Olumide Holloway, better known as “Olulu, the King not from Zulu,” is a poetpreneur, art administrator, storyteller, screenwriter, and spoken word poet. He loves reading, writing, dancing, making people happy, and generally having fun. He is the promoter of the foremost Nigerian spoken word poetry concert, WORD UP!, and Nigeria’s biggest slam poetry competition, War of Words, and is the author of 10 books, including The Poetpreneur: My Thoughts On The Business Of Spoken Word Poetry, How Many Nos Make A Yes: Dealing With Rejection And Failure, and Love Letters Of A Poetpreneur: Valuable Insights On The Business Of Spoken Word Poetry. He believes that his core purpose in life is to continually use spoken word poetry as a tool to build capacity in people, a means of communication, and a mode of expression. In this profile by Ojo Olumide for CỌ́N-SCÌÒ Magazine’s special edition, we take a look at King Olulu’s audacious decision quit his banking career to pioneer Spoken Word Poetry entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
Olumide is the only son of a family of seven. From a young age, he decided to follow the unique path of the arts. “My late father had a small library, and I took to reading as a hobby.” The writing aspect came later when I was about to enter secondary school at age 11. In secondary school, he coined a nickname that endured long enough to follow him to the stage: “Olulu” is actually a name I gave myself in secondary school because I didn’t like the nicknames I was called. I added “King” to “Olulu” when I started performing spoken word poetry. “King Olulu” is the short form, and the long form is “King Olulu, who is not from Zulu.”
There are many dimensions to Olumide’s personality—banker, spoken-word entrepreneur, and creative person—but, when asked about his multifacetedness, he considers himself an ex-bank worker who left banking in 2019 to focus on his passion for spoken-word poetry and to maximize the limitless possibilities in creative writing. Asked to describe himself in just a few words, he says he is a “poetpreneur and gifted storyteller.”
It took Olumide Holloway years to bring this inner reality to physical manifestation as a writer, spoken-word artist, and event organizer. “My friends and I started a satire magazine, F-Factor, in 2009 as a side hustle. It was in the process of marketing the magazine that I saw a live poetry performance by Plumbline at Terra Kulture. I knew about spoken word poetry from the movies and had always considered the art form as something I would like to do. Seeing and realizing the immediate response that ‘sight and sound’ demands from the audience made me jump into it fully in 2010. Organizing spoken word poetry events started in 2012 when I realized that there were not enough platforms for spoken word poets to be seen, known, and rewarded for their performances. “Our platforms—both online and offline—have always been dedicated to discovering, grooming, and showcasing new and emerging spoken word poets to the world.”
If a man is immersed in a banking job that takes the best part of his time and has committed a decade and three years to building a reputation in this career, one can only wonder how he was able to tame his creative energy as one confined inside a counter when his calling is the stage. When asked about what gave him the courage to abandon a well-paying job for another career with many uncertainties, he said: “I have a strong connection to my Creator, and He has given me a clear vision of my role in life. The vision is to add value to people, nations, and generations, and the mission is to use creative writing and spoken word poetry as modes of expressing and communicating value. Leaving banking was always part of my plan since I joined in 2006. I just did not know when I would leave. I had to wait for a sign from God. I got my sign in January 2019, and I left.
There’s an adage that if you don’t drive a thing, another thing will drive you. Talking about his shift from writing to spoken word, he hinted that the power of sight and sound made him move from writing to performing. There is an immediate response to what you see or hear, as compared to what you read. It was never about fame for me. It was always about impact.
With the numerous artistic talents in Nigeria, the need to create a platform for discovery, nurturing, and reward must be made available. While others took to the backseat or folded their arms, King Olulu rose to the challenge, becoming a beckon of light in poetrepreneurship when he started organizing spoken word events in 2012 and, notably, the brain behind WORD UP—Nigeria’s Foremost Spoken Poetry Event—and WAR OF WORDS—the Biggest Spoken Word Poetry Competition in Nigeria. This was what he considered the philosophy behind these events. According to him, “these events aim to enable us to address (and solve) issues that affect society, such as education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment, expression, entertainment, emotional therapy, and emotional intelligence. Words are powerful and therapeutic. Sometimes, the solution to an issue or comfort to an aching heart is to hear the same experience being shared on stage. For some, their comfort lies in being able to express their fears and/or pain freely on stage without judgment or condemnation.”
Showbiz in Nigeria is a challenging one, especially with the level of partnership, support, or lack thereof. King Olulu believes this experience is classic for our climate and should not deter one from pursuing his or her passion: “It’s been rough and tough as most of our events have been self-financed.” But life is short, and soon we will be gone. And where we are going, money is of no value. So we do what we can with what we have. At the moment, there’s no direct partnership per se. But in terms of having them as judges at our slams, making special appearances on stage at our events, and the like, we’ve always collaborated with fellow creatives and organizers.
