Koromone Koroye Breaks Down The Process Behind Her Poetry EP

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A year and a half after Koromone Koroye completed her masters degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at Hofstra University, New York, she returned to Lagos with the hopes of implementing all she had learned abroad in the creative scene in Nigeria. Unfortunately, her first performance in Bogobiri, Lagos quickly made her realise Nigerians’ indifference towards Spoken Word performances. 

In New York, Koroye had thrived as a spoken word artist. She honed in on the writing skill she possessed since childhood and after some training, took to the stage and transformed it into something explosive with her performances. She was invited to Universities to perform, contested in competitions and built a community of people who valued her work. So it was a shock to come from a city where spoken word was respected, to one where performers were relegated  to background noises during happy hour. Disappointed by this, Koroye decided to put spoken word in the backseat and focus on an alternative career path that enabled her to incorporate her love for writing and creativity into tech. She went on to work as a Marketing and Communications Associate at the fintech, Flutterwave, and up until February 2023, was the Managing Editor at TechCabal. 

Now Koroye has revisited her poetic skills and created her first EP titled Euphonious Musings of Koromone Koroye, which was released in April 2023. The EP houses 5 poems and an interlude all written, mastered and performed by the poet herself. It explores the themes of love and luxury set against the backdrop of the lavish Lagos lifestyle.

In a conversation with Culture Custodian, Koroye speaks about the inspiration behind her EP, the pivot from live performances to producing, and the bleak spoken word scene in Lagos. 

What was the inspiration behind Euphonious Musings of Koromone Koroye

When I got into my sabbatical, a part of me felt the need to write and put something out but I didn’t want to write from a place of exhaustion, just to create something. I didn’t want it to be emotional. I wanted a balanced project that showcased my diverse writing skills. If you listen to each track individually you realise that I’m tackling multiple topics and subject matter and I want people to feel something when they listen them. 

It was also about ownership. I wanted to put something out because I’ve been a writer and a poet since I was born and a lot of people don’t know this part of me exists. They just know about the tech babe, Tech Cabal, and Flutterwave, but they don’t know that I’m a poet and I studied this in school all the way to a masters degree.

How do people react to you being a spoken word artist?

I think people who have known me since college won’t be surprised because I had a pseudo career performing around America; getting invited to shows and Universities was very normal to me. A lot of my friends from America understand it because that was the culture in New York. It wasn’t shocking that a black woman from Nigeria is a spoken word poet, but outside those circles, it was like “What is this thing again?”. In  New York I did slam competitions where I went up against very skilled poets and got judged on my words and performance. For people who have known me in the last 5 years, this might come as a shock. I’ve had people give backhanded comments like “So are you a rapper now?” First of all if I was a rapper I’d run circles around them and their favorite rapper so let’s be careful. 

I think one thing I can hold on to is that I started this in New York and I’ve won competitions. I was paid to do it, so I already know that it could exist regardless of how people feel about it. I don’t care too much about how people feel about it, especially if they’re new to me. I’ve been doing thing for years, I only put it to the side to build a career, but now I’m going to do it side by side.

What was the process of creating the EP from start to finish? 

Honestly, what helped, in the beginning, was not deleting verses. There were a lot of poems I started writing last year. Words would just come to me and I’d write in my notes app, I did not know how the pieces would sound or end once I started writing them. That didn’t come to me until I started editing. Initially, the album was going to be called Pen Game Shakespeare because I wanted to showcase my pen game. It was important for people to know I could write and “Shakespeare” is what my High School friends call me when they’re teasing me.  I wanted people to be like yeah, I don’t play about my pen game. 

As I began to listen to background music to go along with the poems, I realized I wanted to try something else. I wanted to let people know this was about my poetry, but they were also going to be listening to my voice. So I started googling synonyms for certain words that would sum up the whole project. That was how I came across euphonious and decided it would be in the title.  

