In a time where crime in our capital is at an all-time high, the narratives we often see in the mainstream media is that people of colour, (particularly south asian men) are using violence to channel their pain. The narratives seem to fall around victim or abuser. (see our previous article on islamophobia)
This is only part of the story. There is a growing group of BAME men and women, using their experiences to inform their art.
In our 10 part feature, we meet some of these artists. These artists are swimming against the tide, creating a lane for themselves. They talk to us about the Cost of Artistry
4/10 meet Shareefa Energy
With this feature we want to give our readers, an insight into those whose work we greatly admire, the opportunity to have a serious discussion about poetry/rap – free from the usual angling of “page vs stage” or “new young star brings poetry out of the dusty library”.
We caught up with Shareefa Energy and spoke to her about her journey as a poet and her relationship with the world of poetry.
When did you discover you had a “talent”?
I discovered I had a talent when I was 13, where I grew to become more impressed with my lyrical abilities and metaphor analogies. By the time I was fifteen, I was able to express myself in a way the Asian girls in my school really admired and they encouraged me to not forget them when I become ‘a famous rapper.’ I wrote two phenomenal pieces called Nine Months Pain and I Believe which were used towards my drama group’s final GCSE performance. My writing was already being transformed for production and performance. I directed others to recite my lyrics into the narrative so there was a spoken word element involved. I have always loved writing, directing and been familiar with the stage.
What have you had to sacrifice to nurture your talent?
I have had to sacrifice being around my family to make sure I marked my territory and that my art was recognised in the capital, London. I sacrificed being financially comfortable when I chose to not conform to a 9-5 job to ensure I had the time to create and do what I love. I now facilitate creative workshops to pass the baton or ‘pen and microphone’ on to others who may need these powerful tools. I have done the whole selling my EP on the Camden strip thing to get myself known and feed myself in 2015/2016, turning up to open mic nights and making sure people became familiar with my work for me to now get the recognition I deserve.
Who inspires your artistry?
I am inspired by various artists, Nneka, Akua Naru, Lauryn Hill, Kano, various hip-hop storytellers who highly influenced my interest in storytelling from being hooked as a child. Engaging with stories and being introduced to whole new worlds through my headphones listening to tapes on my Sony Walkman, hanging on to every word, getting drawn into the rhythm of each artist’s sea.
What is the biggest misconception people have about poets?
The misconception I would say is that we are all one dimensional artists or beings. Sometimes we are perceived as the ‘woke’ ones, which has its place when we discuss societal issues from an intimate space. We are sometimes seen as dreary or monotone but if anyone ever watched Akua Naru perform ‘Poetry How Does It Feel’ or allowed one of my favourite spoken word poets Writer Jones to take them on a journey, they would be blown away. Ghetts is a poet, Kojey Radical is a hypnotising poet, rappers are poets and if anyone sends me a beat and asks me to create poetry, I am able to create profound poetry and articulate myself rhythmically.
“Poetry is in my veins, in the melody of my fathers old Hindi cassettes, so I choose to express and not let the fire burn in my chest.”
Poets need to be recognised outside of the lens of the stereotypical English poets people study in English Literature. There is a whole era of contemporary poets, dub poets, the Linton Kwesi Johnsons, the David J Pugilists, a whole universe of phenomena’s that deserve to be celebrated.
In an age where digital echo chambers are growing wider, what role do you think poetry can play in this?
I would love to perform live on A Colors Show. The digital world is having a strong influence on how people consume art. From live performances with everyone wearing head phones in the audience to engaging virtually. The digital streaming world internationally is more progressive in different regions and spoken word poetry or even poetry for page could be accessed via these platforms e.g. downloading poetry lyrics when downloading audios so people learn to have a balance of how they consume poetry. I read more lyrics on the paper in cassettes whilst playing music than I have read poetry books. Poetry, even if created for VHR would be amazing, virtual journeys and stories created into games. I’m excited for the transformation on how poetry is consumed and perceived in years to come. It is up to us poets to bring new ideas to tables and transform the narrative of where our place is in society and across creative industries.
Has a poem ever humbled or frightened you?
Poetry that has been deeply moving or triggering has humbled me. Immortal Technique You Never Know will always be a signature piece that stood out for me, that really moved me, when a boy who had a crush on me introduced me to it.
The harshness of discovering love to only lose it was disturbing, especially for a teenager who already had a perspective of love being flawed and not believing in the existence of love. I couldn’t stop talking about Immortal Technique’s artistry and the sadness evoked about being the ‘moth who got too close to the light.’ Typical hopeless poet – a sucker for R&B tunes romantic.
Some poets claim that a poem is like a living creature: once it’s out there is not much you can do to ‘correct’ or ‘improve’ it, while others edit meticulously, not leaving much from the original, draft form. What is your take on it?
I am not much of an editor when it comes to my writing but I am learning to look at this through new eyes as there is always room for improvement, especially when writing for page. As a performer, I like to leave my writing in its raw form, to allow the emotion and place the poem was created from to be felt. To me, writing is like a photograph. If a photographer was to take a photo in a café, then go back two weeks later to recreate it but remove the handkerchief that was on the table, the vibe and authenticity has been removed. 99% of the time I create a piece of writing in one sitting, allowing what needs to be channelled to come straight through me unless it is a commissioned piece and I need to be more mindful of what is expected of me, otherwise I prefer to not edit. When I am creating for a long show, there is a editing and refining process as the relevance and chronology may differ. As I am getting my poetry ready for publishing, it is a whole other story.
How do you define success?
Success to me is the result of hard graft, of not giving up on your craft, of being consistent, disciplined, getting your art and skills recognised, with your value tasting the fruit of what it deserves. Success is also when a poem or performance touches an audience member or allows someone to reflect deeply on the message being accurately communicated, successfully planting a seed to challenge a perspective. Finding a way of being able to invest in yourself and not just merely survive through your art, and creative expression to me is also success. Doing what you love and creating your lifestyle around it.
Do you ever regret sharing your work publicly? Do you trust the reader in a world of instant gratification and instant communication?
I don’t regret sharing my work. Yes, there may be times I go back and forth as to whether I should share a poem, but I always have to remember that the piece is for who ever will relate to it and it isn’t solely mine, even though I am the creator. I have battled with fear and I have overcome it to share more, and even become less concerned over who may be offended by sharing my truth or place judgement on my perspective or experience. A poetry visual; ‘Emotional Rollercoaster’ I was unsure of sharing out of concern of the backlash or vulnerability, a woman reached out to me to share her gratitude for providing her with solace and for the poem resonating with her soul. She is now one of my closest friends and if it wasn’t for overcoming my fear of sharing, we would not have connected.
Find out more about Shareefa Energy here: www.shareefaenergy.com
Twitter / Instagram / Facebook: @ShareefaEnergy
Reasoning With Self EP: http://meandou.bandcamp.com/album/shareefa-energy-reasoning-with-self