Solomon OB talks touring with UnFold

Poet and MC Solomon OB is a mixologist of emotions. He has had audiences in Edinburgh, Brighton and beyond swelling their chests with confidence and shuffling to wipe tears from their eyes.

The Bristol-based storyteller and National Poetry Slam winner – originally born in Hackney and whose full name is Solomon Ogunmefun-Brooker – has recently been travelling with UnFold by Lyrix Organix on their UK tour. The second EP from UnFold was released on National Poetry Day 2018, and Solomon is among its featured artists.

With two shows left on their UK tour – Bristol and London – Solomon took some time out to tell Fringe Frequency a bit about what audiences can expect from the UnFold show, how this project differs from his solo work and offer some sound recommendations.

I recall seeing you perform at the Roundhouse in 2016. I was struck by your wordplay and positivity. How did you get into spoken word poetry in the first place? And what keeps you motivated to do it?
Thank you. I started off beatboxing and then rapping. Spoken word was just the natural progression, I guess. I’m really interested in the voice as an instrument and I guess I’m trying to see how far I can push that.

How did you first get involved with Lyrix Organix and UnFold?
Me and Lyrix go back about 10 years now. Dan Tsu [Lyrix Organix founder] gave me my first festival gig – think it was called Festinho. I’d seen him asking after a beatboxer on a forum – I used to be addicted to a site called humanbeatbox.com. We’ve been working together on-and-off ever since. As I started getting into spoken word and UnFold was emerging, the two paths just collided really.

“I’m really interested in the voice as an instrument… I’m trying to see how far I can push that” – Solomon OB

So, Sophia Thakur, Lyrix Organix, you, and a bunch of special guests. That sounds exciting. Why should poetry and spoken fans turn up for your forthcoming UnFold shows in Bristol and London?
Don’t forget Kieron Rennie, too. The man’s a force. Plus, [Bristol rapper] Dizraeli is giving a talk on “The Art of Words”, which obviously fits the bill nicely.

People should turn up to see something out of the ordinary. To see poetry accompanied by a handcrafted score with great musicianship. To hear some real honest and shared-life experiences coming from very different and distinctive voices. They should turn up ’cause packed out shows are the best! And we want the best.

And how about poetry fans with friends who are still on the fence?
I’ll use Dan’s tag line of “Kate Tempest meets Ezra Collective”.

Can you share a memorable moment from the tour so far?
Premature Christmas songs getting played on a backstage piano. And jumping up to rap on [the drummer in the collective] Chimnyo’s set.

How does the UnFold project compare to your solo performance poetry?
Working with music is where I’m most at home, and sharing a stage instantly equates to more energy and people to vibe off of. All the players are pro, and so these a real level of comfort stepping out onto a stage where you know everyone’s got it on. That can elevate what you do to the next level.

Working solo, I craft the delivery of these pieces. Full band context gives me space to take that somewhere new.

Do you have any rituals or routines that you do before you go on stage?
I talk to myself a lot. In my head or verbally. Remind myself of what I want to give to the audience and what I want to get out of it personally. Remind myself to stay loose – yoga helps, to breathe right to support my words, and that every step onstage is a blessing.

Name one book readers should read?
Astonishing the Gods by Ben Okri. Guy’s a don.

Name one album – or music artist –  readers should listen to?
Anything and everything by the Soulquarians. They’re a crazy collective of musicians made up of Questlove from the Roots, J Dilla, D’Angelo, James Poyser, Erykah Badu, Common, and many more. A lot of them worked on each other’s albums, and came together out of a shared musical direction and ethos. Some of that natural collaboration is similar to what’s happening with the south-east London jazz movement right now.

Name one poet readers should look out for?
Hmmm… Isaiah Hull is the future.

“Art will save us!” Do you agree?
Depends what from? Art saves me from myself a lot. I need that.

Finally, what’s next for you?
I’m hungry. A lot of work inside that will see the light of day soon enough. Trying to get a project finished so people can hear my music. I’m excited.

UnFold’s UK tour, featuring Solomon OB, Sophia Thakur, Kieron Rennie and special guests, continues this autumn. Tickets are on sale for the group’s Bristol show on November 16 and London show on December 6.

Images: Owen Davies