14 May 2015

INTERVIEW WITH AKILE WALLACE: 2015 VERSES BOCAS POETRY SLAM CHAMPION


"I realized I had the ability to craft words skillfully and rhythmically without allowing nerves to eat me alive."

Meet Akile Wallace, writer, spoken word artist and 2015 Verses Bocas Poetry Slam Champion. Weaving a comedic lyricism that consumes Trinbagonian existance – social democracy and all else it entails – Akile ejects his words in smoking prose, as hard hitting as it is beautiful. A shining face on the local spoken word scene, Akile is something like Trinidad and Tobago’s answer to the likes of Eddie Griffin. Copping third place last year, at the same event he won just a week ago, Akile's stride in spoken word is an encapsulation of progress. It was his piece on Jamaican Dancehall artist "Vybz Kartel" at a semi final show that won me over. Arousing my interest in his undeniable talent I knew I needed to hear more from him. I caught up with Akile for a chat...

NC: How did you get into spoken word. When did you first begin writing poetry and what was going in your life that inspired you to do so? 

AW: I started writing raps in 2008 for fun. In 2010 I was inspired to do my first ever rap performance in USC in appreciation of a lecturer Ms Rajkumar who taught me a course called Word Civilization. It was a seven minute rap about some of things I learned in the class. There and then I got acquainted with Jabari Lynch and both of us did performances that day. It was after that performance that I realized I had the ability to craft words skillfully and rhythmically without allowing nerves to eat me alive. 
Soon after, through Jabari, I got introduced to the spoken word scene and I started attending different slams and open mics. People started to call on me to perform in USC  (University of Southern Caribbean) for a few minor events throughout 2010 and 2011 but it was only in April -May 2011 I switched to spoken word poetry and have since modified my style to what it is now.


NC: What is it like to perform in different settings, such as at schools or at a show. How do you find the different audiences?

AW:  Performing on the whole is an exhilarating experience. The bigger the event the better for me. I seem to always feel and do better with bigger crowds and occasions. Performing for different audiences while it can be rewarding, is very tricky. It may just be the most difficult thing about being a being a spoken word artist. It comes with the territory of communication that every audience has their own needs, expectations, issues likes and taste. It is only with time and experience you learn how to address different audiences. It’s also only with a diverse cannon of material you are better able to fair well in many different settings. 
Generally university students in their mid twenties are fairly easy to perform to while a more mature working class audience is where it begins to get very tricky, it gets even more tricky with secondary school students, especially for me, who generally has no concrete idea what these young women and men are going through.

NC: What was the first poem that you remember writing or performing?
AW: One piece I remember was Vagrant. I think I lost the printed version of that piece and I only remember the piece in parts. “ While you go to facebook and myspace , the problem I face is that nobody comes to my space, because it doesn’t take a book to know my face people cyah stand it, when I put out my hand for a car I always remain standing, stranded”

Akile performs his winning piece at the verses Bocas Poetry Slam 2015



NC: I really appreciate how a lot of your poetry is, in its very own way, very empowering to society in a comedic way. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit on that.

AW: I think most of things I write are always through the eyes of a young citizen concerned about his country. I am a firm believer in relatable poetry so I hardly write about personal issues unless it overlaps with some social problem or social phenomenon. I think off the stage this is where my mind is most so on the stage it’s only fair my work should reflect that. I think God gave me a gift for this very purpose, to speak to my fellowmen in a creative way. 
As for the comedy, I really don’t know how it happens. “Funny when man being dead serious man finding thing to laugh at.” I think a lot of this humor comes from the way rhyme is used. Rhyme has a way of making the heaviest things light. Other than that I always try to entertain my self with my own writing. I treat myself as the first audience and have my own shows in my head. I snap my fingers, clap and pelt my own self with shoes sometimes.

NC: What is one of your most impactful spoken word performances?  

AW: I’m not sure I ever really had that specific moment. I always felt from the time the urge to express myself on stage was bubbling from deep within God was calling me to have an impact on society. I always felt like I was making an impact even in the primitive stages of my craft.




NC: When was the first time that you felt "Wow, my work actually has an impact on someone else?" 

AW: I am not sure what you mean by the word impact. Even if I was sure what you meant it would be a difficult question to answer. If it means crowd response in 2011, I did a rap style performance in spoken word show at USC and it had some very specific lines that sent the place into a frenzy the likes of which I have never seen and may probably never see in my life again. People began to pelt shoes at me in such an uncontrollable manner that if I was not careful to duck and dodge I may have been the first spoken word artist to be knocked unconscious by the culture of shoe pelting. However, if impact means change in lifestyle then it was reported to me that persons stopped drinking soft drink after I did a soft drink piece in Verses finals 2013. Still, impact could mean a person starting to do spoken word because of one performance I did.


