I passed him over when we met. Strangely, he didn’t appear to me like the person he was made out to be on Wikipedia or the Storymoja Hay Fest 2013 pamphlet. I do not know if self-effacement comes with being an artist, because humility has never been a friend to accomplishment. Perhaps I expected too much, given his résumé. I expected a god of sorts but then met the mortal that is Nii Parkes, I felt truly disappointed.
The class mostly comprising of upper-primary school students provided for an interesting audience. Kids can be an interesting bunch with their courage to ask the most inappropriate of questions; but their innocence clouds the inquisitiveness and makes it funny. Like this little Asian girl in front of me. After Parkes introduced himself to his audience, she curiously raised her hand and asked him with such gentility; ‘Are you gay’?
I don’t know what raised that flag for her- the locks? Luckily for all of us, nobody heard, except me and the other cheeky kids who giggled it away. I stifled a laugh. What do they teach kids in school these days?
He began his class with a performance of two of his own poems. In Unspoken he alludes to the fact that most communications happen in that which is not said- the unspoken. In his own words, silence is a language. Now, for the little school children in the audience, that is a bit heavy for their fickle minds to digest. The eldest of them all couldn’t possibly be anything past 13, so I reckon they couldn’t understand when he uses words to say that communication is (in most cases) enthralled in the words not spoken. It’s like an oxymoron to them. But for those of us who were mature enough to decipher the message in the poem (the teachers and elder members of the audience), we nodded in agreement.
By Yourself Boy attempts to liken basketball to playing of a piano. Like a basketball game, it is divided into four quarters. He manages to use analogies of the game into the playing of the piano. Like how to curve fingers when pressing keys, and dribbling your way through the piano keys to create a melody.
After the stellar performances, he invited his audience to discuss the elements of poetry; alliteration, simile, rhyme, rhythm, imagery, metaphors et cetera. He unpacked these elements one by one, with such patience because well, the kids had to keep up. This spilled into the crux of his presentation- which was about the correlation of poetry and music (hip hop).
Hip hop is a subset of poetry; only that in hip hop, the poetic element of rhythm is amplified. Words become enslaved by rhythm. The beats are shackles that chain words and alter how they are presented. I suppressed the urge to raise my hand and ask why hip hop artists always have to thump their chests, and pronounce themselves as de facto royalty of the streets; King of the South, King of Rap. That plus the eccentricities of grabbing the crotch and acting like reincarnated gangsters.
When the class came to an end, I got a chance to speak to Parkes. I needed to know what the difference between spoken word and poetry is, because it has always eluded me. Turns out, there is no difference. Poetry is on paper, and once performed, it becomes spoken word. Further probe revealed that he has been invited to perform at Def Poetry Jam; however he has never been available. He is based in the UK and Ghana, and when he crosses over to the US, he is just there on tour.
He is a talented cool guy, this Nii Ayikwei Parkes. He is alright.