Compelling voices and a sea of gazes merged within an open-air arrangement— a convivial ambiance with clustered chairs, abundant twinkle lights— giving birth to a wellspring of poetic expression during a spoken word night, orchestrated through a partnership between The British High Commission and the British Council. Dubbed Rhythm and Ink, the spoken word evening marked the beginning of the delegations' efforts to reinvigorate cultural and artistic ties with Rwanda. The event, which took place July 28, at the British residence in Kigali, was expected to run for approximately three hours and draw an audience of about 90 attendees. Setting the tone for the evening, Abdi Hassan, the charismatic Director of the British Council, who has been in Rwanda for four months, delighted the audience with a blend of humor and poetry in his speech, while attentive waiters guided guests to their seats with drinks in hand. “A significant unifying factor between the two cultures and regions I identify with, Wales and East Africa, is their shared legacy of oral traditions, which stretches back through time,” Hassan said. “Poetry is not just an artistic expression. Poetry is also regarded as a vessel that carries the weight of our history, dreams, future, and all the resilience of our people. And poetry also is the melodic river that carries, and saves us a lifeblood of storytelling, preserving our traditions, documenting our struggles and victories.” Being a poetry enthusiast himself, he wraps up his speech by reciting a few lines from his favorite poems. And the “vast amount of Kinyarwanda he has acquired so far, ‘Murakoze’ (thank you).” All through Rhythm and Ink, the audience wholeheartedly engages, clapping vigorously and laughing at humorous moments, offering shouts of approval to performers, or snapping their fingers in admiration. Poet after poet graces the stage, presenting a diverse array of themes, including generational trauma, new beginnings, beauty standards, love, and feminism. Marumbo Sichinga's monologues, infused with recurrent phrases like punching bag, and motors, delivered impactful depictions of vulnerability and relationships, skillfully blended with lots of humor and empathy. His verses masterfully highlighted the intricate interconnectedness of various layers within society, forging a deep bond with the audience and setting a high standard for the subsequent performers who followed in his footsteps. Taking the stage, the Malawian artist donned a business-casual outfit comprising dark pants and a white long-sleeve shirt. His demeanor is playful and confident. “Poets are some of the most honest people and liars you’ll ever meet,” he said, before his recitations. “I hope that tonight, we have an honest conversation, though the poems are not about me. They’re about you.” His performance was further enhanced by a wonderful musical interlude courtesy of singer Jeremiah. A trendlet worth noting: the women's voices came through so strongly. Among them was Belinda Uwase, known by her artistic name _moonchild_Bee, who describes herself as a Rwandan poet, black radical feminist, and lawyer. Her writing is fueled by generational trauma and the quest for healing and love, as she openly expressed. “Of course, I still write to you. It doesn't mean you still have a hold on me. I have detangled myself from you ages ago. I write to you for nostalgia and fairy tales because there was a time when another soul made me believe I needed more than I needed myself.” She firmly believes that channeling her emotions, pain, uncertainties, losses, and joy through her writing is an essential part of her healing journey. Angell Mutoni, another poet, recites a poem she penned during the lockdown titled Reminder as a means to motivate herself to return to the world of poetry. “See, we're skeptical of what we're told. Afraid to get old. No, we fear aging, surely. Aging with regret. Regret not having explored, done what our hearts desired. And yet we spend hours trying to convince ourselves that we're not ready, but we forget. Like I said, time is of the essence. See, I've struggled with the gift and curse of being a creative. It's always at the back of my mind. What can I do? What would I leave behind in these times?” she reflects. There’s plenty of life in twangy melodies of unusual musical instruments like the rainstick and sounding bowl - especially when Delah Dube adds the storytelling of her lyrics and delivers them in her rangy, soulful voice. She also turned in one of the night's best performances. “I really liked how the event was curated to bring together people who genuinely have an appreciation for art,” said Delah, 21, who looked stylish in her neon-colored skin-tight dress and what I’ve come to know as her signature blond dreads. She is a Zimbabwean poet, recording and performing artist whose art serves as a catalyst for innovation, sparking social discourse, connecting with her audience, and igniting a whirlwind of imagination, all while manifesting positive energy. And she certainly lived up to that promise during her performance. From intimate small rooms to grand arenas and auditoriums across more than four countries, Delah has graced the stage as both a solo artist and collaborator with other incredible creatives. But the draw here, she said, was being around an audience that had their ears perked up and their bottoms at the edge of their seats. As an artist, being heard is paramount; it's not just about superficial visibility but about being deeply felt. The audience's receptiveness made all the vulnerability and openness from the artists completely worthwhile.” The poets of tonight's event displayed a heightened literary flair, with performances that extended beyond 10 minutes, presented in different variations: pure poetry, musical poetry, and a cappella renditions. Their references were broad and open-minded, often delving into the personal experiences of the poets themselves. Every detail, from facial expressions to inflections, was masterfully conveyed in lively and captivating prose, effortlessly transporting the audience back to the vibrant scenes of Kigali streets, lazy Sunday afternoons, bustling bars, and cozy cafes — the very stages these artists traversed and inhabited to maximize the impact of each stanza. Following the event, Omar Daair OBE, the British High Commissioner to Rwanda, took a moment for a brief interview with The New Times. When asked about the possibility of future events similar to this one, he responded, Well, I don't know how often we'll repeat this specific event, but in collaboration with the British Council, we are actively working on organizing a diverse range of events. Representation is crucial, he emphasized, referring to the spoken word event. So we aim to explore various forms of expression, incorporating spoken word with film, music, and other forms of art, because it holds significant importance to us. He goes on to reminisce about how Kigali has evolved into a flourishing city, gaining popularity over time. Sure, “As more people move in, it has transformed into a prominent business and convention destination.” But he also wants people “to experience the city's rich cultural life and what it has to offer, something they want to actively promote.” He added, “This will also serve to strengthen the bonds between our two nations. When British people become familiar with Rwandan culture, it fosters a deeper sense of friendship and partnership, which holds immense value for both sides.” One of the things, Marumbo said, he loves about poetry is that it is an exchange. “I hope that I can leave a part of myself with you, and in return, you will also share something of yourselves with me,” he posited earlier. As the night unfolded, watching the small crowd captivated by the artists' performances and engaging with one another, it's hard not to wholeheartedly concur with his sentiment. The poetry indeed forged a profound connection, leaving a lasting impact on both the artists and the audience alike.