"It’s really hard to measure the impact of pieces in the spoken word space not only because a piece means so many different things to different people but people often do not give the artists much reliable feedback."


NC: Do you ever see yourself making a career out of spoken word?

AW: Definitely ! Currently I am toying with the idea of being a full time spoken word artist. I have taken semesters off from school to be a full time artist with the 2 cent movement. Aside from that I take gigs in and out of school.

NC: How would you describe the Spoken Word/poetry scene in Trinidad and Tobago. How do you feel Trinibagonians are receiving this art form? 

AW: A lot of Trinidadians see spoken word to some extent carrying on the culture and spirit of calypso. To the extent that it does so I think it really grips the older folks because of the entertaining way it deals with the social and political landscape. It also gives them a renewed appreciation for literature a subject area so easily despised by many who have passed through the school system. As for the youth, I think they see spoken word as a medium to express their thoughts in a manner different from what musical genres and other artistic forms have offered over the years. I think they have their thoughts about social ills that need to be heard just as much as any other group in society and spoken word gives them the chance to do such in their own spaces.



NC: Having touched the lives of many through you work as an artist it would be interesting to hear what persons have inspired you along your path in the literary sense?

AW: I have been inspired a lot by underground rap artist like Papoose and mainstream artists like Eminem. In the spoken word scene, when I was starting off local performers like Derron Sandy, Lou Lyons, Muhammad Muwakil, Keegan Maraj, Gary Acosta and Arielle John really did a lot to frame my idea of a good spoken word artist. Since then I draw inspiration mainly from every artist that does spoken word on the local scene especially poets that form part of the 2cent movement like Kwame Weekes, Idrees Saleem, Derron Sandy and Leel Arelene Bain.

NC: Can you talk us through your writing process for your spoken word poetry?

AW: My writing process really doesn’t have a consistent format. Sometimes I just feel a rush of inspiration and write out a whole piece in an hour or a day. Sometimes I feel a rush of inspiration and write a few lines, then come back weeks or months later and write more. Sometimes I never go back at all. Most times I know I have to write a piece on a topic because an employer or myself request it and I write, over some days, weeks or months as the case may be. Many times my writing incorporates a lot of research and extreme attention to the sound of words together. I am a perfectionist where that is concerned.


"I often sacrifice many things for words to sound melodic. I guess that’s comes from the whole rap background. I am never satisfied with a piece if it is for competition and I often edit right up until I reach on stage."



NC: Has it changed you, being able to work with poetry 24/7? 

AW: Spoken word has made me a more assertive and confident person and allow me to excel in things like presentations and public speaking.

Akile at the 2014 Verses Bocas Poetry Slam, where he placed third.

NC: Like much spoken word, a lot of your writing is socially orientated. But as an artist what takes priority for you; the message or delivery?

AW: I think I would be lying if I said most definitely message. I think sometimes delivery wins out but most times with me especially over the last year or so its message its that wins.

NC: What advice would you give to young people interested in performance poetry?



"READ! READ! READ! READ! Read all kinds of books and try your best to keep up with current events as much as possible. Reading develops your ability to use language well as well it adds richness to your perspectives."


-Always hear the words being performed when writing, good spoken word is about good rhythm and the way how words interact with each other can either strengthen or hamper rhythmic potential.

- Know your strengths and weakness as performer and try to bring out material that could highlight these strengths.

-Editing can transform the most silliest of pieces so do not be afraid to edit pieces.

-Punchline poetry is essential to keep the audience attention and to create new layers of meaning to simple things but be careful not become an addict to the applause of punchlines. If you have become an addict withdraw from the stage and seek counseling or psychotherapy. If not retire from spoken word to save your reputation.

-Never bite other people’s stuff word for word or idea for idea. There is no end to creativity so take the time to search the realms of creativity and dig deep.

-Never rush a poem just to perform it. Listen to your creative spirit, If you are not satisfied with certain parts don''t perform it. Wait! sometimes inspiration takes a while to come.

Akile performs during the Verses 2015 Semi Final Rounds.

I would like to thank Akile for taking the time to speak with me. I know his words have been an inspiration to me over the past few days of getting to know him through this interview.

Keep in touch with Akile by following him here on his FACEBOOK PAGE.

You can watch Akile's winning moments at the 2015 Bocas Poetry Slam Finals in this video: