Warning: long read.
Motherfuckitude: The Naked Ones, as it stands now, is my favourite spoken word EP, by Ghanaian poet, Poetra Asantewa. It came out in October 2015 and so obviously this post is way overdue, but better late than never. I don’t think I’ve seen as extensive a review of it as I would like to have seen – so, as is the general rule of life, I must make one myself.
I had the pleasure of being invited to perform as one of the opening acts for the Motherfuckitude concert at Poetra’s official launching of the EP. When a classmate found out I was performing at a concert dubbed, of all things, “Motherfuckitude”, he was so excited to come, because he thought there’d be lots of swearing and obscenity. It was very amusing to disillusion him. The EP is not a careless throwing about of cuss-words to sound cool; sorry if the title misled you. Here’s where it actually came from:
There is a writer called Cheryl Strayed. Once upon a time, a twenty-six year old woman called Elissa Bassist wrote a letter to the advice column Cheryl was running, and expressed her fears and insecurities that she was a terrible writer and would never amount to anything – or something along these lines. Cheryl Strayed gave her a very long response, entitled “Write Like a Motherfucker”. One of the most defining, most powerful things she told this Bassist woman was:
“So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.” – Cheryl Strayed
You can read more about the Art of Motherfuckitude from Brain Pickings, and/or read the actual letter verbatim from here. I’m all about that manipulation of words to mean what you need them to mean – it’s part of my lexivist nature. I don’t want to define Motherfuckitude myself because I might not hit the mark, but here’s what Strayed defines being a motherfucker as:
“But being a motherfucker, it’s a way of life, really… It’s about having strength rather than fragility, resilience, and faith, and nerve, and really leaning hard into work rather than worry and anxiety.” – Cheryl Strayed
Now that we’ve gone past the title, let’s talk about the EP in general.
Link to streaming the entire EP: https://soundcloud.com/poetra-asantewa/sets/motherfuckitude
Poetra Asantewa amazed me entirely with this EP. The quality of production was nearly the first thing that excited me. I’ve heard a lot of sub-par production of recorded poetry – and disconnection between the background sounds and the actual words. I’m not talking about just in Ghana. World-class, the production of this EP is great. Now that I have said that, I think it is safe to say that this thing has mercilessly broken down the standard of any poetry project that has come from Ghana, in my opinion. If anything (including anything I ever produce) manages to top this, I will applaud for an hour. It’s executively produced by the multi-talented guitarist, Kyekyeku – clean and coherent. Music hasn’t been forced into any track. Where it is needed, it is added. At some points in a track, stops. In POA, for example, there is no musical background at all – but it doesn’t lack stylistic features either.
The listening experience is much more pleasant than I had expected it to be – even after I had heard some of these poems already performed live, in different forms. Here’s something curious about Poetra’s delivery: when she performs her poems, they sound exactly like performance poetry. When she records them and puts them out, they sound exactly like they were made to be listened to through headphones as you de-stress in your bedroom. It’s kind of insane how excellently she transforms the same pieces based on context.
Her messages though – once again, I have never heard things like this said around me, through art. Every single poem on the EP is undeniably relevant to our context – the context being the country, the society of Accra-ian creatives, the bulk of these creatives’ audiences, and beyond all of these as well. I don’t know if anyone else has gotten as bored as me by the rising mounds of Ghanaian poetry that only seem to come in two forms: Christian poems that don’t really teach me anything and don’t even suggest a deeper insight of the poets themselves about the messages they are apparently trying to deliver; and poetry about Africa or Ghana that don’t sound any different from each other anyway, which sound like they were all written to be read on Independence Day or African Union day.
So what’s Poetra talking about that makes her so freaking different? She’s talking about what audiences do and don’t want to hear. She’s talking about the internal battle of a creator who believes there is a standard of what they should sound like. She’s talking about womanhood and society’s caging perception of it. She’s talking about the perceived (ir)relevance of poetry. She’s talking about the coexistence of artists as both creators and merely psychologically troubled people. She talks about the coexistence and complementary nature of opposing kinds of love. Does that sound “relatable” or nah? Because to me it doesn’t sound like the kind of subject matter the public has been known to chase after and consume like they’re drinking water. This poetry isn’t for people who aren’t ready to think and re-evaluate anything.
These are my commentaries according to individual track listing: (All the lyrics are in the descriptions of the Soundcloud files, by the way!)
1 – Naked Listeners
“They only hear you when you speaking lewd
They only hear you when you show them nudes
They never wanna hear you when it’s about the people
Never wanna hear you when it’s about the country” – Poetra Asantewa
This is the refrain. Do you think it’s “debatable”? Well, perhaps so does she. In this intro to the EP, you hear, before the poem even starts, a dialogue between two Poetra Asantewas. One is arguing that people only want to hear about sex. The other is arguing that nah, people want to hear about deep stuff, and “what’s different about you.” Is it impossible that both could be right? But I fear the former is righter than the latter.
