Everyone in the world has a voice, whether it is internal, politically driven, used to communicate, heard as art, or not heard at all. Voices are a powerful part of the world and they help shape the values, beliefs, and ways that we live our lives. Certain voices have more power and impact on individuals than others. These voices captivate your attention and enhances a certain emotional reaction or feeling.
Imani Maya, a senior at Duke University, demonstrates these powerful voice qualities and more. Imani did slam poetry in High School and now writes poetry for as a creative outlet and simply for her pure enjoyment. This is a way for her to express herself. Her poems are intimate and dynamic on paper, but when she reads them out loud, they truly come alive. When she reads her poems, her voice has a certain smoothness and calming quality to it.
I first heard these qualities in her voice last April at a performance of my friend’s senior thesis. She performed a spoken word poem at the end of the show and from then, I could not get her voice out of my mind. It was a combination of the powerful voice and impacting words that made her voice stand out. She speaks about powerful subjects, ones that seem to be personal within her writing, but when she performs her poems there is a certain intimacy to it. As a listener, you feel as if you are able to understand or relate to what she is talking about even if you have never directly experienced what she is talking about. Even in the projection and powerfulness of her voice, she is able to bring a calm quality to it. Imani’s voice is pleasant to hear and soothes yours ears, making you want to hear more of it. With the combination of her powerful, yet calming voice and the compelling words that she projects, her voice impacts the listener. This specific exhibit will explore and analyze the particular qualities in Imani’s voice that make it captivating, such as the strength of her projection, her rhythmicity, and the strong emotions portrayed in her voice. There are two poems written by Imani Maya that are used in the recording exmaples down below. One is called “Numb,” which evokes the emotions of numbness, qualm, helplessness, sympathy, lost sense of hope. Then other poem is called, “Simplifying Complexity,” which evokes the emotions of attentiveness, peace and wonder. Imani’s voice is so powerful and captivating that it can be seen as a form of art.
This is a recording of Imani performing a poem she wrote called, “Simplifying Complexity.” In this excerpt, I focus on her quality of voice projection. She is speaking at the other end of a hallway, very far away from the recorder. This was an imitation recording of her spoken word poetry performance last year in a senior thesis project. In that performance and demonstrated in this recording, she is able to project her voice across a far distance without sacrificing the emotional qualities of the poem. Some people, who are speaking to a huge audience or from a far distance, tend to turn their spoken voice into a yell and begin to strain their vocal cords. Transforming a speaking voice into a yell profoundly changes the meaning behind the words, making the words sound harsher and potentially angry. Despite her distance, Imani does not change her voice into a strained yell, but instead has the ability to keep her calm speaking voice and sound as if she is actually closer to the listener. Her voice still gives the listeners an intimate experience through the emotional authentic qualities of her voice. She is able to sustain the personal quality of her poem in her spoken performance. Additionally, the distance does not inhibit the audience from understanding what she is saying. She articulates every word and you can still hear her emphasis on certain sounds, such as “t” and “ck” at the end of many words. She is also able to vary the volume of her voice with ending some of her sentences in a softer tone. She is demonstrating a unique voice quality that many people are not able to attain.
This is the opening excerpt of Obama’s Keynote Speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts in 2004. This recording is a comparable example of the power of projecting a voice across a far distance, yet still keeping the emotional authentic quality to it. This comparison is slightly different due to the context, the fact that Obama is using a microphone and also speaking to a much larger audience than Imani is. Despite this fact, Obama does not change his speaking voice into a yell. Obama has a calm speaking voice, like Imani, and it is very relatable. In this instance, he opens with a personal story, to reel the audience in. Through his unstrained voice, he is able to keep the audience emotionally connected. Clearly Obama’s voice has had a major impact on the world because without his calming, yet powerful voice, he would not have made it so far to become the first Black President of the United States. This shows the power of maintaining a soothing and genuine voice from a far distance. This power that Obama has is what is captivating in Imani’s spoken poetry voice.
This is a spoken word poetry excerpt from Imani’s poem called, “Numb.” This recording highlights her ability to create rhythm in her voice and make it no longer sound simply like words spoken in a conversation. She is able to transform her voice into another form and produce a musical quality to it. The normal pauses that one might hear when speaking a sentence are not present. Instead, the syllables of the words flow together and she says the words quickly, creating her own rhythm. She says a string of words with one breath and speeds up the beat, almost sounding like vocables or an instrument. The rhythm in her voice is also created by the words that she is saying. She repeats words, such as “be,” starting and ending this section with that word. She then repeats similar sounds of words, such as the sounds “able” and “ible” at the ends of two words. Repeating and imitation are two qualities that are also frequently used in music. These rhythmic qualities stand out to listeners and enhance the sound of the voice or the instrument.
This is an excerpt from a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNGdKoPjM8o), which demonstrates how to play the Djembe African Drums. This is a duet of two people playing the drums. This section is used to relate the captivating quality of rhythm in a voice to the rhythm of an instrument. When one hears drum beats, it causes a certain reaction within people. For many, it causes people to dance a little in their seats, to move to the beat, to nod their heads, and generally, a feeling of fun and energy. Rhythm also gives something for people to relate to. Many times the rhythm in a song will repeat and therefore the audience will know what is coming next and feel more connected to the song. This type of rhythm is showcasing the way that a voice can sound like an instrument and have many of the same rhythmic qualities as an instrument.
This is another spoken word poetry excerpt from Imani’s poem called, “Simplifying Complexity.” This poem emphasizes the emotional quality within her voice, which is further enhanced in the phrasing of her words. One important quality of poetry is the way the words are said, with certain emphasis on different parts. One way to emphasize words is to create dramatic pauses. This is something that Imani does in this section of her poem. She takes her time and puts pauses between words which are different than the way one would casually speak in a conversation. This poem is about attentiveness and wondering. She helps strengthen these particular emotions through her pauses. Additionally, these emotions are taken a level farther due to the emphasis on certain sounds and syllables, such as the “ss” sound and the strong “t” sound at the end of three of the lines. It is easier to portray emotions through words and descriptions, but an even harder task is to portray emotions through tone of voice and phrasing. Imani is able to combine the words and the unique qualities of her voice in order to bring across the meaning of her poem.