A Konnect Africa Interview with Nigeria’s Premier Spoken-Word Poet; Sammy Sage Hassan

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First time I saw him, he was smiling at me, and he didn’t even know me! Sage loves to smile. Soft-spoken and courteous, his eyes come alive when he speaks of his trademark, ‘Spoken-Word Poetry.’ I dare to be presumptuous enough to label him, Father of Spoken-Word Poetry in Nigeria.

A poet, teacher, music-lover and author of the trendsetting ‘Dream Maker’, Sammy Sage Hasson allows us unrestricted access into the very core of his being; his struggles, his pain, his victories, past, present and future.

Have a terrific week and to quote Sage; “failure is forcing yourself to do what’s not inside of you!!!”

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KA: Names…

Sage: Sammy Sage Hasson; I named myself Sage, and it is a name I identify with although it began as a stage name for spoken word poetry; I mean, it’s not like it is ‘Snoop Dogg’, so really, I don’t have any fake names.

KA: Ethnicity…

Sage: I am from a town called Lapai in Niger State, Nigeria although people think I am from Jos, because I lived there; so I am from Jos as much as I am from Niger State.

KA: Family…

Sage: My father was a soldier who joined the army during the civil war; prior to that, he worked at Radio Nigeria; my father had 3 consecutive wives in his lifetime. My mother is from Kaduna and she started life as a secretary and went on to teach at a Polytechnic. She subsequently stopped teaching and headed a school for many years before her retirement. She passed on three months ago from hypertensive heart disease, and I miss her so much. [Oh! So sorry to hear that.]

KA: Memories of Childhood…

Sage: Those that stand out for me are those that have to do with my purpose; the first time I realised what I was meant to do I think I was 6, maybe 8 years old and I was telling stories; my cousin said ‘tell us a movie’ and I asked ‘Have you watched this or that’ and they had, so I decided to create a story because they had obviously watched more movies than I had. I used to gather my classmates in school and teach them, even though I wasn’t teaching anything useful at the time. Play-acting for me was teaching and telling stories. These memories were a definite pointer to who I am today.

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KA: Education…

Sage: I dropped out of school. I went to secondary school, but I wasn’t attending any classes because I was being home-schooled by my father. Whenever I went to class, I discovered that the teachers didn’t know as much as I had just learnt, so I got into trouble with certain teachers because I was stupid enough to think that what mattered was the education and not the ego of the teacher; I was therefore quick to correct my teachers and that didn’t augur well for me so I just skipped classes.

In addition, I passed the GCE Examination while I was in Secondary school so I was attending the University of Jos concurrently whilst I was still in class six at the Secondary school. At the University, I studied Mass Communications for a diploma, and then went back to study Theatre Arts. This was not my choice because I wanted to go and make music, but my mother [God bless her soul] put her foot down and I had to; but then the Academic Staff Union of Universities [ASUU] went on strike, and they went on strike and remained on strike. While that was on-going, I decided to go to Lagos and pursue my music; during that period, I ended up in church, became born-again and became a Pastor.

KA: Sage the Pastor…

Sage: I got born-again, and I believed I had a ‘calling’ to use Christian terminology so I went to Bible College to train as a Pastor. My conversion was very evident, and everyone around me could see that something had changed drastically because they knew the kind of kid I was. I was a wild kid, so everyone, my mother included preferred this new me; it was like ‘rather than be a cult boy, he wants to be a Pastor, so let him be.’ My grandfather was an evangelist, so that helped.

I believe that there is a reason for that season in my life; I believe that God’s plan for my life needed me to be grounded in biblical principles and theology. On the day of my ordination, the ordaining Pastor prayed for the other pastors ‘for the work they would do in the ministry’ but for me he prayed thus ‘for the work you are going to do out there.’ I wondered why then, but it became evident that I was called to teach, and I do that by ‘secularising’ the bible; I take principles from the bible and teach in a different way. A lot of that is contained in my new book, Dream Maker.’

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KA: The dark ages…

Sage: Before I became a Pastor, I worked as a journalist. When I was a Pastor, I found it difficult to merge the things I loved most, teaching and telling stories for entertainment because I didn’t think I should. However, I grew to realise I could do both these things I loved and after my season as a Pastor, I went back to journalism and worked for Ovation Magazine for five years.

In 2003, I had a nervous breakdown coupled with depression and anxiety neurosis, so it made me sit back and think on the things I had learnt. I found that I was able to cure myself and contain the anxiety neurosis, so I wrote a mini-book on how I cured myself. I started to meet folks who were depressed, and the same thing I used on myself I applied to them and they got better.

