Museveni’s children and their splintered voices in ‘Broken Voices of the Revolution’
Traditionally poetry has been an oratory art in Uganda in the forms of Okwivuga amongst the Western people of Uganda, Etontome among the Baganda in central Uganda, and Bolu lok among the Luo peoples. It is only recently, since the advent of colonialism, that poetry has been read more than heard.
Reviewed by Pamela E. Acaye
For the Ugandan poet, it is thus prudent to be mindful of poetry’s role as a performance as well as entertainment.
Rage Against the Cage:
The time is here to rage,
Give bone-deep slashes for each sin;
For every giant fortune
and unharnessed whim;
That left rugged hands and hearts toiling
for just enough to survive;
And a famished public clinging to the myth
that the government will care and provide….
Children of the resistance army
Ojakol Omario, the president of the Lantern Meet of Poets and himself a poet, whose poetry made up part of the recital, said that the volume of poetry they got commented and reflected on Ugandan politics.
The Lantern Meet of Poets is made up of mostly university students who share one thing in common. They were born in the 1980’s—at the time when the National Resistance Army (NRA), now the National Resistance Movement (NRM), allegedly liberated this country from bad governance.
During this first themed recital and performance, they sounded out their splintered voices from within the revolution. The writing, though familiarly presented, managed to achieve a simmering hyper-realism in the audience.
Broken Voices of the Revolution stated, quite vehemently, the stalk difference between the entitled and unentitled classes of Ugandan citizenry in politics. Pointing out with very cynical humour how the once beacon of political hope in the NRM government has turned into a sceptic wound which puss will not stop running.
You catch such sentiments in poems like The Country You Would Rather Not Know About by Peter Kagayi.
This is not the time to rise up
Against them who worship wounds of war
They will shoot you
This is not the time to stand up
Against them with bottomless pits of stomachs
They will eat your children before your eyes……
The performance reflected on the melancholic despondency that has captured the generation of Uganda which is us. We are the ones who despite what our political science classes taught us: That a democracy is supposed to experience a change of government every five or ten years. Many might ponder in Uganda’s current political weather that this too is a democracy, an African-Ugandan kind of democracy.
The Lantern Meet of Poets are Museveni’s children. They are the children of the revolution or rather, the remnant of it. Through their bi-annual recital, they have become a much anticipated event on the calendar of their ever growing audience.
Now, I have grown up with the prejudice that in Performance Poetry the performance matters as much as the words, because the performance entertains while the words inform. Without stage-presence in pronunciation, posture and projection, a poetry performance falls short.
And short of sounding sexist, all the six females in the performance could have employed a bit more charisma in their performances, but that again may be argued as a directorial error. It is not enough just to be a female performer; you have to tick as well.
The cover of the anthology is loaded with symbolism, maybe to reinforce the message that the present Ugandan revolution is for those who dare to think intelligently, not for those who have a partiality to guns and torture.
However, where the anthology’s cover design succeeded, the performance fell short on artistic direction.
The individual performances stood apart from each other rather than synced due to disjointed choreography, costume and light design. Where the light design was consistent, it was also uninspiring with one spotlight for every performer. Strictly speaking, it was, mostly, a poetry recital.
Projection and pronunciation
The memorable performances came through from Mujunira Raymond who dressed for the part, projected well and pronounced every word and syllable audibly.
So were the actor, graphic designer and poet Patrick Massa Birabi’s performance entertaining. He featured Sentiments of a Dead Poet and a tribute/parody to Gil Scott Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. This was probably the most entertaining performance in the collection, but the rest came off as normal book-holding, poetry-reciting poets.
I hope the next time that the Lantern Meet does get on stage, they really do perform. We already know that most of their poetry passes the mark of good.
Standing there and reading or reciting under one constant spotlight does not cut it. Especially where most of the poetry makes for a good read like Daniel Mutembesa’s poem, I Will Not Feel:
I will not feel anything
The fatalities of your vanities
And your struggles to strangle me.
In caution, my neck I have stuffed with tree-trunk chunks of mahogany
Or, Daniel Nuwamanya’s poem;
Sitting on hope, has never borne a winner
And a cynic is inferior to even a beginner
When slyly you observe out of the corner of your eye
You’ll see even those who worship self above right
Can love so hard that their hearts will lock tight
They will jump into a fight and not even think twice
And the lover with a razor ready to slash his thin wrists
At the 29th second may break down and still weep
There was also the obvious minority voice of the women in the revolution in casting as well as the anthology. The cast comprised of six females and fifteen males.
A call for social change
According to Ojakol, in the run up to the recital Broken Voices of The Revolution, the Lantern Meet organised a series of discussions to review artistic development alongside social progress, as the Jubilee of 50 years since the country’s independence approached.
The dominant topic was the artist as a voice of call for social change. In a country where few are seated as many languish in dire positions of discomfort; the artist is best encouraged to work his/her aesthetics as a tool to aid his social theme.
I couldn’t really hear or fully understand most of the poetry read due to a lack of quality projection and audibility. What I did hear, though, sounded like the kind of poetry I like: Meaningful, but not sentimental, clear, plain, light on adverbs and adjectives, and light on metaphors and similes. But I had to go to Facebook and read through some of the posted poetry from the anthology to confirm to myself that the poems being read were brilliant.
And to end it all, the National Theatre needs to learn to respect art again by not double-book two loud performances at the same time and date. It is sad that what one signs for in their artistic contract, full of their obligations to respect and ensure quality delivery, is always compromised for a wedding meeting or another performance that is not good enough to stand in its own time.
Pamela E. Acaye is a the multi-media artist and arts critic.
All photos by courtesy of Lantern Meet of Poets Facebook-page.