatever.
And until we realize that it is a movement not about the individuals, it also is something that we are not going to be able to overcome.
What do you suggest is the way to get it right for the movement?
First and foremost, I think we need to do more writing. And by writing, I don’t mean write for performance, we need to write articles. Whenever there is an event, an EHALAKASA event for example, I can count the number of articles that will go up on big websites like yours.
And it’s not your fault, we don’t reach out to you, we assume that it’s enough to run with Twitter and keep it in our community but nobody hears about it , so that’s one of the things. If we can’t get people to do the coverage, lets write the articles and share them and by all means there is somebody who is going to pick up on it if it’s interesting enough.
Another thing that we are not doing, that we most probably should be doing is trying to penetrate the corporate arena. Why am I saying this? There are so many events that happen all the time and it’s just a few poets who’ve managed to keep their careers commercial who I know.
Many of us feel like we are belittling ourselves if we should walk to MTN and say, ’hey can I be on the bill for a night of you-know-whatever laughs (sic). A lot of us don’t even see how our words can fit into that arena. We’ve been marginalized and we’ve remained marginalized so we need to realize our part of the bigger society. And if it’s just a few people who you see all the time know your craft, then it’s not going to work.
Those are two of the main things and the third thing is we need to get into the schools. A lot of the people, who fall into poetry or spoken word, do it because they have an innate passion for it or they know someone who performed and so they got interested and said let me try it.
We are not reaching out to people generally saying, ‘you know let’s do a clinic in the schools.
There are so many schools with our communities; international schools are there, we don’t reach out saying,’ hey let’s start a club’.
And it’s also because we feel we need to have a lot of money before we do some of these things. There is a saying that goes, if you have a passion for something, you don’t necessarily need money to start doing it, you just do. These are a few thoughts that I’ve on our movement.
I like to encourage people to develop an interest for poetry and arts in general. It does a lot for the mind. It lets you see things from different and varied angles. A lot of people feel that when you talk about arts, we are talking about flowers and nice paintings on walls. Art is supposed to stimulate, it’s supposed to question, it’s supposed to get you to question and I think that sometimes people are afraid of that – that’s my opinion.
People are afraid, especially in Ghana where we don’t necessarily like the truth, people are afraid to question themselves , question the society that they’ve grown up to accept and love but I also think that art can be central to solving a lot of the problems that we have as a nation. Let’s talk about funds, if you have poets who are travelling the world and bringing you people that are sort of an investment. If you have poetry shows on a national scale, like we have drama now.
Think about it, just a few years ago, drama had died. And now, all of a sudden, it’s resurrected. If we have things like that regarding poetry and arts in general, better exhibitions I think we would go a long way. Those are just a few of my thoughts.