At that period, I was drawn back to God, but I also realised that the things I have come to know about God and life, meant that I could not be contained by a title or by walls; I had to be free.

KA: The birth of Spoken-Word Poetry

Sage: Journalism was a bridge for me, but it was a bridge that was going on for too long-I had been writing for magazines since 1989-so I resigned from Ovation Magazine because I knew I was meant to teach and entertain. Then I used to wonder, ‘Will I do teaching and entertainment together?’ plus I loved music too. One day it just hit me; spoken-word poetry was a perfect way to merge all my passions. Before I started though, I prayed for almost a year, seeking God’s face, and asking Him for directions on the next phase of my life; I dabbled into many other things at the time, until the idea of spoken-word practically hit me over the head.

So I started writing poetry again, went on a one-month fast in 2005, and God told me exactly what was going to happen to my spoken-word poetry and everything He told me has happened.

To backtrack a bit; the very first time I did spoken-word poetry was in the 80’s. I had seen this guy called Muhtar Baruka, a Jamaican. He was the first spoken-word poet I ever saw. He came on stage and was like ‘aint no good to live in a white man country too long,’ and I asked myself, ‘what is he doing?!’ Everybody else was singing reggae, but here he was, rapping in this funny way. So, that’s when I started it, but I did it in the Jamaican patois. I attempted to do it in 2002, but I didn’t think Nigerians would like it so I shelved it and focused on journalism. However when I resumed in 2005, I was certain without a doubt that it was going to work because I knew God told me to do it, in fact I don’t think I have done everything that I could have done with spoken-word poetry.

When I started, I would read poetry to my housemates one of whom is my publisher, Ayo Ayeni, and they loved it. They would organise poetry events and force me to attend.

At some point I went to Ayo, the organiser of the Hip Hop World Awards and requested a platform at the event and he agreed although all the other organisers were strongly opposed to the idea. On the day of the dress rehearsal, I messed up badly because the feedback was bad and I couldn’t hear myself. He just came and told me ‘don’t do that tomorrow.’

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The next day, the show happens and it was astounding. Everyone in the hall was on their feet shouting and stomping. When I went backstage, I asked Darey Art-Alade the compere ‘Why are they shouting?’ because I had left, and they were still shouting. That has been the greatest applause I have received for spoken-word poetry, and that was the greatest applause anyone has ever received on the stage at the Hip hop World Awards. Everyone in the entertainment industry was there that night and suddenly in one day for a performance of 3 minutes where I sat and read, everybody knew Sage.

KA: The meat of Spoken-Word Poetry…

Sage: Is the ability to deliver. There are a lot of scrappy poems out there, and spoken-word is not exempted, but the meat is the performance; the ability to deliver words.

KA: Taking it to the next level…

Sage: I organise more workshops on spoken-word than spoken-word events; perhaps because of my love for teaching. Strangely though, I organise music shows, which is very funny now that I think about it. I do workshops and performances, but I don’t organise spoken-word shows.  Those that do organise come to ask for advice, and I do performances and help in organisation; once it’s started I leave. It is a great feeling to see something I initiated gain such traction.

KA: Tips on getting started

Sage: I don’t have tips; I tell people, failure is forcing yourself to do what’s not inside of you. Success is endemic, it is innate. Just like you didn’t struggle to have ears because they come naturally, so is success. The first thing to note is, are you a poet? Is this what you are supposed to do? And how do you know what you are supposed to do? One, desire; strong desire to do it. Second, that very basic talent to do it. If you want to do something so much and you have no talent to do it, it means you are supposed to help someone who has talent to do it. Third, training; the only way a writer learns to write is by writing, so when I do a spoken-word workshop, I make people write as much as they can. Write and recite to your mother, brother or friend. After a point, get engaged in poetry events and gauge the response; and if it’s bad, it doesn’t mean you are bad. It can be bad the first time. The first time I was in a debate, it was horrible. I forgot everything, but subsequently I became a fantastic debater.

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KA: Spoken-Word Pay Day?

Sage: I earned a living from spoken-word poetry not because it is financially viable, but because I am financially viable. I didn’t make so much money, but I did earn a living. I don’t know any other poet in Nigeria who has gotten one-tenth of what I did. I was a journalist before I got started, so lots of folks knew me, and I had the Hip Hop World Awards platform, so suddenly, everyone wanted me in their program; companies wanted me to do poetry for them; people would say, ‘write a poem for me particularly,’ and I charged a fee. I got one major paying event a month and a truckload of freebies. I started by earning maybe N60, 000 [about $375] in 2005, then it got to a N100, 000 [about $624] and it just kept on coming. The highest I have gotten for just one show though is N800, 000 [about $5000.]

