“Like A Woman,” was the theme for this month’s edition of Spoken Word Rwanda. Needless to say, it was put together to specially honor the ladies.
It took place on Wednesday, at Cleopatra Lounge in Kimihurura, and was the last event in celebration of womanhood in the true spirit of International Women’s Day.
This was the second time in a row that poetry and spoken word enthusiast were being treated to a celebratory edition.
Last month’s event was themed “Lover’s Edition” and was dedicated to poems that celebrate love. People were in Valentine’s mood.
But January’s Spoken Word event was arguably the most high profile to date, ever since the forum was birthed in 2011. That time, it was the acclaimed American slam poet, rapper, singer-songwriter and actor Saul Stacey Williams headlining.
A gifted wordsmith, Williams left an impression with his stone-edge-sharp, rapid fire delivery.
One memory that lingered from that show was the sight of Williams clapping animatedly and cheering after some of the night’s best local acts;
Karyn Maniraguha and Deo Munyakazi especially caught his eye, so it was a pleasure when both turned up on stage for separate performances at Like A Woman on Wednesday night.
Poetess Karyn was the undisputed star of the night, a living embodiment of the very essence of the spoken word forum – which seeks to bring people of diverse backgrounds together to celebrate the gift of self-expression.
Karyn’s poignant delivery of her poem, Birabibyuha was not only spontaneous, it was moving and made the audience to seesaw between tears and cheers. The poem addresses the subject of Sugar Daddies.
Karyn’s poem was in Kinyarwanda, but the true mark of her class was seeing non-Kinyarwanda speakers cheering her on and applauding and acknowledging her craft.
No wonder immediately after her performance the event’s MC Diana Mpyisi described her as the true epitome of Woman.
She revealed that she is a university graduate but works in a salon to make ends meet. She supplements this income with earnings from gigs at social events like weddings.
Fresh from his first European tour – (a recent trip to Paris, France), Deo Munyakazi wasn’t initially lined up to perform, but his collabo with Ruth Nina Harris, a dance instructor at City Arts in Kimihurura brought out the other façade of Spoken Word Rwanda as a platform for fostering social contact and interaction, let alone intercultural exchange.
Harris hails from Arkansas (US), but moved to Rwanda recently to join her Rwandan husband who she met back in the US.
She first met Deo Munyakazi a while ago at the Swiss Embassy while she dance with Ubumuntu Arts. She was enchanted by the inanga sound and pitched the idea for a collabo.
The result was their performance that fused Dance and inanga in celebration of the Rwandan woman through Harry’s dance moves.
“I have been to two other spoken word Rwanda events and was quickly inspired to see how I could get involved. I knew this environment would be a perfect place to share my art. Poetry and contemporary dance are very similar in that they are beyond entertainment. Both require an open mind from the audience. Until now, however I didn't personally know anyone involved, and me being a bit shy, it took a while to put myself out there to get connected. I am so glad I finally got to perform the other night, especially for the "Like a Woman" themed night. I have really high hopes for the connections that were made,” she explained after the performance.
Another highlight of the night was the Kenyan jazz musician Mayonde Masya, who sneaked up on us as a surprise guest act. She out on a spirited acoustic show that was the perfect precursor to the main business that had brought her to Kigali in the first place –the Kigali Jazz Junction which she headlined on Friday night at the Kigali Serena Hotel.
As usual, performers at the event hailed from varied backgrounds –but mostly students, corporate, and members of the expat community.
Apart from Harris from the US, there was a young lady Zimbabwe and newly moved to Kigali who was gracing a public stage for her first time but who represented herself well with a song and poem serenading a woman.
Artist Kaya Free, who is better-known for his jamming musical style also turned up with a poem this time.
When poet Olivier Tuyisenge took to the stage, it was to do what he does best –lifting the banner of traditional Rwandan poetry with his trademark Umushanana.
Tuyisenge took the house through amazina y’inka (cow poems), a form of traditional Rwandan poetry that celebrates cows.
His performance was accompanied by some traditional dances. The poet took time off to launch his latest English poem titled Notorious.
The presence of many talented and passionate poets and poetesses was a reassuring sight. One could not help but wonder who among them would turn out as the next Eric 1Key or Angel Umwamahoro, two young poets whose careers have been greatly influenced by the Spoken Word Rwanda forum.
Diana Mpyisi co-founded Spoken Word Rwanda with a lawyer friend in 2011. Her media background and experience living in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa came in handy for the people skills required for her task as a curator, MC and almost everything else in between.
They simply wanted to create “something different, something entertaining but also educational and inspirational, something through which people could freely express themselves.
The first Spoken Word event took place in mid 2011 and at the time, it was a weekly affair.
Mpyisi admits that at the time, she didn’t see her dream lasting more than a few runs. But then the public’s thirst for it, and the outpouring of poetic and musical talent would soon allay her doubts.
Today there are over 100 video clips of different performances on YouTube, to cater for another critical Spoken Word audience –the diaspora community.
Poetry lovers have to part with a pocket-friendly Rwf 2,000 for the shows, a basic charge that goes into covering small operational expenses on sound, lighting, and camera.
The next frontier is to push the forum out of the relatively small confines of bars and restaurants where the events have traditionally been staged. Should all go well, according to Mpyisi, we should be welcoming the first Spoken Word Rwanda event at the Car Free Zone anytime soon.
The other is to martial institutional and corporate support and funding so that the poets can get some motivation for all their efforts.