Archiving the past, the present and the future. Adeola Aderemi in conversation Lanaire Aderemi
Adeola Aderemi (AA): Where do both your names come from and what feeling do they carry for you?
Lanaire Aderemi (LA):Lanaire. Lanaire is actually short for Oluwalanaire. And Oluwalanaire means ‘God has created a path or road of success’ My mummy says that God gave her and my dad that name. My name is Yoruba. I am Yoruba. My name gives me so much confidence. I carry a feeling of pride and confidence knowing that the path I walk through is full of light and I try to radiate that light everywhere I go. The light of God. My name also brings people put together in some way. I guess the best word to describe what feeling I am trying to describe is prayer because prayer is a sort of communication. I found that whenever someone says my name aloud, they pause and then respond with ‘Oluwalanairefunmi’ – they want what my name means too. And I want it for them too.
verse writer came from me. I was 13, writing poems in my journal and typing them on my WordPress; those WordPress days were hilarious. I would share my poetry posts on Twitter and ask people to share too and I think my account became even more associated with poetry each day. I wanted a name for myself. A name alongside my own name. So one day, after school, I sat on my bed and searched for synonyms of the poet. Nothing really excited me. I thought of calling myself a poetess like a female poet but I didn’t like the sound of it. Besides, what is a female poet? A poet is a poet. And so I asked myself ‘ What are poems made of? ‘ I was having a conversation with myself trying to break down what my writing was and should be. I concluded that I was made of verses and verses weren’t limiting – poems and songs are made of verses. So I had the word ‘ verse’ on a sheet of paper and put the word ‘ writer’ next to it. I remember feeling a sense of unfamiliarity with the words. I said the name several times aloud. I said it louder and louder. Then, I changed my Twitter name to ‘ verse writer’ and called my friend to ask what he thought. He said he liked it so I left it. I started to like it after a few days. That was my naming ceremony.
AA: What are a few moments in your childhood that stand out as definitive?
LA: Wow, there are so many. I loved my childhood so much. I’ll share three.
The first is my mum asking my sister and I to write about our holidays. My family travelled every summer. My mum believed that a holiday was incomplete without an essay of our journey, our memories. I was writing about how I felt, what I saw and what I learned from a very young age. My sister and I would have to read these essays to our grandparents. I can never forget the procedure. You knock on grandpa and grandma’s door. You see them. You greet them by kneeling. You stand up. You ask if you can jump on their bed. Yes, my sister and I would jump on that bed trying to reach the ceiling and dancing whilst we jumped in the air. My mum would come in and smile. We would jump till food was ready. But before we ate our food, we would read these essays to our grandparents. And they would clap for us. They would smile and my sister and I would get our white or brown envelopes after. My mum would collect them in the car.
The second is jumping and singing songs in the living room. My living room had white walls, there was a corrugated iron chair with orange pillows. A row of gospel CDs would seat comfortably on one of the shelves. I remember dancing to mary mary’s shackles. I wrote a poem about this called ‘ my childhood memory’ ( it’s one of my favourites) I would ‘ grab the disc, the cream yellow cover with bold black women’, then ‘ switch on the disc player’ and ‘jump from one pillow to another’ as my beads would clatter with the beats. I would shake my hips to the left and to the right and I would imagine barney was watching me so I would sing as enthusiastic as the children on the show.
The third is winning. I won a lot of prizes in childhood. My parents encouraged me to be the best at everything and I was good at a lot of things. My mum especially taught me that I can be creative, that I can excel in a range of subjects and I know that defined how I approached learning and life. I never saw anything as black and white. There were ebbs and flows. But on winning, I remember winning a poetry prize once. It was in 2008. I got a beautiful trophy and a certificate. This was shortly after I had contributed to the school’s yearbook and written a poem about patriotism or something Nigeria-related. My mum made me fish stew and rice afterward. I remember the joy.
AA: Your work is moved by the research of your heritage and sharing that data, How important is it for you to have control of your voice and narrative as a young woman of Yoruba heritage?
LA: Thank you for noticing that. I am really really into memory. I guess that makes me really interested in stories, histories, voices, people, places, spaces, time. It is so important for me to have control over my voice. It is so important for me to have control over the stories I tell. I have this internal battle in my mind and body and spirit when I am not authentic or real – my goodness, I am really really real. And if I am real, then I must tell true stories and tell stories that real people shared. And I must share these real stories. In the searching of these stories, I have to also be in control of my searching and my discovery. As a young woman of Yoruba heritage, I am also searching for the stories that were told before me. I am grateful for those that came before me. I think it is that gratitude which lives through me that makes me feel like it is important to also have control of my present – my present being storytelling. I ask my parents questions and my grandparents. I remember my grandmother told me about Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. She was young at the time when FRK led the women of Egba but my grandmother described her as brave, as a fighter. I have never seen my grandmother so passionate. I was listening to someone’s voice at that moment ( my grandmother’s) and not really in control but I was listening and I am grateful.
