Get them roaring! How Lion of Newcastle rouses audiences
He strode confidently to the stage resplendent in striking African outfit that glowed in the semi-darkness. When he reached the microphone he exhorted The Stanza audience at North Shields & District Men’s Catholic Club to “roar like a lion”. Not satisfied with the response, he urged them to do it again. And then he began his headline set. Meet Tolu’ A Akinyemi, aka ‘The Lion of Newcastle’.
Talking about his performances, he said: “I think it’s very important for creatives, performers, speakers to get the audience to their side or win them over. To stay in control of your performance and the stage, it is highly recommended to engage in an ice-breaking activity prior to beginning a gig or set, for example, telling a story, roaring like a lion, or saying something funny to make the audience laugh.
“The idea of getting the audience to roar is also interwoven with my alias, ‘The Lion of Newcastle’. My first collection of poems is titled Dead Lions Don’t Roar, and whenever I mounted the stage to perform in the early days, people would roar like a lion, and we would all roar together in unison. From then on, I started encouraging people to roar, at other times, bark like a dog or even meow like a cat, depending on the set and mood. Getting the audience in the right frame of mind keeps everyone buzzing and makes the audience want to hear your work and immerse themselves in the performance.”
There are at least two other remarkable aspects to Tolu’ as a poet. One is his prolific output of collections of poetry, which he lays out in front of him at poetry readings. He has published 21 books in the last six years. However, he told Write Out Loud in an interview: “I feel I have peaked now, as life, career and family commitments keep stealing from my scarce time and resources.”
The other is his day job, working within financial crime compliance - strategies and tactics deployed by organisations to prevent, detect and report illegal financial activities - for over a decade. One of his poetry collections, Architects of a Cleaner Financial System, is devoted to this subject. In another, titled The Morning Cloud is Empty, there is a poem called ‘My Pension Fund Was Almost Devoured By A Shark’.
He explained: “Writing poems about financial crime compliance was important to me as a writer who likes to question the norm. I hope the book will be a useful resource for leaders, fans, enthusiasts, critics, and students of financial crime compliance. Also, for anyone who is interested in this subject, this can be a beginner’s guide to getting started in the industry. I hope this book will inspire people in different fields to use poetry to explore and reveal the inner workings of their interests.”
Tolu’ acknowledges that his Nigerian heritage is a crucial part of his poetic identity. “My Nigerian heritage is very important to me because it’s a culmination of my life’s story. It is what has brought me this far, and I am deeply grateful for the vital role my heritage has played in what I have become today. My works find their roots in Nigerian culture and heritage. The never say die Nigerian spirit has kept me going, to keep writing even in the face of challenges, to keep publishing others, giving them wings to fly and showcase their literary talents.”
To that end he is keen to promote other Nigerian writers such as Amife Sabatina, who appeared in a summer showcase of regional writers and artists at The Stanza in North Shields in August. He said of that event: “It was a great showcase of wonderful words and magical music. Members of the audience had wonderful things to say about the showcase, with one person describing it as ‘an extraordinary, vibrant display of north-east talent’. The Stanza’s continual success in celebrating spoken word and the beauty of literature continues to fan the flames of arts and culture in the north-east literary community. It is occasions such as this that give brilliant literary artistes the platform to share their voice and talent.”
Showcase of north-east poets and artists at The Stanza in North Shields