Spoken Word is an art. It is a powerful poetic form of expression. There is always message. Spoken Word provokes an emotion, a response within those who hear it. I interviewed three Spoken Word Artists in an attempt to understand the significance of this art of expression and how faith inspires them.
You will be meeting creative writer, student, traveller and mother in Luton, Shana Kiely. You will also be meeting poetryslam artist from Stockholm, Marouf Hussain and spoken word activist with social and political commentary from London, Mizanur Rahman.
WHAT IS “SPOKEN WORD” TO YOU?
S.For me, spoken word is a platform. I consider myself more of a writer than anything else, but spoken word provides me with the ability to share my writing in a way that is very different from the reading of a piece of prose. I am able to transfer myself into my writing when I perform. My writing in those moments draws breath and exists outside of itself. For me, the experience consists of a multitude of layers- some of which I’m still yet to unpack and really understand.
M. Spoken word for me is a form of mental therapy. It allows me to express myself and share my stories with the world. The most beautiful thing about it is that there is no right or wrong For me, there is no such thing as a “bad” spoken word piece as every piece has its own story behind it and is beautiful in its own way.
MR. There are various different types of poetry of which spoken word is of one type. Artists generally define it as performance poetry and for me, that is what spoken word is. its poetry that is meant to be performed and that is meant to be heard, not meant to be read as is the case with other types of poetry.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY.
S. Sometimes in life, we have no choice but to talk about difficult subjects. Writing in general, be it prose, poetry or music gives you an ability to talk about important issues that you may not be able to outside of the creative and/or fictional world.
In truth, the desire to perform spoken word stemmed from a lot of pent up anger and frustration. There was once a time where I didn’t know if I held a place within the ummah nor in wider society. I struggled tremendously to figure out my identity as a newly “reverted” Muslim. There was a lot of pressure to conform to the standards of others and if not their standards, then to appropriate them…culturally. It was a messy time in my life. I so badly wanted to be with Allah and felt He was the only one who could understand me. I was disconnected from dunya and some may say that’s a good thing. However, we cannot sever our ties from this world completely whilst we still have to exist within it.
Writing poetry is my way of remaining present in dunya. It enables me to connect with myself, my Lord and gives me an outlet to explore who I was until one day, I found myself.
I grew in confidence and eventually performed at an Open Mic at Rumis Cave in London. This was where I performed “Just One of the Goreh” for the first time. The rest, as they say, is history.
M.I’ve always had a thing for writing. I think as a kid I saw it as a way to express my deepest secrets and experiences without “exposing” myself. The artist journey started when I was 12 years old. I actually started out aspiring to become a hip hop rap artist. That changed at 17 when I came across Boonaa Mohammed who’s also a spoken word artist. His poetry hit my soul directly. It was like a whole new world opened up for me. I had never heard about poetry before so after that, I started listening to a lot of spoken word artists and after about two months, I started to write my own. I never actually thought about becoming an artist, but the first spoken word piece I did and posted online became a hit so I just went with it and have been doing it ever since.
MR. The journey has been a very long one. I guess my journey started in 2006 when I first started opening up myself to arts, hanging around Muslim artists. Although I did engage in spoken word back then, I gave it up shortly after as I didn´t have the confidence to carry on and I didn´t know where I wanted to go with it. So I gave it up in 2008 and became more active in the community. In 2012, I came across a story of something that happened in the Middle East. The story shocked me so much that I decided to express myself through writing, but the piece that I wrote came out in the form of poetry. That´s when I realized that I still love poetry and it wasn´t going to go away so from then on, I decided to go ahead with it and confront my confidence issues to do this to the best of my ability. I guess my love for poetry is in and of itself an inspiration, but there are other artists that inspire me a lot like Bob Marley, Public Enemy, Suli Breaks and George the Poet.
DO YOU FEEL YOUR “SPOKEN WORD” PIECES CAN BE SEEN AS CONTRAVERSIAL? IF SO, WHER DO YOU GET THE COURAGE TO PUT YOUR VIEWS OUT THERE?
S. Almost always. I think anything we say or do could be considered controversial or potentially offensive to someone. We all experience this world differently, we are individuals and it is okay that not everyone agrees or appreciates your point of view. The key thing for me is not to write purely to shock or offend. My writing has to have a purpose aside from causing controversy and I always try to remember that.
Ultimately, everything good that comes from me is from God and all bad is a result of my own short comings. Good and bad are very subjective things as is God actually- even amongst Muslims. There is no wrong way (aside from the very obvious ones) of self expression nor expressing your love for God.
Where I live, people are offended by my hijab. In Saudi Arabia, they are offended by my hair. It’s impossible to please everybody and you’ll exhaust yourself trying. Everything I do is because of God and for God. God is the only audience I care about offending when it comes to my own writing and performance.
M. To be honest, I’ve never felt that way. But even if i did, it wouldnt stop me from putting it out there. I honestly think that if you have an opinion, you should be able to bring it up. However, you should never disrespect other people and their beliefs.
MR. I do believe that the material that I write about touches on controversial and social issues and in that sense, I am not afraid to write about them because personally, I have always been involved within the community and involved myself in issues that affect the community. I have been involved in Muslim youth organisations, counter-extremism organisations and activist organisations such as Stop the War and Campaign Against the Arms Trade. In essence, my experiences within these areas have formed who I am and influenced the opinions that I hold and therefore, my poetry is a reflection of what is inside of me. I don’t think it’s a courage thing, I’m just expressing who I am, this reminds me something rapper, Low Key said in an interview, that you are going to write about what is on your mind, what you think about all the time. Things like terrorism, wars and other issues affecting us politically are things that I constantly am aware of.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING “SPOKEN WORD” ARTISTS?
S. My advice is first and foremost, ensure that you keep renewing your intentions and remind yourself why you do what you do, whatever the reason. It is so easy to get wrapped up in your own ego when people pay you compliments and it’s essential for your progression as an artist and as a person that you remain humble. Your ego WILL feed into your writing and certainly your performance. Secondly, write and perform what you love. Don’t let anybody tell you what to write or who to be. You are not a carbon copy of other artists out there, you are who you say you are. Don’t be afraid to be that person.
M. Go for it! If you have a dream then you should never let anyone tell you that you can´t do it. There are very few people that geniunly want to see you succeed, find them to keep your motivation up and don´t think too much. You don´t have to put your work out online. Start small, write for yourself and then share it with your family and finally, with the world.
MR. What advice would I give? I guess what I would say is to not give up like I once did. Don’t give up, keep on going, keep on pushing and use your poetry to expose yourself to different things. So don’t be afraid to perform at fundraising dinners, gigs or other types of events, just keep on going and master your art.
WHERE CAN WE FIND YOUR WORK OR SEE YOU PERFORM?
S. If you’re in London, check out Rumis Cave- Kilburn! I plan to be there whenever I can over the summer, God willing. You can also check out my written work and keep track of any scheduled performances over at my blog –inaworldofhysteria.wordpress.com .
M. You could find most of my work on my Youtube Channel (Marouf Hussain) or on my facebook page. I always announce on facebook when I´m doing a show or dropping a new video. So make sure to follow me there.
MR. You can get in contact with me on facebook at facebook.com/Mizanthepoet or
twitter @Mizanthepoet as it is on social media where I publicise performance details.
I am grateful to these artists for explaining what “spoken word” means to them. I commend them for bravely putting themselves out there and expressing their views and perspectives with courage. I feel courageous and I bet you, readers, are inspired to take out a pen and paper or keyboard and start expressing your points-of-views in a poem! Maybe even perform it in front of family and friends?!