Arts & Entertainment

Smashing stereotypes, changing society: the DRC’s slam poets

By Pablo Moraga

Bukavu, DR Congo, May 21 (EFE).- In Bukavu, a city in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eight artists improvise poetry, known as slams, as a way to air their opinions, ponder the future or demand change.

“I have always said that slam is not just a way to express yourself, but also a tool for liberation,” Patricia Kamoso, the only female slam-poet in the group, tells Efe.

“In slam, I have found the freedom to think in a different way from what I was taught since I was little,” the 20-year-old adds.

The memories of over two decades of war have cast a dark shadow over the colorful city of over a million people, including thousands who have fled their villages in search of a safer haven.

Slam-poet Achille Argus acknowledges these issues, but rather than dwelling on them, his poems focus on the region’s enormous cultural diversity, its exuberant nature, the beauty of its landscapes, and the energy brimming in the streets of Bukavu.

For Argus, addressing these themes in his slams is both a way to fight stereotypes about his country and to tackle racism.

“Racism, xenophobia or any rejection of another person is based on ignorance,” Argus tells Efe.

“We hate snakes because we have been told bad things about them. But there is nothing wrong with snakes. The same happens with humans.

“There is another side to Bukavu that we never talk about,” he says.

“Sometimes I write texts just for fun,” Argus says. “In art, in the world of creativity, there must also be that dose of madness. We don’t have to go around lecturing all the time. Of course, I want social changes to happen, but I also write simply for the beauty of this art.”

Although they sometimes let their imagination run wild and write only for pleasure, they keenly feel the responsibility of confronting the daily problems they and their fellow citizens have to deal with.

“I live in the east of the DRC,” Mérou Mégaphone, 24, tells Efe. “I can see what is happening in this country. That’s why I talk about the war, but also about the unemployment rates, the few opportunities children have to study”.

At the cultural center, the slam-poets are preparing to recite the lines they have hurriedly written on their mobile phones to improve their abilities to improvise.

Kamoso has turned her chair around, so she now has her back to the rest of her classmates, to better concentrate.

Writing has taught her to think for herself, to find her own opinions, her own aspirations, without repeating what others expected of her. And reciting her poems has taught her to stand behind those choices.

Now, Kamoso does not recognize herself as that same shy girl who five years ago stepped on stage for the first time. The microphone has helped transform her.

Often, Kamoso’s verses speak of her transformation, as she highlights the obstacles that Congolese women still face. But not always. For her, the ability of slam to bring about social change goes beyond the subject of the verses she is reciting.

“The simple fact that other women see a girl on a stage doing something they thought was difficult or impossible is a way to boost confidence in ourselves, to tell them that we can also go on stage, to achieve something different.” she says. EFE


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