“Standing on the podium preaching about unification
Talking about how the masses have been destabilized
and how we need to quarantine the brilliant to enforce a revolution
And somehow, nobody hears a thing
But let me say that I swear I have no panties on,
And suddenly, I have your attention.” – Poetra Asantewa
There are so many paradoxes in these lines that I’m still trying to figure out whatever in heaven they mean! On their own, these are already questionable topics. “Unification” sounds like a cliche. “The masses have been destabilized” sounds like an empty sentence uttered by a politician who didn’t write his own speech. The phrase “quarantine the brilliant to enforce a revolution” basically slapped me in the face! What does that mean? So…what’s the mental capacity of the people who are apparently “enforcing the revolution” then?! It looks like the issue doesn’t even matter, though, because nobody’s listening. But then everyone wants to talk about how scandalous it is that some girl isn’t wearing panties? Yes, that’s definitely an attention grabber.
“And he says he likes his women intelligent,
but befuddle his mind and he’ll tell you,
“Mami, I just want to see some ass” – that’s what he’s here for” – Poetra Asantewa
Look at the accurate portrayal of the disparate between what we say we want and what we practice. I can’t say I’ve never had any experiences with males who immediately get intimidated by women who are smart(er than them), or witnessed people I thought were intelligent boys fuelled by testosterone, looking at smart girls as mere sexual conquests.
If this poem doesn’t make you wonder what kind of art (songs and movies included) you are attracted to and what it actually means, I don’t think you’re listening to Naked Listeners right.
But the question still burns within me: why are the listeners naked? Is their nakedness the reason they can relate so well to some girl not having panties on? Or is it just a metaphor for the true nature of the audiences being, in a sense, exposed?
2 – P.O.A.
This is my favourite track on the EP. And it has nothing to do with how it’s the only track that doesn’t have a musical background.
“I’m a member of the band, but I croon a different tune” – Poetra Asantewa
From the very first line, I knew I’d be able to relate to the poem, because I immediately saw the theme of feeling like a poet and yet not feeling like a poet; wondering whether what you create is legit, because it kind of sounds like its genre but it sounds nothing like it at the same time. Is all the personal and individual effort that we put into our creation worth it at all?
“Of the road leading to narrow-mindedness and oh, how it can seduce” – Poetra Asantewa
…Or should we just give in to the lure of the established conventional styles and subject matters?
“There’s a funeral in my mind
been trying too hard to rhyme
tried to bind my words to the rule of sublime
Nobody said I could mimic greatness
without the need to rhyme” – Poetra Asantewa
I believe in this refrain, “rhyme” is a metonymy of sorts (if you don’t already know this device, I’m pleased to have contributed to your knowledge!) – an attribute used to represent something bigger than itself. So here, rhyme, an attribute of many forms of poetry, is standing in for any and all of the other devices used in, if I could say, conventional poetry. Take the misconception that I would suspect many children have: if it rhymes, it’s poetry, and if it’s poetry, it must rhyme. So don’t take this refrain too literally: it represents something greater than it. It represents a battle – fighting what you want to create to “binding” yourself to what is apparently accepted and beautiful; what is perceived as “greatness”. So…Did you know your poetry could be great if it didn’t rhyme? Are you killing your creativity by trying to make it conform? Is there a “funeral in your mind”?
“We put language in cages and teach it tricks to get the people to praise
Spew a couple of words and wait for an applause like it’s a fourth generation Chevrolet” – Poetra Asantewa
You have no idea – NO IDEA – how much of a problem I have with poets who say nothing at all in their poems, but have punchlines galore. And punchlines are great for entertainment purposes, but how much nothing kraa, do you have to say?
“Look ma, I think I got a headache ma
They’re using too many big words ma
There are too many metaphors in her speech
I can’t hear it clear enough to break free
They’re too eager for the punchline and not enough for the message” – Poetra Asantewa
Furthermore, you have NO IDEA how much of a problem I have with audiences who just don’t have any capacity to understand any kind of literary device that isn’t a punchline. The metaphor part really hit me because Extended Metaphor and I are best friends. This thing makes me so bitter. On too many occasions I have felt frustration from people telling me that my poetry’s language is “too high” for the masses to understand. I mean, think about it. Is this a call for the poet to dumb it down, or for the listener to take their freaking education more seriously? Definitely, certainly too eager for the punchline, and not enough for the message!
3 – No Panties
This is lots of people’s favourite track on the EP, and I don’t even want to ask why. It seems to prove a point Poetra already made in Naked Listeners. You grab people’s attention best when you talk about some girl not wearing panties? Oh, the beautiful irony!
But look! Once again, we have a splendid use of metaphor! The fictional persona, Annie, wearing no panties, is quite simply a symbol for a girl who legit does not give a shit.
It does not matter what kind of woman you “expect” Annie to be, in order to be perceived as a proper or respectable woman. It does not matter what conclusions you draw of Annie based on her behaviour. It is absolutely inconsequential whether you think Annie is overly prudish, or not sexy enough.
“She might have put a foreclosure sign on her morals
She might have been labelled the devil’s temptress for her looks
She might have a body not aesthetically built to please men
She might be wearing no panties
But thank God she’s brilliant
Thank God she’s relentlessly unapologetic
Thank God she has her own
Thank God likeability is not a prerequisite for her awesomeness
Thank God she’s an infinitely evolving creature who has not a care to give because” – Poetra Asantewa
So yes this is all a very relevant message about self-confidence in whichever way one chooses to manifest their womanhood, delivered in a very badass way, but what else did you expect from a project called Motherfuckitude? In a lot of ways I love it. On one hand, you could deliver a message. On another hand, you can deliver a message with a sucker-punch that makes them dizzy enough to listen.
4 – Poetry Ain’t Shit
This is another one I’d heard before. This poem is a magnificently self-ironic piece. It is a whole poem delivered by a fictional persona to a poet, saying that poetry is inconsequential and non-utilitarian; that it won’t change anything. It’s a poem insulting poetry, as highlighted by the last lines:
He tells me accurately in a poem,
how poetry won’t save the world. – Poetra Asantewa
Throughout the poem, she seems to state all the amazing things that poetry might be able to do, but put a very loud So what? in front of them.
“It won’t be the lone voice
perfectly transcribing the story of my life.
It won’t revolutionize the status quo,
it won’t be the quantum leap to a confused generation
It won’t be the therapeutic pathway to my mental freedom
It won’t be the words that make me wonder if you live in my head.” – Poetra Asantewa
Consistently there are underlying questions of internal insecurities, like, am I being fake? After all why talk about “Cousin Joe” when there is not a single Joe in your family? When you write motivational pieces, do you practice what you preach? When you write about your faith, do you believe what you are saying? Do you have mediocre sex and write poetry about mind-blowing orgasms? LOL. Do you make all things seem “bigger than they really are”?
There are a lot of questions asked that do not necessarily have answers attached to them and I think that is the best way a poem such as this could possibly exist.
5- Masked Commoners
I like this poem because it seems to ask and perhaps attempt to answer the overarching question of Who or what is an artist? And is there anything that sets us apart from – so to speak – ordinary people? Or are we just commoners wearing strange masks?
“We become art in an attempt to skip the death chair
We become poets in attempt to skip shrink sessions
We become rappers in an attempt to transform
our manifestos into a way of being
We become nuanced in an attempt to get the bigger picture” – Poetra Asantewa
And are we all madmen looking for ways to escape being condemned for our madness?
Throughout the poem there is the theme of blatant hypocrisy – in our acts of charity, humility, political stance, even answering a question as simple as “how are you?” Why on earth is everyone lying? Look at all the things so-called artists are plagued with! How could you say these are unique afflictions?
“In the end, we’re all ordinary people in disguise.” – Poetra Asantewa
This is the only conclusive hint of an answer to all the questions the poem asks, before it returns to conclude with the very same lines it started with.
6 – All Love
This is the only full-on song on the EP. So perhaps it’s not right to call Motherfuckitude a spoken word EP? Whatever.
Surprisingly, it took me quite a while to actually listen to and understand this song, beyond simply being carried away by Poetra’s melodic voice.
It describes the dynamics of a love between two fictional (or real) people who love in entirely different ways.
“He says “I love you, baby sit right here”
I say “I love you, baby I want you nowhere near” ” – Poetra Asantewa
One person is saying come close, the other one is saying go away, and in the end, all she asks is “Isn’t it all love” though?
This line made me laugh:
“My love is a religious abab rhyme scheme
His love is an ab,1,2,5,6,7,9,10” -Poetra Asantewa
Not only do I see is a difference in the way these two people love, but in the strength of their personalities as well. Especially when it is insinuated that the guy being spoken of is very easygoing, wanting to take love “one day at a time” and the persona is rather an overwhelmingly devoted character, saying “m3do wo akosi ewiey3” [roughly translated as: I will love you to the grave]. And it’s all extremely frustrating, I would imagine to love so disparately but in the end it should work! It has to!
“Red or blue
Baby, black or white
Love is gonna thrive as long as we can make it work” – Poetra Asantewa
As long as you make it work, it works!
She said poetry won’t be the revolution, but it’s already the revolution of my conception of poetry. This is an entirely new standard that has been set. I wonder now how I could ever do the craft justice.