Fefe Kalume was in S2 when he wrote his first poem. But this was no ordinary poem going by the circumstances under which he penned it. In fact, it is safe to say that on that day, Kalume performed a miracle that was witnessed by his entire class plus the teacher.
The biblical miracles performed by Jesus Christ have been and will always be a subject of debate, but if what Kalume told me about his own miracle is true, then indeed, miracles still happen.
Kalume was born in Kigali, but grew up in the DRC. His mother was Rwandan while the father hailed from the DRC.
Sadly, he lost his mother in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the grief from which inspired his first poem – Death of a mother. In the poem, he pours out all his pain and sorrow following the death of his beloved mother.
One day while attending class, he was overwhelmed by emotions and memories of his mother and just started writing.
“After writing it I immediately started crying, and my teacher walked to me and took the poem to read it. Immediately, he also broke into tears and the whole class broke into tears. The whole class was crying so everyone left and went home.”
After that incident, his class teacher encouraged the young man to pursue poetry seriously, and he has never looked back.
He has won two online poetry competitions organized in Canada so far, and is also a budding author of short stories and a rapper and song writer, with four audio tracks to his name.
Kalume was one of the three winners at the fourth edition of the Kigali Vibrates with Poetry event that was staged in Kigali on July 30.
Kigali vibrates with Poetry started in October 2015 with the aim to give a platform to young poetic talent. Since then, it has been recurring every three months, and the most recent competition was staged at the rooftop of The office/Neo Café in Kiyovu; “a place close to the sky, in harmony with the universe” as Dr. Andrea Grieder, director of Transpoesis puts it.
“Whenever I sit there, I feel inspired; by the trees, the birds flying in the sky, the view over the city.”
Her team at Transpoesis joined hands with Mustapha Kayitare, Olivier Tuyisenge and Aime Ntwari to organize the 4th edition of the poetry competition - A poetic life circle.
Grieder believes that growing in poetic terms means to bring people together that share the passion for poetry:
“Having a strong team creates a supportive atmosphere for the poets and going to competitions encourages everyone to perform with all their capacity because when we start to be real, to be in our most powerful presence, then we start living fully and our talents are shared and make a difference in the world.”
This competition was refreshingly different from previous ones in that it featured more young poetesses:
Delice Mukazi, Umutoni Patience, Aimée Marie Umuhoza, and the winner in the English poems category, Ella Bikwemu.
Dolph Banza, a Kigali-based Graphics Designer came up with a powerful design to illustrate this fact. It features a tall and elegant Rwandan woman, in reference to Nyirarumaga, the mother of poets in Rwanda.
Further still, some of the poems lend voice to women’s lives, like the poem, La mémoire de Désiré Bigirimana, by Fefe Kalume (winner in the French category), as well in the poem, Zirabe imbabazi nyakuri zibagirwa (let it be true forgiveness that forgets) by the winner in the Kinyarwanda category, Gildas Niyomukiza.
“I have been a poet since 2010. I was chased out of school for one week, for having gone out without permission so I went home. Then naturally my parents had to go to the school to discuss the matter with the school management. It was then when I wrote a letter to them, and it turned out to be my first poem. That is how I became a poet,” explains Niyomukiza.
He describes poetry as the strongest way to express her views:
“Poetry is a strong way to express my views. It makes me move from an uncomfortable to a relaxed mood.”
In July 2013 he was rewarded as the best poet in Ngoma district and in October the same year, was again rewarded as the best poet at a High School Competition in the Eastern Province.
With Transpoesis, he performed at the Queen Elizabeth Birthday Party at the residence of the British High Commissioner and at the Ubumuntu Festival where he performed a poem titled Poetry is medication for the sick.
A student at Wellspring Academy, Nizigama Ella Carmene emerged winner in the English category for her poem, My Melanin is Beautiful
Does her melanin offend you?
Does it darken your sight?
Her melanin is the darkness that shines brighter than gold in a room full of light
Its even brighter at night
But you don’t see that
You don’t allow yourself to see that but you see even if you stomp on her skin, you will not dim her light.
Her complexion is not just a reflection,
it is the root of self
The mother of all self, and with her passive aggression, her melanin showers you with affection regardless of your suppression towards her community.
The poem continues with the same steadfastness of message.
Nizigama got into poetry three years ago, inspired by American rapper Tupac Shakur:
“I was listening to Tupac Shakur music and liked it, then checked out some of the poems that he wrote because he was a great poet too.
He seemed to rhyme all the time and I was like let me just try it. I was doing it just for fun and I liked my work and so continued writing. I would be somewhere and see something or get an idea and note it down in my phone and when I got home I would just write.”
She describes poetry as “life itself, because anything can be a poem. It’s a matter of what’s going on in life, what you’re doing, or who you are.
You can express yourself through poetry, you can touch other people’s lives …it’s a way of communicating and living.”
She has more than twenty poems to her name.
“I like to explore topics which have injustice. I’d probably talk about racism, women, because sometimes they are considered inferior to men and discriminated against. I basically address topics that need to be addressed.”
Learning the ropes
After accumulating a few poems and getting better at it she decided to take it to the next level, and opened a blog called wildrebelflevr.wordpress.com
“Sometimes I don’t write poems but I just say what I feel like. It’s basically a platform where I can express myself. I have a large audience that encourages me to write more.
This motivated me to get better and I started watching videos of some of the best poets like Maya Angelou.
Like I said before, poetry is life, so it’s not like you can write every day. Poetry will come to you. You just have to be attentive and aware of what’s happening. Then it has to flow naturally. Poetry is not something for which you have to sit down and think too hard.”
For now she is doing only English poems, although ultimately her wish is to start writing in Kirundi, her mother tongue.
The first platform she performed at was the Spoken Word Rwanda, at an event dubbed “I Stand for Burundi” where, as a Burundian, she felt a need to say something.
“I want to do poetry all my life but I also want to get a job that I can focus on as a full time occupation because I don’t see myself doing poetry to a point where it’s my source of livelihood. So I would say I will do poetry to an extent.
I want to study International Relations because I’m interested in basically giving justice to the world. Maybe I will be a lawyer or a diplomat.”