KA: Spoken-Word or…

Sage: My biggest love has been music. I have been in the music business for too long. I am an Executive Producer; I take on a fledgling artiste and groom them in the industry-the right songs, the right producers, the right PR, the right strategy-it is called AnR [Artistes and Repertoire] because I create the entire packaging for an artiste. I had a company that failed-BillionNairaBaby Music- I am not rushing to do any more companies just yet. I consult quietly, and right now I do stuff for Jesse Jagz and M.I and I have a new client-T.P- who I am working with.

KA: Musical Pay Day

Sage: Music pays most times.

KA: On Writing…

Sage: I love to teach, and I love to write, so I told myself, ‘you were a Pastor at 24, and over the years, God has taught you several things; why don’t you put what He has taught you together in a book…and that’s how Dream Maker was birthed. It’s a collection of 40 precepts that I have learnt in 40 years of my life. I wrote it like a story so it’s actually literature; I call it fictionalized philosophy. In the west, it would be called a Self-Help book; the parables of Jesus are the philosophies of Jesus in a story and that’s what I did.

Dream Maker can be purchased online at Amazon, Kindle, HotCoffee Books.co.uk; hard copies can be purchased from Jumia and other online shops. In Lagos, Nigeria, it can be purchased at The Palms, JazzHall, Bogobiri, Quintessence, Glendora.

Before Dream Maker, I had written and published a book on Ibrahim Babangida, a Nigerian military Head of state.

KA: On Publishing…

Sage: My publishers are HotCoffee Books.co.uk, and this is how we met. The day I finished writing my book, I got a call from a publisher who wanted me to write about the biggest musician in Nigeria-TuFace-. I agreed, but added that I had a manuscript of my own which they weren’t interested in at the time in question. Things turned around when they went to America for a publishing conference and discovered that books like mine were all the rage. They requested for the manuscript, and two days later, we had a deal.

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KA: Did we hear you say ‘retire from poetry’?

Sage: In a manner of speaking, yes. I think that at this stage in my life, poetry limits what I have to say. Poetry is amazing, it’s given me a platform and a mode of expression for almost 10 years; but, I believe in growth and there is more that I can contribute so when I go on a stage and perform a poem for 3 minutes, I don’t feel fulfilled anymore; there’s more that wants to come out. Secondly, I get the paid shows, and too many requests for free shows and I am tired. I get to a place to hang out and the organisers come up to me asking for a poem, and I wonder, ‘is that how they ask everybody?’ I mean, I am buying my drink and you want free entertainment?

Anyway, I say I am retired so I can be left alone; if anyone wants to draw me out of retirement, they have to pay. Alternatively, if you buy my books, I will perform for free. [Big laugh]

KA: Inspired by…

Sage: Mutabaruka, Yasus Afari, Linton Kwesi Johnson; who are all Jamaicans because I grew up listening to Jamaican music.  Russell Simmons also inspires me because he is not a poet, but he is promoting poetry through his music label.

KA: What’s on your bookshelf?

Sage: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and the Jewish Phenomenon by Steven Silbiger. I used to read 100 books a year when I dropped out of school, but now I am more selective and I read 10-12 books a year.

KA: On protégés?

Sage: My name is Sage ‘Hasson’ [Sage has sons] which means ‘wisdom has children.’ The reason I started spoken-word poetry and bequeathed myself with this name was because I intended to groom and help people do this. There are over a 100 people doing spoken-word poetry in Nigeria, and they will tell you why they started. It’s a spiritual birth because I didn’t go to all of them, but there are some I went to and encouraged to do. As far as I am concerned, when I do poetry my words are a seed that I plant in the hearts of people. One day I saw a 13-year-old performing spoken-word poetry and I knew my work was done.

KA: Life is…

Sage: That’s a hard question; two questions I find hard to answer: 1: Who is Sammy Sage Hasson? and 2. My philosophy of life. I have a poem about life though, I wish it was here. Ok, Life is…ermm, I don’t know…fantastic, a dream?

KA: Inspire a young African in one sentence.

Sage: Perfection is perception.

Editors Note: Our condolence goes to our very amiable interviewee, Sage on his irreparable loss. May God continue to grant you comfort.

© 2013 – 2017, Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya. All rights reserved.

4 COMMENTS

  1. A very nice interview jenny . But pls does sage have any music online that could be downloaded. Jenny when I become great like sage I would like you to do an interview for me.

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