Abíọ́dún ‘Abbey’ Abdul is our 2022 Slamovision Champion, looking to retain the Crown for Nottingham: a crown won in 2021 by Cara Thompson and her poem ‘Island Screams’.

Abíọ́dún’s poem, ‘Strong Tea’, a broadside at the cultural appropriation of our national drink, wowed our judges with its imagination, performance and message, and we are proud to have it representing us at Slamovision 2022.

But how did Strong Tea come about? We asked Abíọ́dún to tell all:

Well, I’m a sun-loving Yorùbá-Nigerian who oddly grew up under cloudy Scottish skies. My doctor father’s fatal car accident shifted my primary schooling from equatorial heat to North Atlantic winds. And with Scotland having the UK’s highest race-related murder rate, it was soon evident to my mother, sisters and me that the outside cold wasn’t just from the weather. Still, my Yorùbá-Nigerian family’s life of attempted arsons and stabbings were not a conversation for my primary school classmates talking about cartoons, toys and birthday parties, so my mode of isolated racial expression became poetry about doing good in the world and celebrating diversity. Being shortlisted for a 1990 anti-apartheid competition with the poem ‘Why?’ validated my justice-inclined soul.

Of course, not everyone wanted to hear this message of human decency and, come my secondary school years, verbal, mental and physical attacks in abundance kept coming from all angles. Regardless, my Christianity-inspired values and poetic abilities helped me craft an essay praising our common humanity, winning me a Japanese government scholarship to complete my schooling in Rising Sun land (much to the racists’ chagrin!) It was intriguing learning how my English poetry techniques at times interlaced with Japanese grammar norms, but even more mind-blowing how Yorùbá and Japanese pronunciation and vocabulary concepts often danced as one. With so much overlap in fun linguistic aspects and respectful cultural norms between West African and East Asian communities, why were the Western European hosts I grew up among so intent on disrespecting their fellow human beings? It was all very odd to ponder, but communication was the key to bringing change to British shores in particular and the world in general.

University in England was my first experience dealing with race in community vs isolation. Motivated through local performances by distinguished wordsmith Grace Nichols, I attended the African and Caribbean Society’s poetry evenings. In those creative spoken word spaces, I offered up ‘1st Days Lesson’ about systemic bias in education to surprisingly rapturous applause. Come graduation, my university degree in International Relations inspired the need for international languages, hence a global career path adding French, Spanish and some Arabic into my communicative tool box along the way. But my first love of poetic expression/creative writing still proved an effective way to convey to all a message of love, respect and unity, a sentiment leading to writing my 3-part memoir-polemic series ‘Stained Glass Eyes: Race, Family and Multiculturalism’. At times though, I was less confident voicing such themes at work for majority white audiences. But after encouragement from bombastic performance poet Roger Robinson and the pandemic creating online Black spaces, I developed the cultural-appropriation rebuke ‘Strong Tea’, performing it at literary festivals and more. I was then invited along to the Slamovision qualifier…which I didn’t initially realise was a competition. This explains my unwitting comfort levels leading to a few creative choices in the delivery with adlibs here, there and everywhere! In any case, after such a global poetry journey, I’m now delighted to be representing Nottingham in this global poetry battle.