The Spoken Word Scene in Angola: The raw words of the iron Luanda on Open Mic

by Rita Soaresby Rita SoaresThe appearance of Spoken Word in the lands of Kwanza has some protagonists, such as Lukeny Bamba Fortunato, curator of Angola’s first Spoken Word festival. As a rapper and cultural event organizer, Lukeny was committed to making rap a weekly constant in the yet insufficient cultural programming of Luanda. The rapper’s ideas matured during a period spent in the southern United States, where he came into contact with young university students who were doing Spoken Word and where he began to take part in slam poetry sessions.

Back in his homeland, he got involved in a closed movement which later developed into to literary gatherings, confined to the capital. It was in 2004 that the microphone was opened as the confidant of the highest elevations of the dreams of a group of youth between rap, comedy, and poetry. This leisure activity was called “Open Mic,” and it encompassed ballads but also a type of poetry that strayed from the paradigms that Luanda had been accustomed to for so long. Initially, the group of poets gathered in a modest Luanda gallery, where they would ignite the word.

It was the beginning of an aesthetic split. And that is how Tuesday nights would be spent. Open mic was the reason and the moment to rid one’s soul of the heavy load of daily life in Luanda, a city with various delusions of a metropolis.

 Lacking a space of its own and with very few appearances in the media, the movement had to go from one gallery to the next. But it was along this hopping path of nearly a decade that it won over an audience and new poets of all ages, who are currently making poetry in several spaces, several times a week. The Spoken Word movement thus became popular amongst Luanda youth (Africk, Shynia, Dilson, Miriam Keita Mayanda, and Kardo Bestilo stood out), and it later gave rise to the LevArte Movement of Angola, which galvanized a large mass of young people. Then other groups emerged, such as the Berço Literário (Literary Cradle), Goz’ A’Qui (Enjoy Yourself Here), and other free sessions in different venues around the city.

Not only did the advent of these spaces make it so that more and more people became part of the Spoken Word scene, it also greatly contributed to the poets’ defining themselves as “Spoken Word artists.” So far, this trend in writing and recitation has only won over the youth, which demonstrates a certain generational shock. The conflict exists between conservative artists and those who yearn for new writing techniques. It is youth who embrace post-modernist meanings and reinvent them to match their realities.

So far, the notion of Spoken Word has been associated with freedom and youth. The development of the term was consolidated with the definitively “spoken word” sessions that are now held in the Bahia Space, which leads us to believe that the word arrived slightly before the practice per se. There, young people meet and exercise their craft like in an experimental workshop. Many took some time to lose the rigorous ways of conventional poetry. It was then that the distinction between poetry and Spoken Word became a lot clearer, making it so that poets have to state before their performances if the texts are Spoken Word or poetry or something between the two.

Urban life is highlighted in these Spoken Word evenings. Many of the poets who take part in the Bahia events come from the ghettos of Luanda. With some realist traits, urban life is one of the more well-defined themes, from this city of Luanda that envelops itself in more and more iron buildings in the face of the raw words of poets on the open mic; they carry the city in their words, challenging and reinventing it with a marked idealism. The ordinary life experience of the ghettos is given a new poetic existence with the contrast of the city’s structural evolution.

In this space, which is seen as the “ideal space for Spoken Word poets,” there have never been competitive sessions. Still in a phase of “self-discovery,” they often come together and simply start to recite poetry freely. They are only gatherings of lovers of art. However, in these gatherings some have demonstrated a heightened talent for this art form. In the Bahia Space, poets evolve with very advanced spoken word texts and a style of recitation of equal quality.

They are the ones we will see in this first Spoken Word festival, taking place on August 27, 2013, in the Bahia Space itself. Aside from the opportunity to exchange experiences with African countries where Spoken Word is already more developed, this event organized by Goethe-Institut Angola will be a milestone for the recognition and well-deserved protagonism of good Spoken Word artists from the modest Luanda circuit.
Written by Cellma Adolfo, Freelance Journalist Copyright: Goethe-Institut Angola, August 2013