TBB Talks To… Poet and Playwright Yomi Sode

Born in Oyo State, Nigeria, Yomi Sode is a spoken word artist, poet and MC.

Alongside performing for the last 10 years, Sode has founded BoxedIN, a quickfire, free Poetry night at Boxpark in Shoreditch, and, in 2017, he premiered his one-man show COAT at The Roundhouse, which sold out in 24hrs and has since toured nationally.

This October Sode collaborates with composer James B Wilson for BBC Radio 3’s upcoming residency with the Southbank Centre for the Inside Out season. From Monday 19th October, BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting classical music concerts live from the Royal Festival Hall, and featuring an accompanying series of associated speech and literature programmes.

The first night of the residency, titled Black Legacies sees Chineke! Orchestra performing the world premiere of Sode and Wilson’s brand new commission Remnants, which deconstructs the photograph of Patrick Hutchinson carrying a white protestor to safety. Elsewhere in the programme, pianist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason makes her debut solo performance with Chineke! to perform Florence B. Prices’ Piano Concerto in One Movement, before the orchestra concludes the concert with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor.

We caught up with Yomi to find out more about Remnants and his thoughts on that infamous image of Patrick Hutchinson …

Please introduce yourself

My name is Yomi Sode, I am a Poet & Playwright, and occasional moaner if my muse to write takes annual leave without my knowledge.

Please give a word or a sentence that best describes your life right now ...

Unpredictable. Covid has pretty much ensured that this is the case for not only myself but various writers and practitioners in the arts. There are high and low days but, we push. That’s what matters I suppose.  

How did you first discover your talent as a spoken word artist? 

Should writing be the tree, the spoken word is one of its many branches I’d say. I was emceeing with the mandem over grime instrumentals before I ever came across poetry in a performative form. It wasn’t until early 2007 that I poked my head in the scene, then proceeded in writing to no music, gradually making some sense re my own rhythm, etc from that point on.  

Chineke! Orchestra conducted by Kevin John Edusei, performing Remnants, by Yomi Sode & James B Wilson @ the Royal Festival Hall
Photo Credit: Mark Allan

Spoken word seems to be one of the more accessible forms of poetry, as exemplified by your spoken word night, Boxed In hosted at Boxpark Shoreditch – how accessible do you find the world of spoken word poetry, particularly to young black artists? 

It’s very accessible. In fact, there are huge pros and cons to the term ‘Spoken Word Poetry’ and the lens it lends itself towards. Tropes over the years liken Spoken Word to predominantly Black writers. Even in me not saying anything, it is assumed that I write spoken word poems, and not just ‘poems.’ This can be problematic as it lessens opportunities for young black artists as their writing is viewed in a certain light, when in fact, it can stand tall against some of the most contemporary white poets.   

Let’s talk about your upcoming world premiere of Remnants, a piece composed by yourself and James B. Wilson which will be performed by Chineke! Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall this Black History Month. The piece sees you deconstructing the photograph of Patrick Hutchinson carrying a white protester to safety. How did you first feel when you saw this picture and the way it was circulated in the British media? 

VEX! I won’t lie. I was frustrated. I’ve not long spoken to Patrick and I was transparent about my feelings that evening when I saw it on my phone. I wasn’t vex with him, I get the move he made. I was vex at the context of him still having to make the move, knowing this eeeedi … (ahem) this man’s intentions.   

When did you and James decide to collaborate in composing a piece that deconstructed this image? 

Roughly two months ago. We knew the image. We sent links to articles to each other. We met at a Starbucks and we spoke honestly about how we felt. I couldn’t work on this piece without that exchange happening.  

How do you hope audiences respond to Remnants

I feel as though it’s raw, and I hope it’s received well. I’m nervous but also I feel thankful to have a platform to be able to share work. I’m no panel type person to deconstruct discrimination, I don’t think that’s my bag. I write and make my own sense of things in doing so. Interestingly, I wanted Patrick to hear this piece before the public because he’s an elder. He is my uncle, aunt, the neighbour I see down the road, etc. Some respect is due there like, “I wrote this, can I read it to you?” I read it to him via Zoom, and he watched it live in rehearsal, I was in tears by the end of the take. And this is what I’d want the take home to be, though it’s one seminal moment, it’s an addition to an ever tiring set of events pertaining to black people.   

Patrick Hutchingson helping a ‘far right’ anti-black lives matter protestor to safety in central London 13 June 2020

Patrick Hutchinson’s image also brings up ideas on how society views black men and masculinity – a topic which you also explore in your Daddy Diaries website and Favor blog. Do you feel that discussions around black men and masculinity have been changing in recent years? 

Yes. It’s beautiful to watch the various depictions of black men now at this present time. Writer Shola Amoo is doing brilliant work, Mo the Comedian is doing brilliant work. I could go on but again, people are occupying their lanes and really building on that. I would hope some collaborations occur in the future to strengthen this even more.  

What black men do you look to as positive models of masculinity? 

I used to do this until I was let down, and that’s because I held people on pedestals like they are not as human as me. I had to rewire the thinking. I don’t want folks coming up to me saying you are such a positive black dad. Nope. I’m here just trying my best, like the many black fathers out there. I’m good with that.  

Do you think platforms are given to enough positive representations of black men and masculinity? If not, what work do you think still needs to be done? 

There can never be enough representation on our screens or books etc. I’d like there to be more but I would also champion more representation of Black Women. Both go hand in hand IMO. Recent movements have raised the awareness of this. Whether organisation, film studios, publishers, etc. I guess we keep this energy going and see where it takes us.  

What other projects are you currently working on? 

A full-length collection and a follow up to 2017’s COAT.  

Getting To Know You …

  • A book you have to have in your collection: Caleb Femi’s Poor, Nii Ayikwei Parkes The Geez 
  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date: C’mon! really? Lol. I return to Michael Kiwanuka’s Home Again, a lot! 
  • A film/tv show that you will watch whenever it’s on repeatedly: A Bronx Tale.
  • The first play you saw and what it meant to you: It wasn’t a play. It was Breaking Convention and watching how dance and theatre aligned. I sat through the entire night in awe. 
  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week: That we will be performing this piece at the Royal Festival Hall, to no audience due to covid. However, the footage of the performance will last a lifetime.

Black Legacies first aired via BBC Radio 3 on Monday 19th October. You can now stream the concert via the BBC Radio 3 website until Tuesday 17th November.

The concert will also be exclusively live-streamed on YouTube on Monday 23rd November as part of the Southbank Centre’s Inside Out season.


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