Wana Udobang is a darling of the Lagos poetry scene. She wears so many hats, a case-study in cutting through many disciplines.
A few years ago, she was better known as a radio on-air personality. These days she is the finest interlocutor, compere, journalist, wine-taster and spoken word poet. Recently she released “In Memory of Forgetting,” a spoken word album under her poetry sobriquet, WanaWana.
By the way, this is her second album. Her first released a few years ago was called ‘Dirty Laundry.’
Playful and self-deprecating, Dirty Laundry, has an obsession with dirt that was seemingly Freudian. It valorises dirt in a manner that is both urban-cool and Jill Scottish. Music is her muse and poetry, its accompaniment, is laid over song, the way the regimen of life lays dirt on erstwhile clean cloth. Perhaps this suggested the title. Perhaps Ms Wana Wana was just having fun.
Fast forward to her latest album called ‘In Memory of Forgetting.’ The title suggests a shift; this is not business as usual. This will not be the soluble sophomore. In Memory of Forgetting suggests a cheeky paean—and things only get cheekier when you hear WanaWana’s quivering voice on ‘Showgirl’.
She begins, “I lather my pain in metaphor” and piano keys reiterate that phrase in tonic solfa. The show has begun and the percussion thumps like it is Las Vegas Showtime. Wrong. It is a ruse that catches: WanaWana breaks it down much later but not before she adorns her pain in a French dress, red lipstick, make her dance and pirouette. What happens is an atypical show where costumes decidedly decay on stage.
And this is the point of In Memory: to forget to remember your lines; to step out of that bogus character made for societal approval. All this happens less than one minute into the album.
‘Untitled’, stripped of music, is a stark and gradual description of the landscape of an abuser uncle’s bleached body and the loss of a young girl’s innocence. Somewhere mid-poem, “between childhood of terror hawks and thundercats”, the poet begins to fail to forget.
Such is the poignant nature of WanaWana’s sophomore effort, where facades crumble. ‘Dear Father’ is a metaphysical punch delivered both as a metaphor and an epistle. It starts to unsettle from its first phrase, “You are an uncomfortable conversation.”
The question whether WanaWana’s poetry has come of age becomes needless within the turn of phrases, the mild manner in which she transposes the ethics and aesthetics of her poetry in ‘Dirty Laundry’ in her latest work. Here, music is sparse, apt and complimentary. It is neither a lingering distraction nor a hyping motivation. The poetry retches itself out, standing its ground beside the music and this only makes the leap of her poetry not only transcendental but phenomenal.
Spoiler alert: In Memory of Forgetting is a trove of feminist issues. It pays obeisance to the female body. It is requiem mass for violations, for assaults, for degradations as well as consumption. One poem stands out as a prayer point, “You will not be Catfish!”
Women are victims in these poems of a dangerous and powerful unnamed agent, Patriarchy—and the notion of redemption is not even a clear-cut one. It cannot be overstated that patriarchy plays a role in the way our societies are organised; the way our civilisation perceives the female body.
Hear the counter-counsel of a poem to a woman,
“You do not leave the warmth of your home/even if the heat will kill you/you stay till it singes your bone.”
In “Memory of Forgetting” gloom is a restive and dominant force—and the lot of female folk. The emphasis is not hyperbolic; it is the truth of our time that WanaWana lends her voice to unequivocally.
However, there should have been space for a counter-narrative; a gesture of kindness from a representative of the male folk, perhaps. The characterization of men in In Memory is entirely skewed to the negative; they flee their duties, they beat women and rape them. In the world as described by Wanawana, there is no redemption for the male folk. Redemption, even if a tall tale, has its uses.
In Memory of Forgetting enjoys impeccable sonic production and Wana’s manoeuvre of her shaky vocals is nothing short of elegant. This is poetry that characterizes the anatomy of female pain—a major triumph.