African spoken word artists go from page to podcast

The Badilisha Poetry X-Change in Cape Town works to share Africa's spoken word with the world

Story highlights

  • Badilisha Poetry Radio broadcasts spoken word online from Cape Town
  • The group also hosts a website for poets to upload their own podcasts
  • The organizers hope to give aspiring young poets a platform to showcase their work
It began as an annual festival to host local poets in and around Cape Town but thanks to the power of technology the ancient art of African story-telling is spreading around the world.
A poetry collective decided to set up Badilisha Poetry Radio, which in Swahili means change. Its aim is to celebrate the spoken and written word through online radio and live performance.
Broadcasting from South Africa, poet Malika Ndlovu and her colleagues are spreading their reach far beyond this corner of the continent.
"The reality is that even if you are doing fantastic work and nobody gets to read it or gets to hear you on a mic or gets to see it on a screen you might as well not be doing it," Ndlovu said.
Ndlovu says the project is the first of its kind. She explains that it is not just for fans of spoken word but also a meeting place for Pan-African poets.
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As well as the online radio, artists can submit work on the web and listen to others for inspiration.
From South Africa to Somalia to everywhere in between there are more than a hundred pod-casts archived on the site in the hope of redefining the way people think about African poetry.
Ndlovu and her team work with the poets to help them upload the audio of their work.
The archive of podcasts also features the poets profile along with the text of the poem. If it's not in English it will come with a translation for the reader.
Ndlovu says until now there have not been enough spoken word role models and a lack of documentation of African poets.
She hopes the group will inspire young poets and story-tellers across Africa, as well as providing them with a global stage.
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"I think what also Badilisha and a range of other poetry projects are doing is rectifying mis-education, in our continent especially we've had a very Euro-centric diet, on page and only from quite an academic perspective around what poetry is," she explained.
"Learn from the pioneers and the skill and the trends that have been there but also what is your voice, what is your indigenous voice and the places you come from, your individuality," she continued.
The idea began as a poetry festival in 2008 before becoming an online archive and later an internet radio channel in 2010.
Ndlovu says that the festival's reach was too small and a bigger platform was needed.
The main idea behind allowing poets to upload their own podcasts was to provide a global stage for African writers, an opportunity that Ndlovu says they haven't had in the past.
The group also tries to explore the poetic form as a tool for social activism and provide a space for discussion and debate through expression.
"What I believe I am is a healer, using poetry as my first medium, I come from a theater background, I sing as well and perform with musicians and video artists who do projections, so poetry for me is a very holistic, multiple medium - kind of expression," she said.
Ndlovu says when she and the other poets founded the collective a few years ago they never thought it would get as popular as it is today.
She says she didn't realize there was such a need for an outlet like this.
"African poetry on the African continent is thriving, it's the visibility and the audibility of it that is something I'm hoping we aspire to with Badilisha Poetry Radio," she said.
"We can't all fly, we can't all be on every stage, we can't all be in the media spotlight, but how do we recognize the treasure and value of what is here and what is constantly evolving, this medium is immediate, it brings it home and to the globe at the same time," she continued.