My great-grandpa was the Ooni of Ife. My family has been able to archive his achievements so well from Facebook pages to Instagram pages. I am so moved by these actions. There’s also this Instagram account called asiri magazine that has moved me. There’s a lot of talk about data and how data is oil. I only see it as oil because I now have access to my past. I have become more grateful. I have an even stronger voice. I can be louder with that voice. Do you know how that amazing that feels? It feels so good hahaha.
AA: The concept and production of a night with verse writer started when and what inspired it?
LA: Wow, I like to think that ‘ an evening with verse writer’ started when I first named myself verse writer. It started way before verse writer was verse writer. I had my WordPress blog and my journals and was writing and typing my poems and sharing my poems. My mum encouraged me to continue writing and reading. I talk about this part she played in my creative journey by the way in my shows. I am so glad my mum believed in me. I am so grateful for her. So I had been writing every single day from year 7 till year 11. After secondary school, my mum and I are struck a deal. I had to make a book before I left Nigeria for England for my A levels. When my mum says something, it is done. So I looked through all my journals, chose my favourite poems. I threw the poem titles in the air and arranged each poem in the order they fell to the cold floor of my bedroom. I was 15 when I did this. I compiled 30 or was it 31 poems( the number was symbolic for each day of every month) My lesson teacher was working at a print company so we had printing sorted. I chose a title for my poetry anthology. ‘ Of Ivory and Ink’ was inspired by my love for writing and music. I used to write and play the piano and pens are made of ink and pianos are made of ivory. I chose my book cover inspired by some Tumblr pics and I left Lagos for Letchworth Garden City knowing that my first draft was completed. I felt good.
2 years later, the book was on people’s shelves. I was invited for talks and I was performing poems from this book. The book was featured on blogs and I was getting some cute messages from friends and people around the world about my poetry. I was so happy. I had been performing at open mics since I first performed at the Lucid Lemons Festival in Lagos so in 2016 and so when I left Lagos, I continued performing my poetry.
2017. Start of university. I was determined to share my work and was desperate for feedback. I performed a lot. I think I had a performance every three weeks – I was sort of trying to create a name for myself. I remember the first official ‘ an evening with verse writer idea came the day after I performed for Aje Butter in Birmingham and my friend Ayo had played the sax whilst I performed poetry. I was full of so much creative energy. I sat in my friend Samyat’s room the day after and she helped me create a poster and I shared the poster some days later. This was all in June. The first official ‘an evening with verse writer’ was an open mic thing and I invited poets and singers and rappers to perform. I had a phone-free space and invited friends and these artists to my gallery – my gallery was made of my favourite books. I was displaying all my sources of inspiration.
By December 2018, I knew that I did have a gift. I got in for this cool programme at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Black women had a season at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London thanks to the founders of Blacktress: Shiloh and Cherrelle. I was doing a course at the Birmingham Rep Theatre months leading up to the show in December about how to mix poetry and theatre. I was seeing new ways of seeing and feeling so much and I was writing and reading but I was seeing so many plays so I had a lot of inspiration. I had a lot of inspiration but I still didn’t know what story I wanted to tell for my show in London at Tristan Bates. I remember being so overwhelmed asking myself ‘ Lanaire, what story do you want to tell?’ and ‘ how should I tell it?’ I was in the library at midnight when it hit me. I heard something say ‘ tell them your creative journey and use poetry, music, and art’ I know that someone was God. So that’s how ‘ an evening with verse writer continued. Not began o. It had begun when I started writing.
I had written a lot of poems by then so started choosing my favourite poems and ordering them. I wanted a journey so I needed a narrative arc or something like that but I also wanted some non-linearity – wanted some re(ordering) of time and so I had some poems that happened ages ago in my life in the middle of my play. I contacted my friends that were musicians. My first show. Koye played sax, Kofi played piano and Abigail sang. In my first show Declan, Olamide and Sarah helped with production and my friend Jade sorted out the set design. My sister Fikunre shared programmes. I had no idea this was the sort of the beginning of full production. The show sold out and the responses from it were amazing. I forgot to mention I had a panel: Tobi, Aliyah, Oladipo, Oriana Abayomi, Abiola, Ivié were all on the panel and I displayed artwork by Naila, Oriana, Onorode. I was trying to amplify Black women’s voices and art at the same time as trying to tell my story. Lyra took photos and Angela did my makeup.