The rewriting process was interesting. Sometimes I’d leave a poem for like two or three weeks then come back to it and tie in some verses. I sounded out a lot of the work and was like this is too heavy or hard, people might struggle to remember this line so I’d go back and move things around.

Initially, I had 7 or 8 tracks and 2 skits and I wanted to include some poems I had already published but I decided against that because people had already experienced them so I cut it out to the 6. 

Performing and recording are significantly different. How was this experience for you, did you enjoy it and what did you enjoy most about it? 

It was a lot of work. I certainly have a newfound respect for recording artists. The amount of times I had to re-record, work on a sound or work on the volume all by myself, in my home office with a microphone and GarageBand. It was a mix of rewarding and frustrating many times, especially when you’re listening to yourself repeatedly and getting tired of the sound of your voice. 

I know I prefer performing to the experience of recording ‘cause I’m a performer. I also know the experience of Arrogant Anthem is going to be wild compared to how it sounds recorded because it would require a different energy and tone to make people feel something. 

What surprised you most while making this project? 

My desire to make it perfect. I didn’t think I’d struggle with that until I started working on it and I realized it had to sound good regardless of the fact that I was doing it all by myself.  

Also the amount of time and deliberation that goes into a body of work especially if you want it to be produced and published. You want it to sound good, you want it to make sense, you want people to feel certain things and you’re hoping that they do when they listen to it. And I think putting together each poem’s descriptions, creating just a whole listening guide for people as well before it went live – that also took a lot of time.

Poetry is oftentimes not about the experiences of the poet, but the emotions the poet is trying to pique. With this EP, can you speak on the response you aimed to evoke? 

I think it varies with each track. With Arrogant Anthem and Soft Life,  I wrote them for Black people. I wrote it for black people who travel or want to travel or experience luxury and wealth. I wanted us to see ourselves in poetry which is usually very white or about the sufferings of black people. I think with Museum of Lagos Girls, it’s cheeky, witty, it’s fun but it’s also appreciative. 

I wrote Talking Stage for romantics. It is also a flip-around poem because, in real life, the talking stage has a bad rap. It has become a game to see how many people someone can talk to or how quickly they can ghost someone. A lot of people dread the talking stage because it’s a lot of repetition and can sometimes be a waste of time. So I was like no, let’s take the talking stage back to what it was; a romantic date getting to know someone. That poem was inspired by a guy I went on dates with last year. He sent videos as soon as he got home, thanking me for a lovely evening and sweet good morning texts the next day. Talking Stage is a nice sound to share videos and photos with if you go on a really nice date you want to document. I wanted people who have experienced the loveliness of a nice date with a really respectful guy to feel that. If you notice it’s two different perspectives, it’s a guy’s perspective in the first verse and the woman’s in the second. 

Playboy Dissertation was an academic approach. If I were to write about playboys in my dissertation in college this is what I would present. I think whenever women share their Playboy experiences they feel a bit of shame and regret wondering how they couldn’t tell the signs. But the truth is, they missed the signs because he’s a playboy and that’s his game –  he’s “a cannibal without a conscience”. It was written in hopes that enough women would listen and understand how to spot playboys. It was also a way to empathize and encourage women to leave them.

I wanted my voice to stand out, I wanted my writing style to stand out, and I wanted people to know that hey we can see ourselves in poetry without it being forced or performative. 

In Museum Of Lagos Girls, there was a break before you continued with a slower delivery and tone. That felt like a letter to the audience. Was that intentional? 

Yeah it was. Each poem had a different flow for a reason, but Museum of Lagos Girls especially because I wanted to emulate the tone and pace of audio experiences in Museums. I also decided to compare Lagos women, to pieces of expensive artware that you can see and experience, but cannot take home with you. I want Lagos women to feel like this is their anthem playing in the background while they’re getting dressed or out with their girls and having a good time but then when I do the outro “Are you really going to pull up to W Bar” that’s me telling the guys that at the end of the day you’re with a Lagos babe and you’d look a bit daft coming in empty handed. I took all the negative comments about Lagos babes I read online and I just flipped it. The message is very clear, don’t mess with us.

