“I see a massive spectrum of light emanating from indigenous poetry.”  – Yusuf Alabi Balogun  | PIN Literary Interviews

Moderator, PIN Interviews, Semilore Kilaso engages Aremo Gemini in a conversation on his artistic endeavours and possibilities of indigenous poetry.

Yusuf Alabi Balogun, with the stage name ‘Aremo Gemini’, is a page and performance poet, storyteller, playwright, movie critic and troubadour with a rebellious divergence to his art. Recipient of Horn of Afroclassical Merit Award for excellence in propagation of arts and culture (2018), his art is guided by so many drives, one of which is to sell out O² Arena, London for Yoruba oral arts. He is the curator of an annual Yoruba oral arts festival ‘Kengbe Oro’, fast growing into a cultural renaissance; a show which has been successfully sold out twice since its inception in 2019 (Ethnic Heritage Centre; Terra Kulture, respectively). He has graced stages ranging from Felabration to Lagos Book and Arts Festival, Cafe One (Sterling Bank), Eniobanke Music Festival, Unleashed With Temmie Ovwasa, FUNAAB’s Ankara Day, Seun Awobajo’s FODAF, Dare 2 Dream 5 with Kinabuti, Unknot The Tie With OmoBaba among numerous others.

1.It’s a great pleasure having to interview you. Please, can we meet you?

I consider it an honor even. I am Yusuf Alabi Balogun, regarded by many as Aremo Gemini. Most times, I’m always careful in having to address myself as a poet or performer or such related tags because there’s only the thin line existing between having to define one’s craft as limitless or locking up one’s self in a box due to titles and labels. Hence, I find it comfortable regarding myself as a Creative before any other tag.

  1. Your love for poetry is unquestionable. Why poetry?

Well, speaking of poetry, it was first a medium of expression and still is, anyways. Quite a number of things I might not readily want to state point-blank due to fear of some certain uncertainties, poetry existed as a gallant means to doing that. That form of art through which I could readily put out my personal truths, in black and white yet still get it done in such a way that’s entertaining to the larger audience, en masse. From a regular medium of expression, it came to exist as an addiction, a profession.

  1. You are famed for writing and performing poetry in Yoruba. How did you find your niche?

Well, I do not really know if there are laid principles to these things or particular techniques that are apportioned. But then, I guess while expressing myself, I just became a part of the process and there was just this urge to be different, to exist divergent in a clime that is comfortable with normalcy. I just wanted to change the status quo without having to turn the tables. And behold, Yoruba language seems to be the perfect Midas touch to my art.

  1. Can you vividly recall the title of the first indigenous language poem you ever wrote? Tell us about it and how you landed into performance poetry?

Whoa. I have been writing all my life, even when I was unaware that most of these stuffs could pass for poetry. To attempt to remember the first ever indigenous poem I wrote would be synonymous to hunting the starting point of a vast cobweb. As much as memories could serve me though, the first indigenous work I presented to the public space was Lagidigba.

Lagidigba was a love poem, I guess that’s the bane of a lot of creatives, lol. A love poem and an appraisal of chaste femininity et al, more of a poetic painting of what the regular Yoruba maiden is like, from the perspective of her lover. It happened to be my first Yoruba poetry video also with Olaitan Maryam Mojisola serving as a major character among others.

As to the performance poetry thingy, I actually see every one treading the path of indigenous poetry to eventually end up as performance poets, likewise. The idea of performance poetry is not fully expressed without theatricality and association of other art components. In the same vein, Yoruba or any other form of indigenous poetry is not authentic enough if there are no involvements of sounds, music, chants, dance even and a lot more. So I guess I’ve always been a performance poet, I just needed to find the right stage to let that part of me out.

  1. Do you think poems written in an indigenous language are appreciated in Nigeria?

Well, I feel that every form of art is well appreciated within its own limits and enclave, permitted the right community or tribe that appreciates it, is located. So yes, it’d be hypocritical of me to say that indigenous works ain’t appreciated. They are appreciated here in Nigeria, maybe not on equal wave length with other forms of art but the appreciation, to a glaring extent, is visible. There’s room for growth, acceptance and a lot more. So if we do not stop sounding our trumpets towards the right direction, it’s only definite that the attention and curiosity to see what the art looks or sound like would keep being on the rise.

