Editorial Intern/Contributing Editor Nureni Ibrahim
Arts and Letters of Africa (Nigeria focus)
Spoken-word Artist Interview:
HASSANA UMORU MAINA
Hassana Umoru Maina was born on 17th of April. She is in her final year at the Ahmadu Bello University, studying law. She went to Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos, where she graduated as the prom queen and held other leadership positions such as the class representative of Students’ Representative Council. Hassana Umoru Maina is passionate about humility, justice, and art. Her passion reflects in things she spends her time doing. She held leadership positions in Human Rights Club, Attorney’s Chambers, National Union of Borno State Students (where she served as the vice president) and Creative Writers’ Club (where she currently serves her second tenure as the chairperson). Hassana Umoru Maina initiated projects of her own like the U14/U15 Charity Initiative where she, alongside other like-minds, gave charities to the less privileged around Kongo area in Zaria, Nigeria. She initiated Writing Exercise Program in Borno State, where she encouraged young minds to write and express themselves with regard to the terrorist attacks ravaging the Northern part of Nigeria. Hassana Umoru Maina is one of the pioneer members of the ArewaMeToo Campaign, an organization aimed at ending sexual violence in Nigeria. In this organization, Hassana leads a team of vibrant young men and women in Maiduguri, where they visit both conventional and Islamic schools – creating sexual awareness with a view to curbing sexual violence. Hassana Umoru Maina has been invited as guest and panelist in many literary events; namely, Yasmin El Rufai Foundation, Purplesilver Community, the Women for Women Event, Open Arts etc. Hassana Umoru Maina is a young woman passionate about justice and currently seeking after lasting solutions to the issues of war in Northern Nigeria and gender inequality.
Ibrahim for O: J A&L: By a way of introduction, Hassana, could you tell us what should a person wanting to get to know your poetry performance be aware of?
Hassana Maina: I write and present poetry about issues I am passionate about such as politics, social disillusionment and gender. My father taught me the importance of truth and I have tried to live by it; this reflects in my writing. I present poetry about what I consider as truth, always trying to represent my feelings, emotions, the society as truthful as I possibly can.
Ibrahim for O:JA&L: Hassana, kindly tell us the central message of your performances and the kind of audience you attract.
Hassana Maina: The central message of my poetry performance would be women, sexuality and social issues. Sexuality because I come from a society where women are being stigmatized, a society which its social-constructed idea is that women are not granted the will to see themselves as valuable beings. For me, I want women to see themselves as more valuable being, to stop viewing their bodies as sinful, and most significantly to look at themselves with the eyes of liberation. I am a person that is very attached to my society, sometimes I write and perform about the realities of women and children living around me. My kind of audience will largely be the youths, because I connect with them via social media.
Ibrahim for O:J A & L: I know you said your society gives respect to men more than women. Could you help provide more information on the society you belong to and what, in your opinion, is the leading reason for the stereotype?
Hassana Maina: I am from Maiduguri in Borno state and succinctly, I live in the Northern part of the country, Nigeria – except for the brief period I went to Lagos for my secondary school education. When I say my society, I am referring to Nigeria as a whole because I have briefly visited a lot of states in Nigeria. The way men treat and view women is similar across all states; from the most popular phase, Nigerian men enjoy saying “I have your type at home” and “you are a prostitute.” All of these point out that my society that is; Nigeria is really not a safe country for women. And the leading reason for this is simply sexism and sexism in Nigerian context is the notion that men are superior to women.
Ibrahim for O:JA&L: Do you have any formal education? It would also be helpful if you could provide some influential, determining experiences or mentors that have shaped or geared up your career.
Hassana Maina: I am currently in my final year studying Law at the Ahmadu Bello University, most popular and leading university in the Northern Nigeria. I rounded off my secondary school education at the Queens College, Lagos in Nigeria. I started performing poetry to reach out to a larger audience, being realized that millennial often love to watch rather than read. So, I decided to see how I can make videos of my poetry to reach a wider audience. One day, I stumbled upon a Maya Angelou (arguably most popular African-American writer)’s poetry performance, “Still I Rise,” and I surfed the net for more. I got glued to her style, her strength, her grace and her voice. And I thought to myself, wow! That is cool, I should try this! I think that was the point I decided to start performing poetry. Honestly speaking, Maya Angelou has had tremendous influence in the way I view my art.
Ibrahim for O: J A&L: Do you feel there is an interconnectedness between Maya Angelou’s concept of feminism and your performance style?
Hassana Maina: I studied Maya Angelou for as long as I can remember, her poise, her style. And probably, the underlying tone of all of my performance might just be ‘does my sassiness upset you?’
