The 27th edition of the Poetry Africa festival, taking place in October, will feature 100 spoken-word poets from 20 countries, maintaining the festival’s status as one of the most significant poetry festivals on the African continent. Produced by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the festival will present events in Durban, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. The festival programme was launched on Saturday, 16 September, at the Alliance Française in Johannesburg.
“The Alliance Française, along with the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and the Embassy of France, have for several years been some of our strongest partners in supporting and creating mobility for poets from the African continent to attend the festival”, said Ismail Mahomed, the director of the Centre for Creative Arts.
“This year’s festival will present poets from Ghana, Tanzania, Cote D’Ivoire, Congo/Brazzaville, Senegal, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, amongst several others from South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Surinam and the USA”, he added.
Amee Slam, a multi-disciplinarian Ivorian artist who made her first solo concert at the Institut Français de Côte d’Ivoire, which coincided with her being inducted as a member of the International Artistic Committee of the Masa (Africa Market of Performing Arts) in 2013. She will be one of several highlights at this year’s festival. She was named Ambassador of the Africa Cup of Slam Poetry in 2020 and has won several awards, including Artist of the Year 2023 (Lili Women Festival), Best Slammer of the Year 2023 (Lili Women Festival), African Talent Awards for Best Slam Performance 2023, First Special Prize of ECOWAS for Poetry (MASA 2020), Best Slammer against Violence against Women 2021, Women’s Inspirational Leadership Journey Award 2021, RnB Revelation Award 3R Revelation Competition 2009 and the 3rd Prize of Excellence of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Performing Arts 2018 (Collectif Au Nom du Slam).
US poet Rudy Francisco, who holds prestigious accolades just like hers, will also be performing. His performance is an amalgamation of social critique, introspection, honesty and humour. He uses personal narratives to discuss the politics of race, class, gender and religion while pinpointing and reinforcing human existence’s interconnected nature. He is the co-host of the largest poetry venue in San Diego and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He is the 2009 National Underground Poetry Slam Champion and 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion. He has shared stages with prominent artists such as Gladys Knight, Jordin Sparks, Musiq Soul Child, and Jill Scott.
South African poet Eugene Skeef has been announced as the festival’s Featured Poet. Renowned for his work in conflict resolution, Skeef is the Artistic Director of Quartet of Peace. This initiative utilises music and poetry to foster peaceful resolutions to conflicts and poverty, with a special focus on engaging young people. In 2010, his collaborative project, The Battle of the Wordsmiths, with writer Tunde Olatunji and producers Blue Hippo Media, was shortlisted for the PRS New Music Award.
The Slam Jam Competition is one of the highlights of the annual Poetry Africa festival, with poets vying to win the R20 000 prize and a place at the World Slam Poetry Competition. The 2021 Slam Jam Competition winner, Xabiso Vili, is the reigning title holder of the World Slam Poetry Championships, having won the title last year, competing against poets from 40 nations. Poetry Africa’s 2022 champion, Kwanele Nyembe, will compete for the world title in Brazil next month.
Poetry Africa stalwarts Lebo Mashile, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Masai Sepuru, vangile gantsho, Sara Godsell, Raphael D’Abdon and Jonathan Lefenya are featured in a series of events. Legendary South African poet Wally Serote and academic Muxe Nkondo will be the speakers at the 2nd Annual Keorapetse Kgosisitsile Memorial Lecture at the UJ Theatre. The Annual Mafika Gwala Memorial Lecture, presented in partnership with South African History Online, will feature Sam Moodley in conversation with Omar Badsha.
This year’s festival also includes partnerships with the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Studies (JIAS), the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Performing Arts Council of Free State (PACOFS). Author and academic Siphiwo Mahala will present a programme featuring Keith Lewis, Obamafemi Thanni, Chiwoneso Tsikisayi and Noluthando Buthelezi, all Fellows in Residence at JIAS.
Academic Heidi van Rooyen will headline the launch of Voices Unbound, a publication featuring poems from the eighth International Symposium on Poetry Enquiry. The event will feature Kirsten Deane, Larissa Hasim, Marie Pete, Raphael D’Abdon, Pralini Naidoo, DuduZile Ndovu and Angela Hough.
A partnership with PACOFS will feature Free State poets performing in both Durban and Bloemfontein. The programme will feature Hope Mokhele, Thuthukane Ndlovu, Lesika Dipholo and Maleshoane Mphuphlane headlined by PACOFs’ recently appointed artistic director, Napo Masheane.
“Napo Masheane cut her teeth at Poetry Africa many years ago before taking her place on stages across the globe. We are excited about her appointment at PACOFS and we are optimistic that with her tenacity and passion for spoken word poetry, she will create a vital new node for the poetry movement in Bloemfontein”, said Siphindile Hlongwa, the curator for Poetry Africa.
This year’s festival will see renowned South African pianist Paul Hamner making his debut at Poetry Africa. Piano & Poems will feature him at the keyboards alongside poet, playwright and academic Anton Kreuger. Celebrated poet and graffiti artist Iain “Ewok” Robertson will perform with saxophonist Dr Jeff Robinson. The Live the Spirit Residency will feature US poet and musician Ernest Dawkins with an 8-piece music ensemble.
Live festival events will take place in Johannesburg at the UJ Arts & Culture Centre (5 – 8 October), Howard College Theatre in Durban (10 -14 October) and at PACOFS in Bloemfontein (16 – 17 October). An online programme will take place from 10 – 13 October. Poetry Africa’s outreach programmes will present poets in five community art centres spread across the broader eThekwini Municipality. The full Poetry Africa programme can be viewed at poetryafrica.ukzn.ac.za. Tickets are available on Webtickets (Durban) and TicketPro (Johannesburg).
Poetry Africa is supported by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the National Arts Council of South Africa, the KZN Department of Sport, Arts & Culture, the French Institute of South Africa and Total Energies. The festival is co-presented in Johannesburg with UJ Arts & Culture and in Bloemfontein with PACOFS. The 27-year festival in Durban cements the city’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature.