Introducing Ikwunga, The Afrobeat Poet
Ikwunga, an American Board Certified Psychiatrist and the son of a famous West African poet and tribal Chief, is unarguably the first afrobeat poet and the original creator of Calabash, the first volume of Afrobeat Poems. Afrobeat poetry utilizes Pidgin English and its idiomatic infusions of English and vernacular Nigerian languages as a medium to reach the listener/reader.
Ikwunga grew up in Port Harcourt in a family that emphasized reading both Western and African literature. While undergoing medical school training, he co-created ‘What?’ a group that wrote and performed their own songs and recited beat-poetry in Pidgin English. By the early nineties, Ikwunga had become a regular opening act for Femi Kuti at the Afrika Shrine in Lagos, where he first incorporated Afrobeat into his beat-poetry style.
Ikwunga’s collection of poems stands true to Afrobeat philosophy: intensely political leaning heavily towards pan-Africanism. In Calabash, Ikwunga in collaboration with Dele Sosimi, former keyboardist of Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 Band, and musical director of Femi Kuti’s Positive Force Band, Femi Elias, and Justin Thurgur, have produced a unique fusion of Spoken Word, African style call- and- answer recital, with a new contemporary Afrobeat. Ikwunga’s Afrobeat Poems skillfully meshes Afrobeat music with masterly constructed lyrics suffused with conscious messages and stories.
Ikwunga cites dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson as an influence, one that is clear in “Di Bombs,” the album’s third track, a vernacular pidgin English selection that traces the parallels between slavery and modern war-making in the first and third worlds.
Fela Kuti famously characterized music as a weapon, so it is in the hands of Ikwunga.