Meet Yusuf Ambursa, the poet building a community of emerging young creatives in Northern Nigeria

We spoke with Yusuf Ambursa, the founder of Caliphate Arts and Literary Hub, one of Northern Nigeria’s managed communities dedicated to building a culture of literary and artistic creativity. Yusuf, also known as Kingskot, is a spoken word poet, newscaster and an art instructor. He sees Caliphate Arts and Literary Hub as a ground fror cultivating the next generation of arts and literary giants. In this interview, he spoke about his experience as a poet as well as his motivation for the work he does as a community builder.

HANEEFAH ABDULRAHMAN: How are you coping with everything happening in the country?

YUSUF AMBURSA: Not easy, but hopefully things will get better.

Not easy for you as a poet, a newscaster, a Black person, or a human?

Not easy as an adult human. It’s a situation that affects everyone, not only myself.

What was being a teenager like for you? And what is adulting like for you? The happy times, the challenges, etc.

Teenage years weren’t as hectic and weighty as it is now. I didn’t live a poor teenage life. Most things were afforded to me and used to build me. Adulthood came with pressure, burden, competition, responsibilities and threats.

You are a poet, a high school teacher, a newscaster amongst other things. How did you find yourself doing all of these?

I wanted to study English Literature at University but I was offered admission in Educational Management. I made the requirements, but Educational Management was a newly introduced professional course and they were probably trying to get more people into the program. We weren’t granted a change of course. Meanwhile, I continued to chase the dream to be a writer. I borrowed most English courses from the English department while in Educational Management, to learn things I needed to know to get to where I am today.

Later, I began to see the advantage of taking the Educational Management course. I have acquired the basic skills of teaching, facilitation, and coordination. These skills got me a job as a phonetics teacher, facilitator & trainer at the Center for Entrepreneurship Development, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto State.
Also, the ability to found a Literary platform today known as Caliphate Arts and Literary Forum, a literary community harnessing young creatives in arts and literature stationed in the Caliphate’s seat (Sokoto). It has been up and running for three years now.

So which do you enjoy doing the most, and if you do not have a choice but to pick one of these many things you love to do, which will you pick and why?

I love spoken word poetry the most. The reason is that spoken word poetry is a medium to convey important messages. It connects me to people, and it gives me a feeling of freedom to express myself, float on words, and travel beyond limitations.

I agree with your definition of spoken word poetry. What areas of life do you mostly talk about in your poems?

I mostly write about insecurity. I focus on the reality and problems that affect the people and our environment. Writing about these things has earned me contract opportunities with NGOs.

I once listened to your spoken word piece titled “Dear Future Wife”. What inspired that piece? Are you married? Did you write it for your Fiancee? Let us in.

Dear Future Wife was inspired by the teachings of Islam. The kind of names we should crown our children, tolerance, religious acts by the husband and wife, the kind of games we could play to teach our children to think fast.

It was also a letter to an unknown woman I’d never met. Or maybe I’ve. I told her about life and how I wanted us to live it when we finally bonded as husband and wife. I did this with the uncertainty of who she was and where we would meet.

Most people think poets are exaggeratedly emotional, and too sensitive. What can you say about this?

I think it is true because I’m highly emotional and very sensitive. I have fellow poets who are just like me. When I love, I love deeply with no second thoughts. Be it a romantic relationship or friendship. But falling jn love, for me, takes time. I should know a person, have things in common with them, be open and free with them, laugh and enjoy every moment with them, trust and believe them before falling in love.

I’m an adult. I build myself every day. I face a lot of things every day, and I take shits every day. I withstand heat every day, and I fall every day. I get up and run every day. So, I’ve got to be careful of whom I meet every day. Things could be working fine and someone could come from nowhere and ruin a whole castle in seconds.

With all these attributes, I mean poets’ attitudes, can you marry a poet? Do you think you guys can cope if you do?

My specifications for a future wife do not include her being a poet. If it happens that she is a poet, that’s cool. Definitely, we’ll get along and can cope with each other.

For every success, there are always ‘the struggle stories.’ What was it like for you when you first started your journey, and how is the journey going?

The foundation of every craft is not easy. It takes time to form the actual shapes and colours of what we set out to create. I used to be the only poetry performer in Sokoto State. I started with the page, streets and stage. When I was doing it, most people around me didn’t know it. They said I was only rapping. I am dedicated to letting it known to people and what’s it like.

I used to request to perform on several stages, made efforts to bring forth the first open mic event in Sokoto State, bring people to see and feel the goodness in art and spoken word.

I used to travel to support events and functions and promote what I do, with no transport fare, no accommodations, no feeding. All on me. All I needed was the mic and the stage.

I volunteered to teach poetry at Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation, Sokoto State branch, in 2017. It was a tough experience. It was tight with college projects, the stress to show up for those kids, lack of funding, and an accident that made me quit to focus on my academics.

I started making Inshot videos of spoken word and posting them on social networks. No likes, no comments, and I didn’t care because I enjoyed my thing.

I tried to seek sponsorship for standard audiovisual productions. But, I was given several nasty compensation offers, including becoming a sugar boy, drug delivery boy and many things I cannot mention. I trust I could make it, and I’ll be it, so I continued my journey.

Today, I coordinate a literary platform I co-founded. I create content and adverts for NGOs, universities, companies, business startups and even sponsor video productions of upcoming poets who don’t have to go through what I had. I am able to do this even though I am not earning very much. I appreciate the blessings of Allah.

Wow. You are a die-hard lover of arts, I must admit. What would you say is your greatest achievement and what is your greatest fear?

My greatest achievement is founding the Caliphate Arts And Literary Forum (CALF), established in 2019 to promote arts and literature and nurture talents in young creatives through possible means.

My greatest fear is losing my voice. A future full of responsibilities could hinder me from doing more art, expressing how I feel through spoken word, and giving to society.

Do you think there are things you haven’t done with your art?

Yes. I haven’t completed a spoken word album ongoing. It will be my first full body of work to narrate the problems in Northern Nigeria.

I haven’t yet promoted and supported enough young creatives from CALF. When they grow tall, their strength will yield another generation of artists.

Finally, talking about the problems of Nigeria. How do you think arts have solved some, and how have you helped in solving some with your art?

I was able to raise voices on the #Endnorthbanditry online campaign last year. I did a spoken word poetry viral video that, in a nutshell, reminds us of how the killings began from Boko Haram to the present-day situation of massive life loss. The poem was titled ‘We Watch’ and was also performed in several functions and majorly on TEDxArkilla. I don’t know if art has solved the problem of insecurity, but I hope it has and always will.

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