Jay’s style is a mosaic of her writing prowess and her voice which carries the total of her experiences. Her voice is soulful, her stories are touching, and her strength comes off as gentle, perhaps too gentle.
By Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera
Christtie Jay’s Grey Choir joins the growing constellation of spoken word albums in Nigeria, and is in the league of spoken word albums that are made purely from the skin of poetry – the bone of music. Christtie Jay, a poet from Nigeria, has spent years honing her craft on pages and has been widely published in literary magazines. Grey Choir is her attempt to bring her poetry to a sonic audience. She joins in the tradition of Nigerian poets like Titilope Sonuga and Efe Paul Azino, who are both stage and page poets, and have over the years inspired many younger Nigerian poets like Tobi Abiodun, Fragile Dogubo and so on.
If one of Jay’s aims was to draw in her audience by creating an atmosphere of sensuality from the very beginning, then this is the foremost thing the album succeeds in. The first track in this spoken word album, “Promises,” opens with the artiste fantasising about the coital pleasures with imageries that relay a deep insight into what results from a marathon of such sensuality. By the end of listening to the album, I realise that the beginning was also Jay’s way of introducing the soul of her performance — a prelude to what the rest of the album offers.
The most profound thing about how the project begins is that it piques one’s interest by inducing relaxation. This is important for a poetry album, since poetry, in the first place, is about paying attention. Through eight tracks spanning roughly thirty minutes, Grey Choir combines music and poetry in its meditation and performances. It is at heart, a musing that involves different emotions, including hope, grief, defiance, regrets, and love.
The poems in Jay’s Grey Choir have a depth and cryptic quality about them so that even as this project is made for the stage, the poems can also leave an interesting reading experience on a page. Jay’s use of syntax and imagery elevates the pedestal of her spoken word. The poems are good enough to stand the critical scrutiny of page poetry, due to the level at which they employ poetic devices and the curated poetic wisdom in which the artiste meditates on her subject. “What greed moves us/ That seas have to cry /to god /About our salts?” she asks in one of the tracks, “Story Story.” As I pay attention to her words, I feel she might be a page poet who loves recording her content as spoken word pieces, and indeed, her written works have been published across prominent magazines including Agbowo, Kissing Dynamite, and A Long House.
The poem, “Teething,” featuring the artiste Mary Anthony, caught my attention because of its relevance to the times, especially as it expertly addresses the epidemic of young people sabotaging real love because of the trauma of a bad experience. ”When we are fat with grief/ we set fire to our house/ so there’s no door to open/ when they return begging for the warmth of our hands.” She dissects expertly into the heart of the matter — of a troubled heart struggling with love — with the scalpel of language.
The track, “Letter to Sisters,” is a feminist manifesto which rejects the idea of a “strong woman” built according to societal standards. In 20 lessons, the track dwells on the philosophy of a personality becoming more defiant and self-conscious that it grows defiant of societal expectations. This is bound to be the most controversial of the tracks in the album because of its dissident message, but it is also bound to raise important discussion.
In “Story Story,” she meditates on the frustrations of contemporary Nigerian society, and it espouses a social consciousness – a quality which Nigerian art is desperately in need of. In this track, the singer, Mo’Believe delivers a hook which poses the question of who ordered the shootings at the tollgate in the #EndSARS 20-10-20 incident at the Lekki tollgate. It is a question whose answer, although apparent, Lagosians have been unable to extract from their elected political officers. The track carries the existential frustrations which Nigerians face while being unable to hold anybody to account. However, “Story Story” could have been done with a bit more energy in the poet’s words, to match the subject of its protest.
The most affecting track is “Hello/Goodbye.” It is where the gentle strength of Jay’s style; the affecting quality of her writing, her storytelling, and the melancholy of the background music, create a synergy which gives rise to a track engulfing in its atmosphere, and moving in its recitation of this poem that is addressed to a lost loved one.
Jay’s style is a mosaic of her writing prowess and her voice, which carries the sum total of her experiences. Her voice is soulful, her stories are touching, and her strength comes off as gentle, perhaps too gentle. These qualities remind me of Wana Udobang’s spoken word album “Transcendence.” Jay’s album exists in a mode of sepia emotions and sensuality, with hardly any gleeful burst of emotions. Perhaps, this is what makes it the poetry of a “grey choir” as the project embodies greyness. In this sense, the flaw of the album is also its strength.
With Grey Choir Jay has created a sonic project that evokes feelings and draws her audience in without giving up her depth as a written word artist. She is not loud, yet the gentle strength of her work carries her message home. I will return to Jay’s Grey Choir for its ability to pull me into its embrace of sensuality, to stir my thoughts and emotions, and for the profound depth of her art.
Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera is a writer, freelance journalist and curator. Follow him on Twitter @Chukwuderaedozi