VIDEO: Saul Williams redefines Kigali Spoken Word experience

This was one of the better-attended Spoken Word events in five years of Spoken Word Rwanda. Well, tell a lie. It was a sold-out affair, perhaps one of the most anticipated.
American poet Saul Williams performs one of his poems. Photos by F. Niyigena.
American poet Saul Williams performs one of his poems. Photos by F. Niyigena.

This was one of the better-attended Spoken Word events in five years of Spoken Word Rwanda. Well, tell a lie.

It was a sold-out affair, perhaps one of the most anticipated. Truth be told, I had never seen the venue – the rooftop of the Kiyovu-based Impact Hub in Kigali so full to the brim. We were packed like sardines.

Literally everyone that matters in Kigali’s social events/arts/expat circuit converged on the venue and remember, this was Wednesday, January 25, the end days of this ‘dry’ month.

Finding the right superlatives to describe American spoken word maestro Saul Williams’ performance wasn’t so easy for many, I inclusive.

Instead I looked to Eric 1Key, himself a spoken word artist, rapper and poet, and one of the local acts that graced the stage.

So impressive was Saul Williams that many people recorded him on their smartphones.

1Key wasn’t actually lined up to perform, perhaps due to the fact that he would be holding his own event at the same venue two days later.

Then Deo Munyakazi, the diminutive Inanga sensation took to the stage after a few curtain-raising acts:

“When I saw Deo Munyakazi, I thought ‘let’s jam to this”; explained 1Key after the show. “Then the magic happened. Saul free-styled on inanga and I can still hear his commanding voice in my head; “Hack into the mainframe, hack into sexuality …hack, hack!” 

The he delivered the punch line:

“Last night was what Spoken Word is supposed to be every night. I felt like everything I have written so far is a draft!”

In spoken word and poetry circles globally, Williams needs no introduction. Not only is he a genius wordsmith, delivering his stone-edge-sharp lines in a jagged pack, but also the epitome of Hip Hop, artist, and social activist in their clean and natural forms. 

An American poet Saul Williams performs infront of a big number of fans at The Office in Kigali on last Wednesday. Faustin Niyigena

The show had been slated for 7:00 pm opening time, but it was not until slightly after 8:30 pm that comedians; Herve Kimenyi and Michael Sengazi from the Komedy Knights took over the stage from the day’s co-MCs, one of who was Diana Mpyisi, founder and curator of Spoken Word Rwanda to set the ball officially rolling.

A slew of local poets and spoken word acts took to the stage in rapid succession. Deo Munyakazi was on hand with his inanga sounds providing an acoustic backdrop.

Olivier Tuyisenge. Faustin Niyigena

The start was rather sluggish but excitement rose when poet Olivier Tuyisenge took the stage and announced he would be performing in Kinyarwanda. This drew loud applause and at the back of the audience you could hear yells of ‘agaciro’ and ‘Rwanda nziza’. This served as a morale boost to local performers as the stage was set for the day’s main act.

At about 9:15 pm Saul Williams hit the stage …well, took to the microphone because he launched into his performance while still in his seat in the front row. He just could not resist Munyakazi’s inanga vibes and so just latched onto the rythms. Yet his flow was flawless enough for many to suspect that the two had rehearsed the performance beforehand. They hadn’t. 

People craned their necks and jostled as they tried to figure out where the powerful voice was coming from, until Williams eventually took up the stage. 

Singer Mike aka Password was a class act playing the guitar. Faustin Niyigena

Later after the show, Tuyisenge was all praises and in awe of the American; 

“I was very happy to share the same stage with the king of poetry in the whole world! Saul Williams heard the sound of the young king of inanga Deo Munyakazi and the poems of Tuyisenge Olivier and Eric Onekey and felt inspired then performed for over 1 hour without stopping!!! What a poet! Is he a human being?”

Deo Munyakazi also expressed similar sentiments; 

“Wow …I was honored to share the stage with the king of poetry Saul Williams! It was magic, his poetry and inanga background was damn wonderful, We were in another universe, the audience too. It was my first time to meet him up, and we didn’t rehearse. He listened to inanga music with unique sound then he came on stage rocking.” 

Upcoming artiste Joyce recites her poem.

Spoken word artist Jason Ntaro travelled all the way from Kampala to perform in Kigali, but most importantly to catch Saul Williams in action.

William’s first performance was of the poem, Coltan as Cotton;

Hack into dietary sustenance

Tradition versus health

Hack into comfort-compliance

Hack into the rebellious gene

Hack into doctrine

Capitalism, the relation of free labor and slavery

Hack into the history of the bank

Is beating the odds the mere act of joining the winning team?

Hack into desperation and loneliness … he bellowed.

He moved on to other skits and, after a high-powered act that lasted close to an hour, the audience was more than contented and the unanimous consensus was that it had been worth the wait.

When he went off stage, a few local poets returned to stage, creating the impression that Williams was out, but after half of the crowd had left,

Williams was back for his final assault.

In other words, it was time to deliver the best, which he had saved for last.

Coded Language was his closing act and it was delivered in explosive, poignant and rapid-fire fashion.

The opening is thus; 

Whereas, breakbeats have been the missing link connecting the diasporic

community to its drum woven past

Whereas the quantised drum has allowed the whirling mathematicians to

calculate the ever changing distance between rock and stardom.

Whereas the velocity of the spinning vinyl, cross-faded, spun backwards, and

re-released at the same given moment of recorded history , yet at a

different moment in time’s continuum has allowed history to catch up with

the present …

“Saul Williams delivered as expected. I didn’t enjoy the other performances very much save for Eric 1key’s poem and Deo’s Inanga,” remarked Eric Mutsinzi, a Kigali-based blogger at the event.

Mutsinzi admitted that he had attended the show specifically to catch a glimpse of the American spoken word sensation.

Ugandan poet Jayson. Faustin Niyigena

“He is of course very skilled and there wasn’t much surprise there. 1Key has mastery in his sights too, only a matter of time,” he concluded.

“I was absolutely stunned by the performance and the texts of the artists and especially amazed by the freedom in the writing and the passion in each of them,” remarked Wesley Ruzibiza, a dancer and choreographer. 

“The multicultural representation on stage, to the local empowerment of Rwandan heritage through poetry and the amazing mix of languages was definitely worth a night out. About Saul Williams, he said it all...from freedom to self empowerment! Excellent in one word!”



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