One poet in particular, Moncef Ouhaibi, was awarded the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, for his collection of poetry. He wants to remind us that art, no matter what the medium, has the power to help us.
For the first time of its 14 year history, the Abu-Dhabi based Sheikh Zayed Book Award for literature went to a poet– and a Tunisian one at that.
“Oh, we have much art here!” he tells The Africa Report, citing a grand poet from the early half of the 20th century, Abou el-Kacem Chebbi. He adds to the list of noteworthy achievements, such as Tunisian cinema, music and visual arts.
His collection of poems, Belkas ma Qabl Al Akheera (The Penultimate Cup), explores the relationship Tunisia occupies within the Mediterranean, its ties with its Arab neighbours and with those countries to to the north of the sea. It also touches on timeless themes of love and death, war and family.
“These are the stories that form our memories and create our identity,” says Ouhaibi. He finds inspiration from daily comings and goings – or simply put, “I am a poet and an interpreter. I listen to the world not only with my eyes but also with my ears.”
The language of poetry
Arabic is a language rooted in poetry. Oral and then written poetry are considered to be the earliest forms of Arabic literature. Its rich vocabulary and melodic rhythm are reasons why poetry in particular continues to flourish in the Arabic-speaking world.
“Arabic is a poetic language,” confirms Ouhaibi, when asked about if his work translates well into other languages. His poetry has indeed been translated, especially into French. “We can always translate it, but you must be a poet to interpret it,” he says. The French translator who recently translated some of his work is a poet himself. “He listened to my poems in Arabic, the rhythm of the lines; he understood something.”
It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what is important is to have an understanding of the melody of the words, which in turn deliver a message.
Art in a time of crisis
Undoubtedly great works of art have arisen during times of crisis. Think of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica during the Spanish civil war, Edward Hopper’s paintings during the Great Depression in the US, Henrik Ibsen’s play The Dollhouse at a time of growing women’s liberation or Naguib Mahfouz’s novels that questioned modern Egyptian society.
“Of course, art has a role to play, and not just poetry. Art doesn’t respond right away,” notes the poet.
But in this current time, art “is very important, especially after COVID-19”. He adds that this post-pandemic era will be helped by art, “and not religion … because art has the capacity to draw us into visions that transcend the cruelest of realities.” And in those cruelest of times, “art is not there simply for those who want to make-believe; it’s to give hope back to man and to relight his faith in constructing a better world.”
And in this post-crisis future, humanity will need artists, all kinds, says Ouhaibi.
“But I’ll add, we are often confused during these moments of humanity … but ‘there is still a candle dancing in our hand’, as the great French poet René Char once said.”
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.
Also in this in Depth:
tough talkNiger’s Mohamed Bazoum: ‘Arming civilians to fight terrorists is a tragic mistake.’ Mali, Burkina Faso, anti-French sentiment, Wagner, democracy, corruption…Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum speaks has no qualms about speaking his mind.
human rights?Ethiopia: New scheme to export maids to Saudi Arabia after ban due to rights abuses lifted Ethiopia has started a scheme to send 500,000 house maids to Saudi Arabia, swallowing its concerns over human rights abuses in a bid to tackle depressed foreign currency reserves and inject vitality into key economic sectors.
PRESIDENTIAL WHISPERERNigeria’s opposition should abandon bid to overturn Tinubu’s election, says Lai Mohammed Speaking to ‘The Africa Report’ in the run-up to the inauguration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu this week, outgoing information minister Lai Mohammed has dismissed the chances of opposition parties changing the presidential election result.
Dissenting voicesKenya: Rebellion rocks ruling party over mandatory housing levy One resignation and open defiance by some ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party MPs show cracks in President William Ruto’s proposal to increase taxes and introduce a mandatory Housing Fund levy among employees.