In recent times, there has been this contention between page poetry and spoken word. Poetry has been figuratively described as a “submarine,” while spoken word is seen as a “ship.” This, of course, talks about the level of depth, spontaneity, and condensation. King Olulu’s perception is also that spoken word is a subgenre of entertainment, although he disagrees with the idea of contention between spoken word and poetry. He says:
“If you listen to spoken word poetry as much as I do, you will realize that it can’t and won’t water down ‘page poetry. Both of them have their roles, functions, and usefulness.”
He argues that both are interwoven and essential to the growth of poetry as an art form. “Yes, I see spoken word poetry as a genre of entertainment, a tool to increase the level of literacy, a means of livelihood, and a medium of communication among people across the globe.
Entertainment is still the best form of education and communication. That’s why in many parts of the world, individuals, companies, and governments spend billions on movies and other forms of entertainment because they want to pass a message across or sell an idea. There is, therefore, no competition between them. Both of them have their place, roles, and functions. It would be futile to consider them as competitors when they are collaborators.”
In Nigeria today, some notable names have continued to grace the spoken word stage, from Dike Chukwumerije, Bash Amuneni, Graciano Enwerem, and Pariolodo to Loveth Liberty, Hafsat Abdullahi, and others. The most notable member of this pack is Dike. His “Made in Nigeria” 60 minutes of dramatic spoken word has been staged across the major cities in Nigeria. Placing this side by side with WORDUP and WAR OF WORD, King Olulu has this to say about why his platforms are unique: “The eye and the hand are both parts of the body.” Each plays different roles, but each role is essential to the growth and development of the body. We’ve always supported spoken-word poetry events locally and internationally. Thus, we have always supported Dike’s events. Also, Dike has performed on our platform. His event and ours are different in execution, but the core of it is still spoken word poetry.“
One would think once you begin to chase your passion, the road would be a smooth straight path filled with roses on the sideways and waterspouts at every step of the niche. While this may not be too much to ask of life, life offers pain and gain in the same dish bowl. Olumide’s confessions in An Entrepreneur’s Diary of Being Broke and in Debt (Parts 1–5) published on SMEDigest.com details his day-to-day trepidations and challenges as a poetpreneur and his motivations. He noted, “The challenges of an event organizer are somewhat similar everywhere. Some of the challenges are related to resources in terms of funding and people/staff, as well as technical issues, weather, etc. On the way out, I read my Bible, prayed to God, and meditated. I read and studied other materials. I write, and I take action. Life is not fair; that’s why I’m a black man, and so I try to make the best use of what I have and where I find myself. I’m self-motivated.”
He talked about the influences on his Poetpreneurship—people like Teju BabyFace, Pastor Sam Adeyemi, Vusi, and Jimi Tewe —and how “he would rather regret what he did than what he should have done and did not.” He considers their experiences as pointers to his direction since life is life with others. You learn from other people’s experiences in order not to make the same mistakes they did or to know how best to get out of the mess you are in. And learning is continuous.
King Olulu is deeply a spiritual person, and this is reflective. Taking from a number of his stories where you retold biblical stories creatively and simplistically, one may wonder why the attachment to the Bible as an artist: “I see the Bible as a manual for humankind.” And I draw a lot of lessons from it. But I also read other materials and watched a lot of valuable content to feed my mind. “I understand that content is key, so the more valuable content I can feed my mind, the more value I can pour out.”
While his emphasis has been on the stage, he also has several books to his credit. He says, “the more you write, the better you become. So it’s been fascinating to see how well my writing style has matured over the years. And the fact that people buy my books has also made it worth the while.”
Spokenword showbiz is quite a tricky business, he says, while noting that there are a few key hacks that can help anyone who is just venturing into it, whether as an artist or organizer. “To earn, you have to learn,” he says “Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Make yourself visible, make yourself findable, and make yourself valuable to people. because people buy people. So be seen, be known, and be trusted. So, go to open mics, enter slam competitions, expose yourself to content on different platforms, go to seminars, pay for training sessions, read widely, study longer, practice, train, get a mentor, become an intern, etc. In a nutshell, hone your craft, connect with people, and build mutually beneficial relationships.”
Optimism is the right attitude for the future, and a mind that cannot visualize a future cannot realize, live, and outlive that future. King Olulu enclaves himself with this attitude: the future is bright. We understand that to have an impact in this world, we have to be culture-shapers. We have evolved and now have a streaming platform for poets, www.poetreel.com, which is to help shape and change the perspective of people towards poets and the art form itself, as well as provide a community where poetry lovers can immerse themselves in the best of spoken word poetry. Also, the platform will help poets earn passive income from their skills and other products.
King Olulu remains a pacesetter in the Nigerian poetry and spoken-word performance business. His works and their fruits speak for themselves, and it is only fitting that his name is etched in the good books of history.
Ojo Olumide Emmanuel is a Nigerian Poet, Educationist and Book Editor. He is the author of the Poetry Chapbook “Supplication For Years in Sands” (Polarsphere Books, 2021). His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Ake Review, Feral, African Writers, The Shallowtales Review, Spillword, Kalahari Review, Quills, Poemify, Melbourne-Culture, TNR and elsewhere. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Nigerian Review (TNR), Lead-Editor and Publisher of Artnews.com.ng and a Senior Mentor at the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation.