I have worked with close to 500 poets over the last 13 years. And I am yet to meet one with a stage presence as calm and radiant as Ife’s.
We often met at the Pan-Africanist club at Hotel Seascalope, and I never missed a day of Poetry In Session when she hosted, but we had never worked together until this show.
The year is 2013. The show is Lantern Meet & Friends. Our group had a tradition of doing a production in honour of poetry every once in a while. This was our second. After 2009’s Fresh Coat of Paint, when we paid tribute to the generations of Ugandan poets before ours.
Ife the singing poet joined the production as a Guest Act. We were in the beginnings of moving towards professional theatre so we had reached out to more seasoned performers to help us up our game. I’ll tell you more about that show later. If you ask nicely.
Despite popular opinion, we truly had no idea what we were doing. We had youth and passion and drive, and good ideas too, so we gave the stage everything. It worked, so we kept doing it.
But when Ife saw how lackadaisical our rehearsal process was, she became appalled and unilaterally decided to take over. We learnt much. Our rehearsal process was never the same again.
In this time I am leaning on poetry to keep my screws on and tight. Quarantine isn’t too difficult because I’m a bit of a recluse. But the idea of not being able to move when you want to can feel like prison, even for a good cause.
This change of pace has had me reflecting on the poetry movement we started back in 2007, and how quickly it spread beyond our wildest expectations. A constructive virus, I might say. But that is the power of collective energy.
The growth of this movement was fueled by the Obuntu spirit left to us by the Batembuzi, the founders of our nation (the original one, not this colonial construct).
I have watched this spirit fade as ego & individualism slowly took over the movement. A reflection of our times, more than the people. But carrying the badge of the Poet has always demanded ascendence over the baser instincts of our times. That is something Ife believed in and preached. So we resonated at that level.
I remember watching this performance from the side entrance (I forget the technical name of those aisles between the curtains), where our heads would sometimes get caught bobbing through the curtains as we too became audience of our creation.
I remember how she started. Low humming over the light din in the house. No antics. No theatrics. Just presence. In a little while, the audience was wrapped.
The younger performers were unbothered, as youth is often wont, too busy rehashing their lines and holding onto their characters lest they vanish before their turn. But the more attuned were wrapped in it.
I was heavily into Bob Marley at the time. So when she stretched out her right arm exactly as Bob had done at the famous moment in the peace concert only reggae heads will recall, it struck me that she bore such a close resemblance to him that if you had said he was her father, I would have believed you.
It was a simple song. No complexity. Just light and love from a soul whose energy exploded so subtly once she took the stage. Like the first wave of heat from a nuclear bomb.
Many young poets today no longer pay attention to the internal process of creating a performance. You get clever words but no oomph. Their energy is bland. They forget that poetry is more than just words. Words are merely a vehicle for something deeper. Something subtle…
Anyhow, we at Lantern Meet Foundation and Ibua Publishing will be sharing with you bits of poetry to keep you warm in these cold times. I hope something in them lights up the poet within you. Enjoy this and those to come in this series.
W.A.K s/o K.