Spoken word artist, Emmanuel Speaks on why he’s proud to be tackling taboos

Emmanuel Speaks is a performance poet and musician from East London. He uses the stage to highlight an array of controversial subjects.

Emmanuel moved to the UK from Nigeria at the age of five. He was inspired to produce his own poetry after stumbling across spoken word online as a teenager and says the creative outlet provided a welcome release from the pressures young men feel today.

For anyone unsure what the artform entails, spoken word is a middle ground between poetry and rap combined with elements of storytelling and theatre. This form of expression dates back to the 1940s and 1950s at the time of the American Beat Poetry Movement in the US. A new wave of artists have given the genre a fresh lease of life, such as Emmanuel who rose to fame following his piece ‘England will be OK’ at the time of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. After launching a single entitled, ‘Who Told You?’ (feat. rapper TE dness) in May 2018, Emmanuel is now working on his first album, The Composer.

What attracted you to spoken word?

I got into spoken word when I was younger after becoming transfixed by that style of poetry. I was also attracted by the use of wordplay and flow; elements that you normally only experience through rap. I didn’t start writing my own pieces until I was 17. I felt a lot of pressure and emotion as a young man and I think spoken word helped me to articulate how I felt. It allowed me to tell stories and create art.

Did the popularity of your work take you by surprise?

It definitely did. I think more than anything, I was humbled by how much people were able to relate to my thoughts and experiences. It makes it all worthwhile when people tell you that your work has helped them in some way.

You address an array of challenging topics such as female genital mutilation, mental health and domestic violence. What has been the response in various communities?

When I touch on these risqué subjects, my main concern is always doing justice to the experiences of people who have suffered. That’s my priority. I research and speak to people before I put pen to paper, and ask for feedback before releasing anything. My voice is powerful, so it needs to be accurate. As a result, most people tell me I’ve helped them address an issue that they perhaps couldn’t articulate themselves.It empowers them to feel like they have a voice too and realise that they are not suffering in solitude.

Last year, you crossed over into film. Are there specific stories or experiences you feel are being missed out in the mainstream narrative that you would like to focus on?

Absolutely. Growing up as a child of the African diaspora, in a working-class environment – there are so many stories which are not being told properly, if at all. It’s certainly not all negative, there are plenty of positive narratives. I would love to showcase the talent, passion and hunger that our situation has bred; through film, music and anything I am able to cross over in to.

You left university to pursue your dream. What are your ambitions for the future?

I wish to use my brand and poetry to engage with talented young people, and help them on their journeys to achieve the goals they have set themselves. At the moment, I am building the foundations in order to make that happen. I feel that I need to lead by example and then take it from there.

Our theme for TEDxLondon is Beyond Borders. What does it mean to you?

We are always being told to ‘think outside the box’. To me, ‘Beyond Borders’ is the complete eradication of the existence of any box whatsoever. Ignoring limits and conventions in order to aim far beyond what we are told we are capable of.