Ten participants, ten performances, but only one would walk away with the prize.
Sounds like something out of American Idols, doesn’t it? Who knew the time would come when there would be an international competition, not for music, not for dancing, but for poetry?
The Spoken Word Project, travelling through Africa, had just wrapped up in Angola, and Uganda was now the next stop.
How it would work is that 10 poets would recite their hearts out and one would win. As an added spice, the eventual winner would travel to the country where the next competitions were to be held.
The venue was Goethe-Zentrum Foundation in Nakasero where 10 performers had been selected to participate in the competition last Thursday. Only one would win the crown of the King or Queen of poetry to proceed to the next stage, which would be in Nairobi.
The judges were Beverly Nambozo, Peter Kagayi and Pamela Acaye, already notable figures in the writing scene. The crowd was excited and eager as the winner from Angola, Ermildo Saraiva Panzo, kicked things off with his winning poem about war.
Even though it was in Portuguese, his stage presence and animation gave his words a life of their own and we were rapt in silence until he had finished. ‘Obrigado’, he said when he had finished. We nodded and clapped happily, like we understood what he meant.
The event was now underway in full gear. Roshan Karmali, the founder of the poetry organisation, the Spoken Word Project in Uganda, was the emcee of the night, calling upon performers and keeping the crowd entertained at the same time.
Sean, self-dubbed ‘The poet in the wilderness’ was one of the crowd favourites, with his lyrical rhymes. His American accent may have aided matters.
He was followed by Natasha who forgot her lines, and it is here that the competition started to become fierce, as we realised how nerve-racking it was for the performers on the stage. We shouted encouragements to Natasha and she finished alright.
Another crowd favourite was Slim MC. It wasn’t just his bright African patterned pants and Afro that we loved, he had a sing-song way of reciting his poetry that made us absolutely enjoy what he was saying even if we didn’t hear a word of it.
Mark Gordon, founder of another poetry organisation, Open Mic Fusion, made us laugh with his poems full of jokes about students with crushes on girls.
After the first round of recitals was over, the poets came back for the second ‘elimination’ round, where they would recite a poem with a theme from the poems recited in Angola, and for strictly three minutes.
This was Sean’s turn to forget his lines. It was cold but you could see he was sweating. There was more at stake now and it showed in the heart and spirit with which the poets hit the stage.
Two and a half nerve-racking hours later, it was over, and the judges hit the stage to put the poets out of their misery. Pamela Acaye informed the crowd that their winner had been selected for their ‘creativity, diction, imagery, stage presence, power of words, and articulation.’
Whew! Those were lots of requirements. Little wonder that the prize went to Radio City presenter Rehema Nanfuka.
Ermildo, the Angolan winner, came up on stage to give her a congratulatory hug and a scarf from his country that he said would ‘bind Uganda and Angola’. Nanfuka will be representing Uganda at the Nairobi grand finale.