Where were you when Rehema Nanfuka and Slim Emcee were performing?
Kgafela oa Magogoi, Ermildo Panzo, Carolin (UGCS Director, Roshan Karmali. Photo from GZK-UGCS page.
After being a part of a fabulous poetic panel with Warsan Shire, Dr. Neal Hall, Wally Serote and then Prof. Kwame Dawes, Nii Parkes, Fatou Were and Clifton Gachagua, I did not think that Uganda had anything to teach me. I had already crafted my official email to the spoken word performers to let them know beyond any reasonable doubt that Ugandan spoken word performers are above all, weak, unable to learn and just wasting time.
And then I attended the African Spoken Poetry Competition where I was a judge with the charming Pamela Acaye and difficult to miss Peter Kagayi. I listened to them talk and swallowed all my pre-judgements. A line-up with Mark Gordon the indomitable, Winnie Apio the unforgettable, Rehema Nanfuka the lady who lives in a home called poetry and Slim Emcee. When I heard Slim, it was like I was seeing him for the first time. I listened, felt, triumphed and mourned as they performed their lines. Oftentimes I forgot I was a judge and just wanted to dream away with the poets’ words. The power of the performances on 24th September at the German Cultural Center was astounding beyond any performance I have seen in Uganda. It is incredibly difficult to combine poetry with spoken word. Rehema Nanfuka and Slim Emcee, first and second winners overall, outshone and demystified all theories. Their word power bore the strength of a mighty army of images. Have you ever been tugged into the jaws of a cake shop? You don’t want to go in because of all those calories and yet its sweetness is so compelling that you have no other choice.
These poets can sit comfortably at the table of other greats because they are part of Uganda’s greats. I’ve said it. May they never falter or doubt their poetry abilities. May there be more opportunities for poets of the written word, poets of the stage and spoken word performers to sit together at the same table of poetic joy and just eat and dance together.
Maritza, the third overall, was stunning. Her ending of the second poem almost made me fall off my seat. The way she held that imaginary gun and fired at us-that’s real poetry right there. The Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, the winner from Angola, Ermildo Panzo, and the patron of the Spoken Word project, Kgafela oa Magogodi from South Africa, you are all incredible. Thanks to Poetry in session for em-ceeing and planning and making poetry real once again. Natasha Emily, Rashida Namulondo, Shan Walugembe, Black Poet and Tina p’Achan-you are unforgettable. Continue blazing that trail.
What can I add? Write these poems down. Can you imagine if Prof. Awoonor never wrote down his poetry? Or Okot p’ Bitek? We would have missed out on a lot. Write your poems down, so that the world may know of your power.
Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva