Ayinde Russell on Slam Nuba's epic win and how they did it
In the world of slam poetry, there's no higher distinction than a win at the annual National Poetry Slam -- and over this past weekend, that distinction went to the poets of Denver's Slam Nuba, upstart arrival to the Denver slam scene (and 2011 Westword MasterMind) -- if, having won the biggest prize in the land, you can still be called an upstart. It's an impressive feat to pull off in any case, but Nuba Slam Master Ayinde Russell isn't one for false modesty: "There was no doubt," he remarks, "that the work we did was deserving of the title it earned."
Ayinde Russell, Dominique Ashaheed, Theo Wilson and Jovan Mays perform "Chain Gang."
And the competition was no joke: In the final round, Nuba went up (and narrowly won) against the Nuyorican Poets Cafe from New York -- one of the places slam poetry originated -- and well-respected teams from Providence, Rhode Island, and Columbus, Ohio. "I've never seen better poetry on the finals stage than this year," says Russell, who was joined on the team by Theo Wilson, Bran Do, Jovan Mays and Dominique Ashaheed, along with coach Jen Rinaldi and alternate Mikena Richardson. "There was just something about the work we were sharing that really left an indelible impression on people."
One of those poems made an impression by taking the concept of unity in the suffering of slavery and applying it to today: "We had a poem about the history of chain gangs and translated that into a modern-day sort of commentary on unity in the African-American community, and how lamentable it can be to have such a struggle for survival where those who faced those situations were depending on each other to survive, and how today we still have to lean on each other to survive, but we feel a lack of that kind of unity," explains Russell.
Slam Nuba, reppin' hard.
Here's Slam Nuba performing that one at their send-off party right before Nationals (page down for more text and video of the poems Nuba won with):
What's next? Since the win, the group's been besieged with requests for interviews and appearances, and a short tour of the East Coast and Texas might not be out of the question. But the real work, says Russell, is at home: "There's a general feeling that the artistic community in Denver is just as much responsible for a win of this kind as the team -- because the community is so rich that art gets pushed to this level. The slams that happen around here, people should frequent them, because they give birth to some of the best poetry in the country/ We're the cream of the crop right where we are."