In April 2019, I was commissioned by the shoot festival to show ‘ an evening with verse writer’ in Coventry. I think this marked a sort of shift in my journey. I won an Artist Development Award and got a standing ovation. Manny sang, Koye played sax, Kofi played piano; Ikeoluwa and Abisola and Naila displayed their art, and Olayinka and Dami helped with production. We were able to create an intimate space in a black box studio and I tried to be free-er – I danced a little and tried to see my old self as characters( shout out to Daniel Bailey for that advice) So I was gassed at this point. Excited. I thought that was all till I got commissioned by Warwick Arts Centre for 2 nights in October. I had about 50 people on my team so I can’t name all but we sold out and 300 people came. You know what’s amazing. I wrote this dream in my journal in 2017. I prayed for those nights and God answered and my mum was so happy and we had a band and a dancer and the set design was to a whole different level and we had art and a panel. I can never forget it.
AA: How intimately do you get with your team and the people you co-create the experience with?
LA: We start each meeting with a prayer. I ask how everyone is feeling to get a feel of the space. I believe in co-production. I get into a space with my team and I give them my work and ask them to tear it apart. Not literally. I ask them for their ideas and assess these ideas. And I play around with those ideas and test them out in real space in real-time. I like to think that I am a music conductor and producer. I mix different sounds and words together. I do this with the team.
I really believe in a non-hierarchal leadership style. I don’t like to boss anyone around so I kinda ask everyone to share their expectations and ideas at every meeting. I also ask people to contribute to my body of work. I think sharing ideas requires one to be intimate and from that sharing, we can co-create an experience that stirs the heart.
I like to think I am very funny so I share jokes; I like chilled vibes so I make sure everyone is chilled and they feel good and comfortable. I see everyone in my team as a key player in what is to come so I really do treasure their ideas.
AA: How do you care for yourself? What are your rituals and motivators for self-care? What are your practices?
LA: I write a lot. I journal. I think this is one ritual that has saved me. One of my favourite verses says that we should write the vision down and God who sees it will run through with it. I think that’s so powerful. So I write my dreams down and my goals for the day.
I plan my time. I know what I am doing at nearly every point of my day. I use my calendar and this app called Keep to organise my day. I try not to make my to-do lists too long so I don’t get too overwhelmed. When I do get overwhelmed, I cry. I cry a lot cause I feel a lot. I let myself feel. But I also guard my heart by setting some healthy boundaries. I try not to be too rigid with anything because I don’t want anything to feel like discipline and punishment.
One of my favourite quotes by Audre Lorde is that self-care is an act of preservation and an act of political warfare. I treat my practices as weapons of war. I drink tea before I sleep and when I wake up. I read my Bible and reflect on the verses I read. I reflect a lot. I get quite lost in my thoughts sometimes but it helps me stay present in the day.
Joy. I try to acknowledge moments of joy and be present. In practice, this means documenting joyful moments and celebrating wins. I have also tried to practice being grateful. I see gratitude now as memorialising what has passed and being aware of the goodness or occurrence of the place or person. So I make sure to thank those around me and reflect on the goodness and occurrence(s).
I also don’t have any notifications on my phone and my phone is always silent. Also, I don’t have alarms. I like to think God wakes me up when I need to be up. I haven’t ever woken up late so practicing that faith is working for me. I also don’t have anything less than 8 hours of sleep in my day and if I have less, I nap during the day.
I listen to gospel music a lot. It really helps me start my day. The lyrics are powerful. Worship helps with gratitude and joy. I also listen to music to unwind.
I read a lot too. I love reading so much.
I also like documenting how I feel through pictures and videos so I make video journals too and I laugh a lot. I actively search for things that make me laugh. I laugh at my jokes.
Lanaire’s production company, lanaireaderemiproductions is working with loopify media to create an immersive 4 part audio series called #storystorypod that transports listeners into another world. It is a world where the past, present, and future collide, it is a world where questions about Nigerian history will be answered, or will it be (sike!) are there ever answers with history?
Listen to story story first episode on the infamous heroes of the ‘Ogoni nine’ and share it with your friends and family on all podcasting apps.
Images courtesy of Lanaire Aderemi