The 57th edition of the Slam Africa competition was a stiffly contested and vibrant affair. The event started off with well crafted pieces by nine poets and Sanaa Arman took home the trophy and the Slam King title.
The event, held under the Nandi flame tree that towers over the Alliance Francaise gardens in Nairobi, attracted hundreds of slam poetry lovers from activists like Boniface Mwangi to academics such as Wandia Njoya and communication specialists like Dennis Itumbi.
The competitors thrilled the audience with creatively crafted poems that contained memorable lines and slam poetry lovers snapped their fingers with glee.
The poems tackled a number of issues affecting young people in contemporary Kenya such as yellow fever (the obsession with light skin and bleaching) to single parenthood, relationships and politicians’ greed.
Sanaa may have taken home the trophy but the first runner up Willie Oeba won over the hearts of the audience with a very intimate and moving piece dedicated to his mother.
The festival also featured guest performances by former slam kings and poets. El Poet performed his well loved piece The School Bell Rings along with a more recent one, I am who I am, which dealt with the stereotyping of Somali Kenyans as terrorists.
Another poet, Ngartia, performed a moving piece titled Mpeketoni on My Mind, which was accompanied by guitar music from Ciano. Former Slam king Teardrops ended the guest performances with a powerful piece Hii Street, a sheng tribute to the ghetto streets that in spite of thuggery and despair still raise successful youth.
About poetry slam
A poetry slam sees poets perform for points. There is an elimination process with only those who score high marks moving on to the next round.
The event originated in a Chicago bar room in the 1980s, when a man named Marc Smith let the audience judge performances by either booing or cheering.
Slam poetry was first introduced in Kenya in 2006 with the help of the poet Shailja Patel on behalf of Kwani Trust. It has since acquired a life of its own, drawing poetry lovers from all spheres of life, and has improved with each edition.
Slam poetry’s growing influence is evidenced by the sponsors who came on board to support the competition, which was judged by veteran poets Nana Poet, Richie Maccs, Kevin Oreto, Mufasa and Wanjiku Mwaura.
However, this type of poetry is not the sort you would expect to find in schools and university lecture halls because of its language, flamboyancy and colour.
But Dr Njoya is enthusiastic about slam poetry as a modern form of creative work. The Daystar University lecturer usually invites slam poets to perform in her poetry classes.
Though still somewhat a literary novelty slam poetry is experiencing exponential growth in Kenya. Still, only time will tell whether it will be around for a long time or whether, as claimed by writer Dana Gioia, it is just a populist revival of verse inspired by the oral culture of radio, TV, film and the Internet.