When I first came to Botswana in 2008, I felt like poetry was everywhere. You just had to reach up and pick it out of the sky to hear it. Now, after immersing myself even more into the hip-hop and poetry scenes, I see that yes, it is everywhere, but even if you don’t look for it, it will find you, hit you like a sandstorm and knock you flat.
Let me say it again. Poetry in Gaborone is everywhere. It’s in the late night cipher sessions around braai stands loaded with meat, the hip-hop stations on the radio, the open mics that seem to happen every night somewhere in the city.
While I realize focusing on poetry is somewhat a departure from the hip-hop that is my focus here, it is not such a stretch. The two creative worlds are always intermingled, but even more so in Botswana. Here, many poets are also emcees and vice versa. At poetry nights there will be at least one or two performers who will ask the DJ for a beat and spit verses in Setswana and English. Poets judge rap battles and emcees host poetry shows.
In exploring the world of poetry here and its relationship to hip-hop and society at large, I decided to focus on three poets that I have interacted with extensively. All three recently served as teachers for a series of creative arts workshops for youth in the low-income neighborhood of Old Naledi for a project I have been part of starting called Arts for Change (videos and blogposts on that initiative coming soon). Enjoy what they have to say in the video below and read on for more information on them and full performances of their poems.
Ngozi Chukura now spends most of her time as a journalist, but when I met her in 2008 she was widely acknowledged as the sickest femcee in the city and I collaborated with her as a drummer for an album. She is also a highly accomplished poet and visual artist. Poem the Ansa is also someone I have started working with as a percussionist as he explores how to incorporate music into his poetry. He is in the process of preparing for a birthday celebration and poetry extravaganza, Unplugged, later this year. Mandisa Mabuthoe started her career with Exodus Live Poetry, one of the first poetry collectives in Botswana. She has since performed allover the country, as well as in South Africa, Australia and Zimbabwe and has released poems on several mixtapes. She will be returning to Zimbabwe next month for the Harare International Festival of the Arts.
So enjoy what they have to say and take a look at the multitude of rhymes, words and sounds that this small, dusty capital has to offer.
You can see full performances of pieces by Ngozi, Poem and Mandisa below.