Poetry Chef Inja Cooks Up Some Words

Inja is one of the UK’s most energetic, crowd-pleasing and versatile performers. An exceptional artist, MC and host whose work spans a huge variety of genres including dubstep, hip-hop, grime, drum ‘n’ bass, and freestyle poetry. He has been host for Major Laser Sound system and accompanied Beardyman and been featured on BBC1, Kiss FM, the stages of Glastonbury, and many others. I had the honor of asking him a few questions ahead of his big Lingo performance

So, first things first, Why Lingo? What is it that excites you about this festival? What can we expect from your performance?

Lingo – because of the maximus blending of spoken word and various lyrical styles and wordplay. I like that they have a big hiphop night as part of this. I think it’s great to get those art forms on the same line up, cos after all they’re pretty similar. I’m very, very happy to come over for this.

My performance brings energy, vibes and a massive smiley face – and that’s just me! I enjoy myself! Hope you lot all join me in that too! I love performing, I spend my life hyping up crowds and I’m stoked to meet my Dublin gang.

How did you first begin your poetry journey? Were you scribbling on paper first? Had you seen other spoken word work? Your voice is very different from anything I’ve seen before – do you consciously mix rap and hip-hop type influences with poetry, or is that just the natural rhythm of your style?

And as stupid as it might sound, words and poetry and rapping kind of saved me.

I love proper notepads. All the poets I know seem to be in love with their iphone pads and laptops and I’m like, naaaaah. I like putting pen to pad, ink to paper. I write most of my raps in old A4 school books still. Lined, of course!

I’ve been obsessed with lyrics since I was a kid. And as stupid as it might sound, words and poetry and rapping kind of saved me. When I was a teenager, I moved from Luton to Cambridge – close to each other but so different. From being around all my cousins and loads of Caribbean folk, I was thrown into being the only brown skin kid in the village. It was difficult to say the least. I had issues at school – bullying, racism – from students and teachers – and dyslexia. It was a bit of a cocktail! So I looked to hiphop a lot and poets like Maya Angelou and Benjamin Zephaniah. Then I listened to loads of BBC Radio 4, cos I love words, I just can’t spell them! And all my thoughts started pouring out in scribbled rhymes and rap. Then I took it to the stage – so yeah, I guess it’s a blend of poets, rappers and storytelling that I love!

There’s obviously a huge line-up for Lingo of Spoken Word Art. Do you have any favourites that you’re looking forward to see or do you think you’ll just throw yourself into it? Will you be around to see what’s going on or just flying in for the gig?

Nah, I am definitely coming to get fully involved! Friday night I am going to see Tongue Fu. I love their mix of music and poets. Then that night I wanna go get involved in the hip hop cypher – I can’t wait for that. I wanna see what Irish hip hop is saying, I’ve heard good things! Saturday – depending on how heavy a hangover I’m nursing, I’d like to go and see what poetry bingo’s all about. I want to go to the poets brunch too, if I’m allowed! Wish I could see the poetry slam too. Might get to check it a little before I go meditate myself ready for my gig! Looking forward to seeing Backshed Inc in the flesh too.

You do a lot of work in bringing poetry to schools and with Hollie McNish, can you tell us a bit about this work and why it’s so important to growing the poetry culture?

I run a company with Hollie, yeh, called pagetoperformance.org and my recent workshop poetry partner in crime has been Laurie Bolger – an amazing poet based in London, but obsessed with Ireland. I love going into schools and spicing up the poetry life a little, to show kids there are loads of different ways to have fun with creative writing and words and that all have stories to tell that are interesting and relevant and important. Young people seem to be listened to so little.

Do you think spoken word makes poetry more relatable and opens doors to a wider audience? How important, today, do you think it is for poets to use social media/youtube and spoken word platforms to get their voices heard?

I don’t think poetry should have to be anything – if you like the page, stick to that. But for me, I love listening to words, watching people live or online. I think it is more accessible that way. As someone who struggled with dyslexia, I am the biggest fan (and grateful) to audio books, readings, and music. Sometimes people forget that there are a lot of people out there who are the same.

 Can you give young poets who get nervous any super-secret tips for being calm and collected on stage?

I think being nervous is essential., you’ve just got to learn how to cope with the nerves in whatever way works for you. I do it by trying to relax and breathe deep five to ten minutes before I’m going on stage. It’s all about the breathing for me. 

Where do you see poetry going in the next few years, are you going to help drive it in that direction and what angle do you want to see your work take in the bigger picture?

I would just like to get poetry more involved in education. So personally, I still want to get up and hype people, have fun with the music, but I’d also like to use the art form to educate and help young people as much as it can.

Aside from that, I’ve just started up as a chef in residence for one of the British hip-hop magazines, WordPlay, so I’m taking my rap into the kitchen – recipes in rap! I love cooking, It was a natural move and I’m looking forward to doing that more. People need to eat good as well as listen to poetry and dance!

You can listen to his album here and, as well as his big performance at Lingo, he will be performing in Leeds on the 27th November. You can also follow Inja on Twitter, on Instagram (@Injamusic) or on Facebook. 

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