One of the most anticipated poetry events in the calendar is the Kenyan Poetry Slam. It provides a platform for young poets, mostly unpublished, to perform their poetry and battle it out until a slam king/queen is found through an elimination process. This past Sunday, the Poetry Slam held its second competition this year at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi having outgrown its original venue at the Pawa 254 rooftop.
Poetry is a basic need for some of us, right up there with food. There is food for the body and food for the soul which is poetry. We consume it hungrily as if we cannot survive the next minute without it. Just like the various ways of eating steak, poetry presents itself in various forms. Performed poetry is one of those ways. We sit as the audience and yearn for the performer to feed us from their well of creativity. The whole ensemble that makes up a performed piece; emotions, style, rhythm, forgetting lines, samples and quotes of those that came before us, makes watching live poetry a unique experience.
The eight poets who contested for this edition’s Poetry Slam formed a diverse group of creative who presented different opinions, backgrounds and themes. The audience at the gardens showed up in impressive numbers filling seats and cheering on their favourite poets.
One by one, the poets came on stage and tried to prove why they deserve to go on to the next round. We started off with three gentlemen and five ladies, a commendable number from the ladies who showed that they are articulate and would like to express themselves to the crowd. Entertaining pieces carried the crowd and caught the attention of everyone while the poets whose stage presence was not felt for one reason or another made us restless.
The contestants touched on a lot of themes in their pieces, a good indication that today’s art reflects on the surrounding environments. Mc Elfra touched on the political frustration that we are facing from the things we see our leaders do daily. He spoke of the deceit that is painted for us when politicians commit the exact atrocities they swore to fight.
One of the performances that really got me thinking was one of Jaaziyah’s. Quite passionately, she showed us what difficult conversations some Kenyans have with their fellow citizens on account of ‘not looking like a true Kenyan from the soil’. In the poem, she says she is often called an immigrant even though this is the country she loves and calls home. It made me wonder what most of us consider to be ’truly Kenyan’. Other topics that were touched on include gender equality, love and betrayal and all that makes our hearts go into flames. Shinghai was second at the whole event. She talked about the ills of misogyny and all matters gender equality in her pieces.
When it came to the winner who was crowned as overall best, there was simply no doubt from the beginning of the competition. Her name is Tess. Her performance was simply breathtaking. She worn our hearts with her hip flow and transcendent rhythm
Watching her on stage, we could tell that her pieces were not just sentences read aloud in front of a group of people. We could see the work she put into her work. Hers was the type of poetry that feeds you and make you beg for more.
Tess qualifies as a contestant of the Grand Slam that will be held in December this year. The first slam this year was held in March.
As part of entertainment while the judges were making decisions, the good people at Cre8ive Spills had organized for musical performances from local bands to perform. Swahili Ally was one such artist. He went on stage with his band and gave us an electrifying show. His vocals are quite spectacular and they are ell accompanied by his skills in playing the Kora. Ally will be performing at the fete de la musique on 18th June at the Alliance Francaise. His music is something you would want to experience for yourself.
We went home fully nourished and ready to conquer the world before the next performance. There are so many poems out there; good poems, horrible poems, those that we wrote at the back of a school book, those that should be translated into hundreds of languages. The poetry slam was a good event to sample some.