  1. As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?

Ha. Oh well, I think that styles are birthed as a result of individual and geographical evolutions, the need to have organised patterns even though in varieties but not really much spicy varieties. Isn’t that the implication of rules in art — to an extent, it limits the strength of the creative, when the conformity is in excess. Personally, I recognise the grandeur of styles but the bid to express have made me somehow too wild to abide by given stylistics. And this is obvious in my poetry, I am a lover of experimentalism. Poetry for me is really fun, I don’t see a reason to envelope that fun because of a need to maintain ABAB rhyme schemes or some elevated styles, whatsoever. So my poetry is experimental, my approach to themes too, maybe.

  1. How do you decide a piece should be performed?

Not all poems are performable, not all poems are meant for pages either. The intent of the creative matters a lot, it’s actually the intent and the spurring force that determines what the poem is fit for. Hence, if I’m billed to write a poem for a stage performance, I would definitely visualise my live audience and the need for engagements compared to what I would do if it’s a poem for a collection. That’s not to say that page poems are totally limited to the page, well, they can be read but in an attempt to perform a poem that’s totally meant for the page, the implications would be obvious on the reception. Well, there are poems too that can pass for page and stage, every of these things is dependent on the intent. Hence, most times, it’s not exactly stressful to decide – I just spend twenty-three hours thinking of what I have to do with the poem and then I push out the baby in my head, in less than an hour. Boom boom ciao, bouncing baby poem.

  1. How tasking is performance poetry? Does it energize or exhaust you?

Everything regardless of how enjoyable and pleasurable it is would definitely exhaust at some point. It’s not exactly the art exhausting, it’s the human’s nature to be exhausted. It’s the rituals of the body to get drained but even then, the pleasure derived from the craft most times serves as a brilliant cover up for the exhaustive tendencies. Energy, energy, energy!

  1. Have you ever entered for any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative?

Oh yes! I emerged the inaugural winner of The Glassdoor On Spot Writing Poetry Contest, courtesy PIN. In the same vein, I was the second runner-up at PIN Yaba Inaugural Poetry Slam and the inaugural winner of PIN Obalende Poetry Slam, all dated 2018.

  1. On what platform have you and your poetry been featured?

Ha, that’s a lot o. Well, I have alongside my poetry been featured on a lot of major media platforms (TVs, radios, papers) that would be exhaustive to mention. Some of them include BBC Yoruba, Folio Media (an exclusive affiliate to CNN), Naija TV-FM London, TV Continental, Rave TV, Nigeria Info among others.

  1. What in your opinion is the place of indigenous poetry in our Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?

Indigenous poetry apart from being an edutainment medium irrevocably stands as a pivot to keeping in touch with our culture and traditions presently. I do not want to exactly speak of how worthy mediums have in a way failed us on the task of preserving and pushing out the cultural ambience for generations to come but then, I see a massive spectrum of light emanating from indigenous poetry. I prefer to think that the future is now and even if not exactly where it ought to be on the charts and all, the art is working its way towards that particular spot. At least, the future is now when I would be selling out O² Arena, London for Yoruba oral arts. There is a global market for the craft, a breathing market that with the right branding, positioning and efforts, poets and creatives can and are tapping into already, for sustainability and indelible imprints, as well.

  1. What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?

Renaissance? Poets in Nigeria (PIN) is already reckoned for successfully reviving the art in this part of the world, it’s no gainsaying. The results are everywhere, there are walking answers, I’m one of those results, so to say. Even with the glaringness of this, Poets in Nigeria is still not sleeping on the bicycle. Everyone recognises the fact that there’s more to be done, a lot more but in all honesty, a whole book would not be sufficient to appreciate the organisation and the brains behind it, as much as they are deserving of. If the present is worthy enough to be regarded as history, then history remembers and history remain indebted to Poets in Nigeria Initiative, as far as the revival of the craft is concerned.

  1. How would you want to round off this interview?

Going by the predictable expectation, I guess it would be me repeating some of my regular mantras. The fact that enough is enough and every milestone is worthy of cheers and toasts while Brymo’s Rara Rira is blaring loud within the speakers and the second mortal fact, that enough is bound to get old hence enough is not always enough and we have to keep moving while we still have legs. Water or air, make we sha meet for Europe.

  1. If we give you an opportunity of saying something about Poets in Nigeria, what would you say?

Ha. Well, if Poets in Nigeria was a woman, I guess I would start paying her bride price from the prime. Adorably selfless is an understatement!

  1. Please would you mind leaving us with few lines of poetry (max 10 lines)

Everyone knows your name
but I want to know the Oriki of your demons,
go naked before me,
your monsters flapping their wings in colors,
let me be the interpreter of your silence,
go naked before me,
let me pour libation upon you
when your blood burns hot.


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