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Why poetry sessions have gained ground in Uganda

by Editorial Team
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By Hussein Kiganda

What could bring more delight to a poetry enthusiast than an evening filled with poetry, sweet verses, and talented rappers?

In today’s cultural landscape, such events have become prestigious gatherings where literary enthusiasts converge to listen to words that soothe their souls.

Apart from the monthly Kwivuga poetry sessions, Poetry Mondays have become a regular occurrence, offering a diverse range of poetic experiences. These sessions encompass everything from rhyming verses to intricate tongue twisters, and from heartfelt odes to captivating ballads. The melodic strumming of strings and rhythmic clapping accompany these performances, creating an enchanting atmosphere at every gathering. 

But why has this sudden surge in popularity occurred?

According to Linda Umuringa Butare, also known as Nunu, the proprietor of Kwivuga, poetry has always had a place in the heart of the country’s culture. However, she acknowledges that its prominence has grown in recent times, attributing this to the dedication of poets and the substantial increase in their fanbase.

“Like any creative individual in Uganda, poets had to persevere and remain dedicated to their craft, steadily amassing a dedicated following. When you persist in your passion, it eventually comes to light. The enthusiastic attendees of these sessions have played a pivotal role in their rising popularity,” Nunu explains.

Roshan Karmali, a seasoned poet and the founder of Poetry In Session, an open mic night that thrived from 2010 to 2019, reflects on the early days when he and fellow poets Ife Piankhi and Jason Ntaro used to perform at an open mic event hosted by MC’s Spoken Truth at the now-defunct Club Rouge.

He fondly recalls how their initiative, Poetry In Session, inspired the creation of numerous other sessions, including Kwivuga, Open Mic, Bonfire, and many more. These gatherings brought together countless young individuals who shared a passion for poetry, thereby elevating its prominence and fostering a substantial fanbase.

Karmali asserts that in a community plagued by various mental health challenges, poetry serves as a unique source of healing that no other medium can match. She is confident that the comforting and motivating messages conveyed during these sessions gradually attracted more people over time, culminating in the establishment of regular poetry sessions in Kampala.

A performer recites a poem during the Kwivuga poetry session at The Krystal in Bugolobi, a city suburb, in June 2023

“For me, I firmly believe that poetry arrived and never departed. Throughout the years, we have witnessed poets channel their efforts into education, employing poetry as a potent tool for community healing and communication. Additionally, artists have begun to publish their works and stage shows at the National Theatre (Lantern Meet Poets used to host remarkable shows),” Karmali states.

Renowned poet Kagayi Ngobi observes that poetry is currently experiencing its zenith, with a greater influx of young enthusiasts than ever before. He attributes this phenomenon to YouTube, which has created a platform for learning and practicing poetry.

“Ugandans have never experienced a poetry fever of this magnitude before. We have never witnessed such a surge of young individuals flocking to bars, churches, theatres, conference halls, lecture rooms, galleries, schools, and festivals as we do today. The trend of young people venturing into performing, publishing, recording, and merchandising their poetry is a relatively recent cultural development,” Ngobi remarks.

Karmali underscores the pivotal role that poets play in society, encompassing the reflection, critique, and questioning of social issues and norms.

He emphasises that poets provide a voice for marginalised communities, challenge societal injustices, and shed light on crucial themes such as love, loss, hope, and identity.

The poet offers guidance to fellow poets, encouraging them to continue their efforts in anticipation of a growing community of enthusiasts. She envisions the world of poetry evolving into one of the most revered art forms in the country and emphasizes the importance of staying authentic to their audiences.

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