Meditative musicality meets rhythmic rap in Vidhu’s unique performance style. This was evident throughout our chat with her organically poised sentences that sang as they flowed: “You’ve got to win people’s hearts before you can their minds,” she told us. Going by the stage name ‘BananaSharma’, Vidhu is an established performance poet at the helm of the exploding world of spoken word. Having performed at many a poetry festival and a variety of literary events, including AWomen Festival and Rifco Theatre’s British Asian Festival, Dishoom’s Dinerama and on a special invite at Oxford University, she has brought her hard-hitting, socially conscious work to the poetic arts scene across the world. “Being able to travel and authentically connect with people has been a major highlight,” she stated. “I have taken poetry to South Africa, to India, to the Netherlands – it’s been great to be able to meet so many people whom I ordinarily wouldn’t, and through the deeper medium of art too. Poetry has allowed me to break the ice in so many areas of life and make unique connections along the way.”
The concept of connection is central to Vidhu’s poetry, who told us that “I have felt the most successful when I’ve had someone tell me they feel differently towards something or that they’ve been inspired to do something because of my work. I’d be an awful famous person, I really would. I very much enjoy being in amongst the action, another cog in the machine”. The blithe lyricist elaborated on the particular interpersonal impetus informing her work: “I didn’t realise people felt represented by my work until quite some time into performing. I like to tell the micro stories that reshape the existing narrative: this could be about people or communities, or more abstract concepts like sustainability and altruism.”
Indeed, this is clear in such poems as Women of My Life in which Vidhu explores the tension between modern and traditional ideas of femininity: ‘All I know is it’s the most sensitive, women, who live the most connected”. In another, Provide, she questions the underlying contempt and egotistical ordering of wider society in its destructiveness: “Is one child being abused not one child too many?/ Depleting human dignity/ Choose compassion over pride.” She stated: “Asking the audience a question, rather than stating an opinion, keeps me open-minded and curious – especially when it comes to exploring more nuanced ideas like spirituality as a solution for social issues.”
This has great contemporary relevance in the wake of polarised politics and insurgent cultural angst such as the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements. “Sometimes something that we think will bring us closer in the beginning isn’t what might be the case in the long-term. Maybe we need to go through a degree of social inequality to have a greater spectrum of equality later on. There will always be conflict and tension but also opportunity for incredible resolution and peace. We just have to decide how we’ll harness them.” Indeed, the basic laws of the natural universe show themselves reflected in candid emotional truth.
“It’s always come more naturally to me to engage in balanced thinking to identify the opportunities that can help us move forward.” And so, a frontrunner in her poignantly expressive medium, Vidhu at once demonstrates the importance of keeping a friendly vulnerability at the same time as being able to precisely articulate pain: this is what creates effective action for change: “Performance art is increasingly becoming a form of activism – people use it to show their alliance with a particular cause. Spoken word has proven so effective for this, but I think it is important to remember the personal stories that first characterised the medium – and communicating this immediate, intimate energy as well. It is what I try to preserve in my work. Whether it is a social message or an individual thought, performance poetry ultimately harnesses a variety of feelings.” It is the interacting balance of every life force that results in a truly stabilised world: not the dominant assertion of one glorified point of view over another.
What first got you into performance poetry?
My family have always encouraged me towards the arts. My brother Sumit introduced me to rap music at an early age. My mum sent me to creative writing classes which really helped me articulate my ideas. My papa would often turn the radio off in the car and say: “Vidhu, why don’t you present the show?” I truly believe that what you seek is seeking you, so when I kept being presented with opportunities to pursue different forms of creative arts, I just followed my nose and didn’t look up to overthink.
A lot of art is driven by emotions that started when we were young: you definitely seem propelled by human closeness?
Yes, actually, in terms of performance, there was so much warmth in the spoken word scene. This really drew me in. MCs, music, raw emotions, people who genuinely had the time of day to listen and their own vulnerabilities to share. There’s nothing like a good poetry night in the City.
In terms of your style, your performance poetry is some of the closest to rap out there: the highly synced rhyme and rhythm and honest social commentary. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
Yes, although I don’t think I necessarily fit the stereotype, the genre has been a massive influence. I grew up listening to people who had seen completely different things to me, yet were ultimately seeking out something beyond themselves which I resonated with. It made me more culturally aware and introspective. I’m a massive [J] Cole head, I spent many an evening absorbing the life and experiences of Immortal Technique, and closer to home, in the UK rap scene, I studied the likes of Wretch 32 and George the Poet. It’s bonkers to me that I now work in such close proximity to George as a Content and Strategy Manager on his team - it comes back to following your nose without looking up.
You are also a marketing specialist and content strategist: do you think you will continue to grow your performance poetry?
Yes, I always find it coming back to me. I really admire artists who painstakingly craft their verse into masterpieces over time, but for me, it’s painstakingly organic. It’s taken me a long time to be at peace with the fact that my work may be a little infrequent, but what I produce is always true.
Yes, it is important to be as relaxed as you are focussed as a writer isn’t it?
Yes, but all artists have to reconcile their approach. You can’t be too possessive; what might mean one thing to me can mean something completely different to another person. One of my personal mentors Rajiv Chandegra has engrained in me the idea that it is better for something to be imperfect but complete, than incomplete and perfect. This has been a great source of motivation and encouragement to me over the years.
The highlight bubble is:
"Maybe we need to go through a degree of social inequality to have a greater spectrum of equality later on. There will always be conflict and tension but also opportunity for incredible resolution and peace"