February is upon us friends, and so that means love, or talking about love, or avoiding talking about love and of all the ways it manifests for us. In the spirit of things, I caught up with British born Nigerian poet, artist, and Black In The Day co-founder, Tania Nwachukwu. Tania is set to be sharing words at Boutique Groove’s upcoming Valentine’s Day special, so I thought I’d ask her about love, and (as usual) she spoke with the voice of a friend, always just a couple of steps ahead of me.
gal-dem: How long have you been writing for?
Tania: The first time I can remember putting pen to paper was as early as 7. I remember my first poem very clearly, and it’s definitely still around, somewhere around the house if I looked for it. Yeah, its been a while.
Do you remember the first time you wrote about love? Or relationships?
Oh that’s easy. I was 18. And it was the poem that got me into doing poetry. I’d just broken up with my first boyfriend-type. I wrote a poem called “I Ain’t Even Mad”. Clearly I was.
You know it’s always those poems! It’s like, what’s that Internet song? Just Sayin/I Tried. It’s that – “now I don’t even want you, can’t believe I wrote another song about you” thing. It’s hard to escape.
It definitely is. I remember reading that poem to a friend at the time, she encouraged me to perform it. I wasn’t particularly keen but Vocals and Verses had just started up at my uni, and back then it was a much smaller event so I thought, perfect timing. That was the first thing I wrote that…
… was about love?
Was about love. And that subsequently entered me into performing.
It’s must be really strange to think of how one poem, that came about so organically, ended up shaping your life in such a big way.
Honestly. All the time. If I hadn’t written it. If I hadn’t had the bravery to ask to perform. Yes I’d be doing something else but it’s hard to imagine what.
How do you feel about writing about love now? Is it more difficult than the first time?
Ok. I think there’s writing about love and there’s writing about relationships. Right now I tend to write more about the relationships I have. But for the people that I have loved, I do find it difficult to write about and I don’t know why exactly. It’s the one thing I’m very careful about. I think when you write about love it’s very easy to fall into clichés. And I hate clichés.
For me it’s a question of “how can I put how I feel about you, in words that haven’t already been said?” But then that is the beauty of poetry. The beauty of poetry is trying to find different ways to say things that people have been saying for years. But, for me right now? I’d just rather not. I write notes but they never turn into what I’d consider poems. They’re just so I can scroll back and think “wow, I wrote this about someone I loved once.” It’s more like journal writing in a sense and they don’t go beyond the page.
“The beauty of poetry is trying to find different ways to say things that people have been saying for years.”
I just listened to the track you released on Growing Pains II and fell into a trance. Your verse ends with the line “life has yet to have its wicked way with me” which made me think of how, even when in love, you still tend to anticipate the absence of it – is that true for you?
I don’t feel the absence of love, ever. I don’t receive love purely from romantic relationships, I have my friends and family, and I love myself ferociously. So, even when I’m without romantic love, I’m never mourning it. Romantic love is like salt bae. Just that little bit extra you know?
Romantic. Love. Is. Like. Salt. Bae. You mentioned self-love and I think is important to touch on, Valentine’s Day and always. Are there any small things you do to take care of yourself?
I think now I make sure to take time out for myself. I used to be the person that spread myself very thin and spent a lot of time trying to catch up with people. Right now, self-care comes in the form of not answering my phone, listening to music and watching Queen Sugar. If I need it, I’ll go and see a friend I know is going to give me one two jokes. Doesn’t even have to be extravagant. Just let me come to your house, take off my socks…
“Right now self-care comes in the form of not answering my phone.”
And also holidays. I understand how I function. I need sun, I’ve accepted it. Sometimes I just need to retreat somewhere hot and be away from white people.
I feel that, it’s healing. These days I’m always scrolling through Skyscanner…
If I could be sponsored by anyone it would be Skyscanner or Virgin Atlantic.
“My top three love songs would be ‘Is This Love’ by Bob Marley, because c’mon. Then I’d say ‘Prototype’, OutKast.”
I have one last question, seeing as you’re featuring at Boutique Groove’s Valentine’s Special – are there any songs, albums, or particular genres you associate with love?
It’s difficult because there are songs like that across all the genres I listen to. I love reggae and lovers rock – I think reggae love songs are beautiful. There’s something about the simplicity of the instrumentals and lyrics that is just…
My top three love songs would be ‘Is This Love’ by Bob Marley, because c’mon. Then I’d say ‘Prototype’, OutKast. Although I’m not sure it counts as a love song? No. You know what? It does. Saying ‘I hope you’re this perfect thing, but even if not, you’re the prototype. You’re the one close enough’ – that’s love. Oh, and ‘Let’s Stay Together’, Al Green.
Yes. That’s just… yes. But love songs exist across all genres though. Like, you can have hard trap love songs you know? They are love songs to someone.
Tania Nwachukwu performing at Boutique Groove Valentines Special alongside Andrew Ashong, Ego Ella May on Tuesday 14 February at Concrete, Shoreditch. More information and tickets can be found here.