Sheikhspeare Sid: targeting islamophobia and media bias one poem at a time
Sheikhspeare Sid, aka Sid Kenpachi Valapp, is a business student that has fallen in love with the power of spoken word. Focusing mostly on taboo context, this young 20-year-old is the furthest thing from a cliché.
With his faith by his side, and a talent to kill for, is this anything this modern-day Shakespeare (or shall I say Sheikhspeare) can’t do? I sat down with the poet to get an insight into how he started, and the toughest parts of writing poetry.
Q. Tell me something about yourself
Sid: I was born in India and moved to the UK when I was 5. It was a passion I had from creative writing in school, it’s never something I really thought of doing.
Q. What made you want to advocate change through poetry?
Sid: The kind of views that are portrayed with the media, but I think the tipping point would probably have to be the Trump presidency.
Q. I saw that in one of your videos, ‘Terrorist’ where you mentioned Trump in a verse
Sid: That made me do what I want to do, I didn’t think it would be something that was very impactful but a lot of people liked it so
Q. How was your first time performing on stage?
Sid: That was the terrorist video, I was extremely frightened to be fair.
Q. You didn’t look as frightened in the video, putting on a brave face or..?
Sid: You know what, I spent several hours practicing in front of my wall everyday. By the time I got on stage and I was barely two lines in and, that was it. All i could imagine was the wall in front of me. I never made eye-contact with anyone either, everyone thought I did but I was just looking over their heads. So it really worked.
Q. How did you get into spoken word so much?
Sid: I really like spoken word and I think it’s a modern way to advocate change, because it gets people interested. When people think of poetry, they think its boring and the old form of it, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s an umbrella term, poetry is like in rap for example. It’s a form of art.
Photo credits: Sid Kenpachi
Q. What do you wish to change?
Sid: Thats a broad question (laughs). I would say probably to provoke thought. Thats what I want to do. If you see the stuff that I’m known for doing it’s not really directed towards muslims. Its directed for your average [xenophobic], and to make them think. So I take a very emotive stance and having a bit of logic does shake some people. You just got to hit the right audience.
Q. You mentioned hitting the right audience, aren’t you afraid you might strike a chord with someone or make them uncomfortable?
Sid: I don’t think I’m afraid of that, if someone feels uncomfortable then that’s good. If it can annoy somebody, that means I must be doing something right. The only people my poetry can annoy are hostile, ignorant people who don’t want to change. If my words are affecting them, that must mean they are true.
Photo credits: Sid Kenpachi
Q. Doesn’t that frighten you, that someone may do something to keep you quiet?
I feel like I’m in a safe place to project my voice, and if something does happen to me, I guess it just furthers my cause, doesn’t it?
Q. Fair enough! Could you describe your poetry style in 3 words?
Sid: I’m trying to do this without sounding too cocky (laughs). Logical, Emotive and Strategic.
Q. How do you usually prep for a performance?
Sid: I usually practice in front one of my friends, he’s as unbiased as you can get because he’s not Muslim and we come from different communities, so if it impacts him, I know it’ll work out on stage.
Q. How important is your faith in terms of creative processes?
Sid: Whenever I write something, I think it has to be as religiously appropriate. So purposefully I don’t use any profanity, and I don’t try to be offensive. I just want to speak the truth, and if I use religion then it helps me and empowers me throughout the poem.
Q. When did you really get into poetry?
Sid: It was quite recent actually, I wrote Terrorist in November. i used to write it before just by hand, and then when i saw the rise of spoken word I wondered if i could write a spoken word piece. Its more sophisticated than writing it I think because it’s a performance. You have to adopt a persona on stage, because if you’re into what you’re saying then that’ll impact people more. That is the main reason I don’t use paper or read out of my phone, because it resonates with me and my audience
Q. With the situations all around the world, how are you feeling as a Muslim spoken word poet amidst all this hate?
Sid: People don’t like talking about taboos, especially on stage. If anything, I think it’s an opportunity. A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘oh you’re so good.’ Its not me per se, it’s my content. The things I write are kind of the things people want to hear. I can use it and try to change their image of us.
Photo credits: Sid Kenpachi
Q. What is the most difficult part in writing poetry?
Sid: I feel like my objective is to impact the people watching, so everything I say is in there for a reason, but sometimes it doesn’t support the flow so I’ll have to manipulate it or change the order around a bit.
Q. You’re performing with Bunkers without Borders next week, how are you feeling?
Sid: Its one of my biggest performances to date, way bigger than I’m used to doing. I actually got it through someone I met at Word Up! He enjoyed my pieces so much, he wanted them to be performed at Bunker.
Q. How did you get into Word Up?
Sid: It’s actually a free space, and anyone can get up and perform and there’s no registration fee. You put your name into a hat, and if it’s called out you get to perform. It’s a space where new poets show up, so just hearing that put me into ease. There was nothing to lose so I just went for it.
Q. How are you feeling about university and spoken word?
Sid: I’m doing business management and accounting, and in the beginning I really loved it but over time, I realise I like spoken word more because of the change it can create. Yeah, I could make money in accounting, but I can help people in my community and Insh’Allah, I will one day.
After our interview, I asked Sid to freestyle some bars for me. He did not disappoint. You can check his video, “Prayer for the Opressed” and the freestyle below.
You can follow Sid and his journey at @SheikhspeareSid on Twitter.