Kwani? Litfest 2012 Conversations with the Horn

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(Kate Hampton) The fourth biennial Kwani? Litfest kicked off on Sunday in Eric Wainaina’s spacious studio garden.

Kwani? Litfest 2012: Conversations with the Horn brings together leading and emerging writers, artists and scholars from the region and continent for eight days of free events including performances, readings, conversations, panels and lectures.

Somali poet and songwriter Maxamed Ibraahim Warsame, better known as Hadraawi, headlined the event. Widely acclaimed as Somalia’s greatest living poet and one of Africa’s best, Hadraawi has earned fame through his poetry as a freedom fighter, peace promoter and social justice advocate.

He will receive a 2012 Prince Claus award in January 2013 for his contributions to peace through poetry. Writer and scholar Said Jama Hussein moderated and translated the session between Somali and English.

Hadraawi spoke, read two poems, Daalakan (Clarity) and The Sense of Life, and answered questions from the audience. The largely youthful Somali audience members listened in rapt attention and admiration to the elderly man, smiling and laughing freely.

Questions ranged from what he thinks of K’naan, who has credited Hadraawi with inspiring him to begin writing, to the potential role of poetry in politics and activism.

After Hadraawi’s reading of Daalakan, Kenyan actor and playwright Ogutu Muraya performed the fiery English translation of the poem calling us to come together against “those huggers of tribalism/ grubbers in money, who are everywhere/ lusting to turn back/ all hopeful development/ and to despoil our nation,” a message which, like much of Hadraawi’s work, much of the region and world can learn from as much as Somalia.

Hadraawi seemed pleased to have the passion and youthful spirit of his writing so conveyed.

Other Sunday highlights included readings and performances by Nigerian novelist Chuma Nwokolo, Kenyan-Somali poet El Poet and Djiboutian poet Chehem Watta, who writes and performs in French. Don’t miss a chance to see Kabon, a string trio of electric guitar, acoustic guitar and violin played by Kato Change, Jacob Okumu and Aaron Colverson respectively.

Their laid back fusion of improvised jazz, pop, Western classical and traditional African sounds set a perfect tone for the event, the first in a series aimed at sparking new conversations and imaginings of the Horn. In addition to the group’s innovative renditions of jazz classics and Kato Change’s original piece African Woman, violinist Aaron Colverson carried the melody of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song as you’ve never heard it before. Waayaha Cusub, a hip-hop group from Eastleigh, also performed, and Kenya’s much-loved DJ Zelalem played into the night.

Check out litfest.kwani.org for the full festival schedule running now through December 16. Follow the festival as it happens on Twitter @kwanitrust #kwanilitfest.

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