Bose Ayeni-Tsevende: Professional Dancer And Choreographer, Academic And Naija Language Poet

Jim Pressman, Literary and Gender reporter, Abuja. 

Bose Ayeni-Tsevende’s is a professional dancer and choreographer with close to half a century of artistic experience. Her talent was honed systematically at the Ori-Olokun Theatre, Nigeria’s most revered theatre company resident in the University of Ife, southwestern Nigeria.


She is also an academic at the Dept. of Theatre and Communication Arts at the University of Jos, on the Middle Belt Plateau, Nigeria “and has presented scholarly papers locally and internationally promoting the effectiveness of dance as a tool for social and economic transformation” (PEN member Richard Ugbede, lawyer, writer and businessman, contemporary Jazz and Afrobeat enthusiast- Nigerian Literature, February 2008).


Ayeni-Tsevende’s new book is in the press and due out shortly, so we are presenting you another view of the already reviewed U Are a Poet.


Perhaps the key element of novelty and interesting part of this maiden collection of verse is the poets’ use of Pidgin English not just for the sake of linguistic color, but as a medium in itself for creating poetry. The poems “London No Be By Force?” and “Help me Tell Tony Say” can be considered Bose Ayeni-Tsevende’s contribution to the “root” question of language in African Literature and Art, a question long dogged by controversy and debate. Remember that Pidgin is now listed one of Nigeria’s languages and there is an important on-going work to produce a comprehensive Dictionary of it for general use.


The two poems consider social mobility, an issue intrinsically implicit in Nigerian middleclass reality. The first poem tackles the indignities Nigerian professionals subject themselves to in order to emigrate [illegally] to the West London while the second, quite humorous, captures the pride of a woman who now drives a 4X4 [four-wheel drive] SUV [sports utility vehicle] Nigerians like to call Jeep, although  the Jeep like the Mercedes or Toyota is a distinct brand name. Now, on sighting the friend of an old lover who jilted her because he did not think much of her prospects (in “London Na by Force?”), she declares:

“If I get chance, I go go, but/ London no be by force/E no reach the stage wey e be say/ I go gather my length/ Go lie down berekete for embassy.” On the humiliating jobs economic migrants do in the West, she asks:

The kind insult wey oyinbo man go dey fire


For here you go gree?

Na so all dem dem go dey shine for you

Like say you be leper wey wan

Climb their wife.


A discerning reader soon appreciates that Ayeni-Tsevende has a “very observant, socially sensitive eye, which makes her Poems a verse commentary on myriad themes” (Ugbede, op. cit.), major among these themes being: Love, Longing and Loss, woven into carefully picked vocabulary, with an eye on well-modulated sound – remember poetry is song – and humour.


Gboko at Night (pp.104-105) is one my favourites as it manages to bring back memories of those village sessions of  ‘Tales by the Moonlight’ from her adopted home, being the Yoruba wife a Tiv husband and co-practitioner of her art: dance. After all, Soyeya ruwan zuma ne, as the poet is quick to point out in Hausa, another language in which she is fluent. There is also a symbolism, perhaps unintended: Bose the beautiful moon Tsevende brought to Gboko enjoys eternal blissful stay, just like:


The stranger that brought the moon

The moon that came to play with us

And would not go back – ever again (!)


Another favourite of this reviewer is the epic blockbuster full story and evolution of the persona-narrator (42-70). It makes you think of something in another genre but same epistolary format by another wonderful African whose work I read in the French original: Mariam Ba, Une si longue lettre [So long a letter].


In all the evocative combinations of Bosede’s poetry lulls, stunning alternately through all this “oral” poetry, a style Ugbede rightly observes is “very much reminiscent of Niyi Osundare’s poems,” while acknowledging the poems’ richness in “social allusion.” Ayeni-Tsevende then creates a ‘dual-simmed’ character who fronts for the poet to critique all these: now the carefree and seemingly simple-minded young girl, soon the experienced sensibilities of an upper middleclass, Nigerian woman!


In spite of the several little flaws pointed out in the review by Ugbede, “the poems of UAre A Poet are well realized and there is optimism just over the nuance, that resilient, undying hope that is the “Nigerian zeitgeist” and Ayeni-Tsevende’s realization of the work and its thousand ingredients, which “indicate her relevance to contemporary Nigerian literature. It is expected that her voice, the voice of a woman, looking through the twin happy-sad countenance of theatrical masks, will become increasingly relevant as her poetic pen matures,” as we should soon witness in her new work, due out soon…


Watch out.

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