I heard Wana Udobang perform ‘The Banquet’ at the Ake Arts and Book Festival of 2015, using the preparation of a feast as metaphor for the many lessons life teaches us, she kept the audience spellbound. I watched as she swiveled on stage, pouring her soul into the performance, her husky voice washing over the audience.
Wana is perhaps the only poet I know who sheds real tears while performing her own poems. She believes in immersing oneself in art, whether you are consuming or producing. With her, it is go deep or go home.
By the time of the release of her album ‘In Memory of Forgetting’, I already knew most of the poems in it, as I had heard her perform them on several stages, including the Lagos International Poetry Festival in 2016 and could recite many of the lines by heart. Still, I was close to tears when I listened to the second poem titled ‘Untitled’.
In 11 tracks Wana has done what she does best: put her skill and heart into a project and put it out there into the world, hoping it connects with someone.
Wana is an excellent performer; when she recites, she does everything right. Her voice quavers when it should and you can hear the smile behind it just on cue. That deliberateness of her voice on the album took some getting used to, but the honesty of the words evened out gullies of perception.
‘For Didi’, the sixth track, was especially moving. Wana tells a story of a mother whose daughter is born blind.
‘Her own mother had taught her it was all in the eyes,
A few days later, her eyes had refused to open,
You see there were none…. the sadness dried up her breasts’
Yet at the end she calls for strength and hope saying: ‘This is only a new kind of normal.’
This is a reccuring theme throughout the album – Using stories and personal experiences, she paints pictures of various adversities, framing them with hope.
In ‘Open Letter’ she features Titilope Sonuga and they produce a poem ‘For the girl who wears her beauty like an unanswered question.’ A poem that should be a mantra for any young woman finding herself amidst the patriarchy and inequality in today’s world.
The poems in ‘In Memory of Forgetting’; poems weave a pattern familiar in Wana’s works, the struggles that come with being a woman, the fire necessary to stay on your feet and the resolve that is encapsulated in words she keeps repeating: ‘You will not be catfish, they will not choose you like they chose me.’
Each of the ten tracks has a peculiar power and for me, I don’t think I will forget quickly the power of this sentence: ‘I still hate the smell of bleaching cream.’
You can listen to the album here.