Reflections on the Thriving Spoken Word Rwanda

The Return of the Prodigal Poets

Five years ago, a friend realised that I like to read and then invited me for a date at one Spoken Word Rwanda (SWR) evening, where people have been gathering to enjoy poetry every month for the past seven years. I did not attend because, at the time, I thought it was a sort of book club and it would be boring.

This week, at the September edition, themed “Return of the Prodigal Poets,” the evening featured some of the awesome poets that have been with SWR since the beginning: Naleli Rugege and Injoge who combined their talents to perform freestyle. And there was a special appearance by a Nigerian singer-songwriter called Waje.

With SWR, you never know what to expect. It is more of a freestyle event, yet eventually you realise that most people who perform do prepare for the show.

The event is diverse in the truest form of the word. Not only does it include poets from different nationalities and walks of life, it also embraces and welcomes various genres – as long as the material includes a form of spoken artistry. I was amazed by the vocal and acoustic guitar performances at this past edition.

Young people meet to tell their otherwise unknown stories through poetry, knowing no one is there to judge. It feels like every performer is sharing their diary or unpublished blog. They talk about love stories, dedicate notes to their lost ones and some even honour and share their successes.

It is so inspiring to see Diana Mpyisi, who co-founded SWR, struggle to keep this a monthly event despite the small number of people who show up (not to mention how late they come) sometimes. I didn’t have time to ask her what pushes her or what her hopes are in the future, but she does it gracefully with a big smile and great enthusiasm. This is obviously something she takes to heart.

Lately, I asked a friend to come with me to the event and he told me I was being westernized, that those kind of shows are for rich kids. I think this might be the reason many don’t show up. But on the contrary, SWR has nothing western to it. The content is so pure it can’t be owned by anyone anywhere.

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