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Poetry Slam in Madagascar

All Artists & Jury © Photo: Dimbiniaina AndriamipahaThony © Goethe-Institut. Photo: Dimbiniaina Andriamipaha.
In many developing countries there is nothing more than lip service to freedom of expression. In these countries, art is the only means of expression which can transcend ideological, political and other boundaries. From colonisation to the present day, artistic activity has always incorporated the context of the times and reflected a living, adaptive form of resistance. From oppression, new artistic impulses arose, which were influenced by globalisation and the modernisation of several art forms.

For approximately ten years, contemporary Malagasys have been following in the footsteps of the great traditional orators by experimenting with a different form of public speaking which makes an impact by utilising both words and expressions. In various parts of the country, mostly young people have been making themselves heard through their pens, words and voices. Although hesitant at first, these slam poets gain confidence as the popularity of their performances increases. As the word ‘slam’ also means ‘slap’ in English and since slaps can be considered brief yet efficient, poets have only three minutes for each turn to captivate, inspire and convince their audiences. Slam poetry, which may at times resemble a somewhat theatrical performance on stage, can somethimes mutate into a means of all-out protest against the entire socio-economic and political system. Since these poets hail from divergent backgrounds and are aware that diversity is a distinct advantage, it comes naturally to them to open themselves up to reciprocal dialogue and exchanges. Events such as Slam Kalo, organised together with Unesco, make one realise that traditional poetry, as well as the other, newer forms of poetry can all be integrated into the Poetry Slam scene, where they interact, blend and fuse to become what is known as Slam.

The history of slam poetry in Madagascar begins in 2005, when the first Slam workshops and competitions were organised in the capital. These contributed to the establishment of a small community of slammers from which unexpected talents sometimes emerged, and it is from these that the Madagaslam association was born. Following that, numerous slam plattforms sprang up across the island and the first national competition was held in 2007. This national slam was subsequently organised three more times and Madagascar took part in the Slam World Cups of 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 held in France. In 2012, Tana’s slam community SPIT brought together ten of the capital’s slam communities. Apart from competitions and regular performances in cultural centres such as the Madagascar French Institute and the Goethe-Zentrum Antananarivo, workshops and competitions are also held in informal environments, namely in prisons and amongst street children. In this way, poetry reaches all levels of society and thus contributes to engendering a love for and appreciation of this art form. This in turn encourages Malagasy poets to use their words and voices to touch others and to bring about changes in their environmenet and the people who live in it.

The Madagaslam association intends to hold the fourth edition of the National Slam in December this year. Exchanges through workshops and slam poetry competitions result in numerous talents being discovered, thus enabling these rising stars to express themselves through words, rhyme and rhetoric. Consequently, poets like Tsiky, Mômô, Tagman, Joey, Bini, System D, Gad and more recently Monsieur, are well-known names in slam circles and beyond. Poetry has become a means of initiating and spreading new ideas, a tool of new beginnings and exchange amongst poets, but also a means of educating and learning. Popular themes include current affairs, politics, the socio-economic situation of the country and love. These subjects are naturally influenced by the poets’ perspectives and therefore deal with current affairs according to the prevailing situation. Often, slam poets put themselves in an observer’s shoes, thus relating with some objectivity what ordinary people could be feeling. In Madagascar, the world of poetry includes everything that the eyes of an observant poet happens to glance upon. This art form is therefore characterised by a harmonious beauty combined with a measure of sentimentality. It is from this that poetry draws its power to enrich our memories.

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Zo Anaëlle

Copyright: Goethe-Institut South Africa, June 2013