All girl music and poetry groups are still something of a novelty in Uganda. The ones that exist do not lend themselves to the cross-generational flow of a Supremes-inspired, TLC-tinged formula with a Maya Angelo edge to it.
Sure, this formula might sound like pastiche and, yes, I agree, it is thus a little unoriginal. However this is age of the reboot, a time when sounding fresh and original is re-imagining the past in future tense. So Mufasa can reassure his cub Simba that the starry night sky is a map of history, over and over in the way history itself happens, and sound timeless instead of tiresome.
A group which is exhibits such an ageless quality is Echo Mind Poets, an all-girl group tackling unisex themes so men didn’t feel shut out every time the band slips a little flavor into its vanilla with yet another grand performance.
“Echo minds Poets is a poetry production with the aim of rewriting the narrative, and telling our stories. It’s about our experiences, the unspoken thoughts. It’s unchaining our minds, vocalizing our pain. Unafraid, openly and truthful,” declares Carolyne Acen, a group member.
Carolyne talks with a Destiny’s Child-like “I shake my jelly at every chance / When I whip with my hips you slip into a trance / I’m hoping you can handle all this jelly that I have” attitude.
An attitude which defiantly resists the standard narratives about her black female body.
Seven female poets make up the group namely Carolyne Afroetry, the unapologetic poet. Mercy Geno, the shy poet. Shaminator, the defiant poet. Sheilla Aarakit, the motivational poet. Destiny, the love struck poet. Brandy, the defiant word slinger. Racheal, the Lioness.
The group derives its peculiar power from commonplace issues which upend and attend of our daily lives as integral parts of our contemporary newsreel world.
“We prefer Spoken Word Poetry (to written word poetry) because we resuscitate words trapped in pages and bring them to life on stage. The art form appeals to our desire for verbal expression, and dramatizing our experiences. Audiences relate more to poetry they can connect with. And we thrive on that knowledge,” Carolyne adds when asked about the group’s basic mode of poetic communication.
She expresses her desire to be a kind of village griot at a time when Africans need to remember their stories. In this way she is following in the large footsteps of her heroes…Maya Angelou, and Langston Hughes and the poets of the Harlem Renaissance.
Echo minds Poets started its journey this year in February, Carolyne says.
“I made a call out for female poets and 5 poets responded. We had our first show on the 31st of March as a dedication to Women History month. We shared our stories, and pain as women while also sharing inspirational messages of elevation and hope. We have also made appearances at poetry themed nights like Ntebeza, and recently at Tontoma.”
Ugandan poetry is about a “journey,” and Echo Mind Poets’ journey from starry-eyed poets to Full Women risking being unpopular by taking a stand on the issues runs parallel to the battle-royal between license and liberty in the arts.
“In a few years, Uganda poetry will be thriving on a bed of literary magic. There will be more poets, more opportunities and better platforms to nurture poets, and allow them to showcase their art. The future of Uganda Poetry is brighter than Orion in the night sky,” Carolyne says as she maps out the future of poetry in Uganda.
Part of that future is the Echo Mind Poets’ performances.
“On the 11th of December, Echo minds poets will have a show at Goethe Zentrum Kampala at 6pm. The theme is Depression. We will be dramatizing our struggles with depression and spreading awareness. There’s less conversation about depression in Uganda. More stigma, and ignorance blooms. The perception that it is a disease of the rich makes it difficult for some people to seek help. This production is us telling our audience, that just like you…we hurt too. And there’s no shame in it. Tickets for the show are at 20k. Everyone is invited,” says Carolyne.
The works of poets are often conflated with the reality of their lives, along with the grace of their imaginations. With Echo Mind Poets, this only too true.