A tribute to Maya Angelou in Luganda

Thursday August 14 2014

By GAAKI KIGAMBO

When Nakisanze Segawa took the floor at a Kampala hotel to recite Maya Angelou’s iconic poem Phenomenal Woman in Luganda, a dominant Ugandan language, hers was a class act that would have earned a standing ovation from the late American literary giant.

In all fairness, Ms Segawa is “not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size” as the second line of the poem says, nor does she command a beguiling presence, as the second stanza reads, to walk into a room and cause a stir. But she nailed it.

The short, small-bodied, even-tempered and unassuming poet and writer is often unnoticed, as a creative artist.

It was therefore refreshing when her call out was met with ululations, it was unclear whether they were aimed at her or the great work she was about to present.

Undaunted, Segawa wasted no time on preambles. She plunged right into her performance and immediately demonstrated a thorough understanding and internalisation of the weight and value of the poem, its tone, pace and rhythm in a way only reserved for perceptive artists.

From the first to the last sentence, the audience ate out of her hands. They leaned in when they felt she was drawing away from them, fearful not to lose even a word. So attentive was the audience, you could hear a pin drop.

They swayed to her acting out of certain parts such as when she reached out her arms, stuck out her hips, took a stride across the front, and curled her lips (lines 6 to 9 of the first stanza). Or when she rolled her eyes, flashed her teeth, swung her waist, and upped her spring (lines 9 to 12 of the second stanza).

They stayed, momentarily, entranced when she finished. Perhaps they did not believe she had done the whole poem in spite of her version sounding longer than the original. They then broke out in clear praise of her excellent performance.

Nyana Kakoma, a literary blogger at the online site Sooo Many Stories, posted on her Facebook wall: “One of my favourite moments at yesterday’s dialogue was listening to Nakisanze Segawa recite Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman in Luganda! In Luganda, you people! Even people who do not understand Luganda (and they were quite a number), got her! You had to be there! ...”

Segawa was performing at a session organised by the association of Ugandan women writers, Femrite, and the African Women’s Development Fund, to reflect on whether it made any difference when women spoke for themselves.

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