When you moved back to Lagos and realized Lagos wasn’t welcoming to spoken word poetry, how did you feel?

I was devastated, I was like “Oh my God you guys are so uncultured”. Bogobiri was the hype, so people were like Bogobiri does this great open mic night. In open mic nights, I’m used to, when a poet gets on stage everyone shuts up. You literally can hear a pin drop because they know with poetry you need to listen to what the poet is saying because they have taken the time to weave a story using a bunch of literary devices that can easily be missed without close attention. I will never forget, I got on stage, and right in the front row, these two guys were having a work meeting. So while on stage, I had to ask them to be quiet. The room was just so noisy with people shouting over each other and with the kind of performer I am, I need to be able to lock in the audience from the beginning. When you’re on stage performing and you’re looking around and people are drinking and smoking, it’s very difficult to do that. That was the first and last time. I was like you know what, maybe I can’t sustain this here so I just pushed it to the side I was like okay let’s join the rat race then.

Do you see yourself performing in front of an audience any time soon?

Yeah. That’s also another reason I put up this project because I wanted a body of work I could perform straight through. If I get a 10-minute set I know I can do all the poems, if I get five minutes I know I can pick two or three and work on it, and if I get invited to shows I can send it to them and say “hey this is what I do”. I definitely miss performing. I haven’t done it in a while. I think the last time I did it was at Ajebutter’s album listening party so I got the chance to perform Soft Life and I loved it. Each time I perform it, I change the performance a little bit depending on the crowd. The first time I performed it was at a friend’s birthday party which was just a table of 12 people and I was like yeah this is intimate so I can involve them a bit more but at the listening party it was a bigger crowd so I had to focus on different people. I’m really looking forward to performing all the tracks, especially Arrogant Anthem.

What do you think the poetry community in Lagos needs to thrive? 

Well, people need to take themselves a lot less seriously. Some of the stuff I hear is very sad and pretentious. I think a lot of times poets are under pressure to always sound so serious like Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, or Emily Dickinson but the crazy thing is that all of these people created their own writing styles. Now we are in the 21st century, it’s contemporary, it’s modern, it’s very digital. People are looking for writings, books, and novels that speak to the experience now of women, men, bisexuals, and transgender, they need that. Sometimes I don’t want it to be depressing, sometimes I want it to be a little fun and cheeky. I think people need to loosen up a little bit. I also think that being a writer in Nigeria people don’t take you seriously so that also puts pressure on poets to come off as smart, different, or the next Wole Soyinka. Just be you, just have fun and you never know what might come out of it. 

What piece of advice would you give someone who is aspiring to be a spoken word artist in Nigeria?

Find your niche and stick to it. You can’t be all kinds of poets. Be inspired by all means but I wouldn’t expect another poet to write like me. I created my own voice and writing style for a reason. I wanted to be different from the crowd even in this industry. I was like no I don’t want to sound like every other poet and I don’t want to write like them and I want to make it difficult for people to replicate my style. So find your niche and be very good at it. Once you find it, invest in becoming the very best at it. Let people say this is this person’s writing style.

What’s next for you? 

There’s another project I have in mind. It’s also going to be storytelling but it might not be poetry from start to finish. It’s called Love and Shege because sometimes you can have either, or both at the same time. It’s going to be a collection of stories about love (all types of love) from different people and there will be poetic intervals in between. It’s going to be straight to the point, no messing about kind of agony aunt style but a bit more entertaining. I want people to feel comfortable telling me about their Love and Shege experience for a healed perspective.

Now that I have learned a lot from working on Euphonious Musings, I know exactly how to tackle this one. But to answer you, I think what’s next is enjoying myself on sabbatical and finding a really fantastic job. Hopefully a lot of performing gigs.