All photos credited to @LyraPhotoLab.
Lanaire Aderemi has carved a niche for herself as an underrated gem shared by the UK and Nigeria—the former the nation of her adulthood, the latter her home country. Her “An Evening with Verse Writer” series has lured an audience of diaspora-led curiosities into exploring the intricacies of their constantly changing heritage and identity. The series was debuted at Warwick Arts Centre following her string of nationwide appearances earlier in 2019. Produced in association with Shoot Festival and supported by Arts Council England, it is a deviation from her previous mode—it is a bold step into formal theatre and with it comes audiences who are new to her Yoruba quips and catchphrases. They arrive looking for “something different” and leave with an entirely unique experience of her world.
The performance was set against a wall of memory. High white drapes and violet backlighting fell behind a set of her own personality: postcards strewn across a coffee table, a jersey from the famed 419 FC, canvas art and books as an ode to her heroes Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and the Aba women protesters of 1929. From a velvet mustard armchair, Aderemi transported us across the Atlantic. From the gospel of her Sunday School in Lagos to her mother’s words of affirmation in the mirror, from her addiction to Maryland cookies to falling in love with poetry in the classroom, she revealed herself to be a child imbued with curiosity. With her questioning of arbitrary standards of beauty, her wondering how these could be different and imagining an alternative for them in her own little world, it becomes easy to see how she has grown into the woman standing before us tonight.
Crowd engagement is consistently true to her performance style, so the night wasn’t simply made by us watching her but by us becoming active participants. It became her conversation with her younger self through us as the audience. A standout poem was “Iyanu” (the Yoruba verb for “wonder”), a proud celebration of her heritage and its colourful expression through fashion, particularly the gele and wrapper. Another was “3rd Mainland Bridge,” an extended metaphor for her urban upbringing that relates it to surrounding nature, with her managing to remake the hustle and bustle of city life into graceful stillness.
The play was punctuated and elevated by the colourful performances of her band and dancer. Together they provided much needed moments of simple awe, without spoken words. Simi Awoniyi’s vocals rang alongside the jazzy notes of her bandmates, including Koye Adeniyi’s iconic saxophone. Not once was a “play” or “pause” button used for the songs, and it gave us a special admiration for their ability to put their own spin on the nostalgic music some of us grew up on. Cassylda Augusto-Rodrigues danced throughout the night, her movement fluid and graceful and powerful. Without hesitation or excess, Aderemi, at points, shadowed the dancer’s routine, and they moved in a way that a younger sister would with her older sister, their bodies in profound uniformity. They were the same character, but different people.
As the night progressed, it became clear that this was a tale of becoming. At points, I doubted that Aderemi realized that her maturation rendered her entry to womanhood; in her own words, she was now a “big girl.” It is easy to fall into the trap of asking artists obvious questions about their personae. But here, it was spelt out for us. Aderemi was able to tell us exactly who she is and why. After having her coils tamed by combs and hair relaxers, she is refusing to continue to succumb to external pressures. Behind her work is the spirit of humble defiance.
She ended in the same way she began the night: illuminated, repeating her introduction to a crescendo. The drummer beat away and the audience screamed their applause, but her voice continued to ring out over it all.
About the Writer
Danielle Koku is a freelance journalist from London. Her stories focus on people who look and feel like her, connecting their art to the world surrounding it.