Ibrahim for O:J A & L: As it is well-known that poetry performance doesn’t exist in vacuum, we would like to know your sources of inspiration and how they are tailored to your thematic preoccupations?
Hassana Maina: As said earlier, I cannot be detached from my environment. I could see a child begging and that might make me cry and get me to feel emotions I have to express in writing. I might hear a story of domestic abuse, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and immediately; I would get to work, trying to purge my soul by writing emotionally about it. Having said this, my source of inspiration is categorically my environment – the little part of the world where I live.
Ibrahim for O:J A&L: Which of your poetry performances is the most popular one? Can you please provide us a list of current or forthcoming poetry performances?
Hassana Maina: This is a hard question, because I have different set of audience that relate to different performance. I was in the market the other day, and I met someone who has come across one of my poetry performances, and it was heartwarming to hear her quote from my poem saying “At two, three, four, we are abandoned, to make space for another woman we will never meet….” We recited the poem together and had a good laugh afterwards. When I asked why she likes this particular poem, she said it is because she is passionate about seeing the end of almajiri (commonly referred to as the less-privileged children purposely forsaken by their parents) in the North. I think the post popular one is “Sisterhood,” the one I performed for the #ArewaMeToo Initiative
Ibrahim for O:JA&L: We would be glad if you could mention some of the awards, honors and recognitions received over the years.
Hassana Maina: I have been invited to perform and sit on panels of events like Yasmin El-rufai Foundation, Open Arts, Purplesilver Community etc. I was also a recipient of outstanding leadership award presented by the Creative Writers Club.
Ibrahim for O:JA&L: Could you please tell us more about you as a spoken-word artist and as a person?
Hassana Maina: As a spoken word artist, I am very passionate most especially about educating and enlightening my audience on societal ills, I have tried to create consciousness on the mind of the audience through performing poetry that thematizes societal ills thereby opening the floor for discussions on the debilitating issues in Nigerian society and possibly seeking therapeutic remedy. As a person, I am a passionate individual with the mind to get what I want and positively effect change in my society.
Ibrahim for O:J A&L: Have you met any career challenges and how did you overcome it?
Hassana Maina: Well! Law is not an easy course to study, and juggling my studies with my art has not been easy. Many times I am forced to forfeit my art for the benefit of my studies, but I take solace in Whitney Houstonʼs song “Step by Step.”
And also most of my videos are self-funded. People love art in Nigeria, people appreciate art in Nigeria, but they do not appreciate it enough to fund it. That is the sad reality of performers in the country.
Ibrahim for O:J A&L: Do you have any professional career aside from being a spoken-word artist? What are your future goals?
Hassana Maina: I am studying to become lawyer, and I hope to finish up my first novel before this year runs out. My novel would be my first literary appearance in the prose genre, since I am well-known as a being poet – the feminist advocator in Northern Nigeria as some close artists would say. At the moment I am taking life as it comes, but maybe in five years, I would like to see myself as a lawyer, with my name on a book cover, gracing important stages.
Ibrahim for O: J A&L: Could you highlight your view concerning the role and relevance of the artist in contemporary world?
Hassana Maina: Personally, I think artists are very relevant as I see them as mirrors that reflect the realities of the society. A successful artist could also be an influencer, effecting social or political change and changing the psyche of her/his audience through her/his art. Through music, poetry, drama and other forms of art, unity is always often forged. In this our contemporary world of ideas, I think artists must be revered.
Ibrahim for O: J A&L: We would like to know if you have any forthcoming performances.
Hassana Maina: At the moment, sadly, no. As I am preparing for my final exams, so I have kept everything on hold.
Ibrahim for O: J A&L: Can you please provide links to your published performances? Do you have a website or a blog?
Hassana Maina: No , I donʼt have a website yet. I am working on one though. But I have a YouTube channel.
About the interviewer: Nureni Ibrahim is a budding, enterprising researcher and critic of contemporary writing who lives and writes from somewhere in Nigeria. He studied English and Literature at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. He is among the 2017 scholars of the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation, New York. He has presented papers both in local and international conferences. Ibrahim is a spoken word artist and has performed poetry at Ahmadu Bello University Day of Literature, Footprints of David Arts Festival and a league of others. His works are featured in Decent E-News, Queensland, Australia; The Mamba Journal of the Africa Haiku Network, Kumasi, Ghana; Shamrock Haiku Journal, Dublin, Ireland; Best ‘New’ African Poets 2016 Anthology, Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon, to mention but a few. He is a 2018 Wawa Book Review Young Literary Critics Fellow. He currently works closely with the associate editor at the Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, United States.
Images: All images courtesy of the artist.