Sixty people are gathered under the stars at a rooftop Ethiopian restaurant in Dakar.
Some sit on oversized cushions, and others stand – all the seats are taken.
When your words no longer have value, you’re dead
Everyone has their eyes and ears pointed toward the young woman with the mic in her hand as she calls out a poem in a strong and steady voice.
“I am the start of each revolution. I am a woman,” she says in French.
There is rhythm to her speech, but the beat is led by her words – words are the raison d’être at these Vendredi Slam sessions.
The Dakar slams are part of an Africa-wide movement of slam poetry and spoken word sessions that is gaining momentum.
“Poetry culture in Stellenbosch within the last two years has gone massively viral,” says Adrian Van Wyk, an organiser of the monthly InZync Poetry Sessions that draw up to 350 people.
“People understand poetry isn’t what they were taught in schools. It’s a way of looking at the world,” he says.
Whether it is the Vendredi Slam, the InZync sessions or the monthly Kwani? Open Mic in Nairobi, the most important aspects of spoken word are the messages and the emotion, says Oumar Niang, secretary general for the Vendredi Slam.
“I think even a Martian could understand if we convey a good message,” he explains.
On stage, Niang goes by Minuss, a nickname he picked up at school.
“I knew just because I was small didn’t mean my spirit was small,” he explains.
The most common themes at the slams are pan-Africanism, love and opposition to bad politics.
“It’s your words that give you identity. When your words no longer have value, you’re dead,” says Niang. ●
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