By Deb A.
Happy new year, dear readers! This week we combine old and new, revisiting a favourite theme from a different perspective.
We've talked about the power of oral storytelling traditions in North America; this week we take a cue from Africa, where Badilisha Poetry X-Change is documenting the previously undocumented, without sacrificing the poignancy of the spoken word.
Badilisha ('badilisha' is a Swahili word meaning 'change, transform') began in 2008 as an international poetry festival, and evolved in 2012 into an audio archive and radio show that, together, strive to keep African identities inextricably linked to the present and future of the continent and beyond.
The online archive of poets from Africa and the African diaspora tackles a complex issue that begins with the fact that much of the continent's oral poetry goes unpublished: Badilisha notes that works by African authors make up only two percent of all published books. This puts African poetry at risk of being lost before it reaches a wider contemporary following, let alone a future generation. A universally accessible collection of African poetry was required in order to enable Africans and a global audience to be inspired and informed by their histories, their cultures, and each other.
A printed anthology, however, could never be the answer. When the spoken word is translated into a new medium, the essence of its character may not survive the transition. So even those stories which do find their way to print may lack the magic of their aural origins.
The solution Badilisha offers is effective: by including podcasts and audio files along with transcripts of poems, the site does more than preserve poetry for posterity. It helps to bring African voices to life for a modern public, in particular Africans themselves: a mobile-friendly version of the site is geared specifically to addressing the needs of a continent where phones are the primary tool for internet access.
With themes ranging from activism to humour, the works of the over 350 poets (including 169 from South Africa alone, and 57 from outside Africa) featured on Badilisha Poetry X-Change represent a major step toward ensuring that Africa's diverse voices are heard more clearly by its own people and the rest of the world.
Listen in. (Badilisha's got a top ten list to get you started.)
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