Rockstar poetry: How I went from performing in a living room to Glastonbury

Hussain Manawer wants to become a rockstar poet, and he's on track. This month he'll stand up at Glastonbury and perform to a noisy, jostling crowd. 

But he didn't always perform to loud audiences. Hussain Manawer has performed spoken word events at Sofar Sounds throughout his career, and credits it with huge support. “The only place I have ever shed tears while performing was at a Sofar gig. Imagine that!”

Intimate spaces allow us to focus, explains Rafe Offer, founder of Sofar Sounds. “We call the places where artists perform a listening room. There’s reinforced encouragement when you’re together, sharing a moment. You’re so close you can see the whites of an artist’s eyes and you know everyone is there for just one thing – to listen to and enjoy the performance.”

And actually, Sofar Sounds provides the perfect environment for an artist to grow.

The lack of normal distraction like bars and chatter and being filmed on shaky mobile phones doesn’t work for every artist. But for some genres, like spoken word, the quiet of an intimate living room space works perfectly.

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Manawer started writing back when he was in school, back in Year 8. What inspired him? “It was the English language and some great teachers. Then of course the music at the time that was out that had so much flavour. The birth of grime, the origins of garage the brightness of pop, it was all used to morph who I am today.”

His goal is to become the a “poetic rockstar”, and he’s playing Glastonbury this year. “I am to achieve that by keeping doing what I'm doing. Unpack the conversations society has so neatly packed away that need to be spoken about. Bring light to the darkest corners of our minds and show people this can and will cross over into all of our lives because we need it.”

Sofar played a vital role in his growth as an artist and a performer. “I got a very friendly email one day from someone at the Sofar headquarters, I was invited to perform, I did and I loved it. Sofar from that moment became an integral part of my life, my art, my sound and my community.”

Offer is committed to ensuring a variety of performances in each Sofar show, but he agrees that spoken word works well. “It’s just so incredible and you see people listening in and hanging on to every word. There are zero technical issues with spoken word, it’s just their voice.”

He explains that when Sofar first started spoken word wasn’t as popular as it is now. “It used to just be a man or woman with a guitar or an acoustic indie band. Now spoken word has become a fixture.”

Manawer thinks that poetry, or spoken word, can thrive, and go beyond a living room or an apartment. “Poetry shines through, it lights the way, it makes sense of complex emotions, feelings and new age pressures. We are all poets, all ages, all backgrounds, all races. It is a universal form of healing.”

The Virgin Group is an investor in Sofar Sounds. 

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